Your Older Brother’s Year End List – 2014 Edition


Let’s dive right in, shall we?

Best live acts seen in 2014:

2014 was one of my busiest years seeing live music in years. It really started in 2013 when I took my kids to Riot Fest at May Farms in Byers, CO, primarily to see The Replacements (me) and Blink-182 (them), but I made sure that they saw a lot of the storied punk bands that were on the bill. 2014 began with me taking them to a show of their choosing, and ended with seeing one of the best songwriter/guitarists in the history of rock.

Falling in ReverseOgden Theatre, February 7 – My youngest wanted tickets to the Falling In Reverse/Escape The Fate “Bury The Hatchet” tour – so named because the frontman for FIR used to serve those duties in ETF before being kicked out of that band. All of the bands on the bill were screamo-type bands, or what I dubbed (possibly unfairly) “baby screamo” because there wasn’t constant screaming by the vocalists, and the music wasn’t as brutally metal as it could have been. Anyway, I expected to be one of the bored parents at the back with earplugs in. What I found from 3 out of the 4 bands was a lot of positive energy, with the musicians feeding off the vitality of the young crowd. Falling In Reverse had a riser that ran the entire length of the front of the stage that Radke paced like a tiger, interacting with the crowd from a vantage point where everyone could see. It was a little cliche (pun intended, FIR fans), but it felt earnest, and I liked the songs. I’m just as surprised as my kids are. Opening band Survive This! and then Escape The Fate were good as well, but Falling In Reverse & Ronnie Radke were the real surprise for me.

The Hold SteadyDenver Day of Rock, May 24 – I had discovered The Hold Steady for myself in 2010, when I downloaded their fifth album Heaven Is Whenever with monthly credits from my eMusic subscription. The record soundtracked a visit to Richmond, VA the summer of that year. In the ensuing four years, I’d never had the chance to see The Hold Steady live, but would have dropped most everything had they come close by, or if I had been near one of their dates. So I was completely floored to see that the local free free festival the Denver Day of Rock had The Hold Steady on the bill this year. I made sure that my kids were with me to see another one of the best guitar rock bands working today. I saw my friend Doug who owns the Hi Rise bakery up front with his wife and son before the band started, and we joined them for what was a blistering one-hour set.

The Hold Steady – Craig Finn & Tad Kubler

They plugged in 4 songs from their current album Teeth Dreams in the first half of the show and closed out with huge THS hits like “Southtown Girls” and, of course, “Chips Ahoy.” The friendly guitar interplay of Steve Selvidge and Tad Kubler was a joy to watch. I finally got to see first-hand Craig Finn’s frenetic gestures and heartfelt delivery. He seems to know he’s in one of the great bands of the era and relishes it.

Real FriendsVans Warped Tour, August 3 – There are *so* many bands on the Vans Warped Tour bill, it’s actually kind of intimidating – something like 80+ bands on 9 stages. I had never been but my kids wanted to go, and the festival did a cool thing this year where adults accompanying their kids got in free, and I was down with attending a festival for free. I made a gigantic effort of listening to some of each band on the bill and marking those bands that I would like to see, and those I’d be ok seeing. Falling In Reverse played early and we caught them, and then my kids were off to see whoever they wanted to see, and I wandered around on my own for most of the day. I saw lots of bands, among them MC Chris, Saves The Day, Born of Osiris, Vanna, Ice Nine Kills. Real Friends was one band who I specifically made time for because I liked their music.

Real Friends – Vans Warped Tour 2014

What I found was that they had a great positivity on stage and put on a good show (for the amount of time bands have onstage at Warped). A quote that stood out for me from one of the band members was part of an extended monologue about how many kids in the audience find themselves feeling down and might not feel that they have a way out, but that music can help them get through, that they “are not alone – your favorite bands are there for you. Just press play.” Excellent advice, and definitely the experience of many of us for whom music is such an important part of our lives.

Midge UreSoiled Dove Underground, September 9 – I’m very lucky to have a lot of good friends in the Denver music scene. One of the busiest show-goers around, Aimee Giese of Greeblehaus, posted on her Facebook page that she was going to be shooting pictures of him at his Denver solo stop. I hadn’t known he was playing in town and I commented that “This is the bad part about willfully ignoring who’s coming to town: I see stuff like this and freak out.” Her response: “Check your fucking phone.” I laughed and looked at my text messages to see that she had a plus one for the show and asked if I wanted to go! I said of course and we went to see one of our mutual 80’s music heroes. At the time Midge was part of an 80’s package tour making its way through the US with Tom Bailey from Thompson Twins, Katrina Leskanich from Katrina & the Waves, and Howard Jones, but also making solo stops touring behind the release of his latest solo album, Fragile. He appeared onstage with only an acoustic guitar and a microphone and proceeded to treat the loyal crowd to songs new and old. He played Ultravox songs, of course, and also “Fade to Grey” from Visage, a song I’ve always loved. Converseley, I never cared much for the studio version of his 80’s solo hit “Dear God” (quite different from the XTC song of the same name), but in the intimate setting of the Underground, he won me over on that tune. I had also wondered if Ure had lost a step vocally, but I was quickly disabused of that doubt. I took a few videos for myself to simply capture the power of his voice. He did back off a couple of notes late in the evening, but that would have been understandable from anyone who had delivered such a spirited and intense performance.

