My adventures in live music in 2012 started like me, in Portland, and finished 3,000 miles east in New York City. In between, I spent three incredible, and incredibly hot, days and nights at Coachella, where I witnessed a who’s who of A-list artists and up-and-comers.
I started writing concert reviews on the Cajun Tomato in 2010 as a means to wed two of my favorite pasttimes. This year, I posted 42 reviews, with assists from correspondents in Portland (Scott) and Chicago (Brett). These reviews continue to provide me enjoyment, and thus I plan to review even more concerts in 2013 – Mayan Apocalypse, be damned.
Below are my favorite 2012 concerts. Each wrapped me in a coat of awe, whether through their visual spectacle, sound, or both. That’s why I go to concerts – to feel a sense of wonder and tap into something beautiful and raw. Enough romanticism. List time!
Radiohead – Coachella (Indio, Calif.), April 21. I wanted to see Radiohead for ages prior to Coachella. When I finally did they did not disappoint. Hearing tens of thousands sing “This is what you get when you mess with us” at the end of “Karma Police” ranked as one of the most memorable experiences I had at a show this year. (Original review)
The Weeknd – Coachella (Indio, Calif.), April 22. I entered Coachella on Team Frank Ocean. I left Coachella on Team The Weeknd, in terms of favorite up-and-coming R&B artist. Whereas Ocean looked unsure of himself on-stage at Coachella, Abel Tesfaye (nee The Weeknd) held a side stage audience captive with little more than his voice and smile. (Original review)
10. Feist - Coachella (Indio, Calif.), April 21. An ill-timed hunt for Bon Iver led me to see a grand Feist show I probably would have avoided otherwise. My impressions of Feist as a twee, Sesame Street-embracing Canadian were blown away during her Coachella set. The woman can shred on the guitar, and she brought along a mini-orchestra that made her set feel like a standout event. (Original review)
9. Alabama Shakes – Riverfront Park (Portland), May 27. Brittany Howard and Co. served a big ‘ole plate of therapeutic, southern fried rock’n’roll on this overcast afternoon in the park. Howard wrapped the crowd in a bear hug on standout tracks like “Hold On” and “You Ain’t Alone”. She is the real deal, a charismatic frontwoman with a powerhouse voice. PS: I saw the Killers’ knock-offs Imagine Dragons at the same show. If I get around to writing a worst shows list they will be No. 1. (Original review)
8. El-P – Hawthorne Theatre (Portland), June 30. Puppets, ginger rappers, artists high on mushrooms. El-P’s Hawthorne show had it all. And so much more. El-P delivered a full-court press of energetic and dense, bangin’ hip-hop jams from his underrated new album, Cancer for Cure. That Killer Mike opened the show served as lagniappe. (Original review)
7. Cloud Nothings – Bunk Bar (Portland), July 21. File under: Serious young men making serious rock’n’roll about failure, dejection, and anger. There might have been 100 people in the room. Cloud Nothings of Cleveland, Ohio, rocked each and every one of their faces off, including mine. (Original review)
6. WU LYF – Coachella (Indio, Calif.), April 20. Coachella presented me with my first and (apparently) last time seeing the majestic, weird, cromagnon goofballs of WU LYF. Frontman Ellery Roberts pounded on his chest the whole time while wearing a denim jacket with the band’s name stitched on the back and running shorts. The quartet’s set recalled a bizarre sonic stew of pogo-worthy awesomeness. (Original review)
5. The Rapture – Coachella (Indio, Calif.), April 20. My most anticipated Coachella set other than the At the Drive-In reunion. Unlike the Hell Paso punks, The Rapture delivered beyond my expectations, thanks to copious amounts of handclaps, saxophone, and cowbell. Oh, and jams! “House of Jealous Lovers” caused the indie kids to lose their shit like it was 2003. So did set closer “How Deep Is Your Love?” My sweat-drenched hair and aching calves left no doubt to the answer. (Original review)
4. Justice – Coachella (Indio, Calif.), April 22. I caught nearly two dozen sets at Coachella. Justice bested them all with a two-man DJ set that detonated my preconceived notions of how good a DJ set could be. The French dance act’s electronic beeps and warbles blasted across the desert sky, sending thousands spasming with no end in sight. I skipped, I danced, I jumped, I shouted to the heavens. Dance bliss is spelled J-U-S-T-I-C-E. (Original review)
3. Japandroids – Doug Fir (Portland), June 12. I am suffering from a touch of Japandroids fatigue at the moment. I saw them a week ago at Webster Hall in New York City, and while they were good, their set struck me as far from great. Their Doug Fir set, on the other hand, came at a time when I was on fire for the Vancouver guitar and drums duo. Their performance wed the vitality of Celebration Rock with a playfulness and humility that made it a memorable experience, and one of my favorite concerts of 2012. (Original review)
2. Titus Andronicus – Webster Hall (New York City), Dec. 2. At times like these I am reminded of a line Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland uttered when I saw them at Voodoo Music Experience several moons ago. “There is rock. There is roll. This is rock and fucking roll,” Weiland screamed, as I laughed loudly. Well, Titus Andronicus’ Webster Hall set was more than rocking and fucking roll. It was a New Jersey rock and roll miracle. (Original review)
1. Jeff Mangum – Crystal Ballroom (Portland), April 18. More than a concert, Jeff Mangum’s first night headlining the Crystal Ballroom felt like a life event, given how much I love Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea and how little chance I thought I had of seeing Mangum perform it. Unexpectedly, I saw Mangum perform twice in five days. The first was the best. Mangum sang with a fervor that bordered on being possessed, his audience interactions were genuine and revealing, and the atmosphere was one of love and community. I sang my heart out to every song whether I knew all the words or not. So did everyone else around me. Mangum had transported us to a sacred, timeless place for an hour and a half. The only word left to say was “wow!”