Album of the Year: My favorite band (Weezer) released a very, very good album this year (The White Album) and it isn’t my favorite of 2016. That’s how competitive the top spot was. Other close contenders were the new albums from Bleached and Margaret Glaspy. The next tier down would be the very solid albums from Lady Gaga, Tegan and Sara, Twin Peaks, Sunflower Bean, and Lucius. So, what beat that group of impressive musicians out? Puberty 2 from Mitski. It is outstanding on every margin – excellent songwriting, crunching guitars, emotional depth, good vocals. Her live show might have been a disappointment, but that album is f-ing perfect.
Music Video of the Year: I’m tempted to pick this re-make of a Weezer classic, but…laser cats:
Cover Song of the Year: This one is easy. Glen Hansard delivered an epic cover of David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” during All Songs Considered’s 16th Birthday Party at the 9:30 Club. NPR video of his set here.
Mitski – “Happy”
Bleached – “Wednesday Night Melody”
Margaret Glaspy – “You and I”
Weezer – “King of the World”
Tegan and Sara – “Stop Desire”
Lucius – “Dusty Trails”
Caveman – “Never Going Back”
Lady Gaga – “Million Reasons”
La Sera – “High Notes”
Mo – “Final Song”
Song That Got Played to Death But I Still Loved: “Cheap Thrills” by Sia. All. Day. Long.
Concert of the Year: The weirdest show I saw this year was clearly Mac Sabbath. I crossed a lot of bands off my bucket list and they were all pretty good (Dolly Parton, Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney, The Stone Roses, The Cure, Dresden Dolls, Kathleen Hanna, Buzzcocks). I saw a farewell show (Those Darlins) and album release show (Weezer) from two of my favorite bands. But the BEST of the year? That comes down to two contenders. Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins’ Rabbit Fur Coat Anniversary Tour was epic. Even better, I got to see the show at the Mother Church (aka the Ryman Auditorium) from the front row. But I’ll give the slight edge to a band that I’ve been obsessed with since high school and thought I would never see live: At the Drive-In. Thank God that I went to the first night of their two-night stand at the 9:30 Club, as they canceled the tour the next day.
Book of the Year: Abby Wambach’s book is the best sports memoir since Andre Agassi’s. But Chuck Klosterman’s book, But What If We’re Wrong?, was my favorite on the year. It’s humorous, smart, and provocative – like all of Klosterman’s books are. If you never learned how to read, check out Klosterman’s appearance on my favorite podcast here.
Festival of the Year: I only made it to one festival this year (Boston Calling), so good thing I liked it (Robyn’s set aside). Best festival set (probably best any set, really) was from Sia (it’s hard to beat the combination of her voice with the dancing from the crazy good kid dancer). Best festival set from a band that I was previously unfamiliar with was Christine and the Queens.
Internet Meme of the Year: Harambe, obviously. R.I.P.
Sports Moment of the Year: The Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl. That is my best ANYTHING moment of the year. Cue Von Miller sack dance. Best Olympic moment was Katie Ledecky’s win in the 800 free. I’m a big swimming fan and I’ve never seen an ass kicking like that. That was the swimming equivalent of the Broncos winning the Super Bowl 200 to 7. But I still pick the Broncos. Sorry not sorry, Katie.
Celebrity Moment of the Year: There was so much to enjoy in the ridiculousness that was the Hillary email leaks. My favorite part is that Tom DeLonge from Blink-182 emailed John Podesta about UFOs.
Person I’m Most Sad That Died in 2016: We lost so many legends this year. Sharon Jones hits home the most for me. She was the most joyous performer that I’ve ever seen. By a very, very wide margin.
Movie of the Year: My travel schedule the past few months has been brutal, so I’m woefully behind on seeing movies during Good Movie season. My favorite movie from Vapid Movie season was Deadpool. The most interesting film I saw was The Lobster. The best movie I saw on a plan during said outrageous travel schedule was Sing Street. And the best documentary I saw was Weiner.
TV Show of the Year: Several of my favorite shows had very good seasons in 2016, including Silicon Valley, Girls, Ballers, Game of Thrones, and Veep. But new shows hooked me in like nothing has in several years. So, as a winner I’ll pick Westworld with honorable mention to the outstanding mini-series O.J.: Made in America and the outstanding tele-play The Night Of.
