The 20 Best Concerts of 2013

Live music, loud noises. We were blessed to witness so much.

Of course, it’s our duty to look back. And to then look ahead to 2014.

Here are Jason Gonulsen’s 20 Best Concerts of 2013, in no particular order.

All photos by Jason Gonulsen except where noted.

Wilco, LouFest, Forest Park, St. Louis – September 7th
Opening with “Misunderstood,” which begins with the line, “When you’re back in your old neighborhood,” well, you knew this would be special. Jeff Tweedy later dedicated “Born Alone” to the late Bob Reuter. The night ended with a wild take on “Hoodoo Voodoo,” which featured a shirtless person (roadie?) on cowbell. Use your imagination, but it was as awesome as it sounds.

Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, The Pageant, St. Louis – January 10th
Wasting no time with the lead off “Paris (Ooh La La),” Grace Potter & the Nocturnals opened their club tour with a sold-out show at The Pageant in St. Louis. Before “2:22,” a psychedelic, bluesy stampede if I ever saw one, Potter crawled on The Pageant’s floor like a hungry and possessed lion, joining the Nocturnals’ guitarists, Scott Tournet and Benny Yurco, on the ground for a few minutes to soak up the noise.

Photo by Louis Kwok

Tift Merritt, Off Broadway, St. Louis (Speakers in Code’s 3rd Birthday Concert) – February 9th
Tift Merritt and her fabulous band consisting of Eric Heywood on steel guitar, Jay Brown on bass, and Noah Levy on drums delivered a passionate and intimate 100-minute performance at Off Broadway for Speakers in Code’s 3rd Birthday Celebration. Merritt and Co. performed songs off her latest album, Traveling Alone, which included the unamplified and show-closing heartbreaker “Too Soon To Go.” Before that final gem, Merritt covered Tom Waits’ “Train Song,” brought some soul with “Your Love Made A U Turn” and “Mixtape,” and delivered a stirring solo version of “Another Country” on keyboards. A perfect night.

The Tallest Man on Earth, The Pageant, St. Louis – June 5th
Matsson crept out on The Pageant’s stage like a curious gnome, looking out to the crowd with wide eyes, like he had discovered humans for the first time. He opened with “King of Spain,” which drew screams, as did “1904,” “I Won’t Be Found,” and “The Gardener.” He perhaps saved the best for last with an encore that included “The Wild Hunt,” which led into Paul Simon’s “Graceland.”

Photo by Chris Lay

Brandi Carlile, The Pageant, St. Louis – July 10th
I strongly considered skipping this, only because I knew it would be emotionally overwhelming for reasons I won’t talk about here. But when Carlile absolutely nailed “Again Today,” I knew I had made the right decision: Because what is done is done, and you must move on. “The path of least resistance is catching up with me again today.” Can’t forget that.

Lucius, Blueberry Hill, St. Louis – October 21st
If you missed this show, you might get another shot to see Lucius in a similar venue, but those odds are getting shadier with every “Best Of” list that publishes. This is a legit band that knows exactly how to create energy with songs like “Turn It Around,” “Don’t Just Sit There,” and “How Loud Your Heart Gets.” A phenomenal live band.

Jason Isbell, Off Broadway, St. Louis – June 19th
What a fine album (Southeastern) Jason Isbell released in 2013. I was never a huge fan until now, and his performance at Off Broadway sealed the deal. Have a listen to “Elephant” or “Cover Me Up” if you want to feel something.

Lana Del Rey, Lollapalooza, Grant Park, Chicago – August 2nd
The crowd was chanting “Lana! Lana! Lana!” This was about 15 minutes before they even saw her face. I had my doubts, but Lana Del Rey put on a spectacular performance, light years ahead of her SNL debacle last year. Her voice was strong and her fans were in total love her every move — singing along to every song, especially “Cola,” “Born to Die,” “Video Games,” and the closing “National Anthem.”

Rodrigo y Gabriela, The Pageant, St. Louis – July 23rd
When they began “Hanuman,” the crowd erupted, and Rodrigo y Gabriela delivered an extended encore that ended with the Mexican duo taking multiple bows. Never in my life did 90 minutes of instrumental music sound so perfect.

