TOP SHOWS OF 2016
December 28, 2016
This year, as in some years past, we asked musicians, fans, writers, and other members of the St. Louis community to share their thoughts on the very best shows they witnessed over the last twelve months, in our city or elsewhere. This year, as in years past, the responses we received were reminders of the talent and goodwill of music makers, facilitators, and supporters in STL and beyond. We’ve included links to some of our contributors’ band pages, Twitter handles, and/or personal websites; follow them for additional fun.
1. Ms. Lauryn Hill, Anderson .Paak — LouFest, Sept 11
Full disclosure: I’ve probably listened to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill more than any other album ever. I spent many hours during my high school years driving around Forest Park listening to her gospel, so I was very ready for my full circle moment. She did not disappoint. Hill’s performance was, for me, both inspiring and cathartic. The full band, the backup singers, the reggaeton overtones and, well, her charged and intentional spirit, were all on-point. I know what they say about her, but I don’t care. Ms. Lauryn Hill is worth the wait.
Anderson .Paak was more anticipated than any buzz band I think I’ve ever witnessed come through LouFest. He outgrew that Tunespeak Stage before he even set foot in STL. Dude is refreshing, bold and knows how to make a crowd move. It certainly proved that St. Louis is thirsty for real shit.
2. SO MANY DYNAMOS — Nebula / Cherokee Street Block Party, Jul 29
Playing to commemorate the unveiling of a bunch of new Cherokee Street stuff this summer, the Dynamos set up in the vacated storefront on the corner of Jefferson & Cherokee. Just a big, empty, street level room lined with windows, giving the illusion that the stage extended onto the street. Per usual, the Dynamos’ performance was measured and precise. They added a crazy light show that illuminated the entire block, so if you weren’t dancing inside with a bunch of familiar faces, you were dancing outside with the neighborhood. A definitive summer night in St. Louis this year. (Of course, this all ties into how meaningful it’s been to watch that community grow over the last 5 years, but I’ll leave that for another blog post.)
3. Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires — Old Rock House, May 5
This man’s soul breathes through his audience. I swear I forgot to buy a drink because I was so enamored with his raw emotion and gigantic, sweaty heart (and sparkles…). His Extraordinaires also have the ability to draw you in, so it was a real treat to see them in a more intimate venue like Old Rock House.
Paul Simon at Beale St. Music Fest in Memphis, Gary Clark Jr at The Pageant, No Bunny at Off Broadway, Ezra Furman at The Demo, Shannon & The Clams at Off Broadway.
Yo La Tengo and Lambchop — Big Ears Festival (Knoxville, TN), Apr 1
This was not a double bill, but rather a joint performance. Two of my all-time favorite bands (themselves close friends) doubled the size of their usual ensembles, traded songs, sang each other’s leads, and generally recast well-known and beloved songs in a new, gorgeous light.
LCD Soundsystem — LouFest, Sept 11
Given the band’s unexpected reunion and rabid fanbase, they could’ve phoned this performance in and lots of folks still would’ve raved about it the morning after. They didn’t, and it became a show that lots of folks will rave about for years.
Wussy — Woodward Theater (Cincinnati, OH), Sept 23 & 24
How many bands can play nearly identically sets two nights in a row without losing a drop of transcendent energy? On these two nights, my answer was “one”. Also, it’s never a bad thing to see a beloved band play before a packed hometown crowd.
Middle Class Fashion CD Release w/ Superfun Yeah Yeah Rocketship — Off Broadway, May 20
I feel like it goes without saying that Middle Class Fashion is one the best bands in town, but they are also one of my favorite bands, period. Their new record iii is not only fantastically produced, but also has some of MCF’s best songs yet on the record. Driving to my own band’s practice one night, the song “86” actually made me cry, not only because of the lyrical content but because I had this feeling of wild good jealousy towards the song. Like, why should I even bother writing when this song already exists and is perfect? Middle Class Fashion’s CD release captured all that passion and then some.
Prairie Rehab CD Release w/ Letter to Memphis — Schlafly Taproom, Oct 20
Prairie Rehab and Letter to Memphis both put on stellar performances, as one would expect, but the best was the final song, where both bands took the stage and played a beautiful song together. Lacie and Devon, the front women of the bands, sounded truly lovely together.
Aquitaine w/ Acorn to Oaks — The Duck Room, Nov 11
It’s only now, at the end of making this list, that I’m realizing I haven’t been to a concert this year that wasn’t local this year, which made my selections even more difficult. However, the last show I went to was Aquitaine’s CD release, and not only did they play a great set, but I got to catch my favorite Acorn to Oaks (Chris Ward) songs for the first time in years! This was truly a great year for St. Louis music.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy — Joe’s Cafe, Sept 22
Transcendent performance at the city’s most unique, special and spiritual venue.
