I go to a lot of shows. More than a lot. I probably go to too many. If 18 year old me knew how many concerts I go to every year, he wouldn’t believe it (though he’d be excited for the future). So it’s hard to narrow them all down to a top ten. I forget what I’ve seen or if so and so was this year or last year. I revised this list at least four times. There were a lot more than ten great shows in 2013, but these are the ones that stood out the most. I’ll use our photographs where I can (the top 3 shows were either “NO PHOTOGRAPHY” or acts that I couldn’t get a photo pass from).
10. Yeah Yeah Yeahs at Summerfest-Milwaukee, WI
This show came almost exactly one decade since the first time I saw the Yeah Yeah Yeahs play a little show at The Empty Bottle in Chicago. I’ve seen videos from their previous tours, and I was happy to see that this show was much more stripped down than the It’s Blitz tour (there were no inflatable eyeballs floating through the crowd). They played a lot of older material, too, so I was really pleased with that.
9. The Joy Formidable with Kitten at The Vic-Chicago, IL
This was my third time seeing The Joy Formidable. They always put on a good show because once Ritzy Bryan gets on stage with her guitar, anything can happen. What I was really impressed with was the first opener, a band from LA called Kitten. They may be young, but they know how to play and they give off great energy. Plus they covered “Purple Rain.” (the video below is NOT from the show at The Vic, but you get the idea)
8. Titus Andronicus at Metro-Chicago, IL
This show was one of the few I have been to that was fantastic from top to bottom. The openers were Sharpless (from here in Chicago) and The So-So Glos, Titus’s best buds. The So-So Glos set was so good, I almost wanted them to keep playing and make Titus wait. If you haven’t seen Titus before, you need to. Even if you’ve never heard their music they just let it fly balls to the wall for an hour and a half. Metro is a bit big for them, but they filled it up nicely. I’d prefer to see them in a little sweaty club like Subterranean.
7. We Are Scientists at Schubas-Chicago, IL
Chances are you’ve probably been at a bar and danced to a song by We Are Scientists and never even knew it. They’ve found the magic formula for mixing rock and dance music, and the crowd was getting down at Schubas when they came to town earlier this year. One of my absolute favorite bands to just throw on any time and put a smile on my face.
6. The Thermals at Lincoln Hall-Chicago, IL
This one troubled me a bit. Lincoln Hall has an upstairs, but everyone was down on the floor getting ready to slam into one another. I had the camera with me to take some pics, and I was really nervous that someone would slam into me and break the camera somehow. Luckily that didn’t happen and most of the really brutal moshing was ten feet to my left. There was still some jostling where I was, but nothing near what was going on over there. Hutch got into the crowd and slammed into a couple people, too. A million times better than the first time I saw them a couple years ago.
5. Janelle Monae with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra-Chicago, IL
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is, if not the best, one of the best symphonies in the world. They’re also very aware of the community around them and put on a lot of interesting shows. This one was a benefit to fund their program that helps educate kids about music in all kinds of ways. The tickets were a little hefty, but it was for a good cause and the show was amazing. Janelle played some covers and a couple songs off The Electric Lady as well as a few from The ArchAndroid. It ended with a version of “Q.U.E.E.N.” that saw her running up and down the aisles. I don’t think they see that every day at the symphony.
4. Conor Oberst & The Felice Brothers at The Way Over Yonder Fest, Santa Monica Pier-Santa Monica, CA
There were a lot of great acts at The Way Over Yonder Fest, including a surprise appearance by Jackson Browne. The first night ended with Neko Case and Kelly Hogan talking about tacos. The second night ended with one of the greatest supergroups ever formed. Basically it was Bright Eyes (Conor Oberst, Mike Mogis, and Nate Walcott), The Felice Brothers, and First Aid Kit all playing together. They stuck mainly to Oberst-written songs, but they did do “White Limo” by Felice Bros, and it was freaking awesome.
3. Prince at City Winery-Chicago, IL
So Prince came to Chicago to perform at a wedding reception for George Lucas (now you know where all that prequel money went). On a whim, the Purple One decided to also play a show at City Winery. Around 4pm it was announced on Twitter and their website, and not much after they were sold out. The show was set to start at midnight, but if you know Prince, he’s just getting ready around that time. We got there at ten to stand in line (doors were supposed to open at 11). We ended up going in at 2am and staying until 3:30. The great thing about these late shows he puts on is that he doesn’t feel obligated to play hits-he just jams and lets his band do a lot of the heavy lifting. If you like his music, you owe it to yourself to hit one of these aftershows.
I’m a big fan of JT. Lesser so the Jigga man, but he’s done enough that I like over the years. I was surprised that Jay Z got a bigger crowd reaction than Timberlake, but I guess he’s been around longer. They opened with their joint venture “Holy Grail” and spent a couple hours going back and forth, often mixing their works into mashups. Timberlake was obviously more excited to be performing with Jay Z, providing extra vocals and hyping his friend up while Jay was content to stand back and watch Justin, contributing nothing. Really awesome show, though. Enough so that we got tickets for Justin’s solo show in February.
1. Neutral Milk Hotel at The Canopy Club-Urbana, IL
After a fifteen year hiatus, Neutral Milk Hotel decided to get back together and play some shows. Nobody thought it would ever happen, which is one of the reasons this show is at the top of the list. Also because it was just freaking awesome! Jeff Mangum played some solo shows last year, and the crowd was so in awe of the man that everyone stayed in their seats and sang along at a respectful level. At The Canopy Club, people were jumping up and down and shouting and just having a good time. It was more of a fun show than I’d expected, and if their show here in February weren’t sold out already, I’d be going to that one as well.