Emerald Recommends: The best concerts of 2016

No matter how strange of a year 2016 may have been, there is no denying the strength of touring musical acts this year. With industry giants touring across the world and up and comers proving their worth in tiny venues, there were great concerts everywhere you looked. The Emerald has enlisted its …

No matter how strange of a year 2016 may have been, there is no denying the strength of touring musical acts this year. With industry giants touring across the world and up and comers proving their worth in tiny venues, there were great concerts everywhere you looked. The Emerald has enlisted its writers to select the best concerts they saw this year.

Craig Wright’s top concerts of 2016

  1. Tommy Stinson: Barno’s Backyard Ballroom Oct. 21; Bunk Bar, Portland Oct. 22

It’s not everyday you get to see one of your heroes perform — much less in a Eugene living room. Tommy Stinson of the Replacements, Bash & Pop, Perfect and Guns n’ Roses toured with his uncle Chip “Sippy Fly” Roberts for a two-man show at oddball locations across the country. Performing mostly solo and Bash & Pop songs, Stinson proved why he is one of the best entertainers in the business. At the close of the Bunk Bar show in Portland, Stinson’s vocals were shredded from singing, yet during “Friday Night Is Killing Me,” he pushed himself to the breaking point and screamed every last word until he literally couldn’t give anymore. He is the spitting image of rock.

  1. X at the Crystal Ballroom, Portland Dec. 2

You don’t earn the title of “punk rock legends” for no reason. On X’s 40th anniversary tour, the original lineup of John Doe, Exene Cervenka, Billy Zoom and D.J. Bonebrake are still performing at the top of their game. The early punk anthems are as hard-hitting as ever, but many other of their classic songs have been reworked with a rockabilly edge. Few bands are able to put on a clinic onstage like X.

  1. Car Seat Headrest: WOW Hall Nov. 17; Wonder Ballroom, Portland, Nov. 25; Sam Bond’s Garage Jan. 22

Car Seat Headrest is the band of 2016. Frontman Will Toledo has totally blossomed from a shy, awkward singer into a musician capable of conquering any stage. In January, they performed at the tiny Sam Bond’s Garage, but after Teens Of Denial, they performed at both WOW Hall and the Wonder Ballroom in Portland. The WOW Hall show ended with a Talking Heads cover encore of “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” and “Psycho Killer” with opening band Naked Giants. The rest of the show was dominated by crazed fans shouting every lyric louder than Toledo’s microphone could manage. It was a cathartic celebration of depression, anxiety and awkwardness that left the crowd and band grinning from ear to ear.

  1. Elvis Costello Detour at McDonald Theater April 16

Armed with an arsenal of acoustic and electric guitars, a loop pedal and a piano, Elvis Costello delivered an intimate solo performance at the McDonald Theater in mid-April that was as dedicated to telling great stories as it was about playing classic songs. Costello is a master storyteller and he had the entire crowd spellbound for the duration of the performance — you could hear shutters on phone cameras followed by a whispered “sorry!” He strayed from only playing his hits, but with these stripped down versions of songs, the most shocking part of the night was that more of his songs aren’t engrained in our culture’s conscience.

  1. Beach Slang at the Analog Theater, Portland, May 1

Beach Slang defined 2016 like no other band. In late April, the band announced it had broken up and missed a handful of shows. Portland was its first performance back. They hit the stage with clear tension and fought through it with guitars turned up to 11 and ear-shattering decibel levels. Shortly after this show, drummer J.P. Flexner quit the band and the band’s second album, A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings was released. Guitarist Ruben Gallego was fired after sexual assault allegations were raised against him, forcing James Alex to tour as Quiet Slang, a solo acoustic tour. Even after all the punches this band took, it is still continuing on. For that one night in Portland though, everything felt right with the world and it reaffirmed the meaning of punk rock: fighting against the negativity in the world with insanely loud instruments packing a positive message. Beach Slang was a ticking atom bomb at this point in time, but unfortunately, it exploded shortly after. Witnessing this perfect storm at close proximity was exactly the “Noisy Heaven” Alex sings about.

James Alex of Beach Slang tumbles on stage while managing to play his guitar at Portland’s Analog Theater on Nov. 11, 2015. (Meerah Powell/Emerald)

Honorable Mentions: Julien Baker at Mississppi Studios, Portland Aug. 8; Father John Misty at Edgefield, Portland, Sept. 1; Courtney Barnett at the Crystal Ballroom, Portland, April 20; Brian Wilson presents Pet Sounds at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland, Oct. 17; Slayer at the Roseland Theater, Portland, March 20.

Sararosa Davies’ top concerts of 2016

  1. Tommy Stinson’s Cowboys In The Campfire at Barno’s Backyard Ballroom, Oct. 21

A hole in my heart was filled while seeing The Replacements’ bassist Tommy Stinson play in a Eugene living room at the beginning of the school year. Stinson was drunk and his musical partner Uncle Chip Roberts may have drunkenly hit on my roommate, but seeing a hero from my hometown performing in Eugene felt exactly right.

  1. Jeremy Messersmith at John Padelford River Boats, Saint Paul, Minnesota, Sept. 8.

Minnesotan musician Jeremy Messersmith is known among fans for his ‘Supper Club Shows’, but the coolest performance of his in recent months was on the Mississippi River. The concert was sponsored by the National Parks Service in honor of the organization’s centennial. Highlights of the night included coasting down the river that separates Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota while hearing Messersmith sing about those very cities and seeing a pack of deer swim in the water.

