My Year in Concerts: 2013 & 2014

Craig Finn, lead singer of The Hold Steady and rock 'n roll prophet, soaks in the love on July 3, 2014, at Summerfest.

Craig Finn, lead singer of The Hold Steady and rock ‘n roll prophet, soaks in the Summerfest love in 2014.

We saw some great concerts in 2011 and 2012! So only seeing five shows in 2013 was a let down.

Nevertheless, when I put the last two years together, we saw some great concerts and although I don’t get to shows as often as I used to, I can’t think of many places I’d rather be than amidst other music lovers, beer in my hand and the music of a band I love making a moment into magic.

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Milo Greene and Stars @ Turner Hall | Milwaukee, Wisconsin | March 25, 2013
With Michelle

Milo Greene is a band, not a man … and Michelle and I eagerly awaited their return to Milwaukee after discovering them when they opened for The Civil Wars. As a bonus, Stars, who I was just getting into, was headlining. The day of the show, I read something online about how new (and short-lived) Milwaukee Buck, J.J. Redick, was a big Milo Greene fan. Sure enough, shortly before the show began, there was J.J., towering over the rest of the crowd even though he is only 6’4″. As a giant Bucks fan and a distractible person, I knew I wouldn’t be able to focus on the show without saying “hello.” I walked over and introduced myself and told him I was happy he was on the team (which wasn’t true–J.J. is a good player, but I was hoping we’d tank at the end of that season #BucksTank). Anyways, he was incredibly friendly, more than he had to be (especially since he was with his wife), and told me about how he discovered the band (which I already knew from the articles I read) and how he flew them out for his charity’s fundraiser (which I didn’t know). With that out of the way, I was ready for the show. Milo Greene came on and played a 10-song set including our favorites from their first EP and some choice cuts off their self-titled record that came out in 2012. I especially enjoyed the new stuff like the melodic “Cutty Love,” the laconic “Perfectly Aligned” and the incredible cover of Sufjan Stevens’ “Chicago!” I was bummed they didn’t play “Son My Son,” though. We stuck around to hear a few songs from Stars, but it was a weekday and I didn’t think they’d play the song I wanted to hear, “Your Ex-Lover is Dead,” until the end. Of course, when I looked at the setlist, they played it seventh. 7 was J.J. Redick’s number for his first seven seasons in the NBA. Coincidence?!

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Japandroids @ Turner Hall | Milwaukee, Wisconsin | May 27, 2013
With Michelle, Mike and TJ

The Japandroids show was one that I agreed to go to without knowing the band. TJ said they play rock ‘n roll and I love rock ‘n roll. I found a few songs I liked on their album so I was fairly excited when we headed to the show. Turner Hall was packed with people that looked like rock n’ roll fans, so I was in the right place. When the music started, though, it all kind of blended together. I understand that with only two guys in your band–a drummer and a guitar player–it is hard to really diversify your sound, but it honestly sounded like one long song, where just the choruses changed. I was able to pick out “Continuous Thunder” and “The House that Heaven Built,” two of my favorites from the record, but beyond that I walked away impressed with the loudness these two men were able to produce, but underwhelmed with the sound.

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The National @ Riverside Theater | Milwaukee, Wisconsin | August 5, 2013
With Mike, Shannon and TJ

Michelle was also supposed to attend this show. It was only a few weeks after we got Ralphie and when Michelle got home that day, she discovered that while we were at work eagerly anticipating the show, he had somehow moved his cage five feet across the basement floor while being inside it, pulled part of a wooden gate into his cage and rubbed his face raw on the wood, which he had chewed up. He rubbed a lot of the fur off his face. It was crazy! Anyways, when Michelle told me all this over the phone, my enthusiasm for the show dampened pretty quickly. She decided not to go to the show and to tend to him. When I finally arrived at the Riverside Theater, I was in a daze that The National’s alternately sleepy and brooding music wasn’t going to pull me out of. I do remember loving the first two songs, both off the new album, Trouble Will Find Me: “I Should Live in Salt” and “Don’t Swallow the Cap.” During the encore, Matt Beringer, the lead singer, walked through the crowd while he shouted the lyrics to “Mr. November.” It was pretty cool visual, I wish Michelle could have seen it and I wish that, at the time, I cared. Luckily, Ralphie’s fur on his face made a full recovery and he no longer needs to be in the cage, but he totally ruined the show for me–and Michelle!

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Mumford & Sons @ Marcus Amphitheater | Milwaukee, Wisconsin | September 3, 2013
With Michelle, Chuck, Andrea, AJ and Sarah

Having jumped on the Mumford’s bandwagon after their much ballyhooed Riverside Theater show in 2010, I was excited when my friend AJ came through with a couple extras for Michelle and I. While our friends in attendance had better seats, Michelle and I hoofed it up to the nosebleeds. There was a lot to enjoy, including the brooding, foreboding “Thistle and Weeds” and exultant takes on “Lover of the Light” and “Below My Feet.” They even played a heartfelt, faithful cover of Springsteen, “I’m On Fire.” However, I watched most of the concert on the giant screens above the tiny band, and the feeling was not unlike watching their concert on TV, which I did a few weeks later when their concert-film was on Showtime.

