Broments, 2012. (or This Year-End Blog is Mostly Top Tens and Photos)
This annual blog post which began on MySpace, shifted to tumblr and has now found its home at my own site hosted by WordPress has been detailed, hopeful, resilient and depressing over the last three years. But, as I said last year, that was a trilogy. And the trilogy reached its conclusion in 2011. There were Ewoks.
There isn’t much to note of life and how I lived it in 2012. Things reached normalcy? Well, a normalcy that involves maintaining an incredibly busy schedule packed with rock and roll, the amazing friends that I have been very fortunate to surround myself with and, I think, an accomplished career.
And I won’t wax poetic about that. This has kind of become my annual Christmas card. My “The weather is here, wish you were beautiful.” A little update on me. I’ll offer my top ten records, my top ten shows, a collection of the work I did this year at Birmingham Box Set on al.com and some of my favorite photos from the year. Enjoy.
Top Ten Records of 2012
10. Imagine Dragons: Night Visions – I’m certain this is a selection for which I will receive grief from music elitists. But it’s my list. This is one of several records on the list that I got on late. It’s fun. And not the band fun., but rather catchy, indie-pop.
9. Alabama Shakes: Boys and Girls – There was some fatigue with Athens, Alabama’s Alabama Shakes this year. In a circle of bros that has been familiar with the band since last year’s Booze Cruise in Tuscaloosa, we’ve seen them rise from making a couple of hundred dollars for playing on a boat to bringing down the house at the Bama Theatre to bringing an elbow-to-elbow crowd to the second stage at Hangout to opening for Neil Young and Crazy Horse. It’s been a wild ride for the band. I nearly excluded this record, one that earned the band a Grammy nomination, simply because of exhaustion. But that’s unfair, because it’s terrific. And when I recall those earlier live shows in smaller rooms and that feeling the first time I heard Brittany Howard (above), I have to remember that it deserves inclusion.
Earlier this year, I spoke to my good friend Bo Hicks, the mayor of Tuscaloosa’s music scene, about his relationship with the band and their efforts to contribute to Habitat for Humanity’s relief efforts in Tuscaloosa. The band made a return visit in November to Egan’s in secrecy, a show I chose to miss (in part because of the aforementioned exhaustion, in part because I had no idea I was going to see a train wreck for the ages in the Japandroids). The band is grounded. They’re from near my hometown. They still put on a terrific show. And they made a terrific record that was one of the most anticipated I’ve ever seen.
8. Grimes: Visions – You know, I don’t know why I liked this record a lot, but I did. I hate that I missed her set at BottleTree, but it’s difficult to have a better excuse (David Byrne/St. Vincent, the Ryman, meeting David Byrne).
7. Father John Misty – It’s simple. Really great lyrics. The singer/songwriter type turned indie? So does that make this Josh Ritter? I’m not sure. But I liked it.
6. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit: Live in Alabama – I hate including live records, reissues and greatest hits packages. But I do so here for a very specific reason: I was at both of the shows.
Kidding. I was, but I include this record in the top ten of 2012 because this record, whether consciously or subconsciously, allowed one of my favorite artists to accomplish something very important – reclaiming gorgeous material that he wrote with the Drive-By Truckers as his own. The band has always played tunes like “Outfit,” “G**D**** Lonely Love” and “Danko/Manuel” live, but as evidence by their appearance on Late Show with David Letterman this month, this recording gave this band a chance to own these songs. And I think that was very important. I also know the guy playing trombone on the record.
I saw Isbell several times this year in several capacities. I spoke to him about a massive year that began last December at WorkPlay as Paul Shaffer showed to play keys. That interview was before his solo acoustic set with his fiance, Amanda Shires, at Alys Stephens Center. I recapped that show on the blog, and I also recapped the weekend show in August that created this recording.
5. Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires: There is a Bomb in Gilead – Noticing a theme? Yes, there are three Alabama records on the list so far, but it was a great year for music in this state. It was a big year for my acquaintance Lee, too. The band received attention from Rolling Stone and spent time opening for the Alabama Shakes. The record isn’t close to a representation of the band’s live performance, but both are uniquely perfect.
