Check out hissing lawns’ year-end posts by Petee Worrell, Anna Chandler, Kayne Lanahan of MusicFile Productions, Tom Cartmel, and Larry Jack, who saw a mere 626 live performances at Savannah venues in 2013 . . .
Here I’m focusing on 13 standout gigs/shows/sets that I saw in Savannah in 2013, with an emphasis on shows where I shot some photos. As with all such lists, this one is personal and idiosyncratic. I saw so much more good music this year than I can possibly detail here, and I’m sure I missed as many great shows as I saw.
13. Doug Mains & the City Folk
Doug Mains & the City Folk played their second gig at The Sentient Bean back in January — apparently the final Savannah visit from the immensely talented group from Michigan. They recently announced that they are disbanding. But good news: there’s another album already in the can that will be released in 2014, and musicians as talented as Doug and his bandmates don’t just disappear when one project ends. I still play the 2012 album The Mountain’s King regularly and keep finding more beauty in the subtleties of the instrumentation and the evocativeness of Doug’s vocals.
12. Mac DeMarco
So would the then-22 year old Mac DeMarco live up to the hype that he generated in the months before appearing in a 1 a.m. set at The Jinx on opening night of the 2013 Savannah Stopover? In a word, yes. I was probably the oldest person in the room, which happens pretty often these days, but found it impossible not to be swept along by the energy of the crowd and the live versions of songs like “Ode to Viceroy” and “Cooking Up Something Good”. I’m assuming that we’ll be getting a new record from DeMarco in 2014; I’ll be snapping it up.
11. Modern English
So one of your favorite bands from back in the day — way back in the day — is coming to town. Do you celebrate? Or cringe? Surely this will be just a novelty, right? Some guys just checking in and cashing in? But no worries here. Modern English delivered a long, tight, and joyous set at Dollhouse Productions in a show produced by MusicFile Productions (parent company of both Savannah Stopover and Revival Fest). I never imagined that I’d get to hear “I Melt with You” live like this — and major bonus points to Robbie Grey for the obscene Tom of Finland t-shirt.
10. The Wailers
Ditto from #11. I was skeptical of seeing The Wailers at Trustees Theater during the Savannah Music Festival, but I jumped at the chance to snag some front row tickets anyway. Bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett is the only band member who can boast a personal connection to Bob Marley, but the power of those classic songs translated into one of the most upbeat, inclusive vibes I’ve ever felt at a show. The SMF featured some other excellent performances in 2013, as one would expect, but only the official photographers are allowed to shoot, and much of the programming probably isn’t of high interest to readers of this blog. Still, I wanted to include at least one Savannah Music Festival performance on this list — it’s way too big of a festival to ignore. A close second for me among SMF shows was the Richard Thompson Electric Trio at Johnny Mercer Theatre. Thompson opened for Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, who were plenty good for sure, but I would have been content to leave after Thompson’s stellar set. Dr. John was pretty awesome too.
9. Damon and the Shitkickers CD release party
I’ve heard Damon and the Shitkickers dozens of times over the last few years, mostly during their regular Saturday happy hour gigs at The Jinx. It’s safe to say that you never know who is going to show up at The Jinx early on a Saturday evening when the city is crawling with tourists and outlaw country is spilling out onto Congress Street. Originally just covering classic country songs, Damon Mailand and the gang have steadily added originals to their seemingly endless sets and in 2013 also released the excellent CD Short Cups and Long Nights. A number of other local musicians joined in the fun at the release show.
8. House party with CUSSES and Heyrocco acoustic
About halfway through CUSSES’ phenomenally successful Kickstarter campaign, the band threw an early evening acoustic house show and potluck (I took spinach dip). They invited Heyrocco, one of my favorite young bands, down from Charleston for the party. There was no appeal for money or support — the gathering was devoted to good friends and good music. I’ve seen both CUSSES and Heyrocco any number of times in clubs and at festivals around town, and I caught Heyrocco at a pretty raucous house party later in the year and then again in a show at Hang Fire produced by CUSSES’ No Control booking and promotion biz. But this quiet gig epitomized many things that I like about the Savannah scene. There was a warm, intergenerational camaraderie among musicians and fans; there was a sense that music can bring people together in unexpected places, at unexpected times, in unexpected ways. No, I don’t always want to see an unplugged, drummerless CUSSES or a bassless and drummerless Heyrocco, but this chill afternoon was pretty special.
