Looking back on 2012, I don't think any year in recent memory comes close to this one in how many times I went to see live music -- which is all to the good! Here's my totally partisan, absolutely and gloriously one-sided view of the top musical experiences I had this past year -- in no particular order.
Bruce Springsteen released his 17th studio album in March and hit the road with not only the beloved and marvelous E Street Band, but also a posse of auxiliary musicians and background singers that served to flesh out his signature rock and soul sound to perfection. But far from merely playing new material and conducting this tour like business as usual, Springsteen confronted the changed landscape of the E Street Band head on, making the Wrecking Ball tour strikingly different from all other previous tours. It resembled, in many ways, a New Orleans jazz funeral. Not ignoring what was no longer there -- but celebrating it and revering it, and honoring it, and moving on. In addition, I've never seen Springsteen more energized and revitalized than I saw him on this tour -- one would never know he was in his early '60s by the way he skipped, jumped, and ran around the stage and the perimeter of the audience on the floor, to say nothing of the many times he climbed into the seats by the side of the stage. He was loving life, and it clearly showed.
Amanda Palmer is truly a force of nature. I don't know what to compare her to in music that would help you understand, if you've never had the pleasure. She's like a modern day George Sand, Josephine Baker, Frida Kahlo. She's a sizzling bundle of energy and creativity, and she is a marvel to behold onstage. In 2012 she played several shows in the local New York area, and I was lucky enough to see most of them. The venues varied from a loftspace in Brooklyn to the massive Terminal 5, and the size of the space makes no nevermind to AFP and her fierce commitment to opening her heart to the audience. Her new album, Theatre Is Evil, is inspired, dark, and delicious. She's up there on my extremely judicious list of live shows that can change your life.
The Rascals "Once Upon a Dream" Reunion, Capitol Theater, Port Chester, New York
During a year that would have exhausted any yeoman musician let alone one who is also an actor, movie music supervisor, and radio show host, Steven Van Zandt also managed to revolutionize the reunion concept completely with six shows by the Rascals at Port Chester's beautiful Capitol Theater. You did not have to be a fan of this incredibly seminal band, or even know their music, to be blown away by the seamless presentation, the lighting, the archival footage, the entire production which Van Zandt produced and directed with old friend and genius lighting designer Marc Brickman. In a perfect world, this would be, actually, the coolest new musical on Broadway.
Suzzy & Maggie Roche -- A Holiday-ish Show With Lucy Wainwright Roche and Special Guest Julie Gold, Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, New York, New York
Every year around holiday time, if you live in the New York area, you have the chance to see the wonderful Roche sisters, who continue to delight with their one of a kind harmonies and beautiful songs. Whether they're singing a Christmas song or one of their classic numbers their voices are a unique blend which still elicits spine tingling. 2012 was no exception when Maggie and Suzzy performed their "Holiday-ish" concert at the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew on Manhattan's upper west side. Suzzy's daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche also participated and I was delighted to discover that this young girl has one of the most beautiful singing voices I have ever heard (no surprise given her mother is Suzzy Roche, her dad Loudon Wainwright). She is incredible. And she has a new album out soon, which you can pre-order here.
Little Kids Rock, Right to Rock Celebration, New York, New York
Little Kids Rock gave the aforementioned Steven Van Zandt their "Big Man of the Year" Award in October, and after the award was presented to him by long time cohort Bruce Springsteen (they've been compadres since they were teenagers) a concert the likes of which I never thought I'd see took place. In which Van Zandt's own music was spotlighted and lifted up and tributed by an amazing group of artists from several genres -- which is very fitting because he is the only musical artist I can think of who has bona fides in so many different musical styles (rock and roll of course, but also country, reggae, world music, garage rock, jazz, R&B, just to name a few). The material spanned his early days with Southside Johnny and the Jukes all the way to a recent garage rock song for Danish band The Breakers -- a period of some 40 years. Tom Morello was one of the many standouts with his version of "Sun City," explaining how much the song meant to him when he was a Harvard undergrad building shantytowns on the campus to highlight the horrors of apartheid in South Africa. It speaks to Van Zandt's musical genius that a song like that is in his pantheon right next to, for example, the beautiful ballad "The Time of Your Life" performed this night by 8th American Idol season winner Kris Allen, who was outstanding.