Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014: The Year in Shows

It's safe to say that this year was seismic.

My wife and I had a baby. I found my legs in a new-ish career. And in one head-spinning two-month period, I lost someone I loved, another person who I tried to love, and two people I really liked.

And then there was a major family health scare.

All in all, it was an insanely busy year that didn't allow for much writing or very many shows. I say that every single year at this time, but this year it was true: there just wasn't any personal time in 2014.

All of that having been said, I'm deeply grateful for every single show that I did see. Here are the highlights:

Bob Mould at the 9:30 Club

My wife and I realized when we bought these tickets that the show was scheduled for three weeks after our daughter would be born. And frankly, neither of us knew if that was an ok thing to do. But we went ahead with it because other parents told us we'd need a night out by that time.

Which was a fact. We were utterly exhausted and claustrophobic by the time this show rolled around, desperately in need of some alone time. And the show was fantastic: a friendly, unpretentious performance of the "Workbook" album. 

But the truth was that we both had trouble focusing during the set. In fact, just about the only thing either of us could think about was getting back to our baby.

No foul on you, Mr. Mould. You'll always be our guy, but you'll never be our little girl.

Taake at Maryland Deathfest 

I like the idea of black metal a whole lot more than I actually like black metal. In fact, aside from the early classics -- which basically demand that you embrace the shitty production as part of the overall aesthetic -- I find the sound of black metal to be very much lacking in any kind of blues- or soul-based foundation (lacking soul...geddit? Because: Satan).

Which is why Taake's set at DMF XII was so thoroughly enjoyable. The band completely owned their decades-awaited U.S debut -- a set that was unquestionably black metal, but also commanded the crowd with a decidedly rock and roll stance.

And they did it at 3:00 in the afternoon.

Outdoors. Facing the sun. In late May.

In full leather and corpse paint.


Solstafir at Maryland Deathfest

One of the best things that can happen at a music festival is getting turned on to a new band. This year, that band was Solstafir at MDF XII.

The deck was somewhat stacked against Solstafir that afternoon. Sandwiched between Necros Christos and Taake, it would be safe to assume that most fans would struggle to embrace Solstafir's "post metal" stylings.

(By the way, if anyone can actually explain to me what "post metal" means, I'll consider editing that last sentence. Till then, my apologies for using dumb terms I don't really understand).

But for the sizable crowd that did stick around for Solstafir's set, they were treated to one of the most thoughtful, visionary acts of the day. Despite some significant sound issues (which plagued other bands on that particular stage), the band methodically built its set to something that was very much a hybrid of metal and rock - somehow blending elements of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd with that particular Icelandic vocal style that's at once eerie and enchanting (see also: Sigur Ros, and to a lesser extent, Bjork).

This set kind of blew my mind. It may not have been extreme metal, but I still felt sorry for everyone who skipped them that day. If you get a chance to see this band, take it. I'm serious. These guys are artists.

(Plus, we chatted briefly during At the Gates' headlining set that night, and they were awfully nice guys. Awesomely engaged with me and other fans on Twitter, too: @solstafir).

Samhain at the Howard Theatre

Never bet on Glenn Danzig.

Just don't.

Sure, he made incredible music for much of the 80's and 90's. But, God, did he start to suck after a while.

And then there were the concerts. The late starts. The no-shows. The prima dona demands that made life hell for promoters and concert staff.

There came to be a long period of time when Glenn Danzig just didn't seem to give a damn about his fans. Which was a great source of irritation for those of us foolish enough to continue to champion the guy in spite of himself. (God knows I tried).

And, so, I was understandably conflicted when I heard Samhain was touring. I'd always found Samhain to be Danzig's most fascinating and overlooked work, but I couldn't stomach the idea of wasting my limited time and money on another one of his old-man temper tantrums.

But I caved, as I knew I would. Because the show was to take place on Halloween. And if Danzig is playing in your town on Halloween and you don't see it, then you fucked up.

As for the show: it exceeded ALL my expectations.

It would be my fourth time seeing Danzig, but the first time he actually looked happy to be on stage. In fact, the guy looked uncharacteristically pleased to be there. Like, REALLY happy. Having fun. Even smiling every so often.

His banter with the crowd was funny and down to earth, and he even managed to tell a story or two ("Thirty years ago, we put out the Initium album. A whole lot of people got it. A whole lot of people said....[muttering] 'What the fuck is this?'")

I'd forgotten how many Samhain songs I'd memorized over the years. I'd forgotten all of those incredible sing-along choruses. I'd even somehow forgotten that "Archangel" is one of my favorite songs in the entire history of music.

And that's how I came to be standing in a group of guys I'd never met, bellowing at the top of our lungs to every single song. Things went from exuberant to kind of silly in no time flat, the group of us shouting out the ""Whoah-OOOH! oh-WOAH"s on "He Who Cannot Be Named", and the "WARNING YOU!" section of "Horror Biz."

At the end of the night, I was 19 again, in a spent 40 year old body.

If there was one downside to this show, it was an absurd curfew that wrapped things easily 45 minutes earlier than it should have. But as a consolation, Glenn Danzig brought special guest, Randy Blythe from Lamb of God, on stage to perform Mother of Mercy, which more than made up for the early shut-down.

Hands down, my favorite show of the year.

Here's to an even better 2015!