M&T Best Concerts of 2013

Although we wished we could have been at every concert in the world this year, sadly a safe and suitable cloning apparatus does not yet exist for humans. Thus the list below is by no means a definitive list of the best concerts of the year, rather a selection of our favorite shows chosen from over 250 bands that the M&T crew saw this year.

15. Dinosaur Jr. at The Sinclair 12/15

After releasing their 10th studio album I Bet on Sky late last year, Dinosaur Jr. hit the road hard during the spring and summer of ‘13, playing a slew of American and European festivals before heading back to Massachusetts for the homestretch. They chose to wrap up their touring season by playing a two-night homestand at the Sinclair in Cambridge. Sold out crowds returned the favor and I was fortunate enough to snag tickets for the Sunday December 15 show. I came prepared to experience the volume as Dinosaur Jr.’s reputation for playing in front of a legitimate mountain of amps precedes them, but I was less prepared to see how tight the classic lineup still was. J., Lou, and Murph still had that unspoken chemistry as they tore through classics “In a Jar”, “Out There”, and “Feel the Pain”, while still hitting on some new material (“Watch the Corners”) and quintessential covers (The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” and J. and Lou’s first band Deep Wound’s “Training Ground”).

As J. stood silently in front of his wall of sound, Lou’s occasional crowd banter hit some personal notes as he admitted regretting not attending college (despite some youth’s chant of “FUCK COLLEGE!”) and relayed Murph’s comment of this show possibly being their last ever (hopefully a joke). After an amazing extended encore featuring “Kracked” and “Sludgefeast”, I left the show with a humming in my ears that would remind me over the next two days of various great moments from the set.


14. Lucius at The Sinclair 12/5

Although we had already seen Lucius a few times previously in 2013, their sold-out show at The Sinclair was certainly the most special. By early December they were a fine tuned touring machine from a summer filled with festivals and it showed. Their live sound was incredibly tight and they were clearly very comfortable within each song as a unit. What impressed us the most though was how the arrangements of each song had evolved from the first time we saw them in early 2013. Extended intros and outros, guitar solo breakdowns, and all those added goodies that make for a stellar live show.


13. Frightened Rabbit at Fete 4/3

Earlier this month Spotify released a widget that showed your personal listening stats for 2013, and I wasn’t the least bit surprised when Frightened Rabbit turned up as my most listened to artist of the year. Their show at Providence’s Fête (which is also quickly becoming one of my favorite venues) was a signature FR set. A wide selection of songs from their full catalogue with deep cuts mixed in, and of course the between songs jokes and banter from frontman Scott Hutchison. The best moment of the show was after Scott finished a completely acoustic (no mic or amplification) version of “Poke”, a fan shouted out a request for “Snake”, a track buried deep in 2007’s Sing The Greys. Scott happily obliged the fan, but not before launching into a hilarious story explaining the inspiration for the song and also the reason why he barely ever plays it, which could be seen as one in the same.


12. Walk the Moon at House of Blues Boston 9/19

I’m going to go out on a limb here, and if you’ve seen this Cincinnati quartet live you’ll probably agree, but Walk the Moon might be the most refreshingly energetic and exciting live band touring right now. There’s something special about each of their shows that makes you feel alive and this show in mid-September at HOB was certainly no different. The band played tracks from their superb 2012 eponymous debut as well as worked through new songs that will most likely be part of their next release. What makes WTM’s live shows so special though is the fervor and passion with which the play every single note, not from song to song, I’m talking about note to note. That’s something that the crowd can feel and something that makes for a profound concert going experience.


11. Lord Huron at Newport Folk Festival 7/28

Earlier in the summer we were only able to catch Lord Huron’s acoustic Sonic Stage set at Bonnaroo, so leading in to NFF ’13 we were excited for what a full-on electric set could bring. To say our expectations were shattered would be an understatement. The band took to the Quad Stage and masterfully recreated the gorgeous and emotive soundscapes from their 2012 debut Lonesome Dreams. The highlight of the set for me was the deft skill and enthusiasm of percussionist Mark Barry who kept quite busy throughout the set with a bevy of instruments at his disposal.


