LIST: My 10 Favorite Concerts of 2013

A great benefit of my move to Cambridge at the outset of this year is that I can go to more concerts. In 2013, I went to more than any other year of my life and almost all of them were terrific, the last one being Dinosaur Jr. at the Sinclair in Harvard Square Saturday night (and my ears are still ringing).

So as an added wrinkle to my end-of-year music lists, I present to you my 10 favorite concerts I attended this year. There were some very tough omissions to narrow it down to 10 and several really outstanding shows I won’t be listing here. I’m not ranking these shows, just presenting them in chronological order, because ranking them would be even more difficult.

I attended two festivals this year, the May and September runs of Boston Calling at City Hall Plaza. I’m considering each of the total four days of the festival as one concert, as you’ll see below.

Thanks to YouTube, fan-recorded video of each of these 10 concerts exists and will accompany my write-ups from each show. The videos are of varying quality, but I tried to find the best I could from each show.

So here are the 10 best shows I attended this year. Thanks for reading and be on the lookout for my favorite albums of the year list, which will hopefully be done this week.

2.18.13 – JEFF MANGUM w/THE TALL FIRS and THE MEMORY TAPES (LUPO’S HEARTBREAK HOTEL, PROVIDENCE, R.I.)

The return of Jeff Mangum, the reclusive frontman of freak folk legends Neutral Milk Hotel, to the music scene is one of the most welcome developments of the last few years. On a very cold night in February, a bearded Mangum sat alone at Lupo’s and played his best songs for an adoring audience. Many like myself had never heard the songs from Mangum’s magnum opus, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, recreated live. I was among the many to shout the lyrics back at Mangum as he played. I can’t wait to see the reformed Neutral Milk Hotel play in Boston next month. [UPDATE: The video I had for this show was pulled from YouTube and no other videos of the show exist, apparently.]

3.30.13 – LOCAL NATIVES (HOUSE OF BLUES, BOSTON, MASS.)

I’d waited a while to finally see Local Natives in concert. Their performance at House of Blues on Easter Eve was one of an incredible 188 concerts the band played in 2013, a number that earned them the title of Hardest Working Band of 2013 by Songkick. Getting in lots of reps has helped these LA dudes become what they were that night, a must-see live act. Their songs aren’t always the most upbeat, but on that night they played the best of their two albums with rabid energy, including their bone-crushing closer, “Sun Hands,” which you can watch above.

5.26.2013 – YOUTH LAGOON, DIRTY PROJECTORS, THE WALKMEN, OF MONSTERS AND MEN, THE NATIONAL (CITY HALL PLAZA, BOSTON, MASS.)*

This was the second day of Boston Calling’s first 2013 festival and the lineup for the day was second-to-none. Miserable weather hurt the first day despite good performances, but things cleared up the second day and the results were outstanding. Youth Lagoon rocked the second stage, while Dirty Projectors, the Walkmen, Of Monsters and Men and headliners the National put on excellent showings on the main stage. It was, without question, the single best day of music I’ve experienced. * = There were other bands that played that day, including the perpetually overrated Young the Giant, but the five bands I listed above were the only performances I saw.

6.4.2013 – THE NATIONAL w/PEOPLE GET READY (LUPO’s HEARTBREAK HOTEL, PROVIDENCE, R.I.)

Shortly after Boston Calling, the National played a little-advertised show at Lupo’s, which is much smaller than the normal venues they’ve been playing the last few years. Remember, these guys had just been the final-day headliner of a festival in a major American city. The results were spectacular, as I stood not far behind the individual who took the above video. The National, like Local Natives, add some extra intensity to what are normally reserved songs on record, making them one of the best live bands around. If you haven’t had the pleasure, see the National soon.

8.1.2013 – BECK (THE STATE THEATRE, PORTLAND, MAINE)

I hadn’t been to a show at Portland’s State Theatre, an absolute gem of a small venue in one of New England’s best cities, in nine years when I saw Beck there this summer. I was pleasantly surprised by how great the show was in every way. His band was crisp and on point while Beck played a mix of newer material and older favorites. He’s way more talented than I ever thought, a master showman who got the crowd riled up with a solo blues harmonica performance late in the proceedings. Beck hasn’t played live much of late and I’m glad I finally had the chance to experience what he brings to the stage.

8.11.2013 – JAY-Z & JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE (FENWAY PARK, BOSTON, MASS.)

The Legends of the Summer Tour made two stops at the country’s most legendary stadium this past August and I took in the second night. Timberlake and Jay-Z immediately became two of the top five live performers I’ve ever seen. It’s one thing to be a massive celebrity, as both Timberlake and Hova are. But we know it takes very little skill to be a celebrity. On that night, I saw two men who’ve transcended what celebrity means, two men who didn’t need that show or tour to prove anything, but made clear they’re still on top of their game. And that game was something to behold.

9.1.2013 – HAIM w/IO ECHO (PARADISE ROCK CLUB, BOSTON, MASS.)

Shortly after taking the stage at the Paradise last Labor Day weekend, Este Haim proclaimed that evening’s show was her band’s first headlining gig outside their hometown of Los Angeles. They could have fooled me, or just about anyone at the show. Haim, in which Este plays bass alongside her guitar-wielding sisters Danielle and Alana, played here a few weeks before the release of their debut album and could not have been more impressive at what will undoubtedly be the smallest venue they’ll ever headline in Boston. I’m glad I can say I was there.

9.17.2013 – ARCTIC MONKEYS (PARADISE ROCK CLUB, BOSTON, MASS.)

When Arctic Monkeys announced they’d be coming back to the U.S. to support their aces fifth album AM, they shocked many by agreeing to play “intimate” shows at New York’s Webster Hall and Boston’s Paradise, two tiny rock venues for a band with worldwide popularity. I was lucky enough to get one of the toughest tickets in recent local memory and the results were incredible. Alex Turner and his band of merry Englishmen played from the best of their catalogue and solidified themselves in my mind as one of the best bands out there on that night.

11.7.2013 – MY BLOODY VALENTINE w/DUMB NUMBERS (HOUSE OF BLUES, BOSTON, MASS.)

My Bloody Valentine came back big in 2013 and their comeback brought them to the House of Blues for the first time in 20 years last month. When last they played there, HOB was, of course, the Avalon, and much has changed about that place and Boston in general since. The crowd was a great mix of younger and older shoegaze aficionados who came to hear Kevin Shields and Co. rock. Shields, one of the better guitarists I’ve seen live, was creating fantastic sounds out of his guitar. While the show was deafening, I like to think of it more as a “volume experience” than anything else.

11.16.2013 – CUT COPY w/LARRY GUS (HOUSE OF BLUES, BOSTON, MASS.)

Like Local Natives, I’d waited a long time for a chance to see Cut Copy in concert, and they did not disappoint nine days after the MBV show. The Aussie electro-pop masters brought the goods all night, jamming away at their best songs from their varied career. There’s always a question with the more electronic bands about how much of their studio sound can be re-created, but there was no question with Cut Copy about their live prowess. In fact, when the show ended, I was upset that it was over, even after they’d rocked the stage for a solid 90 minutes.

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