Written by Jakob Ross
2012: A Rock Odyssey, or the Best Live Acts I Saw this Year
It’s been over two months since I’ve contributed anything to the site. Don’t worry all, I haven’t abandoned you. But I have moved from northeastern Georgia to southern Germany; a huge move for me. So, I haven’t had much time to write anything up, let alone make any trips for concerts. Well, so far.
But 2012 has been an amazing year in concerts, even though I didn’t expect it to be. I went to my first camping festival, saw Phish—TWICE!—and met up with our own BeezNutz. So, for the end of the year I figured I’d let everyone know what I consider to be the best bands I saw this year. Now last year I wrote about the best concerts I attended, but since this year it’d be almost unfair to do that (Bonnaroo would count as one concert and would trump all competition) I figured I’d just tell you who the best live bands I saw this year were, from 20 all the way to number 1. So, without further ado, here we go!
When indie pop group Under the Influence of Giants went on hiatus in 2008, lead singer Aaron Bruno decided to start his own strange little side project that used the same principles of dance, electronica, and rock music, which he called AWOLNATION. Their growth in popularity has been pretty rapid thanks in part to FM rock radio, but mostly to the internet.
In May, Aaron and co. rocked a Saturday afternoon set in Atlanta; and when I say rocked, I mean ROCKED. Bruno’s scratchy vocal is great for clean music and loud crazy music, both of which were represented well. They played some radio friendly hits like “Not Your Fault” and “Guilty Filthy Soul,” some louder and stranger songs like “Sail” and “Burn It Down,” and they even threw in a cover of the buildup section of Rage Against the Machine’s debut album closer “Freedom.” All in all, a fantastically energetic show by a very underrated band. Nothing about them is too challenging and maybe not that original, but the music is fun and the shows are great.
19. Red Hot Chili Peppers
Red Hot Chili Peppers are one of the biggest alternative rock bands of the past 25 years. They may not release albums on a regular basis, but they still have millions of fans and are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as of this year. So who cares if their music isn’t THAT great? They’re the Red Hot Chili Peppers!
Red Hot Chili Peppers headlined the What Stage of Bonnaroo on Saturday Night to an 80,000 member crowd. And something that surprised me about their performance is how they’ve transformed into a jam band. New guitarist Josh Klinghoffer fits in well with the Peppers and fills the hole that John Frusciante left when he left the group for the second time a couple years ago. The Chili Peppers zoomed through some of their hits and a few of their lesser known songs, and were very energetic. Especially Flea. No bassist on the planet earth has more energy than that guy. But they seemed to have trouble connecting with the audience. Maybe it was because I was far back, or maybe because it was such a huge audience, but it seems like Red Hot Chili Peppers didn’t perform at their best that night. But Flea did leave us with an important message about supporting live music. And that’s always nice.
18. Fitz and the Tantrums
If you ask anyone who’s seen Fitz and the Tantrums before—anyone who isn’t Justin, that is—you’ll probably hear some good reviews. This neo-soul group always put on very energetic performances. And although they were a last minute addition to my Bonnaroo List of Bands to See, I don’t regret the decision for a second.
Throwing in a few new songs, and a couple covers (The Raconteurs’ “Steady As She Goes” and Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams”), Fitz/Tantrums caused many a foot to tap on the sandy ground of one of Bonnaroo’s tents. All of this leading up to the magnificent crescendo that is “MoneyGrabber.” Seriously, if you’re looking for a fun show and your name isn’t Justin Watt, I highly recommend seeing Fitz and the Tantrums at your nearest venue.
17. Ben Folds Five
In 2000, the world lost one of the most humorously clever bands that the face of alternative rock has ever seen: Ben Folds Five. Don’t be fooled, reader, for Ben Folds Five are, in fact, a trio. They released three critically acclaimed albums in the 90s before amicably splitting up. Three years after a one-off reunion in 2008, BF5 reunited for good, announcing a few dates and a new studio album in the works. Everything was looking good.
Fortunately for me, I got the chance to see the newly reunited Ben Folds Five perform their classics on the Which Stage at Bonnaroo. There were smiles all around and all three members seemed to enjoy themselves as they sang songs like “Song for the Dumped”, “Underground”, and “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces,” omitting any new material they might have had. They’re a fun live band and Ben Folds is seriously one of the greatest pianists and happiest guys to ever exist. Ben Folds frowning is about as unlikely as Michael Stipe smiling.
