TOP SHOWS OF 2017
December 31, 2017
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.
1. Wolf Parade — Thalia Hall (Chicago), 10/24
Wolf Parade is one of the best live bands around. Without question. Having seen the Canadian foursome twice previously in the sterile confines of the House of Blues Chicago, I was more than eager to catch them in a real, proper concert venue. If you haven’t had the pleasure of a trip to Thalia Hall in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, then you need to update your New Year’s resolutions. It’s old. It’s historic. It’s around the corner from Honky Tonk BBQ. It rings and hums like a dream. So for Wolf Parade to come to town and play that venue, I was beside myself. Not only that, but it was their first major tour since their 2010 release, Expo 86. They had drifted apart and spent time on new projects in the intervening 7 years. Keyboardist and singer Spencer Krug rolled into his experimental-Baroque Moonface side-project, while guitarist/singer Dan Boeckner worked through both his bleak dance duo Handsome Furs with his now ex-wife Alexei Perry and the booty shaking Divine Fits with Spoon members Alex Fischel and Britt Daniel.
The band seemed excited and genuinely surprised in an adorable Canadian way that they had packed the beautiful Thalia Hall, and when a band looks like they’re having a good time, then everyone has a good time. The setlist featured deep cuts from every album including their debut masterpiece Apologies to the Queen Mary, peppered with new tracks from 2017s Cry, Cry, Cry. Every song sounded tight and energetic, but none topped the late set take on “I’ll Believe in Anything” from Queen Mary. It was a spiritual experience that made my body ring for days afterward. Always trust the Canadians; they have it figured out.
2. P.O.S. — Bottom Lounge (Chicago), 1/28
Minnesota rapper, and 1/7th of hip-hop collective Doomtree, P.O.S. brings the fire. This is a man who has had to tour recently with a dialysis machine because one of his kidneys failed him. And he still performed night after night. It doesn’t get more dedicated to craft than that. On a late January night, new kidney in his torso, P.O.S., aka Stefon Alexander, brought his anarchic rhymes and working class anger to the stage for a career-spanning night that swung from the earnest contemplations of tracks like “Been Afraid” and “Optimist (We Are Not For Them)” to the eat-the-rich bangers of “Get Down” and “Fuck Your Stuff.” His beats are made with just enough punk rock edge (P.O.S. is part of a hardcore act called Building Better Bombs) and real life honesty that it’s hard not to fall in love. His fans are ravenous, and their energy feeds his power to unreal levels. Seek him out in your town as soon as you can. Better yet, seek him and the entirety of Doomtree out. You won’t regret it. Plus the collective is close friends with Lizzo, and anyone who loves Lizzo HAS to be amazing.
3. Pokey LaFarge — Wicker Park Fest (Chicago), 5/28
It’s always wonderful for this homesick St. Louis boy to see familiar faces in the Windy City, and one person who I refuse to miss when he comes to town is hero to the STL, Pokey LaFarge. This summer his venue was the southeast side of Milwaukee Avenue to headline Wicker Park Fest – one of the many (frankly, too many) street festivals that Chicago offers his citizens to make them forget about the 6 months of bitter, soul-crushing cold. Pokey has close ties to Chicago (he recorded 2015’s Something in the Water here, and he’s also (to every STL fan’s chagrin) a huge Cubs fan) so every time he rolls into town the crowds follow. He’s played big venues like Lincoln Hall and smaller ones like SPACE in nearby Evanston, but no venue is better for his foot stompin’, hollow hollerin’ jams than a warm July night on the pavement with the smell of street meats and cold beer filling the ravine of Wicker Park. Dressed to the nines in a white Baptist preacher suit and denim shirt, Pokey, as he always does, turned hundreds of sweaty Chicagoans into clappin’ and two-steppin’ fools.
I’ve now seen him at two outdoor festivals, and both shows have been some of the best sets I’ve ever seen. If any festival organizers are reading this, give Mr. LaFarge an outdoor stage, a row of hot BBQs, and buckets of cold beer, and you will have yourself a successful evening. No contest.
(BONUS ROUND) 4. The National – House of Vans (Chicago), 10/30
I had to add this last little show to my list because I’m obsessed, and I like to brag just a little bit. House of Vans (yes the skate company) threw an intimate and and special evening with one of the biggest bands in the world, The National. They were in town for President Obama’s Leadership Summit, and decide that a few hundred people should revel in their emotional white-guys-with-beards rock. And being a white guy with a beard who is also finely in-tuned to my emotions regardless of the work my anti-depressants attempt, I stood in line for an hour and a half in the freezing November cold to hear the aforementioned big band in the land rip through an hour and fifteen minute set of new tracks from Sleep Well Beast and classics going all the way back to The Boxer. Also, it was free. Did I mention that? Did I rub that in yet?
Greensky Bluegrass — The Pageant, 3/16
Thievery Corporation — The Pageant, 10/7
Tedeschi Trucks Band — Peabody Opera House, 1/25
Lizzo — LouFest, 9/10
Lizzo was quite possibly my most favorite set of the entire LouFest weekend. I was already familiar with her music, but I just don’t know that I could have expected how confidently, and with how much swagger, she would attack the stage. Things got lit from the opening beat and people were literally running down the hill to get as close as they could. Maybe not in crowd size, but this was absolutely on par with 2016’s Anderson .Paak set on the BMI/Tunespeak stage at LouFest.