Head over to Aimee’s Greeblehaus blog for some great pictures of Midge from that night!

Johnny MarrGothic Theatre, Nov 28 – So impressive to see the guitar god ply his trade from a near-field perspective. The night started well with the solo electric performance of Meredith Sheldon, who during her set graced us with an excellent cover of The Replacements‘ “Answering Machine.” My friend Dan had Marr’s tune “Lockdown” on his 2013 best-of list, and that clued me in that Johnny was back writing catchy tunes. This year’s “Easy Money” off his Playland record is hooky as hell, and compelled me to buy a ticket, but I had also seen a video of Marr performing “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want,” one of my favorite Smiths tunes, on Jimmy Fallon. Knowing that he was playing Smiths songs, I had to see this show, and he didn’t disappoint.

Johnny Marr

Great set, lots of energy. He really knows his status in rock history and played up to the people with the cellphones in the front row while making sure to talk to the people back in the balcony of the venue. Despite people mostly knowing him as “just a guitar player,” he’s a great showman. I had seen Johnny in The Smiths in 1986, but hadn’t recalled his playful spirit. (The reviews I’ve read of that long-ago show suggest that the band was exhausted by that point of the tour) I did get to hear him play some of my favorite Smiths tunes, including “Still Ill,” “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” and “Please Please Please,” and they were gorgeous.

Best show I didn’t see: The Replacements with The Hold Steady and Lucero, Sept. 13 – Midway Stadium, St. Paul, Minnesota. This show was a dream bill for me, but there was no way I could attend, having lost my job just a few months prior. I was ecstatic that my good friend Adam from the Yer Doin’ Great music blog was able to attend. We had seen the Replacements at Riot Fest together last year and he made the pilgrimage to this epic show. Read his writeup of the weekend here.

Best album of 2014:
Against Me!Transgender Dysphoria Blues

One of my favorite musicians that I’ve discovered in the past couple of years, Todd Farrell, Jr., writes this about TDB on his 2014 top 10 on the Dixie Punk DC blog:

Before we get started with this one, I want it to go on record that I’m not picking this because of how “important” it is. Yes, I think it’s very important, maybe even one of the most important records of the decade. It’s honest like punk goes, but the courage behind that honesty sets it apart from the rest. However, the reason it is so high up my list is because of what any music list should be… the songs are really good. Laura Jane Grace successfully wrote an entire record about the struggles of coming to terms with and living as a transgender person that is completely relatable to a straight white kid (me). The songs are so good, and that’s what makes it even more important.

Excellent reasoning. I have a friend who is transitioning from male-female and she keeps saying that she needs facial surgery. A bunch of her friends (myself included) would say that she didn’t, she just needed to feel confident in herself and how she looked. Hearing the title track to this record and “Paralytic States” helped me to realize that there’s more to it than just a state of mind. TDB is a Very Important Record, but most importantly, it’s a very *good* record.

I had no idea that when I was watching the Against Me! set at Riot Fest in a field in Byers, CO in September 2013 that I was hearing most of the new album a full four months before the release date.

Laura Jane Grace at Riot Fest 2013

Seriously, just fucking listen to the opening title track. Searingly honest lyrics, precision drums, buzzsaw guitars. If you actually listen, you can’t hide. And here’s the kicker: you don’t want to hide. Laura Jane pulls you into her world, and you want to share her pain so she doesn’t have to shoulder it all by herself. And in the end, she doesn’t give a shit.

I don’t want to see the world that way anymore,
I don’t want to feel that weak and insecure.
As if you were my fucking pimp,
As if I was your fucking whore.

Black me out.
I want to piss on the walls of your house,
I want to chop those brass rings off your fat fucking fingers.
As if you were a kingmaker.
Black me out.

Best comeback of 2014: Afghan WhigsDo to the Beast – The first riff stomps out of the speaker and Greg Dulli’s wail pleads a few bars later, and I knew on first listen that I was in for a beautiful, fucked-up ride. This is the Afghan Whigs doing what they do best – painting funky portraits in slow builds and piano ballads with a groove and loose rhythm that not many bands seem to aspire to. First new album in 16 years and it feels like it has more power and conviction and emotion than a lot of albums in the interim did. Favorite tracks: “Parked Outside,” “It Kills,” “Royal Cream/I Am Fire”

Best dance album of 2014: ChromeoWhite Women – I don’t know what the title means exactly, but they could have named it almost anything and I wouldn’t have cared. It’s not often that a dance record captures my attention with lyrics, but this is Chromeo at their goofy, flirty, cocky best. Dave 1’s voice is perfectly suited to the characters he plays in the songs: shy bravado, attempting to be aloof in the face of jealousy, straight-up come-on artist. Scatting here, falsetto there, mixing his quick rap with crooning, he’s on top of his game. Enough of my words, though. Just go listen and dance. Favorite Tracks: “Jealous (I Ain’t With It),” “Over Your Shoulder,” “Hard To Say No,” “Old 45’s

Best nom de rock I’ve seen this year: Kimi Shelter from StarBenders. The music’s pretty good, too. Check ’em out.

