January 5, 2018
Did you find it insufferable that someone would milk a single topic for four posts? Then you might want to look elsewhere. Conversely, if you’re wondering whether someone could maintain the same concert-going cadence for a second year, read on.
This year’s 52 concerts spanned seven different states, and I highly recommend seeing shows in markets outside your own, to get a sense of how the crowds and vibes differ (and how even bands’ performances differ state by state). I’ll limit myself to two posts, and will try to skip repeats from last year. (For instance, I saw the closing night of Jason Isbell’s five-night run at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Margo Price at First Avenue, and multiple Conor Oberst shows this year, but will omit them in favor of new artists.) Hopefully something below catches your ear.
Palm at the Turf Club in St. Paul
I discovered Palm on Audiotree, a highly recommended site that produces high-quality in-studio performances and spotlights up-and-coming artists. In Palm, I immediately recognized influences from some my math-rock heroes (Battles and Hella, for example), in which every instrument paves its own melodic (and percussive) path that all converge to create a layered polyrhythmic whole. I was also intrigued with the vocal melodies, which are bathed in a chorus effect that creates an other-worldly sound. Upon seeing Palm live at the Turf, it became obvious that they are among the most innovative bands playing today, and I’m anxiously awaiting their debut LP in 2018.
Ryan Adams at The Beacon Theater in New York
Ryan Adams is one of those artists whose prolific output makes his catalogue a bit daunting. (Not to mention the fact that he’s notorious for long, sprawling records.) That said, he’s also one of the best songwriters of his generation. I had the honor of seeing him in the gorgeous Beacon Theater in New York (one of my favorite venues ever) with none other than Fast Horse founder Jorg Pierach. Adams’ latest album, Prisoner, borne out of his divorce with Mandy Moore, is an incredible return to form and one of Adams’ finest albums in years.
Phoebe Bridgers at ACL Live in Austin, Texas
When my own musical heroes take notice in an emerging artist, it quickly captures my attention. So when I saw Phoebe Bridgers listed as the opener of two separate Conor Oberst shows I attended this year – along with the fact that Ryan Adams helped produce her first single – she already had my attention. Bridgers sings haunting, melancholic songs that paint beautiful, and often deeply personal and vulnerable, pictures. Her debut LP, Stranger in the Alps, earned the top spot on my list of best albums of 2017. Here’s a stripped-down version of the album’s stunning opening track.
Pinback at The Irenic in San Diego
I’ve been a Pinback fan since high school and was lucky to catch the emo-tinged, indie rock pioneers on their home turf in San Diego. Their catchy melodies and sparkly guitar tones inspired so many bands that followed, and it was fun blending into the crowd as Pinback played to a passionate California fanbase that embraced the hits and deep cuts alike.
Tedeschi Trucks Band at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver
There are some sacred music venues on my bucket list, and Denver’s Red Rocks Ampitheater was at the top. Red Rocks is a breathtaking natural rock structure that serves as an open-air music venue. (Read more about it in Scott’s 2014 blog post.) You truly have to see – and hear – this venue to believe it. Tedeschi Trucks Band was perfect for the unique setting. Derek Trucks – guitar phenom and nephew of Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks – backs his wife Susan Tedeschi, one of the most soulful blues singers performing today. They mesmerized the Red Rocks audience for several hours straight, forming impromptu supergroups as friends joined them onstage. Here’s a Stones cover they played at Red Rocks, joined by members of The Wood Brothers.
Touche Amore at the Triple Rock in Minneapolis
For so many reasons, 2017 was a complicated, confusing, troubling year. To make matters worse, one of my favorite venues – The Triple Rock – shuttered its doors. Luckily, I got to see Touche Amore at one of the beloved punk venue’s final shows. Touche Amore are leading the next generation of punk/hardcore/screamo bands and bring an energy, intensity and passion to the stage that is hard to come by these days. I stood in the front row, squeezed like a sardine among sweaty, moshing fans (most of whom were younger than me) as we screamed the band’s powerful lyrics. (Their latest record, Stage Four, is about the singer losing his mother to cancer.) The cathartic experience reminded me of the unique community that only music can create.
