While graduate school took up most of my time this year, I decided to go to some concerts this year. Well, I usually decided that every year, but this year I made that decision more often than most years. Um, yeah.
The first show I saw this year was Neutral Milk Hotel. NMH is one of those bands that I discovered long ago, became obsessed, forgot, rediscovered, repeat numerous times. They only have released a handful of items but they are all great especially their masterwork, Into the Areoplane. They have not toured, or recorded, in fifteen years. When tickets went on sale last August, they sold out in 20 minutes. I was able to get one. Then they announced a second show. Being greedy, I was able to get two for that show wanting Cristina to experience them. They did not disappoint. They played at the Civic, which at the time had serious sound issues that they have since addressed, but that did not deter from the show. They used every instrument they could think of including saws to recreate their sound. The crowds loved it on both nights. More importantly, they looked like they were having fun. The setlist worked better on the first night allowing for a better tension between songs. Cristina came the second night. Not really being a fan before hand, she became one after. When I asked for her impression, she responded “they played saws.”
In March, I saw Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks at the Parish. The former Pavement frontman played a great set of his solo stuff. I forgot how good of a guitar player he was. He only played one Pavement song, but it was the magnificent “Stereo.” I know it left some people disappointed. Most were there because of Pavement. However, if an artist has moved on, he has moved on. If he were to play Pavement songs, he probably would be playing bigger venues. He chooses not to. He chooses to give his new songs the spotlight. Which is a good thing, because his last two albums have been great.
Elton John put on amazing set in March. A huge setlist that included practically every hit except “Daniel.” Curiously, the people sitting behind us left because they did not recognize any songs. They said this after “Levon,” “Tiny Dancer,” and “Goodbye Yellowbrick Road.” What?
Hogs for the Cause is my favorite festival. I get to eat pork in order to raise money for pediatric brain cancer patients. It’s perfect. This year they had Hurray for the Riff Raff and the Hold Steady. The Hold Steady is what I would want my band to sound like if I were in a band. It was a glorious spring day with great music.
To celebrate the near end of the Spring semester we heading out to the Hangout Fest in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Lured by the promise of The Flaming Lips and Outkast, we decided to buy tickets knowing that Sunday would probably be a no go day. Friday started out well with the Queens of the Stone Age and The Black Keys. I’m not a huge fan of the Black Keys (they suffer from is that this song or is it that song since they both kinda sound alike syndrome or aka Foo Fighters syndrome), but they did put on a good show because they are two supremely talented musicians. Queens was better but under appreciated. We also saw Childish Gambino play a few tracks. Saturday was a full day in which we saw Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Modest Mouse, the Flaming Lips and the Killers in a row. That would also be how I would rank them. Trombone Shorty is on the top of the his game, so do yourself a favor and find a way to watch him perform. The Flaming Lips had trouble understanding that the crowd for their early show just wanted to hangout and listen and not be all that excited. Outkast was the main reason why we bought tickets to the festival, but we decided to be adults and skip them. They were scheduled for nine on Sunday and then it would be a three hour drive back home. Work would come early the next day.
We spent two days at Jazz Fest. The second day we saw Bruce Springsteen. I have no desire to see such a big act again at the Fest. You have to get there to early and camp out to be able to see anything. Jazz Fest should not be a one tent festival. The other day we did wander from stage to stage until it was time to see Vampire Weekend. The crowd was drastically younger than Bruce’s. VW has grown with every album and are another band at the top of their game. I would love to see them in a more intimate setting though.
When I asked Cristina to marry me, I did it in a simple fashion. I did it at home with a song by the Old 97’s playing in the background. The song is called “Question” and it’s about asking THAT question. They played in New Orleans on May 28. This was perfect since that is our anniversary. Dancing with my wife, on our anniversary, to that song is a memory we will both always cherish.
This was right before Bayou Country Superfest, yet I wish most people would have realized that on May 28 two of the best country acts were playing at a small rock venue in the Quarter. Opening for the Old 97s was newcomer Lydia Loveless. Short, sassy with a great voice, an ear for melody, and in your face lyrics, she was the best opening act I’ve seen since I saw Radiohead open for REM.
Well, until I went to see Deafheaven. Deafheaven sounds like Robert Smith of the Cure, Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, and The Edge of U2 formed a death metal band with a guy screaming lyrics who could be on the cover of GQ. Their album Sunbather is an instant classic. They played at the same venue as the Old97s albeit to a much different crowd. They killed it, but they had to because the bar was set high by the previous act. Pallbearer, a doom metal band from Arkansas, played an amazing set that overcame some mic difficulties. Their songs are slow but build up a power that just knocks you back when it comes alive. I came away not knowing which band I preferred. Not bad for $20.
The only clunker of the year was Peter Murphy. Like the two shows mention above, he performed at One Eyed Jacks. Unlike the two previous shows, the former Bauhaus frontman claimed the sound was bad. He could not hear himself. He cut the show after the first set leaving everyone wanting to hear his biggest hit. The sad part was that he sounded great. He was the only one who thought so.
The next show was another that I have waited years for: The Afghan Whigs. The album Gentleman is my favorite album of the 90s and it might not even be their best album. They are band that sounds like the Stones and the Replacements who grew up knowing every song of the Stax catalog. Their new album is one of my top twenty albums of the year. I had high expectations. They, too, did not disappoint. Their lead singer and songwriter, Greg Dulli, spends plenty of time in New Orleans and that energized the band. The setlist was flawless even when Dulli forgot the words to “Algiers.” He stopped the band. Played the next song and came back to it. It was the right amount of “fuck it” attitude a great band needs to have.
Another legend put on a titanic show in October. Paul McCartney played three straight hours of songs from each era. The highlight: “Somewhere” played on a ukulele. Simple, beautiful, and moving tribute to his friend.
Voodoo Fest came at a bad time for us, yet we saw the bands we wanted to see. Fishbone played a monster set on a stage too small to contain them. “Everyday Sunshine” is a contender for my favorite song of all time. Seriously, watch the video and watch your day get instantly better. Slayer was awesome (and it was Halloween!) but they crowd did not want to hear them, they just wanted to dance. That was probably because Outkast played next, in what may be their last show. Andre 3000 might not have put his heart into it, but it was hard to tell. It was a great set and a great way for them to go out. We saw the Foo Fighters on Sunday after skipping Saturday. Best moment was when they brought out Trombone Shorty, and Dave Grohl knew it.
My last show of the year was The New Pornographers. I loved telling people I was going see this band to see their reactions to the name. They are just a great pop band. Playing at the Civic with the improved sound, they made a joyous noise. A concert should make you want to go back and listen to a performers music. Since this concert, the New Pornographers, and the members solo efforts, have dominated my turntable and mp3 players.
It had been a long time since I went to that many shows. Cristina went to most, but not all. I haven’t been able to convince her of deafheaven’s greatness yet. She did get to go to 311 on 3/11, plus she saw Bruno Marrs and Justin Timberlake. She’s not complaining about missing deafheaven.