In 2017 I was fortunate enough to see 28 concerts, at 11 different venues, with crowds ranging from 8 at the Wooden Indian Burial Ground set at Garden City Projects to 20,000 at Green Day’s USANA Ampitheatre show. Here are my ten favorite shows from last year.
#10: Jimmy Eat World (Opening act: Man on a Mission) – Knitting Factory – Boise
Yes, Jimmy Eat World, believe it or not. Although the opener was a costume-wearing debacle not unlike a Chuck E. Cheese show on acid, the guys in Jimmy Eat World are pros, and it’s clear they have 20+ years under their belts. Great set with tons of energy to spare, and a good mix of old and new, known and obscure. Of course they saved the biggest hits for the end, but I had a blast during the entire evening.
BTW, their latest album, Integrity Blues, is pretty damn impressive. Check it out if you are a hater or think they were a flash in the pan from your high school or college days. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t sound like Bleed American…
#9: Meat Puppets (acoustic set – no opening act) – The Record Exchange – Boise
Their electric set later that night at Neurolux was also good, but to see these legendary alt-rockers live and unplugged was a Treefort highlight. There was even a second-generation Kirkwood sighting, as Elmo (Curt’s son) has been playing rhythm guitar with his father and uncle Cris for several years now. And, of course, we got to hear “Lake of Fire”, “Backwater”, and “Plateau”.
#8: Green Day (Catfish & The Bottlemen) – USANA Amphitheatre – Salt Lake City
What can you say about these guys? True legends of the pop/punk scene, they (mostly) didn’t disappoint. Billy Joe, Tre, and Mike (complete with backing musicians and copious pyrotechnics) put on a solid two-hour show full of favorites old and new. If any criticism was to be had, it was that Billy Joe spent too much time yelling at and attempting to pump up the crowd of 20,000 that was already ridiculously pumped to see them, if they would just play their G-D songs without Billy Joe interrupting to pump up the crowd.
#7: Low Cut Connie (Scantron) – Neurolux – Boise
During this groovy, high-energy set, I was called out by Adam during “Rio”, when he co-opted their lyric into “sometimes you want to be a hero, sometimes you want to be like this guy and drink a beer” (yes, I was holding a $2 PBR at the time. God bless you, Neurolux). If you are a fan of piano and guitar driven rock served to you in an irreverent manner, don’t miss these guys when they come back.
#6: Roadkill Ghost Choir (Artisanals) – Neurolux – Boise
Anticipation for this one was palpable, as I have been quite fond of these lads from Florida since discovering them about three years ago. I am pleased to say that they didn’t disappoint. In fact, the only disappointing aspect of the evening was the meager crowd. I had a couple of my favorite people there with me, and had a blast right up front and center (as always), but there couldn’t have been more than 50 people there. Y’all missed out, Boise. The set list included selections from all three of their albums, including my favorite RGC track, “A Blow to the Head”. Also, in what has become a very pleasant trend recently, we even got a Tom Petty cover (“Listen to Her Heart”). RIP, Tom.
I had a chance to meet Andrew Shephard (singer/songwriter/lead guitar) before the show and he was kind enough to not only sign my vinyl copy of their fantastic album In Tongues but also got his brothers Zach (bass) & Maxx (drums) to sign it as well. When we discovered that they were out of my size in the shirt that I wanted to buy, Andrew tossed a free beer koozie my way. Therefore, when you see me with a beer in hand this spring, there is a solid chance I’ll be repping RGC.
#5: Cold War Kids (Julien Baker, Joywave) – Knitting Factory – Boise
Cold War Kids, out of L.A., have been near the top of my “haven’t seen, should” list for several years, along with Cage the Elephant, Eels, Band of Skulls, and others, so it was a no-brainer when I bought my brother and I tickets for their show the day they were available. However, as luck would have it, I had a work trip that coincided with the day of the show that I couldn’t get out of. Long story short, the afternoon of the show I caught a ridiculously close layover in Seattle and made it home just in time to get to see the last of Julien Baker’s set and all of CWK. I missed Joywave, who I heard was tremendous, but folks, you can’t have it all. Also, my boss was stranded in Seattle for the night – with my luggage – since he fell on the sword and allowed me to ditch my checked bag and sprint to the connecting flight. Thanks again, Dann (who is definitely not reading this).
