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The Best Shows, Coast to Coast, to Kick Off 2011

The definitive guide to NYE music, from Patti Smith in NYC to Furthur in San Francisco

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The Flaming Lips are coming prepared for their fourth New Year's show at Oklahoma City's Cox Convention Center: frontman Wayne Coyne tells Rolling Stone there will be “the world’s biggest balloon drop, the world’s largest mirror ball and big, dangerous laser beams. It’s the greatest audience you could ever be a part of, to be with a bunch of fuckin’ freaks that want to do crazy shit and take drugs – that’s what you really want on New Years Eve.” (You'll be able to watch the show live and the day of January 1 right here at RollingStone.com.)

But that’s not all: When the clock strikes midnight, the psych rockers will launch into their 1999 classic The Soft Bulletin for the first time in its entirety. “It seemed as though we should start with this one and see if anybody gives a shit," says Coyne. To meet the task, the band is bringing in new instruments like harp and timpani, “all kinds of stuff that sounded pretentious back in the day but now its like ‘Fuck yeah! It’s big and bombastic!”

8:30 p.m., Cox Convention Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. With Stardeath and White Dwarfs. $10 to $25, Ticketmaster

By Patrick Doyle

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Bruno Mars: New York

After scoring seven Grammy nominations, the Hawaii-born crooner, who got his start as child Elvis impersonator, will sing his biggest hits  — including "Just the Way You Are" and "Grenade" — in Times Square at the R Lounge, a club with panoramic windows overlooking Times Square's madness. 

The R Lounge at the Renaissance New York Times Square, New York. $950 per group of two, Gilt City

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The Hold Steady: Milwaukee

When they've been on the road in the last six months, The Hold Steady have gathered nightly in the back of their tour bus with a list of their 90-song catalog in an attempt to diversify their setlists. "We've been trying to maximize the live experience," says frontman Craig Finn. "When you see the same kid in the front row twice, you can't give him the same show." The band has been playing unreleased tracks like the new, spacey "Criminal Fingers" and heavy midlife crisis anthem "Separate Vacations," both unreleased outtakes off this year's Heaven is Whenever.

Finn still isn't sure what they'll play to ring in the New Year when they perform at Milwaukee's Riverside Theater. "It's that big moment you want to bring people into 2011 in the right way," he says. "Whatever song it is, I hope we play it well. That's an omen for the new year."

But he does have a plan for New Year's Day. "Down the street, there's a hotel that has incredible Bloody Mary's, so I already have my eye on one."

The Riverside Theater, Milwaukee. 9 p.m. $29.50, Tickets.com 

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Phish: New York

For the first time in eight years, Phish will ring in the New Year at New York’s Madison Square Garden – the jam band's home for the holiday in 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2002. The show is sold out, but you can bring the band to your house by streaming the shows live on LivePhish.com. Each gig is available separately for $15 with a full three-night pass going for $40 – so find a fellow phan with a home theater.

Madison Square Garden, New York. Dec. 30, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 31, 8 p.m.; Jan. 1, 7:30 p.m. $82.50, Ticketmaster

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B.B. King: Atlantic City

At 85, B.B. King still tours year-round, and was the closing performer last summer at Eric Clapton's star-packed Crossroads Guitar Festival in Chicago. Today, King spends about as much time telling jokes and stories onstage than playing his famous guitar Lucille, but he still has moments of string-bending bliss. See him while you can.

Harrah's Resort Atlantic City. 10 p.m. $52.25 – $83, Ticketmaster

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The Black Keys with the Greenhornes: Chicago

 A decade ago, these garage-blues bands shared bills as up-and-comers in Ohio clubs. “This will be the first time we’ve played together in a long time,” says Greenhornes drummer Patrick Keeler. Since then, two of the Greenhornes formed the Raconteurs with Jack White, and the Black Keys have done pretty well for themselves as well: their latest album, Brothers, just scored six Grammy nominations. 

Aragon Ballroom, Chicago. Dec. 30, 7 p.m.; Dec. 31, 10 p.m.; Jan. 1, 8 p.m.. $47, Ticketmaster

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Guided by Voices: New York

Indie forefathers Guided By Voices' full classic lineup went on tour this fall, with setlists reaching more than 40 songs with three encores. To ring in 2011, the band — who released their first album, Devil Between My Toes, in 1987 — will play a sold-out show at New York's relatively tiny Irving Plaza. 

Irving Plaza, New York. 8 p.m.. $72, LiveNation.com

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Patti Smith: New York

Since 1998, Patti Smith and her Band have celebrated the holidays with a marathon of New York shows including her birthday on December 30, covering everything from "Oh Holy Night" to Led Zeppelin and James Brown. She often brings in special guests. “My New Year’s are usually spent at Patti’s New York gigs,” says her buddy Steve Earle. “For the last decade, that’s been my way of bringing in the New Year.” Smith has extra reason to celebrate this year: she recently won a National Book Award for her memoir Just Kids.

