Some years are easier than others when it comes to picking a “Best Of” list. 2019 was one of those years. In this writer’s not so humble opinion, there were a handful of shows which stood head and shoulders above the rest.
But first, the easy way out. The inclusion of some Honorable Mentions.
My first trip to SXSW was a revelation. A sprawling amalgamation of great bands spread over an entire city. If I had to pick a favorite it was the introduction to Lucia. This young Glasgow based quartet hammered Club Altitude with their grungy, power pop. The look, the licks and the hooks.
A pair of Dakota shows were outstanding. This was the final organized tour for punk rocker turned troubadour Alejandro Escovedo. I revere the man’s music and have seen him so many times over the years. He is the male version of Patti Smith; his songs the voice of conscience weaponized. The night seemed both celebration and sadness, shared with some very special friends.
Iconic rocker Nils Lofgren opened a tour for his new record Blue With Lou. A tour de force collection of songs written 30 years ago with Lou Reed. The fact that Nils was willing to do an in-depth interview prior to the show shined a light on some of the nuances of how these great songs came to be and brought them to life. For fans of Springsteen, Crazy Horse or Lou Reed, check out this highly recommended album. Spotify tells me I listened to this album more than any other in 2019.
From the local scene, That 70’s Show at 7th Street Entry. This was simply a great idea which was really well executed. The Shackletons, Gully Boys and Last Import taking Halloween to another level by becoming and playing the music of The Cars, Devo and ABBA, respectively. If you ever worried about the talent coming up the Twin Cities rock and roll pipe, rest easy! A sold out venue that sang along with every song through three hours. The future is bright.
So here we go. The ones I’m still carrying in my memory.
5. Jon Anderson at Fitzgerald Theater.
2019 was a year that the titans of Prog Rock returned to the stage. The former Yes front man more than capably featured cuts from his new album while resurrecting hits from both his underrated solo career and those Yes classics. I was so taken by the faces in the audience. Pure joy. Never dreamed there was a theater’s worth of local fans who knew, let alone loved, the rare gem Olias of Sunhillow. TCM reviewers love getting comments after our articles are published. Lets us know we’re not shouting into an empty universe. This one generated more superlatives than any other.
4. The Waterboys at The Varsity
I believe that Mike Scott is one of the most overlooked geniuses of the past 35 years. Rocker, raggle-taggle gypsy, Celtic traditionalist, mystic or shaman? All of the above. Nobody on the planet is more mercurial, well read or musical than Scott and his Waterboys. Unwrapping a new Waterboys’ album is akin to Forrest Gump’s proverbial box of chocolate. The band covered the waterfront.
3. Steve Hackett at Pantages
Hackett’s second set delivered the Genesis classic Selling England By The Pound in its entirety. And it was sublime. There seems to be a trend with bands dusting off and re-touring a classic album. Sure doesn’t hurt when the album being featured is a fixture on your personal desert island list! While the Twins were being routed by the Yankees somewhere behind the back wall of the theater, the thought of pulling out my phone to check a score seemed a sacrilege. I would never have broken that huge sprawling spell.
2. Mott The Hoople 1974 at First Avenue
The greatest rock band of all time. What more can I say? They cracked the Royal Albert Hall ceiling. Ian Hunter defies the science of aging. I’ve caught his solo shows a number of times but never dreamed I’d ever get the chance to see him take the stage with original members Ariel Bender and Morgan Freeman. The sold out crowd was ecstatic. Freeman may have gained a few pounds but Bender (along with Sting, has there ever been a greater stage name?) remained that rock and roll sprite, stage left. We were fortunate, as a severe case of tinnitus KO’ed Hunter and the tour shortly thereafter.
1. The Flesh Eaters Reunion Tour at Turf Club
If this isn’t the greatest punk super group of all time, I’ll eat my hat. Despite a blizzard, everybody showed up. I watched the road manager standing on the steps beside the stage as some spaghetti western soundtrack served as the walk out music. He looked to the soundboard and signaled “Turn it up.” Then again. “More!” A third time: “Keep pushing! OK, that’ll do.” When the band opened up I felt my pant legs blowing in the breeze. Down rabbit hole after rabbit hole of attitude, danger and dark brilliance.