Best shows of 2012

January 21st, 2013

charles bradley
Charles Bradley at the Brighton Music Hall, photo by ipickmynose

During 2012, I went to the most concerts I’ve been to since 2009. It still wasn’t that many but I decided I’d like to wrap up the year in concerts in some way.

Top 5 shows:

  1. 2/4 Charles Bradley @ Brighton Music Hall – This show blew me away. Thinking back on it, almost a year later, I’m still a bit in awe. It’s a bit hard to describe why, but here’s a shot: Bradley is truly ecstatic to be performing and when he says “I love you” to the crowd, it feels real (and he backs it up by hugging perhaps dozens of audience members after the show). His band is tight and his performance is fantastic. He’s truly a soul showman, not in some retro way, but like he’s living it.
  2. 5/18 Damien Jurado @ Davis Square Theater – I’ve seen Jurado something like nine times now and a few years ago I thought I’d seen the best show by him that I ever would. Turns out I was wrong. The previous eight times, he performed sitting (and often solo), concentrating on playing his fantastically written songs. Never would I have thought a show would end with him excitedly playing through a song as the clock ticked into the small hours and then finish it on his knees, head on the floor, shout-singing into the microphone. I walked away stunned and happy.
  3. 11/3 Crooked Fingers, John Vanderslice @ Great Scott – Often great shows are a combination of many things, with one element being the music. In this case, an exhilarating and brisk bike ride through Cambridge and Allston brought me to Great Scott, where I hung out with JV and friends, had some nice beers, struck up great happenstance conversations, and ran into an old friend, all while and after both JV and Crooked Fingers put on great sets.
  4. 11/13 David Bazan @ Brighton Music Hall – Here was David Bazan playing my favorite Pedro the Lion album, Control interspersed with other great songs from his catalog and even with an appearance from one-time Pedro member TW Walsh on the drums, all skillfully and passionately. If you know me, you know I’m a big Bazan fan and this may be my favorite full band show I’ve ever seen.
  5. 4/27 Archers of Loaf @ Middle East Downstairs
    In a dark and cramped room full of most 30-somethings, the 41 year old Bachmann and company ripped through classic Archers songs on their first stop through Boston since they reunited. Seemingly in unison the audience was reliving their high school love of unbridled musical energy, and the way that could connect one with other people.


Best show for old people:


  • 10/6 Neil Halstead @ Lizard Lounge – This show started at 7:30, had one opener and was done by 9:45. It was seated and gloriously quite. And the bar had a great beer list. If liking that makes me old, so be it. (Also, the music alone was fantastic–this show was a strong contender for the top five shows of the year above.)

Best non-venue show:

  • 11/15 The Local Strangers @ Sommervile house show – These friends-of-friends put on a really solid set in a small setting as I was sitting on couch next to some nice people I’d just met. Before and after I chatted to the band and other attendees, had some snacks and a beer out of the fridge. If you haven’t gotten onto the house show bandwagon yet, seriously consider it.

An honorable mention for this was Kelly McFarling and Goodnight Texas @ Heartbeat Collective in Jamaica Plain, which is essentially a barn and yard next to someone’s house. Lots of fun as well.

Best standing gig:

  • 3/16 Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens @ Fat Cat, New York City – If you’re in New York early on a Friday, I’d strongly suggest checking out this standing gig, which runs every Friday and will run you all of $3 in cover. Shelton puts on a fantastic set of soul gospel while patrons watch, dance and chat.

Best large show:

  • 11/16 Matt & Kim @ House of Blues – I typically don’t like going to large (1000+ capacity) venues and I will often not go to them because I often don’t enjoy them, but after seeing Matt & Kim last year on Jimmy Fallon’s show, I became a bit obsessed with seeing one of their live shows. It paid off as they were dense balls of energy, dancing through their songs, crowd walking (thinking crowd-surfing, but upright), and singing their lungs out.

Best small show:

  • 8/17 Tom Thumb @ TT the Bear’s – I’ve followed Tom Thumb for a few years and when I finally got a chance to see him, I was excited. It turned out that he was the first of four bands, playing on a CD release show for the headliner at his friend’s request. There weren’t many people at TT’s yet, but he put on a great set, interacting charmingly with the couple dozen people in the audience.

Best nostalgia show:

  • 4/27 Archers of Loaf @ Middle East (downstairs) – See the description above. This was just about the pinnacle of nostalgic rock show.

Of course, David Bazan’s show, described above, would be a good choice for this, but with the set of songs from throughout his catalog, that show wasn’t as purely nostalgia as the Archers show.

Best sing-along

  • 12/20 Sufjan Stevens @ Royale – When I saw Sufjan was embarking on a tour entitled “Surfjohn Stevens Christmas Sing-A-Long: Seasonal Affective Disorder Yuletide Disaster Pageant on Ice”, I was a bit skeptical of all the claims in that title. It turned out, though, the sing-a-long part was very true, with audience member being given lyrics books of various Christmas carols which we all sung together heartily (except for the people trying to do their best impersonation of the dad at the end of Elf). It was oddly fun to unironically sing old carols with 700 or 800 other people tossed into the same room.

Well, there you have it. What were your favorite shows this year?