Jeffrey Lewis — San Loo, Dec 2
The best kept secret in music at an intimate venue.
Kishi Bashi — Delmar Hall, Oct 11
One of the most incredible shows I’ve ever seen. Flute solos AND a person in a giant steak costume. It was amazing.
Paul McCartney at Busch Stadium — Not a “cool” answer but holy fuck what a show. Paul played the entire stadium like it was a club date.
All of Lo-Fi STL on Cherokee — The best music event in the city in my opinion.
Angel Olsen at Off Broadway — Local girl makes good, packs the house, otherworldly performance.
The Bowie Tribute at the Ready Room.
Mount Moriah had hooked me right off the bat with “Calvander,” the first song and lead single off How To Dance. It was geographically specific — more a guided tour through singer Heather McEntire’s slice of North Carolina than a strict narrative — but the song’s searching, spiritual ache hinted at what the rest of the album would explore. I love that record for McEntire’s ability to ask big questions in tidy, twangy packages, but the heart of these songs wouldn’t hit me until the band’s April 26 show at Off Broadway. The crowd was criminally small but was fully engaged, and while McEntire wasn’t much for banter, she took time to call attention to her home state’s history of discrimination against LGBTQ people, specifically the state’s HB2 law (or “the bathroom bill”) that was making national news that spring. By the time she and the band kicked into “How To Dance,” I figured out what the song was really about: a love song between two people trying to navigate a relationship in a world dead-set against their ability to make those choices. McEntire perseveres, continuing to dance, sing and dream however she pleases.
I’d think of the gay and lesbian community again as I settled into my seat for Paul Simon’s June 12 show at the Fox Theatre. The news of the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando was still being processed, as much as one can process that kind of terror, and I was grateful to be sitting alone at the end of an aisle; I wasn’t much for company that night. I was grateful, too, that I had peeked at Simon’s other set lists online before the show because I’m fairly certain that being hit unawares with a show-opening “The Boy in the Bubble” would have decimated me. I couldn’t tell you what that song is about — a shrinking world, the oppression of technology, those “staccato signals of constant information” that presaged Twitter by about 30 years — but, with Simon always, a Boomer’s sense of hope. Don’t cry, baby, don’t cry, the song implores. I couldn’t meet him halfway on that one.
But goddamn if June of 2016 seems almost rosy compared to November and December. I was in pretty dire need of some holiday cheer as I sat in the Focal Point for the second night of Rough Shop’s annual Christmas show on December 9 but found myself fulfilled in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Band leaders Andy Ploof and John Wendland have written more than their fair share of great, meaningful songs about the season — songs that examine the nostalgia, mystery, weariness and hope inherent in that time of year.
2016 is different than other years, of course, and the need for community and togetherness was more acute than in years past. Rough Shop, and the St. Louis music scene at large, continues to mourn the death of bassist and singer Anne Tkach, whose sudden and tragic passing in spring of 2015 is still a palpable loss; it now takes two musicians to fill the space she left in Rough Shop’s songs. I was privy to some of the more private griefs of some of those on and off the stage — it’s enough to say that some in that room were dealing with more than post-election anxiety, all-encompassing as that is. And yet, over the course of 30-odd songs, each Christmas-y in some way, we held fast to each other through the music. Auset Sarno, who joined the band for these shows on vocals and guitar, took the lead for the emotional centerpiece of the night, a note-perfect performance of Tracey Thorn’s composition “Joy.” It was the exact right song for the occasion, and it includes a line I might as well tattoo on my forearm:
“We’ll gather up our fears and face down all the coming years,
and all that they destroy,
And in their face we’ll throw our joy.”
It’s the same sentiment that Heather McEntire sings about in the best Mount Moriah songs; it’s the weary optimism that Paul Simon promises. All we have is our joy and, if we’re lucky, our music to steel ourselves. May it be indomitable in all the coming years.
The Music of David Bowie — Carnegie Hall (NYC), Mar 31
Bowie’s death was still painfully fresh and this event — the first proper tribute to Bowie’s life — was both somber and jubilant. It featured some of my favorite artists like Cyndi Lauper, J Mascis, Sean Lennon, Ann Wilson, Robyn Hitchcock and The Flaming Lips. Though Debbie Harry’s fantastic version of “Starman” seemed to be the crowd’s favorite performance of the night, I’m sure that I held my breath for the duration of Michael Stipe’s “Ashes to Ashes” cover, honored to watch him sing again and channel something otherworldly. (A similar show was held the next night at Radio City Music Hall, but that huge venue didn’t compete with the intimacy at Carnegie.) The night ended with a chill-inducing audience sing-along to “Space Oddity.” I looked up to the where the voices met that gorgeous little ceiling and realized for the first time how much it looked like a hovering spaceship. Thanks, Bowie. We miss you.
