2012 was a great year for live music in the Boston area. Here is the creme of the crop, according to me:
1. Refused at House of Blues Boston, July 20th
One of the greatest hardcore bands of all time proved that their reunion was not just a Cochella money grab when they announced an extensive world tour that stopped in Boston in August. Their 90 minute set was overwhelmingly intense. The aggression precision, and showmanship the band displayed defied every law that should govern a group of 40 year olds that had called it quits 14 years earlier. It would seem natural to say I wish I could have seen them in their prime, but I’m pretty sure this was it.
2. Bruce Springsteen at TD Garden, March 26th
There’s no such thing as a bad Bruce show, but a few factors made this one special. It was Sprinsteen’s first Boston show in three years and coincided with the release of his new album Wrecking Ball. While the tour would make multiple stops in New York and New Jersey, this was the only scheduled Boston show and had sold out in minutes. The three hours sets included a soul melody inspired by the band’s recent performance at the Apollo Theater, an epic encore with the house lights on, and everything else that has made Sprinsteen and Co. rock’s most consistent performers.
3. Motion City Soundtrack Double Header at Bamboozle Festival, May 19th
While there was no explanation as to why MCS was slated for two slots on the same stage at the Bamboozle Festival in Asbury Park, NJ, you weren’t going to hear any complaints from me. Their two appearances, one in the early afternoon and one much later at night, covered a good chunk of their discography and included very few repeats. They garnered the most enthusiastic crowd reaction that I saw all day, which is pretty impressive considering they were competing with the likes of the Foo Fighters on the main stage.
4. The Gaslight Anthem at the Middle East Downstairs, July 22nd
The Gaslight Anthem is way too big to be playing a 550 capacity venue, but that didn’t stop them from doing a small club tour in advance of their new album Handwritten this summer. Their show at the Middle East featured a lot of old tracks, previews or a few new ones, and a whole lot of sweat.
5. Jack’s Mannequin at El Rey Theater, November 11th
The band’s final two shows acted as a benefit for the Dear Jack Foundation and helped to raise $50,000 for childhood cancer research. Andrew McMahon and company’s second to last show featured a very well crafted career spanning set list that even included Something Corporate favorite “Konstantine”
6. Crime In Stereo and I Am The Avalanche at Gramercy Theater, November 24th
Crime in Stereo quietly called it a day in 2010, leaving their fans with little information as to why they had broken up or what they planned to do next. Their 2012 reunion was as unexpected as their breakup, and their first show back proved they still had it. An adrenaline packed opening set from local favorites I Am the Avalanche started things off on the right foot, and had the crowd ready for what would be a memorable 90 minute performance from the headliners. Their set mirrored their discography in that it was as haunting as it was powerful. Frontman Kristian Hallbert danced in and out of the venue’s brilliant, bliding spotlights while the rest of the band tore through each song as if they had never been apart.
7. Coldplay at TD Garden, July 29th
Chris Martin and Co. returned to the Garden for two sold out shows that featured all of the theatrics you would expect for $130 a ticket. This included light-up bracelets that were handed out to everyone in the arena, which the band controlled to made the show look a whole lot like the recently completed Olympic Opening Ceremony.
8. Fun at House of Blues Boston, April 21st
It’s not very often that you get to watch a hardworking band get the attention that they deserve, but that’s exactly what happened to fun in 2012. After their excellent debut album Aim and Ignite was largely ignored, a Super Bowl ad and a few radio spins helped fun become one of the year’s best success stories, and they made a stop in Boston just as their stock was about to shoot through the roof. The crowd’s reaction to the band’s every move made it obvious that a sold out show at the House of Blues was just the start of something very big.
9. Frank Turner at Royale, September 6th
Frank Turner also had a standout 2012, shooting from cult favorite to rock radio staple. He would play two sold out shows at Royale in September, and the first proved that the success certainly hasn’t gone to his head. Turner and the Sleeping Souls played great mix of songs new and old and made sure they weren’t overshadowed by opening act Larry and his Flash, who had put on a great show in their own right.
