Usually coming up with an end of year best of list is easy, but so much of the time I would've spent listening to my favorite new albums was spent listening to what my children wanted to hear. Thinking back on the great concerts I witnessed was easier. Sometimes you instantly know when an album or concert will rank among the best you've heard or seen all year. In other instances it takes time for a album to grow on you through repeat listens or by reflecting on a concert experience. We'll start with the latter.
Foo Fighters Rock the Vote, The Fillmore, September 5- I felt fortunate to even get in to see the Foo Fighters in a club, but to witness what Dave Grohl and company estimate was their longest set ever (which their publicist later confirmed) at three-plus hours? That was really special. And if there’s one band I can stand to listen to for three whole hours, I’m glad it was this tireless rock n’ roll work horse especially knowing a hiatus was in the near future.
Miranda Lambert, Bojangles’ Coliseum, January 25 - While this probably won’t make the country singer’s top shows - ever - the vulnerability and strength she displayed playing a rescheduled show just a week after her father-in-law’s death endeared her to fans. She struggled through some tear-stained songs, but was in prime voice on others and demonstrated that a real pro doesn’t storm off stage in a huff when things don’t go her way. This show felt special because there was a true connection between Lambert and her empathetic fans.
The Killers, The Orange Peel, Asheville, July 19 - It was our first time seeing them since a tent at Coachella in 2004 and the club was probably smaller than that tent. They were every bit as charismatic and exciting, but this time we actually knew most of the songs.
Of Montreal, Neighborhood Theatre, June 12 - From costumes to music to pure entertainment value this lively, colorful set was one of the most memorable of the year. And it helped introduce other fine acts - Chappo and Kishi Bashi, whose members were both touring with Of Montreal - to the Charlotte audience.
Bad Veins, Snug Harbor, June 8 - There was just something special about this duo, whose bouncy indie-pop cut through the bustle of the late night crowd. It topped off the adorable Dan Sartain’s punk set at The Milestone earlier that night. (It’s always great and economical to hit more than one good show in a night if you're paying a babysitter).
Lee Fields & the Expressions, Tremont Music Hall, Dec 7 - Although I didn’t see the entire set, this 1970’s soul veteran on the gradual comeback trail drew a diverse crowd and was all the buzz via Twitter that night. With sets by locals Yardwork and the O’Getters with Antiseen’s Jeff Clayton guesting and a crowd that filled the entire front room, it felt like Tremont circa 1999.
Coldplay, Time Warner Cable Arena, July 3 - Though I was a bit disappointed in Robyn who made my best lists in 2010 and 2011 (I thought a more upbeat set list would’ve served to better win over the US audience), Coldplay is just a phenomenal live band. You can accuse them of being too mainstream, too predictable, too vanilla. Whatever. I once thought those things too. But on stage they’re a force whose shows feel like a sort of religious experience (except maybe for my friend Tina, who was eating crackers during the encore).
Die Roten Punkte, Duke Energy Theater, August 1 - There is nothing quite like this hilarious German mock rock band. Brother and sister Astrid and Otto’s relationship issues come to a head through song, dance, and banter (conflicting tales of how they were orphaned for instance). What’s more, the songs are actually as catchy as they are funny.
Jane’s Addiction/The Duke Spirit, Ovens Auditorium, May 23 - Nothing can compare to the first time I saw Jane’s Addiction. I was 15 and it was my first non-hair metal, non-teeny bopper show. However having seen them a few years ago with Nine Inch Nails, my expectations weren’t high. But in the intimate setting of Ovens with Perry Farrell’s wife Etty playing some sort of dancing S&M goddess, Farrell not appearing nearly as old and pervy as at Verizon, and the group completely on, it turned out to be the best slice of junior high nostalgia since the Pixies reunion stopped by in 2010. They even won over my husband who is by no means a fan.
Justin Townes Earle and Tift Merritt, McGlohon Theater, November 16 - I’ve always liked Steve Earle’s son for his honesty and passion for the history of American music. I was delighted to see such a large crowd clue into what he’s been up to for the last three albums after seeing him with maybe twenty people at the Muse a few years ago. He was funny, honest, and I couldn’t have chosen a better set list myself (although I might’ve added a cover of one of his dad’s songs). Merritt was bouncy, fun, and genuine singing mostly new tracks from her “Traveling Alone” album. I didn’t even mind not hearing some of my old favorites. And that voice!
Here are a few that just missed the cut.
Ours, The Milestone, July 17 - Jimmy Gnecco’s voice is just absolutely amazing and this intimate set seemed to be as much fun for the band as it was for the crowd.
Roger Waters, Time Warner Cable Arena, July 10 - While I’m not a huge Pink Floyd fan (gasp!), this would probably top my husband’s list and seeing the revival so close (third row) certainly ranks on the list of milestones.
The Hunters with A Place to Bury Strangers, Tremont, July 25 - The best surprise of the year. I went on a whim and found opening duo the Hunters like a volatile marriage of dissonant art punk and my beloved riot grrrl. Then headliners A Place to Bury Strangers blew me away with its nod to Jesus and Mary Chain in the way that I had hoped She Wants Revenge would a few years ago.
Stars with California Wives and Diamond Rings, Visulite, September 27 - The most consistent lineup I saw all year.
Wolf Gang with Atlas Genius and the Royal Concept, Booth Playhouse and the Whigs, Visulite, November 3 - What a birthday weekend. Sweden’s Royal Concept was a revelation. Definitely one to watch. The environment of Booth - not a traditional rock club - was comfortable and the sound was good. Cap that with the always riveting live rock show of Athens’ trio the Whigs. I could watch them for hours.
Lydia Loveless, Double Door, February 2 - This Ohio roots singer-songwriter is at her best when letting the off-the-cuff, unfiltered banter fly. Her stories and awkward asides are almost as good as her killer songs of heartbreak and struggle and a voice that sounds like a less refined, less depressing Neko Case.