Dolly Parton — Scottrade Center, Jul 30
My Dolly Parton love went into overdrive early this year. I’m not sure what happened, but I suddenly had her on my mind constantly. I’d done a painting of her and had been listening to her music slightly more than usual, but by the beginning of the summer I was fully obsessed. This worked out fine because I was writing a feature for the Riverfront Times to preview this show so everything I did became justified in the name of “research.” And since I’m blessed with friends who are much cooler and kinder than me, I received quite the upgrade on my seat for this concert. I got to watch The Angel Herself from close enough that she could blind me directly with the rhinestones on her dress, her guitar, her piano, her everything. She was all that I wanted her to be and more. Her voice! Those songs! I felt like my heart was about to burst out of my chest. She is perfect and, jeez, what an entertainer. Go see her. Get the good seats.
Bonnie Prince Billy w/ Bitchin Bajas at Joe’s Cafe, Sept 22
I was a bit worried that this show would be too emotional and/or high brow for my tastes, but to my great surprise it was awesome and experimental and weird in the best way. Instead of being uncomfortably sincere, it was just straight brilliant and beautiful. As usual, Joe’s Cafe was dark and lovely and crazy and welcoming. I was there with some of my oldest and dearest friends and we watched Bitchin Bajas step up to (and kill) the huge task of backing up Mr. B”P”B. The music moved in like creeping fog before taking over the whole room and soon every last person in that joint was captivated. We all laughed and blinked a bunch when it was over, as if coming out of a trance. I drove home later full of the glow that only comes from sharing a magical musical experience with friends that you love like they’re family. I’d like to do this night over and over. Magic.
Brian Wilson — Family Arena, Jul 21
Thumpy Sticky — The Gaslight Lounge, Oct 2
Echo & the Bunnymen — House of Blues (Houston, TX), Oct 14
Neil Young and Promise of the Real — Beale Street Music Festival, Apr 29
I will remember the 25+ minute long opener of “Down By The River” as long as I live. This was my 8th Neil Young show, and they never get old. Also, the obvious enjoyment that the young guys in Promise of the Real got from playing with Neil was great to see.
Lucius — Ready Room, May 18
There is something very special about this band. Lucius shows have such an intimate feel. I saw them again in Kansas City in November.
Margo Price — Old Rock House, Oct 29
That voice! And not too shabby in the songwriting department either. Glad to have seen Margo in a small venue, because the next time she’s in town I don’t think that will be the case.
Tegan and Sara — The Pageant, Oct 22
Tegan and Sara not only played the singles from their latest album Love You To Death, they reinvented their most beloved classics with sparkling synth-pop arrangements most fans would pay to own, most notably 2002’s Living Room. At times, the laughter was such that it was hard to tell whether the audience was at a rave or a comedy show; the twins nailed their on-stage banter and their outpouring of love for St. Louis (and Hillary Clinton) didn’t hurt either. Shucks.
Car Seat Headrest — Ready Room, Sept 5
Even though Car Seat Headrest made a huge number of year-end lists, Will Toledo seemed almost surprised that little ol’ St. Louis got the memo when he came through back in September. He appeared genuinely humbled to play a packed room, which knew the words to almost every song. This was a rock show, filled beginning to end with romping tracks from Teens of Denial, but Toledo is no cocky rock star. When asked by an audience member whether falling in love was worth it if it ended in heartbreak, he responded earnestly: yes, it was. Aww. A soft core to a hard rockin’ indie band.
1. Thao & The Get Down Stay Down — Ready Room, Apr 2
2. Lavender Country — The Stage at KDHX for SLIFF, Nov 9
Also Off Broadway in July. I’d say it’s a toss up, but the SLIFF performance I helped organize felt especially great.
3. Mount Moriah w/ Margaret Glaspy — The Echo (LA), Apr 15
I wasn’t actually at the show in STL, but I caught them in LA about a week before. I can only assume the show here was just as amazing.
Robert Ellis — Off Broadway, Jun 7
We hit this show on a whim— neither of us had really listened to Ellis much before we saw him live. I think that’s a big reason why this was one of my favorite shows…it caught us completely off guard. Robert Ellis is an extremely talented performer, and his band is one of the best around. I think of his music as kind of a country-jazz fusion. It’s complex in a way that tickles my ears. His lyrics are also poetic and thoughtful, yet relatable on a very basic level. We also had an extra special surprise with this show when Leon Bridges jumped on stage for a song. He was in town to play a sold out show at the Pageant the following night, and he had come out with his band to see Robert play. It’ll be exciting to see where Robert Ellis takes his career in the years to come.