10. Bouncing Souls at House of Blues Boston, August 4th
While a half empty House of Blues may seem like a strange location for a Bouncing Souls show, the surprising absence of both bouncers and a barrier in front of the stage made for the what was easily the craziest show I’ve been to at the venue since it opened four years ago. After an excellent opening set from the Menzingers, the Bouncing Souls took the stage for what at first seemed like a snooze fest, as the band debuted a number of tracks from their recently released album Comet. When fans realized there would be no repercussions for making their way on stage, the stage diving competition was in session for the rest of the show.
Very Honorable Mentions
Say Anything, Murder By Death, Fake Problems at House of Blues Boston
Neon Trees at the Paradise
The Killers at Agganis Arena
Andrew Jackson Jihad at TT the Bears
Joyce Manor at TT the Bears
The Gaslight Anthem have now churned out four outstanding full lengths in only five years, and this might be their best yet. It takes everything everyone loved from their earlier work, smooths out the rough edges, and turns the volume way up.
Now do you blow it out come Friday night?
See if you wanna, you can find me on the hood under the moonlight
Radio, oh radio, do you believe there’s still some magic left
Somewhere inside our souls? – “Howl”
While I would love to declare a tie for my favorite record of the year, I can’t do that, so I’ll have to relegate this masterpiece to second best. It is nearly perfect in all ways – from the deeply personal lyrics, to the dual vocal attack of Greg Barnett and Tom May, to the fact that it is such a huge improvement over it’s predecessor, 2010’s Champerlain Waits. This is the album that announces the arrival of one of today’s brightest up and coming acts.
Like when we would take rides
In your American muscle car
I felt American for once in my life
I never felt it again – “Good Things”
This band is huge for a reason. Some Nights is the rare album that makes a statement while still being extremely accessible. While every song sounds like it is being fueled by a mixture of cotton candy and sweet tarts, the lyrics hint at lead singer Nate Ruess’s struggles with his own past, high expectations, and society’s notions of what a rock band is supposed to be.
I was never one to believe the hype – save that for the black and white
I try twice as hard and I’m half as liked, but here they come again to jack my style – “Some Nights”
After the not-so-great Working On A Dream, Bruce and Co. came out swinging on Wrecking Ball and created an album that is as vital as anything the band has created over their 30+ year career.
Gambling man rolls the dice, working man pays the bills
It’s still fat and easy up on bankers hill
Up on bankers hill the party’s going strong
Down here below we’re shackled and drawn – “Shackled And Drawn”
While it might not be the most consistent album, Picture Shows standout tracks deliver on the promise the band displayed on their wildly success debute EP, Habits. “Everybody Talks” proved that good music can still make it’s way to the radio, but “Weekend” is the album’s best example of pop gold.
don’t you know how it feels
to get days and months and years
trapped inside a waking dream
I bet you you and I could sit back
tonight and try
to make it more than just a fantasy – “Weekend”
I like this album because POS makes it clear that he is mad at everyone and everything. It’s an album about the Occupy Movement from someone who hates the Occupy Movement.
Cool new blanket
Stole it from the shelf at the Walmart thankless
Threat level awesome
Threat level orange juice
Who’s gonna stop ’em
We ain’t gotta throw stones at a glass house
We break in, just so we can smash out
– “All Of It”
While they had a lot to live up to after their debut album made them an overnight sensation in the UK, they meet those exepcetions with Come of Age. It is therefore ironic that one of the album’s standout tracks (“No Hope”) is all about letting everyone down.
And I could make an observation,
If you want the voice of a generation,
but I’m too self-absorbed to give it clout. – “No Hope”
While Please Remain Calm certainly has some catchy tunes, it’s value lies in the lyrics. Vocalist Chris Martin and Co. are able to capture what it means to live in our Great Recession society better than any band I’ve heard.
