Memorable Music: Great Performances of 2006

NPR and select stations hosted dozens of live concerts in 2006, with stunning performances by some of the hottest acts on tour. Hear a mix of the most memorable shows, including the U.S. premiere of Paul McCartney's new choral work Ecce Cor Meum, one of Sleater Kinney's final live concerts, The Decemberists and more.

Paul Simon

Paul Simon, photo by Robert Clark, Warner Music

hide captionNov. 6, from the Tower Theater in Philadelphia and station WXPN.

Widely regarded one of America's finest poets and songwriters, Paul Simon continues to make inspired music for a vast audience of fans and critics, in an acclaimed career that began in the 1950s. Simon is on tour for his latest CD, Surprise — a critical favorite for one of the year's best albums. He visited the Tower Theater in Philadelphia for a performance, broadcast live on station WXPN.

Neko Case

Neko Case, photo by Joel Didriksen for kingpinphoto.com

hide captionApr. 9, from the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.

Though she defies most conventional genre labels, singer Neko Case swings somewhere between the worlds of heavy art rock and bittersweet country. Her latest CD, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, made it on many critics' lists for one of the best albums of 2006. Case visited Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club to perform selections from the CD in a concert originally webcast live on NPR.org April 9.

Sonic Youth

Sonic Youth, photo by Joel Didriksen for kingpinphoto.com

hide captionJun. 15, from the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.

A quarter century after the group first formed in New York, Sonic Youth remains one of rock's more inspired, creative bands. They spent 2006 on tour for their 20th album, Rather Ripped, and visited Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club for a full concert. The performance originally webcast live on NPR.org Jun. 15.

Sleater Kinney

Sleater Kinney, photo by Joel Didriksen for kingpinphoto.com

hide captionAug. 3, from the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.

More than a decade after the band first formed in Olympia, Wash., Sleater-Kinney continues to make passionate, punk-inspired rock with the release of its seventh CD, The Woods. But it may be the trio's last album, at least for some time: The group recently announced plans to go on indefinite hiatus after its current tour ends later this year. The band performed an epic concert at Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club Aug. 3 as one of their final performances together.

Regina Spektor

Regina Spektor, photo by Joel Didriksen for kingpinphoto.com

hide captionOct. 3, from the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.

Regina Spektor makes quirky, artfully orchestrated music with hip-hop rhythms, inspired pop melodies and the passion of punk rock. On tour for her latest CD, Begin to Hope — a critical favorite for one of the year's best albums — Spektor visited the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. for a night of music, originally webcast live on NPR.org Oct. 3.

NOMO

Nomo

hide captionJune 3, from station KEXP in Seattle, Wash.

Nomo hail from Ann Arbor, Mich., but the style of music they play was invented by the great Nigerian musician Fela. Their Afro-beat-infused music blends dance beats with funk and jazz flavor. This performance originally broadcast live from station KEXP in Seattle, Wash.

Jenny Lewis

Jenny Lewis, photo by Joel Didriksen for kingpinphoto.com

hide captionOct. 16, from the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.

Singer-songwriter Jenny Lewis has a hauntingly soulful voice. Her latest CD, Rabbit Fur Coat is inspired by her lifelong love for folk, country and Southern gospel, with beautifully crafted story songs. Lewis gave one of the year's more memorable performances in a concert recorded live from the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. The show originally webcast live on NPR.org Oct. 15.

The Decemberists

The Decemberists, photo by Joel Didriksen for kingpinphoto.com

hide captionOct. 31, from the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.

Portland, Oregon's literate and theatrically imaginative rock group The Decemberists have just released what many critics are calling the year's best album. The group performed a number of selections from The Crane Wife and some of the band's earlier work in a full concert, recorded live from Washington, D.C. and webcast on NPR.org Oct. 31.

Cat Power

Cat Power, photo by Joel Didriksen for kingpinphoto.com

hide captionNov. 20, from the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.

Cat Power is the music of Chan Marshall, a Southern-born singer-songwriter with a soulful, heart-wrenching voice. In a decade-long career, her music has evolved from spare, angst-ridden rock to lush, warm soul, while always intimate and mesmerizing. Cat Power spent much of 2006 on tour for her latest album, the soul-inspired CD The Greatest. Marshall and the Memphis Rhythm Band stopped by Washington, D.C. for a full concert originally webcast live on NPR.org Nov. 20.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

hide captionApr. 8, from Kent Stage in Kent, OH and station WKSU.

