Live music has always been a constant for me, but nothing like the way it was in 2017. This year, I’ve attended approximately 30 concerts and three festivals, which I think sets the record for the most times I’ve ever left my house in a year.
As I look back on all the incredible musicians I saw or photographed in the last 12 months, saying goodbye to 2017 feels more bittersweet than usual. Below is a list of concerts that have given me the most joy this year, ordered chronologically. Some are bands that I grew up listening to, and others are newer to my life, but just as loved.
AMERICAN FOOTBALL at the Theatre at Ace Hotel, Los Angeles – Feb. 25
The decision to see the Champaign, Illinois emo legends in Los Angeles was pretty spur-of-the-moment. I had missed the group at last year’s Noise Pop Music Festival and the regrets were killing me (pun completely intended). While this show already sold out, the rarity of the band’s West Coast appearance drove me to purchase tickets on StubHub.
American Football played both of its self-titled albums back-to-back, almost in their entireties. Its sound transferred brilliantly live. The shimmering and interlocking guitar lines, the yearning vocals, the melancholy trumpet, and the gentle drums and marimba collectively coaxed more tears than my eyes were ready to generate. With the show’s arranged seating, everything had an even grander presence.
The biggest tear-jerker for me? “Stay Home.”
MEW at Tower Records Shibuya, Tokyo – Apr. 21
Despite American Football’s reclusive advice, I took my first ever solo trip and traveled to Tokyo. It was totally serendipitous that Mew announced an acoustic show that fell on my first day abroad. This was major news for me because Mew is also a band that feels like a blue moon to catch. (I had last seen the Danish prog-rockers in 2015, during their first U.S. tour in six years).
This time around was Mew’s record release show for seventh album Visuals. Only vocalist-keyboardist Jonas Bjerre and guitarist-bassist Johan Wohlert performed here. They stripped down seven originally grandiose songs into soothing serenades that had my jetlagged-self feeling full of life and head over heels.
The show featured live debuts of “Nothingness and No Regrets,” “Shoulders,” “85 Videos” and “Twist Quest.” Additionally, Mew played “Satellites,” “Witness” and “Water Slides” off its previous record, +-. Bjerre’s signature falsetto and Wohlert’s emotive playing typically rock the capacities of venues, arenas and festivals. But even in this small setting, Mew sounded magical. It might have not been to its usual celestial effect, but it was tender and completely personal.
Inevitably, Mew became the soundtrack of my trip.
MODEST MOUSE at The Masonic – May 27
Before this concert, I was a casual Modest Mouse listener. After, the band ended up as my third most-listened-to artist on Spotify for 2017.
I had a couple of favorite Modest Mouse songs beforehand, such as “The World at Large” and “Float On.” And though the Portland rockers played neither, I got a mind-blowing taste of their colorful catalog. Modest Mouse explores a plethora of moods through intriguing narratives and addictive musical ideas. On top of electric guitars and the electric bass, these musical ideas were spectacularly accentuated via two drum sets, an upright bass, a trumpet and violin. We danced to “The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box;” we lived through the angst of “Dramamine;” and we got sentimental to “Gravity Rides Everything.”
TIGERS JAW at Slim’s – Jun. 6
I fell in love with Tigers Jaw my freshman year of college. I haven’t skipped any of the band’s Bay Area stops since. Every year, there’s always at least one day where I find myself missing the band’s performances. This show, to celebrate new album Spin, was the perfect fix.
The Scranton, Pennsylvania rockers played a 21-song set, a mix of their earlier pop-punk material and their recent explorations into indie rock. Some major favorites from this set included “June,” “Charmer,” “Meet at the Corner,” “I Saw Water” and “Hum.” As always, high energy came from both the band and crowd. From screaming along to lyrics that hit close to home to just completely rocking out, how could you not miss this?
THE ALL-AMERICAN REJECTS at The Masonic – Jul. 14
As they did for many, The All-American Rejects rocked my middle school universe. Never would have 12-year-old me guessed that I’d one day sing along to “Swing, Swing” from the photo pit. But it happened and it was exhilarating!
However, don’t take this as dating the group’s relevancy at all. They for sure still got it, completely wooing the crowd with steamy new singles “Sweat” and “Close Your Eyes.” Also, vocalist-bassist Tyson Ritter’s stage presence was as fiery as ever.
