Not to sound like a Doubting Thomas, but as recently just a few months ago, I don’t think I would have believed it. But Wednesday night, I found myself walking into the Ottobar for the first indoor club show I’ve experienced in nearly a year and a half. Definitely the longest time I’ve gone without stepping foot in the my home away from home in probably 20 years. But if there was a show that bring us all back home it was seeing Mac McCaughan and Jim Wilbur of Superchunk on that raised stage, playing to a rapt, and vaccinated, audience that night.
What can be said for a year that began with so much promise but ends, well, like we are all feeling stuck in an alternate dimension. Looking back on my calendar which went so off the rails after two and a half months in, it really does look like a glimpse into a world that should have been but one that’s now alternate history.
But even in this bizarro world of COVID-19 there was some great music created at homes, online, socially distanced, and even on the streets! There is nothing that can beat the feel of a crowded show, the thrill of being there, and the joyous exhaustion that follows, but this past year we saw people pulling together – giving what they could – to keep live music alive despite every roadblock tossed in its way.
Since these lists are often limited by “best of” or Top 10, I want to include, well, all of those performances I caught this past year. There weren’t many, but each one I relive when I hear a song from a brilliant artist I’ve seen or go through photos from the past year. Here are my Top 12 Musical Moments of 2020 in chronological order.
J. Roddy Walston and Palm Palm rock a sold-out Ottobar on Jan. 19, 2020. (Photo by David LaMason)
In October of last year, J. Roddy Walston and the Business, posted through social media that “after 14 years, four albums and 889 shows of being creatively betrothed solely to each other, now feels like the time to explore other possibilities…” After sold-out sets in Baltimore and Richmond, J. Roddy Walston and the Business and their raucous brand of Southern rock and Stones-inspired music was on an indefinite hiatus.
For nearly two decades he’s been the “J. Roddy Walston” of the “and the Business.” Now he’s just J. Roddy, and a whole rack of songs… and a moving truck full of synths, pianos, tape machines, and sequencers. Catch him in a solo live show at Ottobar on Sunday, Jan 19!
It’s the time of year when the concert schedule slows down, and those yearning for a good show don’t have many, if any, options. If you’re in Baltimore, you won’t have that problem when Ex Hex break it down at Ottobar on Saturday, Dec. 14. Like most bands, Ex Hex wrapped touring earlier this year, but the DC power pop band still have the Ottobar date, rescheduled from a missed show over the summer.
JPEGMAFIA performs at Ottobar on Nov. 9, 2019. (Photo by Brenda Reyes)
Barrington DeVaughn Hendricks, better known as JPEGMAFIA, ended the US leg of his JPEGMAFIA Type Tour where his music career kicked off in 2015. He had two sold-out shows recently at Ottobar, which was the perfect venue for him to end his tour.
Kurt Vile and The Violators rock a sold-out Ottobar on July 23, 2019. (Photo by David LaMason)
There’s something about Kurt Vile that’s hard to pin down, but maybe that’s the point. Listen to any of his solo work that’s been released over the past 10 years and you might see what I mean. Although he has put out several albums over the past decade under both his own name and with various other artists, including Courtney Barnett, Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis — and he is a frequent collaborator with the band The War on Drugs — Kurt creates the kind of rambling but layered music that’s hard to pull yourself away from (if you ever wanted to in the first place).
Mark Lanegan Band performs at Ottobar on May 11, 2019. (Photo by Jason Nicholson)
Rocker Mark Lanegan announced he will release Somebody’s Knocking, his 11th studio album, on Oct. 18 via Heavenly Recordings. Meanwhile, he’s on the road with Aussie post-punk Simon Bonney, and the show arrived at Ottobar on Saturday. Jason Nicholson got some pictures of both acts.