2017 Pop Culture Moment That I’m Most Looking Forward to: Curb Your Enthusiasm is coming back in 2017. CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM IS COMING BACK IN 2017!!!
I don't have any concert plans for the rest of the week, which makes this my official list for 2017. I had tickets to a few more shows but missed them due to either last minute work trips or illness. But it's still a great list, covering 11 U.S. states (counting DC, which obviously isn't a state) and a foreign country. 9:30 Club was my most visited venue (15 shows) with the Rock and Roll Hotel not far behind (11 shows).
The Orwells at DC9 – In the lead up to their new album and larger spring tour, the Orwells did a small tour at tiny venues to promo the new songs. It was basically like being back on the Weezer Cruise and seeing them on the tiny casino stage – aka it was awesome. Amusingly, a mother of some of the youngins that was at the show (of which she would be overprotective the moment that moshing started) insisted that she loved the Orwells (had seen them twice before) but wouldn’t believe me that they were the people on stage (plus one DC9 employee) setting up their own gear. “I know the Orwells, those are not the Orwells.” Like she thought I was straight up crazy. Which was funny enough. Until the guitar player, Dom, stood by us waiting to go onto the stage (since DC9 doesn’t really have a backstage area to emerge from) and she starts asking him questions about the band, as if he’s a roadie. And, while I’m loving every second of this, it takes Dom a few minutes to figure out what’s happening. And he finally says “You know I’m in the band, right?” and I got to give her the most satisfying “I told you so” look that I can remember. The setlist was heavy on new songs, opening with “They Put a Body in the Bayou.” “In My Bed” and “Let It Burn” were early highlights. They didn’t play “Halloween All Year” but through in the expected (and awesome) “Mallrats” “The Righteous One” and “Who Needs You” among the new material (which sounded awesome – pre-order that album now).
FIDLAR at Howard Theatre – All three bands on the bill delivered a really good cover. The first band did Weezer, SWMRs opened with Fugazi’s “Waiting Room,” and FIDLAR opened with “Sabotage.” Fun stuff. I missed the R. Kelly intro/outro/stage mannequins from FIDLAR’s last tour, but other than that the sets were pretty similar and very good. FIDLAR is easily one of my favorite top five live bands at the moment. “Cheap Beer” and “Max Can’t Surf” were early highlights. “40oz on Repeat” picked things up about ½ way through with “Sober” “Why Generation” “Cocaine” and “Wake Bake Skate” taking things home in style. It still feels weird to see punk shows at this venue, but I suppose I’ll get used to it eventually.
The Sounds at 9:30 Club – I wasn’t there to see The Sounds. I was there to see Lissy Trullie’s new band, Zipper Club, open. I wasn’t going to go just for a short opening set, but I got free tickets, so yay for me. They don’t have an album out yet, so I wasn’t familiar with the songs, but I enjoyed the short set and very much look forward to this album. The world is a better place with Lissy Trullie back on stage. I stuck around for a bit of The Sounds, but it wasn’t anything special so I peaced out early like the old person that I was. If I wasn’t jetlagged from my Thanksgiving trip to Portugal compiled with staying up late to see the Broncos lose to the Chiefs in overtime the night before, I probably would have had a better attitude about things.
Mo at 9:30 Club – The opening act was very entitled, not very good, and tried to shame the crowd into dancing. Sorry, hunny. Better bands have tried that in DC and failed. At some point our lack of dancing felt like an active protest against these clowns. Things livened up when Mo hit the stage. She’s way more popular in the U.S. now vs. when I first saw here open up day two of the 2014 ACL Fest. And she was still weird in a good way, but not as crazy as her set in Texas. Also gone was her epic Spice Girls cover, though she covered one of Justin Bieber’s new songs that isn’t bad. Related side note: I’ve caught myself at several points recently asking folks “Who sings this song? It’s pretty good.” And have the answer be Justin Bieber, which is obviously horrifying. And everyone stares at me like I’m a moron when I ask these things, but some of us don’t listen to Top 40 radio, mmmkay? I only hear this crap in other people’s cars. And apparently Justin Bieber’s crap is better than it used to be. But I digress. Mo was a lot of fun. Unlike the first time I saw her, I knew a lot of her songs, and she danced in the balcony for several songs. In short, she is pretty joyous and you should see her live.
