Live Music Review 2016
December 31, 2016
The Rolling Stones
Paul McCartney and Neil Young
The Lone Bellow
Live Music Review 2016
It is time for my annual countdown of the ten best live shows that I attended this year. This is definitely the most difficult year that I have had narrowing things down as I attended more shows that ever this year. I think a full schedule at the Key West Theater and a lot of time traveling to major festivals and shows made the difference as this year I saw almost 150 different bands and musical acts in one of the best concert years of my life.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the many difficult losses that the music industry suffered this year. 2016 will go down as one of the worst years ever as far as talented artists passing away, many of them far too soon. Among those lost this year are some of my favorite live performers who thankfully I had a chance to see perform during their careers, these include Prince, David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Paul Kantor, Maurice White, Joey Feek, Keith Emerson, Vanity, Phife Dawg, Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Sharon Jones, Greg Lake and most recently George Michael. It was a tough, tough year.
LL Cool J
Music is what heals the soul and so it seems fitting to mourn those losses by celebrating the live music experiences that I had this year and the wonderful assortment of concerts that we attended. From humongous stadium shows, arenas, amphitheaters, small theaters to tiny bars, we covered the gamut from the world renowned to the unknown bands trying to make a place for themselves. We seemed to see it all again this year, just more of it.
Little River Band
In some ways it is an exercise in folly to even attempt to rank the various performances in any kind of order as the shows are just so different. How do you compare a performance by a country band at a tiny bar, to one featuring the world’s most famous Rock N Roll band at a huge outdoor festival with hundreds of thousands of people? You really can’t do it and be anywhere close to being fair, but I am going to give it a shot once again.
Pony and Dan
These choices are of course, completely subjective, if you or someone else attended the exact same shows, you would no doubt come up with a very different list and may think that I am completely crazy. But that is one of the special things about experiencing live music. It impacts each of us in a completely different fashion. I try to base my selections on much more than just who my favorite bands are. While I do tend to go to performances by my favorites, so many of these will be found on the list, I also tend to go see bands that I have very little if any knowledge of and I feel equally comfortable commenting on them.
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
Florida Georgia Line
The Indigo Girls
Young and up and coming bands often rise to the top by the power of their live performances rather than their recordings. I do not own any music for example by the band Cage the Elephant, but after experiencing their live shows a few times over the past few years, I will never pass up an opportunity to see them live, they are absolutely incredible. On the other hand, I will never waste my time or money seeing Van Halen again, though I love that band. Their current state is a mockery of what they once were and their show which I saw last year remains one of the worst shows of the decade. I am so glad that I saw them in their prime, both with Sammy Hagar and David Lee Roth at the helm.
Cage the Elephant
Band of Horses
The many shows that I experienced this year ran the musical spectrum. I saw old school rappers such as LL Cool J, Talib Kweli and Too Short, I saw a ton of headliners at the various festivals that I attended which this year included the Gasparilla Music Festival in Tampa, Lollapalooza in Chicago, Folk’s Fest in Lyons, Colorado, the Austin City Limits Festival in Austin, Texas and the Desert Trip in Indio, California. I missed Coachella this year and did not make it to the new Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival either.
LL Cool J
The Lone Bellow
St. Paul and the Broken Bones
Festivals are great because you get to see the massive headliners as well as my favorite, new and up and coming bands on the smaller stages. This year I was able to catch headlining sets from the likes of Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lana Del Rey, The Decemberists and Conor Oberst. I also saw a ton of newer, exciting bands that I was thrilled to be able to see including The Lone Bellow, Lucinda Williams, Frightened Rabbit, Die Antwoord, Lucy Dacus, Bomba Estero, Kasey Musgraves, HAIM, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Band of Horses, Bastille, Vic Mensa, Houndmouth, Blitzen Trapper, the Struts, and Oh Wonder.
With Kathy Mattea
I saw crazy bands who put on amazing shows like Mac Sabbath, a Black Sabbath cover band that dress up like crazed McDonaldland characters, Here Come the Mummies played two great shows in Key West this year, their identities disguised under their mummy costumes and the wild Die Antwoord whose shows have to be experienced to be understood.
Kathy with the Mummies
While only a select few shows can make my top ten list, there were a number of performances that came very, very close. Honorable mention recognition goes to the following fantastic concerts that I saw in 2016 in no particular order; Madonna, Beyonce, Jane’s Addiction, James Bay, Maren Morris, The Psychedelic Furs, Howard Jones and Todd Snider. In most years, any of these would have easily cracked the top ten, but this was a special year.
The Psychedelic Furs
So without further yammering, here is my top 10 concerts of 2016, in reverse order.
