In 2014, I had such a diversity of show experience that I would consider in the top echelon, that I decided to go shows only. It also gives me a chance to write about a few of the shows that I didn't get to review initially (I linked to my published review where applicable).
So, here the are... my top ten shows of 2014:
The band that probably gets most amount of ink on this blog juuust squeezes into the top ten. The third in a run of very enjoyable, but ultimately not top tier, shows I caught at Northerly Island (my only three Phish shows of the year).
This one gets saved in the end big time with an unexpected and ground-breaking jam out of "The Wedge" of all places. Then, just to prove they weren't done, the band follows it up with an amazing "Ghost" > "Weekapaug" combo.
The venue managed to redeem itself after the absolute debacle in 2013. Mainly because the whether was downright mild -- but it still has some severe faults for shows of this size.
9. Allman Brothers Band @ The Beacon 3/11/14
As a Chicagoan, I feel fortunate to have caught a handful of Allman Brothers shows at The Beacon in New York City over the last few years. This was supposed to be a part of the last run at the storied venue (it wasn't... the run was actually paused and resumed in October), so history weighed heavily on the proceedings.
That said, it was not without its strange. Butch Trucks "called in sick" for this one while nephew (and future WSP fill-in) Duane Trucks alternated on the kit with percussionist Marc Quinones. But in true ABB at the Beacon form, we were treated to a performance from the Juke Horns and got our heads absolutely spun by Mssrs. Trucks & Haynes.
Some complain that the Brothers have stagnated in recent years, which may have led to their breakup. But for those who don't get a chance to see this force perform all that often, to see Derek and Warren trade licks on both Allmans classics and a mix of well-selected covers is a true treat, one that was made that much more special given the time and place. And of course watching Gregg is like watching history.
The best part? I was in NYC for work this week and didn't even have a ticket to this sold out show. I was literally miracled at front row center ticket to this show. I'm convinced there is such a thing as music karma.
8. Wilco @ The Riviera 12/5/14
Is it weird that one of the emotions that I experienced while seeing Wilco in Chicago this December was pride?
The first show of their 20th anniversary run, it set up what was to become a landmark series of shows -- each one touching on rarities, deep cuts, alternate versions worthy of an alltime great. The encore was a stripped down acoustic mini-set, emphasizing the diverse musicality of this crew.
I feel like I've seen Wilco just grow up and into this right before my eyes. Sure the haters will label them Dad Rock - but what I see is a band whose skills, work ethic and reason-to-exist are a reflection of their Midwestern home. The bear significant cultural weight in a lineage that feels as connected to Bob Dylan as art and prog-rock. But Tweedy's humor, humility and persona ground the whole affair and was on full display this night. They are the pinnacle of what is possible musically in this city, and we love them right back for it.
And seeing just this one show really makes me want more Wilco. I was absolutely giddy in following the setlists roll in and listening to the recordings from the remainder of the run. Check out some of those recordings right HERE.
7. Tedeschi Trucks Band / Widespread Panic @ Northerly Island 6/20/14
There's a perfect way to execute a "co-headlining" bill with two strong acts, and this is it.
Tedeschi Trucks Band received a decent sized slot to deliver their a satisfying set of original material and classy covers. Though maybe just not long enough for a few of the folks for whom their appearance on the bill tipped the scale.
Panic, operating in "one long set" mode, made the most of the format. Running down some "first setters" towards the beginning, while still slotting in a few jams.
They made a point of calling out opener Jerry Joseph prior to drums without over-utilizing him (which can often kill a Panic show). But the gig was truly brought full circle when they welcomed Derek and Susan back out to cap their set. The result was pure magic -- dusting off a few rare covers and really and truly giving their guests to shine, essentially extending their set into the meat of the night.
Ever feel like you've been let in on a secret? When music bloggers just about outnumber the regular folks in attendance at a weekday gig, your getting pretty close.
Forsyth is doing things with the guitar that is serious next level playing. Other worldy.
Writing about this show was one of the most difficult, though oddly satisfying experiences I've had with this blog. I suggest you just read what I had to say at the time. Not sure I can recap it again any better.
5. Widespread Panic Wood Tour @ Ryman Theater 3/14/14
It was only a matter of time before I caught one of these Wood Tour shows. Sure, I had to go to Nashville to do it.... but what better way to usher in my first time at The Ryman?
Just as the historic venue was able to place the crowd in another place and time, so did the playing. The all acoustic format is so much like "regular" Panic, but still oh-so-different.
