Top Ten Shows of 2011

It’s time for my final list of 2011, and I saved my favorite for last. Over the past year we’ve seen some amazing shows come through Chicago, and we got to see some excellent bands in Austin for SxSw. This collection of shows I’m posting about today were the best of the best, but there were many other shows that were just short of making the list. Whenever you get the chance, head out to a local music venue and help support the artists in your community.

10. The Antlers at Metro

Date of show: 6/1/11

One of my favorite bands right now. They played a nice long set that included almost every song off their first two albums. The show got bumped down to number ten because the opener for this show, Little Scream, gave one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen.

9. Dastardly and Chaperone at Beat Kitchen

Date of show: 11/5/11

Seeing two bands that I love play together is always a treat. Having one band come out after playing to sing along with every song the other played was beautiful. It didn’t hurt that both bands sounded amazing.

8. Josh Ritter at St. David’s Historical Sanctuary

Date of show: 3/18/11

There is so much to do at SxSw and so little time to fit it all in. We decided early that we wanted to catch this show, so we got there nice and early, watched his sound check, and ended up in the front row of the church. He played “Galahad” and announced that he wouldn’t be surprised if he were struck down in the middle of the song by an angry God.

7. The Chicago Roots Collective Showcase

Date of show: 11/18/11

This was a magical night of bands all performing great sets. I only got to go for one of the two nights, but I got to see Mike Mangione and The Union, The Future Laureates, Molehill, and a bunch of bands playing acoustic sets in the upstairs bar area of Elbo Room.

6. Ike Reilly at Bottom Lounge

Date of show: 7/30/11

Celebrating the tenth anniversary of his album Salesmen and Racists, Ike Reilly brought his band The Assassination to Bottom Lounge and played a set that would make any Reilly fan shake in their boots. They played the whole album from last to first, took a break, then came back and rocked for another hour playing nothing but the best songs from all their other records.

5. The Vaccines at Schubas

Date of show: 8/5/11

After their triumphant set at Lollapalooza, The Vaccines played this after show and showed no signs of exhaustion. The band sounded great, and as one of my favorite discoveries of 2011, I was very pleased to have been there.


4. Okkervil River and The Felice Brothers at The Vic

Date of show: 9/22/11

This was my second time seeing both of these bands in 2011. The Felice Brothers played Lincoln Hall in May, and Okkervil River delivered a short but awesome set at a small venue in Austin during SxSw. This show eclipsed both of those. Felice Brothers were spot on for the whole hour they played, and Okkervil River reached deep and played some songs that usually get left off the setlist to make up for the fact that they hadn’t played Chicago in five years.

3. The Poison Control Center at Schubas

Date of show: 7/27/11

I saw these guys twice this year as well. Both times at Schubas and both times amazing. What can I say about the hardest working band in rock and roll? Just that if you ever get the chance to see them perform, don’t miss it. You won’t be disappointed.

2. Wilco-The Shrinking Venue residency in Chicago

Date of shows: 12/12/11 – 12/16/11

To make up for not playing a full band show in Chicago for over two years, Wilco played five shows in a row at five different venues. The first, the opulent and huge Lyric Opera House downtown. The second, the still very large and in my mind kinda crappy Riviera. Then they moved to The Vic, which is a beautiful place and the site where the live album Kicking Television was recorded. The fourth show was played at Metro, where they had never performed as a band. Lastly, they played a b-sides and rarities-heavy set at Lincoln Hall, where the hundred dollar tickets were used as donations to the Inspiration Corporation. They varied the sets every night to feature stuff from their newest album and a lot of deep cuts, or “nuggets,” as Tweedy referred to them.

1. The Michael J Epstein Memorial Library/Golden Bloom/Neutral Uke Hotel at Schubas

Date of show: 4/23/11

For the second year in a row, Neutral Uke Hotel takes the top spot! Last year they played at Empty Bottle in between other bands. This time they brought their whole traveling show out, and it was incredible. I don’t remember the last time I went to a show and saw three bands in a row that were all great. MJEML came out and did about half an hour of their country-tinged 60’s pop, then Golden Bloom hit the stage and Shawn Fogel showed why he is one of the great songwriters of his generation. And at the end of it all, members of both bands came together to perform Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea in its entirety on ukuleles. Truly an awe-inspiring feat.

Honorable mentions:

Republic of Lights (5/28/11), The Buddies (9/24/11), The Mountain Goats (photo by Meghan Brosnan), We Were Promised Jetpacks (11/2/11), Fort Frances (10/21/11), and Sleeper Agent (6/27/11)