10. Brett Dennen, Austin City Limits Festival, Austin, TX, October 2, 2016. I have seen Brett Dennen a number of times, though mostly earlier in his career. I loved his first CD and have had varying interest levels in his other releases, and had not even heard his newest work. His early morning set on the main stage at ACL did not have a massive crowd, which is sad because they missed a beautiful set. I am so glad that I got up early and over to ACL to catch this one. His set featured a great mix of his older work and newer music, which was just as great and led me to rush over to the merch tent to pick-up his latest release. Brett is a gifted songwriter and his mellow folky pop vibe was a perfect way to start the final day of the festival. If you are not familiar with him, head to Spotify and give a listen or better yet, catch a live show.
9. AC/DC, BB&T Center, Sunrise, FL, August 30, 2016. You may recall that AC/DC slipped in at number 10 on last year’s list with their performance at Coachella that I attended in April of 2015. That performance was one of the last for former lead singer Brian Johnson, who left the band this year due to hearing loss and not being able to perform. When his replacement was announced to be none other than Axl Rose of Guns n’ Roses fame, there were more than a few people who never thought it would work. The show in Sunrise was the band’s second show with Axl as lead vocalist and I was totally blown away. It was if they had been playing together for ages and if anything it was a much more powerful show than the great one I saw last year with Johnson at the helm. The addition of Rose seems to revitalize the band, which has been around for 40 years and is still going strong. For a real arena Rock n’ Roll show there just isn’t much better.
AC/DC “Back in Black”
8. Raury, ACL Festival, Austin, TX, September 30, 2016. It is rare that I ever go see a band without having any knowledge of them at all and rarer still that they move me so much as to make me an instant fan. Atlanta based Raury was playing one of the smaller stages at ACL and I never would have seen him if my friends Livi and Chris did not report that he was amazing and I rushed right over to check him out. I only caught the last part of the set, but is was more than enough to verify that I was seeing something special. A mix of hip-hop, folk and soul that is unique and interesting as it sounds. It is not often you see something so unique and impressive and fresh as what I saw watching Raury. Energetic, powerful, insightful and basically brilliant, Raury is an artist that I cannot wait to see perform live again. Hopefully sooner rather than later.
7. Counting Crows, Rob Thomas, K Phillips, MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, Tampa, FL, July 23, 2016. I know, I know, somehow Counting Crows always seem to find a spot on my top 10 list, but dammit they put on an incredible show and this tour, which I saw on two nights in West Palm and Tampa was right up there with their best. I am not going to go on much about the Crows, their live shows can be legendary for the alt versions and additional songs and lyrics that lead singer Adam Duritz inserts into their songs. And they were fantastic as usual, but the real revelation for me was the performance by Rob Thomas, former lead singer of Matchbox Twenty. I had never seen him perform solo and it was fantastic. He is a true pop icon and I had no idea how familiar I would be with his songs. It was a stellar double bill and the bonus was the opening act K. Phillips. Another act that I had never heard, he was fantastic as well. The opening spot was not the best, I would love to see him in a small club, but his talent is undeniable.
6. Mavis Staples, Rocky Mountain Folks Fest, Lyons, CO, August 20, 2016. When I first saw the line-up for this year’s Folks Fest, I was most excited about seeing Mavis Staples on the list. The iconic Rhythm and Blues and Gospel singer was one of the founding members of the legendary Staples Singers and has seen her solo career take off again in the last decade since beginning work with producers such as Ry Cooder and Jeff Tweedy. The woman is a legend both for her long and storied musical career as well as her Civil Rights activism. I had never seen her previously but her recent CDs have been featured heavily in my recent listening and I was thrilled at the opportunity. Her voice was as strong as ever and that is saying something for a voice that has been sampled by other artists more than anyone in the history of music. She belted out classic Staples Singers hits, Gospel favorites and a nice selection of her most recent music to the delight of the Folks Fest audience.
5. Johnnyswim, Key West Theater, Key West, FL, January 28, 2016. Kathy and I have been big supporters of the Key West Theater, which has provided a venue for some of the best music to come to Key West in ages. It has been a fantastic addition to the social and cultural scene of the island. We have been to a ton of shows there since they opened, but one really stood out this year. Once again, it was a band that was a total unknown to me, I am not even sure why I got tickets but it was one of the best decisions that I made all year. LA based duo Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano sing a blend of folk, soul, blues and pop and are just amazingly good. Sudano is the youngest daughter of Disco Diva Donna Summer and she certainly shares her musical chops with her mother. The theater was packed with people who were fans and had traveled great distances to see the show, they obviously were on to something well before I was, but I am sold Johnnyswim is a great, great live band.
