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”
FUN. is having the type of year that defines the term “breakout year”. The band has seen their single “We Are Young” soar to the top of the pop charts after being featured on an episode of Glee and in a Super Bowl commercial.”We Are Young” became the first rock track to hit #1 since Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” in 2008, an astonishing feat when you consider that rock radio stations continue to disappear, making it much harder for bands like FUN. to enjoy this type of crossover success.
Of course, the good times don’t stop there for the trio of Nate Ruess, Andrew Dost, and Jack Antonoff. The band’s new album Some Nights has received positive reviews from fans and critics alike, and their North American tour has become one of spring’s hottest tickets.
Many of those who have been exposed to “We Are Young’s” gigantic hook, FUN. is just the latest overnight pop sensation – a studio creation that is probably the result of focus groups and million dollar producers.They’ll enjoy their 15 minutes of fame, make Live Nation a few bucks through VIP packages at some cheesy radio festival, and then be forgotten by this time next year.
The crowd that gathered at the House of Blues knew that this wasn’t the case. Unlike the upstart pop stars many would compare them to, Dost, Ruess, and Antonoff have toiled in relative obscurity for the better part of a decade in a number of different projects, never seeing the success they deserved.
Ruess had started as the lead singer of cult favorites The Format from 1999 through their breakup in 2008, and helped create one of the greatest pop-rock records of all time in 2006’s Dog Problems. While The Format certainly played their share of sold-out shows, they never saw the type of commercial success that many (including their record label) expected from them.
Antonoff, meanwhile, has played guitar in Steel Train since 2002. Like the Format, Steel Train has released a number of excellent albums to little fanfare. In fact, the band’s biggest tours have been slots opening for FUN. and The Format. Dost, meanwhile, earned his stripes as a member of Anathallo, an indie band that some worshiped and others just didn’t get (I fall into the later category).
All the while, the trio had built a small but dedicated fan base that would become the foundation of FUN’s breakthrough. These fans had snatched up all of the tickets early, and were ready to sing every word, whether it be to “We Are Young”, “The Gambler” from their debut album, or even their cover of the Rolling Stones “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”
Ruess’s booming, theatrical voice and commanding stage presence made every song seem like an event. From the opening notes of “One Foot” through the end of the 75-minute set, the band was loud, energetic, and pretty much spot-on. Ruess and Antonoff are both well versed at mugging for the (iphone) camera, and the risers positioned at the front of the stage didn’t hurt. Ruess, sporting Rajon Rondo’s green Celtics jersey jumped up on one of the three black boxes to hold the mic out to the crowd and let them shout the chorus back to him on a number of occasions . He repeatedly thanked those in attendance and praised Boston for being so great to him over the years.
The setlist seemed evenly split between tracks from their current album and 2009’s Aim and Ignite. The band closed the show with an encore of “Some Nights,” and “Take Your Time.” The former will be the band’s next single, and could very well prolong the band’s chart dominance for another few months. After this, FUN. (apparently) came back out for a second encore consisting of “Be Calm” and “All Alright.” Seeing as I missed this second encore, I would like to say that second encores are ridiculous and should be outlawed
Aside from the missed opportunity at the end, this was one of the more exciting shows I’ve witnessed in a long time. To see a band explode from cult favorites to mainstreams stars is something that just doesn’t happen all that often. When it does, you hope it will happen to a deserving group that has paid their dues, and FUN. certainly fits that description. Only time will tell if the commercial success will continue, but one thing is for sure, and that is that the band’s dedicated fans will stick around for a long time – meaning FUN. is likely to be anything but a flash in the pan.
“On this tour we were looking to play in the smallest and most intimate venue in Boston…. And I think we found it”
To say the Paradise Rock club is a little too small for a band like Jack’s Mannequin would be quite the understatement. The band normally plays venues four to five times larger than this minuscule Boston music hall, and it was this setting, along with a great set list and strong performance from the band that would make this night special for those lucky enough to be in attendance.