The set continued to revisit favorites like, “My Paper Heart,” “Dirty Little Secret,” “Move Along” and “Gives You Hell.” And if the crowd’s response was any indication, AAR fans are truly thrilled for the group’s return to the scene.
MEW at The Fillmore – Aug. 22
I entered 2017 thinking that it would take years to see Mew again. But by some lucky aligning of stars, I got to see the band twice this year! And yes, I’ve put both shows on my list.
Part of the Visuals North America Tour, this show featured Mew in its element. The whole band was present this time. For every song, each instrumental line unfolded and collectively grew into an orchestral galaxy. It felt like watching fireflies come together, how dreamlike and captivating everything was. Projections designed by Bjerre definitely added to the otherworldly experience as well. The visuals alternated between cats playing instruments, a forest at dawn, sparks flying and more.
Some of my favorite songs performed were “In a Better Place,” which kicked off the show in high spirits, “Special/The Zookeeper’s Boy,” “Introducing Palace Players,” “Snow Brigade,” “Am I Wry? No” and “Comforting Sounds.” The latter tune, “Comforting Sounds,” has served as Mew’s grand finale for years. Bittersweet, beautiful and all somehow comforting, it’s the perfect send-off until next time.
THE SHINS at the Greek Theatre, Berkeley – Sep. 30
Seeing The Shins in concert was a major thing to check off my bucket list. For years, I’ve loved the way lead musician James Mercer paints storybook universes through song. He turns even the darkest moods into melodies that glimmer with hints of fantasy and bigger things, while staying honest to the lyrics.
To watch the group perform songs old and new with so much excitement gave me constant goosebumps. Despite the band’s change in lineup, every member’s energy seemed in sync. The Shins started the show with some personal favorites, the appropriately peculiar-toned “Caring is Creepy” and the high-spirited “Australia.” The indie rock veterans also whipped out some sweet arrangements of “Phantom Limb” and “New Slang.” And to top off the night, they covered Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” which brought most of the Greek up on its feet.
BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE at Fox Theater – Oct. 26
Broken Social Scene is a super group, not just because of its members, but also because of its talent, stage presence and humorous banter. Throughout the night, the group brought out hits like the firework-like tune “7/4 Shoreline” and the slow and sentimental “Sweetest Kill.” Mixed in with the classics were funny on-the-road stories from Kevin Drew, and songs from new album Hug of Thunder. Despite the seven-year hiatus from the project, the group still has its edge. In “Protest Song,” a track off the latest release, Broken Social Scene brings back its symphonic vigor sounding fresh as ever.
The highlight for me was definitely the Canadian collective’s performance of “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl.” Sang with a multi-part harmony, this performance was just as haunting, poignant and satisfying as the original recording. The track is one I’ve held close to heart since my teens. Hearing it live for the first time felt as if I’d rediscovered the song and fell in love with it again.
YEAH YEAH YEAHS at Fox Theater – Oct. 30
While I was not able to stay for the whole concert, the fragment of time I got to see the Yeah Yeah Yeahs play was already phenomenal. Karen O is an electrifying vocalist and performer, which showed from the get-go. Along with guitarist Nick Zinner and drummer Brian Chase, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs unlocked a dimension of garage rock that remains unmatched in eccentricity and artfulness. The band brought out sentimental moods with tracks like “Modern Romance.” But there’s no doubt that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs also cranked up the voltage, as they did immediately with “Rich.”
CIRCA SURVIVE at City National Civic – Nov. 6
“Real magic” is how Circa Survive describes its music and shows. Real magic is what I witnessed in San Jose on the band’s debut night of tour. The Doylestown, Pennsylvania group overflows with chaotic musical ideas, but both in studio and in performance, every sound unites so cohesively. From the crowd, the band’s sound feels like roars of thunder echoing throughout the venue. And the flashing lights tied with frontman Anthony Green’s stage moves are just like lightning.
The audience’s response was just as electric, passionately yelling to songs like “The Difference Between Medicine and Poison”–my personal favorite. Fans seemed especially ready to celebrate The Amulet, Circa Survive’s latest release, as they showed off their lyrical chops to the band’s new material.