My Year in Concerts: 2012

The Hold Steady in Chicago. Photo by TJ Uttke

The Hold Steady in Chicago. Photo by TJ Uttke

2012 was an extremely busy year for me. Michelle and I planned a wedding. I took work trips to Colorado and New Orleans. I enjoyed a bachelor party in Las Vegas. We bought a house. We got married. We went to Cabo on our honeymoon. It was the most amazing year of my life!

But there wasn’t much time (or money) for concerts. I only attended eight in 2012, a depressingly low number for me, especially coming off such an incredible, musical 2011 (i.e. We saw ARCADE FIRE!).

Nevertheless, I saw shows in three states with a dozen different friends. I had my face melted from breakneck hard rock and was lulled to euphoria by sweet three-part harmonies. Here is my 2012 year in concerts:

Craig Finn

Craig Finn @ The Empty Bottle | Chicago, Ill. | February 7, 2012
With TJ

I have mostly mixed feelings about lead singers of bands I love going solo, something most lead singers seem predisposed to do. I love The Hold Steady so much that I feared this departure might prove a worthless derailing. Upon listening to the album, I discovered these weren’t Hold Steady songs–maybe they spoke to and about the same people–but musically, they were more subtle, more nuanced. So TJ and I headed to Chicago, our first time at The Empty Bottle, to hear the tracks from Clear Hearts, Full Eyes, Craig Finn’s solo effort, performed live. We weren’t disappointed. Set against a backdrop of tiny lights, Finn and his new bandmates, dubbed “Some Guns,” breathed rollicking life into the booze-y, bluesy tunes. We didn’t experience the celebratory exultation of a Hold Steady show, but this was something as worthy of our time and attention. I especially enjoyed the lively ‘No Future’ and dreamy, dreary “Rented Room.” I can’t wait for a new Hold Steady record, but I wouldn’t mind hearing from Craig Finn and Some Guns again too.

The Features @ The Rave | Milwaukee, Wis. | March 29, 2012
With Cindi and Michelle

I only knew the song ‘Temporary Blues’ before Cindi enlisted Michelle and I to attend The Features show with her at The Rave, in the bar. The show was sparsely attended. I don’t remember if we paid for our tickets (it wouldn’t have been much) or somehow got them for free. The Features are a kind-of an also-ran, workman-like indie rock band, who have seen little success. Their biggest claim to fame is a song on one of the Twilight soundtracks. Cindi discovered them when they were opening for Manchester Orchestra. I didn’t expect much from the show, and was happily surprised by their upbeat, propulsive take on the genre. It is fun watching people who are doing what they love, despite the fact that that love is only returned by a small group of people. In September 2012, a much-read and discussed article appeared in New York Magazine (it is worth the read) about the life of indie rock stars, Grizzly Bear, who were also on a Twilight soundtrack. Basically the article posits that though we assume that these touring bands make cash hand over fist, as Frankie Rose, an indie rock vet says in the article: “You’d better be doing it for the love of it, because nobody’s making real money.” I saw that love in The Features and that made attending the concert worthwhile.

fun

Fun./Sleeper Agent @ The Majestic | Madison, Wis. | April 11, 2012
With Michelle, Shannon and TJ

In 2003, I went to see Straylight Run (an off-shoot of Taking Back Sunday) and The New Amsterdams (Matt Pryor of The Get Up Kids) in the same room we saw The Features. I had never heard of the second band playing that night, The Format, yet, after their first song, the heartbreakingly hopful “On Your Porch,” I was a fan. The lead singer’s longish hair covered his acne-pocked face, but when he opened his mouth to sing, a surprisingly energetic falsetto emerged. Their catchiest song was hopefully titled “The First Single (you see, unknown bands don’t have singles–let alone multiple singles).” I followed The Format, seeing them several times and speaking with the singer, Nate Ruess on multiple occasions, until their untimely breakup in 2008. When Ruess started his new band, Fun., my first thought was ‘what a stupid name.’ Trying to find stuff about them on the internet was impossible–imagine googling “fun.” Nevertheless, I loved their first album, Aim and Ignite, and Cindi, Diana, TJ and I saw them on the first headlining tour in Chicago with about 100 other people. When we bought the tickets for this show in Madison, “We Are Young” was just picking up momentum. It had been featured on Glee and was on the verge of being everywhere. Tickets sold out in minutes. By the time of the show, they were going for two or three times over their $20 face value, the venue, which has a capacity of 600, was far too small … The crowd was ignited, the band fed off of it and it all led to an incredible show. They played my favorite song off Aim and Ignite, the epic “Take Your Time (Coming Home)” and blew the audience away with “Some Nights,” which had yet to be played on the radio, but the “whoa-oh’s” reverberated through the room of believers. I guess all of this is to say that it was amazing to watch a musician transition through bands, work hard and, against all odds, climb to the top of the mountain. What we saw that night was a coronation of sorts for Nate Ruess. In my opinion, it was well deserved and a long time coming. Ruess will only get more popular, and that night in Madison was as close to the tipping point as I’ve ever seen a band. Sleeper Agent opened, fronted by a female lead singer, their tunes were energetic and rocking. I bought their album and was not disappointed.

