Top Shows of 2011

10. Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes – Rochester Jazz Festival – Rochester, N.Y. – June 11
Southside Johnny may never have reached Bruce Springsteen’s level of success, but he still puts on a decent show. The Jukes aren’t exactly a “must-see” band, but their free show in Rochester was full of upbeat songs like “Talk to Me,” “I Don’t Want to Go Home,” and “Having a Party.”

So So Glos/Night Manager poster - The Suffolk July 1, 20119. So So Glos and Night Manager – Suffolk – New York, N.Y. – July 1
Night Manager’s record release show was a pretty small event, which was perfect. So So Glos headlined the show, featuring a slew of other bands. The sound system was questionable but certainly not the worst I’ve ever heard. So So Glos blistered through their set — fast and loud. They’ve played bigger shows, but I have to think that the ones in New York City dive bars are their best.

8. Nana Grizol and Defiance, Ohio – Community School of Music and Art – Ithaca, N.Y. – June 23
I used to love going to DIY shows, but I kind of outgrew the music. Nana Grizol is one of the few bands that brings back the feeling of youth and plays music I still love. Frontman Theo Hilton played a double set. He’s also in Defiance, Ohio, but Nana Grizol was still my favorite — full of wistful horns and sing-a-long lyrics.

7. The Mountain Goats – Artpark – Lewiston, N.Y. – July 27
Honestly, the Mountain Goats should be much higher on this list. The band played an excellent set, full of John Darnielle’s stories and some of the Mountain Goats’ best songs, at Artpark. But headliner Bright Eyes was a big downer. Not only did Conor Oberst seem like he’d rather be anywhere else, their set was just lackluster. If the Mountain Goats had headlined, this might have topped the list.

6. Punch Brothers and Justin Townes Earle – Prospect Park – Brooklyn, N.Y. – June 30
This show was another case of “might have been higher under other circumstances.” I like Justin Townes Earle, but I was there to see Punch Brothers. They definitely didn’t disappoint. Chris Thile is one of the greatest mandolin players out there, and the rest of the band makes it look easy to keep up with him. They played some of their best originals and a fantastic cover of Beck’s “Sexx Laws.” JTE played a decent set but had a few setbacks — slowed down songs, no drummer and tempo problems. He played well, but the Punch Brothers set was too tight for him to follow. Had the order been reversed, it might’ve gone unnoticed. Still a great show, though.

5. Furthur – CMAC – Canandaigua, N.Y. – July 26
This Furthur show was my first live Grateful Dead experience. I had heard what to expect, mostly regarding the Dead Heads, but was still completely caught off guard. People watching alone might have been worth the price of a ticket. Even without the strange parade of people, Furthur’s performance was worth the money we paid. Their two sets were full of classics like “Truckin’,” “Uncle John’s Band” and “Dark Star,” plus the usual assortment of covers and rarer songs. It was the first of, most likely, many Furthur/Dead shows.

4. Free Energy with Sports – St. Bonaventure University – April 30
Free Energy was the last concert I booked at St. Bonaventure, and it couldn’t have gone better. The weather was beautiful (it was outdoors), and both bands definitely had good vibes. Free Energy is the only band I’ve ever seen that even comes close to how fun, laid back and genuinely happy Limbeck is. I got the band Sports from Rochester to open, and they were awesome. It was my third time seeing Free Energy, and this was probably my favorite. They played almost all of their songs, including a crowd sing-a-long of “Something in Common,” and a surprise cover of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” It was definitely a high point of my senior year.

Fleet Foxes - Mountain Park - Holyoke, Mass. poster3. Fleet Foxes – Mountain Park – Holyoke, Mass. – September 25
Is there a better band to see on the side of a mountain than Fleet Foxes? Doubtful. The setting of Mountain Park in Holyoke, Mass. was seemingly made for them. Their lush harmonies echoed beautifully off Mt. Tom, filling the unusually warm September air. Fortunately, with a small catalog, they played most of their songs, including my favorites like “Helplessness Blues,” “Montezuma,” “Ragged Wood,” “Mykonos” and “White Winter Hymnal.”

1. (tie) Elvis Costello – Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre – Rochester, N.Y. – June 17
These top two shows are really a toss-up. Elvis Costello’s performance at the Rochester Jazz Festival was one of the best I’ve seen. His songs are great, but he still knows how to make it fun. I loved the Spectacular Spinning Songbook, and even though the set list was partly left to chance, the show was crammed with classics. Elvis and the Imposters ended up playing around 40 songs, including “Radio, Radio,” “Alison,” “Pump It Up,” and the closer “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.”

Avett Brothers - Smith Opera House poster1. (tie) Avett Brothers with David Mayfield Parade – Smith Opera House – Geneva, N.Y. – February 20
My other favorite show of the year was the Avett Brothers, who will probably make this list every year they play near me. What made this sold-out show even better was that it was in my small city of Geneva, N.Y. We only get a few shows a year, and even fewer good ones. David Mayfield Parade opened and really got the crowd going. As always, the Avett Brothers played their hearts out — screaming and pounding their instruments. They have a charisma that few bands can capture. They don’t need anything fancy to boost their shows. They just give it 100% of what they’ve got, every time.


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