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Streetlight Manifesto @ Turner Hall | Milwaukee, Wisconsin | October 11, 2013
With TJ

After TJ and I saw Streetlight Manifesto in 2011 at Turner Hall, I wrote the following in my blog:

Being the veteran of more than 100 concerts, most of them with TJ, I think we both thought we knew what to expect on a crummy, late winter-weekday night. We expected a small crowd, after all, Streetlight Manifesto plays a style of music that is no longer popular, of which they aren’t the foremost practitioners. TJ and I were both blown away to see Turner Hall completely packed for the show. The band met the crowd’s unflappable enthusiasm with a rousing set of favorites, played at their familiar breakneck pace. They played evenly off of their two original albums and heaped in a nice helping of Catch 22 tracks and a few covers and left me wondering if they receive the same reception everywhere, or if somehow Milwaukee is particularly kind, yet behind the times, for this excellent ska band.

Almost like deja vu, all of this was true when we saw them more than two years later. I don’t really even have anything to add … I was again surprised by how crowded it was and I enjoyed the show and the enthusiasm of the fans! I expect if we see them in 2015, I know I’ll be able to copy-paste this entry again.

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The Head and the Heart @ Riverside Theater | Milwaukee, Wisconsin | April 5, 2014
With Michelle

The Head and the Heart are a remarkably predictable, consistent band, and their harmonies sound wonderful live. Every time, I’ve seen them, they’ve opened with the same two songs and closed with either “Down in the Valley” or “Rivers and Roads.” Nevertheless, this was the first time I’d seen them since they released their record Let’s Be Still, so I was eager to hear some of the newer songs like “Another Story,” the title track and “Gone,” which I remembered them previewing the last time we’d seen them. Since it was the weekend, Michelle and I went for dinner at Water Buffalo and then headed over to the Riverside. As expected, they delivered a rousing, sing along set with no surprises. Nevertheless, if this band comes to town and “Lost in My Mind” is on the set-list, which it always is, I’ll be there…

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The Head and the Heart @ Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard – Summerfest | Milwaukee, Wisconsin | June 29, 2014
With Michelle

…and three months later they were back, and we were there.

We had experience seeing The Head and the Heart on this stage at Summerfest before, so instead of getting there way too early because I get nervous about getting a good spot, we arrived at 8 p.m. and had a nice spot for the 10 o’clock show. Their set was pretty standard, although I was excited to hear “Heaven Go Easy on Me,” which is a personal favorite, but not a set staple. They closed with “Down it the Valley,” which has seemed to usurp “Rivers and Roads” as their typical closer. It was an enjoyable, harmonious evening.

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The Hold Steady @ Concord Music Hall | Chicago, Illinois | July 2, 2014
With Mike and Brendan

The Hold Steady is my favorite band, so when they tour, I usually try to catch the Chicago or Madison show as well as the Milwaukee show. This time, they played at a new venue in Chicago the night before they played Summerfest. Mike and I drove through some pretty epic traffic to get to Concord Music Hall. This would be my 18th Hold Steady show (Mike’s first) and first time seeing them since their new album, Teeth Dreams, came out, and I was eager to hear the new songs. We walked in as the techs were setting up for The Hold Steady, got drinks and found Brendan. I was impressed with the new venue, another Chicago gem to go alongside Lincoln Hall, Aragon and The House of Blues. The set included only four new songs sprinkled among their beloved back catalogue. The energy was good, but we were a bit too far away to feel it fully. I was also bummed that they didn’t close with “Killer Parties” or “How a Resurrection Really Feels.” Nothing else particularly notable, just an enjoyable, energy-filled show. For me, it was just a warm up for the next night…

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The Hold Steady and Trapper Schoepp & the Shades @ U.S. Cellular Stage – Summerfest | Milwaukee, Wisconsin | July 3, 2014
With Michelle and Mike

After seeing them from the back of the venue the night before in Chicago, I was eager to get down to Summerfest and reserve a spot near the stage. Michelle, Mike and I took the bus and walked around a bit before the show. I had that familiar feeling of nervousness, just wanting to get our spot so didn’t have to worry about it anymore. We ended up in the second row, center stage by arriving at 5 p.m. … a full 5 hours before The Hold Steady would hit the stage.

At around 6, I headed for a bathroom break and was shocked to see the band sitting in the merch tent signing autographs. In my seven-plus years as a Hold Steady fan, I’d never met Craig Finn. We’d partied with a couple of the other guys at a bar in Cleveland after a show, but now, I was finally going to have a chance to meet the frontman of my favorite band. I tentatively approached the line and, as Craig signed my ticket from the Chicago show which was still in my wallet, I told him how I’d seen them the night before and this would be my 19th Hold Steady show. He was very gracious and friendly, while I’m sure I seemed incredibly awkward because I was so star-struck.