I spoke to Lee earlier this year. In the same small world that created a personal friendship with half of Jason Isbell’s present or past horn sections, the first LBIII music video was directed and produced by Cory Pennington, who literally grew up across the street from me in Rogersville, Alabama. The Alabama music scene is a small world. Below, me, Cory and James Blankenship had an opportunity to hang out at Egan’s in Tuscaloosa. I believe this was after the show that LBIII opened for the Alabama Shakes and the Dexateens this Spring. Cory has pretty horrible redeye. Whatever. Not fixing it.
4. Twin Shadow: Confess – This record caught me off guard. It spent a lot of time this year on my turntable after seeing the band with Niki & the Dove at BottleTree in September. The show was phenomenal, and I hated that I was forced to cut it from my top ten shows of the year. In a year when I finally watched Drive, this record felt like the soundtrack. I don’t know if it is self-aware, but I don’t care. It beautifully wove the irony of nostalgia with an authentically great record.
3. Jack White: Blunderbuss – I saw Jack White twice this year. Once was the second ever solo show at WorkPlay, while above is his headlining set at Hangout. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this record, but I think it will lead to Jack’s best work yet. The hidden gem is the B-Side it produced, a cover of U2’s Love is Blindness.
2. Japandroids: Celebration Rock – This record was at the top of this list until this week. What an effort. And I’ve never seen the bizarre dichotomy of this record’s brilliance and what we got at their live performance at BottleTree in November. I spoke to vocalist Brian King before the show. He was terrific. But, apparently, “medication from a sinus infection” caused extremely erratic behavior on stage. After successfully completing an approximation of six songs in 45 minutes, King exited the stage with his drummer advising the band couldn’t carry on and offering an apology.
A shame, because I had high hopes for the translation of this work to stage. “A birdie” tells me the band intends to make up the performance. I rather enjoyed it, though, as I’ve never quite seen anything like it. Thousands of shows. This was a first. Regardless of how bad it became, the record is brilliant. “The House that Heaven Built” and “Fire’s Highway” are enough to put this on top.
1. Tame Impala: Lonerism – A late charge. I hadn’t heard the record, despite the encouragement of a good friend to do so. I checked it out this week and I’m hooked. Absolutely hooked. It’s melodic and abstract. It’s Beach Boys and Radiohead. It’s ambient background music that you can sing-a-long with. This record is why headphones were invented. Listening to it made me want to buy betters ones. I’m eager to get it on vinyl, and I am now considering making the trip to Athens to see them in February. I love this record, and it’s not something I would typically love.
Top Ten Concerts of 2012
This list is largely comprised of shows and moments that have little chance of happening again. Having been to thousands of shows over the last decade, I’ve reached a point where the most memorable efforts are unique. As my friend Greg pointed out, this may be more fairly labeled as an amalgamation of moments AND performances. It’s my list, and I’m fine with that.
10. Reel Big Fish, The Masquerade, Atlanta – Reel Big Fish was as much a part of grades 8 – 12 to me as the Beastie Boys, Blink-182, Less Than Jake and Rage Against the Machine. They’ve always put on an amazing show, and this was no exception. Making the trip with my friend Rick Muscles proved interesting, and Rick would be a part of more shows on this list than anyone.
This trip included a stop at Murder Kroger, a location written about by the band Attractive 80’s Women. I bought a sandwich there and ate half of it in the parking lot. It was very big, so I ate the other half at home in Birmingham that night. I still think about that sandwich a lot.
9. The Gaslight Anthem, DeLuna Festival, Pensacola – My other pal Greg and I had situated ourselves in the pit for the first act we’d see at DeLuna Festival. Parking was a nightmare. We were running a bit late. I was aggravated. But I am a massive fan of Gaslight Anthem, and I had never had a chance to see them live. As we made our way this close, things began to improve.
Then, Brian Fallon said, paraphrased: “No one gets a free ride here. We came to work. So if someone is here, we may as well put him to work.”
He introduced Eddie Vedder to the stage, and the above photo is not enlarged to show detail. I was that close, and there were that few people around. The band performed State of Love and Trust with Vedder. It was phenomenal, and the most surprising moment of any festival I attended this year.