In a 90-minute set that featured selections from their entire career, Nathan Willett and crew rocked the house with their funky and poppy brand of blues-rock. Most of the evening was dedicated to their newest effort, L.A. Divine, but they had the decency to play my two favorite compositions of theirs, “We Used to Vacation” and Hospital Beds”. And when the first few chords of “Hang Me Up To Dry” pierced the sold-out crowd’s ears, everybody freaked the hell out. It was one of those moments when everyone was in it together, which is a highlight of any good rock show. After a short encore break, we were treated with an excellent one-two punch to close it out: a cover of Rihanna’s “Love on the Brain” and the spastic, manic “Something is Not Right with Me”. Well done, boys. Come back soon!
#4: Noah Gundersen (Erik Walters of Silver Torches) – The Olympic Venue – Boise
This was a bit of a last-minute show that I am so glad I caught. After telling several people about Noah and failing to rally any takers to accompany me, I decided to go check it out solo. That was one of the best decisions I made all year. As I arrived midway through Erik Walters set, I was immediately struck by his incredible voice and impassioned, sensitive songwriting. For whatever reason, he was there alone, without his Silver Torches backing him up. Turns out, he does just fine without them, and he was a fantastic warm-up for what the nearly capacity crowd came to see: Noah Gundersen and his band, which includes his sister Abby on violin and keyboards as well as his brother Jonny on drums.
The set consisted nearly completely of songs from his best and most recent record White Noise, which was fine by me but left a few of his hard-core fans disappointed. His stage presence and long dark hair coupled with the soft/heavy/soft, wall-of-sound style of his recent music definitely channeled a Chris Cornell vibe, and this guy is one to keep an eye on. His rendition of “Bad Desire”, the last song of the night, was riveting and one that I will not soon forget. Afterwards, some new friends I had met during the show and I spent some time with Noah and his siblings, getting autographs, talking about their tour, and taking tequila shots together. I gotta say, you meet the most amazing people at a rock concert. Fun times and a great show, indeed.
#3: A Perfect Circle (Prayers) – Maverik Center – Salt Lake City
This road trip to Salt Lake with my brother was a true highlight of the year. However, frankly, this would never had happened if I had planned ahead a little better. You see, I didn’t realize when I bought the tickets that the show was the day of the Race to Robie Creek, which I typically won’t miss for anything. In addition, just after I bought the tickets, and arranged the hotel and rental car, Tool (Maynard’s day job) announced a show in Nampa. So, in truth, running Robie and seeing Tool instead would have been the way to go. Having said all of that, I have no regrets. Matty and I had a blast, stopping before the show to drink a few 3% ABV Heinekens (thanks, Utah) at a bar/restaurant near the obnoxious arena venue (yes, I am a snob and I don’t like arena rock. If you are being honest with yourself, you don’t either). Appropriately, the place was called A Bar. That’s it. Not Jeff’s Bar, not A Great Bar, just A Bar. All righty then.
Once we got to the show, we had great (and cute) company around us and had some good banter while waiting for what seemed like forever for the show to start. And when it did, it didn’t start well. I will not use this blog to speak ill of musicians because I don’t believe that people who are dedicating their lives to enriching ours (and trying to make a few bucks) deserve that. However, the two-man drum-machine, synth/scream demonic bizarro group that is Prayers was, well, not good. I feel comfortable saying that because the crowd was roughly 95% hating it, 1% loving it, and 4% asleep. But, as do all things, that passed, and soon Maynard, Billy, and crew came on stage and kicked our asses for nearly two hours. Maynard has always been known for his eccentricities, and it didn’t surprise me much that he stood on a platform surrounded by darkness and fog throughout the show. He sounded great, and I am fairly convinced that he was actually there, but I have no visual evidence of it (I keed, I keed). I have heard from others that the Tool concert had a similar setup. Maynard, we wouldn’t mind seeing you. Just sayin…
While the set didn’t include many of the group’s biggest hits, or any singles from their upcoming record, it was a solid show from start to finish. Highlights were the epic 9-minute opener “The Package” as well as their pounding, heavy version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and the always intense “Counting Bodies Like Sheep…” which is basically an industrial rock acid-trip remix of their song “Pet”. By the time they started into my favorite APC song “The Outsider” near the end of the show, I had more than gotten my money’s worth and resolved to forget about my missed Robie race.
