My Top Ten Shows of 2014
Wow, how am I going to choose only ten shows – out of 177 – as my top shows of last year? So many of the shows I attended were terrific so narrowing the list to ten is not easy.
I do not include sets from music festivals in my ‘best of’ list; there is an energy at festivals that causes many of those sets to be incredible and better than a ‘regular’ concert. Some of the sets I heard last year were amazing; they included The Oh Hello’s at Newport Folk Festival; Hurray for the Riff Raff at Newport, Green River Festival and Freshgrass Festival; Martha Redbone Roots Project at Freshgrass; The Iguanas at Green River; and Gregory Alan Isakov at Newport.
There is one show I’m not putting on my list because of how incredibly special it was to me. I had a milestone birthday last year and was fortunate enough to have attended a show at the Extended Play Sessions by Malcolm Holcombe. Everything about that evening was magical for me, but the icing on the birthday cake was when Malcolm stood in front of me and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ directly to me. I don’t think any birthday can compare to that!
These are the shows that made my top ten, in no particular order after the first three:
1. Yusuf/Cat Stevens at the Wang Theatre, December 7: He is one of my favorite musicians, and I have felt this way since I first heard him in 1969 or 1970. This show was the first time he performed in Boston since 1976. His voice is as pure as it ever was – like caramel, as one of my readers wrote. The set list was brilliant, his band was tight, and Yusuf/Cat was thrilled with the reception he received from the sold-out crowd.
2. The Time Jumpers at 3rd and Lindsley, August 25: This band is amazing, and I was fortunate to have seen them at their weekly show in Nashville. Vince Gill was with them (he is not always); he’s an incredible guitarist who adds much to the western swing sound of this band. Every member of the band is supremely talented, though, and that’s what helped to earn their show a place in my best of 2014.
3. Southern Soul Assembly at House of Blues, April 8: This supergroup includes Luther Dickinson, Marc Broussard, JJ Grey, and Anders Osborne, each an accomplished guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist. The show was presented with each man sitting in a chair, surrounded by his guitars and other accoutrements, in a line across the stage. They took turns singing lead on their own songs while the others provided backup. It was an amazing evening of stellar music.
4. Les Claypool’s Duo de Twang at The Sinclair, March 1: I went to this show because some friends wanted to go without having any idea what to expect; I only knew that I hoped it would be different that Primus and it was as far removed as possible (although they performed some Primus songs in a country twang style). As indicated by the name, this was country music. The show was staged with the two guitarists sitting around a simulated campfire and it was fantastic. Les is far more talented than I realized. The Reformed Whores, who opened the show, were funny, irreverent and filthy!
5. Paul Simon and Sting at TD Garden, March 3: I made a last-minute decision to attend this show and was so glad I did. Their chemistry was wonderful. They alternated leads on both their own and each other’s songs and performed duets as well. It was a terrific set list which included a tribute to Phil Everly. Even though I didn’t have a very good seat, I honestly enjoyed this as much as I would have if I’d had a seat costing six times as much.
6. Stanley Clarke at Tupelo Music Hall, February 22: I have seen Stanley perform a number of times over the past 40 years, and this show was the best. He has assembled a trio that includes a 17 (possibly 18 by now) year old pianist from the republic of Georgia who astounded the audience and a 19-year-old drummer from Dallas. I think they enjoyed the show as much as I did.
7. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings at House of Blues, May 31: I think this show was so fantastic because Sharon has rebounded from her cancer treatment and seems to have more energy than ever. She clearly loves performing and the audience appreciated every note she sang. I was thrilled to see her healthy and happy and her performance was fabulous.
8. Gangstagrass at Johnny D’s, April 24: What made this show so incredible for me was how unexpected it was. I mean, hip-hop bluegrass? It is such a bizarre combination but it works oh so well. The music is lively, as you’d expect with a bluegrass band. The rapping is intelligent, and makes sense as a partner to the music. It doesn’t hurt that these musicians are incredibly nice.
9. Spuyten Duyvil at Extended Play Sessions, July 24: I loved this band, both for their music and their personalities. They so clearly enjoyed themselves, performing for a relatively small crowd, and that enjoyment was infectious. Their style of American roots music is probably my favorite and their execution of it was flawless.
10. Trombone Shorty at Lowell Summer Music Series, July 10: TS is one of my favorite performers. I saw him three times in 2014 and while it’s hard to say one show was better than the others, seeing him at a venue that is near and dear to my heart (especially after four years of begging the Series to get him there) elevated this show to the best of the three. I was also about 15 feet from him during his set which added to my enjoyment. Even though he didn’t perform my favorite song (“Something Beautiful”), I loved the energy he brought to the park on that glorious summer evening.
11. These are all the runners-up who could just as easily have ousted any one of the top ten.
Mike Stern and Eric Johnson at Tupelo Music Hall, November 15 (only reason this isn’t in the top ten is because they performed my number one show of 2013 and I wanted to give someone else a chance)
Bettye LaVette at Johnny D’s, February 4
Roy Hargrove at Scullers, January 31
The Trio at Regattabar, March 13
Julian Lage and Chris Eldridge at Club Passim, April 9
Carole King at Tupelo Music Hall, April 15 (this was a political fundraiser, not a true concert, but it was amazing nonetheless)
Willie Nelson at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, June 17
JJ Grey and Mofro at Lowell Summer Music Series, August 14
Barenaked Ladies at Lowell Summer Music Series, July 19
Angelique Kidjo at Somerville Theatre, February 23
Lake Street Dive at State Theatre, November 22
Mavis Staples at John Hancock Hall, November 8
Brandi Carlisle at Sanders Theatre, October 3
Club d’Elf at Lizard Lounge, September 26 (one of the six shows of theirs I saw in 2014)
Roseanne Cash at Prescott Park Music Festival, July 5
Mary Gauthier at Extended Play Sessions
The Mavericks at The Wilbur Theatre, May 11
St. Vincent at House of Blues, February 27
Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers at The Sinclair, February 15
Happy listening in 2015! Go hear some live music – it will improve your life!
Posted on January 5, 2015, in concert reviews, music, Uncategorized and tagged boston, Cat Stevens, concert review, Gangstagrass, Les Claypool's Duo de Twang, Malcolm Holcombe, music, Paul Simon, Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Southern Soul Assembly, Spuyten Duyvil, Stanley Clarke, Sting, The Time Jumpers, top ten concerts, Trombone Shorty. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.