It’s kind of like déjà vu all over again to look at the opening paragraph from my last year’s review and see the following:
Reflecting on a year (let next year not be yet another one) marked by terrorism and racial tension, it is sometimes hard to divert focus from the dark side of the force and concentrate on the things that have made this a very good year. A family gathering. Helping a person in need. Hanging out in the sun or having a great meal with great wine and a great friend. Letting it all hang out on the dance floor–are all reasons to be cheerful.
Just substitute the malady de jour/annee and we would be good to go–those that we have lost and that which we got (or are born) to lose. But nothing is actually advanced through maudlin isolationism or depressed alcoholism (though that sometimes does the trick) –we , of course, have to live and do the best that we can to protect each other in this mosh pit. Things were probably pretty bad in 1944, we were in the throes of World War II, yet the lyrics of Johnny Mercer seem applicable today:
You got to ac-cent-tchu-ate the positive E-lim-i-nate the negative And latch on to the affirmative Don’t mess with mister in between
You got to spread joy up to the maximum Bring gloom down to the minimum
Or, as Joey Ramone sang it best you can go either way–“Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment” or “What a Wonderful World.”
Or, finally, as Sir Raymond Douglas Davies said:
One day, we’ll be free, We won’t care, just you wait and see. Til that day can be, Don’t let it get you down. 
So rather than see, that the world is too much for me, I am going to celebrate those that led me to trek to great shows with ten people to tens of thousands in venues ranging from a contact-high DIY apartment in the sky to the smallest live venue, in the smallest town in the smallest state of the United States to festivals in the mud and desert which all make me ready to turn up the volume on 2017.
MEMORABLE–NON-FESTIVAL PERFORMANCES (No Particular Ranking)
GLENN BRANCA ENSEMBLE (Roulette, Brooklyn)
Glenn Branca is an avant garde composer, creating “symphonies” played by electric guitar armies utilizing heavy volume, repetition and alternative tunings . I was lucky enough to fly into NY and learn he was performing the world premiere of his piece The Light (For David) and was able to get tickets despite the fact he was also featured in the NY Times that day–who says culture is inaccessible in NYC. What other show offers (and strongly recommends) free ear plugs? While the piece started in the jackhammer range that made me feel I was a member of the squeamish, his 4 guitar, bass and drums combo quickly migrated to cascading, wall of pulsing sound blasts of high intensity and harmonic power. Branca acknowledges that his material is challenging, yet he delivers a type of all-encompassing layered hypnotic sound you can imagine hearing, but it is rarely delivered the way Branca and his team does it.
PONY’S (Empty Bottle).
It is hard to believe it was 6 years between Pony’s shows in Chicago, and we have to thank the publication of the Empty Bottle book for the reunion, and what a reunion it was. The driving harmonic guitar combinations of Jared Gummere and Brian Case (now Disappears’ head honcho) were as strong as ever.
NEGATIVE SCANNER (as best as I can recall, Bric-a-Brac records, Empty Bottle, Café Rectum and Hideout).
I know I am a broken record, but if you had 20-30 minutes to spend on a live performance of any band today (and I don’t mean a Chicago Band) you could not get more bang for your buck-period. Slashing guitar, howling vocals–whether you live in an 80’s world or today NS will haunt and propel you. Luckily they are back doing gigs early this year (January 7 at Chop Shop and January 14 at Schuba’s to start).
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (Milwaukee).
One anthemic homage to the individual spirit fighting against this thing we call life, after another, for three plus hours per night for 38+ years (!) this guy remains, pound for pound and note for note remains the undisputed heavyweight champion of the rock and roll performance world.
THEE OH SEES (Thalia Hall, Empty Bottle).
Give Jon Dwyer another 28 years and he may eclipse Bruce for the sheer energy he can transmit to an audience. He can still deliver a grungy garage-infused frenzy that sends your body smashing into others and you sweat glands to overload. Even with only one drummer, the Empty Bottle show was one of the sweatiest for me ever (and, ask anyone who plays basketball with me–I sweat).
PRINCE RAMA (Schuba’s ).
Beamed in from another planet sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson are on a mission to hypnotize their audience into dance through sound and vision. What other band wears Mona Lisa tights and has its own aesthetic philosophy! www. Now-age.org. Their current genre meld involves Xtreme Dance, and that is ok with me–can’t wait for what’s next.
NIGHT BEATS (Beat Kitchen).
I really have to thank the bartenders at the Matchbox for introducing me to this psychedelic/R&B/garage band from Seattle. Following more than 30 years behind their progenitors like The Sonics, since 2009 the Night Beats have swirled their fuzzy guitars over stomping march bass and drums to nod and bob your head forward in stoner groove bliss.
COSMONAUTS (East Room).