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down — Ready Room, Apr 2
Thao Nguyen is an amazingly dynamic performer. She’s warm and high-energy, and everyone at this show was 100% into it. The overall vibe was something you just don’t get at every show you see. Her music is unique, her lyrics are on point and her band is super tight. We walked away from this show in early April knowing that we’d seen one of the best shows we were going to see all year. We’d see her again in a heartbeat.
Anderson .Paak — LouFest, Sept 11
One of the DJs on KDHX played “The Bird” right after Anderson .Paak’s Malibu album came out, and I was hooked. It might be my most-played album of the year. He does such interesting things with rhythm! It kind of blew my mind to find out that he’s a drummer and he performs a lot of his songs from behind the drums. He’s the LouFest artist I was most excited to see, and he did not disappoint. It was pretty amazing to get to see him live on a beautiful day in the middle of a huge crowd dancing their asses off. It seems like his career has really blossomed this year, and we hope to see him again soon.
Dave Rawlings Machine — The Sheldon, Apr 18
It feels like cheating to list this show because Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch come through almost every year and we see them every time. Their show at the Pageant in 2011 also still stands as my favorite show of all time. They’re amazing individually, but together they’re a little piece of heaven. When Dave Rawlings noodles on his guitar, it tickles my ears and does something funny to my brain. I’m pretty sure I bawled like a baby when they broke into “Pilgrim (You Can’t Go Home).” The Sheldon is such a perfect venue for them, too. Fingers crossed they keep St. Louis in their regular rotation!
Matthew Logan Vazquez — Duck Room, Jul 17
Lucius — Ready Room, May 18
Sweet Spirit — Off Broadway, Oct 19
Selecting the Top 3 of anything is difficult, even with careful consideration given to all aspects of the “judged.” With concerts, I reflect on musical performance and stage presence of course, but the venue, audio mix, personal expectations, or even if I have previously seen an act before, all come into play. For instance, I could – without guilt – say that Dave Rawlings Machine at the Sheldon was once again the best show of the year, but since their show in 2014 that included John Paul Jones on mandolin was one of the best of shows my life, I’ll leave that night off the 2016 Top 3. So in lieu of all of my ridiculous, self-imposed caveats, find below my Top 3 out of the 50+ shows we have seen this year.
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down — Ready Room, Apr 2
With no expectations and very little experience with her recorded work I found this show to be extremely fulfilling. Thao herself is a musical chameleon moving from sweet wavering vocals to raspy raps. Every lyric projected directly at each and everyone in the crowded room. Thao and her bands energy level seemed to increase exponentially till the set was complete. The musicianship from all of those on stage was taut and compact expertly hitting all of the right nerves.
Robert Ellis — Off Broadway, Jun 7
This was a show Anne-Marie (wife/concert junkie) brought up that she wanted to see. A small sampling beforehand of his self-titled 2016 album told me I may be in for a quiet, low key performance that night. How wrong I would turn out to be. With a crowd of what seemed to be about 80-100 fans ,this Dallas-based musician and his crew awed all in attendance. Sometimes, at anything less than a full house, bands tend to take their foot off the gas and coast through their songs. This was not the case with the bedazzled space cowboy and his friends. While he and the band deftly controlled the dynamics of their honky tonk Texas rock, the passionate guitar and keyboard stylings by Mr. Ellis shined most bright. Sweating through even the sweetest of his twang laced vocals, like my favorite track “California,” he commanded attention throughout. Top all of that off with a surprise duet cover of Willie Nelson’s “Funny How Time Slips Away” with fellow Dallas resident Leon Bridges (who sold out the following night at the Pageant), and you have what I have since felt was the best show of 2016. We are both looking forward to celebrating Valentine’s Day 2017 (which we don not celebrate otherwise) with Robert Ellis, who will return Off Broadway then.
Anderson .Paak — LouFest, Sept 11
This was the one show that really blew past my already-high expectations. After doing my annual exploration of the LouFest lineup once it was announced, I could not get enough of 2016’s Malibu. Being a sucker for groovy, funky, sleazy, swanky hip-thrusting stank, I oh-so wanted this set to impress. Given that Anderson is a talented drummer as well as singing/rapping front man, my interest was ultra-peaked. It only took a few songs to verify that our decision to skip The Kills set to see Anderson .Paak’s show was well worth the sacrifice. Throughout the set, which sounded great echoing through the fields, the crowd grew to a dense mass of bodies bumping together in harmony. The group swaggered through their setlist as Anderson .Paak and his talents, charm and humor had everyone smiling in the sun.
