First off, with every end of the year post, i’m going to be post one of my favorite christmas songs. and for the record, there are no hannukah songs i can think of worth posting. someone suggest some and prove me wrong.
I’m not gonna dress this one up in some kinda sunny summer splash-fest: I did not attend a whole lot of excellent shows this year. Some years, shows hit you like those commercials for Caribbean cruises where someone walks through a waterfall; you know you’ve just moved through something, you feel different, refreshed, and soaking wet. Other years, shows are ticket stubs and cigarette smoked air. Here were the ones that were worth it this year:
12- Matt and Kim (McCarren Park Pool, July 25th )
I don’t mean to reduce them to this, but Matt and Kim are as much Sesame Street as they are Bedford Ave. Their songs are simple, furious, and designed to make you feel good and love life. If this sounds both unbearable and unremarkable, then yeah, to many it probably is; the group is pretty polarizing. But for me the whole package is just laughter from deep in the pit of your stomach. and at this show when they brought out a marching band and lead a 5 minute cover of Crazy in Love that turned into an anti-war chant, it might’ve been simplistic and pointless, but it was also one hundred percent genuine.
11- Low (UFO Factory, Detroit, September 18th)
10- Thao and the Get Down Stay Down (Mercury Lounge, June 4th)
9- Centro-Matic/Grand Archives (Bowery Ballroom June 13th)
8- Siren Fest (Coney Island)- [Parts and Labor, The Dodos, Annuals, Beach House, etc. July 19th)
This is here because, more or less, every band on the bill of this year’s Siren Festival take themselves very seriously. Some have earned it, such as the nuanced noise of Parts and Labor or the meticulously constructed, enjoyably overwrought songs of Islands and Broken Social Scene. For others, it’s just their starting and ending point; Beach House are never gonna be a fun act, neither will yelpcore act Jaguar Love. These are not fun bands, but they came together to put on a shockingly cohesive, exited, fun show. Part and Labor sounded great, Islands sounded the littlest bit elated, and even Ra Ra Riot, a band i’m by no means fond of, let their songs float up into the salty greasy air. Absolutely my favorite Siren Fest in years.
7- John Langford (The Corner Brewery, Ypsilanti October 20th)
John Langford did not ask for a free beer at this show. I was standing at the bar next to him before he played his set, and the bartender did not know who he was. I cannot think of any moment more fitting for the start of his energetic solo set than him paying for his beer and walking towards his guitar. Langford, as i’ve said whenever i’ve discussed his group The Mekons in the past, is the embodiment of the rockstar that all of us wanted to be; intelligent, down to earth, and yet also a little bit larger than life, the way his voice turns to the X page of the dictionary and starts chanting words you’ve never heard before. He only sang for about an hour, a few covers, a few mekons songs, a few of his own songs, and then, perfectly, he walked back toward the bar. I can only guess he paid for another drink.
6- The Weakerthans/Christine Fellows/ A A Bondy (Mad Hatter, Covington, KY, March 28th)
my fave band puts on a good show at a funny venue in Cincinnati. A A Bondy is also quite good. The end.
5- Joan Of Arc/Ponytail/The Mae Shi/The Muggabears (Market Hotel, Brooklyn July 21st)
So I guess the idea of a todd p show is an orgy for people who really like to dry hump ( proof i’m not being hyperbolic.) There is a chance I contracted one of several diseases from this show. Still, I’m thrilled I finally got to see joan of arc live, and if you’re ever looking for a soundtrack for running into assholes wearing sunglasses at night as sweat renders your clothing a mere technicality, that soundtrack is Ponytail. This show was a waterpark that was in the process of being disassembled as you were halfway down the loopy slide.
4- Calexico (The Crofoot, Pontiac, MI, November 20th)
Calexico will always be gold in my book because they take a concept that is unusual in indie rock: playing their instruments extremely well but not needing every song to scream that technical skill, being able to write solidly interesting lyrics, but not overloading their songs with words, being able to hop from genre to genre while still having a unique personality, and putting on live shows that never need a climax because they’re consistently excellent from beginning to end.
3- Wilco/Andrew Bird (Tanglewood, August 12th)
Once a year I try to take my parents to a concert. My dad has pretty phenomenal taste in music, and my mom is pretty tolerant, so it’s more of a logistical problem than anything else. The show was out in a big field in western Massachusetts, one that normally is filled with the sounds of Elgar, A Prarie Home Companion and James Taylor. Proof that wilco are a live act who can actually fill up any space, “I Can’t Stand It” echoed off the hills, and “Spider’ (Kidsmoke)” actually shook the dirt. But this show was all about my parents slowdancing to “Jesus etc.”, one of those images that gets carved into the inside of your skull for safekeeping.
2- Bottomless Pit/The New Year (Knitting Factory, New York July 11th)
This show was great because Bottomless Pit are not Silkworm, they’re a band formed out of death, and whatever celebration they have is always going to have bitterness and doubt in there, but they entirely refuse to let that be the end point. This show was great because despite the acts tragic beginning, they played loud and fast at the knitting factory. This show was unbelievable because it contained one of the most transcendent musical moments I experienced this year; The New Year finished their last song with one guitar string still vibrating, and that string continuing to be plucked, just the single sound of one string, as Bottomless Pit came on, and slowly built upon that one piece of vibrating metal, and lead perfectly into their first song. It was powerful music, bricked into its most basic form.
1- Taj Mahal/The Skatalites (Summerstage, New York, July 27th)
What’s the worst thing that can happen at a huge outdoor show? Bad weather? No, the worst thing that can happen at a huge outdoor show is if the band sucks. If the stage is persisting, and more than that, if the stage is celebrating, then golfball sized hail will not stop an audience. It rained for a lot of this show, but both Taj Mahal and the Skatalites smiled and danced and played songs old and new like the words “nostalgian act” had no meaning to them. This show was joyful. It was a musical show that was filled so entirely with joy.