Justin Timberlake — Pilgrimage Music Festival (Nashville, TN), 9/23
Our Pilgrimage Music Festival was bittersweet, but Justin Timberlake made up for it all. Despite starting almost 15 minutes late, he played to a crowd that easily stretched 2-3x farther back than the LouFest main stage, and who were all singing and dancing along to his 90 minute set. Live, JT and his 15-person backing band take a lot of liberties with the tracks, versus their recorded versions. The live show is really big, energetic, and full of dynamics. JT has total command of the stage — often saying “band” to cue them into starting a song — and he personally played guitar and a Fender Rhodes with great skill throughout the set. His band was also the happiest group of people I have probably ever seen. They run around, in kind of a duck-duck-goose fashion, all passionately singing and dancing along; it is a sight to behold. JT also brought out Chris and Morgane Stapleton for three songs in the late-middle of his set. I’m not sure how that would have gone over in Missouri, but here in Tennessee, the crowd was shrieking and nearly in tears. This was absolutely the highlight of the festival and easily one of the best live sets that I’ve ever seen. Bucket list, checked.
Broncho — Off Broadway, 11/30
I’ve known Ryan Lindsey for many years, back to his days with Starlight Mints and his solo work, and thus have always been confused by Broncho’s lack of “pop” — a perception that was completely changed by their most recent St. Louis performance. Fresh off of an arena tour opening up for QOTSA in Europe, you could immediately hear a new crispness to Broncho’s music. Impressive melodies and lyrical work which were once buried in the hazy, fuzz-laden tracks, were now present and forceful. A Broncho show of yore would have seen a gaggle of rabid fans up close, with other casual listeners scattered around the back of the room. This time, however, people from all over were sucked in to the smokey dance-party up front! For a long-time friend and fan, this is the payoff that you hope for, but rarely get, with a young and promising indie band that you love.
1. St. Vincent — The Pageant, 11/20
2. Nick Lowe w/ Los Straightjackets — Delmar Hall, 10/24
3. Ben Folds w/ SLSO — Powell Hall, 2/18
Favorite shows I attended in 2017:
Jonathan Richman — Off Broadway, 3/3
Magic City w/ Bug Chaser — Off Broadway, 3/31
Alex Cameron and Whitney — Delmar Hall, 5/9
Kevin Morby w/ Shannon Lay — Off Broadway, 9/13 with Shannon Lay
His song “Beautiful Strangers” brought me to tears. I loved how his parents attended the show, too.
Adam Ant: Kings of the Wild Frontier tour — Vic Theater (Chicago), 1/31
I heard this show described as a tsunami of flamboyance. So true. Truly the dandiest of highwaymen.
Favorite shows I played in 2017:
Beth Bombara: Map and No Direction album release w/ Jack Grelle & Sister Wizzard — Off Broadway, 2/25
David Beeman w/ James McCartney — Foam, 4/16 (Easter Sunday insanity!)
Summer Magic and Essential Knots — Euclid Records, 4/22 (Record Store Day!)
Stacey Winter w/ Middle Class Fashion & Nate Hendricks: We’re Both Right Now album release — Off Broadway, 9/23
Kevin Bowers: Nova — Jazz at the Bistro, 5/5 & 5/6
Natalie Huggins w/ Fatal Flaws & Stacey Winter — Foam, 7/28
1. The Feelies — Rough Trade (NY), 5/12 & 5/13
This year the Feelies released a fine new LP, In Between. It’s a largely acoustic meditation on time passing, but lacks none of the precision or momentum of prior works. They’re probably my all-time favorite live band, and their three-night stand at Rough Trade was reason enough to make a trip back East. They played two sets each night – the first dedicated to In Between and other atmospheric works, the second slowly ratcheting up the volume and tempo through the traditional set closers of “Raised Eyebrows” and “Crazy Rhythms.” Glenn Mercer and Bill Million no longer leap about the stage in a caffeinated frenzy, but their ability to build layers and moods has no parallel, and they’re every bit as compelling a live proposition as they once were. They got several encores both nights, consisting both of deep catalog and cherished cover tunes. I feel very fortunate to have gotten to see them again.
2. A Tribute to “Smooth” — Off Broadway, 6/6
From the sublime to the ridiculous: Santana and Rob Thomas’ “Smooth” is one of those tunes that almost no one actually likes, but everyone knows in its entirety. This show as advertised as “Smooth” played 10 times in a row. It was thematically intact in all its details: attendees received a free t-shirt with the lyrics printed in a big text block, the bar served alcoholic smoothies, and everyone received a survey to fill out after the show to gauge its effectiveness. The ad hoc cover band actually did play “Smooth” 10 times in a row, with a whiteboard behind them providing a running countdown. They acted like it was a real set, complete with banter on the order of “OK, we’ve got just a couple of songs left.” All of this could have come off as self-impressed and sophomoric. Instead, it felt celebratory. Both band and audience really committed to this thing, and it kept getting funnier as the set progressed. As a conceptual gag, it was brilliant, blurring the line between irony and genuine enthusiasm. It could also only work once, which may be why there hasn’t been a similar night for, say, Smash Mouth’s “All Star” or the Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week.”
3. Angel Olsen — The Pageant, 10/6
Angel Olsen and band have spent most of the past year on tour promoting My Woman, and it showed. Playing the Pageant for the first time, Angel was in fine voice throughout the set, performing both old and new songs with a rare, intimate intensity. I’ll always regret not seeing her back when she was playing the Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center or busking outside Vintage Vinyl, but this was a special night by an artist who’s still scaling creative peaks.
Also: Scrawl/Bark at the Wood House; Frankie Cosmos/Nice Try at Off Broadway; Radiator Hospital/Posture/Pineapple RNR at Foam; The Dream Syndicate at Off Broadway; The Mountain Goats/Samantha Crain at the Sheldon.
