Concerts of the Year 2016
These were, in my humble opinion, the ten best concerts that I saw this year in America. Only one of them was in Birmingham. I’m sorry.
10. Stroke 9. GobbleJam. Marple Sports Arena. Broomall, Pennsylvania. 11.12.16. Donald Trump had just been elected president and I was beat up about it, man. On top of that, my car had died and I knew that when I returned from Pennsylvania, I was going to be buying a new one. Before scheduling the trip to the Prairie Home Companion taping, I had looked to see what else might be happening that weekend and a band I had been dying to see play some random venue – like, I don’t know, an ice skating rink 30 miles outside of Philadelphia – since 2001, was playing an ice skating rink 30 miles outside of Philadelphia. Headlining GobbleJam. And it was exactly what you would think that late 90s two hit wonders Stroke 9 playing an ice skating rink 30 miles outside of Philadelphia would be.
They had two dates that I can find this year; this one and one the next night at Eddie’s Attic in Atlanta. At this one, 100 bros or maybe more pumped their fists and sang their lungs out to songs that they loved in high school. I got a hot dog and some cheese sticks from the concession stand at the ice skating rink because we didn’t have time to eat after Prairie Home Companion. Everything doesn’t have to be Radiohead. This wasn’t. But it was the dumbest fun I had at a show this year, and it happened at a time when I really needed dumb fun in my life.
9. Paul Simon. BJCC Concert Hall. Birmingham, Ala. 5.4.16. Paul Simon is 74 now, and he put out a really great record this year. He’s not gonna be praised for it, because we expect Paul Simon to do that. We take it for granted. His show at the Concert Hall was my favorite in Birmingham this year. There was nothing earth shattering here, really, just Paul Simon putting on a flawless Paul Simon show. At 74; still crazy after all these years.
8. Huey Lewis and the News perform “Sports” (30th Anniversary). Shaky Knees Festival. Atlanta, Ga. 5.14.16. The first two cassette tapes I stole from my dad were Van Halen’s “1984” and Huey Lewis and the News’s “Sports.” This year’s Shaky Knees lineup was amazing, but this was the thing that I was most looking forward to, and it didn’t disappoint.
7. Pearl Jam. Bonnaroo. Manchester, Tenn. 6.11.16. Pearl Jam is one of my favorite bands of all time and they played a really great Pearl Jam show at Bonnaroo; maybe one of the best Pearl Jam shows I’ve seen. It was really late because the festival was delayed around two hours because of rain and a pregnant woman in the pit at a Pearl Jam show at Bonnaroo at midnight asked me to stop smoking a cigarette,* which was one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever heard.**
* I stopped smoking on my 34th birthday in August. Yay me!
** It would have been the funniest thing I ever heard if on the same trip I had not gone into a CVS with Rick Muscles and had a conversation with a cashier named Brandon who said that he had stage one kidney failure because he drank 28 Sun Drops a day. Just remarkable, Brandon. I have a lot of questions, but mostly, how do you time it out right when purchasing the Sun Drops?
6. AC/DC with Axl Rose. Philips Arena. 9.1.16. In the worst year of my lifetime, who would have ever imagined that Axl Rose would get his shit together? The most remarkable thing about this show – one of a small handful of shows that Axl Rose filled in for Brian Johnson on lead vocals for makeup dates – is that Axl Rose was FINE playing second fiddle to Angus Young. This was STILL Angus’s show and Axl was just doing his job. And it sounded amazing. Really. I flew to Boston last year to see AC/DC because I feared my time was running out. And maybe it did run out. But this version of this band was a LOT of fun.
5. Mariah Carey performs “All I Want for Christmas is You.” Beacon Theatre. New York City, New York. 12.10.16. This year, I moved into a new place on a whim. And I made room in my heart for Christmas spirit. I spun Christmas records around my Christmas tree and I wrapped presents and splurged on a few big ones and I tried to find that happiness I had as a kid again. And I did. And in the middle of it, I went to New York City at Christmas for the first time and I saw the Rockettes and the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree and the store windows on Fifth Avenue and I watched Mariah Carey perform Christmas songs and it was one of the happiest things I had felt in a long time. Along with Axl Rose, it’s wild that Mariah Carey was one of the level-headed ones in this godforsaken year.
4. A Prairie Home Companion with Chris Thile featuring Jason Isbell, Angelique Kidjo and Billy Collins with Richard Dworsky, Stuart Duncan, Chris Eldridge, Greg Garrisom, Lydia Rogers, Serena Brook, Tim Russell and Fred Newman. Philadelphia Academy of Music. Philadelphia, Penn. 11.12.16. Again, on the weekend after we elected Donald Trump as president, this performance concluded with the entire group (shown above) performing “This Land Is a Your Land,” and that was remarkably therapeutic.
3. Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit. Red Rocks. Morrison, Colorado. 9.14.16. I was streaming the Alabama Shakes/Drive-By Truckers show from Red Rocks last August and I told my then girlfriend, “I’m going to Red Rocks. Sometime. I guess it’ll be when Jason plays out there, but I’m going.” And that November, he played a Denver show and announced on Twitter, “We’ll see y’all next year at Red Rocks!” So, welp – I reckon I wasn’t gonna let me down.
Red Rocks is every single thing you think it’s going to be and more. And this was one of those nights that I felt like Isbell chose a very specific setlist to say very specific things. It was wonderful, and now we await that show at The Gorge.
2. Guns ‘N Roses. Nissan Stadium. Nashville, Tenn. 7.9.16. GnFnR absolutely slayed. We were on the floor. They played two and half hours and Axl’s voice sounded terrific and Guns ‘N Roses was the thing that went right this year.
1. Dolly Parton. Infinite Energy Center. Duluth, Ga. 6.4.16. – AND – Dolly Parton. Von Braun Civic Center. Huntsville, Ala. 11.16.16. I bit on that Duluth show in June because I wasn’t sure she would get any closer, but when she announced the Huntsville show, I knew I had to go to both because the first one was so great. Dolly somehow manages to be hilarious and sincere and make women and men and gays and straights and blacks and whites dance together. It’s incredible. And low key, she’s a brilliant musician. Like, you came because of the jokes and because of how she makes you feel, but she can play like 14 instruments, too. And does.
Dolly’s show is most notably filled with kindness and love, and in a year that really needed a lot of both, I will forever cherish this bright spot. It’s must see, and she doesn’t tour a ton. If you have an opportunity to see this show, don’t miss it. Do not. I’d gladly shell out another $100 to see her a third time this year tomorrow.