1. Mumford & Sons — Vintage Vinyl, Apr 16
While it was a bittersweet Records Store Day on some fronts (last event planned by Jim Utz, former VV PR), it still seems nuts that Vintage Vinyl got the chance to host the festival headliners. Props to the band for not skimping out and doing an acoustic set, but bringing in all their gear for a full-out performance.
2. Wilco — Euclid Records, Aug 17
Back to back years of Jeff Tweedy-related in-stores (with Tweedy playing an in-store at Vintage Vinyl in 2015). Still can’t believe they managed to fit the whole band on that small stage.
3. Dan Deacon — Murmuration Festival, Sept 25
After Dan’s set, someone told me that they had never seen me smile so much at a show.
I have to be honest – I didn’t attend that many concerts this year. I didn’t realize this until I sat down and thought about it. There were tons of bands that hit St. Louis that I missed, either because I was out of town or just too lazy to go. Freakwater, Yo La Tengo, Shellac, Your Friend, Savages, The Church…I managed to skip them and many, many others. Stranger still, the first three memorable shows that come to mind were all in huge spaces.
1) Culture Club w/ Middle Class Fashion — Family Arena, Jul 20
Mostly I went to see Middle Class Fashion, on the heels of a fine new album, play an arena for the first time. They actually filled the room up nicely, kept the Culture Club audience’s attention, and gained a few new fans that night. Many more of their friends were scattered around the Family Arena, and the whole set felt heartwarming. I had no expectations whatsoever of Culture Club, but they actually succeeded on more than just a nostalgic level. Performing with an extended lineup including all four original members, their set was a reminder of just how strange a mixture their early work was encompassing dub reggae, Northern soul, Motown, the Stylistics, calypso and Orange Juice-style New Pop. Although I’d heard rumors that Boy George’s voice was shot, he sounded only a little bit older and more grizzled than his ‘80s self, and he joked with the audience in a self-effacing manner. “The Crying Game,” George’s solo song from the film of the same name, was particularly ominous in its dark cabaret tone. Heck, they even managed to reconfigure “The War Song” into something beyond a travesty.
2) Brian Wilson — Family Arena, Jul 21
Back to the Family Arena the next night to hear Brian Wilson and band perform Pet Sounds in its entirety. I caught this tour back in 2000 at a county fair outside of Seattle, so I knew what to expect from his live show. Frankly, you don’t go to a Brian Wilson concert and expect him to reproduce the angelic tenor of “Don’t Worry Baby” or “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” He’s lucky to have a sympathetic band that’s clearly studied his music, and is able to support his own fading voice even as he retained a strong presence as bandleader. This time around, former Beach Boys Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin came along. Matt Jardine, Al’s son, handled the Carl Wilson parts with eerie similarity. Also part of the band: Billy Hinsche, who appeared on most of the Beach Boys’ 1970s and 1980s albums. There was a real sense of family history in the air. The first half of the show was dedicated to Beach Boys classics, with some truly inspired, left-field set choices. I was particularly amazed to hear “Wake The World,” my favorite track from 1968’s Friends. Chaplin came out for “Sail On Sailor” and a few other Holland-era tracks, which were great to hear despite his tendency to launch into extended guitar solos. Part 2 was Pet Sounds. As well-known to the point of overhype as Pet Sounds might seem today, it remains a beautiful record — certainly one of my all-time Top 10 — and Brian and band played it perfectly. “God Only Knows” would have moved me to tears had it not been for the gentleman next to me who insisted on recording it with his iPad. (Really, dude? You can’t just enjoy the moment?) The set ended with “Good Vibrations,” and they saved the surfing hits for the encore.
3) Paul McCartney — Busch Stadium, Aug 21
I’ve never been to a stadium show before — even the Family Arena is too huge for my taste — but it’s not as if Paul McCartney was going to play Off Broadway or Foam. The Beatles were the first band that meant anything to me, and I’m old enough to remember when Wings was huge. (The old joke went, “You mean Paul McCartney had a band before Wings?” That joke would have to be updated today to, “You mean Paul McCartney had a band that played stadiums after the Beatles?”). My kids and I enjoy the Beatles music together, so it was a special event to have them along for my first McCartney show. He’s obviously an old pro at this by now, and he did an effective job of making all of us feel part of the show, even those of us half a mile away in the cheap seats. Paul paid tribute to John and George; he covered that Rhianna song he was on; and he dug back to “Love Me Do” and “In Spite Of The Danger” for the set list. My surprise favorite: “Let Me Roll It,” a Band On The Run deep cut that sounded spectacular on this late summer early evening.
