The Top 10 Best Big Concerts I Saw in 2010, with Gaga, Green Day, Sir Paul, Pavement, and LCD Soundsystem

It just didn't seem right to lump in Oracle Arena and HP Pavilion fare with the cozy goings-on at S.F. dens like Bottom of the Hill and even Great American Music Hall. So, in search of an even comparison, I'm breaking it up: Today, here are the best concerts I saw with more than 5,000 of my fellow humans, including festivals; next week, look for a list of the best smaller shows (from theaters on down) I saw in the Year of our Lord, 2010. And we're off:

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Calibree Photography
Gorillaz' Damon Albarn went as a crazed zombie rockstar for Halloween
10. Gorillaz @ Oracle Arena
What better time to see a band of imaginary, gremlin-like misfits than Halloween, really, and this was Damon Albarn's once-cartoon cast at the height of its powers, touring behind the still-amazing Plastic Beach with Bobby Womack, Little Dragons, and De La Soul. No Del, but plenty of other musicians, and a big wide, distracting screen on which to watch the cartoon characters. Albarn wore zombie facepaint and hopped like a crazed goblin; the World Series-era crowd was packed with Lincecums and Brian Wilsons, making this one Halloween to remember, indeed.

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Christopher Victorio
Mike Campbell (left), and Tom Petty rock it out.
9. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers @ Oracle Arena
Together with one of the whitest crowds I've ever seen in the Bay Area, I stood rapt while a grinning Mr. Petty delivered tastes of his new (though old-sounding) work and then -- grin widening -- toured us through a decades-long catalog of bedrock-rock. Cue weather-systems of pot smoke, a greasy-ass Mike Campbell soloing our brains out, and a bunch of pudgy white dudes playing air guitar to "Refugee." Joy.

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Christopher Victorio
Belle & Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch
8. Belle & Sebastian @ Treasure Island
The rain had cleared by the end of the second day, leaving a ceiling of cottony clouds lingering above the city as Stuart Murdoch and Co. told old tales of San Francisco and warmed us with their yearning, luxuriant twee-pop. A freaking dream of a B&S setlist -- "Piazza, New York Catcher" had some in tears -- crystalline sound, and the collective heart-gooeyness of thousands of buttoned-up festival-goers made this show pretty hard to forget -- and I've seen this band many other times.

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Christopher Victorio
"I don't know who these guys are, but they're fucking wasted" -- The Strokes' Julian Casablancas at Outside Lands, discussing himself
7. The Strokes @ Outside Lands
Drunken, sloppy, sarcastic, and rare, it seemed a minor miracle when Julian Casablancas and his band of floppy-haired stick figures actually appeared on stage at the end of Outside Lands' first day and started to play their nearly 10-year-old songs. Casablancas asked us to the prom, imagined our inner monologue out loud ("I don't know who these guys are, but they're fucking wasted"), and played almost all of the Strokes' first, great album, Is This It -- including the once-contraband tune "New York City Cops." Zero points for precision, but a zillion for fun.

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Christopher Victorio
Lady Gaga also played some songs, we think.
6. Lady Gaga @ HP Pavilion
Less a concert than an an electrified, big-budget Broadway musical/gay-rights rally/dance contest, I've never seen anything like the Monster's Ball tour and wonder, legitimately, whether I ever will again. A dozen-plus costume changes, a fire-spitting piano, and an utterly fake-seeming phone call to a fan continuously helped us forget to listen to Lady Gaga's actual songs, and most everyone else seemed just as distracted. Spectacle, not substance, but oh, what a thoroughly entrancing spectacle this was.

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Christopher Victorio
"Mill Valley!" "Fremont!" "RODEO!": Billie Joe's hoarse homecoming.
5. Green Day @ Shoreline Amphitheatre
Yes, really: Green Day's explosive three-hour homecoming this fall will stand as one of the most energetic performances to date -- except for the part where the bandmembers all laid down for nearly half an hour. This Oakland pop-punk juggernaut has been working in the arena-rock idiom for the last half-decade or more, and its proggy newish mini-operas pretty much blew the Bieber-cut off every 12-year-old in the crowd. But Green Day didn't forget those of us past tweendom and pre-middle-age, blasting out mid-'90s staples like "Basketcase" and "Longview." Billie Joe didn't forget where he was, either, name-dropping practically every city in the nine-county Bay Area, to my unashamedly suburb-grown delight.

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Christopher Victorio
Serious fun: The Arcade Fire at the Greek Theatre
4. The Arcade Fire @ The Greek Theatre
The indie-faves-turned-stadium-rockers lived up to their tremendous rep in their quest to translate The Suburbs, one of the year's biggest albums, to the live stage. Sure, they had the help of a billboard-sized projection screen, a Very Large Frontman (Win Butler), and an array of antiaircraft-gun-sized tom drums. The Arcade Fire also climbed the scaffolding, leaned out into 8,000 frenzied fans, swordplayed with drum sticks, and even played some gigantic songs. If this is what indie-rock looks like when it hits today's mainstream, I'm okay with it.

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Christopher Victorio
"Do you like me now? What if I play this song? What if I tell you a real story about the U.S.S.R?" Sir Paul at AT&T Park.
3. Paul McCartney @ AT&T Park
Probably not the most exciting thing that happened this year at AT&T Park, but a close second, seeing a real Beatle play real Beatles songs is an experience that almost defies comparison. Almost. Sir Paul's three-hour tour left me giddy, teary, pinching my hands to wonder if that was really his voice singing "Let It Be," "Back in the U.S.S.R," "Helter Skelter," etc. And to my continued surprise, it was. Wow.

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Joseph Schell
Uncomfortably marvelous: LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy at Treasure Island.
2. LCD Soundsystem @ Treasure Island
The so-called "Best Live Band in New York" playing what might be its last Bay Area show ever (that is if James Murphy follows up on his promise to shut this thing down next year) made for a live experience I'm still suffering withdraws from. LCD's pristine records make it easy to forget that there are actually people playing those myriad clockwork drum beats and synth lines -- but the band reminded us plenty onstage. Then there was Murphy, white-suited, kneeling down between songs, operatic, anguished, uncomfortable, incredible. Promise you I wasn't the only ones who got teary during "All My Friends"; here's hoping we all get a chance to do it again.

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Gretchen Robinette
Stephen Malkmus in Berkeley, before reunion fatigue set in.
1. Pavement @ The Greek Theatre
Tighter, louder, meaner, funnier, and way more drunk than their homecoming show the previous night in Stockton, Pavement at the Greek Theatre was everything I wanted Pavement to be, plus a little slop, sarcasm, and original drummer Gary Young. Happy to have seen these indie legends before their extended reunion went a bit sour later in the year, I also had the pleasure of seeing them on nearly home turf. After hearing almost every good Pavement song ever, I left wanting only to hear them all again. That's unlikely, but this will still stand out for me as the Bay Area show of 2010.

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