8. The Hold Steady, BottleTree Cafe, Birmingham – The Brodeo to end all Brodeos. Bros like The Hold Steady. I like The Hold Steady. The Hold Steady is one of my favorite bands. Joey and I once drove to Memphis to see The Hold Steady. The band is perfect live. And this show came as a bit of surprise. It was announced quickly and happened quickly.
It came on the same night at Sleigh Bells at WorkPlay, a show most everyone had already planned to see. This announcement quickly changed that.
I spoke to Craig Finn, a musical hero and a really terrific guy. Talking to someone you admire that much about R.E.M. and baseball is an unforgettable experience. We met Craig after the show and posed for the photo above.
Somewhat related, I also had a chance to speak to Derek Miller of Sleigh Bells.
7. The Polyphonic Spree, BottleTree Cafe, Birmingham – I told everyone this would be an unforgettable BottleTree experience. Some scoffed. But any time 21 people are crammed onto that tiny stage, special things happen.
6. Mavis Staples, Hangout Festival, Gulf Shores – There was a moment on Sunday afternoon at Hangout. I was “hanging out” with one of my sweetest and dearest friends, Mel. There was a little shade and the most amazing gulf breeze had blown into the media area overlooking the stage. The crowd was embarrassing. But when Staples chose that moment to perform The Weight, nothing else mattered in the world. A really surreal four minutes that I will never forget, and four of my favorite minutes from the entire year. I wrote about the show here.
5. Daphne Willis, Kevin Griffin (of Better Than Ezra), Jim Lauderdale and John Oates (of Hall and Oates), Hard Rock Cafe’s Tin Pan Alley, Nashville – Each of the last two years, I have traveled to Nashville with Blair for Show Choir Nationals. I’ve spent much of those trips exploring Nashville alone as she has a lot of actual work to do. On this occasion, I stumbled on an acoustic, “Storytellers” type performance on the second floor of the Hard Rock Cafe, overlooking Broadway. No more than 200 people were packed into this room.
I’m legitimately a big fan of Better Than Ezra, however much credibility that loses me. Beyond their mainstream success, they’ve continued to write really brilliant pop rock songs. As I learned during this performance, Griffin actually penned the hit Stuck Like Glue for Sugarland (a band I have a past with, having once booked a band in college to open for the Jennifer Nettles Band in Columbus, Ga.)
Some bro started talking to me and wanted me to promote his band. He’s actually photobombing myself and Oates in the photo above. And when the show was over, I had a chance to hang out with my old friend Zach Gooch and his wife Lisa. Zach and I worked some terrific years together at Wherehouse Music in Florence. He’s an incredibly gifted musician that has performed trumpet with Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit.
4. Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires, Alabama Shakes, Dexateens, Bama Theatre, Tuscaloosa – One of those magical concert experiences. A brodeo. Three of the finest Alabama-bred bands to ever play dirty Southern rock. Beers.
It was the last time I saw Alabama Shakes with the vibrant energy that made them what they became. It was sweaty. It was loud.
My friend Bo Hicks came out to play the bongos as he is wont to do. But the moment most will always remember here is during the Dexateens set. Matt Patton had been touring as the Drive-By Truckers bassist in the wake of Shonna Tucker’s departure from the band. He was supposed to return in plenty of time for the show, but his flight was delayed in Memphis. Matt rented a car and drove the rest of the way in, walking on stage mid-song and taking over his bass. He never missed a beat.
It was this show, as mentioned above, that helped build a house for Habitat for Humanity.
3. Foo Fighters, DeLuna Festival, Pensacola – I’m not going to say anything about the Foo Fighters that you don’t know. And I guess there wasn’t much that separated this show from the previous year’s beach show in Gulf Shores. But it was one of the last public shows the band played before taking an indefinite hiatus, I was in the pit and it featured guest appearances from Bob Mould of Husker Du and Joan Jett, to whom Dave Grohl sang “Happy Birthday.”
2. David Byrne & St. Vincent, Ryman Auditorium, Nashville – I met David Byrne. He was the lead singer of the Talking Heads. It was super rad.
Joey, Rick and I made the trip to Nashville for this unique show. While we were at a Broadway bar, Joey stepped out of the back door into the alley between the back side of the Ryman. He ran inside, demanding that David Byrne was standing in the alley. We chuckled, but we reluctantly went outside to see if he was lying.