10. Vampire Weekend at Boston Calling 9/7

For me this set was a trip down memory lane. I hadn’t seen Vampire Weekend since Bonnaroo 2008 and over that time Vampire Weekend and Contra had become essential components of the soundtrack to my college years. Needless to say I was beaming from ear to ear when they played through songs like “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”, “Cousins”, “A-Punk”, and “Oxford Comma” among others. It was the perfect mix of old and new and the perfect way to cap off Night 1 of one of our new favorite festivals.


9. Lady Lamb the Beekeeper at TT The Bear’s Place 2/22

2013 was Aly Spaltro’s year and she started it off right with a string of Northeast record release shows for Ripely Pine, including a sold-out stop in Cambridge. Spaltro put on a beautiful and impassioned performance with the help of a full band that included members of both opening acts (Xenia Rubinos and Cuddle Magic) and even her Dad took on guitar duties for a few tunes. Although Spaltro’s solo sets are still quite magical, when she brings the full-band treatment it elevates the songs to a whole new level and makes for a remarkable listening experience.


8. Phosphorescent at Newport Folk Festival 7/26

At Newport Folk Festival, a weekend full of special guests and surprise collaborations, you learn to expect the unexpected. However, nothing could have prepared me for the sucker-punch that was Phosphorescent live at the Quad Stage. That breathless feeling was largely thanks to Matthew Houck, the band’s love-worn, weary leader. Houck effortlessly channels his heartbreak into his vocals, which howl and quiver like each tragic song was written just yesterday. Phosphorescent’s set hit me like a ton of bricks, and left me with a lump in my throat – but that visceral response is ultimately what made it one of the most powerful shows I’ve seen all year.


7. Americanarama featuring Bob Dylan, Wilco, My Morning Jacket, and Ryan Bingham at Comcast Center 7/20

It’s like this tour was created specifically for me and when it was first announced I thought it was some kind of cruel trick that my friends were playing on me. My two favorite bands followed by a living legend, what else could we ask for? Highlights included Ryan Bingham joining MMJ on stage for a cover of The Band’s version of the Marvin Gaye classic “Don’t Do It” and my heart nearly exploding when MMJ joined Wilco to cover The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.”


6. Volcano Choir at The Paradise 9/11

Although the band’s Repave had only been released a week before, this show quickly sold out once everyone and their brother realized that Justin Vernon would be performing at a 900 cap room. The energy from the crowd was palpable throughout the show, so much so that Vernon and guitarist Chris Rosenau had to step away from the mics multiple times between songs to let the applause of the crowd die down. The crowd never lulled below a loud and extended roar after each song, but the most raucous applause came after a stirring rendition of the Repave single “Byegone”, a performance that still gives me goosebumps when I think about it.


5. The Complete Last Waltz at The Capitol Theatre 11/27

There’s not much more to describe what happened on Thanksgiving Eve at The Capitol Theatre in Long Island than magic, pure magic. A rotating cast of musicians including Wilco’s Nels Cline, Delta Spirit’s Matt Vasquez, Fruits Bats’ Eric Johnson, Vetiver’s Andy Cabic, Cass McCombs, Marco Benevento, and more, performed The Band’s legendary Last Waltz concert song-for-song. This was no half-hearted cover band though, it was a true tribute to one of the most influential bands of all-time by musicians who were inspired by their art. Each musician played their part in front of the core band who appeared on the majority of songs and included Benevento, Sam Cohen (Apollo Sunshine), Scott Metzger (Wolf!), Dave Dreiwitz (Ween), Joe Russo (Further), Jeff Chimenti (Further), Alecia Chakour, and the Antibalas Horns. Each song was tactfully recreated, but the highlight for us was Cass McCombs’ turn on lead vocals and guitar for a string of three songs that included “It Makes No Difference”, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, and “Stage Fright”.


