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.
Nick Cave released Skeleton Tree, his sixteenth album with his band The Bad Seeds, last year, paired with the release of the documentary film One More Time With Feeling, which documented the making of the album and the impact of the death of Cave’s 15-year-old son Arthur. In part due to its minimal production, and likely in part due to the context around its creation, the album is a somber affair, Cave’s most personal, confessional-sounding work yet. Cave waited several months to take the album on tour, playing a run of shows in his native Australia in January. He and his band started the North American leg of their touring last weekend in a two-night run over Friday and Saturday at Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, New York.
Another South by Southwest (SXSW) has come and gone, leaving a wake of fuzzy memories, ringing ears and a few triumphant “finds” to keep us listening for another year.
Even as music festivals are growing in popularity across the country, SXSW, which is in fact a conference not a festival, holds a special place in the musical landscape, providing a forum for acts and bands of all sizes and degrees of notoriety to perform their latest creations in the hopes of drawing the attention of someone, or everyone. Prince played. Justin Timberlake played. And, thousands of other bands played, too, in over a hundred clubs in and around Austin, TX for five days in March.
Clearly, it’s impossible to see every band, so a strategy is required. My focus was to see bands I’ve never seen before over acts or bands I’ve seen, or would see soon in DC. To prepare, I listened to as many SXSW bands in advance as I could, which was about 175. That resultant list, augmented by other sources, guided my decision making over the course of the festival. But serendipity and attachment to some of my favorites played a role, too. All in all, I saw 60 bands over 5 days.
Still, despite best-laid plans, for some line-ups, you simply have to change your strategy. Thursday night’ Belmont Warner Sound Nikon showcase was one such night, and as a whole, accounts for my favorite overall night. The lineup? Guards, Surfer Blood, Atlas Genius, Frightened Rabbit, The Joy Formidable and The Flaming Lips. A strong bill that was the perfect mix of beloved bands and new contenders. The Belmont isn’t a large club and the line wrapped around the block, preventing many people from getting in that night, but fortune (in the form of a badge and some kind Austin friends who let me in the line) helped me find my way to the front of the stage.