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I think maybe I mentioned my Secret Project. The time has come!
The 2011 Rock and Roll Lifestyle Report
by pam, aged mumbledy-something
I want to make a really long post explaining myself, but the explanation is that I like going to concerts and I like data collection and analysis and visualizations. There is this guy, Nick Felton, who puts out an annual report every year. It is this beautifully insane, beautifully rendered look at all the minutae of his life: how many dinners he had, where, with whom, what he ate and drank and how much it cost. On and on it goes. It’s amazing. For a few years now, I’ve been thinking I’d like to do something sort of similar, except you really have to work up to that kind of thing. It would be easy for me to get so consumed logging my activities that I didn’t actually do any activities.
At any rate, I figured that since I already keep track of the shows I go to, it would be pretty trivial to collect a bunch more data. I’m pretty pleased with the results, if I do say so myself.
check it out!
It’s two pages. Mostly it was done using google spreadsheets / charts, Photoshop, and then InDesign. I also had some help from wordle. I think it is self-explanatory, but let me know if you have any questions. Or comments, for that matter — let’s make next year’s even crazier!
I didn’t start out 2011 intending to see Social Distortion so many times. In the fall of 2010, I’d seen them play a fantastic show in Chicago, and shortly thereafter, they announced a west coast tour in February. February, for whatever reason, is a month in which I tend to go pretty batshit insane. Mostly that’s related to insomnia; one year, I added up all the sleep I got that month and the total clocked in around 50 hours. That’s less than most normal people get in a week. I can function very well for a very long time on very little sleep, but that kind of insomnia wears me down pretty quickly. I start to look at sleep like I look at time travel: as a fantastic impossibility that only happens in books and movies.
Now, I do have a full-time 9(ish)-to-5(ish) grown-up day job. I’m sure you can imagine how useful I am at that job during the month of February. It’s really best for me to be elsewhere, which I’d discovered the year before when I took most of the month off and hung out in Vancouver. It was the best thing I did for my mental health that year. So I thought, oh, they’re touring the southwest in February, I’ll take ten days and go somewhere warm, see some friends, see some shows, relax in an environment where my sleep-dep isn’t going to fuck me up too badly. Off I went!
That was the winter tour. The next tour, in May, they played Milwaukee but not Chicago, and my roommate and I drove up. It was my fifth Social D show of the year, and so things were averaging out nicely to one show per month. But then they went off to Europe and Australia, and although I have followed bands out of the country before and will do it again, I won’t do it for outdoor festivals. I hate outdoor shows of all kinds. So then it was announced they were playing Riot Fest, followed by a fall/winter tour that fell right around Thanksgiving. That’s usually a pretty good time to follow bands around because I can see a lot of shows without taking many vacation days. And I looked at the tour dates and thought, hmmm, I have friends in those towns, I have airline vouchers from getting bumped on a regular basis, I have seven shows to see if I want to meet my totally arbitrary goal of seeing them once a month (on average). Let’s give it a shot!
social distortion at hob san diego, 2011-02-20
I didn’t consider any of these shows for my best-of 2011 lists because when you see a band so many times — especially a bunch of times in a row, which does weird things to your head — you judge the shows very differently. But here’s the full list, ranked as well as I’m able to do it.
Best ten sets of 2011, in no particular order. All of these were in Chicago unless otherwise stated.
Larry and His Flask. Congress Theater, 2011-10-08. Riot Fest. Jesus Fucking Christ. Music should be played this way every single goddamn time. They’re going to be opening for the Reverend Horton Heat in March, and everyone should go. Everyone in the whole world. We’ll fit if we can get a TARDIS installed in the Metro, so there’s no problem.
Last year, I put up a list of the five best shows I saw in 2010. Allow me to quote from that post: I don’t know how many shows I saw in 2010; somewhere between 25 and 30. … I actually think 25-30 is the right number for me.
Now allow me to laugh hysterically: AHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAH.
Ahem. As you may have surmised, the number is much higher this year. I went to 82 shows in 2011, and the number would be higher still if I broadened my definition of “shows.” However, what I mean when I say that “I went to a show” is that I got there early enough to watch all the opening bands and I stayed through final teardown. I saw 224 sets by 156 different artists playing 40 venues in 10 states. There are a few more on the calendar in the dying days of 2011, but I honestly feel like if I have to talk to another stranger I’m going to say avada kevadra, which is either going to get me a very confused look or a punch in the face. Best not to risk it.
