Monterey County’s top 10 concerts of 2012 compete with those of many major cities. Really.
Thursday, December 20, 2012
While Henry Miller Memorial Library and the Monterey Jazz Festival continued to pull in stunning shows across 2012, Golden State Theatre’s triumphant return from church to concert venue – bringing along the likes of punk icon Patti Smith, legendary singer-songwriter John Prine and blues prodigy Kenny Wayne Shepherd – gave the year on stage action it wouldn’t have had otherwise.
As a result, though Monterey County may not be able to claim the quantity of concerts its more urban peers can, it can certainly compare when it comes to concert quality. Look no further than this list of the year’s top performances for proof.
10. Ziggy Marley at Sunset Center (Sept. 7): Positive vibrations – and lots of ganja smoke – permeated the Sunset Center as Marley channeled the smiling spirit of Jah. “Wild and Free” brought the soldout audience to its feet. Consecutive covers of his father’s “Rat Race,” “War” and “No More Trouble” had them levitating.
9. Thee Oh Sees (Woodsist Festival) at Henry Miller Memorial Library (Aug. 5): Maybe it had something to do with being the final act of a two-day festival, but if you’ve seen the longtime, hardworking Bay Area garage-psych rockers before, their energy can power a small town. By the time Thee Oh Sees arrived at its noise-rock punk anthem “Meat Step Lively,” their amps begged for mercy.
8. King Tuff at Fernwood (Aug. 3): Tuff’s (Kyle Thomas) self-titled album, released last spring, is one of the year’s best – garage, punk, glam rock, and every second of it is jump-around-get-wild fun. Tuff’s first gig in Big Sur showcased the new record alongside some of his earlier work. The gangly rocker sweated through his signature trucker’s hat as he tore through instant classics including the energy-soaked “Anthem” and the virulent “Bad Thing.”
7. John Prine at the Golden State Theatre (Dec. 7): All too often “legend” is used too loosely. Not in John Prine’s case. At 66 years old, the consummate singer-songwriter didn’t skip a beat during his three-hour set. Dressed in his signature all-black getup, Prine rambled through material spanning his entire career, from the sentimental “Angel From Montgomery” to the poetically melancholy “Sam Stone.” There’s a good reason why Bob Dylan’s a fan of this reluctant icon.
6. Esperanza Spalding at the 55th Monterey Jazz Festival (Sept. 23): Even veteran MJF attendees were saying Spalding’s 90-minute performance was on par with past performances from gamechangers like Dave Brubeck and Koko Taylor. The Grammy-winning phenom’s set centered on her two most recent releases, Chamber Music Society and Radio Music Society. Her ethereal voice and slaphappy bass stylings had the entire arena under her spell. Spalding said she wants to be remembered for delivering exciting music that makes people feel good. That’s exactly what she did.
5. Patti Smith at the Golden State Theatre (Oct. 9): She didn’t need to say it, but the Godmother of Punk reminded her audience anyway: “I’ve still got it.” At her acoustic birthday tribute show to John Lennon, the author/poet/songwriter displayed her cerebral side, reading excerpts from her memoir Just Kids and delivering thoughts about culture and fashion. Even if Smith’s sound has softened, there’s still an edge to her lyrics and a feisty stage presence; when fans requested punk classics, Smith responded, “Fuck you, you’re not going to get that.”
4. Joan Baez at Esalen (Oct. 3): At Esalen’s 50th anniversary benefit, baby boomers flooded the lawn to reconnect with their generation’s spokesperson. Baez may be one of the most renowned folk musicians in the world, but during her nearly two-hour set, she seemed accessibleas a fellow workshop attendee. Her son Gabe Harris (Baez’s 99-year-old mother also attended) joined her on percussion as she performed a vast array of material from “Diamonds and Rust” to Bob Dylan’s new 45-verse “Tempest.”
3. Gentlemen of the Road at the Monterey County Fairgrounds (Aug. 25): Monterey was one of seven cities worldwide handpicked by Mumford & Sons for the all-day music festival. In addition to an eclectic lineup – including Apache Relay and Grouplove – the event’s production value was over the top, from elaborate lightshows to the hologram admission tickets served up in collectible little booklets. The two-stage show left Monterey glowing for days.
2. Steve Earle at Henry Miller Library (Oct. 3): The prolific singer-songwriter intertwined tales about instruments washing up on the shores of Ireland, politics and philosophy into an evening of music spanning his entire catalog. Earle didn’t know what he was going to play until his feet touched the stage. “Set lists take all the fun out of it,” he said. The Texan dusted off hits like “Copperhead Road” and played his masterpiece “Taneytown,” told from the perspective of a mentally challenged black guy living in the South. Earle might be the only person who could make that storyline work.
1. The Flaming Lips at Henry Miller Library (Sept. 11): It could have been a dream: a Volkswagen-sized mirror ball dangling from the heavens, laser beams emitting from the palms of giant hands, a man inside a hamster globe and a downpour of confetti raining from the sky. If there’s one thing Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne can do better than anyone, it’s make a barrage of surreal imagery, reality. The Oklahoma psych rockers delivered a stadium-worthy show in front of 400 people, featuring old favorites alongside new tunes from their forthcoming album The Terror.