One of my favorite things to do is to attend live shows of any musical genre. Gwar, Amy Grant, Steely Dan, N’Sync, Tori Amos. Let’s do it. Every year I set a goal to see at least twelve shows encouraging me to explore new music. I’ve fallen in love with acts that I went to see only because of one or two songs.
There weren’t a whole lot of blockbuster or well known artists on this years list and, having seen many eyes glaze over when I mention who it was that I was going to see, I decided to create this list as an introduction to some lesser known acts.
There is something here for everyone: rock, soul, funk, indie rock, rap, acoustic singer songwriters and others that I can’t quite categorize. I hope you enjoy browsing the list, watching the videos and listening to the all encompassing Spotify playlist I created. I would love to know your thoughts and get recommendations on people I should check out.
The Columbus Theatre, Providence, RI
I feel so incredibly lucky to have attended this show. Bradley started his career as a James Brown impersonator and that is glaringly obvious from his performances. He came out on stage in a sparkly red, tight fitting suit and gyrated on stage while performing songs that would make you laugh/cry/horny. The audience for this one was particularly diverse with an entire high school basketball team, drunk bros dancing in the aisles and older men falling asleep. My friend, Sam, was stuck sitting in the back, which was better for people watching.
Brighton Music Hall, Boston, MA
Having only seen Mirah perform as part of Thao and Mirah – my favorite “Oh my gosh, they came together!” musical duo, I was elated I was finally getting the chance to see her perform solo. There’s been a growing trend among artists to perform an entire album at their show instead of a sampling of their tracks. Mirah played her new album Changing Light from start to finish and closed with one of her oldest songs,”Mt. St. Helens.” I wasn’t familiar with the album going into the show, but I left obsessed with it. Her style is overly artistic. Songs tend to seemingly deconstruct and find their own catastrophic ending.
The Head and the Heart
Death Cab For Cutie
City Hall Plaza, Boston, MA
I finally got to see Death Cab For Cutie!!! Jenny Lewis is the front woman for my All Time Favorite Band, Rilo Kiley, and I freaked when she played my All Time Favorite Song of theirs “A Better Son/Daughter.” Frank Turner was delightful – even though that’s a strange way to categorize him. The Head and the Heart held the entire audience captive. The Decemberists were fine – they’re not my favorite.
Salt n’ Pepa
City Hall Plaza, Boston, MA
This show was bizarre. Salt n’ Pepa and SPINDERELLA (!!!) came out and kinda played their songs and then kinda spoke to the audience about treating women with respect while playing clips of Erykah Badu songs. Everyone left when they closed with a prayer instead of “None of Your Business.” And that’s why they’re doing GEICO commercials now.
Puss N Boots w/ Dwight and Nicole
The Sinclair, Cambridge, MA
This was one of the shows I was invited to and had minimal interest in. The ladies of Puss N Boots are adorable, but I was more impressed with Dwight and Nicole. A fist fight broke out towards the end of the show and I made my friend grab the set list since he loves Norah Jones so much. And then I think he threw it away.
Brighton Music Hall, Boston, MA
As this show neared, I didn’t want to go. There was an exhibition boxing match at the boxing gym I had been training at and I was bummed to miss it. I’m glad I did – this show was incredible. Plus, I almost got in a fist fight of my very own. I wrote a whole thing about the show here.
The War on Drugs
Lake Street Dive
Twenty One Pilots
Nas and The Roots
City Hall Plaza, Boston, MA
This ticket was given to me, for which I am forever grateful, and I had such a great time at this show. For a musica festival taking place in the heart of the city, Boston Calling is well organized and safe. There are water stations, affordable snacks and coffee, enough bathroom, phone charging stations, and everything starts on time!
Going in, I was only familiar with Nas and The Roots. Lake Street Dive is just a conglomeration of powerful voices. Twenty One Pilots reminded me that I am 32 years old. The Replacements aren’t my thing please don’t yell at me about it. Nas was great. Like, really, really great.
The Sinclair, Cambridge, MA
You guys. The Sinclair is my favorite venue in Boston and I will see anything there. Excellent variety of beers, great sound, A/C and perfect views. It’s hard to go someplace and feel like you’re the only one there while being surrounded by tons of people. I love this place.