Turned a circus for gamblers and gawkers and thieves.
When the word got around, we spilled out on the streets.
As the banks decorate every house in defeat. – “On Both Eyes”
The debut full-length from this English quintet is similar to Hostage Calm’s debut album in that what sets it apart from other releases is its lyrics. Lead singer James Mattock paints in broad strokes, leaving almost every song open to interpretation, proving there is much more to the record that the straight forward rock you’ll hear upon first listen.
We’re the overestimated underdogs
What you await from us, now you can get for yourself – “Til The Wonders Rise”
The Killers – Battle Born
While their last effort was dressed up with electronics and slick production, Battle Born returns to the stripped down rock and storytelling of 2006’s Sam’s Town. It may not be as radio-friendly as their earlier work, but tracks like bombastic lead single “Runaways” and “Miss Atomic Bomb” can still blow the roof off of any arena.
They say I’ll adjust
God knows I must
But I’m not sure how
This natural selection picked me out to be
A dark horse running in a fantasy
“Flesh And Bone”
Joyce Manor – Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired
Titus Andronicus – Local Business
Hot Water Music – Exister
Japandroids – Celebration Rock
Top Ten Songs of 2012:
1. The Menzingers – “Burn After Writing”
2. The Menzingers – “Good” Things”
3. Hostage Calm “On Both Eyes”
4. The Gaslight Anthem – “Howl”
5. Neon Trees – “Still Young”
6. The Vaccines “Teenage Icon”
7. Sharks “‘Til The Wonders Rise”
8. Japandroids “Continuous Thunder”
9. Bruce Springsteen – “Death To My Hometown”
10. Hot Water Music “State Of Grace”
Titus Andronicus “Still Life With Hot Deuce On Silver Platter”
The Rolling Stones – “One More Shot”
Neon Trees – “Weekend”
Blink-182 “Boxing Day”
The Gaslight Anthem – “Mulholland Drive”
Neon Tree – “Everybody Talks”
Morrissey – Wang Theater, Boston – October 5th, 2012
Morrissey has long been one of music’s most polarizing figures. To some,
he is a living legend and pop-culture icon. To others,
he is a self-absorbed ego maniac. Love him or loathe him,
you have to admit that part of Morrissey’s appeal lies in the fact that he is a
walking contradiction: a wildly successful rock star who sings
about misery and loneliness. That
contradiction is what brought thousands of adoring fans to Boston’s
striking Wang Theater to see the first date of Morrissey’s massive
North American tour. The trek will see him visit just about every major
and minor market across the country, culminating with a stop at the
Staples Center in Los Angeles.
While I’m not very well versed in the specifics of Morrissey’s set list
choices over the years, I do know that the former
Smiths frontman often sprinkles in a few choice cuts from his former
band. I also knew that he tends to stray away from the more
radio-friendly fare that helped make him a household name as a solo
artist in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
Beyond these unwritten rules, the possibilities seemed endless on the
first night of the tour. As Morrissey stepped out on to the stage
with his band following close behind, the crowd erupted. The cheers
got louder and louder as Morrissey calmly stepped to the front of the
stage to take a pre-show bow, and then kicked off the set with “You
Have Killed Me”.
From the very start, it was obvious that Morrissey had come to put on
a show, looking and sounding well rested and ready to tackle North
America for the first time in three years. He added a certain amount
of grit to his normally polished songs, often growling certain words
or lines for extra emphasis. His band was happy to play along, sounding
louder and heavier than on any recordings.
While the set was expertly performed, it would best be described as
“uneven” in terms of song selection and pacing. More upbeat fare
(maybe upbeat isn’t the word) such as “Every Day Is Like A Sunday” and
“I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris” garnered huge reactions from the
crowd and were some of the best moments of the set. However, most of
these songs came at the start of the night.