  1. Courtney Barnett at First Avenue, Minneapolis, Minnesota, April 26.

Courtney Barnett spent the year touring after the release of 2015’s Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit. Her stop in Minneapolis’ famed First Avenue did not disappoint and provided much needed release for a scene that had just lost Prince. After all, Purple Rain made First Avenue famous. Barnett’s set pulled mostly from 2015’s album, but she played new songs like the ode to ramen, “Three Packs a Day.” There was not a dry eye in the room when she played “Depreston.”

  1. Car Seat Headrest at WOW Hall, Nov. 17

Car Seat Headrest’s Teens of Denial has topped many end of year lists. Will Toledo’s songwriting not only provides for great albums, but a great live experience. The band’s stop in Eugene was high energy and vibrant; it ended with Toledo jumping into the crowd. Opening acts Girls Punch Bears and Naked Giants prepared the crowd for the headlining band’s set while also asserting their individuality. Naked Giants is ready to headline their own concerts at any time. The best shows ignite the crowd consistently, and this one certainly did.

  1. X at McMenamin’s Crystal Ballroom, Dec. 2

John Doe plays bass for X on the band’s 40th Anniversary tour. (Christopher Trotchie/Emerald)

L.A. punk band X celebrated its 40th anniversary at the Crystal Ballroom with a musicality and stage presence only found in bands who have been together that long. My only experience with the band prior to the show was the Emerald piece about vocalist Exene Cervenka and listening to the band’s post-Reagan election album More Fun in the New World.  

There was a sense of ease in the way the band whipped through its set that made new listeners feel just as at home as those older, balding people in the crowd. There were high schoolers moshing and parents with their young children standing in front of them. Concerts at their simplest are people coming together to watch some people make noise. As X played songs like the hilly, guitar-driven “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts” and the violent “Johnny Hit and Run Paulene,” it became clear that the best shows are the one’s where the music and the people rise above all else.

Patience Greene’s top concerts of 2016

  1. Halloween feat. Alder Street at Campbell Club, Oct. 29

Energy was high, costumes were fabulous and the dance floor was hopping. Punisher, a unique two-piece, loosened up the crowd with drums, keyboard and drag. Megan Johns charmed the stage with her folk-rock group. Sacred Trees, a doomy psychedelic act, rocked the rafters while moshers tore up the floor. The headliner, Alder Street, a lively bluegrass rock ensemble, delivered a fantastic performance the audience couldn’t help but get groovy to.

Editor’s note: Daniel Bromfield of Punisher is a former Emerald writer.

  1. Built to Spill at WOW Hall, Feb. 8

These old-school indie heroes have been stopping by WOW Hall on their tours for years now. Their performances are always a blast. The guys are tons of fun and Doug Martsch, the band’s frontman, is like a lovable teddy bear; unfortunately, the band was stripped to a three-piece for this show, and WOW Hall’s set-up projected the sound past the front, so seeing the band and hearing the vocals at the same time was an impossibility.

  1. Iron Maiden at Tacoma Dome, Washington, April 11

This metal band has a reputation for giving a good show, and they did not disappoint. Fog machines and strobe lights set the mood. Impressive pyrotechnics exploded in abundance. Videos set to the music were projected onto the stage, and the band members gave a high octane performance, clearly enjoying themselves. A giant Eddie puppet came onstage, and an enormous animatronic Satan brought Hell down upon the concert. It was a truly awesome and altogether “metal” show.

  1. Temple of the Dog at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, Nov. 12

Legendary grunge supergroup Temple of the Dog includes members from Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. This was Temple of the Dog’s first ever tour, and seeing the legend live was a dream for many fans who waited in line for hours. Opening act Fantastic Negrito was an electric blues roots band with a smooth and retro-sexy frontman. The show was personal and powerful. Temple of the Dog played every song off its album, along with Mother Love Bone songs and epic covers from Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, The Cure and more.

  1. Black Sabbath at Sunlight Supply Amphitheatre, Ridgefield, Washington, Sept. 13

Black Sabbath is the most influential metal band of all time, practically creating heavy metal and inspiring many doom and sludge metal bands in its wake. After decades of tearing up stages and melting faces with the sheer force of rock, Black Sabbath finally announced “The End,” its last ever tour. This show had high expectations and it met every last one. Ozzy was a perfect mess. His only banter throughout the night was repeatedly screaming, “Let me see your fucking hands!” The set was shorter than usual, but they played every song a classic fan would want and not a single more. It was the tightest and sickest setlist played by any band all year. With heavy doom sections that seemed to slow down time, and long jams that shook the crowd into a frenzy, there was no choice but to give into the metal and let it run through your body as arms and legs flailed in time.

Casey Miller’s top concert

The Head and the Heart at McDonald Theater, Oct. 9

My favorite concert of 2016 was tough to decide as a music beat reporter for the arts & culture section, having attended dozens of concerts this year; however, my favorite this year was The Head and the Heart’s performance at the McDonald Theater in October. Never have I felt so connected with both the audience and the band as with The Head and the Heart’s Signs of Light tour performance in Eugene. Prior to the concert, I had never listened to their music. This was definitely a great idea, as I enjoyed them so much live and connected to the songs on a deeper level. This was also the first time I have teared up at a concert (but seriously, listen to Rivers and Roads and tell me you don’t get emotional), and I’ve seen Ed Sheeran twice before, so I know an emotional song when I hear one! The chemistry onstage between band members and off stage with its audience was what made this performance so special. I can’t say I’ve listened to much of The Head and the Heart’s music since, and I think it’s honestly because their raw emotional performance struck such a chord with me that no recording could match. To catch them live anytime in 2017, check their tour dates here

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