I also love San Fermin. A friend of mine raved about them, having seen them at Boston Calling in September, so I wanted to check them out. They’re incredible. When I’m asked about this show, I place my hand on my chest and gasp before speaking. They’re that good. Plus, practically every member favorited my instagram photo of their performance. BFFs now with San Fermin.
Har Mar Superstar and The Pizza Underground
Brighton Music Hall, Boston, MA
Last time I saw Har Mar Superstar he had stripped off three layers of clothes and was wearing a Prince Purple Rain tour shirt while standing on a bar and singing Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” acapella. He is a national treasure.
The Pizza Underground sings pizza themed songs originally by the Velvet Underground. I believe the show was sold old partly because The Pizza Underground features Macaulay Culkin and people think that yelling quotes from Home Alone at him are hilarious. I know this because the gentleman next to me screamed “BUZZ, YOUR GIRLFRIEND! WOOF!” repeatedly in between attempts to light his joint and point emphatically at whoever in the band was singing. The bros next to me in Christmas sweaters kept saying “Dude, remember Home Alone, dude?” No. No one remembers Home Alone. Especially you guys who kept saying the reason why you were there was to “see Macaulay Culkin from Home Alone.” GO HOME!
I was right up against the stage so I managed to snag some of the pizza they handed out to the audience as well as a pixie stick from the Candy Boys, who were called up to perform a few songs. At the end of their set I felt inspired to start my own Ani DiFranco cheese themed cover band: Anbrie DiFranco. I will feature such songs as “32 Cheeses” and “Boursin Hands.”
All of the terrible people left when Har Mar Superstar came out and the fun people stepped up to dance with me. He rocked a few glittery ponchos before toweling off and performing shirtless. He even sang a few songs posed in a sideways handstand type thing. An audience request for “Too Many Cooks” was granted. By the end of the show I was covered in Har Mar’s sweat and the Corona that Macaulay Culkin shook and sprayed on me. I think that’s what 4D means.
The show was a blast and I’m having a hard time refraining from saying this was the best show of the year. I love watching people have fun on stage and, since this was the last show of their six week tour, the camaraderie that they had formed performing together was evident when they closed with one giant, fairly improvised number that sounded a lot like this.
Bonus: Between sets Anchovy Warhol played a video set to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” featuring adoptable cats whose names sounded like lyrics of the song. For example, “Chubby Checker, Psycho, Belgians in the Congo” became pictures of “Chubby, Checkers, Psycho, Belle, Gin, Indigo.”
Okay, I wrote much more about this show than I expected.
Hopes for 2015: Taylor Swift, Janelle Monae, Sleater Kinney, Neil Diamond, OutKast and Prince. Always Prince.
When Veruca Salt announced a reunion tour a few months ago I made sure to put two separate dates on my calendar: The date the tickets went on sale and the date of the actual show. Unlike other reunion shows I have attended, this would be a smaller, more intimate affair. Brighton Music Hall – formerly Harper’s Ferry – a standing room only, 476 capacity club in Boston – would be the final stop on their three week long US Tour.
The first time I saw a show at BHM was back in May when myself and 75 others spaced ourselves out to watch a breathing taking performance by Mirah. Seeing the space that severely undersold bummed me out, though I was grateful for the personal space and sight lines. Knowing that Veruca Salt would be playing a sold out show there pumped me up for an entirely different experience.
You’re probably think that I’m some super hard-core fan that has been waiting forever for them to reunite. That I wore red converse all stars to their shows at Mama Kin in the mid 90’s, but I didn’t. At the height of their popularity I was fifteen years old and listening to WFNX in to the wee hours of the morning hoping to tape “Volcano Girls” on my boom box. I followed Nina Gordon’s brief solo career and dug that a little bit more, but I pretty much forgot about them. Their two radio mega hits (“Seether” and the previously mentioned “Volcano Girls”) remain on my work out play list and serve as a bit of junior high nostalgia on the elliptical. As I grew older my music tastes shifted and broadened. I’ve always tried to take advantage of the opportunity to see the amazing and diverse acts that roll through Boston. My goal is to average 12 shows a year, but I hope to avoid General Admission shows at all costs.
