Parklife DC invites our staff to list their Top 10 concerts of every year. Although this was a different kind of year, our love of music remained strong, and we definitely caught our share of shows once pandemic lockdowns eased. Some homegrown shows began popping up indoors around May, and events really made a remarkable return by August. Although we live with additional requirements, such as vaccinations, to attend live shows, we happily rise to the moment to do what we love to do — experience live music.
Here are my Top 10 concerts of 2021.
Nation of Language arrived at Songbyrd Music House fresh and hungry, ready to create. In 2020, the trio released Introduction, Presence, their debut full-length album, and they follow it up with sophomore record A Way Forward. Lean and clean, Ian Richard Devaney (vocals, guitar, percussion), Aidan Noell (synth), and Michael Sue-Poi (bass) have grown tighter and more ambitious as a unit over the past three years, and they were a hit at a sold-out show at Songbyrd.
Fellow Brooklynites The Wants came along for the ride. The magnetic Madison Velding-VanDam led the trio through 30 minutes or more of music that clearly drew from both New York City legacy bands like Talking Heads and also early Factory Records innovators in Manchester, England. Bassist Yasmin Haddad and drummer Jason Gates were equally revelatory.
Wolf Alice stalked the audience and kept their attention for 18 unpredictable songs that seemed to zip by in too short a time in a sold-out show at Union Stage. The crowd gave big reactions to the familiar tunes from Wolf Alice’s previous records — EP Creature Songs and LPs My Love Is Cool and Visions of a Life — but they also readily and knowingly embraced new songs from 2021’s Blue Weekend (released in June via Dirty Hit), the record that brought Wolf Alice to North America for this thrilling fall tour.
Similar to The Cure at the height of their chart popularity, CHVRCHES now finds themselves in a position of discussing dark and moody subject matter over otherwise bright melodies. The trio continued that streak in a very crowded show at The Anthem.
As pleasant as they are to hear, CHVRCHES also delivered an arresting visual show. Lauren appeared pixie-like, clad in various shimmering or leathery outfits, but her highly pitched soprano filled the cavernous spaces of The Anthem with ease. You can easily lose yourself watching her toss her head from side to side, only to renew her focus on her microphone with a carefully delivered turn of phrase.
Midge Ure, ever gregarious, warmly recalled the experimental band. Ultravox’s heyday in the 1980s, sharing stories with the audience as to how the group came to create “Lament” and “Vienna” — two album title tracks that perhaps served as the heart of an intimate show at City Winery DC.
Singing with passion, Midge stood center stage with only his guitar, pouring his entire body into the instrument as he delivered each word with power and emotion. Although Ultravox consumed much of the show, Midge took care to present some of his very best solo numbers, including “If I Was,” of course. For good measure, he added “Breathe” and “Fragile.”
Multi-platinum romantic rockers Air Supply delighted a sold-out crowd at The Birchmere, enchanting an audience at a much smaller venue than the core duo of Russell Hitchcock and Graham Russell have become accustomed to playing.
The gentlemen swashbucklers responded well to the intimate setting, dialing up the charm and churning out the hits as men and women alike sang along, laughing and crying, all the while transfixed by the veteran performers.
The easygoing demeanors of Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland hide the fact that the two Brits are fine tunesmiths who have a keen ear for hooks and beats in their work as electronic duo Jungle. As evidence, Jungle pulled a host of those tunes from their three studio albums at The Anthem, spinning the crowded venue into dancefloor mania with their upbeat and funky music.
Jungle opened the show with a trio of songs from their latest album, Loving in Stereo, released in August through their own Caiola Records. The record represents an evolution in the sophistication of Jungle’s sound over the last eight years or so, as the duo has moved into smooth and glossy neo-soul.
Vocalist David Schelzel’s firm yet gentle voice as ever was inviting, and his timbre remains reminiscent of New Order’s Bernard Sumner, although David is a far better singer technically. The clear lead vocal is one of several characteristics of The Ocean Blue that always lead me to the shorthand description of the quartet as New Order’s downtempo disco meet the dreamy aching psych of The Psychedelic Furs. For ’80s music fans, it’s not a bad way to think of the band if you don’t know them already.
The Ocean Blue were in top form indeed in their return to Union Stage, where we hope to see them again soon!
At The Birchmere, Colin Hay appeared with his talented and good-spirited “band of immigrants,” consisting of, among others, his significant other Cecilia Noël on tambourine and backing vocals and scene-stealing Scheila Gonzalez on keys, saxophone, and flute.
Out of 17 songs performed throughout the course of the evening, Colin showcased eight Men at Work songs, which I suspect is a few more than he usually would. The audience didn’t mind, and listened rapturously and then broke out into heartfelt singalongs of “Down Under” and “Be Good Johnny.”
Jack Antonoff of Bleachers gave himself fully over to the music at The Anthem but also understood how to produce an earnest *show.* The audience roundly applauded songs from a new album that marks an evolution in the Bleachers sound but saved their biggest reactions for the familiar tunes of Strange Desire, the 2014 Bleachers debut album.
Throughout the evening, Jack was a lot of fun (indeed), but he also showcased his work ethic and his desire to expand his sonic palette through chamber pop instrumentation and heartland balladeering.
Canadian post-punks Tokyo Police Club visited Union Stage to wrap a tour that celebrated 10 years of his band Tokyo Police Club’s sophomore album, Champ. The quartet showed up at the peak of their musical prowess — frontman Dave Monks on bass, Graham Wright on guitar and keys, Josh Hook on guitar, and Greg Alsop on drums. From my perspective at stage left, Graham dazzled with showboating guitar swoops and a sizzling synth that added pizzazz to Tokyo Police Club’s sweet string-dominated euphony.
The band paced through the 11 songs on the original issue of Champ with easy confidence, and the audience responded with smiles and applause all around. It went by much too quickly for our tastes! Thankfully, there was more to be had, including a four-song acoustic interlude with Dave.