16. Major Lazer
Although producer Diplo may be best known for producing songs by M.I.A., No Doubt, Snoop Dogg, Das Racist, and Die Antwoord, he is also half of Jamaican reggae dubstep dance duo Major Lazer. On record, they’re strange and nothing about them really makes sense. But in a live setting, it’s like a rave with marijuana instead of ecstasy. They’re not the greatest thing to ever happen to electronic music, but if Skrillex is too much for you then Major Lazer is definitely a fun electro show worth seeing. I caught them about halfway through their set and the crowd was going nuts. Their hype man may be annoying, but Major Lazer’s show is as over-the-top as it gets. Air horns, dancing ladies, constant countdowns to craziness; it’s all there. So maybe that’s just all part of the fun.
15. Gary Clark Jr.
Blues guitar virtuoso Gary Clark Jr. has played more festivals in the past year than anyone, and for good reason too. He’s amazingly good and has been racking up hype and rave reviews for the past year even though his breakthrough album was just released a couple weeks ago. On the closing day of Bonnaroo, Mr. Clark Jr played an early afternoon set at Bonnaroo’s main stage. The weather was stormy, the wind was blowing, and Gary had the entire crowd eating out of the palm of his guitar playing hands. His set was loud and full of droning psychedelic distortion tones that nodded to Jimi Hendrix and Roky Erickson.
He played the blues with some elements of 60s garage, soul, R&B, and psychedelia thrown in there. All in all, a mind-warping show that caused one to be fully immersed in the music.
The red-hot ska punk band has been active for over 30 years, and they’ve not lost an iota of energy since the release of their debut EP. Lead singer Angelo Moore is still totally cool with singing songs like “Let Them Ho’s Fight,” “Party at Ground Zero,” and the classic “Lyin’ Ass Bitch.” Bassist Norwood Fisher is still as impressive as ever with the slap bass, and each musician is equally impressive at their respective instruments. With ex-Suicidal Tendencies guitarist Rocky George in tow, Fishbone certainly rocked the Hell Stage at Atlanta’s Masquerade with a fire-hot intensity that is rarely matched by other “older” punk bands. If you’re looking for a fun show, then I highly recommend catching Fishbone, since they’ll probably be touring for another 30 years.
Scandinavia is the perfect place for a heavy metal band to start. It’s cold, almost cut off from the rest of the world, depressing, and chock full of mystery. But never has a band as mysterious as Ghost existed since Mayhem released their debut album in the midst of a suicide and a murder among the band. Ghost’s sound is by no means frightening. It’s got an ear-catching, almost radio-friendly quality to it, and if it weren’t for the blatant satanism in the lyrics then Ghost would probably be very popular.
Lead singer Papa Emeritus (who dresses up in a manner that can only be described as “Devil’s Pope”) fronts a band of Nameless Ghouls (who wear black masks and hoods) and sings about their glorious master, Lucifer.
For the first time since Slipknot, no one is entirely sure who is behind the masks, and I doubt Ghost plan on revealing the members’ identities any time soon. But what matters is the frightening 6-song set they put on during their opening slot on the Heritage Hunter tour, where they opened for Opeth and Mastodon. Ghost managed to catch the ear of many audience members who had never heard them, as they continue to spread their philosophy, or whatever it is they’re trying to spread. They even managed to make Phil Anselmo a fan!
I know, I know. Dubstep is lame, Skrillex is untalented, I’m an idiot for liking it, bla bla bla.
Okay, have you vented your blind hatred yet? Good! Now let’s get through this with an open mind.
Skrillex, as you probably know by now, is an insanely popular and widely hated EDM artist, who many associate with the abrasive subgenre of dubstep, or “bro-step” for douchebags who don’t want Skrillex tainting the good name of dubstep. Skrillex’s early morning show (1:30 AM-3:30 AM) got going quickly and never got boring. The show was a nonstop wave of bass, energy, and volume. Some people need drugs to enjoy that kind of thing, others don’t. All I know is, I had a fantastic time there. He played through his hits such as “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites” and “First of the Year (Equinox)” and even remixed songs by Bassnectar, Flux Pavilion, Doctor P, and Benny Benassi.
11. Bad Brains
In 1982, Washington D.C.’s own Bad Brains threw a curveball at the rest of the world with their self-titled debut album. It combined elements of reggae with that of hardcore punk, the likes of which had never been seen. Plus, it was (probably) the first time black people had involved themselves with the punk movement, and Bad Brains certainly put their own spin on it. Lead singer HR’s instantly recognizable howl led the band through some awesome times and horrible times. Sometimes screaming, sometimes singing, and other times using a fake Jamaican patois, Bad Brains were a whirlwind of genres and music that never seemed to stop.
Fortunately, I got the opportunity to see them live, and it was one of the strangest things I’ve seen yet. The music was loud and energetic and played almost without error, but I am beginning to think that HR is mentally unstable. Not quite sure. Either way, seeing living legends perform their classic songs is something not many people get to do, and I’m very happy that I was able to see Bad Brains’ early afternoon set. Keep sailin’ on!
Click here for Part 2: #10-1.