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Fourth in a series of 6, Dag Nasty‘s Dave Smalley presents: “Top 9 Things That Rocked in 2008”

photo: LegendsMagazine.net

9. Bill Harris artwork in Fredericksburg

Harris is a painter who does stunning, often subtly dark works in lovely little Fredericksburg. He’s a talented artist who creates beautiful still lifes, yet does some understated, twisted works as well. He’s a master of color and line, and the subject matter often makes you think. He paints a lot of portraits and nudes, sometimes with something melancholy or even brooding about it—like “Invisible Sum,” where a nude woman halfway out of a bear costume stares forlornly into her purse. One wonders what the backstory was for that one. Or “Alone Together,” where a tattooed girl stands singing into a microphone in the middle of a restaurant, with no one paying attention. Some of his stuff can be seen on his Web site: wcharris.com. He’s often in his studio at LibertyTown Arts Workshop. Two big thumbs up. For those not in the know, Fredericksburg boasts an amazing art scene, with a host of artists and galleries doing really cool stuff.

8. Comic book movies

I’m a serious comic book geek, most especially into Marvel titles, but also some DC, from the early days of the Fantastic Four battling the Mole Man to about the ‘90s, when the costs of comics started to skyrocket and the artwork/stories started to suck. (Killing Captain America?! Heinous.) In the New World Order, Marvel and DC have shifted their genius quota to the movie side, and this year’s releases of The Dark Knight and Iron Man were easily deserving of all-time-top-movies status. Everyone’s written about Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight, and he is brilliant in the role, but the whole film is perfectly paced, thoughtful, and disturbing—a tribute to the dark side of the Dark Knight. Christian Bale is equally brilliant as Bruce Wayne. As for Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr. simply IS Tony Stark—he nails every nuance of the character perfectly, and the armor is ubercool. They even brought in the Dude as Obadiah Stane—a master stroke.

7. Iron Maiden at Merriweather Post Pavilion

Run to the hills…run for your life. The band that put the heavy into heavy metal destroyed the stage on June 18. If you had a preexisting heart condition, it likely was aggravated at this show—pulsing, pumping, head-banging, fist-clenching metal fury from beginning (complete with Winston Churchill’s famous speech over the loudspeakers: “We will fight them on the beaches…”) to end. One of the toughest bands musically, Maiden played all the thundering hits from each album, complete with full set changes and of course, the band’s mascot, a gigantic Eddie, lurching about onstage. Best song: “The Trooper.” Bruce Dickinson looked and sounded in his prime. I’ve seen Maiden a number of times, including on the famous “Aces High” tour, and this may well have been the best so far. Kick-ass T-shirt selections as well.

6. Van Halen at John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville

This band is just a brilliant pure rock band—still. David Lee Roth is back, thank God. (Though honestly, Sammy Hagar is a great singer too—but it just wasn’t Van Halen without David Lee.) Roth is the ultimate showman, funny and charismatic, and sounded and looked very, very good. Eddie Van Halen’s chiseled abs were enough to make every over-40-something male in the audience suck in their beer gut and wonder how the hell he does it. (Of course, having a private trainer and doing this for a living doesn’t hurt.) As for the playing: Is there anyone who doubts that Eddie Van Halen is one of the best rock guitarists ever? Just stunning how fast he still plays, and how unique his style still is—-and how Dave and Eddie bring out the best in each other. They did all the hits, and if you didn’t have a smile on your face the whole time, you didn’t have a heart. I’d see this band every time they play (and hope they do again soon). Everybody wants some.

5. Motorhead, Ram’s Head Live, Baltimore

Motorhead at its best is an unstoppable force of potent destruction. And this show was the band at its best. Lemmy Kilmister has no need for on-stage theatrics—-just giant backdrops with the band’s logo and then blam, straight into brutal volume and smash-worthy songs. God gave rock and roll to you, to quote Paul Stanley, and it’s Motorhead that is the proof. “Ace of Spades” and “Iron Fist” remain anthems for all head bangers everywhere. Sheer, honest power.

4. Metal Masters Tour, Nissan Pavilion

Judas Priest, Heaven and Hell, Motorhead, and Testament—a fist to the face the whole night long. Missed Testament, and Motorhead was not well served by having to play while it was still light out. This legendary, dirty, heavy group is a band made for the darkness. Still, they were Motorhead, and the material pounded the audience into adoring oblivion. Next, Heaven and Hell—that’s Black Sabbath with Ronnie James Dio singing—was a dynamic band, one that played selections from Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules, and just solid, cohesive metal songs that augur well for their upcoming album. Dio is a phenomenal singer, and Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Vinny Appice make a potent, heavy lineup that is impossible to top. Heaven and Hell may be one of the best bands in the world. Headlining the night was Judas Priest, and they did not disappoint. Singer Rob Halford still has the trademark screams and growls that helped propel this band to stardom, still proudly rode the motorcycle, and still decked himself out in leather (though honestly, I’d have preferred more motorcycle jacket and less trench coat—-you’re never out of style with a classic leather jacket). Songs like “Breakin’ the Law” and “Electric Eye” were standouts. A shining night of sweaty crowds in black t-shirts and bleeding eardrums when it was all over.

3. The Who at the Verizon Center

This band should be THE role model for all artists who still want to rock and keep the flame alive—who age gracefully but without abandoning what made you love them all along. (Elvis Costello and Paul Weller, are you listening?) Pete Townshend was as sincere and talented as ever (yes, he still does the windmill strumming, but tastefully), and Roger Daltrey is still one of the best frontmen of all time (yes, he still swings the mic around like nobody before or since). It was powerful, it was subtle, it was raging, it was quiet—overall a remarkable, dominating group, with songs like “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Pinball Wizard,” “Baba O’Riley,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” and a host of other hits proving why this band matters no less today than it did in 1965. So moving I had tears during some of it—-that’s how tender/powerful Townshend’s songwriting can be. Special notice should be made of Zack Starkey’s insane drumming (complete with mod haircut)—he’s Keith Moon’s worthy successor.

2.  My pickup truck

It’s rusty, it’s old, and it may not last another year. But there’s a bit of heaven on Earth driving down the road taking stuff to the dump with the dog next to you, the windows rolled down, and Hank Williams III, the Clash and Government Issue blasting into the country air.

1. AC/DC, Verizon Center

The ears are still ringing from this one, and the heartbeat is still racing. A perfect concert—a combo of a legendary band with almost all original (or at least, all longtime) members, songs that define rebellion and good times all at once, and hard rock meets blues meets shredding licks and screams that will curl your toes. Throw in gigantic cannons blasting, a huge blow-up doll onstage, a monstrous bell descending from the ceiling, a lifesize train, a guitarist who at age 53 rocks harder than most musicians half his age, and it all equals a musical fist to the face. For those about to rock, we salute you.

Dave Smalley sang for the bands DYS, Dag Nasty, All, Down by Law and the Sharpshooters.  He is currently editor of the Weekender section of the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star.

All contributors to this series were guests on DISSONANCE, a DC punk oral histories show on Radio CPR. Dave Smalley’s interview can be heard here.