The show lost a good deal of momentum in the middle of the 90 minute set, as the
band strung together the quartet of “Last Night I Dreamt That Someone
Loved Me”, “Fantastic Bird”, “People Are The Same Everywhere”, ” And
“Meat Is Murder”. The latter featured a graphic animal cruelty video projected on the backdrop.
At that point, the crowd was getting anxious.
Morrissey and crew then segued into “Scandanavia,” which was one of four
songs that the band played that hadn’t been include on any other 2012 set list.
Following this, Morrissey broke out the Smith’s classic “I Know It’s
Over”, which sounded absolutely perfect and helped to revitalize the
crowd. The set would then close with “I’m OK By Myself”, the last
track from his most recent album, 2009’s excellent “Years of Refusal”.
By this point, many of those who had front row seats were rushing the
stage, and while the crew did their best to repel them, a few
did slip by to score an awkward embrace with the man himself.
After a short break, Morrissey and the band returned to the stage for
a one song encore, the Smiths track “How Soon Is Now”. Stretching nearly seven minutes long, the song gave the overly eager fans at the front another chance to bum-rush the stage, and they certainly took advantage of it.
At the conclusion of the song, Morrissey and the band joined arms and
took a post-show bow.
While the set certainly was not the feel good event of the year, most
fans got exactly what they were looking for out of this performance.
Both Morrissey’s vocals and his band were spot-on, and his stage
presence is unmatched. While this was far from a greatest hits set, it did represent a good
cross section of Morrissey’s career. While this appealed to the many
die-hard fans in attendance, the show probably wouldn’t win
over anyone who had been on the fence, but most of those people probably
made up their minds on Morrissey years ago.
2012 brought big changes to New Jersey’s Bamboozle Festival, as organizers decided to go “back to the beach” by moving the three day event from the Meadowlands parking lots to Asbury Park, where it was originally conceived as Skate and Surf Festival in 2003. While Bamboozle isn’t considered to be a top tier festival like Cochella or Lollapollza, the event has grown its audience and stature in recent years by diversifying their lineup and straying from the original alternative and punk scene.
For this year’s festival, organizers secured two of the most successful commercial rock bands of the past two decades, in the Foo Fighters and Bon Jovi, as well as up and coming electronic act Shrillexs.
I attended the event on Saturday, which featured the most traditional Bamboozle lineup, and was headlined by Dave Grohl and Co. There was quite a bit of uncertainty going into the festival, especially regarding the logistical issues that had originally forced the move north to the Meadlowlands.
A seaside setting could help raise the profile of the festival and provide it with a signature element, but Asbury Park simply wasn’t build to accommodate tens of thousands of visitors on any given day. Many saw the festival as a nightmare waiting to happen, but as it would turn out, music took center stage and all of those major concerns became an afterthought.
As organizers had encouraged, we arrived at the festival just after doors opened by taking the train. The last time I had been to Asbury Park was for a Bouncing Souls show in December. At that point the crumbling beach town had been more of a ghost town. With perfect temperate and bright sunlight, the streets were filled with thousands of fans making their way to the main gates, that were just off the North Beach boardwalk.
The first band of interest was Motion City Soundtrack, who were inexplicably playing their first of two sets on the day. If they were conserving their energy for later, it certainly didn’t show. The group’s forty minute set was a mix of material from their four albums and also featured a new song titled “True Romance ” from their newly released album Go. The crowd loved every minute of the set, and it was likely that most would be back for round two later that night.
After this, we made our way over to the main stage, passing a number of vendors and clothing companies along the way. Everything seemed to be standard fare until we actually caught site of the stage. Simply put, it was enormous.
The stage was set up to straddle the famous boardwalk, meaning thousands of fans could take a seat on the beach to watch while thousands of others crowded the boardwalk itself and the space off to the side.
Perched on the boardwalk at least two football fields away from the stage, we could barely make out the figures of the All American Rejects as they performed “Swing, Swing”. Standing so far away, it was hard to believe you were at a rock concert, even with sound being piped through massive speakers that nearly stretched all the way to the Convention Hall hundreds of yards away.
