It’s a good thing I held off posting this, because I’ve just made it an even dozen in honor of the year that just flew by, 2012. The last one? A band I had the immense pleasure of seeing for the first time, on First Night just last night at the majestic Symphony Hall. [Why do they call it "First Night"? Shouldn't it be "Last Night"?]
I saw a total of 24 shows this year. Not a whole lot for a music blogger, but I’ll tell you—nearly all of them were spectacular. That’s damn good odds. I’ve heard some people say that 2012 was an awful year. What I’ll say, from my personal perspective, is this: 2012 was a year of massive challenges and difficulties, but the rewards, if you were prepared to step up, and I mean step up in a major way, were equally impressive. It was most definitely not a year for lightweights. But it’s all moving forward, and it’s moving forward quickly. Hold on to something sturdy, because I have a feeling 2013 is going to be just as intense. Remember, with challenge comes opportunity. Happy New Year, everyone.
My 12 favorite shows of 2012…
This was a ridiculously great free concert to celebrate Icelandic artists, in a unique setting, paired with their Boston-based counterparts for quickly thrown together collaborations that sounded anything but.
It was the first time I’d seen any of them, and I fell in hopeless love with everyone, in particular the irresistible Lay Low and the irrepressible Mugison (who performed an impromptu acoustic set of Icelandic folk songs after the show in the ladies’ bathroom).
Nneka at T.T. the Bear’s Place, March 26
Nigerian-German songstress and activist Nneka Elise Egbuna left in her wake a room of dropped jaws at TT’s with her infectious blend of hip-hop, reggae, African pop, tribal rhythms and deliciously authentic 60s/70s soul. Small in physical stature, enormous personality. Mind blown.
Of Monsters and Men with Lay Low at the House of Blues, April 7
This was the year I discovered Iceland. Seriously. Believe it or not, I originally wanted to see this show so I could experience the witchcraft magic of Lay Low again. I knew Of Monsters and Men were bound to be pretty good, since they had just taken the world by storm. But I was not prepared for the epic grandeur and orchestral artistry that lifted the roof off the House of Blues and left everyone with their hearts in their throats. Theirs is a timeless sound that brought the ancient seafarers of Iceland to Lansdowne Street on one glorious spring night. And as for Lay Low? I’ll just repeat the exchange of the evening—(yelled out by an enthusiastic and breathless young man in the audience): “MARRY ME!!” (to which Lay Low responded): “Carry you? I’ll carry anyone!” Indeed she will.
Christopher Paul Stelling at Precinct Bar, April 20
C.P. is an old, old soul, channeling weary and worn road travelers through many centuries, with a beat up guitar on which he creates Old World voodoo and a Pentecostal singing style that summons up The Holy Spirit from every dusty corner. Oh yeah, and he stamps on a piece of plywood for accompaniment as he sings. Totally f’ing awesome. Special mention to his soul partner Julia Christgau, another presence not entirely of this earth. Together they spin serious magic.
Archers of Loaf at the Middle East Downstairs, April 27
For me, it’s one thing to be indie legends, but it’s quite another to stand the test of time and have that ‘older and wiser’ vibe with a touch of sardonic humor that takes the band some place beyond where they were in their heyday. Whether he likes it or not (and I’m sure he doesn’t), Eric Bachmann is the spiritual leader of Archers of Loaf, their reluctant hero. Whether fronting his own band, the equally superb Crooked Fingers, or bringing his beloved Archers back out on the road to coincide with re-releases of their masterworks, Bachmann is a class act, and the band sounds absolutely amazing. At the Middle East that night, delirium ensued from rabid fans who couldn’t believe their good fortune.
The Clean at Brighton Music Hall, June 4
Another legend, another astonishing evening. Having been a diehard New Zealand indie music fan about ten years after everyone else in the U.S. was (and after having even made the 24-hour plane trip to indulge my passion in person), this was a dream come true. Brighton Music Hall? Really? Yes, really. They played just about everything everyone wanted/needed to hear, and they sounded beyond incredible. Again, with the charming sardonic attitude and playfulness that characterizes truly great legendary bands (and, I might add, an attitude that the Kiwis invented), they completely slayed. Did I mention that they sounded really, really great? Like the tightest garage band you’ve ever heard. And yes, I did in fact blather on about god knows what like a goofy fangirl to Robert Scott after the show. Considering he’s a member of both The Clean and one of my all-time favorite bands The Bats, it was simply too much for me to process. Guilty as charged.
