Tuesday, December 18, 2012

On Warmer Music's 10 Favorite Concerts of 2012

Radar Eyes At The Bottle Just Missed My List
But The Camera Didn't Miss Me
One thing about end of the year lists is that there's always this unrealistic patina of omniscient and impartial judgement about them. With the internet, it's now assumed that all music writers (most of whom, like me, do it for nothing more than the exposure and the cheap thrill of being able to spout their opinions publicly) have heard every album on the ever-increasing list of good or potentially good album released in a given year. Not only that, but that they've given each several hearings and formed utterly informed opinions. Not only is that impossible, but it's laughable. Music sites will aggregate their writers opinions, try to form a diverse, yet meaningful selection and yet still end missing much great music and over-hyping other, less-deserving music - it's the nature of the beast.

A nice feature of about live shows is that they're inherently finite. You can't see all the concerts, not even all the bands. Especially not if you want to know the music of the bands you are seeing. Plus there's surprise shows, booking conflicts, unexpected illnesses and any number of factors that make the live experience still something that cannot be truly duplicated or fully "shared" instantly to everyone around the world. 

With that in mind, I present my favorite concerts of 2012. Looking at this list, I'm immediately struck by the lack of hip-hop representation which I chalk up to a combination of my own bad planning combined the unfortunate tendency of hip-hop shows to be washed-out, bass and hype-men heavy messes that one can't fully get behind, no matter how much one REALLY wants to have an amazing show. Still, I'm lucky to live in a city with this much great music and I could have easily doubled this list without running out of amazing musical experiences that made my life better this year. Thanks to the musicians and my audience members for sharing these with me, it was really, really fun.

10. Robbie Fulks as the Velvet Underground, The Hideout
Robbie Fulks' ongoing Monday night residence at the Hideout works because the man is endlessly personable and impressively versatile. For this show he teamed up with the good folks in Tributasauraus to play a smattering of songs from the Velvets. At one point, mostly to amuse myself I shouted out "Play 'The Gift!'" Robbie looked at me, smiled, called me a smartass, then pulled out a chair and some papers and began reading as the band played in the background. "Waldo Jeffers had reached his limit..." A country singer, pretending to be a drugged out-60's artiste reading a pretentious short story. Only at the Hideout.

9. Lee Fields, The Hideout Block Pary, September 15th
The older I get and the deeper into the field of pseudo-criticism I sink, the harder it is for me to go to a show and just be knocked flat on my ass by a great band I've never heard of before (at least until I can afford the trip to SXSW). Fortunately for me, the third weekend in September was so ridiculously packed with amazing music that I didn't have time to research every band at the Hideout Block Party, not even the group slated to go on before Chicago's almighty live Gods, Wilco. Had I been more on my game, I would have known to expect an outstanding set from soul legend Lee Fields. But I wasn't and I didn't and I'm so happy it worked out that way. Fields destroyed in every way you possibly can (certainly when performing in front of a crowd of XRT listeners waiting impatiently for dad rock) and I enjoyed every minute all the more for it being a total surprise. Great music, no matter how old, always has the power to fire up the spirit. Especially as my tolerance for amazement grows higher and higher, it's great to be reminded of that fact.

8. Japandroids, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 20th
Those In The Know Will Be Able To Spot Waldo
It feels like every year at Pitchfork there's one band that riding just the right amount of critical buzz and popular love going into the Pitchfork Music Festival whose show is so packed with joy and whose crowd totally overruns the capacity of the side stage. This year it was Japandroids. You can read my full take over at PopMatters but sufficed to say it was one of those concerts that makes you remember that, at it's root, rock 'n roll is about feeling young and alive and above all free. I was surrounded by dudes in their thirties acting like they were in college and high schoolers who'd roadtripped up from the barrens of the plains to... well, act like they were in college. The two boys from Vancouver matched the crowd, sweaty scream for sweaty scream and the whole thing was a hot, swampy, loud and glorious mess, the type of which I hope to never spend a summer in Chicago without.

7. Fucked Up, Lincoln Hall, April 9th
Another show I've already covered, this one has similarly stayed with me. Fucked Up's 2011 masterpiece David Comes To Life has only grown on me with age and having the chance to see it performed live was one of those things you dream about happening but so rarely actually receive. Damian Abraham never fails to disappoint and gave gave a sweaty screaming performance as the band behind him crafted symphonies of punk madness that never sounded better than in Lincoln Hall. It was a fabulous and unexpected way to spend my post-Easter Monday and will go down next to It Takes A Nation Of Millions, Daydream Nation and Tyranny Of Distance for all-time great album performances I've seen.

