Live shows are some of the most rewarding experiences in the music world, but they’re even more difficult to quantify than music itself. That’s why it’s worth noting that this isn’t a list – the words and pictures below are simply a representation of some of our staff’s favorite experiences with live music in 2012.
DIIV by Sam Clarke
Atoms for Peace, September 8th, 2012, MoMA PS1 – Queens, NY
It was an overcast Saturday afternoon in Queens, NY, and some friends and I were headed to a museum. But we weren’t going to look at any sort of exhibit: it was the final entry in MoMa PS1’s Warm Up concert series, and the headlining act was a DJ set by Atoms for Peace. Storm clouds began to gather overhead as I waited in a line that wrapped around the outside of the show. We could hear, along with the sounds of the commencing rainstorm, sets we missed out on by Holy Other and Rustie. By the time we entered the courtyard where the show was taking place, the rainstorm had run its course and Rustie’s set was coming to a close. We fought to the front to get a good spot for the entire reason we were there, and we didn’t have to wait too long. Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich emerged shortly and treated us to 3 brand new and untitled Atoms for Peace tracks. Before the gravity of those new songs could begin to settle in, the duo broke into an amazing Dj set that featured tracks ranging from Beastie Boys’ “Shake Your Rump” and DJ Shadow’s “Organ Donor,” to Azealia Banks’ “212” and SBTRKT’s “Right Thing to Do.” By the time that Thom Yorke finished up the set with a surprising yet welcome spin of The Supremes’ “Baby Love,” the crowd was exhausted from hours of dancing in the rain. Atoms for Peace had given us both a taste of their new material and a sample of just how much fun they could have. And it was good. Really good.
– Eric Arredondo
Squarepusher by Matt Draper
No Age, March 7th, 2012, Death By Audio – New York, New York
Death by Audio. New York City. 2012.
We were standing there watching the stage, me and Colin and his four three droogs, waiting for the band called No Age to come out and do their thing. This was my spring break trip. While some of my college buds were floating on a cruise ship down near Cabo, smokin’ some fresh weed, relaxin’, I was there, at Death By Audio. New York City. 2012. I admit, the realization hit me then that though I had really enjoyed Nouns and Everything In Between and everything in between, I could probably only put four three songs they would play that night to a name; them being “Fever Dreaming,” “You’re a Target,” and “Eraser.”
‘Round an hour had passed and the place was packed straight through to the back. I’d just dropped some dollars on an overpriced bottle of Modelo Especial about six minutes prior, so I was in good boozy shape to mosh to all that sound No Age put out that night. Man, the beauty of “Fever Dreaming…” It was like a fever dream, being a part of that mosh pit. There’s just so much catharsis, slamming as hard as you can into whoever you can, and being slammed into equally as hard. No Age was just that kind of live band.
To say that their set was electrifying would be an understatement. The crowd was a particle collider that kept the band’s electricity flowing. They took it to heaven and back with so much style. It was amazing how colossal two guys with a guitar and drum kit between them could sound, and my very first crowd-surfing experience there was just the icing on the cake. Some richness, daddy.
Apparently Ryan Schreiber was there, too, for part of it, after The Men’s show a couple blocks down the way. I would have liked to go up to him and introduce myself, a rookie music critic, prone to similar, occasionally disastrous flights of fancy in his music writing as Schreiber was in his formative years, but he was nowhere to be seen. But as Schreiber himself famously said, “Shit, cat. It don’t make a difference.” That No Age set was enough good, honest rocking out to last me a lifetime, or at least a few months.
– Harrison Suits Baer
Passion Pit by Michael Do
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, March 23rd, 2012, Tampa Bay Times Forum – Tampa, FL
Diminishing returns might be my least favorite part of being a music fan. You see a favorite band once and it’s great, the second time it’s often not as good, the third starts to feel perfunctory, and so on. The problem gets multiplied by the fact that you’re a little older each time, you’ve seen a little more, and subsequently it takes more to impress or move you. With age comes wisdom, but also skepticism and doubt; it’s harder to believe.
Bruce Springsteen being my first concert ever, and this year’s show being the first time I’d seen him since, you’d think the diminishing returns on it would be huge. But to dismiss it as such would be a gross underestimation of The Boss. This year’s Springsteen tour – his first with a Clarence Clemons-less E Street Band since the change was made uptown – was fraught with tales of record-breaking 4-hour marathon shows, and while the one I saw in Tampa wasn’t quite the endurance contest-length of, say, Helsinki, Finland, it still had just about all the other things we’ve come to love and expect from a Springsteen show.
