Best Live Shows of 2011

by Andrew Overton


Justin Vernon, of Bon Iver performing
live at 9:30 Club in Washington D.C.

I see a lot of shows. Besides beer, it’s about the only thing I will shell out cash for without a second thought. 2011 was a banner year for me: I moved to a new city with great public transportation and I was able to see more shows than usual — 21, in fact. Who had the best shows of the year? I thought you’d never ask. 

Honorable Mention: BlackKeys at Virgin Mobile FreeFest @ Merriweather Post Pavilion, Colombia, MD 9/10/11

    5. Bright Eyes (w/ First Aid Kit) @ 9:30 Club, Washington, DC 9/4/2011
My expectations were not high for this show. I had seen Conor Oberst supporting his self-titled record and was veryunderwhelmed; plus, I still wasn’t sold on his 2011 effort “ThePeople’s Key.” Boy, was I in for atreat. Oberst busted right out of the gate with a high-energy rendition of “AnotherTravelin’ Song” (my favorite track), and the tempo just neverlet up. The 21-song set hit all the classics andbreathed new life into “The People’s Key” tracks for me. Once I heard Oberstscream “MAKE SOME NOISE!” at the end of “Roadto Joy,” I knew the night was complete.

4. Phish @ Merriweather Post Pavilion, Colombia, MD 6/11/11
Say what you want aboutPhish, but I love them. Their live shows are legendary. Thiswas the first of a two-night stay at Merriweather Post Pavillion. Although byPhish standards it wasn’t a mind-blowing show, by layperson standards it wouldprobably be just that — mind-blowing. Twenty-seven songs. Three hours. The highlight was a coverof the Velvet Underground’s “Rock & Roll” followed by a creative six-minutejam.
    3. Lisa Hannigan @ 9:30 Club, Washington, DC 10/13/11
If you’ve never heardthe name Lisa Hannigan, you’ve probably heard her voice. Hers is the beautiful,rough Irish voice you hear accompanyDamien Rice on both his fantastic records. The two have sincesplit, and she’s pursued her own solo career. I would have totally missed this incredible show had my friend not won free tickets to this show.

Hannigan’s voice is softand gentle, but still maintains the hoarse, sexy quality to it. I couldn’t takemy eyes off of her the entire show; she’s absolutely transfixing on stage, andher stage banter was genuine and funny. For at least a month afterwards Icouldn’t stop listening to her. Take a look at this NPRTiny Desk concert filmed that same day, you’ll probablyunderstand my obsession.
     2. Jeff Mangum @ Town Hall, New York, NY 10/29/2011
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” is top one of my10 albums of all time. No question, it belongs up there with “Blond on Blonde,”“Sgt. Peppers,” and “OK Computer.” However, after Jeff Mangum and the rest ofNeutral Milk Hotel released this gem, Mangum pulled a J.D. Sallinger and disappearedfrom public life for over 10 years. When he announced a handful of solo shows,I felt like Lennon had risen from the dead — I couldn’t miss this chance.

It was just Mangum andhis guitar in a very intimate venue. As he strummed and wailed, you could feelthe audience hang on every word. No one spoke unless he addressed the audience.When he asked the audience to join him on particular songs, I belted the lyricsI had sang so many times before. His set was short, but flawless. I left knowing Ihad witnessed something truly special.

1. Bon Iver (w/ The Rosebuds) @ 9:30 Club, Washington, D.C. 8/1/11
I was curious as to howBon Iver’s new sound would translate into a live show. “For Emma Forever Ago” is stripped down, but “BonIver, Bon Iver” Justin Vernon’s 2011 masterpiece is very grandin scale. Well let me tell you: It’s f#&%ing epic. Halfway through aheavier version of “Blood Bank,” Vernon dropped to his knees justpounding the guitar. To end the set, Vernon strummed “Skinny Love” with therest of the band providing rousing background vocals and coordinated clapping (justlike this). And if that wasn’t heart-wrenching enough, this may havebeen the bestencore ever —an audience catharsis unlike any other. For a taste of what I experienced, youcan hear NPR’s recording of the concert the very nextnight, which had a slightly better setlist, if that’s possible to imagine.


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