While we weren’t able to catch the first act, Treaty of Paris, we were lucky enough to see FUN, the new project from former Format front man Nate Ruess. Now, if you’re not familiar with the Format and you like good music, you should become familiar with them as soon as humanly possible, because they were fantastic. You might be thinking that this paragraph contains a lot of F’s, but FUN’s set definitely deserves an A. The band, which was performing acoustic (but not solo), played two Format songs, a handful of originals, and a cover of Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen.” The two Format songs played were “The First Single” and “She Doesn’t Get It,” both of which inspired many in the audience to sing along. The new FUN songs sounded similar to Ruess’s older work, but with such a distinct voice, it would be difficult not to. The crowd responded well to the set, often clapping along at the urging of Ruess, who said it was necessary to make up for the lack of a drummer. Based on this performance, I am already expecting quite a bit from FUN’s debut record, which is due early next year.
While FUN was a nice treat, the real stars of the show were up next, and they were Andrew McMahon and the rest of Jack’s Mannequin. Going into the night, I thought I knew what to expect. I had seen the band in August opening for Paramore, and I felt they were great live. However, I was not prepared for just how good they would be in an intimate setting like this. From the very start, the set felt different than any of my previous show experiences. While I’ve seen plenty of great bands play in very small places, this is the first one that I felt could have been occurring in my own living room. While I don’t have an older brother, and my family never had a piano, I might as well have been sitting on the couch listening to that older brother debuting his newest material and telling me all of his touring stories for good measure.
While Andrew was very talkative throughout the set and often made it a point to make eye contact with those in the audience, it was obviously the music that took center stage. McMahon commented that the band had booked such small venues so they could play their new songs before small and appreciative audiences, and that they did. The set kicked off with Crashing and Spinning, the first two tracks from The Glass Passenger. The songs inspired bobbing heads and polite applause, but it was “The Mix Tape” which finally got the crowd shouting along. The band continued to play two Glass Passenger songs and then an Everything in Transit song for most of the set. Some of the new songs, most notably “Swim” were even more impressive in this setting than they are on the CD, while others such as “Annie Get Your Telescope” seemed to temporarily dampen the energy in the room.
If you’ve ever seen Andrew McMahon perform live, you know how much he puts into each show, pounding on the keys and bouncing between his two mics. On this night he also worked in a few trips to the top of his piano and took the opportunity to interact with the crowd as much as possible, throwing paper airplanes and even jokingly (I think) chiding one fan for shouting out song requests. The highlights of the first part of the set included “Holiday From Real,” which Andrew began with just a piano melody before the entire band stepped in for the first chorus. “Bloodshot” and “Dark Blue” were also show stoppers and received huge reactions from the crowd. The band closed the set with a stirring rendition of “Caves.”
After what was a very short break, the band returned to the stage. Andrew began the encore by explaining why encores are the worst idea in rock music today, saying “even if you had been booing and throwing food, we still would have come out here and played more songs.” He then explained how a few fans he met before the show had demanded an MGMT cover, and the band granted this request, playing “Electric Feel.” The song wasn’t exactly well received by the crowd, but that was ok, because the rest of the encore surely made up for it. The band decided to play “What Gets You Off,” followed by “Cavanaugh Park,” a fan favorite from McMahon’s old band, Something Corporate. While neither song was typical encore fare, they were both great choices.
Jack’s Mannequin ended the set with two of their signature songs, current single “The Resolution,” and then Everything in Transit’s “La La Lie.” Both songs received huge reactions from the crowd, and served as the perfect culmination to a great performance. While Andrew’s sickness did not allow Jack’s Mannequin to tour in the months following the release of Everything in Transit, they are certainly taking advantage of the opportunity this time around. While it may have been tempting to play huge venues and sell as many tickets as possible, there are clear advantages to playing small clubs like this, for not only was the crowd having a great time, but it certainly seemed like the band was as well.
The Mixed Tape
Holiday From Real
Annie Use Your Telescope
Hammers and Strings
Electric Feel (MGMT cover)
What Gets You Off
La La Lie