I still don’t really know what makes a show good. Some magical combination of the music, the sound, the crowd, the venue, my mood, my memory, my expectations. Who I’m with, if anyone. How long I’ve spent in line. How hungry I am, how many vodka-and-red-bulls I’ve thrown back, what the weather was like. What I am saying is that this is not a precise science and if you ask me tomorrow, you might get a different answer. With that in mind, here are the best shows I saw in 2011, with pictures when I’ve got them. (And not including Social Distortion. When you see a band 14 times in one year, that band goes in its own category.)
7. The Damned. Metro, Chicago. 2011-10-25. With The Legendary Shack-Shakers.
For their 35th anniversary, the Damned played Damned, Damned, Damned (1977) and The Black Album (1980) and at one point I put my hands over my heart and I looked at the woman next to me and said, “oh my god, I’m so happy right now,” and it’s possible it was kind of dusty in there and she put her arm around me and said “me too” and shared her whiskey and now we’re friends on Facebook.
I added a new thing to my show-going this year: I started taking pictures. Not because I particularly enjoy it (I don’t) or because I want to be a rock & roll photographer (I don’t), but because I have some kind of weird hangup that is almost certainly leftover from journalism school. I do not like to post things without any art. So I decided I’d take photographs.
I have a Panasonic DMC-TS1 Lumix that is about the size of a pack of smokes. It fits in my pocket, and I bought it during the 2010 Olympics because my last digital camera broke after I’d dropped it on the ground in the rain one too many times. It is water-resistant and shockproof, and it now goes almost everywhere with me. I can put it in my boot to sneak it into shows if security is lax (Danzig) or in my pants if security is somewhat tighter (also Danzig) or wrap it up in a handkerchief and put it in an empty coffee cup under a dumpster in an alley if security is AMAZINGLY DOUCHEY (Puscifer). With this point-and-shoot, I set it to high-speed burst, turn off the flash, stand in the pit, and lay on the shutter. I take an average of 847 photos per show. If I am very lucky and no one has pushed me and the musicians aren’t too jittery and the light is exactly right, I will get a good photograph.
Here are the ones I like best from this year.
Favorite albums of 2011. Turns out that I like punk rock, Canadian alt.country, and some other things (though I recognize those other things are not very far from punk rock). I have divided this year’s list up accordingly, mostly because I was not actually capable of listing only five. I was not intending to split the list this way when I started, but it works out nicely. Note that they’re in alphabetical order. Picking five was bad enough without having to rank them, too.
- Fucked Up – David Comes To Life. Hardcore, or maybe post.hardcore I can get behind. It’s a punk rock opera, and yes, the woman gets fridged so David can come to life, but at least she has a name (Veronica)! Regardless, I’m so grateful I saw them a few times this year before they broke up (if indeed they have), and I’m grateful that someone recorded them playing it top-to-bottom in the round, but watching that video makes me regret not putting in more of an effort to go to that show.
- Mischief Brew – The Stone Operation. Best one yet from these anarcho.folk.punks. I’m really bummed I missed them when they came through Chicago.
- Old Man Markley – Guts ‘n’ Teeth. Bluegrass punks. A stranger on a sidewalk in San Diego told me to check them out. He wasn’t wrong; the title track is one of those songs I occasionally just put on repeat for the day.
- Touché Amoré – Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me. This record clocks in at a whopping 20.8 minutes, but it blows me away every time I listen to it.
- Wild Flag – Wild Flag. If my house were not full of giant windows and shared walls and close neighbors, I would turn this to 11 and dance around naked. Alas, I have to settle for turning it to 10 and dancing in my pajamas.
- The Cowboy Junkies – Demons. Vic Chesnutt covers. The album so good I cannot bear to listen to it.
- The Deep Dark Woods – The Place We Left Behind. This is the album I listen to when I’m on airplanes, and it’s never a good idea. I keep doing it.
- Elliott BROOD – Days Into Years. Latest offering from the “death-country” three-piece I love beyond the telling of it. They’re touring it now; go see them. Some of my best live concert experiences have been with this band.
- Little Foot Long Foot – Oh, Hell. Some kind of fucked-up, bluesy garage-country album that kicks my ass every time. Also, they have a song called “Neko Case Hate Fucks Kurt Cobain,” and it is really good, okay? Okay.
