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.

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