Tuesday, January 8, 2013

2012 - Live Music

I decided I'd jot down, for the sake of posterity, some of my 2012 highlights - particularly with respect to live music.  This was a big year for me: I saw more concerts in 2012 than in any other year (possibly even combined), and most of them were good.  So here's a couple of lists.

Top 10 Concerts

1. June 24 - Punch Brothers at the Sheridan Opera House, Telluride, CO

This was probably the best show I have ever attended.  They were just having fun, and they played for probably two and a half hours.  The covered some of the usuals, like The Strokes, Beck, Radiohead, and Gillian Welch, but also got in a couple by the likes of D'Angelo and Weezer.  To top it all off, there was an Ed Helms appearance.  Oh, and I had a clear balcony view of the stage from about 15 feet away.

2. December 29-31 - Punch Brothers at the Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY

OK, this is technically three shows, but I didn't want Punch Brothers to dominate this list more than they absolutely have to.  The second night, with Aiofe O'Donovan opening, was my favorite.  The best thing to come out of these shows?  A superb cover version of The Beach Boys' "Surf's Up."

3. November 24 - Brandi Carlile with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra at Benaroya Hall, Seattle, WA

Both nights I attended were good, but the Saturday show sticks out - she brought some young buskers from Pike Place Market on stage to play a song, did Voodoo Chile with Mike McCready, and just like on her Live At Benaroya Hall recording, they did "Turpentine" with the crowd participation.

4. November 25 - Punch Brothers with Milk Carton Kids at The Neptune Theater, Seattle, WA

This was my favorite Punch Brothers show that was part of a normal tour, mostly because they did the last three songs of the encore unplugged, in a sizable theater, and you could still hear them.  You could actually hear the door downstairs swing shut.  Really, I guess it was just my favorite crowd.

5. April 7 - Steven Wilson at House of Blues, Los Angeles, CA

Wilson, one of my favorite musicians, hadn't been to Phoenix since 2005.  So I decided, what the heck, I might as well make the drive out to LA and see him.  It was worth it.  I've never seen a guy switch guitars more times throughout the course of a show, or a song for that matter, than this guy.

6. December 5 - Punch Brothers with Milk Carton Kids at Crescent Ballroom, Phoenix, AZ

I was surprised how different this show was from the Seattle show just a week and a half earlier.  This time, we got some Bach, The Band's "Ophelia," and "Watch 'at Breakdown" with some excellent solos and "I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas" sung in the middle.

7. October 27 - Calexico with The Dodos at Crescent Ballroom, Phoenix, AZ

It's rare that I'm equally excited about finally seeing an opening band as I am about the headliner.  The Dodos were good, but Calexico still stole the show.  This was a solid evening.

8. August 28 - The Old 97's with Rhett Miller and Those Darlins at Crescent Ballroom, Phoenix, AZ

The show actually started before advertised, so I missed part of Rhett's acoustic set, and I didn't really care for the other opener, but The Old 97's were excellent.  This is just such a good, energetic live band, and one that you probably shouldn't miss next time they come to town.

9. October 6 - Jenny Lewis with Heartless Bastards at Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, CA

I wasn't really familiar with either of these bands before attending this show, but now I like both of them.  Jenny Lewis is actually quite musically diverse, and it wasn't difficult to enjoy her show, even without any familiarity with her music.

10. April 6 - Carolina Chocolate Drops with David Wax Museum at Royce Hall, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA

One of the rare occasions where I've seen the opening band steal the show.  CCD were good, but the David Wax Museum was thoroughly entertaining, creative, and energetic.  

Top 10 Concert Moments

To piggyback on the above list, I thought I'd pick out the 10 best memories from concerts this year:

1. Sam Bush plays Up On Cripple Creek and Big Bottom

Sam's headlining Telluride Bluegrass set this year ended with a tribute to Levon Helm - a fifteen minute version of Up On Cripple Creek - followed by a tribute to Spinal Tap, with about five bass players from various bands on stage.  Hard to forget something like that.

2. David Wax Museum joins the audience

I've seen a few bands go unplugged - probably about a half dozen times this year - but these guys took it to a new level.  The three musicians simply wandered around the auditorium while playing a song, sometimes standing on things, trying to make their way through rows of seats, and spreading themselves out to make it a true surround sound experience.

3. Chris Thile plays Bach

I first saw this on December 5 in Phoenix, but he did the same at the Bowery Ballroom as well.  His performance was absolutely amazing, and he's clearly deserving of the MacArthur Fellowship.

4. Punch Brothers play D'Angelo

Punch Brothers got a little soulful, with Noam Pickelny sporting cool shades and Gabe Witcher bringing his most emotive vocals in a display that shows that these guys can play anything, even if they did seem a little too ironic.

