(clockwise from upper left): A blessing to see all my favorites this year - The Henry Clay People, The Happy Hollows, Malcolm Sosa's 123Death and The Airborne Toxic Event

(clockwise from upper left): A blessing to see all my favorites this year - The Henry Clay People, The Happy Hollows, Malcolm Sosa's 123Death and The Airborne Toxic Event

I’ll be honest — 2013 was a bitch of an “all work and no play” year, but the times I did get to cut loose with some fine music were pretty spectacular. There were a few really nice festivals (not a format I’m typically fond of), an intimate backyard deck show in Echo Park and the swan song of a beloved L.A. band. What might have lacked in quantity was well compensated in quality. Due to my work circumstances, I had to select carefully, so what you’ll find here are mostly old favorites. As the year winds down, it does so on a rather ominous note, and I’m not entirely certain what the future holds. Ok, no one is ever certain; I’m especially not certain. If there’s anything in a musical vein that I hope for in 2014, it’s that however my life changes, it does so in a way that I can experience a wider range of musical delights in the new year. For a comprehensive overview of top recordings released in 2013, visit Ryan’s Smashing Life for his ’50 Best Albums of 2013.’ Meanwhile, here are six of my personal live performance highlights, in chronological order.

The Airborne Toxic Event in New York City

Airborne at Webster Hall, NYC

Airborne at Webster Hall, NYC

January 15 — Webster Hall, NYC

I end this year on a defiant note: I will never make any excuses or apologies for how much I love The Airborne Toxic Event. They are my “go to guys” for when I’m feeling sad, or celebratory, or in need of release or revitalization. They’ve never been more at the height of their powers, especially with the inspiring and insightful songs on the album they released this year, Such Hot Blood. This may well be my favorite show of theirs ever, due to the outpouring of audience support. Visceral. It wasn’t the largest show they did this year (Coachella, Boston Calling), nor the biggest in terms of orchestral on an epic scale (Visalia, Summerstage, Costa Mesa), but in terms of floor pounding, band/crowd symbiosis and campfire singalong, it stands alone.

The NINES Festival

Explosions in the Sky at The NINES Festival

Explosions in the Sky at The NINES Festival

August 10 — Devens, Massachusetts

For a first attempt at a daylong festival in the bucolic town of Devons, Massachusetts, this beautiful event known as The NINES was a remarkable achievement. For a rock festival, it was delightfully relaxing and low-key, but with a truly stellar lineup. I’d go as far as to say this is one of our state’s best-kept secrets. The attendance wasn’t what it could have been, possibly due to the perceived out-of-the-way location. But it was definitely worth the 45 minute(?) drive from Boston. It was a multimedia “Woodstock-esque” occasion with remarkable music that included local stand-out bands Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys (who yes, I stupidly missed; read my review) and Air Traffic Controller, and internationally-known Walk Off The Earth, Dr. Dog, Delta Spirit and Explosions In The Sky. Incredible. I sincerely hope they do it again next year.

The Henry Clay People’s Swan Song at Echo Park Rising

Joey Siara of The Henry Clay People at the Echoplex

Joey Siara of The Henry Clay People at the Echoplex

August 17 — The Echoplex, Los Angeles

If ya gotta go, go in style. Beloved Eastside L.A. band, The Henry Clay People, said their goodbyes to the world (or at least to the L.A. hipsters and one EastCoaster-wannabe-WestCoaster) with a blowout extravaganza at The Echoplex. It was really an honor to be there. Kan Wakan and The Happy Hollows made this amazing evening even more special. A good portion of this show was filmed and is up on YouTube. So now Joey and Andy Siara are back at school (Joey’s at Harvard!), and I wish them the very best. Having seen this fine band on their own and with Airborne, I have to say that they will be greatly missed.

Happy Hollows in an Echo Park backyard (thanks Sofar!)

The Happy Hollows' at Sofar show in Echo Park

The Happy Hollows' at Sofar show in Echo Park

August 18 — somebody’s backyard deck, Echo Park, Los Angeles

Here’s a little info for anyone not familiar with Sofar. They host these marvelously intimate shows in living rooms (and sometimes backyards) for unique musical experiences which are then streamed on their site. I was really lucky to be able to attend this. It was a beautiful afternoon that featured acoustic sets from Hélène Renaut, The Happy Hollows, Sun Rai and Warships, for about 30 people. It was like being at a really classy Sunday afternoon gathering at a friend’s house. Actually, that’s exactly what it was.

Just Another Tuesday Night In L.A. (no, not really)

(clockwise from upper left): George Glass, 123Death, The Pretty Flowers, Midnight Cities

(clockwise from upper left): George Glass, 123Death, The Pretty Flowers, Midnight Cities

August 20 — George Glass, Midnight Cities and The Pretty Flowers at Boardner’s in Hollywood; 123Death at Los Globos in Silver Lake

It wasn’t a single performance or even a single show, but rather one magificent evening of new projects from several musicians I had previously written about but never seen, at two venues on opposite ends of town. There was George Glass, with Nick Ceglio, Pete DiBiasio — and Rob Danson sitting in (all at some point in Death To Anders); Midnight Cities, with Seamus Simpson (Radars To The Sky) and The Pretty Flowers, with Noah Green (The Henry Clay People) and Eli Reyes (The Henry Clay People, Rademacher) at Boardner’s — and 123Death with Malcolm Sosa (Rademacher, College Kids) at Los Globos in between. This one felt like a family reunion, and even Andy Siara (The Henry Clay People) stopped by Boardner’s to show his support. My god, what an amazing evening.

The Boston Calling Festival

A young fan gets a close up of Anna Bulbrook's crowd surf during Airborne's set at Boston Calling

A young fan gets a close up of Anna Bulbrook's crowd surf during Airborne's set at Boston Calling

September 6 — City Hall Plaza, Boston

There was never any possibility that I wouldn’t attend this second Boston Calling once I heard that Airborne was playing. However, I imagined that the crowds and impersonal nature of a big festival show would be something I would just deal with and endure for my favorite band. I didn’t realize how enjoyable it would actually be. It really is a cool location, set right in the middle of downtown Boston at City Hall Plaza, and for the most part it was well-organized (since they already did the first one back in May). This time, they featured indie rock on the first day and a dance party on the second day, which I think was a great idea. The lineup was quite good. For Day #1, in addition to Airborne, there were Boston bands Viva Viva! and You Won’t, plus Lucius, Okkervil River, Deer Tick, Local Natives, Bat For Lashes, Gaslight Anthem and Vampire Weekend. Oddly, and perhaps it was due to a surprisingly laid-back and responsive audience, it felt like an intimate and friendly summer barbecue and not a corporate rock festival. They’re doing it again this year, starting with a 3-day extravaganza on May 23-25, and if this one in September was any indication, I highly recommend it.

Here’s to 2014 and may your year be filled with beautiful, life-affirming music, wherever you happen to be.

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