1. Father John Misty — Peabody Opera House, 9/22
Father John Misty had surprisingly few antics at his St. Louis concert. The ego that so often overrides his art in interviews and performances was seemingly checked at the door, much to the benefit of his fans. The concert, instead of relying on “edgy” banter and narcissism, found itself taking FJM’s music to new heights, ones previously undiscovered within studio versions of his albums. While his 2017 record, Pure Comedy, sometimes builds slowly without enough crescendoing or pay off, the live show was unrelenting, riding a setlist that ebbed and flowed like a rollercoaster. Upbeat tracks that showcased FJM’s ability to work a crowd and effortlessly dance like Jagger would immediately be followed by an introspective, piano-driven number that evoked wildly different emotions, a move that does not always work in a concert setting. And yet if anyone could execute it perfectly, Misty would be that person. The show pulled healthily from all three Father John Misty albums, and though the entire show was one large highlight, “Only Son of the Ladiesman” and “So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain” were two of the best moments of the night and of 2017 overall in terms of St. Louis concerts.
2. LCD Soundsystem — Brooklyn Steel (NY), 6/23
LCD Soundsystem played 22 shows at Brooklyn Steel in 2017. Though the number may seem excessive, it makes perfect sense when you consider why the band played so many shows there. The venue served as a “safe space” of sorts, for LCD to test out new material and experiment with ideas for their fall tour, and is a setting infinitely more intimate than the festival sets the band often plays in other cities. On their June 23rd show, James Murphy and company busted out old tracks such as “Yr City’s a Sucker” and “Tribulations” alongside multiple songs from the then-unreleased American Dream album. The show was less a concert and more so a two-hour dance party with 1,600 die-hard LCD fans singing-along to every lyric (and roughly 200 hipsters who acted too cool to be at the show, but were there anyway). The show seemed to climax again and again, with two highlights being the first chorus of “You Wanted a Hit” and the one-two encore punch of “Dance Yrself Clean” into “All My Friends,” the latter being one of the great show-closing songs of our time.
3. The Lumineers — Chaifetz Arena, 1/21
The Lumineers do not make groundbreaking music. In fact, they could very well be classified as a safe band, one that has settled into the grooves created by the countless acoustic-indie artists that have come before them. Luckily, this characterization is not mutually exclusive with having some great music and being able to put on a phenomenal show. The Lumineers transformed the 10,000+ capacity Chaifetz Arena into the feel of a venue the fraction of its intimidating size, in large part due to lead singer Wesley Schultz often taking the time to explain the origin of the track about to be played, in addition to the usage of a B-stage in the middle of the arena. Though the band leans heavily on “Ooh’s” and “Aahh’s” as lyrics, they do so in a manner that makes a concert-goer happily oblige, singing along every single time.
(In chronological order)
Japandroids — The Ready Room, 3/5
I bought tickets to this show as a gift to a friend and a treat for myself because I had only just learned of their music not recently and never gone to a Japandroids show. There was so much energy from the band and the crowd. I learned they hadn’t been on tour for a while, so many of their older fans were really excited for their stop here in town. Very different from the other shows I saw the rest of the year. It was thoroughly entertaining.
Chance the Rapper — Scottrade Center, 5/14
Chance’s album, Coloring Book, was very helpful during a year of personal and professional transition. For me, that album is as close as I get to listening to gospel, so seeing him live was as close as I get to going to church. It was an incredible difference from the first time I saw Chance live when he opened for Childish Gambino in 2012. He performed tirelessly, his band was impressive, and production was dope af.
And there was bonus Maxwell!
Space4Lease — Some dude’s backyard (Sofar Sounds St. Louis), 5/17
I was introduced to Sofar this year through a colleague and I dig it the concept. I have yet to dislike an act I’ve seen at any of the Sofar shows I’ve been to, but I legit became a fan of Space4Lease after seeing them in some dude’s really nice backyard (where the homeowner kept bees; that low-key freaked me out). Space4Lease was just solid and sounded great. When I went home and searched their music, they sounded just as good on record as they did live.
Big Freedia — The Ready Room, 5/18
You can’t get more energetic than a Big Freedia show. Big Freedia is my “get shit done” music at home and work, so to dance and sweat with other BF fans was a delight. Big Freedia was so much fun! She had the whole crowd in the palm of her hand. My body was sore after that night. And I saw my sister-in-law twerk on stage…so there’s that. Girl down.
Tank and the Bangas — Old Rock House, 6/14
I don’t know how much more I could love a performance. Everyone on that stage was lit and I wanted to hug each and everyone of them.Super diverse audience of strangers that all acted as if we were long time friends, dancing and singing together. It was lit.
Lady Gaga — Scottrade Center, 11/16
Lady Gaga is college nostalgia for me. I’m an OG Little Monster. Knowing all the crap she’s gone through, and still seeing her be so vulnerable during a sold out arena gig was incredible. Joanne isn’t my favorite Gaga album, but she gave me a whole new appreciation for that work at the concert, along with throwing me right back into 2009. She’s unreal.
SZA — The Ready Room
Ctrl is easily my favorite album of this year. SZA warned the crowd that she wasn’t feeling too well, but I honestly couldn’t tell. She sang her way through my faves from Ctrl and Z alike and I felt every damn note. I’m pretty sure that, for her next album and tour, she’ll be in some huge venue (especially since Ready Room sold out twice for her), so it was nice to see her this year in a more intimate setting.
1. Whores, Lo-Pan, & Hell Night — Fubar, 7/17
Had seen videos of Whores live and was sold on their 90s Am Rep/Touch and Go sound. I went to the show expecting a band aping the sounds of the 90s and instead was blown away by Whores’ absolute mastery of noise rock that dipped a toe into the influence pool of 90s noise but then erased it all to do their own thing. Bonus points for the lead singer/guitarist letting some 10 year old kid strum his guitar to kick off the second song.
2. Bully — Off Broadway, 11/2
Mildly interested after hearing Bully’s songs online and watching their videos. They kicked off their set with some new songs that were just absolutely stellar, hook-laden rock that was nothing like I heard online. A band that can take a sterile recording and breathe life into the songs live is one that will do great things. It was apparent that it would be the last time Bully would play a place this small.
