my favorite live shows of the year

As the year winds down, we start to make our year end lists chronicling the best of 2012. While I’ve been thinking about my favorite records over the last couple of weeks, I decided to make a list of my favorite live shows.  Because I frequent live music so often, I sometimes get to creep on some bands (like Surfer Blood and WATERS) after their show. Unusual encounters are always welcome if it’s either with the band, the crowd or I have just an over all senses-satisfied night.

It’s hard to rank this, considering these aren’t the only shows I saw this year. Since I was a kid I’ve been a collector of many things. In addition to having almost every movie ticket stub ever, I have saved all my concert ticket stubs. The biggest travesty is when the Rock and Roll Hotel stamps your hand telling you that’s your ticket. (In fact, two of my favorite shows this year were ‘stamp shows’ from DC 9.) And a number of them I have written about here already. Let’s go in chronological order, shall we?

In March my roommate Angeline, and I saw The Black Keys. Which, yes, I did write about here. We scored tickets to see their show at the Verizon center in Washington, DC. Uneasy about it in the first place, I thought my days of arena rock were over after I saw Yes, Steely Dan, McCartney, and countless others with my dad in high school. It turned out to be an incredibly memorable show, not because they rocked our faces off (and I didn’t have ear plugs. This show goes down as the deafest I’ve ever been and made me scared for my hearing loss future.) but because we managed to get from the upper deck to down to the floor for free. Arctic Monkeys opened and they were terrific, sexy, and English. For the actual complete story I’ll redirect you shamelessly here. Otherwise, I nabbed myself one of 310 of these: original art for the Washington, DC show.

Unplanned and not on the original list I made, I am adding in WU LYF because I woke up to the news this morning that they broke up. Now that we know they’re gone (hell, they were probably not going to live forever. They limited their press like no other.) I am elated to say that during their one album too-short career, I have seen them twice. Once in October 2011 with my close friend Akshai at the Rock and Roll Hotel and earlier this year in April with Angeline at the same venue. (Whom I converted to a die hard fan, actually. Any record you can fall asleep to while it’s blaring, you might as well get it tattooed on your body.) Aside from getting stuck in a mosh pit during their encore of ‘We Bros’, it was a fantastic show. They are a supreme band. Overly loud, as all Rock and Roll Hotel shows are, we managed to meet and creep on Ellery Roberts who speaks just like he sings. And he signed their poster, one of my most prized possessions.

we have yet to decipher what it actually says above his name

In June I got to see Merrill Garbus, tUnE-yArDs, move up from The Black Cat Main Stage to DC’s 930 Club. An incredible show that I also wrote about for this blog. This show is notable because she is an incredible live performer and unlike any other woman in music I’ve been able to witness. Her band is a bassist and two saxophonists, and herself. She can command the attention of any sized room and stands strong and proud. It not only comes off in her music but in her overall demeanor. People tell me that they are blown away by her live show, as she’s a loop artist and they weren’t sure what to expect. Her percussives and ability to keep such a strange beat (and to keep track of her vocal loops) is mind blowing live. And it makes her records all the more special.

The next few shows happened in July. As that month I probably saw more live music than I ever thought possible in such a short amount of time. First and foremost was when I finally saw Jack White in the flesh, ie my husband. I wrote about Delaware’s Firefly Music Festival here too. Having stood for an extra two hours before the show, just be sure I had a nice location at the large over-sized out door venue, I was trampled, spilled on, and elbowed – but it was majorly worth it. Even standing in the rain and tolerating the horrible sound conditions, the memories of this show give me the ability to close my eyes and be back there in an instant. Never before has rock music turned me on and (yes, I am officially admitting this publicly) I understand why women throw their underwear at rock stars. Jack White is so incredibly sexy and talented. He is the perfect man. We know that he is an incredible guitarist, but I had never before paid attention to his skills on the piano. Because of this show, ‘Trash Tongue Talker’ has become my favorite song off of Blunderbuss. His ability to play the piano and shred on the guitar can win any conversation. I don’t care that he is a control freak or that he is strange. Jack White records in analog and he owns all his own masters. He limits his color schemes and is a major diva at live shows when something doesn’t go right (lest we forget night one of his September 2012 show at Radio City Music hall. I was at night two.) Musicians have always been strange and funny and controlling. They’re assholes and bad fathers but we forgive them. Now, go listen to Jack White. 

Also at the Firefly Festival was easily one of the greatest live shows I’ve ever seen. Fitz & The Tantrums were playing there on Sunday afternoon, the same day we saw Mariachi El Bronx (who opened for tUnE-yArDs), Cake, and Modest Mouse. What made this show memorable was their energy and ability to connect to the crowd. Having only released one album as a side soul project of Michael Fitzpatrick in 2010, they can keep a tired crowd on their feet and singing along. Friends at this show who we bumped into who had never heard of them before told me afterwards that it was electric. Performing (and still recording) without a guitarist, Fitzpatrick crowd surfed while his counter-part singer and songwriter, Noelle Scaggs, stole the show. The two had incredible chemistry. Scaggs is the perfect emcee. ‘FATT’ have a new record coming out next year. Them tweeting about it isn’t enough. I am waiting on bated breath. Until then, you can download two free live EPs from their website.