Oh, and thanks Panic... first for finally serving up my first "Can't Find My Way Home" but also mixing in Beatles, Stones and Neil tunes into a set which also featured back-to-back songs that were totally new to me ("When You Coming Home" & "Plastic Jesus").
I like to measure live show by how much re-listen value they have, and this gig shoots straight to the top of the charts in that regard.
Talk about a band in my sweet spot. I'm so happy Joe & Friends chose to debut their official coming out as a "touring band" with a two night run in Chicago.
With all due repsect to Mr. Forsyth and my number one pick below, this was easily the most psychedelic music I saw all year. With jazz like swing and true commitment to exploring new improvisational spaces in songs where the Dead never even attempted to go ("Althea" anyone?).
This is truly an all star ensemble, but much of the credit has to go to it's leader. After internalizing this music over the past four years with Furthur, Russo has a distinct vision for how to make these come alive with energy and freshness.
He's got this down so much that the year-ending PhilRAD shows at the Cap felt as much about Russo as Phil. But goddamn that combo was RAD.
Who says all the great jamband moments are in the past?
We were still 3 months from the release of If Sorrows Swim when GSBG took the stage for the 10th annual opening of the Bell's Beer Garden, but clearly making that album had given them mojo to make this one of those moments.
When a band is on the rise, you just know it. And they simply capitalized on it. Three nights in their hometown. Special guests with an awesome local connection. A Jim Pollock poster. The greatest beer on the planet.
The gathering was small enough feel like family. Their songs are great enough to make your feel like they're all worthy. And the band is self aware enough to make the most of their time on stage, crafting a full show setlist that runs the gamut of everything the crowd wants. For a band thaty's going places, they sure are having fun with it -- and this show was veritable proof of that.
Another strong showing for this band who are making a case of hanging in there with the big boys.
2. Paul McCartney @ United Center 7/8/14
I first saw Paul McCartney in 1990 at Soldier Field. Twenty-four years later, I had the privilege of bringing my kids to to see the man at United Center and I can't say he's any worse for wear.
This show was almost three hours of non-stop action. Paul's voice is bright and confident. His band's sound is versatile enough to cover the gamut of his impressive body of work. There's no possible way to play all the hits (they're all hits!) but I dare you to not get chills during "Hey Jude" or "Let It Be" and there was still enough deep cut action to make this a distinct event from other tours, if not other shows on this jaunt.
No doubt it could get a bit hammy -- Macca's a showman, and make no mistake this is a SHOW of the pyrotechnics, hydraulics and mammoth video screen variety. But, it's pure entertainment while simultaneously forcing you to think of how much music fans of all stripes owe to this man.
Twenty years from now, when my sons are comparing "first concert" notes with their peers, they'll be able to say they saw a Beatle. My oldest has become a certified Beatle-maniac in the meantime and that's enough to vault this experience up to number two on the list.
I vividly recall thinking as this show was happening that I'd be hard pressed to find a more impressive musical experience this year.
I consciously used it as a benchmark throughout every show I saw in 2014 -- within 10 days of this show alone... I also saw Ratdog, Allman Brothers Band, Mike Gordon and a Panic Wood Tour show.
But White Denim ended up rising to the top again and again. Probably because they are so damn relevant and stand so far apart from everything. Still, with so much new music being deliberately obtuse, they offer something challenging though strangely accessible.
They showcased the material on Corsica Lemondade, but the creativity put into making that album bleeds its way into the stage show. The result is a night of music that rarely pauses, creating improvisational passages like a jamband, but without relying on jamband trops. I'm sure there are many that would be appalled at drawing that comparison.
There is no band that I'm so excited to see what's next from. I'm certain it'll sound like nothing I've ever heard.
Phases Of The Moon Festival - Much hay was made of the logistical problems and mother nature induced havoc that the festival promoters had to deal with for their first ever event. But I've never seen a group rise to the occasion more in the face of adversity. Music wise, it featured a reprise of my #7 above (though without the sit-ins) and just so much great music in such a short amount of time. It also made me re-evaluate my relationship with String Cheese Incident. Viva la Fall Festival!
Phish @ MGM Grand Arena 10/31/14 - I didn't go to this show, but webcasted. I can say that never has the shared experience of webcasting / social media played out so affectively. It seemed like the entire Phish community was just exasperated, but joyfully so, just trying to figure out exactly what they'd seen. It was wonderful to be a part of in real time, even if it was from home. If 2014 was overall an uneven year for the Phish from Vermont, there is no disputing that this show, and in particular the Chilling / Thrilling set, has to be set apart from everything else that happened. It is ungradeable in a way that breaks the mold. Kudos.