3. Jessica Lee Mayfield & Blank Range — Off Broadway, 11/17
Had seen Blank Range about two years ago and they were this weirdo blend of Allman Brothers, Dr. Dog, and Pavement so I was very excited to see them come back. Their sound has evolved to be in this Americana vein, and it veers hard to Kings of Leon territory, but still retains a lot of weirdness, which seperates them from the pack of KOL clones. Jessica Lee Mayfield was droney and awful. Good songs would become hot messes of painful lyrics over too much reverb. I get the idea for creating a vibe around the words/song, but it wasn’t clicking for me.
3.) Future Islands — The Pageant, 6/2
Still riding high after their David Letterman-assisted, 2014 viral video breakthrough and touring in support of their excellent (yet criminally overlooked) new album The Far Field, Baltimore’s Future Islands hit the Pageant like a group of excitable teenagers with something to prove. Hilariously foul-mouthed frontman Samuel T. Herring’s voice showed touches of tour strain, yet powered through an emotional set of songs new and old, all the while performing his inimitable herky-jerky dance steps and sweating more than Jackie Wilson after a handful of salt pills. Future Islands can now be expected to regularly perform pop music alchemy; they make the cavernous Pageant seem like a small, intimate venue and their synthesizers live and breathe like human beings.
2.) Wildhoney — Foam, 5/24
An absolutely stacked Wednesday night lineup at Foam (including local lights Shady Bug, Sundowning, and the Mark Plant Solo Noise Project) was whipped into a mad frenzy by ascending neo-shoegaze phenoms Wildhoney (from Baltimore, once again!). Packing sweet lullaby melodies into their thunderous attack, this 5-piece left the capacity crowd grinning like idiots and asking each other “Did that just happen?”. While amazingly loud, it was the kind of volume that didn’t shred your ears, just shoved you firmly in the chest like the G-forces of a really great rollercoaster.
1.) Lizzo — LouFest, 9/10
Who else? Bringing a much-needed breath of fresh air into what has become an overly male-centered festival, Minneapolis’s hottest MC dominated the weekend with nothing more than a DJ setup, a couple of dancers and a couple of microphones. Equal parts funny, sexy, exciting, and political, Lizzo and her crew so completely dunked on the competition it made more than a few of us feel like leaving after her set and beating traffic. It’s safe to say we can now divide LouFest into the pre-Lizzo and post-Lizzo eras.
Drive-By Truckers — 9:30 Club (D.C.), 4/21 or 4/22
It was the last night of the the tour and third sold out date at the legendary 9:30. Perhaps the wildest booze filled rock n roll party I have ever witnessed. They played forever, Melissa and I wished it would never have ended.
The Hold Steady — Thalia Hall (Chicago), 6/15 & 6/16
My favorite band played my favorite songs while surrounded by my best friends. Absolute joy.
Cowboys in the Campfire (Tommy Stinson) — Wood House, 7/25
Tommy’s Bash and Pop put out my favorite of the year. The power pop perfect Anything Could Happen was a record I didn’t know how badly I needed. Even though I haven’t seen him do the tunes with the live band, the intimate acoustic setting was wild. Being that close to my favorite Replacement. He even started the show with my request, “Bad News.” Got a rad picture with him. And I wouldn’t have even made the show without the thoughtfulness and kindness of my pal, Nick Kanter.
Julien Baker — Delmar Hall, 12/2
Remarkable talent. Absolutely crushing. Her voice live is a million vibrations crashing into each other. So, so good.
Rakim — The Ready Room, 5/26
The Miles Davis of rap. The God. The Michael Jordan of emcees.
Psychedelic Furs — The Ready Room,
May the lord continue to bless Mike C. The Furs were magnificent as always. Hit after hit after hit.
Beach Slang — The Ready Room
The best under-attended show I’ve ever seen. James is a monster. He oozes rock n’ roll essence. Beach Slack leaves it on the floor, blood and guts, every night. It’s a real shame STL no longer has a punk scene.
Phoenix w/ Whitney — The Fillmore (Miami Beach), 5/12
I should probably start out by saying that I really love Phoenix’s new album, Ti Amo— it’s probably my favorite album of 2017. I’ve always had a weakness for breezy, lovey pop and this album hit me right there. Probably not everyone’s bag, but I can listen to this album on repeat for hours.
This show just happened to work out for us during a family visit in Florida, and I’m so glad it did! Unfortunately Phoenix skipped St. Louis this time around, but we caught them in Miami on the first night of their U.S. tour. They put on such a great show! The band really makes their concerts feel like a huge party. They had the stage set up with lighting displays in the floor that reflected up behind the band and created a really cool effect. They’re still touring and if they tack on a St. Louis show, we’ll definitely catch it again!
Whitney as the opener was also a nice bonus. We missed their show at Delmar Hall on 5/9, so we were glad we could still catch them this year.
Hurray for the Riff Raff w/ Ron Gallo — Old Rock House, 5/2
I love a good concept album, and The Navigator is a fantastic one. Alynda Segarra’s continuous development as an artist and performer is fascinating to see, and I’ll catch her any time, anywhere. She’s such a great storyteller on top of being an amazing singer and musician. I appreciate that she brings a political awareness to her music and performances— that she acknowledges it’s not a part of her she’s willing to separate from her music. For this performance, the display behind the band said “We’re All in This Together,” and she really made me feel it.
We also enjoyed Ron Gallo as the opener— this was a really solid show all around.
Lizzo — LouFest, 9/10
Lizzo’s set at LouFest was the one I was most excited about at this year’s festival, and she brought the goods! The only downside was that she couldn’t fit her older Lizzobangers material (which I LOVE) into the shorter set. It was pretty amazing to get to be in that crowd on such a beautiful day! She’s so talented and unapologetic about the things society tells us we need to apologize for; it’s just a joy to watch her work. It seems like Lizzo’s kind of blown up this year, so I hope we can get her back soon for a full show.