The main theme of the night was the spirit of Clarence Clemons. Bruce made sure he paid his respects to his right-hand man several times over the course of the show, but the biggest and most moving of these tributes came at the end. After an encore that was nothing less than a tour-de-force of Springsteen hits, the band decided to close with Clemons’ signature, “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” Jared Clemons, Clarence’s son, was brought up to play tambourine for this, and when they got to the “change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band” part, the entire band stopped and Springsteen raised his microphone into the air in homage. He held this pose for a few minutes while the crowd cheered deafeningly, and the big screens all focused on Jared, who was very visibly choking up. It was a moment that, above all else, reaffirmed that the emotion of Springsteen shows is not manufactured like that of almost every other stadium act. Diminishing returns? Please.
– David Wolfson
Holy Other by Sam Clarke
Crystal Castles, October 22nd, 2012, Fox Theater – Oakland, CA
The streets of Oakland were soaked with rain. It was the middle of an intense downpour. Inside, in the dingy, orange glow of the Fox Theater, there was an immediate, unshakable sense of impending doom. Through a sea of leather jackets, combat boots, and dilated pupils, beyond the stench of alcohol and stale cigarette smoke, a massive projection loomed above the stage: a mother holding her child, attempting to comfort him as he suffered through the effects of tear gas exposure. The image flickered violently as distorted, roaring bass swallowed the venue whole. The entire scene felt as if it was designed specifically to attack the audience – the usual pre-show excitement mixed with an increasingly strong feeling that the walls were closing in. By the time the opening notes of “Plague” emanated from a stage shrouded in darkness, the atmosphere of dread had become almost unbearable. This is the mode that Crystal Castles have become increasingly good at operating within. Their music presents an atmosphere of oppressive, anxiety-inducing doom that separates them from the wealth of other electronic acts that were once considered their peers. They’ve turned the rave scene on its head – using the sounds and styles of that environment to craft some of the bleakest material to ever set foot on a dance floor.
But Crystal Castles live is a whole other animal. All of the elements that define their records – the aggression, the despair, the hopelessness, and the fear – are presented in the live setting through a drastically different filter. Where Crystal Castles’ records are often cold, brooding, and calculated, their live show is a violent, chaotic, rapid-fire assault that is one of the most abrasive, visceral, and piercingly loud concert experiences you’ll ever go to. Songs are spit out in fragments – often distorted and disfigured until they’re nearly unrecognizable. The poppier numbers, such as “Vanished,” are punished the most severely – used only as fleeting, thirty-second moments of calm during the show’s noisier sections. Alice Glass gives into her performance with such abandon that watching her almost feels voyeuristic. You can hear the anguish within every lyric – see the exhaustion behind every movement. And as she turns her back to the crowd, stretches out her arms, and slowly dives into them, there’s a sense that all Glass really wants is to be submerged – drowning in a sea of bodies without ever coming back up.
– Cole Zercoe
Parenthetical Girls by Philip Cosores
Dinosaur Jr., December 1st, 2012, Terminal 5 – New York, New York
J, Lou, and Murph are getting old, there’s absolutely no doubt about that. When I caught them last week at Terminal 5, they were celebrating the anniversary 25th anniversary of You’re Living All Over Me. It could have been very easy for them to play a set that put the “dinosaur” in Dinosaur Jr., but they came out onstage and ripped through the entirety of that landmark album in a brisk 45 minutes, culminating with Lou Barlow’s sincere–if self-deprecating–rendition of “Poledo.” Though certainly a play at nostalgia, it was clear, given what followed that the set was intended more as a celebration than an ATP-esque grab at the past. After a bit of setup, the show took a turn for the absurd. The show was advertised as featuring special friends sitting in on highlights from the Dino Jr. catalog, but who would’ve guessed that meant Kim Gordon doing her best hardcore punk squeal on an absolutely roaring version of Lou Barlow’s dire plea “Don’t.” Who would’ve guessed that it meant Al Cisneros of Sleep and opener Kurt Vile coming out for a Crazy Horse-cum-Sabbath take on Hand It Over standout “Alone.” Who could’ve dreamed that it meant Johnny Marr leading them through a fuzzed out version of “The Boy With The Thorn In His Side” or Frank Black leading a searing rendition of “Tame” or Tommy Stinson and Fred Armisen joining the band for a cover of the Stooges’ “TV Eye.” It sounds like a party with Dinosaur Jr.’s famous friends, but it really served as a celebration of the continuing vitality of one of the pioneering and continually great indie rock bands. It was 2012, I’m pretty sure, but taking in Lou Barlow’s playful bounce, Murph’s buoyant fills and J’s ever laconic drawl, I had my doubts. I could’ve been back in ’87 for all I know.
