noun \ˈkän(t)-sərt, ˈkän-ˌsərt\

1: agreement in design or plan : union formed by mutual communication of opinion and views

2: a public performance (as of music or dancing)


I love concerts… watching the live performance of good music by talented artists, feeling the vibration and rhythm, hearing the improvised and/or calculated creativity in sound, and sharing the unique experience with other psyched fans and the band.

My favorite concerts of 2011?

It’s so much more than picking the bands that performed the best stage shows while I was there to bear witness.  Live music memories stand out for different reasons… Getting hooked by an infectious beat or mesmerized by a musician who’s talent is awe-inspiring, feeling a unified energy permeating from the stage through the crowd and back, the certainty that you’re witnessing something historic, or unforgettable fun with the partners-in-crime who are also taken by the moment.  Here are just a few of mine:

Anders Osbourne @ SPACE. After trekking the grounds and hearing big sounds from a variety of very talented artists at the DMB Caravan we drove up to Evanston, where I was scooted straight to a front seat (the first one I’d sat in all day) at the intimately acoustic confines of SPACE.  It was as powerful a performance as I’ve ever seen; Anders made his guitar sing, and moan, and cry.  It’s not his beard giving him the supernatural power (though I always claim that it is); he plays with a clear mind and pure instinct.  I so enjoy watching his talent unfold.  Can’t wait to see him 2/17 with Karl Denson @ Park West doing “Sticky Fingers”!

Robert Plant with Band of Joy @ Auditorium Theatre. I was catching up with Tom Marker as I walked into the venue… ten steps through the front door, he is unexpectedly asked to introduce the band.  Five minutes later, he is on stage nailing his intro, followed by the Dickinson brothers (NMA Duo) heating up the audience for a knock-out night of music.  So proud of all my buddies, and a perfect setting to take it all in.  BOJ started with a cool, slow version of Black Dog – the first of several Zeppelin tunes. Tangerine was the last, and so beautifully showcased the uber-talented band (Plant, Darrell Scott, Buddy Miller, Patty Griffin, Byron House, Marco Giovino).  They took turns on lead – Darrell Scott is especially AMAZING – and Plant would just hang back, blowing his harp or groovin’ on his own, letting the band shine.  They closed with Dylan’s ‘Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall’. LOVED IT.  NMA Duo are coming to Old Town School of Folk Music Feb 18-19 – click to win tickets!

DJ Shadow @ Pitchfork. Shadow rocks the house.  He’s a master of the groove, with hooks and world beats. He brought his cool “Shadowsphere” to Pitchfork – a big ball in which he works his magic, with visuals projected on the outside.  Not a very useful prop for a daylight (7:30pm) slot, but  it didn’t matter to us.  Close your eyes, you’re in the club, it’s a mutha-fu@*in’ dance party!  Fleet Foxes played after, with beautiful harmonies that lulled and captivated the crowd… but I remained high on Shadow.

Junip @ Empty Bottle. If you don’t know Swedish artist José González, I suggest you check him out.  His voice and intricate guitar are exceptional, and his band Junip takes him up a notch.  In the intimate confines of the Bottle, the band and the crowd seemed to melt into one.  The percussionist was always on, with well-placed shakes and beats, and the organist made it moody (or should I say Moog-y) in all the right ways.  It was one of those shows where you felt like everyone just shared something special together.

Little Dragon @ SF Outside Lands. Another Swedish band… I’d only heard about their “adorable” lead singer, Yukimi Nagano, who’d dated Jose Gonzalez (my “best of” list is apparently as incestuous as the music biz).  Besides her singing and groovy moves, she shook a tambourine shaped like a ping pong ‘racket’, and helped out with drums – all with beautiful precision.  There’s a lot of synth going on… but totally engaging. I got very caught up in the drummer’s beat – not sure if I breathed or moved during their entire set, except for my air drumming (yikes!)  My favorite unexpected “festival find” of the year.

Leo Nocentelli @ Green Music Fest. Calling it “The Meters Experience”, he funked it up big time, making it feel like New Orleans…. we even got Houseman up to the stage for a jam.  I was with a whole crew, slingin’ crawfish & Abita Strawberry, singing along with the Nocentelli family.  It was the best part of the best crawfish boil (going on down the street) I have ever experienced in Chicago.

My Morning Jacket is on a roll. They rocked the stage at bonnaroo, gave me whiplash at Lollapalooza, and brought down the house at Madison Square Garden.  It’s always great when they bring out Preservation Hall Jazz Band, but the most fun of all was parading through bonnaroo with them, in true “second line” style.  I’ve done the Mardi Gras style parade nearly every year of bonnaroo, but for some reason this time just clicked.  It’s a NOLA thing, done in true ‘roo style, and I was in heaven.

I’ll save my thoughts on Levon Helm & Neil Young for next time…