Durand Jones & the Indications — The Bootleg at Atomic Cowboy, 3/18 & 10/20
I may be giving away a secret, but here it is— Durand Jones & the Indications are amazing live and put on a fabulous show. And they come through town often. And their shows (at this point) are cheap. Those who know… show. The crowd is so into it you can’t help but move your ass. We’ll see them any time we can.
Dave Rawlings Machine — The Sheldon, 8/17
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This is always a favorite, and we’ll see Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch any time we have the opportunity. The Sheldon is the perfect venue for them, and we hope they’ll keep St. Louis in their regular rotation. When they came through this year, they mentioned that they might do two nights next time— fingers crossed!
Black Pistol Fire w/ Blackfoot Gypsies — The Firebird, 10/11
We’ve seen Black Pistol Fire a number of times, and they never disappoint. The amount of sound that Eric Owen and Kevin McKeown put out blows my mind. It can be tough sometimes for a duo to give the same kind of show as a full band, but these guys make it look like it’s no big thing. They work their asses off to engage the crowd, and to top it all off they’re really nice.
Extra bonus this time around was Blackfoot Gypsies as the opener. Hands down, best opener we saw this year and we hope to see them again soon! Kind of a throwback southern rock sound, but they’re a little weird and super fun to watch.
Hiss Golden Messenger — Old Rock House, 10/23
Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys — The Stage at KDHX, 3/31
Greyhounds — The Bootleg, 4/7
Esme Patterson — Off Broadway, 6/21
Benjamin Booker — Old Rock House, 10/10
David Ramirez — Duck Room, 11/29
1. Smino — Delmar Hall, 12/23
A gifted wordsmith with the pocket feel of a good drummer. This dude is special. It’s hard to draw comparisons with other artists when discussing the St. Louis native’s take on hip hop, and that’s okay. Reference alone doesn’t do justice to Smino and the Zero Fatigue crew; the show speaks for itself. Go see them.
2. Golden Curls — 3500 Lemp, 4/28
(Full disclosure: I am friends with members of this band.) That said, this is one of my favorite performances of 2017 and an impressive display of growth from the St. Louis ensemble. Recreating the dream state that is sometimes felt during a solitary headphone listen is no easy task. It’s really fucking hard, and Golden Curls can do it. Vibes from the space, Sarah’s projected animations, and the energy of a band on point took everyone in attendance to another world for a bit that evening.
3. Brother Francis & The Soultones — Livery Company, 11/22
Holy cow. This band is fun. Blue-eyed soul, R&B, whatever you want to call it — these dudes are doing it and doing it well. Hall & Oates on acid? Maybe! Go see em!
4. Beth Bombara — Twangfest Saturday Sessons in TGP, 8/12
5. Sound of Ceres — Foam, 10/22
Tank and the Bangas — Old Rock House, 6/14
Sturgill Simpson — The Fabulous Fox Theatre, 9/21
Houndmouth — LouFest, 9/10
1. The Tillers — The American Legion Hall (Donnellson, IA), 4/1
This was as special a show as I’ve ever been to. There is a farmer who lives in Iowa named Doug. Doug loves live music and wants to bring it to the people of Donnellson. He hosts/organizes a series of shows, called Music Under the Water Tower, at the town’s American Legion Hall for a suggested $10 donation, and the best part is that it’s potluck style. The whole town comes out, there’s an enormous spread of food, and most importantly, there’s pie!
My husband and I realized that one of our favorite bands, The Tillers out of Cincinnati, OH, was playing one of Doug’s shows, and it was less than 3 hours away from us on a Saturday night. The road trip was on, as it fit all the criteria for being music travel-worthy. There was a tiny motel in Donnellson that was really affordable and had decent reviews, having recently been updated. We set out for a night we’d never forget! The room was packed upon our arrival, with the only remaining seats at the very back. It truly seemed like the entire town turned up, and they weren’t disappointed! The Tillers played two, hour-long sets, which allowed for an intimate evening of some of their best tracks and new, soon-to-be hits!
Upon finding out that we’d driven all the way from St. Louis, Doug and his sweet girlfriend, Beth, invited us back to their house for homemade soup and cherry pie with the band. We talked into the early hours of the morning and I literally ate the best piece of pie I’ve ever had in my life. To date, it’s the most unique night of music I’ve had the privilege of experiencing!
If you’re looking for a short road trip, and an unforgettable night, check out: https://
2. Shakey Graves — Delmar Hall, 8/16
I really, really like Shakey Graves. When I found out he was finally coming to town to headline a show, I was seriously stoked. Then, the low ticket warning got announced far sooner than I’d thought possible, and I rushed out the door of work to The Pageant to buy my tickets. Upon arrival, the kind ticket seller kept getting an error message. I was sure they were gone and I was going to miss out on this show. After calling a higher up for help, I somehow managed to snag the last two tickets.
Boy am I glad I got those tickets. What an incredible night of music. He was even better in person than I ever thought possible. Playing solo and with a full band, the night was a constant whirlwind of incredible musical skill and chill-inducing vocals. Next time, I won’t procrastinate getting my tickets — I’ll instead run to buy them as soon as the show gets announced.
3. The Drums — The Ready Room, 11/8
Holy concert fairy fortune! We were going to drive to Indianapolis to see The Drums. This is a band that my husband introduced me to the year before he moved to America. We were obsessed with the self-titled debut album, and I’d been perusing their tour schedule ever since. The Drums never seemed to come anywhere close, so traveling seemed like the only option. Our Indianapolis plans fell through, and someone took pity on our super fandom and booked them to play in St. Louis!