I made my way through the line and the rest of the band signed my ticket and then I just kind of milled about watching, wishing I would have asked to take a photo. I noticed another guy and I could tell he was in need of someone to take his photo with Craig. I told him I’d take his if he’d take mine and we jumped back in the small line. When it was his turn I snapped a pic and then, to my surprise Craig called me over by name.

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He explained he’d been taking pictures with fans who had been out to a lot of shows and posting them to twitter. He asked if I would take a picture with him! What kind of bizzaro world had I walked into…one of my favorite musicians wanted a picture with me?! He took a picture of us and I thanked him and told him how good the new songs sounded last night and how much I loved the closer off the new album, “Oaks.” He was so cool and appreciative and, as I walked away, not wanting to overstay my welcome, I thought of all the other things I could have told him…

How his band’s music brought my best friends together. How this blog is named after one of their songs. How I talked to Chuck Klosterman about how he wanted to band to play his wedding. My friends’ inside joke about this one girl, who was “a pretty good waitress,” based on his lyrics. How his songs and his lyrics have amazed me, surprised me, made made think, made me laugh and made me cry. How going to see their shows excites me more than going just about anywhere. And how he and his band have delivered moments of joy and transcendence that I didn’t know were possible.

Nevertheless, I made my way back to tell Michelle and Mike my incredible tale, and then I tweeted Craig to express how great it was to meet him. Moments later, as I was texting TJ to tell him about it, my phone pinged and Craig posted the picture of the two of us. I felt joyous.

As the band on stage finished up, their fans left and Michelle, Mike and I were able to move into the front row. From there, we got to watch Milwaukee’s Trapper Schoepp & The Shades play a terrific set. I’d never heard the band before, but I became a fan that night. Their Americana stylings were the perfect appetizer for The Hold Steady. Trapper was the focal point of the band made up of nearly ten musicians–including a father and son playing saxophones. I’ll be eager to see them again, now that I know some of their songs!

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Then, it was time for The Hold Steady. This time, they started it off with “A Positive Jam,” while fireworks from the 3rd of July lakefront show exploded in my periphery. Again, they only played four new songs, but I liked the pacing and selections in this set better than the night before.

Toward the end of the show, they played “Your Little Hoodrat Friend,” and during the musical interlude, Craig spoke to the band’s fans, as he usually does. He talked about how they meet a lot of cool people on the tour and “Today, I met Nick, he’s right there in the front row and it is his 19th show!” Everything stopped … I couldn’t think …. It was surreal. The lead singer of my favorite band acknowledging me from the stage. Michelle had to tell me to nod or wave or do something. I did. People behind me patted me on the back. It was incredible.

Three songs later, they closed the set with my favorite song, “How a Resurrection Really Feels.” I’m always smiling during a Hold Steady show, but my smile was even wider. I couldn’t believe this had all happened.

They came back out and blazed through a four-song encore. Then I floated home! What a night! I love The Hold Steady!

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The New Pornographers @ Pabst Theater | Milwaukee, Wisconsin | November 13, 2014
With Michelle, Shannon and TJ

On the night before this show, I was at home doing dishes and listening to Pandora–set to Arcade Fire. A lot of New Pornographers songs were coming up and I started thinking about how I would love to see them in concert. Michelle was somewhere with Shannon and when she got home, she saw I was listening to New Pornographers and she mentioned that TJ and Shannon were seeing them the NEXT NIGHT! I went online and was thrilled that tickets were still available. The next night, TJ, Shannon, Michelle and I were in the Pabst Theater with The New Pornographers on stage. I love bands that have both male and female vocalists and this band really made the most of its members vocal and musical talents. I was thrilled to hear the few songs I knew–like “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk,” “Adventures in Solitude” and “The Bleeding Heart Show”–and enjoyed the ones I didn’t, especially “Testament to Youth in Verse” and “Champions of Red Wine.”

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Steel Panther at the Orpheum Theater, Madison, Wisconsin | December 21, 2014
With Adam, Dan, Jared, Jason, Mike and TJ

The thing that impresses me about the movie Scream is that it manages to be both a great parody of scary movies while being an incredible scary movie, in and of itself. Steel Panther does the same thing for heavy metal, they are a great send up of the hedonistic, booze-fueled lifestyle, while also having some serious songwriting and musical chops. The songs tend to veer into x-rated territory, as do their concerts, so with six of my guy friends in toe, we headed to Madison for the “Yellow Snow Ball.” After a good dinner at The Coopers Tavern, we headed to the packed Orpheum to see the Panther. The opening band, from New Zealand, may have scratched the itch for the metal fans in the crowd–they were plentiful–but for us, they were more fit to be mocked. At one point, they covered “Dangerous Minds” by Coolio, and later, AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.” Jared, Mike and I comically sang along to a repetitive refrain in their final song. Then, the Panther hit the stage in all their excess. I was bummed to learn they don’t do covers during their sets anymore, which is how they cut their teeth as a band. Nevertheless, the show was exactly what we expected, loud, crude and a whole lotta fun!

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