#2: Modest Mouse (Built to Spill) – Memorial Stadium – Boise
With a lineup consisting of my two favorite northwest indie rock bands on a beautiful summer evening at a venue I had previously known only for baseball games, this show was destined to be a high point of my year in live music. My expectations were high, and neither Doug nor Isaac (and their respective bandmates) disappointed. Before the show started, I was joined by my old pal Josh who enjoyed a front row spot with me for three hours of cold-ish beer, good times, and great tunes.
This was actually the second Built To Spill set I saw in 2017, having also seen their headlining show at the inaugural Music on the Water festival at Simplot Park (Quinn’s Pond). Although once again there was no Brett Netson, the new three-piece version of BTS still rocks the house. Playing for only 35 minutes, Doug managed to include two classic crowd-pleasers, “Joyride” and the epic “Broken Chairs”, a standard show closer. While I am not entirely certain, I believe this was the 12th time I have seen Doug and his various Built to Spill incarnations perform, and something about Mr. Martsch and his guitar heroics has me still very excited to see him for the 13th time at this year’s Treefort. Also, for the 14th time when he joins the surviving members of Treepeople for a reunion Treefort show. These two sets are worth my investment in the 5-day pass on their own.
Isaac Brock is Modest Mouse, make no mistake about it. He has always surrounded himself with solid musicians, but they have rotated over time and there is only one constant throughout the band’s 20+ year run: Sir Isaac. The only time I had previously seen Modest Mouse was during the acclaimed Johnny Marr period, but this set was just as entertaining and riveting as that one was. Even though the show was the same day as the FitOne half marathon (where I established a new PR, I might add), my tired legs couldn’t stop me from bouncing around like a spastic clown as I heard some of my favorite Mouse songs: “Doin’ the Cockroach”, “Out of Gas”, and “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes”. This show occurred during a very tumultuous time in my life and gave me three hours of unadulterated joy that I am forever grateful for. Thanks again, Doug, and Isaac.
#1: Radiohead (Dudu Tassa) – Key Arena – Seattle
Touring North America in support of their excellent 2016 record A Moon Shaped Pool (my #2 album of that year), Seattle was as close to Boise as Radiohead made it. So, to Seattle I went. It had been nine long years since I saw them (also in Seattle) on the In Rainbows Tour, and I wasn’t going to miss my favorite band on the planet again. Mom was excited to check out this band I have dubbed the best Earth has to offer, so we braved the traffic and headed to Key Arena. Dudu Tassa, the Iraqi musician tabbed to open, put on a fantastic show, but this was not about him or anyone else that could have opened. This was about Thom, Jonny, Colin, Ed, and Phil.
Although an arena is never a great place to see a show, they made it work. Key Arena was transformed into a giant church and the faithful were treated to quite a sermon of exquisite, beautiful music. For two and a half hours, the fellas ran through a great representation of their entire catalogue, while – in true Radiohead fashion – avoiding the only two songs my Mom knows (“Creep”, “Karma Police”). By the time the slow-building and incredibly pretty show opener “Daydreaming” had ended, we could tell the band was locked and loaded.
After two more selections from A Moon Shaped Pool, the crowd lost their collective mind when the opening riff to “Airbag” rang out. Twenty years later, there is something about the beautiful melodies and palpable alienation on OK Computer that still resonates. In all, we heard five songs from that classic record: the aforementioned album opener, “Exit Music”, “Let Down”, “No Surprises”, and “Paranoid Android”. It was during the latter 7-minute rock opera that the crowd was at its loudest, singing along with every word. Highlights included two of the more beautiful (and underrated) songs Radiohead have released, “Lotus Flower” and “Reckoner”. Both were sung by Thom with perfect voice and sincere passion. After the third(!) encore break, we got one more pleasant surprise: a slow, stripped down version of the already mellow “Fake Plastic Trees”. With so many phone flashlights and lighters up, Key Arena seemed as bright during that song as it was when the house lights came back on a few minutes later. It was a very fitting ending to a night of great music and musicianship.