4. Paul McCartney at Bonnaroo 6/14

Paul McCartney has to be one of humanity’s greatest living treasures. Even if he was old and infirm, just wheeling him on stage and being in his presence could have been a highlight for me at this year’s Bonnaroo. Luckily though, Paul McCartney doesn’t age. This might have been one of the best shows I’ve ever seen in my life, not only because I knew almost every song he played by heart, but so did everyone else. It’s almost impossible to sum up what happened on that summer night on the Farm, but I think there was a general consensus among people after the show, it was emotional and the epitome of what Bonnaroo is supposed to be. Moving tributes to George and John, tales of Jimi and Clapton, songs ranging from the Beatles to Wings, and everyone being moved by that one song they have a connection too occurred during Sir Paul’s set. While I could talk about how personal moments of reflection provided in songs like “Eleanor Rigby”, “Let It Be” or “Yesterday” made me well up; it’s better to focus on the euphoric moments found in the songs of “Live and Let Die” which included an amazing fireworks display that took us all by surprise, “All My Loving” which made me feel like a 16 year old girl screaming on the set of the Ed Sullivan Show or 80,000 people singing the chorus of “Hey Jude.” These moments are what made this one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen in my life and why it deserves to hold a spot on the top concerts of 2013.


3. Rock n’ Soul Superjam featuring Jim James, John Oates, et al at Bonnaroo 6/15

This year’s Rock N’ Roll Dance Party Superjam was led by Jim James and John Oates with an historic backing group comprised of Zigaboo Modeliste of The Meters, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Carl Broemel, Cyro Baptista and more. To start we were greeted by Larry Graham from Sly & the Family Stone taking us back to Woodstock with a funky cover of the Star Spangled Banner, a tip of the hat to Jimi Hendrix’s famous cover. After this intro we were guided through a magical set of some of the most danceable and singable covers ever played on The Farm, “Move On Up”, “1999”, “Instant Karma”, “Love Train” and more. This first round of jams ended with Larry Graham coming back out to lead the group in five Sly & the Family Stone songs; all culminating with the song “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” which found the crowd singing the chorus over and over again as the group walked off the stage, took a break for about 5 minutes, came back out, plugged their instruments back in and picked up where they left off. All without the crowd missing a hook of the chorus. Now, this is where the big surprises came into play. For an encore, we were surprised by R. Kelly who sang two Sam Cooke covers, “A Change is Gonna Come” and “Bring It Home To Me”, Billy Idol who sang a cover of T. Rex’s “Get it On” and Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes covering The Rolling Stones version of “Satisfaction”. Larry Graham came back one last time to wrap up the night with a soaring Sly cover of “I Want To Take You Higher.” This honestly was the best way to end a magical set, such a positive upbeat way to send everyone back out onto to The Farm for late night sets. The best part about this whole thing? Bonnaroo has episodes on Youtube covering the production and execution of this year’s Superjam.


2. The Lone Bellow at Brighton Music Hall 4/20

Something magical happens when The Lone Bellow plays live. The trio first cast their spell on us when we experienced their beautiful, unfettered performance at BMH in April. In person, every hook, chord and lyric is intensified. The softer moments simmer, while the rich choruses become downright explosive. The trio gives their all to bring each song to life, particularly frontman Zach Williams, who sweats buckets and works the crowd like Bruce Springsteen’s kid brother. Lone Bellow’s live show grabs hold of your soul and drags it through the emotional peaks and valleys of their stacked setlist. When the lights come on, your spirit will be reeling, yet refreshed, and ready for next time.


1. Wilco at Solid Sound Festival 6/21 and 6/22

Though we saw hundreds of bands throughout 2013 nothing quite compared to Wilco’s 2-night run at their Solid Sound Festival in North Adams, MA. This year was a bit different as Wilco’s 2 sets were created from fan requests with the first night consisting solely of cover songs (with one Wilco original thrown in). Wilco learned and arranged over 30 cover songs specifically for the festival and they ranged from all-time classics (Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town”, Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate”) to alternative classics (Television’s “Marquee Moon”, Pavement’s “Cut Your Hair”) and plenty more in between. Night 2 featured 28 songs of pure Wilco bliss. Classics and deep cuts abound, but the best moment had to be the band’s performance of “Sunken Treasure,” the song from where this very blog derives its name. Between the three of us in attendance we had seen more than 20 Wilco sets, but never once had we heard “Sunken Treasure” which made for a special weekend to say the least.


Posted on by Eric in Best of 2013

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