The year 2017 was a good year for revisiting old friends as they returned to remind us that they truly still “got it.” In the past year, Parklife DC reviewed a great deal of musicians and bands, and the performances that really distinguished themselves often came as something of a pleasant surprise.
Proven favorites toured on new material or greatest hits, proving not only the power of those great songs but also filling DC’s concert halls with powerful performances. In addition to ranking my Top 10 Concerts of 2017, I have added below a postscript of highly enjoyable shows by Proven Performance Leaders.
Check out my top 10 list of concerts I saw for Parklife DC in 2017. (Click on the concert slugline to revisit the full review.)
Few if any other bands could spin dark pop songs, so luxuriously layered instrumentally upon the backbone of Dave Gahan’s rich baritone, into arena rock — but that’s exactly what Depeche Mode did. And the result was a live performance that was exhilarating and uplifting, as if somehow watching Dave and company give voice to the dark subjects of their songs instantly dispersed a collective internal cloud, soothing an inner beast licking its wounds within us.
The performance at Capital One Arena, filled to the brim with admirers in their teens and in their sixties, really surprised me with its vitality and showmanship. Salut, Depeche Mode.
Later in the show, Philip Bailey sang the smooth ballad “Reasons” from Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1975 album That’s the Way of the World. From that, he segued directly into a “Betcha by Golly, Wow,” made famous by Philadelphia soul group The Stylistics. Philip unfurled his majestic voice to hit high notes in falsetto then immediately hits low notes with his baritone. If I weren’t seeing it happen with my own eyes, I would have sworn I was listening to two entirely different people.
Earth, Wind & Fire returned to DC for a great show at Capital One Arena on Aug. 9, but the intimate and powerful show at MGM National Harbor months earlier was one for the ages.
Gary Numan is a showman. He dropped by to remind us of that with his successful new record, which has a post-apocalyptic theme. The setting fed Gary’s flair for the theatric, as he and his band appeared in concert clad as desert travelers. With typical flair, Gary threw himself into the music from the start, writhing and dancing to the beat, which shot crisply through the air, born by pulsating synthesizers.
The energy throughout the show remained high, particularly when Gary turned to his classics like “Metal,” “Down in the Park,” and “Cars.” The songs served as insistent reminders as to how those records are really good.
Alison performed songs from Yaz (Yazoo in her native England), her formidable new wave collaboration with Vince Clarke. Altogether, she performed a healthy set of 24 songs, and five of those were Yaz compositions. And she came complete with a brand new album that does justice to her bluesy voice and her steely determination.
The sold-out audience really reacted to those Yaz songs, however. “Only You,” “Nobody’s Diary,” and “Don’t Go” were Top 5 hits in England, and DC knew every word to them. The encore capper “Situation” ended the show on a fantastic high note as everyone threw themselves to their feet.
How grand is it when old friends remind you of their staying power? Book of Love struck U Street Music Hall like a bolt of lightning with the power of a new greatest hits package in February.
The hands of Ted Ottaviano flew over his synthesizer as he lit up “Tubular Bells.” The audience roared its approval, and Ted breaks out into one of his brilliant smiles. Yes, Book of Love was clearly back, even if only as Ted on synths and Susan Ottaviano (no relation) on vocals as a synthpop duo. It is a configuration that mirrors many classic synthpop acts, and it worked very well indeed for a leaner Book of Love, who returned at a very good time indeed.
Emily Haines and The Soft Skeleton, the name of Emily’s solo performance project, eased into exploring aspects of life, love, and loss in a serenely captivating and quietly powerful show. What resulted was a 17-song concert that captured the essence of an artist. At the piano, Emily’s soothing soprano was expressive and her gentle playing bolstered her pleasing voice.
After the first three songs, she was joined by three supporting bandmates, including Jimmy Shaw, her songwriting partner in new wave quartet Metric. With the additional instruments, the songs of Emily Haines and The Soft Skeleton expanded from introspective piano ballads to contemplative soft rock numbers.
As frontman, Glenn Tilbrook sounded pitch perfect and hit every note on his guitar with stylish precision when Squeeze came to town. Off to stage right, Chris Difford wore an air of intellectual detachment as he studied his own guitar or occasionally took lead vocals. Chris sang “Cool for Cats,” the 1979 hit from the album of the same name, at the halfway point in the show. The audience gave its full-throated approval for every Squeeze song while dancing and cheering in place.
The same clever wordsmithing, strong pop moorings, and superb musicianship that generated classic songs — like “Pulling Mussels,” “Black Coffee in Bed,” and “Tempted” –- also was fully on display in songs from a brand new 16th studio album.
