In recent memory (which, let’s be honest, is foggier than most hair metal smoke machines), I haven’t seen a bigger year in terms of great live music than in 2023. I also feel this is the year I’ve really gotten back to seeing a lot of shows since the Covid-19 pandemic. By rough estimate, I’ve experienced 75 shows this year and have seen around 200 artists perform. I also made a semi-conscious effort to hit as many different types of venues over the past year as I could, which took me from my first stadiums (Lincoln Financial Field and M&T Bank Stadiums) to smaller clubs and house shows.
Now, here’s the tricky part about putting together a list of my favorite shows throughout the year — I loved all of them! No, I’m serious. And this might be part of the beauty of having the ability to choose who I end up covering. I love the music of those artists I attempt to capture either through the lens of a camera or the pen and keyboard.
I did see a lot of artists in 2023 I had never seen before, but I can absolutely — 100% — tell you that they all exceeded whatever expectations I might have had. In lieu of a Top 10, I present my Top 14 concerts of 2023.
It goes without saying that the most talked about concert tour of 2023 was the return of Taylor Swift. The first tour since 2018’s Reputation Tour and the first round of dates since the release of four new full-length albums (not including the start of the re-recorded Taylor’s Versions). The massive Eras Tour encompassed a little bit of everything that had come before along with new songs. Each era of Swift’s career was highlighted in elaborate set designs, varying costumes, and choreographed dance numbers that kept fans on their toes throughout the nearly four hour experience.
How often can you say that you just saw Grammy award winning pop superstars in a small club in your hometown? Announced at the last moment as a secret show, the Jonas Brothers took over the Baltimore Soundstage in one of the most fun shows of 2023. The Jonases put on a sweaty, heartfelt performance that left nothing out.
What do you do when “the hottest band in the world” comes to your town on their last tour ever? The answer, of course, is you get there. When KISS announced the last 50 shows of their last ever tour with the penultimate stop in Baltimore, I knew this was the last chance to see the band that, as kids, we used to look up to as the ultimate in rock and roll. And on that night, Paul, Gene, Eric, and Tommy did not disappoint. They put on a brilliant (quite literally) experience full of floating stages, fireworks, and flames to shake the foundations of the newly renovated CFG Bank Arena.
One of the bands that, for some reason or another, I had never had the chance to see live, was The Darkness. Over the pandemic I really got into listening to The Darkness and following singer Justin Hawkins’ podcast, Justin Hawkins Rides Again. So, seeing that they were hitting the road to promote the 20th anniversary of their debut record, Permission To Land, I knew I had to go. As I’ve waxed as poetically as I’m capable, The Darkness put on “a proper f***ing rock show” that wouldn’t have been out of place in a huge arena.
I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to see Patti Smith, but not only because I hadn’t seen her perform before, but because her show at The Anthem was one of those rare moments when I had trouble leaving even after it was over. Transfixed is an easy term to throw around, but as I sat there watching this legend sing that was what I became — transfixed, watching a master of the craft spin those tales.
On the first of the three-day rotating festival, Re:SET, the supergroup boygenius headlined at Merriweather and ended the evening with one of the most electric, moving, and memorable shows of the year. I had seen Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus several times separately but this was the first time seeing the trio together and it was magical.
It’s hard not to tell from my previous coverage of the brilliant singer/songwriter, LP, that I’m a fan. But you’ll have to trust me here to say their newest record, Love Lines, is their best so far. And the show they put on at The Anthem was one of my favorites. LP always knows how to draw you in, often going out beyond the stage to make that personal connection to their fans.
Tyler Childers’ popularity continues to outpace many of his contemporaries, and with good reason. Over the past ten years, Childers has created a body of work that propelled his songwriting craft to perfection. On the cusp of the release of Rustin’ In The Rain, Childers gave the sold out crowd at Merriweather an amazing show and one that kept me eyeing the next time the Kentucky troubadour will grace this town.
One of the first shows I saw in 2023 was the great Hold Steady at the Black Cat, and if any show was the perfect kickstart to the year it was Craig Finn and company rocking the packed club late into the night. This year I also had the great future to see Finn again at Baltimore’s best kept secret, Club 603 in a house show, giving me double the Finn. Couldn’t ask for anything better.
My first time seeing Mr Bungle, Mike Patton, Trey Spruance, and Trevor Dunn along with Anthrax’s Scott Ian and Slayer’s Dave Lombardo blew me away. Heavy, sweaty, and fun — it was an incredible show at Baltimore’s Rams Head Live and one I found myself coming back to over the next few months.
From the day it was announced nearly a year before it happened, I had my hopes on finally seeing the piano man, himself, Billy Joel. And, boy, did he put on a great set! From sharing the stage with Stevie Nicks early in the evening to playing a set heavy on the hits, Joel kept the sold out stadium there to the very end.
I’ve admired Sam Smith for years but they’ve been an artist I’d never had the chance to see live. That is, however, until this past year. With the album Gloria and the start of a new World Tour, Smith brought their incredible show to DC with an elaborate stage design, frequently changing set pieces, and that brilliant voice.
I had seen singer, Hamilton Leithauser several times throughout the years. I even saw him with Walkmen guitarist, Paul Maroon at U Street Music Hall, but I hadn’t seen The Walkmen together until their arrival at The Atlantis. This was my first time at the new club, and they were on fire. I have to admit I was a little spoiled after that show.
After seeing The Struts last year, I had my eyes set on when they would return, and on the heels of their new album, Pretty Vicious, they hit the 9:30 Club in style — full ahead steam rock and roll!
All photos copyright and courtesy of David LaMason unless otherwise noted*