Tegan and Sara, Lollapalooza, Grant Park, Chicago – August 4th
Their show at The Pageant was fine, but their tight performance at Lollapalooza was much better. They played nearly everything off Heartthrob, and they took little time in between songs, which only created more intensity. Tegan and Sara worked it.

Pearl Jam, Wrigley Field, Chicago – July 19th
One of the most hyped shows of the year — of any genre. And it was almost only seven songs long, thanks to a lengthy thunderstorm. But, Eddie Vedder promised they would be back, and they returned around midnight — and played until 2 AM, closing with Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Side note: After the show, there were literally NO CABS available, and my friend and I saw a parked car catch on fire. It was one of those nights. Which leads me to…

Pearl Jam, Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City – November 16th
No rain delay, just almost three hours of non-stop jams, including the closing cover of “Baba O’Riley” which led into “Yellow Ledbetter.” I was fortunate enough to be in the photo pit for the first three songs, and I will never forget the moment when Vedder sang, “And I just want to scream HELLOOOOO / My God it’s been so long…” right in front me. I just got chills typing that.

Metric, The Fox Theatre, St. Louis – October 30th
Emily Haines of Metric is a leader and a pro. And Jimmy Shaw is one of the best guitarists I’ve ever seen live. They began their opening set for Paramore with “Black Sheep”and closed it with “Stadium Love.” Oh, and Haines knelt in front of me for about 7 seconds — like right in front of my lens — during “Youth Without Youth” so I could get that shot you see above. Metric is the best.

Lord Huron + Escondido, Off Broadway, St. Louis – June 11th
When Tyler James and Jessica Maros of Escondido appeared from behind Off Broadway’s curtain, it was on. Their opening set for Lord Huron was superb, and the headliner took it from there as we heard everything from Lonesome Dreams. A wonderful summer evening at Off Broadway.

Bob Dylan, Wilco, My Morning Jacket, Richard Thompson, Peoria Civic Center, Peoria, IL – July 11th
While Bob Dylan was a little off, it was still a thrill to hear songs like “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”and “She Belongs To Me,” even if their melodies were re-arranged. But when you’re Bob Dylan, you can do whatever you wish. Wilco and My Morning Jacket both hurled their best at an attentive crowd, the best moment being when they shared the stage for a cover of George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity.”

Jim James, LouFest, Forest Park, St. Louis – September 7th
It wasn’t a My Morning Jacket show, and that was just fine as Jim James saluted the crowd and promptly nailed “State of the Art – A.E.I.O.U.” to lead things off. As the sun set on Forest Park, James pleased everyone with “Know Til Now” and “A New Life.” An extraordinary performance.

Cory Chisel and Friends, Open Highway Music Festival, Off Broadway, St. Louis – August 7th
The biggest “news” surrounding this show was Norah Jones’ inclusion in Chisel’s band. And while it was great seeing her and hearing her voice in a small venue like Off Broadway, the price of admission was found in Chisel’s version of “Tennessee” with Adriel Denae and Katie Jones on violin.

The National, Local Natives, Frightened Rabbit, Red Rocks, Morrison, Colorado – September 17th
A triple bill for the ages at a historic venue. Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison slammed his guitar at the end of “Acts of Man,” which ended his band’s set. Local Natives played most of Hummingbird to perfection. And The National thrilled with “Bloodbuzz Ohio,” “About Today,” and “Mr. November,” the latter featuring Matt Berninger climbing the steep Red Rocks steps. Amazing.

Explosions in the Sky, Nine Inch Nails, Chaifetz Arena, St. Louis – October 1st
Minus the lady behind me yelling, “Sing, motherfuckers,” Explosions in the Sky’s instrumental set was a radical instrumental set, highlighted by the eerie “Let Me Back In.” I’m not sure if most of the crowd understood what was going on, only because their music differs heavily from Nine Inch Nails’, which is fine, but a shame that more people probably didn’t really enjoy it. As for the headliner, Trent Reznor and Co. were terrific, banging out songs like “Wish,” “Came Back Haunted,” “Terrible Lie,” “Head Like a Hole,” and the closing “Hurt.”

Phoenix, The Pageant, St. Louis – December 13th
Opening with “Entertainment,” that is just what Thomas Mars and his band did — entertain. Mars made his way into the crowd on three separate occasions, body surfing his way to the drink rail, and then singing with the crowd while he stood tall like a giant.

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