Monday, January 2, 2012

2011: The Year That Was

With last year now officially done and over, it's time for a quick (not likely) recap of the musical highlights of the previous 365 days.

According to my concert spreadsheet (yes, I'm a geek) and my debit card statement (ugh), I was blessed enough to attend well over 60 concerts this past year. Among other things, this included:

- two trips to the UK (Jovi/Jukes)
- a 24-hour trip to Canada (Jovi)
- a wild and wacky trip to Chicago (Jukes)
- a slew of great benefit events (Baltimore, Starland, Best Buy Theater, Count Basie)
- a week of shows while trying to outsmart a hurricane (Jukes)
- a super-muddy night in Central Park (Wilco)

...and so many buses and trains around the Garden State that NJ Transit should send me a personal, hand-written thank you note. :-)

There were many memorable nights in arenas, stadiums, auditoriums, pubs, bars and clubs, but some simply stand out more than others. Trying to compare the diverse musical styles and diverse styles of venues is virtually impossible. So, in the end it really comes down to your personal musical experience.

Here are 5 of my top shows of 2011...

1. Early Elton Trio (October, Rockwood Music Hall)
Sometimes you find just the perfect combination of material, venue and superior musicianship ... and the result is not a concert, but a journey. From the songs you know every word to (Tiny Dancer, Levon) to those deep cuts that just make you listen. (I am still obsessed with that performance of Madman back in January.)

Good musicians cover a song. Great musicians make it their own.

I hope 2012 will bring a few Early Elton Trio shows, but given the insane schedules of the three artists, it can't be easy to find a date that works for everyone. But, when they do ... I will be the first in line for tickets.

2. Bon Jovi (June, Dublin - night 2)
Choosing just one of the 16 shows I went to was a challenge. I mean, really ... the Hyde Park show? Awesome. That Mohegan Sun show in March when Lorenza Ponce opened and then Bon Jovi took the stage with a set list that made me wonder if we had somehow been transported to Europe. (Hey the States...was Jon delirious?) Oh, and that epic night at Madison Square Garden. Three hours. Eight encores.

But, then there was Dublin. My 200th Bon Jovi show brought performances of Bounce, Never Say Goodbye, Love for Sale, Hey God, a cover of U2's Vertigo and the kick-ass combo of Damned/If Loving You is Wrong. We had a fun Q&A session with Jon before the show. And, because of the fan club trip, just about all my Jovifriends were there from Europe, the States and Canada. A good time was had, for sure!

3. Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes (November, Cranston, Rhode Island)
Same situation with the Jukes. I attended 23 shows this year and a number of them were truly special. There was that incredible night with Little Steven at the Stone Pony in July. There was a fantastic show in Bristol (UK) where Johnny improvised some of the best narrative I had ever heard. There was the intimate show in Chicago where every member of the band just played like they were possessed. (in a good way. LOL)

So, why Cranston? Because there was a different energy that night. The first show after that preliminary run of Poor Fools gigs, maybe it was just everyone being back together...and Johnny knowing he wasn't going to have to play guitar. LOL The crowd and venue were great and it seemed the set list was designed to make me happy as can be (points to anyone who gets the reference.) I decided at the last minute to jump on the bus and go up for the show. Perhaps one of my best decisions of the year.

Ok, there really wasn't a usable video from that show. (Jukesfans aren't quite as ... ummm ... fervent about videos/photos as Jovifans.) So, instead I chose this beautiful performance from the Stone Pony show. No, that gorgeous sky is not a backdrop. It really was that stunning.

4. Barry Manilow (December, Las Vegas)
Now, before you start making fun, just think...the man has a ridiculous number of hit songs. He is a born entertainer. This was his final show after a seven-year residency. It's VEGAS.

Is it over-the-top cheesy? ABSOLUTELY. Does that make it any less fabulous? Not at all. Because none of that matters when he belts out Could It Be Magic, Looks Like We Made It, Mandy, Copacabana, I Write the Songs, and my personal theme for that trip, I Made it Through the Rain. Perfect.

5. Outside the Box/Southside Johnny/Jeff Kazee (June, The Stone Pony)
Every once in a while, you are just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. That's how I felt about one night at the Pony. First, Outside the Box did a set of their own material (if you haven't bought their debut album yet, do it now. Click Here.) Then, they covered an Elvis Costello album. All that was great.

But, it was the impromptu jam session that followed that made the night special. Sure, it was a bit messy. Maybe out of tune. Some words may have been missed. Didn't matter at all. To me, it was the embodiment of why people become musicians. Simply for the love and joy of music.

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There you have it. A few thoughts on what shaped my 2011. There were good times. There were bad times. And, damn, there was some great music!

So, what's the coming year going to bring?

We shall see.

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p.s. I CAN'T BELIEVE I somehow forgot about Paul McCartney at Yankee Stadium! What the HECK is wrong with me? How was that not on my list? That was an INCREDIBLE night. Seeing a rock-and-roll ICON in a legendary venue. (okay, would have been better in the old stadium, but I digress.) I really wish I had my current phone that night (rather than my old trusty blackberry) because I could have at least captured a few more images as they were quite cranky about cameras. Also wish I would have splurged for a better ticket. In any case, Sir Paul ... my sincere apologies. Please forgive me.