Also great live — Nots, Weather Station, Basia Bulat, Frankie Cosmos, Warehouse, Angel Olsen.
Local live faves — Whoa Thunder, Middle Class Fashion, Blight Future, Swear Beam.
Local bands that I missed this year but pledge to see in 2017 — Joan of Dark, Ex Oh Ex, The Vigilettes, Other People (it’s been a few years; sorry Bob), Le’Ponds.
Adia Victoria — Off Broadway, Sept 25
Adia Victoria is a force. She tells the truth no matter how uncomfortable it makes you, and her Sunday night show packed a punch. The crowd was much larger than her previous show in St. Louis, and I can’t see that growth stopping anytime soon. Watch out for her. She’s the truth.
Beyoncé — The Dome at America’s Center, Sept 10
I was blessed enough to see the Formation World Tour in both Atlanta and St. Louis this year, and Queen Bey never, ever disappoints. She donned some new costumes for good measure and delivered a show that left me in awe — the revolving cube screen, the water-filled performance of “Freedom,” her flawless vocals. I could go on and on. Queen Bey reigns.
Pretty Little Empire — Off Broadway, Aug 19
This crowd was clearly pumped to see PLE, and they had good reason — the band hadn’t played a show in nearly a year. It was my first time seeing Pretty Little Empire live, and Justin Johnson’s powerhouse vocal performance combined with a super cool display of vintage home-movie projections made for a really special night.
|All shows in chronological order|
|2016 totals = 102 shows, 39 different venues, 10 different cities|
|Top 3 Arena Shows|
|Bruce Springsteen||Chaifetz Arena||St. Louis||3/6|
|Brian Wilson||Family Arena||St. Louis||7/21|
|Dolly Parton||Scottrade Center||St. Louis||7/30|
|Theater Shows (Capacity – 3,000 or more)|
|Bonnie Raitt||Peabody Opera House||St. Louis||3/18|
|Willie Nelson||Peabody Opera House||St. Louis||4/9|
|Paul Simon||Fox Theater||St. Louis||6/11|
|Theater Shows (Capacity – 2,500 or less)|
|Green Day||The Pageant||St. Louis||10/26|
|Sturgill Simpson||Ryman Auditorium||Nashville||10/29|
|Band of Horses||The Pageant||St. Louis||11/30|
|Heron Oblivion||Beat Kitchen||Chicago||6/3|
|Black Mountain||The Ready Room||St. Louis||6/17|
|Adia Victoria||Off Broadway||St. Louis||9/25|
|Babes In Toyland||The Hi-FI||Indianapolis||1/27|
|The Staves||High Noon Saloon||Madison||6/4|
|Warpaint||3rd & Lindsley||Nashville||11/12|
|Best Opening Acts|
|Pins (opened for The Subways)||Schubas||Chicago||4/22|
|Meat Puppets (opened for Dean Ween Group)||Delmar Hall||St. Louis||10/25|
|Ruby The Hatchet (opened for Earthless)||The Firebird||St. Louis||12/3|
|Favorite Multiple Shows by Same Artist|
|Lush||Music Hall of Williamsburg||New York City||9/13|
|Lush||Terminal 5||New York City||9/14|
Only two categories of top shows for me this year due to a mix of a few factors: fewer of my favorite artists released records this year, the ones that did didn’t generally release entirely solid records IMO, and our personal lives kept us busy with other things instead of concerts. I still saw 53 shows though, and these were my favorites…
Shows where entire albums were performed in their entirety:
1. Sturgill Simpson — Ryman (Nashville, TN), Oct 29
Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth was my favorite record of the year by a long shot, and hearing it live at the Ryman was one of the things I wanted to do most this year. He ended the show by playing the entire album from start to finish. It didn’t disappoint, and Sturgill and his band’s enthusiasm was matched by the crowd’s.
2. Bruce Springsteen — Chaifetz Arena, Mar 6
We saw Bruce Springsteen perform The River the day after we had to put our adored pet to sleep, and he was so damn good I found myself dancing and smiling in spite of my sadness. I had seen him a few times prior to this and not really understood his reputation of being amazing live, but I got it this time and will never pass up an opportunity to see Bruce again.
3. Brian Wilson — Family Arena, Jul 21
Seeing Brian Wilson (surrounded by other Beach Boys and other very talented musicians) perform Pet Sounds was amazing.
Honorable Mention (Sorry, I know the limit is three, but this one was pretty special too!):
Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins — Ryman (Nashville, TN), Feb 6
Count me as one of the many fans of the Rabbit Fur Coat album, and I was tickled to see it live. I can’t believe I’m listing Jimmy Buffett joining them in a pot leaf sequined coat to perform the Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle with Care” as a highlight, but it worked!
