Grace Potter is an incredible performer, and we got a chance to see her solo at a socially distanced, drive-in movie-style show sitting on the trunk of my car.
I'll take what I can get. Fuck the pandemic, and next year, we will bring live music back with a vengeance.
We’re end the year with Samantha Fish’s first performance at the 9:30 Club.
Wilco on their Ode to Joy tour.
A sister trio band from Seattle. They rock. They're great live, and their new material has a more nuanced, complex feel to it.
A Norwegian singer/songwriter. I went into this show having no idea what I was seeing. She opened with "Sucker punch" and I went "oh yeah, I've heard that" and "I kind of feel old" at the same time.
Andrew Bird presents “My Finest Work Yet.”
The problem with going to see Jenny Lewis live is I want to hear literally her entire discography. There are just too many songs that are above and beyond, that I could listen to over any over. Judging by the level of singing along, by the fact that she can just drop out of of Arms Outstretched and the crowd just carries in perfectly, a lot of the audience feels this way.
This Australian band is finally back in the US for the first time in 4 years. Pay attention to the drummer. She's also the second vocalist and constantly steals the show from just outside the spotlight.
After a few years of Acoustic Life™ Lady Lamb has a new album out and is back to playing rock shows. She's got a party ballad about catching the train just in time and a love song that waxes poetic on neighbors who kiss their dogs on the nose. And of course, she's a killer performer on top of the writing.
I heard somewhere that Josh Ritter studied Scottish folk music and then made it American. He's a master story-teller and a captivating performer. And then there's the moment during "All Some Kind of Dream" where the lyrics go 'I saw my country in the hungry eyes / Of a million refugees' and the Theater roars to life with applause.
Lissie's piano retrospective tour at City Winery. We've seen her play the range of full-band to solo. Sometimes she just sets the mic down and sings because she doesn't need it. She's that good.
She plays what she wants, across time, across genres. Pitchfork described her as Disney Princess, which is weird because cartoon princesses aren't known for switching gears to 70's disco/pop. Maybe they should work on that.
On solo tour after the release of his album Warmer and his book Let's Go (So We Can Get Back).
Emilies Haines is back on the road playing a rock show.
A long-running Irish band famous for a brief appearance in Titanic. It's a great party and they have a hell of a fiddler.
Good Old War
These guys opened for Josh Ritter when we saw him last year. They’re Folk-ish, or indie rock, or something slightly east Wilco but happier. I don’t know, but they’re talented musicians and fun as hell. I need to buy more albums.
We saw Lissie again, this time as an acoustic guitar solo show at the Birchmere. The less she has on stage with her, the more it emphasizes the point that she’s just awesome.
Caroline Rose plays alt-rock as it was meant to be: with the crowd packed up by the stage, a surprise kazoo solo, and a healthy dose of guitars and sarcasm.
Andrew Bird played the Kennedy Center with a full orchestra. This is a once in a lifetime kind of performance.
A 90’s band. You recognize them "I'm only happy when it rains."
Mr. Buddy Guy needs no introduction.
A bluesman we saw at Jazzfest.
Julien Baker and Courtney Barnett
There’s little to write about Julien Baker that hasn’t already been written already. The violinist is a nice addition. To be honest I’ve had a hard time listening to her new album just because I’m never that calm these days, but performing live, she gives you no choice: you will relax, you will dive into this, and it will be awesome.
Speaking of new albums I have Barnett’s on repeat. Does she rock? Yes, of course. But what makes her distinct is beneath the grungy guitar work is endless, detailed storytelling. You need the lyrics or you’re missing something. You need to dig in and listen over and over and work them out.
Kansas City’s New Queen of the Blues, who also did a bunch of Americana stuff, and a soul cover album, and whatever else she feels like. I’ve been telling everyone to go listen to her since I first saw her open for Trampled Under Foot. You’ve done that already, right?
What always strikes me about Lissie is her live shows sound, and in a lot of ways feel, exactly like her albums. It suits her. She writes songs, comes on stage barefoot, and plays music, with no need to dress it up in an elaborate light show or a giant rack of guitars. She has no need to add overmastered punchiness to her recordings because everything she needs is in the heart of her performance.
“‘Nah, I just want to play guitar,’” Jon Fratelli (in the hat) recalled his teenage years when a career counselor was asking what he wanted to do with his life. He looks around at a packed 9:30 Club that sings along to every one of his songs, and thanks the audience. Here he is: playing guitar every day, adding twists and turns to the music as they jump back and forth across their albums.
Honestly, I only know the two songs that were popular when I was in college, but when your friends ask if you want to go to a concert, you just say yes. They’re great performers and created a distinct, immersive show.
Tokyo Police Club
Matt and Kim
Matt and Kim, on the other hand. It’s wall to wall energy without a break or a down moment. “Hard and fast,” they say, and Kim pounds the drums only stopping for long enough to pound the keyboard instead. There’s nothing else like it. I kept thinking, it’s almost built like a punk show, except it’s happy. It’s got the noise and the energy and but instead of a mash of rage it's blasting balloons and sunshine.