Drive-By Truckers at Webster Hall in New York
For more than two decades, Drive-By Truckers have defined and dominated the alt-country scene, simultaneously embracing their Southern roots while upending stereotypes about country-tinged music from the South. With their latest release, American Band, they homed their sharp-tongued and politically charged lyrics to create one of the most poignant albums of today’s political climate. I caught them at Webster Hall in Manhattan before the formerly independent venue was sold to AEG.
Victor Wooten and Dennis Chambers at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis
It’s not hyperbolic to state that Victor Wooten is among the best bass players of all time. (Rolling Stone ranked him 10th on their list.) His collaborations with world-class musicians – including banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck – have earned him countless awards. I saw Wooten in the intimate Dakota Jazz Club with Dennis Chambers, one of the world’s most lauded drummers, who has played with every famous jazz fusion musician imaginable. Watching Wooten and Chambers perform together was priceless.
The Menzingers at The Cabooze in Minneapolis
The Menzingers – along with contemporaries Jeff Rosenstock and Rozwell Kid, the two artists who opened The Menzingers’ show at the Cabooze – have picked up the pop-punk torch from great bands before them and created something entirely their own. As The Menzingers (and their listeners) continue to age, they grapple with new issues, but their angst and energy remains the same.
Lillie Mae at First Avenue in Minneapolis
The first time I saw Lillie Mae Rische was with her family band at Layla’s Honky Tonk in Nashville. But when she’s not playing fiddle at Layla’s, Lillie Mae is a stellar songwriter in her own right. And, much like her amazing country music contemporary Margo Price, Lillie Mae was recently signed to Jack White’s Third Man Records. Lillie Mae’s debut record incorporates classic country, bluegrass and much more, and she put on a great show opening for Pokey LaFarge at First Ave.
Deafheaven at the Fine Line in Minneapolis
Deafheaven is one of those odd crossover bands – a brutal, crushing metal band that improbably became a critical darling in the indie scene, garnering praise from Pitchfork and other hipster tastemakers. That “critical” praise actually made me skeptical, but seeing them live made me a believer. And I ultimately found it encouraging that this type of heavy music had seeped into more mainstream audiences. Deafheaven’s vocalist brings a unique (and enrapturing) intensity to the stage. I don’t frequently listen to their albums, but I’ll certainly see them whenever they return to town.
At the Drive In at the Palace Theater in St. Paul
At the Drive In were the kings of late ’90s/early ’00s post-hardcore music. Hailing from Texas, their spastic singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala yelled into the microphone and jumped off towering stacks of amplifier cabinets while Omar Rodriguez-Lopez played furious, noisy riffs to accompany Tony Hajjar’s punk-inflected drumbeats. But it was after the band broke up – and went on to form other successful groups like prog legends Mars Volta – that their cult status exploded. Live in St. Paul, they created a massive wall of sound and cranked through hits as longtime fans chanted along. Here’s a video of the time they were inexplicably invited to play Letterman.
King Crimson at the State Theater in Minneapolis
From the startlingly heavy, jazz-infused first notes of their 1969 debut album, King Crimson completely charted their own course in music. And, in many critics’ opinions, they set the stage for all heavy music that would follow. King Crimson would spend the next several decades solidifying their status as kings of prog rock – yet their innovative music transcends genres. From their experimental, percussion-heavy sound, to Robert Fripp’s unique (and never replicated) guitar stylings, King Crimson’s music is refreshingly unpredictable. At the State Theater, they brought three of the most talented drummers alive today, and Fripp led the packed stage through an unforgettable aural journey. They even played David Bowie’s Heroes (which Fripp originally helped Bowie and Brian Eno create) during their encore.
Mississippi Hot Club at Viking Bar in Minneapolis
I’ve been lucky to surround myself with many friends who are incredible musicians. Case in point: the why-hasn’t-everyone-discovered-these-guys Mississippi Hot Club. This tight-knit group churns out impeccable gypsy jazz tunes, and those in the know show up to their shows wearing dance shoes. MHC just released a full-length album that’s fantastic, but for the full effect, you have to see them lived and be mesmerized as Josh Parlanti (my high school pal and college roommate) shreds the guitar.
…more highlights from my 2017 concert-going spree to come in Part 2…