Bowery Ballroom, New York. Dec. 29. to Dec. 31, 8 p.m. $44-60, Ticketmaster

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The Avett Brothers: Asheville, North Carolina

The folk harmony band will play two nights on familiar soil. "Asheville is a town that was once our home," says band member Bob Crawford, who has played bass alongside Scott and Seth Avett for the last decade. "We wrote many songs while living there and played about every venue that existed during those years. It is always amazing to go back."

Asheville Civic Center, Asheville, North Carolina. 9 p.m. $50 – $61.20, Ticketmaster

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Chuck Berry: New York

"Do you want us to quit?" Chuck Berry asked to a resounding "No" onstage last year at his New Year's Eve gig at Times Square's B.B. Kings Blues Club. This year the 84-year-old rock legend will be back for two sets at the restaurant-venue where he's held court for the last three New Year's holidays. Sure, there's a $10 food minimum (on top of the $100 cover) and Berry plays often tossed-off, sloppy takes on "Rock and Roll Music," "Memphis Tennessee" and "Sweet Little Sixteen," but when he hits his stride – usually during "Let It Rock" – there still isn't a more charismatic rock & roll performer out there. "I didn't think I'd live this long," Berry told Rolling Stone earlier this year. "So now my motivation is to be around until 2020."

B.B. Kings Blues Club, New York. 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. $100, Ticketmaster

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Furthur: San Francisco

Bob Weir and Phil Lesh played several legendary New Year's Eve gigs throughout the Grateful Dead’s career, and they’ll do it again this year at San Francisco’s 7,000-seat Bill Graham Civic Auditorium with Furthur. “We're going to do the patented Bill Graham midnight moment, which of necessity must be top secret,” says Lesh. “But I can say that Father Time and the Baby New Year will be there. We're going to play our usual four-hour show, and then we're going to do a midnight set, for the new year itself. There are a couple of new tunes [in the set], including a special cover tune for the midnight moment. And basically, we're gonna play our little hearts out.”

Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco. Dec. 30-31, 7:30 p.m. $45, Ticketmaster

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Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings: New York

Sharon Jones is leaving her options open regarding her band's New Year's Eve gig in Times Square. "I don't have any plans," she says. "It'll be my first time in Times Square for a New Year's holiday, so this will be new to me." The band has brought hip-shaking, James Brown-style soul revues to festivals all year, and for New Year's they will play a two-hour set plus collaborations with New Orleans legend pianist Allen Toussaint. Says Jones, "I really gotta Google him and make sure I know what's he's doing."

Best Buy Theater, New York. Dec. 30 and 31, 8 p.m. $39.50-$55, Ticketmaster


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Drive-By Truckers: New York

The Georgia rockers have big plans for the last night of their The Big To Do tour, including trapeze act The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, a horn section, and singer Patterson Hood's father David Hood, a bass player on several legendary Muscle Shoals recordings in the early Seventies. There'll almost definitely be some soul covers during their two-and-half-hour set.

Terminal 5, New York. 9 p.m. $41-68, Ticketmaster

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Diplo with Major Lazer: Los Angeles

Last New Year's Eve, the Together as One festival drew 50,000 dance music enthusiasts to Los Angeles Sports Arena, who rang in 2010 with crazy confetti, pyrotechnics and sets from the biggest DJs on the planet. This year looks to be bigger, with Diplo, Major Lazer and a "multi-Media Countdown, climaxing into a spectacular Fireworks display."

Los Angeles Sports Arena. 6 p.m. $60-80, Ticketmaster

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Gov’t Mule: New York

For the ninth year in a row, Warren Haynes and Co. will celebrate New Year's in the Big Apple. In past years, the jam band has played out-there reggae, soul and grunge-themed sets (last year, they even covered songs from the first Woodstock). This year the rules will be looser. “We decided to let the fans vote on what their ultimate setlist would be,” says Haynes. The band will play their fans' 10 favorite Gov’t Mule songs, five covers and five never-played covers — all voted for on their website. “I’m curious to see what it tallies up to be. I’m assuming they’ll be things that are more in our realm, but who knows?”

The holiday is the last Mule show in the U.S. for awhile. “We’re gonna take a well-deserved hiatus for most of next year,” says Haynes, who plans to tour off his soul-based solo album. “We haven’t taken a year off in 17 years. It’ll kind of be a therapeutic thing. We’ll come back stronger than ever.”

Beacon Theatre, New York. Dec. 30, 8 p.m.; Dec. 31, 9 p.m. $70-100, Ticketmaster