Favorite album title of the year: Maybe This Place Is the Same and We’re Just Changing – Real Friends – The record starts off musically reminiscent of the Get Up Kids (to me), and that’s a good thing (to me). I discovered this band while searching through the many many acts that were playing the Warped Tour that I’d be attending with my kids, and it was – to my ears – a welcome change from a lot of the screamo & metal of the rest of the bill. Not that I didn’t enjoy myself and those other bands – Born of Osiris, Falling In Reverse, Vanna, etc. – but something about Real Friends spoke to me, and it started with the album title. It reads to me like an admission that sometimes, it’s time to move on. Song titles like “I Don’t Love You Anymore,” “To: My Old Self” and “I Think I’m Moving Forward” add to the sense of someone who has started to see that change is inevitable and that moving on might not be a bad thing.

Favorite Videos of the year: I must not have seen many music videos this year because the “best video of 2014” lists I saw all contained videos of songs I’d never heard of, mostly by bands I’d not heard of. I’m not saying they’re not good, but I’m not going to binge-watch a gajillion videos here at the ass-end of the year to try and be hip to the scene. I saw the Ok Go videos for “I Won’t Let You Down” and “The Writing’s On The Wall,” and they’re good enough for me to include here. Plus, the tune of “The Writing’s On The Wall” is New Order/Cure enough for me to really fucking dig it. Plus, the Ok Go album title Hungry Ghosts is a Buddhism reference, which gets extra points from me.

Honorable video mentions: Lux Lisbon. Found this band when they followed me on Twitter last year, and I really took to their song “Bullingdon Club”. They’ve been releasing songs here and there since the Get Some Scars EP, and this summer they dropped “Memento Mori.”

 I had to look up what the phrase means, and was happy to see that it’s a reflection on mortality. Highly endorsed, both the tune and the practice. Later in the year, they took to releasing some music via unlock codes and the song and video combination for “The Greatest Human Cannonball” is both pretty and whimsical. I really like this band.

Best Video SeriesNicki Bluhm and the GramblersVan Sessions. I can’t recall exactly where or how I was hipped to this series of videos of Nicki and her band singing covers recorded while literally on the road over the past few years, played on portable keyboards, ukelele, and acoustic guitar, but I really dig their style (even if I do fear for their safety sometimes!). I think I saw a link to their Van Sessions cover of Boz Scaggs’ “Lido Shuffle,” one of my favorite songs from the late 70’s. I watched a whole bunch of the videos after that, from Hall & Oates “Can’t Go For That” to Madonna’s “Material Girl” to “Can You Get To That” by Funkadelic. They have an album of original material as well, and Nicki has a couple of solo albums from before that. Good 70’s-sounding stuff. Think Linda Ronstadt or Crystal Gayle or Rita Coolidge. Or maybe The Alternate Routes with a woman fronting the band. Whatever. Go listen & watch.

Best reunion – Twenty years ago, I was in a band in the San Francisco bay area, and we  called ourselves Tucker. I met Geoff through an ad in the East Bay Express and we got together at his apartment to play guitar and we hit it off, jamming on some of his existing songs and writing bits of our own. We had a song called “Third Wheel” shortly, and we knew that we could do good things together.

We played open mic nights at the Starry Plough, added a drummer & bass player, recorded a couple of demos and a full tape, got an offer from indie label Alias Records, played shows at the Blue Lamp, Purple Onion, opened for Third Eye Blind at DNA, and, one short year later in 1995, I got kicked out of the band on the night I was going to quit anyway. The band got another guitarist and continued on for a while, but eventually broke up.

Geoff and I mended our fences not too long after, and have spent the ensuing years kicking ourselves for letting our young egos get the better of us. Because the songs are good.

I was fortunate to be in his neck of the woods in April and we got the Tucker twosome back together for a weekend. Twenty years had gone by, but it didn’t seem like it. There were tears (mostly mine), long talks to early hours, and, of course, some guitar playing. We even jammed a bit on a tiny new bit of music. For the most part, it was a weekend with my friend Geoff who I hadn’t seen in probably 15 years.

If we had the time, we could make another go at it, but, you know. Busy adults.

Check out four Tucker songs on my SoundCloud page: Rut | Circus | #2 Combo | South

Ok, that’s 2014. Time for 2015. I’ve got some things planned for this year, hopefully you’ll be along for the ride. (Ooooh, foreshadowing!) Be well, sisters and brothers!
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