Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top 10 Concerts of 2013

Okay, first of all, I acknowledge right up front that there's 12 shows in my list of Top 10 Concerts of 2013, but that's the kind of year it was.  While 2013 might have been merely so-so in its recorded output, the live shows this year were outstanding.  So without further ado, here are my choices of the best live shows of the year, presented in chronological order:

January 25 - Yo La Tengo & Calexico, Buckhead Theater

Not my first show of the year, but still a nice, early show in the year to get 2013 rolling.  After all this time, this was my first time seeing Yo La Tengo live, and I wasn't disappointed in the least.

February 23 - Unknown Mortal Orchestra & Foxygen, 529

This was a big year for UMO, who released a great album that made my Top 10.  I saw them three times this year, and this wasn't even their best show - that would be their incendiary performance during MFNW at Branx.  But this was still a fine performance, though, and what really put it into the Top 10 category was their opener, Foxygen, who suffered all sorts of major and minor calamities, mishaps, and internal strife this year, but still were able to deliver a thoroughly entertaining show to the packed house at 529.

August 31 - !!!, Bumbershoot (Seattle)

It's easy to slip into sensory overload at a three-day festival like Bumbershoot, and both get carried away in the excitement of the event over a so-so performance by a so-so band, as well as get so glazed over that you completely overlook an outstanding set by a great band.   !!! added some real excitement to the first day of Bumbershoot, and when I saw them the next week at MFNW, they confirmed that they really were that good - it wasn't all just festival overstimulation after all.   

September 6 - Radiation City, Mississippi Studios (Portland)

I also saw Radiation City several times this year - at The Earl back in June and then twice during MFNW. Although their performance at the totally radical Marmoset party left little to be desired, they really shined at Mississippi Studios during the OPB party and gave the best performance I've heard by them yet, all sweetness, harmony, and pop ecstasy - if you need proof, the entire set is posted on the OPB web site.

September 14 - Little 5 Fest

September 21 - Okkervil River & Torres, Variety Playhouse

Okkervil River's been around for a while now and I've enjoyed their records over the years, but like To La Tengo, it wasn't until this year that I finally got around to seeing them perform live. But mark my words - I will not purposely miss another live show by them again.  The evening was heightened by Torres, who was totally new to me, performing a spellbinding opening set. 

October 7 - Junip, Terminal West

As hypnotic and mesmerizing as an evening of gently psychedelic electronic folk-rock can get without the actual use of hallucinogens.  Wow, just wow!

October 9 - Savages, Vinyl

I don't have any photos to share of this show due to the band's strict no photography, cell-phone, or other mindless distraction policy, and since I was at the very front of the stage mere feet away from frontperson Jehnny Beth, I abided by their rules.  As promoter Alex Weiss tweeted after the show, "Just when I thought that it couldn't get any more intense, they brought it to another level entirely. Definitely one of the best shows I've ever seen. If you ever get a chance to see this band live, do it. That is all."  Transcendent post-punk from London.

October 26 - Neutral Milk Hotel, The Tabernacle

Another show with a pretty strict, "no pictures" policy, but I managed to snag a few that got posted on line. It's not like this comeback tour didn't have any hype surrounding it and it's not like the expectations weren't sky high, but they not only met those expectations, they elevated the breathtaking show into the pure realm of high art. 

November 2 - Thee Oh Sees, Terminal West

The best live band in the business proved once again why they're the best at what they do.  If you were there, you'd understand, and if you understood, you were there.  With great openers OBN III and The Blind Shake, the evening was a showcase for the state of 2013 punk, but no one whips a crowd up into more of a frenzy than John Dwyer and company.  Let's hope the rumors of their demise remain just rumors.

November 18 - Colin Meloy & Eleanor Friedberger, Variety Playhouse

Two master singer-songwriters, both unique in their idiosyncratic ways, gave the audience a totally charming set of songs and stories.  Added bonus points for Kinks covers. I still haven't had the chance to see The Decemberists perform, but between a composite of frontman Meloy's set and the October show by backing members Black Prairie (which very nearly made the Top 10 list - it came down to an elimination bout between this set and theirs), I feel like I can approximate the experience.   

December 11 - Joseph Arthur, Eddie's Attic

I said it before and  I'll say it again - why this man isn't a major star is beyond me.  He released one of the best records of the year, The Ballad of Boogie Christ, and I saw him perform at Criminal Records (where he briefly worked back in the 90s) during L5Fest with just a drummer and then at Eddie's Attic with bassist Mike Mills (REM), and both times he's rendered me speechless. And man, can he play guitar!  Let's hope that Mills' box office appeal brings Arthur some of the recognition he deserves.  

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