Mitski at Black Cat – Margaret Glaspy’s rival for album of the year is Mitski. Unfortunately, unlike Glaspy’s show, this was a big let down. The sound guy really screwed the pooch here. The vocals were at a ridiculously low level compared to the other instruments. And not just in the quiet parts, as Mitski’s songs have many ebbs and flows to them going from quiet to loud, etc. Like it was way too quiet all the time. They turned up the vocals a bit halfway through the set, but still not enough. I was right by a speaker in the front and I could barely hear anything. She didn’t play an encore (at least she was up front about this). She eft her best song “Happy” out of the set list. And her headlining set was all of 45 minutes. ‘Twas not a happy evening.
La Sera at Songbyrd – This was my first concert in the basement of Songbyrd. What a cool place generally – ½ bar, ½ awesome coffee shop, and a venue in the basement to boot! The only awkward thing in the venue is the load bearing column in the middle of the stage. It’s an odd shaped stage in general, I guess. Kind of an “L” with a column in the center where it would make sense for the lead singer to stand. One member of the band, while they are right in the front from the audience standpoint, ends up being oddly separated from the rest of the band. All the bands on the bill commented about said pole being weird, so I am not alone in this judgement. The ceiling is also low for a venue, but that would only matter if you are in the back. And clearly I was up in the front. All the youngsters in the crowd were super jazzed about the opening band that I had never heard of and found forgettable. So by the time they were over I had an even better front row spot for La Sera. Katy Goodman joined said opening band that I forget the name of to perform some outstanding covers, including “Bastards of Young” by the Replacements and “Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)” by the Buzzcocks. So that was swell. La Sera crushed – even better than their solid set at 9:30 Club earlier in the year. I love their last album and their live songs sound about 100x better. So much more energy. So much more punk. This is a band that was meant to be seen live.
RHCP at AccorHotels Arena – When I was in Paris in October I caught the Red Hot Chili Peppers on their European tour. It was the first night of a multi-night stint and they changed the setlist each night, but other than missing “Otherside” I think I got the better of the setlists. The venue was a good size (somewhere in between the Verizon Center and Eagle Bank Arena). Why they don’t have a space between Accor and Hotels perplexed me, but the place was fancy AF for a presumably sports venue – they even had a stand that only sold champagne. The Chili Peppers brought their A game with their lighting rig for this tour. Things were changing so much that it was hard to tell how they had it structured, but my best guess from the balcony was that they basically had a ton of individual lights dangling independently but they could control the level of said lights via computer. So sometimes they moved in more of a wave pattern, other times they moved all together, and other times they moved in smaller chunks. It was a constantly changing and visually interesting dynamic for they show. They sounded awesome, obviously. They have to be up there for the best modern era arena band. They have never let me down. They kicked things off with “Can’t Stop” “Dani California” and “Scar Tissue” – a nice opening trio. Thankfully the songs from their last album were kept to a minimum. “Aeroplane” “Californication” and “Suck My Kiss” were mid set highlights. They ended with “By the Way” before an encore that featured a good cover of a French song (don't ask - I was crappy at Spanish in high school, not French) by the new guitar player Josh. Then the rest of the band joined, Flea and his granddaughter did handstand walks across the stage (why not) and they played “Goodbye Angels” and “Give It Away.” They launch an American arena tour in the spring, which I assume will have the same lighting rig and similar set lists – I’d highly recommend it.
Olivia Mancini and the Mates at the Black Cat – After an annoying long wait for an Uber, I headed to the Black Cat after the Nuggets lost to the Wizards at the Verizon Center. Absent the Uber arrival mishap, I would have easily have made it in time for the Mates’ headlining set in the downstairs venue. But unfortunately I missed a song or two in a short set (that didn’t contain my favorite “Jealous Type”) so it probably wasn’t worth all the effort. Though I can’t complain much because I hadn’t see them in over a year and they are one of my favorite DC bands and all of the songs that I did hear sounded awesome. I just wanted to hear more of it.