- One Hundred Dollars – Songs of Man. Something of an update on the Cowboy Junkies, I suppose, with a little more punk rock somewhere in their DNA.
- Dave Hause – Resolutions. If this album had been out in 2007, I’d've listened to it nonstop.
- Hey Rosetta! – Seeds. Canadian garage-rockers with a string section. This is the album for lying in the middle of the living room floor with the lights off and staring at the ceiling in the dark until it moves.
- The Pack A.D. – Unpersons. Sleaze with a swing and lot of garage.punk attitude. This album is good for fucking someone you don’t love on the kitchen floor. Also, doing dishes, as long as you don’t mind someone watching you accidentally grind against the dishwasher.
- Chuck Ragan – Covering Ground. If I were forced to pick a top five total, this would be on it. I fell in love with this record as it was being written and they were testing new songs on a live crowd, and I didn’t buy the damn thing until very late in the year, after I already knew most of it by heart. It didn’t disappoint me.
- Wugazi – 13 Chambers. There’s something really weird and hypnotic and compelling about this, and I actually like it way more than I like either Fugazi or Wu-Tang.
I don’t know how many shows I saw in 2010; somewhere between 25 and 30. I was trying to keep track, but I didn’t do a very good job, and so I keep thinking of other shows I went to and then mostly forgot about. While I would sort of like to go to more, I actually think 25-30 is the right number for me, given my Plans and my schedule and my hatred of the human race. (Of course, given the fact that I already have 12 on my calendar for next year and that only gets me through February, there is a good chance that number’s going to be a lot higher next year.)
At any rate, there are so many things that make a show awesome. There’s the music itself, obviously; if I have loved someone’s music for a long time, or if I loved it at a certain formative and influential point in my life, I’m probably going to enjoy their concert. I’m probably going to enjoy it if they have some other singer (Slash, with some studio dude subbing in for Axl), or if the singer’s old and his vocal range is shot (Gordon Lightfoot), or if everything about the show is entirely ridiculous (Billy Idol), or if it’s music I would no longer think to put on my iPod (Bon Jovi).
I’m a little harder on current favorite bands than I am on old favorite bands (even if my current favorites have been current favorites since I was five). While it’s difficult for a band like the Hip or Social D to lose me at a show, it can be done. Maybe the sound is bad, or security is overzealous, or the crowd is so full of assholes I can’t ignore them, or the band is having an off night, or I’m just not in the mood for that show in that moment. Hard to say, but in those cases, it’s about more than just the music and my memory.
I’ve had some great times at shows where I didn’t know the music very well, where I didn’t know it at all, where I had never heard of the artist. I’m not sure what makes those shows good — a combination of the music itself, the stage presence/antics of the band, their chemistry, the crowd, the venue, how many beers I’ve had, who I’m with (although I will say that I attend 95 percent of concerts by myself, so who I’m with rarely has an impact; and I rarely drink anymore at shows I attend by myself. That tends to end poorly.).
In that category last year was Elliott Brood, some band I’d never heard of who billed themselves as “Canadian death-country.” I went on a whim, because I clicked on the last.fm event recommendations, and they were playing that night, and I was jonesing for some live music. I wasn’t sure about it, though — maybe I won’t like it in a bar, maybe I won’t like it if I don’t know the band, I have to work in the morning and maybe it won’t be worth it, maybe maybe maybe. But it was great, and I fell in love all over again. I remember texting Sam, “fuck, I love live music. How did I live without this for so long?” After that, I stopped trying, and I’m glad I did. In many ways, that show brings you this post; I may not have kept going to shows if that one had sucked. (I spent ten years or so not going to concerts. I will not ever do that again.)
ANYWAY. With that ridiculous and too-long intro, here’s the list of the best concerts I saw this year, and why they were the best. I’m pretty sure they were best for entirely different reasons (really awesome, really emotional, really weird, really loud, I got in some fights).
I opened the page to write a new post, and I typed, “I’m not going to do a post about which albums I loved best in 2010.” I mean, who cares, and most of the albums I loved best in 2010 had nothing to do with 2010. Instead, I wrote for a long time about the top four shows I saw this year, and then I got stuck on number five. So I wrote a list of albums I loved best in 2010. I am not, however, going to comment on them, because then I’d be here until 2011.