– Colin Joyce
White Mystery by Sam Clarke
Dirty Projectors, August 6th, 2012, The Beacham – Orlando, FL
By now most anyone who’s become acquainted with Dave Longstreth and Co.’s off-kilter music must be aware of their reputation as razor-sharp performers and bonafide live spectacles – the vast majority of their tunes require a kind of musical contortionism and precision that’s mesmerizing to watch, whether it be the coordinated clapping that carries “Just From Chevron” or the herky-jerky rhythmic changes and guitar anti-heroics of “Temecula Sunrise”. I managed to catch the group twice in 2012, once at Pitchfork’s festival in Chicago and once in Orlando at the Beacham, and, while the band performed at full capacity in both cases, catching them in a real venue revealed some of their less appreciated strengths. Given the right circumstances, Dirty Projectors can really harness and command an atmosphere, and, taking the stage in near-darkness and set against a backdrop made to imitate their minimalist video for “Gun Has No Trigger”, the band certainly had more atmosphere to command at the Beacham than they did in the dim light of a Chicago afternoon. With this factor on their side, something like the vocal coordination on stunning highlight “Beautiful Mother” is given the tension that elevates it from freakishly impressive novelty to breathtaking revelation. Dirty Projectors’ live presence also highlights another of their oft-unsung strengths: they’re just as good at being lean, muscular arena rockers as they are an effete, cerebral art pop group. In both Chicago and Orlando, the set’s highlight was a rumbling rendition of “Useful Chamber”; of course, at the Beacham, the performance’s build and release was practically tangible.
– Ryan Stanley
Dirty Projectors by Colin Joyce
Flying Lotus w/ The Weeknd, July 7th, 2012, Rhythm Factory – London
Following the shocking five days of arson, looting and general lawlessness that rocked much of Great Britain in August of last year, I don’t think anyone could have predicted that the brazen opportunism, deplorable greed and utter carnage on display would be seen again for many decades, let alone trumped a mere eleven months later. Alas, this was well before Bloc had publicly announced its move to the capital, teaming up with London Pleasure Terror Gardens to stage one of the biggest shambles in festival history. But, in a similar vein as the widespread displays of basic human decency after the riots had dissipated, the wider electronic music community pulled together and offered a broad spread of hastily assembled, mostly free events on what would have been the second day of the event. On the surface, promoters Oscillate Wildly probably had the strongest line-up, cribbing together a Hyperdub showcase that boasted a relentless four hour barrage of deep, percussive bangers by way of Ikonika, Bok Bok and head honcho Kode 9; but nothing was to prepare for what happened next. Although the ‘Very Special Guest’ was widely known to be Flying Lotus, the two people that flanked him as he strolled through the door of rammed Rhythm Factory and onto the stage were a surprise. A bust air-con unit had turned the 400 capacity club into an unbearable sweatbox, but watching FlyLo drop “Return Of The Mack” with The Weeknd on the mic and Serena Williams, who had won Wimbledon that day, filling the role of backup dancer just about justified the decision to stick it out.
– Gabriel Szatan
Flying Lotus by Sam Clarke
Guardian Alien, September 29th, 2012, 285 Kent Ave – New York, New York
There’s a pervasive drugginess to Guardian Alien’s drum-led journeys–though not so overwhelming in as much of a weighty, numbing sense as mind-opening cosmic explorations. It’s a sense certainly present on their 2012 release See The World Given To A One Love Entity but even more so in their live show. Ex-Liturgy drummer (and Guardian Alien mastermind) Greg Fox’s website is called Infinite Limbs, a moniker that becomes apparent when he takes a place behind the kit. His drumming is at once muscular and impressionistic–subtle swaths of noise and a throbbing backbone. Whether leading his band through excerpts from See The World or from an as yet unreleased new piece entitled “Holotropic Breathwork,” Fox’s virtuosic drumming provides a bedrock for a mesmerizing hum of technicolor guitar improvisation, the insistent bump of Eli Winograd’s basslines, and the psychedelic thrum of Turner Williams Jr.’s Shahai Baaja. Alex Drewchin kneels at the front of the stage, manipulating otherworldly synth tones and casually unleashing a siren call to snap you from your trip. Even aside from being one of the most technically competent bands out there, their live set is a fully transportive experience, one that live acts strive for over the course of years (and certainly rarely achieve just after their second release). I first caught Fox and co. opening for Brooklyn noiseniks Talk Normal, but then I saw them again two days later. And then again three days after that, and, man, if they were playing here tomorrow I’d see them again.