Just as I compile a list of top albums each year, I also look back at the year in live music. I often know when I walk out of a show (my Top 3 for instance) that there's no doubt they'll top the list. Of course I can't make every show and my experiences can vary (especially now that I sometimes have a picky 4-year-old music fan in tow), but these are the performances and the concert experiences I enjoyed most this year. No, I did not see the much talked about 3-hour plus Chris Cornell concert at Knight Theater (I was actually on my way home from Thanksgiving, smarting from a fender bender at Lake Norman), but I imagine it would make many Top 10 lists as well.
On another note there's no out of town shows on my list this year, which is rare. That may be because the National actually played here and the Orange Peel didn't lure us away this year. If you read my Best Albums of 2013 list you'll notice some repeats here. That's the nature of my job, which revolves around live music. Often the best albums and best shows go hand in hand.
Pink at Time Warner Cable Arena March 16, 2013
She may not have the tabloid heft of a Britney or the superstar notoriety of Beyonce or Madonna, but this pop powerhouse gave chills with her vocal ability and acrobatics and left concertgoers (and two slightly jaded music critics) gasping.
Vienna Teng at McGlohon Theatre July 20, 2013
It’s a rare occasion when a concert makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger. Hosted by a fan who booked the show (more on that in an upcoming story), Teng’s concert with Alex Wong was personal and intimate elevated by the fact that she’s leaving music to pursue another career in February. But it was the moment where the entire audience lit electronic candles in her honor to her surprise that served as the most touching of the year.
Menomena (pictured at top) at Visulite, Oct. 11, 2013
Drawing on the deep, personal material from its album “Moms,” the Portland duo (touring as a four-piece) created a magical, long-awaited return. It didn’t hurt that its 6’7” leaders demanded attention with their towering presence, sax playing, interesting percussion, and vocal interplay. Friends and fellow Northwesterners Helio Sequence’s set was a fine warm up.
Valient Thorr at Tremont, June 12, 2013
Hearing the songs from its new “Our Own Masters” album as the Carolina metal band kicked off its tour was such a treat because it’s such a damn good record. The fact that I got them on the cover of the CLT section and the slime green vinyl they signed made it even sweeter. I don’t know if they’re capable of a bad show. I had the most fun (aside from taking my son to see Adam Ant) at this one.
David Mayfield Parade at Double Door Sept. 7, 2013
The funny, charismatic, and virtuoso frontman is a live powerhouse who surrounds himself with band members that ooze as much individuality and personality on stage as he does. His material is breathtaking, but he also swung from rafters (above), played un-miked in the center of the crowd, and invited the audience to close the place down on stage with him.
Janelle Monae at The Fillmore, November 20, 2013
R&B needs quirky, unpredictable artistes like this petite show-woman. Hers was a fully realized production with the Fillmore’s stage turned into a white cloud (a la padded cell?) and her talented backing band and dancer/singers decked out in black and white costumes. But at its core Monae’s show was still about music. And it takes nerve to cover both the Jackson 5 and Prince and knock both out of the park.
Adam Ant at McGlohon Theatre August 12, 2013
My happiest moment of the year was singing “Antmusic” in the balcony with my four-year-old (we trade off on parts). Ant proved that at 59, he’s still got it. He rocked through 29 songs and the new songs were practically just as good as the old hits, if not as familiar to most of the crowd. Younger cats with much shorter sets should take note.
The National (pictured above) at The Fillmore September 11, 2013
Although we’ve seen them play arguably better shows in more intimate venues having traveled from Atlanta to Richmond to see our favorite band, it was special that the Grammy nominated band’s first Charlotte show was a sell-out where my husband and I got to show our friends just what we’d been raving about for the past 10 years. Plus singer Matt Berninger drug his mic (chord and all) all around the room and out on to the sidewalk outside the club and my editor surprised me by putting them on the CLT cover (another win!).
Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires, God Save the Queen City Festival at Chop Shop, September 14, 2013
From the locals on up the lineup to the buzzing national headliners the third annual NoDa-set festival’s indie bill was incredible, but this Alabama blues-punk trio blew my mind with its unbridled energy. They created an early Avetts-like on stage rock n’ roll exorcism that left me completely spent.
David Byrne & St. Vincent at Belk Theater, June 18, 2013
I had no expectations other than having seen Byrne’s outstanding solo show a few years ago, but wow. St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) did more than hold her own with the former Talking Heads' frontman and art-rock legend. With their horn-driven ensemble and her own quirky performance, she made new fans of those who weren’t yet familiar with her.
Other bests that didn't quite make the Top 10.
Jimmy Eat World at The Fillmore August 13, 2013
It’s always special when a band you once loved reminds you of exactly what you liked about them in the first place. With a set heavily laced with songs from my favorite Jimmy album, "Bleed American," (including the surprise of my favorite "Authority Song"), the Arizona emo-pop forerunners reignited the spark.
Best Double Header
Christopher Cross at Neighborhood Theatre and Hot Water Music at Amos’ Southend, Jan 20, 2013
I often hit two shows a night, but rarely are both equally so good. Although like night and day, `70s yacht rock pioneer Cross’ jazz-flavored, light pop set and the heavier Florida punk outfit’s later hard rock revival renewed my respect for both and left me downloading “Think of Laura” and scouring my CDs for my old HWM albums.
Lisa Marie Presley at Don Gibson Theatre in Shelby, November 9, 2013
Somewhere between opening for Chris Isaak in a gymnasium in SC in 2003 after her first album’s release and working with T-Bone Burnett and fourth husband Michael Lockwood on her third album, Presley let loose and got comfortable on stage. Backed by a team of pros that include band leader Lockwood, she shared intimate stories, her humor and personality, and a voice that would make daddy proud. Plus she reworked earlier songs to fit with her newer rootsier material.
Beach Fossils at Chop Shop, Oct. 28, 2013
Watching Beach Fossils’ Dustin Payseur (who grew up here) hop off stage to dance with his family and friends during the title track of his band’s terrific album “Clash the Truth” was the definition of heartwarming. It was indie-rock dropping all its pretensions and giving the audience something real, which is kind of what “Clash the Truth” is all about.
Best Local Show(s)
Grown Up Avenger Stuff/Today the Moon, Tomorrow the Sun at Visulite, Aug. 2, 2013 and Temperance League at Snug Harbor, Oct. 18, 2013
Having spent much of 2013 touring nationally, female-fronted hard rock outfit Grown Up Avenger Stuff demonstrated just how well its parts now gel with the experience and consistency of the road behind them. While Temperance League plays live a lot, it was special to see its fans and friends turn up for the release of “Rock n’ Roll Dreams” which the band played in (I think) its entirety.
Kristy Lee at Evening Muse, July 6, 2013
With her acoustic guitar, blue do-rag and tilted Yankees’ cap, the Alabama singer-songwriter looks like a tom-boyish folkie, but in actuality she sings like an old African-American woman that’s voice channels the pain and living of generations. She’s simply amazing.
Best Opening Acts
Cage the Elephant (pictured) opening for Muse at TWC Arena Sept. 3, 2013
Fitz & the Tantrums opening for Bruno Mars at TWC Arena Aug. 21, 2013
It's not easy to work an arena-sized crowd that's anxiously awaiting a much better known headliner, but both of these bands killed it, working overtime to win over the audiences and undoubtedly gaining new fans in the process.