This rag tag bunch of slackers are kind of the West Coast’s answer to Parquet Courts. Droney, pulsating and churning garage rock also since 2009. Their Summer release A-OK was one of the better lps of the year and adds some hip hoppy vibe to the psych and up tempo velvet underground sheen. Live is where you can explore or lose your way within the shimmer and jive.
CHARLES BRADLEY (Thalia Hall and Space).
So much emotion– joy, pain and love lost and found–exude from this 67 year old soul singer and is transmitted to the audience His cover of Black Sabbath’ s Changes, demotes the original and serves as a moving tribute to his mother. He is fighting stomach cancer right now, so we hope and pray that his music can heal him and that he is back at it in 2017 (he is scheduled to play Bottlerocket in Napa over Memorial Day weekend–so that bodes well).
For their last two tours over the last 18 months the Mekons have relocated the chemistry that helped to create the rowdy hard/alt country/punk revival in the mid 80’s. Melding guitar, accordion, violin, team vocals and perhaps the greatest (if perhaps the only) saz playing you may ever hear, Jon Langford and company create thick harmonic and chaotic waltzes, dirges, and all out attacks to have fun while we make fun of the system–one of my candidates for an inauguration party.
TELEVISION (9:30 Club, DC)
Speaking of harmony, there is nothing so intricate and beautiful to me as the intertwining guitars of Tom Verlaine and his cohort Jimmy Rip (the “new” member of the band since 2007), switching seamlessly from lead to rhythm providing rock that is much more “arty” than “punky”- laying down an aggressive, staccato dueling riffs, then ultimately deconstructing it into a free rock/jazz jam that at times can range from space to noise to flamenco creating notes that don’t quite seem possible, and back to the riff, with TV’s plaintive, cynical, vocals stopping in every once in a while. These are songs you can get lost in or live within.
PETER HOOK AND THE LIGHT (Metro–2 times).
Non-judgmental person that I am, it is unusual for me to be a fan of what amounts to be a cover band. But I will make an exception for Peter Hook and the Light who create a band that does New Order songs as good and danceable as New Order and provide the simulacrum of the Joy Division which never made it to the US because of Ian Curtis’ legendary suicide. Hooky was the original bassist of both bands and each night he and his crew replicate both bands, playing sets of one band’s music “opening” for the other band. On the night of the first World Series game at Wrigley Field in 71 years, I faced a difficult choice–but crossed the street to the Metro and voted with my ears and feet.
MOST MEMORABLE FESTIVAL/OUTDOOR SHOWS
DOWNTOWN BOYS (SXSW)
The self-description “bi bilingual political dance sax punk party from Providence” just about says it all. But Victoria Ruiz says a lot more, and in your face. I’ll take them as my number 1 inauguration party headliner. Whether it is keeping government away from a person’s body, attacking slumlords, supporting the legacy of Malcolm X or just telling the world
or any person that “Today we must scream at the top of our lungs that we are brown, we are smart.” Or
(translated from Spanish)
We want to choose to decide We must choose how you want to live Complain and fight to force and stop crying And no one takes advantage of you
Here’s to the force of this band–may it be with you, and may you move with and be moved by them to your soulful core.
DIET CIG (SXSW/Wicker Park Fest)
Take a personal emo-girl and guitar and mash it with danceable pop punk and you have a bit of what this duo from New Paltz, New York have to offer. Alex Luciano is 5’3” just turned 21, has a pixie like quality, and admittedly plays only a handful of chords. Her songs can start out innocently, but break out into a frenzy with her playing guitar and singing while doing kicks, spins, and crowd surfing. All you want to do is smile, dance and yell with her to kick butt.s.
GUNS N’ ROSES (Coachella)
If my theory is true that the net enjoyment of an experience is equal to the net/difference between your level of expectation and level of what was ultimately delivered by the performance , GNR probably had the highest score of the year. Due in part to the fact that my expectations were extremely low, and only went to see them because I was there, they were headlining and I was really curious about how bad they would be so I could “stick a fork in them” and have the evidence to support it. Boy was I wrong–the surprise factor was that the band knocked it out of the park/desert. Starting slow, Slash really took over the performance by turning out classic riff after riff–both his and others rock and roll history–a few songs in, a nasty (in a good way) cover of Live and Let Die made me stop, look and listen that there was actually something special going on here. The hard rock was balanced by a sentimental, flamenco solo of Wish You Were Here, and semi-acoustic intro to You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory (sung by Duff) for Prince, a punk cover of the Damned’s “New Rose” (which coincidentally, the Damned had played 2 hours earlier–something I had not seen before at a festival a cover of a song the original band also played!) with electrifying sound and powerstances. Axl Rose may have even benefitted from the fact that he being confined to a motorized chair, as he was forced to focus solely on what he could convey with his voice, and couldn’t prance or fight with Slash for power/control of the stage. In the end the set showed that popularity be damned and GNR should command rock and roll respect.