Osheaga Festival, Montreal, August 4
featuring (in order of my wanderings): Peter Peter, The Airplane Boys, The Airborne Toxic Event, Austra, Santigold, Tame Impala, The Shins, Bloc Party, M83, The Black Keys.
My single day at the Osheaga Festival in Montreal was an epic experience, not least of which was due to the setting. Being on an island in view of downtown Montreal and walking through the woods back and forth between stages lent a Goldilocks vibe to the proceedings. full review.
Tinariwen with Atlas Soul at the Paradise Rock Club, October 13
If there’s a theme to this year’s “Favorite Shows” list, it’s soul connection, and no one made that connection more than these amazing musicians from Northern Mali, Tinariwen. For people belonging to a culture and with a history so unlike our own to find that common ground between themselves and their audience is nothing short of miraculous. They walked onto the stage in their traditional robes as an exotic breath of air from the Sahara Desert, told us of their stories of hardship and hope in a sea of searing electric blues guitar and African drums, and walked off the stage as old friends. preview and show review.
Silversun Pickups at the Orpheum Theatre, October 17
I wanted to see SSPU anyway, especially after that powerhouse album earlier this year, but what made this show especially sweet for me is that, because of Nikki Monninger’s impending pregnancy (congratulations Nikki!), I had the great pleasure of witnessing one of my favorite Eastside L.A. rock ladies performing with fellow Eastside L.A.’ers. Bliss. Sarah Negahdari is lead singer and guitar shredder for a wonderful little band called The Happy Hollows. If I’ve been sad about not being able to see them for a few years, all was forgotten when I was able to witness Sarah tearing it up on bass in Nikki’s absence on the huge, dramatically lit stage of the Orpheum. Good lord, did they rock.
The Drowning Men at T.T. the Bear’s Place, October 26
I was surprised not to see TT’s packed to the rafters for this show,after I witnessed Oceanside, CA’s The Drowning Men win over legions of new fans while on tour with The Airborne Toxic Event back in 2011. However, those who did come out this night were stunned senseless by the power and fury of these old world pirates on the high seas, with their musical maelstrom of Americana and sea shanties, Eastern European gypsy and off kilter carnival. Poured generously over the top was a glaze of eerie theramin and Nato Bardeen’s desperately pleading vocals. In the confines of the tiny TTs, this amounted to a full-on, dizzying onslaught. And I mean that in a good way. A very good way.
Org: Last Day On Earth at Cafe Oberon, December 20
If you’ve ever been to one of Mali Sastri’s infamous Orgs, you’ll know that it’s always a multimedia extravaganza beyond one’s wildest imagination. She’s become known for assembling jaw-dropping line-ups of musicians and entertainers from the far reaches of artistic disciplines, somehow melding these very diverse talents in a short span of time into a full-blown theatrical production.
However, even by those standards, she outdid herself for what was to be (but luckily for us, wasn’t) the last show ever on planet Earth. The festivities began with an opening Tibetan chant benediction led by Jade Sylvan. From there it was a theatrical smorgasbord of breathtaking poetry and dramatic skits by Rebecca Chaleff & Daniel Schubmehl, Aimee Rose Ranger & Veronica Barron and others; incendiary and elegant performances from two of my favorite local bands, Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys and Jaggery; and the hilarious “Dolphinspiracy” mockumentary, fresh from the fertile and frightening minds of Michael J. Epstein and Sophia Cacciola.
There was mind-blowing dancing from The Wondertwins and a devastating spoken word piece from Johnny Blazes, in a raw, refreshingly real and unadorned moment. It was a beautiful evening of stellar performances that left me breathless.
The Magnetic Fields and Tanya Donnelly at Symphony Hall, First Night Boston, December 31
Tanya Donelly opened, and was wonderful. Having been more familiar with her bands Throwing Muses, The Breeders and Belly, I didn’t know very much about her long solo career. Accompanied by guitar, piano, violin, cello and drums, she performed a lovely selection of heartfelt ballads and sounded great. Apart from being a real “Boston homecoming,” it was an inspired pairing that worked really well. This was my first time seeing The Magnetic Fields, and I can’t imagine a more perfect backdrop than the majestic grandeur of Symphony Hall for their charming, quirky, poetic and wildly romantic songs about life, love, transvestites and barnyard animals. Grand piano, ukulele, cello, acoustic guitar, harmonium and even a touch of kazoo, with Stephin Merritt’s beautiful bass tones resonating in the vast hall… pure magic. “The Book of Love” was so startling and exquisite, about halfway through the song I realized I had been holding my breath.
Happy 2013, and here’s to an amazing year of live performances!