Somehow I managed to turn back to live music the week after seeing close to a dozen bands in three days in Delaware. It brought me to see Surfer Blood and The Men, both in July. The Men might’ve been the sweatiest show I’ve seen and my first at DC 9: a terrific, tiny venue where the stage isn’t even a foot above you. Staring down the artist as they perform for you might be the only way to see live music. Memorable not only because they are excellent performers, but I have never seen a bassist thrash around quite like that. Or a drummer sweat so much. It was the hottest day of July, and of the summer, but we sold it out at the last minute and crowded around to have our faces rocks and smashed. Their set wasn’t long enough, but it was perfect. Highlighting their amazing record of this year, Open Your Heart.

Well, it seems that I have written about almost every show I am recounting here. This next one is unforgettable for many reasons. In September my friend Faith convinced me to see Ariel Pink with her at the 930 Club. I was unsure about it having kind of, pretty much, hated his new record Mature Themes and writing about how stupid and pretentious I think he is. The music is uneasy and he has assured us that he set out to make terrible records. Trying to make people uncomfortable seems to be the new way to get yourself a feature story in almost every major online music publication (ahem SPIN and Pitchfork). But there was something else about him. Aside from having meltdowns at his own live shows (oh, please come pay to see me play music. oh, actually I’m going to breakdown and cry and walk off.) Once I stopped laughing at him when he came on stage, I started to enjoy myself. The bassist captured my attention as he was fantastic. Everyone in that band seemed out of place physically, yet sonically they were so tight it seems as though they’ve been playing together for years. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti couldn’t be weirder. But they are a terrific band. That is, if you live in outer space.


It seemed almost perfect to go see Mac Demarco in October when my head was full of cold medicine. On the verge of actual fuzzy head overload, I road my bike down to DC 9 to meet Rusty, the biggest die hard Mac Demarco fan ever. Demarco is such an amazing (jazz) guitarist and normal 22 year old. All he wants to do is make excellent music. And he does. His second record, and first full length this year, 2, is becoming my go to. I can only listen to it all the way through. And it brings me back to this night, when Rusty and I were not two feet from him, sweating it out (I managed to sweat out my cold, Mac Demarco is my cure!) and swaying along. At one point he put his guitar down and stepped down to slow dance with Rusty. I couldn’t control my laughter the whole time as I knew Rus was dying inside of over excitement. I heard Mac whisper to him, “I’m so sorry about this.” And then he smiled. Afterwards, Rus and I bought him drinks. We talked about Canada (he’s from Montreal) and his addiction to Viceroy cigarettes. He told us that the images of him wearing lipstick, basically making him look like he dresses up in drag, that surfaced were a friend’s photos from Halloween. The photos have managed to follow him around and he doesn’t care. Demarco does what he wants. And we hope Captured Tracks keeps him around so we can find out what he’ll do next.

Last but not least is Titus Andronicus at the end of October. This show was sandwiched between King Tuff at the Black Cat Backstage and Dinosaur Jr. at the Black Cat Main Stage. Another great show at the Rock and Roll Hotel, seeing Titus live just confirmed my love for the band. Patrick Stickles is the new literary genius and leader of the new punk (PUNK IS BACK). You can tweet at him all you want, but he’s too busy still living at home and recording his new music videos in local businesses around Brooklyn. The new record is terrific because it showed us that this band doesn’t care about their 2010 triumph, The MonitorThey wanted to make a record that THEY wanted to make. (I also wrote about it here.) The show was loud and long. After announcing their last song, the band played for thirty more minutes. When your songs are eight, six, nine, and sometimes fourteen minutes long, your live show can go on forever. But Titus never lost their energy. They played perfectly together and are still selling their own merch. I am now a proud owner of The Monitor on vinyl. If you have a chance to see this band, do not pass it up.

This won’t be the last of it. I have a ticket to see my first ever live hip hop show, Action Bronson at DC’s Howard Theater (also a first) for me on December 1. And we cannot forget my OVER excitement for the sold out Japandroids show at the Black Cat on December 7th. I am planning, maybe?, on getting in on some of that mosh pit. I hope I get anything from whiplash to a black eye. I have never been more excited for a live show ever. I am going to go quite nutty for them. And I am sure stories are to follow. Here’s hoping you got your fill of live music this year. Just for fun, other personal favorites for me in 2012: Dirty Projectors, Father John Misty, Here We Go Magic, Dr. Dog, WOODS, Wilco (DUH, people) and WATERS. Here’s to 2013!