FEAR OF MEN (SXSW and Schuba’s)
Swirling and hypnotic guitars and ethereal vocals get to me, and Jessica Weiss and Dan Falvey continue to deliver on both fronts. Their 2016 sophomore album Fall Forever is a dreamy classic. Live Jessica sets an example for the audience by alternatively presenting and letting go of her lilting songs.
JOY FORMIDABLE (Lollapalooza)
This Welsh trio has really invested five years of touring into developing the anthemic power chords ideal for a festival show. But their show does not rest solely on sound as their politics and positive statements about self-worth are front forward. Songs involving issues like defeating your inner demons and personal freedom allow you to rise above yourself on guitar and synth waves. Yet, like Billy Bragg, this band seems to know more about US politics then we know and aren’t ashamed to address the issues. At Lolla, they made a strong point against political apathy, using the Brexit vote as evidence that sitting on our hands would bring about the wrong result for us too, pleading “You can’t let that mop head get into office.” Unfortunately, the band has proved to be as prescient as they are entertaining.
I am not objective when it comes to Sleater-Kinney, but I was definitely nervous about whether and how S-K could deliver a short, meaningful festival gig set. But like a geothermal power plant, the band was able to condense their innate power into a furious 16 song 55 minute set without substantial compromise or pause. Doubts dismissed.
KING KHAN AND THE SHRINES (Green Fest)
King Khan and the Shrines deliver a groovy mixture of garage rock, psychedelia and soul. Fronting an 8 piece band with three horns, King (Arish Ahmad) Khan an Canadian-born Indian living in Germany is a visual as well as aural sensation, changing vibes from Thirteenth Floor Elevators to James Brown and costumes from a fur boa-vest to a gold lame cape with both his belly and buttcheeks-showing! In addition to the music, there is often a message with songs influenced by the Black Panther party, Screaming Jay Hawkins and Muhammed Ali, among others. But, ultimately, it is the rollicking rave ups, bouncing back up band, honking horns and r&b revue that create the excitement to carry a festival day.
KING SUNNY ADE AND THE AFRICAN BEATS (Millennium Park)
While on the subject of royalty, this 70 year old Nigerian world music star regally fronts his legion of percussive performers. He was one of the first African artists to combine native “talking drums” with electric and pedal steel guitars. His call and response vocals and pounding rhythms underlay and overlay the staccato/spasmatic guitar riffs he rips to create a juju music with one of the fastest paces I know. No offense to Paul Simon, but if that is your only point of reference or exposure to this style of music you need to add a quadruple espresso, exercise with a power plate on high or microdose to have a better understanding of what you are missing. It is virtually impossible to say seated, and once you stand good luck keeping up or keeping your cool.
LCD SOUNDSYSTEM (Coachella/Lolla)
Channeling a mélange of funk, punk, soul, new wave, R&B and anything else that can get you to shake your fanny, this band demonstrates that a live band can still put forth some of the best dance music around. James Murphy and his crew do not hide, but pay homage to their influences and celebrate them, and included an uplifting cover of Heroes, which was one of the best covers of the year.
While there may be some sorts of ska revivals now and in the future, I am not sure if there will ever be ambassadors for the music, brand and social and racial equality as exemplified by this bunch that originated in Coventry in 1977. Though members have unfortunately passed or moved away, the look remains mod and rude boy, the sound is alternatively danceable ska and e and the slower rock steady, the vocals and lyrics are wry, cynical and withdrawn. Songs like Doesn’t Make it Alright still strike at the lack of heart of fascism while Nite Klub remains the pinnacle yin/yang love/indictment of the dance club night life. The combination is still infectious.
Chill, understated, ethereal, lilting/pulsing/swaying trip hop. Haelos is the London based dreamy electronica band you want to listen to while relaxing on a red leather couch sipping champagne or a Sazerac at the end of a long night. So why are they good at a festival, in the daytime? It definitely is not quite the same, but a long day at a festival can’t be non-stop high energy, so a soothing sonic intermezzo can really cleanse the palette and the mood. Also entrancing music, whatever the time and place…..
PARTY STATIC (SXSW)
Frenzied chaos from this dual vocal party band from Dallas, Texas is exactly the unique spark that makes live music the greatest form of entertainment. A sonic and visual shotgun marriage, two sorority femme fetalles chant and howl together at the audience or each other while a derelict trio of long haired guys grind out a grungy dance punk reminding me of notables like Pylon, Mika Miko and Explode into Colors.
© 2016-7 Bart A. Lazar.
 Ah the classic philosophical conundrum between the Boss and Johnny Thunders as to whether we are Born to Run or Born to Lose. See also–John Steinbeck, East of Eden and the meaning of the work Timshel in the Torah/Bible.
 Yes. Neil Young fans are going–don’t let it bring you down, it’s only castles burning, just find someone who’s turning and you will come around” but I digress from my digression.