He was not.
David Byrne was alone, unloading his bicycle from beneath his tour bus. We stood, awkwardly, wondering if we should bother him. Those 90 seconds seemed like an eternity, the three of us alone with David Byrne in an alley afraid to make any sudden moves. But it wasn’t long before a group of 5-10 began to gather and pose for photos. I didn’t hesitate, jumping in to allow Rick to take this photo.
The show was equally terrific, and I continue to be amazed by St. Vincent. In many other years, her own performance at Bonnaroo would have made this list.
1. Van Halen, Philips Arena, Atlanta – This will get me booed. Whatever. Don’t care.
When I began thinking of what I would do with this list, possibly as far back as a month ago, this was the first thing that came to mind. Rick and I made the trip for a show that saw ticket prices plummet on the secondary market. Kool and the Gang opened, and that was beyond absurd. Think about that.
Van Halen has long been near the top of my bucket list. It was the type of show I had vowed to spend whatever necessary to see. Van Halen’s 1984 was the first rock cassette I ever stole from my dad. I was 6 or 7. Panama and Jump were among my first introduction to rock and roll, along with Huey Lewis and the News, before I rediscovered it on my own terms in middle school.
David Lee Roth was sober. The set was very simple, just the band backed by a massive video screen. It was a hit parade. It was big. It was dumb. It was nostalgic. It was rock and roll. Years of expectations for seeing this show were not let down, but rather, exceeded. That week, the band announced a later tour date in Birmingham, which gave us a bit of buyer’s remorse. That show and many others were later canceled, and I’m very fortunate I had an opportunity to catch this before it was too late. There’s no promise of it happening again.
Honorable Mentions (in no order): Godspeed! You Black Emperor (BottleTree Cafe) – Ben Folds Five (Bonnaroo) – Jack White (WorkPlay) – Drive-By Truckers (two nights at WorkPlay) – Chris Cornell (Hangout) – Steve Winwood (Hangout) – Allie Wong, Kyle Kinane, Pete Holmes, Brian Posehn (Bonnaroo, Comedy Tent) – Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit (two nights at WorkPlay and Crossroads, Huntsville) – Twin Shadow & Niki and the Dove)
The list of bands that didn’t make either of these lists is staggering. It includes: Radiohead, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Bon Iver, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam, Jimmy Buffet, Alison Krauss and Union Station, Jane’s Addiction, Wilco, Beach House, Flaming Lips, The Roots, Alice Cooper, KISS, Motley Crue, Old Crow Medicine Show, The Lumineers, Sleigh Bells, Dwight Yoakam and Louis C.K., among others.
Other works from 2012 at Birmingham Box Set:
And last but not least, the entire recap from Bonnaroo
I would be remiss to not mention the successful efforts this year of College and Magnolia, a blog that I co-founded, to become the official Auburn blog for SBNation. I also can’t omit another successful year for our syndicated radio show, Eyes on Auburn, heard in Birmingham, Mobile, Huntsville, Montgomery and Auburn. It’s been an honor to work with my friends Justin Hokanson and Rob Pate over the last two years on this show, and I’m eager to see what the future brings.
I also can’t not mention an amazing show to celebrate my 30th birthday on August 24. My friends Death in the Park headlined a bill with The Green Seed, Kill Baby…Kill!, Fistful of Beard and Alexa Rankin. I got 45 kinds of intoxicated, I was surrounded by a lot of great people (two of whom had to carry me home, quite literally) and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. If I have failed to apologize to you for that night, consider this the apology. But my goodness, it was amazing. And I’m very fortunate to have had the opportunity to have celebrated my third decade at BottleTree Cafe, one of the finest venues in America, with the music of some very good friends.
Ken Ard officially became a convicted felon this year! That was really cool. He has a massive alimony, payed a massive restitution, lost his job and he can no longer vote! I really enjoyed this moment of 2012. A lot.
I guess that’s it. I’ll leave with a small collection of some of my other favorite photos from 2012, not already put in this post. There’s no order or explanation. Some of the people have some level of fame. Some are some of the best people I have ever known. Here’s to the friends that made this year amazing, and here’s to doing it all again now that we have survived an apocalypse. Cheers.