7. Black Tusk
The last time I saw Black Tusk live, I hung pretty far back to stay out of the mania around the stage. But since I’m taking photos now, that was out of the question for this 2013 gig — and that’s a good thing. Of course, it’s still impossible to capture just how much fun everyone seemed to be having. Andrew, Athon, and James spend many months of each year on the road in the U.S. and Europe, so it’s something special when they tear things up in a hometown show.
6. Late-night jam session after Revival Fest
The 1st annual (I hope it’s annual) Revival Fest on stages both inside and outside of the old paint shop at the Georgia State Railroad Museum served up a dozen excellent bands, including standout local acts The Accomplices and The Train Wrecks. But one of the best performances came much, much later that night at the after-party jam session, a fitting culmination of an amazing day of music. Things were running so late that it was never clear until the last minute if any of the featured acts were even going to hop on stage. Eventually, the guys in Whiskey Shivers took over and were soon joined by a variety of other performers, including the Cedric Burnside Project, Wild Child, and Jason Bible from The Train Wrecks. It was a little late, pretty crazy, and definitely memorable. At least for those who could remember it.
5. of Montreal
of Montreal. Forsyth Park. All ages. Free. Savannah Stopover pulled off a big coup with this show, which packed the park and was the only time I’ve seen that strange sail above the stage used for maximum effect. Paste aptly described the scene as “borderline chaotic.”
4. American Aquarium
Raleigh-based American Aquarium hit Savannah twice in 2013 — they opened for Murder By Death for The Jinx 10th anniversary show in October and came back in December for a headlining set. The October set was strong, but the December show was a true standout. I love a great bar band at the top of their game — and I love when a crowd is singing along to the music. American Aquarium has so many excellent songs in their repertoire after all these years — from “City Lights” to “St. Mary’s”, from “Savannah Almost Killed Me” to “Jacksonville”, from “I Ain’t Going to the Bar Tonight” to “I Hope He Breaks Your Heart” — and they play each one like they really mean it. The shots below are from the October show.
3. Band of Horses
A young Savannah man who follows my newspaper columns recognized me at this improbable show. He and his wife had moved to Savannah a few years ago, and he said that getting a chance to see Band of Horses in a small venue was the cultural highlight of their time here. I’ll confess that I arrived at The Wormhole only a lukewarm fan of Band of Horses, which used this gig as a tuneup for a bigger gig the next day in Charleston. But the band made a believer out of me. They might play big theaters for the most part these days, but Band of Horses is still a pretty good bar band too.
2. Murder By Death
Thanks to The Jinx owner Susanne Guest Warnekros for getting Murder By Death to town for the club’s 10th anniversary show. MBD is so powerful and so polished that I don’t think I’d ever tire of listening to them. The bold variations in tempo, the way that songs like “Whiskey in the World” can build and build and build, the band’s total command of the stage — I could go on and on.
1. Field Report
Christopher Porterfield and company are based in Milwaukee, but they ventured down south twice this year. I had already fallen in love with the self-titled debut record when Field Report rolled up on a sunny Saturday morning in March at Dollhouse Productions in West Savannah for a Savannah Stopover recording session. Experiencing the music live, I was transfixed. Later that night, Field Report played a beautiful Stopover set at B&D Burgers on Congress Street, but the chatty room turned out to be a lousy venue for them.
And then Field Report came back to town for Revival Fest. The mysterious, cavernous railway building turned out to be the perfect venue for the sometimes delicate and searching sound, with each song building upon the ones before. Every choice feels perfect; every song could stand alone as a poem.