Making More Time For Music, And Less Time For Excuses

March 9, 2016
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View from the nosebleeds at The Boss tore up the Xcel on his River Tour.

Music has always been integral to my daily life – see “Pony Jams” Volumes One and Two for more on that front – but a hectic work schedule has made it increasingly easy to pass up concerts. The band won’t even go on until 11 p.m.! I’ll just catch them next time they’re in town…

My insightful colleagues recently shared their strategies for achieving “balance,” and this year, I’ve committed to taking advantage of the off-hours by attending live music. Lots of it. It’s made for late nights, but it’s been worth it – and one of the best parts is being exposed to wildly different experiences from show to show.

Here’s a sampling of the bands I’ve seen in concert in the past month or so. Perhaps it’ll spark your interest to explore a new band, to pull the trigger on concert tickets you’re contemplating – or to simply pursue whatever other passion you may have sidelined due to any number of excuses.

Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins and M. Ward – Ryman Auditorium, Nashville
I traveled to Nashville where, in addition to visiting honky tonks and Jack White’s Third Man Records, I soaked up the legendary acoustics of the Ryman Auditorium, longtime home of the Grand Ole Opry. Jenny Lewis, formerly of Rilo Kiley, performed her “Rabbit Fur Coat” album on its 10-year anniversary. She was joined by one of my favorite artists, M. Ward, and one of my not-so-favorite-artists, Jimmy Buffett, who briefly appeared on stage for some inexplicable reason. Here’s video that caught the attention of Rolling Stone:

Jason Isbell – Northrop Auditorium, Minneapolis
Long known for his country-inspired guitar work in Drive-By Truckers, Jason Isbell has emerged as (in my opinion) one of the absolute best songwriters of our time. A bold statement, to be sure, but after he netted a couple of Grammys for best Americana album and I watched him sing before a packed-in, enraptured audience at the recently renovated Northrop Auditorium, I realized that many others share my high regard for his emotional (and often devastating) songwriting. Here’s a fantastic performance he did for ACL:

Bruce Springsteen – Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul

I’m always wary of stadium shows. In fact, the only huge arena show I previously attended was the Rolling Stones in Kansas City. But in the last year, I’ve been diving deep into Bruce Springsteen’s catalogue, and when I heard The Boss was embarking on The River tour – in which he’d play the famous record in its entirety – I was hooked. It was an absolute marathon show, spanning roughly three-and-a-half hours as he played “The River” followed by dozens of other songs from throughout his prolific career. (Not to mention the time spent dancing with a 91-year-old superfan.) Here’s a video of the E Street Band playing SNL to promote the reissue of The River:

Modern Radio’s 16th Anniversary Show – 7th Street Entry, Minneapolis
I’ve hit up several local shows, from random bands at the 331 Club, to funny ‘90s covers at Mayslack’s, to a friend’s band called Social Disaster. But the standout was the 16th anniversary concert for legendary Twin Cities label Modern Radio. Sicbay was amazing, as was STNNNG – a singular band whose sporadic frontman’s style is perhaps better described as shouted poetry than “singing.” Check them out below:

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – First Avenue, Minneapolis
Godspeed’s a Canadian group that ushered in the “post-rock” movement in the late ‘90s/early 2000s, later made popular by bands like Sigur Rós. Their long, swelling instrumental songs are a far cry from the short, verse-chorus-repeat pop songs that dominate our culture, but they’ve amassed a devout following for their moving, beautifully orchestrated compositions. After a long hiatus of touring, they performed to a packed First Avenue Mainroom and the emotion in the crowd was palpable. Here’s footage from a different but similar show, for a peek at their unique style:

Adam Levy – The Dakota Jazz Club, Minneapolis
Adam Levy is best known as the frontman for The Honeydogs, but he’s also an accomplished solo artist who, after losing his son to suicide, has been a frequent speaker on mental health issues. A friend of mine, who operates Think Piece Publishing, recently released Levy’s powerful new record, “Naubinway,” which grapples with incredibly difficult subject matter but shares glimmers of hopefulness throughout. It’s a gorgeous record, and Levy put on a great show at the Dakota. Here’s a great track, performed on MN Original:

Coheed and Cambria – The Myth, Maplewood
So either you know who Coheed is or you don’t, and if you don’t, it’s unlikely that you’ll become a fan at this day in age. But they, along with countless bands in the early-‘00s “emo” movement, were inextricable from my formative years. So I decided to join a bunch of other slightly sheepish guys in their late 20s and early 30s as we raised our fists and sang along to catchy tunes that helped define our teenage years. If nothing else, you should watch the video below because it’s one of their corniest, and really shows off their singer’s infamous hairdo:

I have no intention of slowing down – in fact, I’ll be hitting up Tortoise at the Cedar Cultural Center tonight, and I’ve procured tickets to see Steve Albini’s Shellac at First Avenue, Father John Misty at Northrop, Wilco and Kurt Vile at Hall’s Island. And I’ll be sure to nab tickets to Sturgill Simpson at First Ave.

Hope to see you there!