5. Brandi Carlile plays Hendrix

At the end of her 2nd Benaroya Hall show, Brandi mentioned that she had a sort of Seattle them going on for this show - she had brought out buskers from Pike Place Market, and now she brought out Seattle's favorite modern guitarist (Mike McCready, Pearl Jam) to pay tribute to Seattle's best historical guitarist (Hendrix, you idiot).  It was a little odd hearing her sing Voodoo Chile, but if you were there, you'd have appreciated it.

6. Ahoy!

Right before playing there version of Josh Ritter's "Another New World" at their free Elks Park show in Telluride, Punch Brothers verbally considered making "Ahoy!" the official Punch Brothers greeting.  Everybody quickly adopted this, and drunk crowds of rowdy men could be heard shouting "Ahoy!" at random times throughout the rest of the weekend.  "Ahoy!" stuck, and after the Bowery run, I think I am all "Ahoy!"ed out. For now.

7. John Paul Jones joins Giant Giant Sand

Raise of hands: who has heard of Giant Giant Sand?  I hadn't before I attended Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.  This Tucson band was playing an early Sunday morning set, when they were joined by John Paul Jones and his mandolin.  I had seen him play bass before, but this was a new one for me.

8. Punch Brothers Unplugged

How do five people in a theater play to hundreds of people without amplification?  Those people have to be very quiet.  And they were amazingly so.

9. Brandi Carlile rocks out with the orchestra

It's always fun hearing rock songs played with a backup orchestra, but this stood out.  "Dreams" is a particularly energetic tune, and a few of those old white guys on trombone were actually getting into it.

10. Glen Hansard plays The Weight

Glen Hansard's show was unexpectedly good in general, but my favorite part was when he paid tribute to Levon Helm by playing The Band's "The Weight."  

There you have it.  It was a good year.  Maybe I'll post a list of *all* the shows I attended, and if I have time, update this with some youtube videos.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Years 2012 - Punch Brothers at Bowery Ballroom

In September, Punch Brothers announced they would be playing a three-night stand at The Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan.  I decided, what the heck, it would be a great excuse to go to New York, right?  I really didn't know what to expect, but after seeing them play two entertaining and memorable shows a week and a half apart in Seattle and Phoenix, my hopes were elevated, to say the least.  This is their adopted hometown, and many bands put on their best show in front of their hometown crowd.

Another interesting idea they had for this series was having a different opening act each night.  Jeffrey Lewis, a New York anti-folk musician who incorporates jovial low-budget slideshows into his set, opened the first night.  Aoife O'Donovan, lead singer of Boston string band Crooked Still, and occasional collaborator with Chris Thile and Noam Pickelny, opened the second night.  Finally, Michael Daves, flatpick guitarist who collaborated with Chris Thile, opened night three.

The whole party started Saturday night with their rendition of Josh Ritter's "Another New World," followed by "New York City" (which, amazingly, was played only once all weekend).  They played some of their standard songs ("This Girl," "Flippen," and "Rye Whiskey" would be played all three nights), as well as a few I haven't heard too many times.  "Down Along The Dixie Line," a Gillian Welch song on their new EP Ahoy!,  was played early in the set.  They also played their contribution to the Hunger Games compilation, "Dark Days," for the first time in New York (and also the first time for me).  They would play this again the third night.  Late in the set, guitarist Chris Eldridge sang a Seldom Scene song called "Through The Bottom Of The Glass", and they also treated us to the third movement of "The Blind Leaving The Blind."

The highlight of the set came, however, when they debuted a new cover version of The Beach Boys' "Surf's Up."  This may be the best Beach Boys cover I've heard, so it didn't annoy me that they played it all three nights.  Chris Thile gave credit where it was due after the performance, with the succinct announcement, "Brian F*@king Wilson!"

The encore started the same way it did in Phoenix: with Chris Thile playing Bach's Sonata #1 in G Minor on solo mandolin.  Go find this on youtube.  It will blow you away.  After an instrumental I couldn't identify, the band was joined on stage by Jeffrey Lewis for a bluegrass version of his song "Creeping Brain," complete with low budget slideshow.

Sunday night started with "Don't Get Married Without Me" and their version of Welch's "Wayside (Back In Time)."  It might be interesting to note that the opening act, Aiofe O'Donovan, and her boyfriend were standing right next to me against the side wall.  She disappeared during 2nd performance of the third movement of "The Blind Leaving The Blind" in as many nights, and that was because she would join the band on stage for "Here And Heaven" from the Goat Rodeo Sessions album and Punch Brothers' own "Soon Or Never" (I feel like they never play these songs without her).  They also played Radiohead's "2+2=5" and The Band's "Ophelia" and a rare performance of "The Woman And The Bell."

The main set ended with "Surf's Up," this time with a segue into their instrumental romp "Watch 'at Breakdown," which seems to have longer and longer solos each time they play it (and sometimes another song in the middle - in Phoenix it was "I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas").

Chris Thile mentioned several times that they love playing in New York - at one point Sunday he said that his favorite people to play in front of are New Yorkers and, after a pause, "people who travel to New York for the holidays."  I'm glad he made a shout out for those of us who aren't New Yorkers.