Shows that simply were amazing:
1. Hamilton — Richard Rodgers Theater (New York, NY), Jun 15
I desperately wanted to see this while the original cast was still performing it, and the most hyped show in years on Broadway lived up to the hype. Utterly fantastic.
2. Green Day — The Pageant, Oct 26
Holy crap were they great. Billie Joe Armstrong ran across the stage to get his guitar at the start of the show, and that energy set the precedent for the entire night. Green Day sounded amazing, played just about everything you could possibly want to hear, and the crowd was deliriously into every second of it.
3. Father John Misty — Riviera Theater (Chicago, IL), Apr 14
All of these shows, and my enjoyment of them, depended even more than usual on what was going on in our lives on that day (this year had far more day-to-day ups and downs than a typical one for us), who we were with, and if the type of music we were seeing matched up well with our mood. Father John Misty has always been a semi-guilty pleasure of mine, and seeing him in April with several of my best girl friends in Chicago is one of my favorite memories of the year, from the serendipity of meeting him outside of the club before the show to the performance itself, which was as it always is: great and something I love in spite of myself.
Jefferson Street Parade Band — Foam, Mar 29
The Jefferson Street Parade Band (Bloomington, IN) show at Foam that took place in late March of this year was probably one of the best shows I’ve ever attended. I was also working the bar, so I wasn’t able to mill around in the crowd, but at one point I got up on a step ladder so I could see all of the sweetness that was happening. The opener was an Iranian refugee / pop star who sang in the middle of the room with only his mic and some backing tracks.
On the left side of the room there were a dozen or more well-dressed men in their mid-fifties as part the pop star’s posse throwing back strong espresso drinks and hard liquor. As soon as the first note of the first song began these guys were on their feet forming a circle going back and forth between holding hands and clapping while they danced. On the right side of the room was a line of Cherokee regulars slamming Stag tall boys and taking it all in and waiting for their chance to get in on the action.
The room was electric by the end of this guy’s performance. The Jefferson Street Parade Band was up next and seized the opportunity to take that charge and run with it. Once everyone was finished applauding the guy, Jeff St. stomped in from the back room in full weirdo marching band regalia and took over. They march to the stage, blaring their self-described original Latin, West African, Jazz, Crunk, Dance music. The crowd ate it up. I think it was maybe one or two songs in when they left the stage and started marching through the crowd. Seemingly all at once, the well-dressed older gentlemen on the left, the Cherokee kids on the right, and the marching band formed a wonky circle and everybody danced in and out of it throughout the duration of their performance. The glasses behind the bar were jingling and we had to steady some bottles on the shelf due to all of the stomping and bouncing around. The groups mingled, the band marched out into the street and back from one door to the other. It was such a surreal moment — for everybody, I think. I think every person I made eye contact with in this moment was smiling and laughing. Overall great music, and a seriously amazing show.
Lavender Country — Off Broadway, Jul 15
I played this one, but still, it’s one of my favorites of the year so whatever the rule is on this I’m bending it a little. Patrick Haggerty, a.k.a. the president of Lavender Country, is an absolute treasure. I was lucky enough to be included in the resurrection of the first openly gay country album — 43 years after its original release date. This show was set up by Jack Grelle, who was also the leader of our band, a group made up entirely of St. Louis musicians save Haggerty himself. He talked about the album’s origin, educated folks about what it was like to be gay before Stonewall, shared intimate stories about his life, and shouted for revolution.
We’d just come back from a couple of shows out of town, both of which had been so intense I think we were all in tears by the end of each set. Up until then we’d only seen what Lavender Country was like with strangers, which had already been an incredible thing to experience. But this night at Off Broadway, a place that is already very dear to my heart, was something so special to me that I doubt I’ll have anything to compare it with for the rest of my life. Looking out into the crowd I saw nothing but the sweet, peaceful and happy faces of friends who were laughing, crying, and raising their fists in the air in solidarity. I’m the first one to roll my eyes when I hear people talking about “feeling the love” or whatever, but in this case on this night, in this room with these people on this night – you could actually feel it. Apparently that’s a real thing.
Bruce Springsteen — Chaifetz Arena, Mar 6
You hear everywhere that Springsteen shows are epic because they are long. There is that, but there is also the wall-to-wall joy. By about the fifth song, you forget entirely that this is a 67-year-old man probably running around in jeans his mother bought him to wear in grade school. There aren’t too many living legends who are able to fuse together the energy needed to live up to expectations and keep an aging attention span. But The Boss is one, and every time I see him, I am glad he still gives a shit. Oh, and I got to hear The River in its entirety.