I’m old. I hate getting bumped into by people and have them spill a drink on me (bonus douche points if it’s mine). I hate it when people push their way to the front and act like dicks when I’ve been standing there forever. I’m short and someone taller than me always manages to shift right into that little sliver I had been able to enjoy the opener through. I hate standing for long periods of time because my back is bad these days. Every time I go to a GA show I forget about these things and just before the show starts I’m usually boiling with rage and a hatred for everyone born in a year I actually remember.
Yes, of course it happened this time, but it’s so not worth getting into – as the gentleman on the street told me when those girls tried to get into it with me again. Anyway, we were standing about three people deep and just off stage right. They took the stage. Man, even their drummer was close to me. Nina, in an updated baby tee showcasing the lyrics of a song by her own band, mostly hung to our side while Louise Post, wearing flannel, played a little more to the crowd on the opposite side. It was loud. They sounded fresh. Their harmonies were on point and their riffs sharp. What they acknowledged they lacked in verbal onstage banter they made up for in just straight up rock goddess stage presence. The hatchet was buried. I always love watching people have fun on stage regardless of the medium. Their clothes, equipment, and overall style was a slightly updated grunge version of who I knew them to be 20 years ago. They remained true to themselves all these years later.
(As I sit here writing this I am listening to Veruca Salt through my tv on my Spotify. I’ve been having trouble with the forward button on the remote. Instead of skipping tracks it’ll just skip a few seconds of the song. My remote isn’t stuck and I’ve deleted and reinstalled the app multiple times. It’s some dumb glitch I can’t control and spotify can’t seem to solve. I am growing even more nostalgic for my mix tape of WFNX mid 90’s gems.)
The venue was perfect and it made me wistful for something I never even was able to experience. It is what I had imagined shows would be like when I was growing up. I always hoped for an all ages Liz Phair or Letters to Cleo show, but everything was always 18+. I saw clips of intimate, hard rock performances on MTV News and 120 Minutes. It sucked that I wasn’t allowed to see these bands. I wanted to be in the smoky depths of the Middle East downstairs and see Tracy Bonham. Just before I turned 18 Mama Kin shut down. Artists that I had loved, like Tori Amos, were growing in popularity and playing sold out shows at the Fleet Center. Tickets for shows started carrying several additional fees skyrocketing the overall cost. Avalon became the nightmare now known as that barf bag House of Blues. Great Woods and Harborlights have had several corporate names and I actually had to use my google to discover they’re now the Xfinity Center and Blue Hills Bank Pavilion. One of those sounds nice, but is about 20 miles away from Blue Hills and on the ocean. Beyonce is one of a few people I will shell out big bucks for because she’s going to zip line across the TD Garden to my absolute delight. That’s a show that I want to be staged, because it’s intricate and more of a spectacle. It requires pyro and dancers. Veruca Salt required instruments and just being there.
Additionally, I felt wistful for a decade of third-wave feminism. Though not part of the Riot Grrrl movement, Veruca Salt fell into that category along side other female artists who were singing about whatever they wanted to in whatever emotional tone suited them best. It wasn’t complicated. They screamed and growled about what it was that made them feel good. They sang about complex relationships with significant others. Explicitly demanding what they expected from others and what they could offer in return.
When I wrote about what the ladies were wearing above the thought crossed my mind that someone would read that and think “Why is that important?” I felt it was an important observation because their clothing was a nod the decade they came from and in no way the focus of their act. No one gave a shit about what women wore during the grunge era. Baby doll dresses, flannel, corduroys. No one gave a shit about their personal lives, their “Cribs,” or their social media outreach. The focus was on the music they produced.
I feel like I missed the decade where it was about the music and putting on a good show. The whole reason an album was made to begin with was so that there was something to send the fans home with after they played the shit out of it. Veruca Salt still feels like a small time operation that just wanted a good old fashioned jam session with 476 of their closest friends. They were doing it for them and for us only.