If you would have told me around this time last year that I would have had the opportunity to see concerts again, let alone in indoor venues -– some that I hadn’t stepped foot inside in over a year and half –- I would have thought you were crazy. But not only did I have that opportunity –- in large part to vaccines, mask mandates, and the venues and artists who did everything in their power to make sure it was safe to experience live music again –- but I saw some of the best shows I’ve seen in years!
Below are just a taste of what I’ve had the great fortune to see this past year. And there were some firsts for me, personally — from covering my first show at the MECU Pavilion in Baltimore to seeing an outdoor house show, complete with stage and lantern lights — and it’s something I hope to carry into the new year.
Now, I know it sounds like a cop out, but I genuinely loved every show I saw this past year -– from the first drive-in show in June through to my last show just this past week. But there were some stand-outs.
In a world where Covid-19 has done its darndest to make things fall apart, there were some shining musical moments. Having had a musical, Verböten, written and performed in Chicago based on his early band last year, Jason released one of my favorite records this year, Amplificado, under the name Split Single, full of the kind of hooks that get lodged in your brain for weeks at a time, along with fellow Superchunk and Bob Mould Band drummer, Jon Wurster and Mike Mills of REM fame. But it was in July on the lawn of Baltimore’s own Club 603 I saw Jason do what he does so well – rock out and tell some crazy good stories to boot!
This past year was a sort of reconnecting with a lot of artists and bands I hadn’t seen in ages. One of which I hadn’t seen in nearly 25 years, Modest Mouse, had me walking back to my car kicking myself that it had taken me so long to see them again. At The Anthem they put on one hell of a show, pressing all the right buttons in my brain.
The late summer of 2021 brought with it some of my favorite memories of the entire year. I got to witness Wilco again — having seen them nearly every tour since around 1999 — but this time they co-headlined with Sleater Kinney, and it was incredible! The pure joy that radiated from that stage put a smile on my face.
My first time photographing a concert at MECU Pavilion, and the first time photographing Lord Huron came in 2021. And they put on a brilliant show with a huge stage set up and that Ben Schneider and Allison Ponthier duet on “I Lied” was to die for!
One of my absolute favorite shows of the year was the legendary Bob Mould at the 9:30 Club. Now, I’ve seen Bob before, but what I think made this all the more special was when faced with some technical equipment issues Bob took control of the situation (and the stage) and gave fans one of the best performances. PLUS (and I say this as a fan) the band Bob has in Jason Narducy (bass) and Jon Wurster (drums) is the best — hands down.
6 – Jesse Malin @ Club 603 — 10/16/21
There are house shows and then there are house SHOWS. My first time seeing Jesse Malin with a full band and in the best place in town, Club 603. Jesse played that house show like it was a club, moving into the audience and making this a special experience for everyone there.
7 – Guided by Voices @ Ottobar — 10/22/21
After the Covid shut downs of 2020, Guided by Voices not only put together a live broadcast over the summer of 2020 but put together a Hot Freaks subscription service with rare recordings, demos, and live recordings. Oh! And while they were at it, Robert Pollard and company put out two full-length LPs — Earth Man Blues and It’s Not Them. It Couldn’t Be Them. It Is Them! And they went on tour, stopping at the Ottobar in Baltimore for a fantastic show and one of the best I’ve seen (and that’s saying something!)
I count myself lucky to have been able to witness Orville Peck perform now twice. And this past year, at the Baltimore Soundstage and in the midst of a cold rainy night, Orville Peck put on a brilliant performance to a completely packed club. One of those performances that makes you believe in the power of music pulling people together.
One of my most anticipated shows of 2021 was Sylvan Esso’s return to The Anthem and they did not disappoint. In fact, this show, just before Thanksgiving, was even bigger and spectacular than the last time.
10 – Surfbort @ DC9 — 12/4/21
I know I’ve said it before, but some of the best shows I’ve experienced have been ones where I’ve gone in, spur of the moment, not having seen a band before and end up being completely bowled over! Surfbort at DC9 was on fire! Singer, Dani Miller, jumped out into the crowd several times, singing with fans in the crowd, and it all made me wonder why I hadn’t seen them before.
Now, this is just a chronological list of some of my favorites of the year, but every single show I saw had the effect of making me want more — leaving me with that sense of community from seeing local favorites June Starr at the Atlas Brewery just a few blocks from my house to the Drive-by Truckers at Rams Head Live to my first indoor club show with Mac and Jim from Superchunk. Each one made me realize how much I could take for granted this communion of sound and how important each time we shuffled in line waiting for the doors to the club to open was to my own mental health.
Here’s to more listenings at the door to soundchecks; conversations in the dark; and sweaty brows and ear-ringing nights in the new year! I hope to see you at more than a few.