I went to a lot of shows this year. They weren’t all great, but many of them were. Amazing, even. When you write about music, or take pictures at concerts, you sometimes get to witness moments that can have a lifelong impact at a greater rate than those that experience music in a more casual manner.
These were my favorite concerts of the year.
Sons Of An Illustrious Father @ Tonic Room
Originally I wasn’t going to include this one, but it was so good I couldn’t avoid it. A great turnout for a band that had only played in Chicago twice before and rarely tours outside the east coast. They played a ton of new songs that I can’t wait to hear on a record next year. They were also very sweet and stayed for HOURS after their set to say hi to everyone and chat.
The National @ House Of Vans
A year ago, I couldn’t care less if I ever saw The National play another show. Their albums were boring me to death and didn’t get why they were still so popular. Then Sleep Well Beast came out and all that changed. To see them in a small venue like House Of Vans was really cool (especially considering their other dates in Chicago this year were at the 3,500 seat Civic Opera building).
Air @ Auditorium Theatre
I never got to see Air when they were putting out albums every couple years. After a 7-year break from playing the US, they finally put together a dozen or so shows over here. They hit all the right notes between hits and deep cuts. My only complaint would be that Beck joined them in LA, but Chicago didn’t get any guests.
A Tribe Called Quest @ Pitchfork Music Festival
I mean, what can you say? I thought the opportunity would never return, so seeing them headline at Pitchfork was amazing. Being able to watch the first few songs from the photo pit was extra special.
Hurray For The Riff Raff @ Thalia Hall
One of my favorites for a long time now. I saw them play very briefly at a festival in Santa Monica, but I had to run to catch another set that was starting a few songs into theirs. I actually got to see them twice this year, and Alynda bought a picture I took at this show to use for a poster.
Natalie Prass @ Pritzker Pavilion
In between record deals and sitting on a bunch of material ready to go, Natalie Prass put on a great show for free this summer. The new music feels more r&b-tinged and suited for a wide audience.
Jonny Lang @ House Of Blues
I’ve seen this cat a few times over the years, and this was the best so far. He came on strong as a young man with skills well beyond his years. Now he’s grown into that potential and it’s amazing to see.
Wilco @ Chicago Theatre
This set was basically perfect. The only issue I had was with the two drunk morons in front of us yelling and “dancing” wildly. Crazy that 20+ years in, Wilco keeps getting better.
Willis Earl Beal @ Empty Bottle
One of the strangest things I’ve ever seen. The whole crowd was sitting down on the floor and Willis was playing to a beat on a Discman he brought with him. I got to interview him after the show, which was equally strange. Especially when Sharkula showed up.
Arkells @ House Of Blues
In a short time these guys have become one of my favorite bands to see live. They have an infectious energy that overtakes the crowd as soon as they hit the stage. I actually saw them again later in the year and got to shoot some backstage stuff. Still, I thought this performance was better.
Josh Ritter @ City Winery
The Sessions Josh sets up to work out his new material are always great. We saw him do one before Sermon On The Rocks, and he did another one ahead of Gathering. His style changed a lot for the new album, and it was interesting to watch him find the voice for it in the early stages.
Mitski @ Pitchfork Music Festival
The perfect combination of weather, crowd, and music. Mitski’s vocals fluttered through the audience with all the good vibes radiating back at her.
The Zombies @ Thalia Hall
When the opportunity came up for this one, I wasn’t entirely sold. I hate nostalgia tours, but I respect artists cashing in on their past achievements if they can. That said, Odessey & Oracle is an amazing record and I’d never seen them live before, so I went. And it was amazing. Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone still sound great after all these years.