Frontman Jonny Pierce was everything I ever wanted in a performer. This show blew every single expectation out of the water, and was sufficiently crowded, but it still felt like an intimate secret. We swayed Morrissey-style and grinned from ear to ear during a raucous surf-pop set of jams that sounded impossibly better than they do on record. I would see Pierce perform with any band 1,000 times over.
Shovels & Rope — Delmar Hall, 2/28
I was sure at the time that this would be in my Top 3. It was an incredibly fun show and their talent knows no bounds.
Josh Ritter — Off Broadway, 8/2
He’s always going to be my absolutely fave. This was a stripped down night of new tunes, mixed with some old tried and true ones. It was electric and raw, and ensured once again that I never want to miss one of his shows if I can help it.
Lillie Mae — Off Broadway, 8/28
Just WOW. She’s been playing with Jack White for a good while now and we saw her perform on the American Epic sessions episode on PBS. Her debut album came out this year and she passed through St. Louis on a Monday night. Small crowd, but BIG sound. Great night of music, and I can’t wait to see her again.
1. Guns N’ Roses — Dome at America’s Center, 7/27
I was 12 in 1991 when I begged my mom to let my sister and I go to the brand new Riverport Ampitheatre to see our favorite band. She said no due to safety concerns, which turned out to be the right call. Cathie and I vowed to see G’N’Fn’R the next time they came to St. Louis, and 26 years later we finally got our wish. I’m happy to say it was worth the wait to finally see Axl, Slash, and Duff!
Lots of surprises at my favorite show this year. The notoriously late band took the stage on time and played a hits heavy 3½ hour set! I was super impressed with St. Louis’ own Richard Fortus on guitar, as well as all of the local t-shirts on stage. Duff in a Streetside Records shirt on the jumbotron was a visual highlight for sure. And thanks to a well integrated backing track, the boys from L.A. sounded better than in their heyday. Closing out with a shower of confetti to “Paradise City” would’ve been mind-blowing to a 12 year old me. Twenty-six years later, it was still pretty damn cool.
2. LouFest Day 2 — Forest Park, 9/10
The lineup at LouFest was heavily stacked towards Day 2, and the heavy hitters did not disappoint. Run The Jewels set was a ton of fun despite the crush of the crowd. Weezer sounded a bit flat, but the set list was solid. Houndmouth showed off some new songs that I really liked with new their new keyboardist from St. Louis, Chris Hickman. But the best set of the day was Lizzo. She stole the show! Great weather and lots of cool kids in the crowd made for the most memorable day I’ve had standing in a parking lot since high school!
3. Pretty Little Empire — Off Broadway, 11/11
My favorite local band only plays one show a year these days so of course their show was a Top 3 for me. It’s amazing that they play so rarely and yet sound so sharp. And Justin Johnson can still belt it out! Please play more than once in 2018!
Sean Canan’s VooDoo Players — Every Damn Week
Sean takes covering bands to a whole other level. Consistently amazing. They played so many great shows this year, but the 80s Halloween Party at Old Rock House really stood out to me.
Top 3 St. Louis Shows I Didn’t Attend
1. U2 and Beck — Dome at America’s Center, 9/16
I haven’t enjoyed a new U2 album since the early nineties, but I was actually excited to see the Joshua Tree live in concert. And Beck always puts on a good show. But unfortunately the cops in this town can shoot whomever they want without facing consequences, and this show was another causality. The cancelation pales in comparison to the tragedies from gun violence that occur far too often in St. Louis, but it was still a big bummer.
2. Violent Femmes and Echo & The Bunnymen — Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, 7/22
I was really looking forward to seeing this show, but Mother Nature had other plans. The temperature hit a record setting 108° that day the heat was so stifling that Ian McCulloch had to leave the stage three times! I still love the Violent Femmes and I’m sorry I missed them. But if you asked me for a list of bands I would watch at Riverport on the hottest day of the past 5 years, the only one would be Led Zepplin.
3. Grace Basement — Off Broadway, 10/28
I was waiting all year to hear Mississippi Nights, the new album from the best local band in town, Grace Basement. Kevin Buckley finally booked a show to preview the album, but it was the Saturday before Halloween! Sorry dudes, but fun costume parties only happen one week a year! Luckily, I’ll have another chance to check out Mississippi Nights at the album release party on February 23rd, 2018, at Foam. And so should you!
(In chronological order)
1. Mirah w/ Kid in the Attic, & Cassie Morgan — Duck Room, 2/28
2. Lee Fields & the Expressions — 2720 Cherokee, 3/4
3. Lucinda Williams — The Pageant, 4/26
4. Indigo Girls — The Pageant, 5/12
5. The Knuckles: RFT Showcase — The Ready Room, 6/17
6. Middle Class Fashion — Tower Grove Pride @ Ritz Park, 6/24
7. Nikki Lane: Open Highway Music Festival — Off Broadway, 8/6
8. Dave Rawlings Machine w/ Gillian Welch — Sheldon Concert Hall, 8/17
9. Paige Alyssa as Janet Jackson: An Under Cover Weekend 11 — Delmar Hall, 8/24
10. Lizzo — LouFest, 9/10
11. Pretty Little Empire — Off Broadway, 11/11
12. MU330 — Duck Room, 12/30
3. Landlady — Foam, 10/25
Before Landlady played their set, I caught its guitarist Will Graefe passing time working on scales and runs in the tiny area that constitutes Foam’s “backstage.” This relentless discipline showed in the quartet’s airtight, virtuosic performance. Its Beach Boys meets soft 70s R&B meets math rock brand of prog-pop plays even better in concert than on record – occasional odd time signatures and bursts of discordant playing that register as indulgent in the stereo become thrilling and stylish in person. Building momentum throughout the night, Landlady delivered a show that was kinetic but always on rails, and the audience ate it up. And as a bonus, St. Louis’ brotherfather opened with a performance just as tight to round out a bill full of ace musicianship.
