Here’s a partial list of places I witnessed amazing live music in 2013: a bowling alley; a glorified parking lot; a swamp-like island decimated by a tropical rainstorm; a record store with a capacity of 60; a legendary baseball stadium that seats 50,000+; and a courthouse square. None of these locales represent traditional concert forums. Perhaps that’s why they produced some of my most indelible live music memories this year. The element of surprise matched with the uniqueness of venue, whether indoors or outdoors, and, of course, the talent of the musicians involved resulted in moments of joy in which time froze.
By my own conservative estimate I witnessed upwards of 60 musical acts perform in close to two dozen venues in 2013. The performers ranged from friends to up and coming blogosphere faves to pop royalty to artists returning after long layoffs. Listed below are my 2013 Favorite Concerts honorees – all of whom shared a uniform excellence.
Honorable Mention: Animal Collective (Governor’s Ball, June 8.); Yeasayer (Governor’s Ball, June 9)
10. (tie) Chvrches (Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, Ore., Sept. 5)
Musicfest NW provided some tough decisions, none tougher than whether to see Deerhunter at Crystal Ballroom or Chvrches at Wonder Ballroom. I made the wrong choice but I atoned for it the following morning, rolling off my friend’s couch to see Chvrches play a six-song set for a KEXP taping. Despite the noon start time, the Scottish synthpop performed with a surplus energy worthy of the avalanche of hype they’ve received in 2013. When they played “Recover” and “The Mother We Share” a collective euphoria washed over the audience and I imagined I had seen their full show the previous night. Hey, close enough.
10. (tie) Majical Cloudz (Other Music, NYC, May 20)
Much like Chvrches’ KEXP set, Majical Cloudz’ record store performance at Other Music served as an appetizer. But what an appetizer! The Montreal duo crafts intense music uncomfortable in its directness. Devon Welsh displayed that intensity with every lyric about death, every jerk of his body forward, every time he said “YEAH!” as though not knowing how to end a song. The music and the performance, stark, raving, and naked, clawed their way into my mind, and that was before Welsh, head shaved and wearing a white T-shirt, requested the audience of 50 to 60 curious folk to sit on the floor for the last three songs. Yeah, it was a bit odd but I was sold. (Original Review)
9. Radiation City (Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, Ore., Sept. 7)
What seemed at first like a futile search to catch an entertaining show on Saturday night at MusicfestNW produced an unexpected discovery. My friend Ben and I tried and failed to get into shows featuring Charles Bradley (Crystal Ballroom) before “settling” for local faves Radiation City. (The Washington State-USC game caused us to miss Bradley. Shaking my head!) I entered Radiation City’s show open to the idea of leaving after three songs only to have the quintet bowl me over with opener “Babies”, five minutes of the dreamiest, most hauntingly beautiful trip my ears have heard. Bouncy boy-girl harmonies, fuzzed-out guitars, and the vision of a band lost in its performance, its members tapping their feet in time, all made me miss Portland before I had even left.
8. Cut Copy (Governor’s Ball, NYC, June 8.)
Cut Copy is labeled a dance band. When I hear the Aussies live I don’t want to dance, I want to ascend. And so it was when I saw them for the third time this summer performing at the rain-soaked Governor’s Ball Festival. I bounced on the concrete patch in front of the stage as Cut Copy ran through a set of sun-soaked anthems that, in a just world, would have them headlining a festival like Governor’s Ball instead of playing an afternoon slot. “Lights and Music” and “Hearts On Fire” set off defacto high jump contests for those of us lucky enough to not be stuck standing on the festival’s swampy sod. About the only thing Cut Copy didn’t do with their performance was dry the ground.
7. Charles Bradley (Williamsburg Park, Brooklyn, Sept. 20)
Aziz Ansari tells a great story at the end of his comedy special Buried Alive in which he meets Seal and, after hearing the “Kiss From A Rose” singer speak, wants to have sex with him. The joke is Seal is so suave that Aziz, as a heterosexual man, cannot resist his charms. I wouldn’t go that far about sixty-something soul singer Charles Bradley, but as I watched him writhe on the stage and thrust his pelvis forward I wondered whether the man, who minutes prior told the audience he loved each and every person in shouting distance, wanted my lust or love. Didn’t matter, as it turned out. What mattered was that Bradley is a hypnotizing performer – screaming, moaning, pining, begging, shimmying, shaking, quaking, and of course thrusting like a man four decades his junior. And it all came with a positive message and a zero dollar price tag. I love Charles Bradley!
6. The Dismemberment Plan (Terminal 5, NYC, Oct. 18)
“I’m good for the night,” a woman behind me exclaimed after The Dismemberment Plan concluded “The City”, a kiss-off to twenty-something frustration and longing. The Emergency & I standout came, surprisingly, midway through the set. Lest that be the night’s climax the frenetic D.C. rock quartet unleashed a wave of choice cuts from Emergency & I and its follow-up Change such as “You Are Invited”, “What Do You Want Me To Say?”, and “Following Through”, hyping the crowd into sweaty, swelling mass of dancing, leaping, and stage-diving bodies. Given the way the crowd flipped its lid it was easy to forget Travis Morrison and Co. were playing their first tour date in support of their first new record in 12 years. Yeah they had played a string of dates in years past but this one wedded new and old material, and it was a blast. “You’ve still got it,” the crowd pleaded before the band returned for its encore. I couldn’t have agreed more.