After sneaking our way much closer to the stage, we watched both Jimmy Eat World and My Chemical Romance perform very solid sets that drew a great reaction from the huge crowd. My Chemical Romance was subbing for Blink-182, who had to cancel their appearance due to a Travis Barker medical emergency. Their dark songs certainly don’t beg to be played loudly on a beach in blinding sunlight, but tracks like “Famous Last Words” still had the crowd fist pumping in unison.
After My Chemical Romance, the Foo Fighters were ready to take the stage. If it sounds like this day was moving quickly, it’s because it was. The headliners were set to perform on Saturday Night Live later in the evening, and were therefore scheduled to perform a two hour set beginning at 7:30, meaning they started before the sun had set.
The band took control of the stage as only the most seasoned arena rock veterans can; they sounded miles bigger and better than the main stage acts that had proceeded them. Frontman Dave Grohl ran from one side of the stage to the other, reving up the adoring crowd that responded in kind to every hit the band pumped out.
The five piece mixed career spanning hit singles with tracks from the latest album Wasting Light, which has spurred a number of hit singles itself.
While the other main stage acts had kept between song banter to a minimum, Grohl interacted with the crowd in between each song, even joking that “this is a bit smaller than most of the gigs we play, but that’s ok.” Even as we walked to find a concession stand, the blare of the band was nearly inescapable throughout the grounds.
After about an hour of watching the Foo Fighters, we headed back to the Zumiez stage hoping to catch a few songs from the reunited Promise Ring. When we arrived Hot Water Music was just finishing up their set with “Wayfarers,” and it appeared that Bouncing Souls lead singer Greg Antonik was on stage along with them.
After a twenty minute wait, the Promise Ring took the stage to some polite applause from the decently sized crowd. They were a half hour late, so it appeared that many of the fans had headed over early for the second Motion City Soundtrack set. While the emo pioneers sounded solid, their brand of straight up Midwestern rock didn’t seem to be what the crowd was looking for. Even the very topical “Jersey Shore” didn’t receive much of a reaction.
At one point, fireworks began exploding in the distance, leading frontman Davey von Bohlen to curse Dave Grohl, his fireworks, and his “beautiful hair.” The band would play nine songs in all, closing with “Forget Me.” The Promise Ring would go on to play a headlining show at Irving Plaza the next night, which undoubtedly featured a more enthusiastic crowd.
To close out the night, Motion City Soundtrack took the stage one again, 35 minutes after they were originally schedule. Save for three songs, they played an entirely different set list, beginning with “Cambridge” and then transitioning straight into “Everything Is Alright.”
At this point, you might expect most of the fans to be exhausted and ready to take it easy. This was not the case. Early in the set, frontman Justin Pierre admitted that his ideal crowd would be a stationary one, but despite this, he still egged on the constant stream of crowd surfers that made their way over the barrier.
The band would play twelve songs in all to close out the night – ending on a high note with “Everything Is Alright. Surprisingly, Pierre never mentioned the band was making their second appearance, and for someone who has had a few vocal issues in the past, his second performance of the day was as good, if not better than the first.
As the night came to a close, the exhausted crowd then made their way through the gates and onto Ocean Avenue. The lucky few that had scored tickets to the after-party headlined by Brand New headed to the Stone Pony, while others headed to venues like the Convention Hall or Wonder Bar for slightly less exciting after parties. I for one, was ready to head back to the hotel. After about an hour wait, we caught the train back to our stop in Red Bank and called it a day.
Overall, the move to Asbury Park seems to have been a huge success. The Saturday lineup was stellar as usual and all reports say that Sunday’s acts were just as well received. While holding such a large festival on the beach sounds like a logistical nightmare, every aspect of the day seem to go off without a hitch. The organizers have set the bar high – and are going to go even bigger next year.