2. Deerhoof — The Ready Room, 9/30
Like Landlady, Deerhoof has a knack for balancing pop pleasures with experimental dissonance. Deerhoof however is more danceable and has a much deeper catalog to draw from. I was actually worried that I would be playing catchup to a host of unfamiliar tunes, but the band was so charismatic and so on that it didn’t matter. Somehow, drummer Greg Saunier has mastered the art of sounding like he’s spazzing out on his kit while actually locking into and propelling the groove. Guitarists John Dieterich and Ed Rodríguez fired off wiry leads that at any time could be played in unison, intersect, or run parallel to each other. Satomi Matsuzaki anchored all of this with solid steady bass work, bright vocals and charming dance moves. This all might read as complicated on paper, but at The Ready Room Deerhoof was a hell of a party.
1. The Zombies — Thalia Hall (Chicago), 4/14
On this tour, The Zombies played a set of new songs and old hits in its current incarnation, and returned for second set where played their classic 1968 psychedelic pop masterpiece Odessey and Oracle in full with an expanded lineup that included all of the surviving members of its classic lineup. The first set was entertaining, but the second was magical. Every member of the harmony-centric act was in fine voice and they all faithfully recreated that album’s blend of bliss and melancholy without making the show a stodgy recreation. All the heart and emotion behind that incredible album was present, and other than Rod Argent’s keyboard cutting out at one point, everything was practically flawless (and man, can he still rock those keys!). It was all I could ask for and more.
Lizzo — LouFest, 9/10
A Queen. An Icon. A Legend. Lizzo performed on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee right after the 2016 presidential election, and I have always been so grateful for that performance. I still watch it occasionally. She brought me joy then, and she brought me joy again at LouFest, as well as a challenge.
Around the time of the festival, it came to light that a girl Lizzo knew had been the target of racist Snapchats sent by several MICDS students. Lizzo said she felt conflicted about coming to St. Louis, but I’m again grateful she took the time to call out racism and spread a message of action and empowerment. Hopefully all of us in the predominantly white audience took it to heart.
On “Scuse Me,” she sings, “I don’t need a crown / to know that I’m a queen.” What a blessing she is. Long may she reign.
Tank and the Bangas — Old Rock House, 6/14
Following one of the best NPR Tiny Desk performances of the year (ever?), Tank and the Bangas hit the road and sold out Old Rock House. Their genre-bending set was so much fun. Frontwoman Tarriona “Tank” Ball’s vocal prowess electrified the place, and every member of her band is a standout, especially her fellow singer Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph. An Anderson .Paak cover was especially memorable. The band is in that sweet spot of selling out shows but also chill enough to come outside after the show and say bye to folks. I’ll take a one-way ticket to Bangaville, please.
Chance the Rapper — Scottrade Center, 5/14
2017 has been quite the year for Chance. He won 3 Grammys, donated a ton of money to Chicago Public Schools, and has overall been living his best life. His St. Louis show was on Mothers Day, so he brought Maxwell (one of his mom’s faves) to serenade his mother, which was special and adorable. His show was a little churchy (“Blessings”), a little sexy (“Juke Jam”), and a lot of fun.
Smino — Delmar Hall, 12/23
A hometown hero. Blkswn is one of the best albums of the year.
Bucket List, Checked:
Iron Maiden — Riverport, 7/12
This show was everything I could have expected from a Maiden show, even if I would have loved to hear about an hour’s more worth of music from their 1981-1986 period, but that’s what I get for waiting until I was 40 to see them. Rumors swirled for a bit that this may have been their last tour, but I have since heard that isn’t the case, and I certainly hope that’s true.
Descendents — The Pageant, 10/6
Unlike some of the others on the list, I actually haven’t even had the chance/opportunity to see the Descendents before. Through nearly 40 songs, every song was a new rush; nearly each one had been etched into my brain for decades. It was an incredible show, and their energy never lagged, but I could never really shake the feeling that I was watching a bunch of 50-something playing 35 year old songs in a way that probably pales in comparison to what I would have seen 20, 30 or 35 years ago.
Bucket List, 25 Years Too Late Category:
Guns ‘n Roses — America’s Center, 7/27
Metallica — Busch Stadium, 6/4
In 1992, on a beautiful sunny September Saturday morning in Dallas, Texas, I received a call from a friend asking if I could go with him and a group of friends to see Metallica, Guns ‘n’ Roses, and Faith No More at Texas Stadium that day. My parents said “no”. So, nearly 25 years later, I rectified that situation and was able to finally see Metallica and Guns ‘n’ Roses, each for the first time. I have done the math, and even with inflation taken into account, I paid a ridiculous premium to these shows this summer, especially considering how far off their prime both bands are, but it was truly worth it.
The crowd for Metallica gamely waited through a soaking rain, with it finally breaking just around the time Metallica started playing. The setlist mercifully steered clear of much of their late-era stuff, but it’s funny how changing up just 2 or 3 songs out of nearly 20 can make a difference in one’s perception of the quality of a setlist. I am sure some people thought this was a great setlist, but, for me, it dragged at the beginning, and the decision to play “Fuel” and both ballads from the Black album created a hurdle that took me a while to get over (considering their vast catalogue of far superior songs), but by the end of the set, I was thoroughly satisfied with finally getting to see Metallica.
Guns ‘n’ Roses, on the other hand, only left one 1 or 2 songs that I would have loved to hear off the setlist, but at 4+ hours, the set turned into an endurance test. They were on time, sounded great, and were mentally in the game. Lots and lots of local tips of the hat, thanks in large part to the rotating t-shirt collection of Richard Fortus (who somehow has the third longest tenure of anyone with band), Axl, and Duff. They could have cut nothing but covers (and maybe that one horrible Chinese Democracy ballad) and trimmed an hour of the length of the set, and it would have been perfect.