6. The Jesus & Mary Chain, Elvis Costello, Iggy Pop, Riot Fest, Humboldt Park, September 16th
I normally separate out different festival sets but this year's Riot Fest seemed to me like one long, glorious nostalgia trip in the park. The Jesus & Mary Chain seemed surprisingly well-suited to the September sun and reveled in scuzzy low end gloom. Elvis seemed positively revitalized plowing through a set of jittery classics from his first two albums and Iggy was as stringy, deranged and ridiculous as I remembered (and he even did "I Wanna Be Your Dog" this time!). It was like someone rifled through the canonical section of my old high school CD binder and turned them into a concert, who WOULDN'T want that every once in a while?

5. Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, Empty Bottle, July 26th
Scotland Yard Gospel Choir has been one of my favorite local bands ever since I saw them tear up the Hideout's Block Party in 2009. Since then they'd released an album been in a van accident and had their lead singer, Elia Einhorn move to New York. I obviously then couldn't have been happier to hear that they were playing a show at the Empty Bottle this summer. After chatting with Einhorn before the show (and hearing they band was laying down new tracks!) I couldn't have been more surprised when he called me up onstage to introduce the band. I don't know how well I pulled it off, but after bouncing along to "Tear Down The Opera House" I'm going to comfort myself with the fact that it was surely long forgotten.

4. Titus Andronicus, The Metro, November 25th
Although I'm a big fan of Local Business, it was a bit divisive among Titus fans, with the cleaner guitars and lack of grandiose instrumentation worrying many that the band was starting to turn away from its strengths. Anyone who saw Titus on their last tour could tell you that the boys (now that Amy Klein has sadly left) have lost none of their fury with their new, (relatively) stripped-down assault. This evening at the Metro featured a crowd ready for some post-holiday musical release and a band determined to give it to them. Playing only four songs from the new album, they tore through a set full of old-favorites that by itself would have made a damn fine greatest hits album with barely a second between screams and hammering guitars. This was the kind of show where you run into an old high school buddy in the crowd, both of you sweating and smiling like maniacs, say nothing and just moshing together and  everything feels right in the world.

3. Kelly Hogan, Millennium Park, May 28th
Memorial Day is kind of a rough day to open a new free music Monday series at Millennium Park. If you're anything like me, catching that show meant tearing yourself away from delicious barbeque to schlep down to the Loop. Well, it was worth it. Hogan was beaming with pride and excitement over her new songs and it radiated from the stage to the back of the lawn. The band was supple, her voice was sweet and summer was already in the air. The new songs all sounded great and her rendition of the Magnetic Fields' "Papa Was A Rodeo" couldn't have been better-chosen. Hogan is one of the nicest people in the business and she ended up being the subject of both my first published review as well as my first interview. It was this concert that set all that in motion and for that, I am eternally grateful.

2. Jeff Mangum, Athenaeum Theatre, February 8th 
As I said in my review, there was almost a religious element to this particular show and crowd. As much as "irony" shaped modern indie rock, the painful, naive emotion of Neutral Milk Hotel was probably more influential on modern alternative music than the disaffected '90s slacker. For those of a certain artistic bent within my generation, Jeff Mangum is not just an unassailable part of the canon (just ask Animal Collective, tUnE-yArDs, Arcade Fire or Glen Hansard) but one whose music creates intensely personal bonds. His show at the Athaneaum was on a cold February night and it struck just the right tone. Reverent applause, tentative audience participation and a setlist without fault - this was a comeback the way it SHOULD be.

1. St. Vincent, Goose Island Block Party, September 1st
I don't know what better way one could welcome in autumn than with a free concert, hosted by a great brewery, with world-class music. That's what Goose Island provided this year with their free (with ticket) block party, which featured gorgeous early-fall weather (minus a few clouds), out of this world beer (with prices to boot) and an ass-kickingly memorable set from St. Vincent. Announcing it would be her last date touring off of Strange Mercy, the show had the air of a band at the top of their game, letting it all hang loose. Amidst frenetic lighting and rabid fans, the band pumped out ninety minutes of utter electro-speckled guitar mayhem, having fully grown into their new sound and touring configuration. Upon leaving the show, my father, himself a veteran of 60's and 70's rock proclaimed, "she's like today's Patti Smith!" I wasn't about to argue with him.


  1. I don't get to many shows, but I caught Wilco at Red Rocks and they were amazing. It doesn't get much better than Impossible Germany with the Sun setting behind the mountains! I also saw Built to Spill at the intimate Blue Bird theater in Denver, and they absolutely blew me away. 30 feet from the stage, great beer, and a near-perfect playlist! Keep up the good work, I really hope I can see some of those bands on your list soon.

  2. Nice! Wilco is NEVER a bad show, especially in a great outdoor venue like that. I saw them at Hideout and, given infinite space, would have included them but I figured that I rambled enough about them here already anyway... (http://onwarmermusic.blogspot.com/2011/12/concert-review-wilco-at-vic-december-15.html)

    I've always thought I SHOULD like Built To Spill more than I actually have, maybe someday I'll come around on them. No matter what though, you cannot underestimate how much better good beer makes a show though. Sounds great.