Although the list was tough to narrow down (sorry Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – you almost made it) here are seven shows I adored and three I wanted to adore.
1. Band of Horses, Johnny Mercer Theater, Savannah, Ga., April 4.
Despite the terrible Bud-based beer selection at the venue, The Band of Horses show at the Johnny Mercer Theater in Savannah was by far my top concert experience of the year. (You know this already if you read my 2011 picks posted earlier this month on OnMilwaukee.com). The intensity of their delivery, the absolutely breathtaking screen imagery of the natural world and the fact that the band is now based in Savannah's sister town, Charleston, S.C., really exposed the love.
2. Peter Gabriel, New Blood Orchestra and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Marcus Amphitheater, Milwaukee, June 29.
Peter Gabriel delivered a three-hour concert – with a 20-minute break for the spectacular fireworks show – that featured a 50-plus-piece orchestra headed by dramatic conductor Ben Foster and included a collection of international and Milwaukee musicians. Two female back-up singers accompanied Gabriel as well, one of which was his daughter, Melanie Gabriel. They had a couple of heartfelt moments on stage.
High points included versions of David Bowie's "Heroes," the Talking Heads' song, "Listening Wind" (according to Gabriel, Heads' keyboardist and guitarist Jerry Harrison was at the show), The Arcade Fire's "My Body Is A Cage" and his own songs "Digging In the Dirt," "Secret World," "Biko" and "Mercy Street," which he dedicated to confessional poet Anne Sexton.
If anyone in the audience was already on the verge of a breakdown over the beauty and injustices of the world, the show created the perfect setting. All of the songs were deeply emotional, dramatic and anthemic, particularly "Red Rain," "In Your Eyes," "Don't Give Up" and "Solsbury Hill." Even though fan-favorite, MTV hits like "Sledgehammer" were left out, it really didn't matter.
3. Bon Iver, Riverside Theater, Milwaukee, July 22.
Bon Iver played two back-to-back concerts this summer, and I was fortunate to attend the kick-off show. The band featured eight musicians aside from Justin Vernon, the Wisconsinite who founded the group, and included a fantastic horn section with a French horn player, trumpeter and bass saxophonist. Bon Iver performed material from both of their albums and their EP, and the whole shebang was a big Wisco love fest, but the best part for us was seeing a very confident Vernon, who truly seemed to have found his groove after delivering a meek Bon Iver performance in 2009 and a short, haphazard gig with his side project Volcano Choir earlier in the year.
4. Sindoolaa, River Rhythms in Pere Marquette Park, Milwaukee, July 6.
West African-style band Sindoolaa makes this list because it was a perfect, warm, summer night in Milwaukee and the outdoor venue at Pere Marquette Park was the perfect venue. Prior to the show, we picked up sandwiches at Subway, ate them on a blanket during the first half of the show and danced our booties off to the drum-driven beats during the second half of the gig. It was straight-up sweaty fun that featured two very important family values: live music and dancing until you think you might drop.
5. Preservation Hall Jazz Band with The Givers and Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Preservation Hall, New Orleans, La., Dec. 21.
Seeing the Preservation Hall Jazz Band was a dream come true. It was even more of a pinch-me moment when my media credentials made it possible for me to avoid the two-hour line to get in and walk straight to the front. (Yeah, I was that jerk). The show was even better than imagined, with the usual house band ripping it up, accompanied by indie pop band The Givers (as heard on 88.9) and Pete Seeger's talented folkie grandson, Tao Rodriguez-Seeger. Preservation Hall is not a NOLA tourist trap: it's a sacred jazz space pulsating with sound and history.
6. MC Hammer, Tone Loc, Young MC, Wisconsin State Fair Grandstand, Aug. 4.
There was absolutely no choice for me but to check out '90s hip hop stars Young MC, Tone Loc and MC Hammer at State Fair. I enjoyed Young MC and Tone Loc immensely – despite the huffing and puffing of the out-of-shape Tone Loc who only got out of jail days earlier after being charged with domestic abuse. I marveled at the energetic Hammer (who, for those wondering, did not wear "the pants") until he started what seemed like an on-stage revival meeting, at which point I left. The sad irony of the evening was that, despite the great energy shared between the racially diverse audience members during the show, riots broke out later that night in the fair's midway which will possibly snuff out the chance for other vintage or modern hip hop acts to appear in 2012.
7. The Pixies, Eagles Ballroom, Milwaukee, April 23.
The Pixies recreated, in its entirety, the best album of their career, "Doolittle." I was unsure about this show because the sound at Eagles Ballroom is, at times, mediocre. It turned out that the sound was decent and the mostly Gen-X crowd emitted such a love vibe as the performance became a rocking and meaningful piece of history that I will reflect on it for decades down the road. In the end, I was truly honored to be there.
Rounding out the end of the "Top" 10 list are three highly anticipated, but ultimately disappointing, shows in 2011:
8. De La Soul, Potawatomi Bingo Casino Stage, Milwaukee, July 10.
The opportunity to see the iconic De La Soul was satisfying in and of itself. And then, when I found out legendary hip hop producer and DJ Prince Paul was taking the scratcher's role that night, I was over the moon with excitement to check out the daisy-loving rap band. Unfortunately, most of the only-one-hour-long performance was based on silly stage antics that pitted one side of the audience against the other in order to determine through cheering who was the hippest of hop. Just feed us the music, people. The music.
9. Volcano Choir, Turner Hall Ballroom, Milwaukee, March 26.
Volcano Choir is a merge of Justin Vernon from Bon Iver and the Milwaukee-based band, Collections of Colonies of Bees. "Unmap" is a dynamic and lovely collection of songs that range in style, provide the perfect soundtrack for romantic endeavors (at least for me) and have a meditative quality all at the same time. I was stoked for this show, but sadly, it was a long wait for only five songs. Arguably, the shortest concert of all time. It wasn't bad, I just wanted more, although Vernon looked Wisconsi-licious in his full beard and flannel.
10. Morrissey, Congress Theater, Chicago, Ill., Nov. 10 – Postponed.
Morrissey in Chicago would have been fabulous had the band's guitar player been granted a visa for the show we had tickets for on Nov. 10. Morrissey made up for the show, but on Saturday, Dec. 17, a day I couldn't make it. To quote the Great Moz, this show – for me – "was over before it ever really began."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.