Tim O'Brien is one of the country's leading figures of contemporary bluegrass, helping to bridge more traditional mountain music with modern styles. His latest CD is Fiddler's Green on Sugar Hill Records. Earlier this year O'Brien performed at the Kent Stage in Kent, OH for NPR station WKSU's Folk Alley, where he performed "Conrbread Nation" with fiddler Casey Driessen and bassist Dennis Crouch.

Billy Bragg

Billy Bragg

hide captionOct. 2, from station KEXP in Seattle, Wash.

Armed with a relentlessly intelligent sense of humor, British artist Billy Bragg targets the political and the personal in a lively foray of blues and folk. Bragg visited Seattle, Wash. for an exclusive live set, played at Seattle's Triple Door for NPR station KEXP members and staff.

Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney, photo by Harry Borden

hide captionNov. 14, from Carnegie Hall and station WNYC.

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Legendary pop star Paul McCartney has sold untold millions of albums with The Beatles and Wings, as well as in his prolific solo career. Though he's dabbled in classical music before, Ecce Cor Meum marks one of his most conceptually and logistically audacious projects: a work written in the style of sacred English choral music, a tradition dating back 500 years. On Nov. 14, NPR.org — in collaboration with member station WNYC — featured a live webcast of the only U.S. performance of Ecce Cor Meum, taking place at New York's Carnegie Hall.

Solas

Solas

hide captionMar. 15, from the Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland, OH and station WKSU.

Since the band's birth in 1996, Solas has been loudly proclaimed the most popular, influential and exciting Celtic band to ever emerge from the United States. Even before the release of their self-titled debut The Boston Herald trumpeted Solas as "the first truly great Irish band to arise from America." The Irish Echo ranked Solas among "the most exciting bands anywhere in the world." Since its inception the band has continually pushed the envelope and charted new territory for Celtic music and wholly established themselves as the most pioneering Celtic band of their time. And in the past ten years their infectious energy and sound has caught the attention of listeners and fans worldwide. The group appeared live on Folk Alley from NPR station WKSU.

Martin Sexton Assembly of Dust

Martin Sexton and Assembly of Dust

hide captionFrom WFUV at Fordham University in Bronx, NY.

Martin Sexton is a popular new-folk acoustic guitarist and singer with a soulful voice. He's been performing and touring with the folk-rock group Assembly of Dust and stopped by NPR station WFUV for a live performance in May of this year. They spoke with Darren DeVivo, host of WFUV’s Words and Music and shared several songs, including a cover of the Joni Mitchell song "Woodstock."

Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra

Chico O'Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra

hide captionDec. 2006, from Birdland, New York, as heard on JazzSet.

The Chico O'Farrill Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra is the product of almost sixty years of musical evolution. Arranger and trumpet player Chico O'Farrill came to New York in 1948, as part of a wave of influential Cuban musicians that began in 1930 with trumpeter Mario Bauza. Percussionists Chano Pozo and Machito followed, folding their traditional Cuban style into the emerging African-American bebop. The product was Afro-Cuban Jazz, "cubop." O'Farrill formed his own band in the early 1950s, only to disband and move to Mexico City a few years later. The orchestra re-formed in the mid-1990s. Chico O'Farrill passed away in 2001, leaving his son, pianist Arturo, in charge. They gave a stunning performance at New York’s Birdland club that included this version of "Havana Blues."

Larry Coryell

Larry Coryell

hide captionApr. 2006, from the Kennedy Center Jazz Club as heard on JazzSet.

John Abercrombie, Badi Assad and Larry Coryell bring three distinct personalities to their shared instrument, the guitar. Each plays with total command. Ms. Assad, from the Brazilian family of guitarists, goes further and plays percussion on her mouth and body. Ambercrombie says, "Larry (Coryell) was one of the first guitar players to fuse jazz, country, rock and blues inflections." Coryell says, "John (Ambercrombie) has a great sound and his playing is cliche-free." Into this mutually-admiring pair comes Assad, a younger player from Brazil. She says of John and Larry, "Their fingers are connected with the higher power. They feel, they play." The three performed a number of new interpretations of jazz standards in a memorable performance at the Kennedy Center Jazz Club, including this version of "Love is Here to Stay."

Ani Difranco

Ani Difranco

hide captionFrom WFUV at Fordham University in Bronx, NY.

Ani DiFranco is a prolific singer, songwriter and guitarist with a cult following. When she was 18 she started Righteous Babe records, which has since become a leading label for folk and independent artists. She's also released nearly an album a year since 1990. On tour for her latest CD, Reprieve, DiFranco performed at Joe's Pub in New York, one of the smaller stages she visited in her first coffeehouse circuit tour in years. This program originally aired live on NPR station WFUV's Take Five with host Rita Houston.

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