2017 was a pretty intense year all around, but there was still time for lots of music. For me personally, it included covering bands that I had never dreamed I'd get to photograph, crossing many entries off from my bucket list of artists to see, and even traveling overseas for several festivals. Choosing the "best" shows from among the numerous ones that I attended and covered for ChunkyGlasses was a daunting task, not least because I'm pretty selective about which shows I'll even do, meaning that I rarely see a bad one. Still, there were several that definitely stood out as being the best of the best. Here are my picks for my top ten shows (and festivals) of this year.
All photos by Matt Condon
It's been a few years since Franz Ferdinand last came around, but they're returning in early 2018 with their latest album Always Ascending in February and a show at the 9:30 Club in April. Before that, though, they did a brief tour this past summer, playing old favorites and previewing several new tracks. Their stop in Baltimore showed they've lost none of their energy or charm.
Damon Albarn returned with a new Gorillaz album this year, and while the album itself may have been a bit of a disappointment (lacking any real standout tracks), the live show was on point. With guests including Vince Staples, Danny Brown, and Pusha T, the focus at the show was on the performance and the music, not on the cartoon characters.
U2's recent work has been a mixed bag at best, but The Joshua Tree, the album that brought them to international stardom, will remain a classic for many years to come. This year was the record's 30th anniversary, and so the band took it out on tour. Backed by an absolutely massive LED screen covering an entire end zone of FedExField, Bono and company played through the entire album along with a selection of other hits. Say what you want about their newer music, but they still know how to put on a show.
Ride returned after nearly two decades in 2014, the differences which tore them apart back in 1996 finally mended. Not content to live in the past, the band released their first new album since the reunion, Weather Diaries, this year. It's as strong an album as anything they've ever recorded, and its great to have them back.
Spoon appeared in the middle of a stacked bill with Andrew Bird and Belle and Sebastian, and despite great performances by the other bands, they stole the show. Britt Daniel and company nailed every song, and kept the perfect energy going for a warm summer evening at an outdoor venue.
Paul Simon is one of the greatest songwriters alive today, and though he's been slowing down in recent years he still puts on an excellent show. Rumors of his impending retirement from music fortunately proved to thankfully be premature, and he came out for at least one more tour this past summer where he played hits from throughout his career. The solo acoustic rendition of "The Sound of Silence" that he closed the evening with was simply stunning.
Nick Cave's albums have steered toward the more mellow end in recent years, but his shows are some of the most energetic you could hope to see. Cave prowls along the front of the stage, looming over the crowd and growling menacingly. The result is one of the most unique and engaging shows out there.
It's not often that DC gets a new mega-sized venue, so when one does open, who else are you going to call besides DC-area native son Dave Grohl to kick things off? It's a large venue for a DC club but a small one for the Foo Fighters, which made the opening night set by the band one of the hottest tickets of the year and a night that anyone who was there will remember for a long time to come.
2) Green Man Festival (Brecon Beacons, Wales)
The United Kingdom takes its music festivals seriously. Unlike here in the US, where all of the major festivals seem to be continually recycling each other's line-ups, going to nearly any festival in the UK is a unique event. Nowhere was that more evident than the Green Man Festival, which took place in the rolling hills of an estate located in the heart of Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales. With a diverse multi-day lineup across several stages, including everyone from popular indie bands like Future Islands and The Shins, to English folk legend Shirley Collins, the outsider stylings of Julian Cope, and numerous other artists (several of which are pictured above), the festival had its own unique feel while still bringing in something for everyone. The weather wasn't always the most cooperative (heavy rain all day on the last day of the festival resulted in a two-inch-deep layer of sticky mud covering the entire grounds by evening), but it was still an incredible experience.
I've been a huge fan of English folk-rockers Fairport Convention for years now, and going to their annual Cropredy Festival has been a long-time goal. So I was both thrilled and honored when my request for media credentials to the festival was met with a positive response. With it being the band's 50th anniversary, the weekend was particularly special, with appearances by many Fairport alumni including Richard Thompson, Iain Matthews, Judy Dyble, and Ashley Hutchings. The diverse lineup included everyone from indie rockers The Divine Comedy to pop legend Petula Clark, folksinger Dougie MacLean to prog rock heroes Marillion. The weekend culminated in a three-hour-long set from Fairport themselves, a retrospective covering the length of the bands catalog with numerous guest appearances. Truly a magical weekend.