Primal ticket: The year’s best concerts were visceral and unpredictable
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Gotta be honest: Sometimes I just want to stay in and watch a movie. And sometimes I hit a show and wonder why I do anything else. These 2012 performances reminded me that great concerts trump all other nighttime activity.
1. Eddie Vedder
Nov. 1 at The Pearl
The best concerts offer the unexpected. Vedder’s epic tour de force, the second night of two rescheduled shows at The Pearl, bombarded its sold-out audience with surprises — and vice versa. One attendee offered to give $5,000 to Vedder’s favorite charity if he’d just this once play Pearl Jam’s “Black,” and the resulting version destroyed any barriers between performer and crowd, the most emotional moment during a night of many.
2. Fiona Apple
Sept. 15 at The Joint
Apple could be confused for a musical theater actress. The way she evokes and projects her verses, the way she physically responds to the lyrics, the way she draws us in with her narratives, it all exceeds one’s expectation of a concert performance. At this one, she so perfectly executed her 17-song setlist that 85 minutes were actually enough.
3. Preservation Hall Jazz Band
June 30 at The Smith Center
As bawdy and delightful as a night out in the French Quarter, the touring arm of the Big Easy’s most famous resident troupe provided the most fun night of music in 2012. Chairs and inhibitions were tossed to the side as the boys threw down their spirited mix of traditional and Dixie-flavored jazz.
4. Thee Oh Sees
Sept. 11 at The Bunkhouse
Best Neon Reverb kickoff ever. Headliner Thee Oh Sees walloped everyone with its raucous psych-pop hoedown, though the unruly crowd gave as good as it got. On a Tuesday night, no less!
Nov. 10 at Beauty Bar
The Vegas debut of Canadian noise rock act METZ felt like something to remember, as the trio introduced itself to a half-full patio area with its melodic, strident maelstroms. And much like the aforementioned show, the Beauty Bar audience — no doubt using bourbon to battle the ice-cold temps — responded in rambunctious form.
6. SFJAZZ Collective
March 18 at The Smith Center
This is exactly the sort of gig I had hoped the Smith Center would program: eight talented musicians, featuring both original compositions and creative jazz translations of Stevie Wonder songs. And I sure hope the venue returns to booking more authentic and innovative jazz concerts soon.
7. Black Lips
Feb. 16 at The Cosmopolitan
Picture one of the world’s most brazen bands playing a festival for the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Guitarist Cole Alexander basked in his own one-piece — which he doffed not halfway through. I’ve never seen so many straight men try to photograph a dude’s dick, but that happened. And glorious heapings of daft garage rock.
8. Bon Iver
April 12 at The Joint
Justin Vernon doesn’t deserve half of the derision hurtled his way, if this pre-Coachella concert was any indication. We were treated to an expansive band and more vigorous arrangements than you’d expect of the balladeer.
9. Peter Gabriel
Oct. 5 at Planet Hollywood
Gabriel made his Las Vegas live debut at the terribly renamed PH Live (it will always be the Aladdin Theatre for the Performing Arts to me), highlighted by an outstanding performance of 1986’s So album. “Red Rain” washed over the crowd like a euphoric cleanse.
10. Animal Collective
Sept. 25 at House of Blues
The Baltimore synth freaks sounded far more visceral this time around, aided by the cantankerous psych-pop of their Centipede Hz album and a wonderfully feral Avey Tare on the mic.