Pearl Jam — Wrigley Field (Chicago, IL), Aug 20
Like a lot of you reading this, Pearl Jam was some sort of mythological creature to me growing up. I would have given anything to catch a live glimpse, or maybe just to read a review. I had to settle for MTV, and Eddie Vedder hanging from the rafters — I just had to take their word all of that was true. Those were pre-internet days when liner notes mattered and the word “digital” was just then sneaking into our vocabularies. Ten came out right around the time my parents bought me my first 5-disc CD changer, and I memorized the words to “Black” in like a night, probably while eating Fruit Loops and playing Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! I cranked Ten so loud that a few weeks later everyone in my house recognized the opening chords to every song and knew exactly when Eddie’s voice would bend and break and reinvent itself again. Never in a million or trillion years did I think I would ever attend a Pearl Jam show, let alone be able to have access to photograph the band mere feet from the stage. But life is funny, and that happened again this summer, twice, at Bonnaroo and Wrigley Field. I remember both well, but what made the Wrigley show extra special was the walk back to my seat when my time in the photo pit had expired. I took the long way, slowly striding on the field, by the home dugout. The whole time I was hoping no one would catch me, or tell me where to go — I was just fine getting lost for a few minutes on hallowed ground. I stopped directly behind home plate during “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter in a Small Town.” I looked up, and everyone — and I mean everyone — was singing, “I just want to scream hellllooooo.” Still in awe to this very day.
Neil Young + Promise of The Real — Telluride, CO, Oct 1
Tellruide is a place that shouldn’t exist, not in this world. But it does, and every human should experience its beauty at least once. It’s hard to get to — about a 6-hour winding drive from Denver. But the reward was to see Neil Young for the 30th time, in a box canyon no less. I couldn’t afford it, but thanks to my cousin, Amanda, we made it happen anyway. And it was probably the best show I’ve ever seen. The first four songs were “After the Gold Rush,” “Heart of Gold,” “Sugar Mountain,” and “Old Man,” performed solo by Neil. That was worth the $100+ just for the ticket alone. But then came “Walk On,” “Harvest Moon,” a 20+ minute version of “Down By The River,” “Peace Trail,” and a gritty, stunning “Cortez the Killer.” A mountain or two may have moved, ever so slightly, making a place for Neil Young’s spirit to forever remain in Telluride.
Mount Moriah w/ Margaret Glaspy — Off Broadway, Apr 26
This little two-band bill on a Tuesday night was my favorite show of the year. Margaret Glaspy served as the opening act, a singer-songwriter who had a banner year in 2016 (see her on NPR’s Tiny Desk and Spotify Singles). Standing a few feet away as she performed songs like “Emotions and Math” and “You’re Smiling” in Off Broadway’s intimate venue was just intense. And Mount Moriah had just released their amazing 3rd record, How to Dance; lucky for us, they played many of its formidable, country-adjacent hits. Heather McEntire, MM’s leader, also shared with us the influence her home state’s of North Carolina’s discriminatory horrible bathroom laws had on her writing and performing the album. In a year when Lavender Country was on a moving, anecdote-focused nostalgia tour, it was nice to see that modern LGBT artists are still telling their truth with a twang in their voices.
Dr. Dog — Columbia, MO, Jul 20
Haha, this would have been my favorite show if I had actually watched Dr. Dog perform! When Columbia’s Blue Note announced that Dr. Dog was performing for free at the city’s summer music series, Jess had a brilliant idea to bus IWTAS fans from St. Louis to CoMo and back in a day. But it just happened to be one of the hottest days of the year, so after getting 50 fans to Columbia, I myself got overheated. Luckily for me, the Blue Note was pumping AC into their venue to keep people cool. (The Cards beat the Padres that night…the Blue Note also played the ballgame inside on a big screen.) For me, the bus ride with members of River Kittens and Karate Bikini singing acoustic was the fun part of the trip.
Bruce Springsteen — Chaifetz Arena, Mar 6
“BRUUUUUUUUUUCE!” the entire stadium shouted. I did not grow up on Bruce Springsteen, but after this show, I understand why y’all are obsessed. This tour was promoting the 35th anniversary of The River and Springsteen played that entire album and then his many other hits. Yes, I made fun of the dad rock-ness of it all, but it was literal hours of fun. Chaifetz was one of, if not the, smallest venues on The River tour, so St. Louis was treated to a somewhat intimate night of legendary music.
Honorable Mentions: Ms. Lauryn Hill at LouFest, Tiger Rider at Tower Grove Pride