5. Jay-Z/Justin Timberlake (Yankee Stadium, The Bronx, July 20)
A few weeks ago I wrote 900 words about my mixed feelings about seeing Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake after encountering a homeless man on the way to the show. There’s a part of me conflicted about the whole thing but there’s also a part of me – the part of me that enjoys live music – that marveled in the spectacle of the enterprise (the hulking stage, the larger than life personas at play, the greatest hits setlist, the fact it was all taking place inside Yankee Stadium, etc.). Legends of the Summer was entertaining, immensely enjoyable, and the catalyst for a healthy dose of introspection – more than I can say about the vast majority of shows I saw in 2013.
4. Jessie Ware (Bowery Ballroom, NYC, Jan. 17)
The vivacious Brit’s voice touched every nook and cranny inside the Bowery Ballroom, and her self-effacing, easygoing stage personality likely touched every heart. Any doubts I had about whether Ware’s singing abilities were real or the result of studio voodoo were erased on her opening track, “Devotion”, in which her voice hit a melismatic motherlode toward the song’s close that recalled a person hula-hooping at warp speed with their lungs. Yes, she has pipes. And jamz too. I remain steadfast that her album, Devotion, was one of 2012’s finest. Hearing her speak with candor about the inspirations for some of the songs, such as her relationship with her best friend (“Wildest Moments”) and her love for her brother (“Taking In Water”), made those songs hit closer to home than I had imagined. This sold-out show announced Jessie Ware as a voice, real, sassy, funny, and British, to follow for years to come.
3. Titus Andronicus (Brooklyn Bowl, Brooklyn, Jan. 30)
I almost went blind at this show, if only momentarily. My glasses flew off while jumping around in the pit during “A More Perfect Union”, and well I could not see. Thankfully, my roommate Will found them away from the scrum, and still intact. I wasn’t quite as lucky when I saw Titus Andronicus in Portland during Musicfest NW. I dove into the huddled mass during “No Future Part Three” and my Mets cap flew off never to be seen again. I mention these two occurrences because I tend to lose my shit at Titus Andronicus shows, literally and figuratively, because the pride of Glen Rock, N.J., rocks my face off. Doesn’t matter what coast they’re playing or whether they’re playing with five members or four, the consistent ass-kicking effort they put forth is awe-inspiring and makes me hold their home state in higher esteem. (Original Review)
2. Nas (Governor’s Ball, NYC, June 8.)
This summer rap’s self-proclaimed gods – Jay-Z, Kanye West, Eminem – returned with underwhelming records dressed up as something fresh, provocative, or celebratory. Heir to the throne Kendrick Lamar set the hip-hop world abuzz when he declared himself the King of New York in his verse on the Big Sean feature “Control”. Perhaps with all this outlandish boasting it would have been easy to forget Nasir Jones. He released no record this year, he didn’t call himself a god (that I know of), and he mostly stayed out of the limelight except for his face being on a massive Hennessey billboard in New York City. When Nas and his band took the stage to close Governor’s Ball’s second night (opposite Guns’N’Roses) his street poetry, his flow, his uplifting message, his humorous takes on life as an older rapper, and his 500-megawatt charisma dominated the proceedings in a way it would be hard to imagine Fat Axl Rose did on the other side of the festival’s grounds. Here, the true King of New York hip-hop stood before us. Leave the self-deification and myth-making statements for the others. A true legend only needs a mic, a beat, and his story. (Original Review)
1. Dan Deacon (Pioneer Courthouse Square, Portland, Sept. 6)
Less a concert and more a musical funhouse for adults, Dan Deacon facilitated one of the more awesome concert-going experiences I’ve had, and yet I do not remember any of the songs specifically. What I remember is how he conducted these mad dance-off experiments. Indie dance shows can often be drags because people worry about who’s watching their awkward “moves”. Deacon shattered that ice, putting the onus instead on those who chose to sit out the proceedings. Friends of mine who have seen Deacon perform described similar dance-offs. So I know this was not a unique or new format for Deacon. That it took place in a courthouse square with hundreds of people running around as if high on bath salts, though? Pretty phenomenal. This show redeemed what, up until that point, had been a disappointing MusicfestNW. And looking back, it’s easy to say no concert in 2013 brought me as much joy or surprised/delighted me as much as Dan Deacon’s performance at Pioneer Courthouse Square. (Original Review)
INSANE MUSICAL MOMENTS
3. Being in the room when 100 little girls went ape shit at the sight of One Direction for a Saturday Night Live pre-taped sketch.
2. Having Third Eye Blind re-affirm my stinking suspicion they only had like four good songs when they played at Citi Field in Queens after a Mets game.
1. Mariah Carey and her bling sling. (Original Review)
BIGGEST CONCERT REGRETS
3. Picking Deerhunter over Chvrches at Musicfest NW
2. Letting muddy conditions stop me from seeing Haim at Governor’s Ball
1. Missing what could be The Walkmen’s last NYC show at McCarren Park this summer