Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Top Live Shows of 2012

The world is ending in two days and the most important thing I can think of to do before I die is to spend a bunch of time writing about music I liked from the past year that very few people will actually read. Anyway, here's the five best concerts I went to in 2012. Hope you enjoy!

1. Bruce Springsteen
KFC Yum! Center
Louisville, Kentucky
November 3

When it comes down to my favorite shows I've seen all year, there's no question about this one being at the top.  It's probably my favorite live show I've ever been to, and it will probably be the best one I'll go to for quite a while.  When you're an ultra-famous rock star who's been around a while, you earn the privilege of surrounding yourself with the best musicians possible.  The Boss's current E Street Band, featuring the excellent guitarists Steven Van Zandt and Nils Lofgren and the solid rhythm section of Max Weinberg on drums and Garry Tallent on bass, as well as a five-person horn section including late E Street saxophonist Clarence Clemons' son Jake and three backup singers, nails every note.  They're so good that Bruce could be way past his prime, barely squeaking out half the notes, and it would still be a great show.  But the reality is, Springsteen is still in his prime.  His latest release, Wrecking Ball, doesn't compare with earlier masterpieces like Born To Run and The River, but from a performance standpoint, Bruce has still got it.  Whether it's old favorites like "For You" and "Rosalita," classic hits like "Born To Run" and "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," post-2000 Bruce like "Lonesome Day" and "My City of Ruin" or cuts from his new album like "We Take Care of Our Own" and "Shackled and Drawn," there's something for every fan, casual or die-hard.  Bruce can still rock better than anyone, and at age 63, he has more energy and stamina than many younger artists.  He worked the crowd well, coming out to high-five the audience early and often.  The arena was also the loudest concert environment I've ever been to; I think my ears are still ringing from it. I don't know how Bruce Springsteen continues to do what he does after all these years, playing for four hours every night, but I hope he continues to do so.  This show is a memory I won't soon forget.

2. Dirty Projectors
Crofoot Ballroom
Pontiac, Michigan
August 15

The sheer musicianship of Dirty Projectors is dazzling on record, but it's astounding live.  I found myself shaking my head in awe of David Longstreth's excellent guitar playing.  During the intense finger-picking on Swing Lo Magellan standout "Just From Chevron," I just couldn't believe what was happening, and he was singing lead on the song!  The rhythm section of Nat Baldwin on bass and Michael Johnson on drums lay down the often complex patterns of the music, especially on "Maybe That Was It," the timing of which I still cannot figure out.  The band was fantastic, but the venue also made the show one of my favorites.  Everyone in the Crofoot had a good view of the band, and the room didn't feel uncomfortably hot or cramped like some smaller venues.  The sound was perfect except for a brief moment when Amber Coffman's guitar cut out during "Useful Chamber," but I think that was the roadies' fault.  If you have the chance to see this band live, do what you need to do to see them.  It's worth it, I promise.

3. St. Vincent
Amber Room at the Old National Center
Indianapolis, Indiana
May 10

It's safe to say that Annie Clark is my second-favorite indie-rock guitarist, behind Dave Longstreth.  She's an excellent musician, and her guitar sound is unlike any other guitarist today.  But she's an even better songwriter than she is a guitarist, and maybe a better singer, as well.  She proved this in Indy at this show, as she sung her beautiful, eclectic melodies without missing a single note.  Her touring band, featuring an excellent rhythm section and two keyboardists, translate the studio sounds to the stage very well.  I liked the cover of The Pop Group's "She Is Beyond Good and Evil" that they did.  St. Vincent's fuzz-punk sounds give classic punk songs a new edge.  Another artist you shouldn't miss the opportunity to see.

4. Beach House
Pitchfork Music Festival
Chicago, Illinois
July 15

People may not think of excellent musicianship when they think of Beach House, because the duo is mostly known for the signature reverby sound of their albums.  But Alex Scally and Victoria Legrand sounded so polished live.  They were damn-near perfect.  I'm sure that Legrand didn't sing a single note out of tune for their whole set, and Scally knows the guitar riffs perfectly.  They know exactly what they want their songs to sound like, and they achieve that live as well as they do in studio.  When they launched into Bloom closer "Irene," I knew the next 8 minutes would be fantastic, and they wildly exceeded my expectations.  As the summer sun began to set on a fulfilling day of music, Beach House was the perfect soundtrack.

5. Killer Mike
Rhino's All-Ages Club
Bloomington, Indiana
November 8

I wasn't sure how this show was going to be at first.  There were only about 40 people in Rhino's, which only filled about a fourth of the place.  But Killer Mike was accommodating to the small crowd, even though it was a less-than-ideal situation for him.  He nailed his verses on every song, performing R.A.P. Music favorites "Big Beast" and "Untitled," as well as older hits and a cover of OutKast's "The Whole World."  He was appreciative of the people there, and he came down into the crowd often.  I shook his hand after he jokingly called me "four-eyes."  Before he left (and before promising to smoke a lot of weed following the show) he said he would be back, but he told us to be sure and bring a friend the next time he was in town.  At the end of the intimate show, it felt like Killer Mike was an old friend who came to visit.  The visit was surprisingly pleasant.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more end-of-2012/world lists, including top tracks and albums.

--Jacob

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