4. The Cure, Bayfront Amphitheatre, Miami, FL, June 26, 2016. Seeing the Cure in Miami offered me an opportunity to check another band off my life bucket list as somehow I had never managed to get to one of their shows, even though I had heard from many that their shows were unbelievable. Well I can now attest that that is indeed true as Robert Smith and the band delivered an absolute tour de force at their Miami shows- which were the last ones of their North American tour. At over three hours with 34 songs covering the gamut of their storied career and three, yes three encores for the raucous crowd, The Cure simply performed one of the best shows of the year. From their major hits to deep with-in their catalog, the band was just fantastic. The good news is that if you have three hours to spare, you can watch the concert as some guy recorded the entire thing. It doesn’t capture the magic of being there, but it is fun.
3. Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, Double Door, Chicago, IL, July 28, 2016. The major festivals tend to have official aftershows, which are smaller more intimate late night shows at smaller venues. I always try to attend a couple of these shows as they are often much better performances and longer sets than the ones at the festivals. Frank Turner has always been known for his legendary live shows, which I had seen once previously a few years ago at Coachella. Seeing him in the small famous Chicago club, the Double Door, was an awesome experience. It is not often that I see a crowd as rabidly excited as Turner’s fans. They seemed to know every word to every song and Turner just seemed to feed off the crazed crowd. I realize that many probably are not familiar with the British singer, but he is well worth the price of admission. His set the next day at Lollapalooza could also have made this top ten list, as he delivered on the big stage as well.
2. Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, BB&T Center, Sunrise, FL, February 17, 2016. In most years, the three plus hour extravaganza that was Bruce Springsteen’s River tour would easily have snared first place on my list, but this was not a typical year. The show which featured Bruce playing his entire double classic album “The River” straight through live followed by more than another concert’s worth of hits and deeper album cuts, was one of the finest of many Bruce shows that I have seen. He just seems to get better with age and it is truly something to behold. Springsteen is one of the greatest live performers ever and when he is on, as he was on this evening there are few better live performers who could match him. Performing close to forty songs and almost four hours without a break, it was a marathon of music that almost made it to the top of this year’s list.
1.The Desert Trip, Empire Polo Grounds, Indio, California, October 7-9, 2016. When it was first announced, this once in a lifetime concert was dubbed Oldchella, because of the line-up of classic rock bands and the location which was the same spot the annual Coachella Festival is held. I saw the line-up and immediately booked a trip because there just has never really been a show like it and I wanted in. Held over three nights with six iconic acts, each playing a full set, two bands each night. Technically any one of the sets could have placed at number one on my list, so I decided that they should all tie for first place this year.
The Rolling Stones
October 7, 2016, Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones. For many people a concert featuring Bob Dylan opening for the Stones would be the concert of the year, but at this event, it was just the opening night. I have seen Bob Dylan a number of times and with the exception of when he toured with Tom Petty, he has always been a disappointment. Often playing with his back to the audience and mumbling unintelligible lyrics. Not this time. Dylan was on fire, singing strong and clearly and commanding the huge stage without any stagecraft at all. It was a magnificent performance by a classic artist who covered his entire classic career during the great set. Some in the crowd may have thought he was too subdued, but I thought it was just incredible. If the crowd wanted fireworks, the Rolling Stones took the stage with their full stage show and just rocked the place. They were as amazing as I have ever seen them, raising their already high standards and playing an amazing set of their classics.
The Rolling Stones
October 8, 2016, Neil Young and the Promise of Real, Paul McCartney. This was my favorite night of the weekend. I have always loved Neil Young, but thought upon seeing the lineup that he was possibly the weakest link, but I was so wrong. In fact Young along with his young bandmates in the Promise of Real (which features two of Willie Nelson’s sons) may well have been my favorite set of the show. He not only proved he belonged but that he is truly a legend in his own right. There is no question that McCartney is a legend and for the second straight year his show is at the top of my list. This one was another masterpiece as he ripped through a huge set full of Beatles, Wings and solo classic songs, some of the best songs in Rock history performed by a living legend at the top of his game. The highlight occurred when Neil Young joined McCartney on stage to perform a medley of John Lennon tunes. Fantastic.
Paul McCartney and Neil Young
October 9, 2016, The Who, Roger Waters. To be honest I am not a huge fan of either of these bands. I had seen the Who during one of their “farewell” tours way back in 1982 and I have seen Pink Floyd a few times as well but neither band has ever been among my personal favorites. On this evening however they won me over big time. The Who was a bundle of energy and sounded incredible as well and their set confirmed their icon status. Roger Waters was simply staggering. He previewed his upcoming Us and Them world tour, which if you get a chance to see, do not miss. The music the lighting, the stage show and the incredible theatrics all came together in a world class concert experience. It was the capper of an amazing truly once in a lifetime experience
Live Music Review 2015
Live Music Review 2014