Last year, I posted my Top 5 Concerts of 2011, and looking back on 2012, I realized that I saw a lot of my most beloved bands/musicians for the first time this year and that many of the artists really stepped it up a notch. 2012 wasn’t about nostalgia or catchy hooks. These ten concerts had me walking out of venues brimming with excitement to write my reviews, share their albums with my friends, or simply add their entire catalogs to my iPod playlist for enjoyment while hiking Griffith Park.
I have never experienced a city so full of music as Los Angeles, so please keep in mind that this list is incredibly biased and personal. Every writer of our blog would have a vastly different list, but please indulge me while I share my memorable shows of 2012!
I have had a girl crush on Julia Nunes since I first stumbled upon her YouTube page years ago. Her popularity has since exploded, and this year the New Yorker finally made it out to the West Coast. I was more than ready to hear her deeply personal lyrics accompanied with an adorable ukelele and self-taught power chords, but I didn’t expect that Nunes would be disarmingly grounded, hilariously self-deprecating, and sincerely talented. The beauty of this performance was in the simplicity of her set and the heartfelt emotions behind every song. To my joy, Nunes proved she was much more than an Internet sensation.
I hadn’t seen The Rocket Summer, aka Bryce Avary, perform in years, and this show coincided with the release of his album Life Will Write the Words. He exuded gratitude and happiness throughout the performance, and I had forgotten what a sensationally talented artist he is. Whether he was looping and layering instruments by himself for accompaniment, head banging while rocking the piano, or performing acoustically from the center of the sold-out crowd, Avary was overflowing with love for his music and audience. His unique brand of uplifting pop rock warmed my heart, and even after five records and countless tours, Avary has much more to give.
California is a hot bed for music festivals (e.g., Coachella, FYF Fest, and Sunset Strip to name a few), but I have to be true to my roots and put The Warped Tour on this list. Yes, at twenty-four I’m starting to feel out of place amongst the Hot Topic-clad teenagers, but when Adam Lazarra took the stage for Taking Back Sunday’s set, I felt right at home. Warped offered me a chance to see old favorites like New Found Glory, Yellowcard, Mayday Parade, and The Used, as well as exciting up-and-comers Man Overboard, Tonight Alive, Polar Bear Club, and I Fight Dragons. Yes, my shirt was soaked through with sweat and I was caked in dirt by the end of the day, but it’s all part of the exhausting, amazing, never-gets-old experience that is Warped Tour.
Prior to 2012, I had yet to see Dashboard Confessional live, and watching Chris Carrabba empty his heart onstage was one of the last “must-sees” to cross off my list. His gut-wrenchingly personal, heart-on-his-sleeve emotional rock was made for crowd sing-alongs, and the audience that evening was happy to oblige. One minute the choruses were deafening, and the next, Carrabba was singing so softly you could hear a pin drop in the venue. It was a concert that had been in the making for me since junior high, and the experience of lending my voice during “Hands Down” was all I’d hoped it’d be.
Another band I’d been longing to see since I first heard “Down Towards The Healing,” Lovedrug’s show at the Bootleg Bar in May marked the band’s first performance in LA in four years, and it featured an explosion of solid indie rock off their new release, Wild Blood (ranked #9 on our Top 50 albums of 2012 list). Lead vocalist Michael Shepard’s gritty vocals over layered, cascading guitars filled the tiny Bootleg as audience members raised their voices (and drinks) frequently during the passionate set. Despite a prolonged absence from our town, Lovedrug put on such a terrific show that all is forgiven. Now let’s see another solid album next year!
Without question, The Smashing Pumpkins are living legends, and seeing them live this year was an unforgettable (and yes, first-time) experience. The band that set the grunge rock bar played their newest release, Oceania, in its full glory, oscillating between heavy rock and dreamy, New Wave synth tracks. Their stage set-up was overwhelmingly cinematic as images were projected onto a giant orb to accompany the orchestral music. It was surreal seeing lead singer Billy Corgan belt out classics like “Tonight, Tonight” and “Disarm” to a sold-out crowd and definitely a show worth the wait.
I almost never attend “sit down” concerts, but then again, I almost never see artists who can captivate a crowd with just their voice and acoustic guitar like Kristian Matsson did this past June. Celebrating the release of his album There’s No Leaving Now that very day, Matsson retained his air of mystery by rarely talking to the crowd, instead opting to charm them with his gravely voice and captivating lyrics. The only adornment onstage was a wooden chair, a set-up very different from those of the rest of my top concerts, but when your voice can fill up the cavernous Wiltern and you have the audience hanging on your every word, that’s all you really need.
Foster the People has been a household name since “Pumped Up Kicks” began dominating national radio waves, and these LA natives knew how to put on one hell of a homecoming show. Playing two sold-out nights at the Gibson Amphitheatre, the band pulled out all the stops: light shows, smoke, confetti, inflatable animals, bubbles, digital screens, and more. They even brought in the USC marching band to accompany their upbeat, dance-pop sound, turning the arena into a giant dance party. Frontman Mark Foster shared memories of LA and the struggles of dedicating your life to music, which made the show feel more intimate, but just as quickly, he’d launch into the next high-energy number. After seeing this show, there’s no question that Foster The People does LA proud.
I saw Gotye perform a short set on Jimmy Kimmel Live in January, so I knew what an incredible experience his show would be. With the gorgeous Greek Theatre as his backdrop, international sensation Wally De Backer brought his genre-bending songs to life while pushing his own limits musically and physically. Each song, from the breakout hit “Somebody I Used To Know” to lesser known tracks like “Dig Your Own Hole,” was accompanied by trippy videos that added another layer to his already fulled formed songs. This performance was especially memorable because I had the opportunity to speak with De Backer the day after, and after seeing a show as superb musically and performance-wise as his, who doesn’t want to tell the artist how great they are?
No amphitheater show came close to the sweaty, packed Troubadour and the pop punk glory that was The Story So Far’s show there in March. Fans crammed in to scream the lyrics back word-for-word to the California natives, crowd surf to high-five group members, and carry along the gang vocals built into the songs. Lead singer Parker Cannon delivered his personal lyrics with an overwhelming intensity, and the energy in the room was electrifying and communal throughout their go-hard-or-go-home set.
The Story So Far’s powerful performance alone would be enough to land them in the Top 10, but it was what happened after the show that really won me over. The band showed me what life was like on the road, what it meant to be idolized by fans, and how much they love what they do. They are wrapping up a tour with New Found Glory now, recently finished their second studio album (due next year), were one of the first bands announced for Warped Tour 2013 and just announced a nationwide headlining tour in 2013. This show made me realize that The Story So Far is just beginning to take over the pop punk scene.