More than any recent year, it seeme like 2012 brought around more old groups then ever, including many either reunited or back for one more (last?) tour. And I am not talking about PBS-backed reunions either (although I am waiting to be asked to host the punk-reunion fundraiser). These included the 50s and 60s–the Fugs, the Standells, the Who and Zombies, from the 70s- Strawbs, the Dbs and Graham Parker and the Rumour just to name a few. Mature bands mean mature audiences and many times this year I felt like I was if not one of the younger people in the audience, I was at least below the median age–which is kind of a trip.
1. MISSION OF BURMA–Lincoln Hall. Not surprisingly, the best of the old performances I experienced this year was from a band that reunited around 10 years ago and has not wallowed in nostalgia for a minute. In fact for the first time in my memory, the band eschewed its only pseudo hit (that’s when I reach for my) Revolver–which Moby sold many more than MOB. MOB is perhaps the most non-melodic intense and challenging band that I can handle and love, with post punk rock angst and power mixed with propulsing chord changes and barking vocals. But the power and energy that come from Clint Conley’s lead bass and Roger Miller’s thrashing guitar is still infective and consuming.
2. ELVIS COSTELLO–Riotfest. I had pretty much written off Elvis by 1992, and I viewed his set as a bridge between Jesus (and Mary Chain) and the Messiah (Iggy). But Elvis took the Riotfest vibe and theme seriously. Starting with Lipstick Vogue, Elvis locked and loaded playing sole, lead guitar that chimed well with piano which really carried in an outdoor setting, Elvis made it clear that ballad would not be on the menu. He won me over by focusing on his first three albums, you could see a hint of his early angry young man as he shot off one hit after another-I don’t want to go to Chelsea, Pump it Up and Radio Radio-each of which would undoubtedly be a highlight nugget of any of his current shows. But, he did not stop there going back to his friend Nick Lowe for Heart of the City and finishing with one of the greatest pop songs ever written, Nick’s sad and life affirming, chiming and chilling (What’s so Funny Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding–overall an amazing and surprising delivery from Elvis.
3. PAUL COLLINS/PETER CASE. The Jackalope. Aristotle definitely understood rock and roll, because the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts. Exhibit 1 the short lived re-combination of Paul Collins and Peter Case. After playing together in the Nerves in 1974 and creating the song “Hangin on the Telephone” later popularized by Blondie, Peter Case formed The Plimsouls (A Million Miles Away) and Paul Collins The Beat (Rock and Roll Girl) and each has had lengthy solo careers. Reunited it was power pop heaven. Alternating between the greatest hits (or hit, as the case may be) and deep repertoires of three bands and two solo careers, the entire club was dancing up and down with big smiles on their faces. Unfortunately, the pairing was too good to last. By the time the tour hit Chicago the following week, Paul Collins was already off the tour-so much for heaven.
4. SHONEN KNIFE Empty Bottle and Bell House. Speaking of smiling faces, there is nothing that can put a smile on anyone’s face than this Japanese pop punk trio’s performance. Whether doing a Ramones, Monkees or Carpenters cover or their own original songs about banana chips, or their psychedelic life, for more than 30 years Naoko Yamano and her bandmates have played catchy and dancey pop punks songs that simply engage and entertain.
5. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN AND THE E STREET BAND. Solo Speech/Performance at SXSW, Moody Theatre, Wrigley Field. I know, I know. Everyone knows that Bruce is one of the most prolific and powerful performers and his band are no slouches either. They have set the highest standard for more than 30 years and deliver EVERY NIGHT. Even when he is pushing his new and mostly inferior product, he sells the music earnestly and gives it his all. Two moments stand out. In the rain at Wrigley Field, Bruce did not run and hide or stay in some safe place under cover. Instead, he kicked the band into Waiting for a Sunny Day, went out into the rain and did a searing guitar solo on his knees and defied the elements. And in his keynote speech at SXSW his solo, acoustic, talking version of The Animals “We Gotta Get Out of this Place” (written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVSoilSuXO4 and acknowledgment of how the Animals, Clash and Sex Pistols inspired him was a moving, tearjerking, highlight of the year.
6. IGGY POP and THE STOOGES – Riotfest. Iggy’s ripped and torn body should be declared a national historic site. At age 65, it is truly amazing to perceive his high energy performance. Continuing to confront audiences and society and general, he urged the crowd to bum rush the stage and danced and sang in a group of adoring fans, a la Chuck Berry. The Stooges have weathered the loss of Ron Asheton and still grind out a rockin blues-infused groove that provides a firm foundation for Iggy to fly around from.
7. GRAHAM PARKER AND THE RUMOUR. Park West. Reuniting after a 30 year absence, my ranking has a little bit of sentimentality to it. Seeing Martin Belmont and Brinsley Schwartz trading soulful and seething riffs made up for some pretty week new material. Always a pub rather than pop or punk rock band, their versions of Fool’s Gold, Soul Shoes, Discovering Japan and Hey Lord Don’t Ask Me Questions stood up particularly well.
8. THE WHO. While I can’t say I was thrilled by the band, and sometimes I wish they just left well enough alone, or followed their own “My Generaton” edict, it was definitely good, and maybe important to be reminded of the guitar prowess of Peter Townsend, who clearly was the greatest influence on two of my favorite guitarists-Paul Weller and Carrie Brownstein. They did loving tributes to Keith Moon and John Entwistle including playing an entire song with John’s bass–which made me think it would have been a nice touch for Bruce to have done the same thing with Clarence–more of a performing tribute rather than a highlight film. While Roger Daltrey can’t sing too many high notes anymore, and can’t keep his shirt buttoned he still has a soldier-like presence anchoring the band.
9. THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN. Sometimes you have to find the glass half full. The Ried brothers are capable of greatness, with their chiming and distortive songs as well as some pretty horrifying mush as they butchered their own beautiful Taste of Cindy. I don’t think I have ever attended performances that were so internally inconsistent. However, when the brothers are in synch and not feuding, and the guitars in tune, the harmony, distortion and driving psychedelic guitars wash over you like in “Blues from a Gun” and “Reverence”,the bass lines pulse through and move you and Jim Ried’s deep and dark vocals can take you to another place.
10. THE DBS -Hideout. Another reunited 80s band, this time from North Carolina, with earthy, rockin rhythm and blues, combining jangling intersecting guitars and farfisa keyboards. Their song “That Time is Gone” which they opened with, is probably one of the best recordings from a band that has not recorded in 25 years. Check it out. http://www.thedbsonline.net/ Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple are another pop pair to make Aristotle proud.
11. TAV FALCO. Reggies. This Memphis crooner is one of the last purveyors of psychobilly, kitchy messy blues based garage rock. Partially a musicologist, partially an artist and partially a ringmaster of sorts, Tav’s music is perpetually 2 am at a dark nightclub.
12. OLMARA PORTUANDO. Nacional Hotel. My daughters and I were lucky to accidentally catch a revue with this 82 year old Cuban performer who became well known in the US because of the Buena Vista Socia Club. Even at her advanced age, she is charismatic, lighting up the stage with her presence. She also really can stir up a crowd, tossing musical instruments to the crowd and getting half the crowd to follow her in a train.
Honorable Mention: Jonathan Richman–still fun and emotional. Buddy Guy–still an electric blues treasure.