Led by the brightly sweet Julie Budet, Yelle frolicked and weaved through roughly 15 upbeat synthpop numbers, keeping the all-too-crowded room dancing along for the entire set. Julie and bandmate GrandMarnier dropped quite a lot of singles in 2017, suggesting that album #4 is on the horizon.
Meanwhile, Yelle proved they would not be forgotten with their sold-out show, while also demonstrating they deserved a bigger stage! As a performer, Julie was truly radiant; in DC, the audience couldn’t get enough of her sass and sparkle. The band’s indomitable spirit, charming music, and delightful mugging left everyone begging for their rapid return.
Sometimes you cross your fingers and hope that old favorites will deliver once again. Then, those guys show up and remind you there was nothing to worry about. With a talent for earworms, Modern English arrived with new songs and old favorites in a show at Rock and Roll Hotel. The professors of post-punk delivered a master class in how things are done.
Among the new songs were “Moonbeam,” a groovy track in which the band was visibly proud. The song demonstrated a characteristic smart and spare Modern English quality but with a more pronounced new wave riff as Stephen Walker promoted the synthesizer during the catchy chorus, sang by the clear and calming voice of Robbie Grey.
Admittedly, our list of Top 10 Concerts is full of old favorites this year, but the best *new* band of the year was none other than a punky quartet from Los Angeles — The Regrettes.
Mark my words: In the years to come, frontwoman Lydia Night will be a household name. Lydia was a dynamo, and she was a revelation on her guitar. She played fast and furious, her fingers flying over her frets like lightning strikes.
The Regrettes sing a lot about how other people see and judge. It’s all done with quick-witted fun, and often with a defiant posture and a lot of dancing.
Keyboardist Amanda Palmer and drummer Brian Viglione returned as The Dresden Dolls on Halloween to 9:30 Club, where they put on a real *show.*
The vaudevillians played, bantered, and charmed their way through 2.5 hours of a sold-out show, enrapturing listeners with song, tales, and antics. Throughout it all, The Dresden Dolls and their admirers made it very plain that they were earnestly delighted to see each other.
But mostly Amanda raged away on her keyboard while Brian banged away on the drums, imbuing “punk cabaret” with a picture perfect example of exactly what that means: a 19th century approach to piano-driven music paired with a damned-if-you-don’t cacophony of words.
Duran Duran @ MGM National Harbor — 1/1/17
If I had my way, I would rank Duran Duran #1 every year. We ranked the band highly in our Top 10 Concerts of 2017 when they visited the Verizon Center in April 2017 on their Paper Gods Tour. And technically, Parklife DC reviewed their New Year’s Eve show at MGM National Harbor, freeing us to simply enjoy their follow-up concert the next day.
And the men from Birmingham certainly delivered. While it was a great night for each of them, Simon LeBon particularly impressed. In a performance of “Ordinary World,” Simon sang the most impassioned rendition of the song ever I heard. Much has been made of Simon’s impressive vocals since his 2011 recovery from losing his voice, but hearing is believing as to how the man is impossibly better than ever before.
He blew away the 4,000 or so people in the sold-out room.
Proven Performance Leaders
In addition to the top acts above, a number of tried and true musicians toured through DC in the past year, proving they still have those unmistakable qualities that make their shows worthwhile. At the top of the pack, these proven performance leaders were more than worth the price of admission.
With a gleam in his eye and fire in his belly, the iconic Adam Ant bounded onto the stage at the Lincoln Theatre to shanghai us back to 1981. In a thoroughly sold-out show, Adam sashayed his way through Kings of the Wild Frontier in a 35th anniversary tour of the album.
In two nights of sold-out shows, Colin Hay performed at The Birchmere in support of a new album, Fierce Mercy. And his audience was just as receptive to his new songs as they were to his previous solo outings and his Men at Work hits.
The lovely Sarah Cracknell took to the very crowded stage at U Street Music Hall to coo gentle reproaches and remembrances to a respectfully full house last week, rekindling our romance with the sublime UK synthpop trio Saint Etienne. Sarah was joined by the cracking synthesists Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs and also two guitarists, a bassist, a drummer, and a backing singer, which all sounded very good but overwhelmed the tiny stage at U Street Music Hall.
Richard Butler was a joy to behold. With boundless energy, the frontman of The Psychedelic Furs swept the audience up in a dance for an 18-song set on the band’s Singles Tour. He so relished the opportunity to perform live that he couldn’t stop beaming. Want a sure thing? Bet on a good show from The Psychedelic Furs, and you’ll be a winner every time.
Here’s to a new crop of shows, and plenty of old favorites, in 2018 and beyond!