Too bad Faith No More didn’t come through St. Louis this summer…
Nostalgia, But Still Rocking:
The Toadies w/ Local H — Black Cat (D.C.), 10/17
How have I never seen Local H until 2017 when I have lived in a city where they play 1-3 times a year for 17 years? I first saw them opening for Metallica, where not only did I love the performance, but I loved watching the faces of the more traditional “metalheads” trying to figure out what was going on, especially during “High Fiving MF”. But at the Black Cat, it was an entirely different, ear-piercing, life-affirming bludgeoning of a good time. I will not skip their next show.
Growing up in the 90s in Dallas/Ft. Worth, I have seen the Toadies 20+ times — before they were a thing, while they were a thing, and after they were a thing — and they were always great. This was no different, and it’s great to see them still doing it well. I knew all the songs, sang to all of them, loudly and out of key, and raised my fist to the altar of 90s alt rock. But they were still no match for Local H.
Non-Nostalgia, But Honestly, Still Nostalgia Category:
LCD Soundsystem — The Anthem (D.C.), 10/18
This was my fourth time seeing LCD Soundsystem, but me first non-festival show (Lolla 2007, Pitchfork 2010, LouFest 2016). They played at a pristine, incredible new venue in Washington DC, and the setlist was perfect. It was my third straight night of seeing shows that week, though, so I was exhausted, but I persevered. It paid off. The new songs from American Dream came alive in the live setting, and the old favorites were elevated by an ecstatic (shockingly young) crowd.
Luna — Off Broadway, 11/4
Luna brought nothing new to the table and played exactly what everyone in the room at Off Broadway wanted to hear. It was perfect. It was great seeing them back together again. Luna has always been louder, rowdier (as much as they can be) and more fun live than on record and this night was no different.
Other great shows that I don’t have enough time to write extended thoughts about:
Downtown Boys were cathartic and awesome at Off Broadway on August 22.
Beach Slang played to a tiny crown at the too-big-for-them-apparently Ready Room on November 24 as if was a giant crowd or a packed tiny club.
I went to see The Menzingers (who were great), but fell in love with Jeff Rosenstock at The Duck Room on March 5.
Sigur Ros delivered an intense, mind-blowing two sets at the Peabody on June 5. The second best show from them that I have ever seen, and that’s saying a lot.
Modest Mouse delivered one of their best shows in years at The Pageant on June 9.
Dinosaur Jr. brought the tunes and permanent hearing damage to Delmar Hall on March 19, but I am still pissed I missed the “secret” show at Way Out Club two nights later with Lou and J doing opening sets for hardcore legends Negative Approach (bucket list, unchecked still).
White Reaper rocked my face at 7th Street entry in Minneapolis on May 1. The band and crowd alike were stoked beyond anything and the whole place was filled with energy.
Wilco played a typically great quasi-homecoming show at The Pageant on November 13.
Father John Misty won me over with his oddly sincere corny/tongue-in-cheek earnestness/satire/but-is-the-
I don’t get out to see local bands that much anymore (to my great disappointment), so the 2017 ShowcaseSTL on June 17 at many venues in the Grove was like Christmas morning for me. I got to see some old favorites and catch up on some great new (to me, anyway) St. Louis bands. The whole thing ended with a crazy awesome version of “American Girl” by Bass Amp and Dano, which leads me to…
I am so happy I made it out to see Tom Petty at the Scottrade Center on May 12. It was only my second time to see him live; the first time was on the Wildflowers tour, and impossible to top, but this was pretty great.
1. Hello Dolly, Schubert Theater, NYC
2. In and Of Itself, Daryl Roth Theater, NYC
3. Grapes of Wrath, Opera Theater St. Louis, STL
Top three big venue St. Louis concerts:
1. Tom Petty, Scottrade Center, STL
2. Sturgill Simpson, Peabody, STL
3. Green Day, Hollywood Casino Ampitheater, STL
Top three small venue STL concerts:
1. Mavericks, The Pageant, STL
2. Ben folds, Paper Airplane tour, The Pageant, STL
3. Wilco, The Pageant, STL
Top three outside of St. Louis concerts:
1. Tom Petty, Royal Farms Arena, Baltimore
2. Jason Isbell, Ryman, Nashville
3. Bruno Mars, private show, NYC
I saw 113 shows in 2017, here are my Top 10:
|1||Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers||Scottrade Center||12-May||St. Louis, MO|
|Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers||Royal Farms Arena||23-Jul||Baltimore, MD|
|2||Lindsey Buckingham / Christine McVie||Ascend Amphitheatre||23-Jun||Nashville, TN|
|Lindsey Buckingham / Christine McVie||The Fox Theatre||28-Oct||St. Louis, MO|
|3||Boss Hog||Do Division Festival||4-Jun||Chicago, IL|
|4||P.J. Harvey||Filene Center at Wolf Trap||21-Jul||Vienna, VA|
|5||Blondie||Kaufman Entertainment Center||18-Jul||Kansas City, MO|
|6||Olivia Newton-John||Gillioz Theater||26-Aug||Springfield, MO|
|7||The Mavericks||The Pageant||6-May||St. Louis, MO|
|The Mavericks||Knucklehead’s Saloon||27-May||Kansas City, MO|
|The Mavericks||Roots N Blues Festival||30-Sep||Columbia, MO|
|8||Destruction||Aftershock||27-May||Kansas City, MO|
|9||Waxahatchee||The Bishop||9-Nov||Bloomington, IN|
|10||Doro||Reggie’s Rock Club||14-Sep||Chicago, IL|