Most of my favorite performances are full of instruments. Jeff Tweedy has 20 guitars, Andrew Bird has his violin, Samantha Fish keeps adding brass to the band. For Lorde, it’s her and her offstage electronic box. She needs nothing else; the stage is her instrument and the star is the writing, dressed in bright lights and surrounded by dancers. Melodrama is writing is introspection, and to take it at face value is to miss that. “I wrote this words on my laptop,” she says, amazed. “And here you are singing them.”
The Weather Station
This is a Canadian band that NPR said some nice things about, and I’m pretty sure I heard half of one song before saying “sure, I’ll drive all the way out to deep Virginia to see that.” She’s good. It’s playful and calmingly transportive, so much so that it’s easy to overlook the level of thought and detail behind her writing.
I bought the album.
When you think of an acoustic show, you probably think of a dude sitting alone in the dark playing mellow versions of their rock show being all intiminate.
Lucius’s acoustic show is not that.
Sure, they swap out some instruments, and use half as many lights, but they didn’t need those things to begin with. Every Lucius show feels intimate—trust me, I’ve seen five. Jess and Holly don’t do anything electronic with their voices in their regular shows, so taking pieces away barely feels like a new thing, at least, no more so than every performance, every tour is a new thing.
The wildewomen are still the wildewomen, and the only thing I can ask for is a chance to see them five more times.
Portugal The Man
I’ve been listening to these guys since before Evil Friends came out in 2013, when they were playing the dingy basement Beaumont Club in Kansas City.1 They were always fantastic performers and compelling lyricists. They write like it’s still the 1960’s—a last vestige of the idea that music would change the world, and listening to “So American” or “Holy Roller,” I don’t know, maybe it could?
So I was surprised when I started hearing them on the radio. This was one of those little weird bands I was obsessed with, they didn’t have top 40 singles, did they? And yet, there it was: I’m a rebel just for kicks now / I’ve been feeling it since 1966 now.
I hopped off the train from New York, dropped off my bags, went straight to U-Street Music Hall to see the guy from Vampire Weekend and his string ensemble.
We closed out the year with Spoon on December 30. They’re on tour with a new album on their 15th or 20th visit to the 9:30 Club, but who’s counting? Their performance is a classic no-frills rock show that jumps seamlessly back and forth between classics and new stuff.
They’re back in DC on their Belle of the West tour, for the second album she’s released this year. She’s added a violinist to the band right alongside the electric guitar.
Most Fish shows contain a little of everything, but tonight was exclusively songs from her 2017 releases. As much as I always want to hear "Road Runner" for the 300th time, it gave her space to perform almost the entirety of both new albums.
Emily Haines, the legendary lead singer of of Metric, is on tour with her solo project: an introspective acoustic album called Choir of the Mind. And most musicians would get up, play it, round the show off with some hits and bow out, and it would be great.
But Emily has an understands the medium of live music in a way that very few musicians do. The stage is an instrument, and her performances are theatrical. She uses Choir of the Mind to tell a story, a complex and personal vehicle that’s seamlessly intwined with the album. It’s unique and captivating.
If you’re not a Metric fan yet, you should probably get that checked out.
A weird loud electric show with a giant hamster. Why a giant hamster? We'll never know.
You might not know his name (or his beard) but you know his music. It’s riveting, deeply personal, and borrows from so many genres its described as “soul, alt rock, and dubstep,” and yeah, I can kind of hear that.
Tegan and Sera
The very funny iconic Canadian duo played an acoustic show for the ten year anniversary of an album I’d never listened to in full before. Tegan and Sara is one of those bands who I couldn’t name a song from, but half of what they play falls into the “oh, I’ve heard that! This is one of theirs?” category. Clearly that needs to change. They’re great on stage.
Courtney is great, as always. Kurt is... okay.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
Smith has a big screen, a headset, and a board full of wires. She uses this to mesh her singing with subatomic visual abstractions and electronica vibes.
I appreciate many genres, styles, and give most of what I see some kind of raving review. This one isn’t for me.
Sometimes I have friends who say “want to come see this concert,” and I say yes and ask questions later. I’d heard the name and spent a grand total of 45 minutes listening to Josh Ritter before going to this show. I walked out owning two albums.
He jumps up and down as he plays. There are moments he appears to be in a musical trance and he pulls us into it with him. His lyrics are weird — I went to the doctor who sent me to a doctor / Who sent me to a doctor who sent me to a room / And that's where I waited with the world in and around me / And the voices in my head jangling 'round in a tomb — but they tell detailed, intimate stories. Ritter studied Scottish folk music, and it shows.