The encore, which would end up being my favorite stretch of the whole weekend, started with Chris Thile and Aiofe O'Donovan's spur-of-the-moment Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch cover band playing "The Way It Will Be" (I knew there was a reason MOG kept playing that song whenever I'm using the radio feature).  They also played a John Hartford song called "Living In The Mississippi Valley" (with Chris Eldridge singing), followed by Beck's "Sexx Laws," with a segue into the traditional tune "Train On An Island."

The third night began with an old blues song called "Boll Weevil," which led into "Rye Whiskey."  "Rye Whiskey" is that one song that they play at every show - and it really is a good choice for a staple song.  It's fun every time.

They also played a song they described as a medley that was cut from their album Punch; I don't know what it was called, but I feel like I may have heard them play it once before.  They also worked in their version of The Strokes' "Reptilia," and Rob Moose joined them on stage for the third movement of Bach's Brandenburg Concerto.

Of course, the centerpiece of this set came at about 11:50PM - they began playing "Surf's Up," and again included the segue into "Watch 'at Breakdown."  Throughout the show, Noam Pickelny had been announcing the number of seconds left until midnight, and during Thile's mandolin solo, Noam, did this with increasing frequency... "67"... "38"... "18!"... "14!"... The crowd, of course, joined in for the final countdown from 10 to 1 (I think they were actually off by about 10 seconds), after which the band began playing and singing "Auld Lang Syne," after which they finished "Watch 'at Breakdown."

When the band came out on stage for the encore, a bunch of people shouted "Missy", after which Thile said, "Why not?"  He said they were going to play a holiday song, but would play the request instead.  I like "Missy," but this was pretty disappointing, as I estimated the holiday song he was referring to was "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."  Would've love to hear that one.  They then played a raucous "Icarus Smicarus" from the Ahoy! EP, after which they were joined by Michael Daves for a whole bunch of bluegrass songs I had a hard time identifying.  Eldridge sang one more, "Don't Give Your Heart To A Rambler" by Jimmy Martin, and they played a couple more bluegrass songs.

It really was a great stretch of shows - and I think it was worth going to each one.  This weekend still doesn't quite compare to their Nightgrass show in Telluride, though.  These shows were less intimate, and possibly directed at a different type of audience.  One thing that did impress me here is that the crowd really did know the songs - and not just the new ones, but the ones from the previous record as well.  At any rate, it was a great way to spend the weekend; it might be my most memorable New Years ever.

Saturday, December 29Sunday, December 30Monday, December 31
Another New World (Josh Ritter)
New York City
Heart In A Cage (The Strokes)
Song For A Young Queen (Chris Thile)
Down Along The Dixie Line (Gillian Welch)
This Girl
Dark Days
New Chance Blues (Norman Blake)
Don't Need No
Surf's Up (Beach Boys)
Flippen (Väsen)
Through The Bottom Of The Glass (Seldom Scene) 1
The Blind Leaving The Blind Mvt 3
Rye Whiskey

Sonata #1 in G Minor (Bach) 2
Creeping Brain (Jeffrey Lewis) 3
Patchwork Girlfriend
Moonshiner (traditional) 4
Don't Get Married Without Me
Wayside (Back In Time) (Gillian Welch)
You Are
Flippen (Väsen)
Ophelia (The Band)
The Blind Leaving The Blind Mvt 3
Here And Heaven (Ma, Duncan, Meyer, Thile) 5
Soon Or Never 5
2+2=5 (Radiohead)
This Girl
The Woman And The Bell
Rye Whiskey
Surf's Up (Beach Boys) ->
Watch 'at Breakdown

The Way It Will Be (Welch/Rawlings) 4 8
Living In The Mississippi Valley (John Hartford) 1 5
Sexx Laws (Beck) ->
Train On An Island (traditional)
Boll Weevil ->
Rye Whiskey
Who's Feeling Young Now?
(punch outtake)
Patchwork Girlfriend
Dark Days ->
The Beekeeper
Reptilia (The Strokes)
Next To The Trash
Movement And Location
Surf's Up (Beach Boys) ->
Watch 'at Breakdown ->
Auld Lang Syne (traditional) ->
Watch 'at Breakdown
Hundred Dollars
No Concern Of Yours
Brandenburg Concerto Mvt 3 (Bach) 6
This Girl
Flippen (Väsen)
Brakeman's Blues (Bill Monroe)

Icarus Smicarus
Rabbit In The Log (Bill Monroe) 7
Billy In The Lowground (?) (traditional) 7
Cry, Cry Darling (Bill Monroe) 7
? 7
Don't Give Your Heart To A Rambler (Jimmy Martin) 1 7
? 7
? 7
? 7

Setlist notes:
1 Chris Eldridge on vocals
2 Chris Thile solo
3 with Jeffrey Lewis
4 unplugged
5 with Aiofe O'Donovan
6 with Rob Moose
7 with Michael Daves
8 Chris Thile and Aiofe O'Donovan, both on guitar