The Hold Steady @ Taste of Randolph Street Festival | Chicago, Ill. | June 17, 2012
With Adam, Cindi, Michelle, Shannon and TJ

“I guess I knew what was coming…” -The Hold Steady’s “Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night”

Several years ago, Cindi and Adam joined us to see The Hold Steady at the Taste of Randolph Street Festival. It was their first time seeing the band, and they were won over by the music. When we saw they would be playing the festival again, it was a given that we would return. It was my 17th Hold Steady show (I’m one behind TJ), so at this point, it is difficult to tell them apart. Besides a few new songs and me scoring the set list, there was nothing particularly notable about this show–though they did play my favorite song, “How A Resurrection Really Feels”–other than the fact that fire dancers were the opener. What I can say is that it was wonderful to spend a summer night in Chicago with my best friends listening to my favorite band plan as the sun fell, the beer (and pocket shots) flowed and joy was felt.

The Head and The Heart

The Head & The Heart @ Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard (Summerfest) | Milwaukee, Wis. | July 1, 2012
With Michelle

This show was pretty much a carbon copy of the one we saw in 2011 at Turner Hall except for the fact that it was outside and they played a couple new songs, including the excellent, musical “Gone.” They hit most of the songs on their album as well as “Josh McBride,” a personal favorite. I will go see this band any chance I get, their beautiful, lush three-part harmonies bounced around the Big Backyard as fans pogoed on the bleachers, singing along to every word. Of course they hit the staples; the impossible-not-to-sing-along “Lost in My Mind,” the soaring “Down in the Valley,” and the explosive “Rivers and Roads. A beautiful night of music.

image-1

Steel Panther @ House of Blues- Las Vegas | Las Vegas, Nevada | July 14, 2012
With Adam, Jared, Nate, Puff, Rosan, TJ & WPM

I am lucky enough to have friends that took me to Vegas for my Bachelor Party. We arrived in Vegas on a Thursday night and had no plans, save one–to see Steel Panther! I first heard of them years ago when they were known as Metal Skool and were famous for bringing celebs on stage to sing with them. A lot of the other guys had seen them already, but this was my first time. So on Saturday night after we spent two days and nights sitting by the pool, playing hundreds of hands of blackjack and trying to catch the eye of the waitress to bring us our free drinks, Steel Panther was the perfect conclusion to a wild weekend. The show was grandiose, with guitar solos and girls galore. Half-joke, half-incredible rock band, Steel Panther–clad in tight spandex, black leather and carefully tamed manes of frizzy 80s hair–delivered a rock ‘n roll performance that pleased my brother (a staunch country fan) me (an indie rock lover) and everyone in between. We laughed at the goofiness of the lyrics and shouted along to the 80s staples like “Don’t Stop Believin’.” An incredible ending to a memorable weekend.

Band of Horses

Band of Horses @ BMO Pavilion on the Summerfest Grounds | Milwaukee, Wis. | August 11, 2012
With Michelle

Michelle and I became fans of Band of Horses in 2010 on the wide, sloping byways of Southern California. Their music was the perfect soundtrack for sunny days and balmy nights. Infinite Arms was the only CD we had and we were both charmed by the dreamy vocals and the glistening, roomy music. When we returned home, as if by magic or predestination, they were playing The Rave days later. That show was awesome and Michelle could not wait for them to return. As a concert vet, I warned her that, as openers for My Morning Jacket, their set would probably be short, but probably punctuated by their most well-loved songs. She thought it was worth it and we ponied up for the expensive tickets. I was sad to see her disappointed by the setlist, but a beautiful, warm Milwaukee night almost made up for it. Mostly, we hoped they would play “Marry Song,” which we had chosen for our first dance at our wedding in less than two months. They didn’t. They did play “The Great Salt Lake,” “Ode to LRC” and “The Funeral,” which all sounded awesome at the new BMO Pavilion.

The Lumineers @ The Riverside Theater | Milwaukee, Wis. | September 23, 2012
With Adam, Cindi, Michelle, Shannon and TJ

Six days before Michelle and my wedding, we headed to the Riverside Theater to hear the band that everyone was buzzing about, The Lumineers. Once again, Cindi was the one who said to check them out and I loved their album once I did. They had sold out first the Pabst, and then when the concert moved to the Riverside, there too. Propelled by their infectious single, “Ho, Hey” and a style–folky, banjo-y indie–that is gaining popularity. I loved their album, but found myself slightly disappointed with the show, though I’m not sure why. The coolest thing they did was play their best song, “Stubborn Love,” unplugged, using the intimate Riverside acoustics. I’ve seen this kind of thing done before and was slightly bummed out they did it during their best song, but after they finished the unplugged version, the plugged in and played through the song again. Awesome! They finished with a sloppy, fan-ladened cover of The Band’s “The Weight,” which was rather enjoyable.

Here is to an even better 2013 of concerts!

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