A few years back, reviews of Prass’s first album described her as having the voice of a Disney princess, partially based on “It is You.” Her poster has a cartoonish look that reflects the same sentiment. It’s wrong. She’s not a princess; she’s an artist.
A classically trained vocalist, her new songs take a quick step into pop star territory, a step back into something that feels like the 70’s, followed by a bridge I can only describe as electric jazz on the keyboard. If you’re struggling to picture what this sounds like, it’s not just my botched depiction at fault. It’s playful and risky and unique, and it rolls off her tongue naturally like she was born doing this.
I’m waiting for the album.
Julien is a lifelong guitarist out of Memphis, and self-described tragic optimist. Her music is sad, mellow, but also frequently about meaning and discovering “I’m not garbage.”
She’s joined in this blurry photo by a violinist, who’s a great addition to the one-woman band.
We went to Denver to, amongst other things, see the XX play the No. 1 outdoor concert venue in the world: an amphitheater built in the ancient Greek style using the surrounding boulders as a tool for the acoustics.
There was just one small problem: the temperature dropped 30 degrees in a day and covered the venue in 6 inches of snow.
Red Rocks never cancels shows. There’s video of people watching concerts in the pouring down rain and hail. Our Denverite friends were shocked, but they switched venues.
Even with the change of venue, The XX was magic live. Go see them.
A mellow, soothing, electric indie rock band out of Florida.
Joseph is a trio of sisters from Seattle most famous for S.O.S. I didn’t know them going in and bought the album going out.
Tristen opened for BellX1 a few years ago and I’ve seen every tour since. In my opinion, her last visit to DC9 wasn’t nearly crowded enough. You should look her up; she’s crazy talented and world-class performer.
I went to this show exhausted and totally brain-fried, and just slipped straight into a vocal guitar-fueled trance. Only looking back did I realize my favorite thing about this show: her writing is awesome. She describes her music as a family member and a friend that lives inside her head. I only sort of know what that means, but it shows in its strange, intimate familiarity.
The New Pornographers
The New Pornographers need no introduction. If you haven’t checked our their individual stuff, I highly recommend, well, all of them.
Back at DC9 with a few new members, this beach rock band sells their own merch and runs their own sound board.
Yes, the ghost thing is part of the act. Some musicians just get up there and play. Some create unique experiences. Lydia Ainsworth is the latter. Why is there a ghost? No idea, but it's fun.
Fish is the new queen of the blues. This was the show that convinced me to write about her.
Portugal The Man
With slightly revolutionary undertones, Portugal the Man is a lively show with dedicated fanbase. With their latest tour they’ve gone from relatively unknown to something you hear on the radio.
But every time I listen to their new album, there’s this line, gotta be the shoes that always grabs my attention. No, they are no in fact giving a shout out out to the creators of I’m With Joy. Yes, I checked.
This was also my 100th concert since moving to DC.
A chill, vivid little indie band.
We saw Sofi last year at All Things Muddy, so if she’s back, we’re going. Their discography is still short, but their stage presence is incredible and their fanbase is growing fast.
The biggest rock band on earth played the Beacon Theater in New York this year.
Her new album, Tender Warriors Club is a soft an emotional detour from After, which involved a lot of metaphors about humans and animals and blood. She’s staggeringly talented. If you haven’t seen her, do it.
The music writers talk about her solo act in the context of her band, Paper Bird. I didn’t know anything about that going in. Her sound is minimalist, with an emphasis on lyrics. In a way it feels like a local band that’s mastered its art but hasn’t been discovered yet. Or maybe that’s just the basement of Songbyrd talking.
I’m not big on electronica, but this what it looks like done right. Austra treats their lights and funky warping sounds like instruments. They complement the lead singer and flush out the experience without trampling on it, and the result is both entrancing and melodic.
Kristine Leschper kind of reminds me of an American Courtney Barnett.
Tokyo Police Club
Tokyo Police Club is a big dance party. As much as I try to rack my brain for more, I’ve got nothing—they’re just fun.
This band is a relatively unknown indie pop blends melodicness with audio samplings and twisted lyrics. You can hear some of their music in the trailer of Be The Shoe’s latest short film, I’m With Joy, because they’re also cool people like that.
"Luciusgiving" was my excuse to do thanksgiving in San Francisco and see Lucius for the third time in 2016.
Springtime Carnivore and La Sera
Greta Morgan and Katy Goodman did an album of punk covers together and then went on tour with their respective solo projects. You should listen to all three albums.
All Things Go
A very muddy show. Also where I discovered Sofi Tucker, who is great live.
An anniversary tour for Rabbit Fur Coat.
The Hush Sound
Trampled Under Foot
Two Door Cinema Club
Father John Misty
Tokyo Police Club
Playing with a string quartet.
In St. Louis.
The Walking Sticks
Wilco played DC during the Super Bowl, and obviously the Daughters of the Americans Revolution hall was packed to the gills.
Eliza Hardy Jones
Opening for Grace Potter at Austin City Limits.