We Love Music: Our Favorite Shows of 2012

photo courtesy of The Faint

It’s the end of a great year, and the music writers of We Love DC- Mickey,  Jonathan & Alexia have pulled together their respective top 10 favorite shows of 2012.

Mickey: This has been a great year for shows! For me, it’s been a return to old favorites. I caught a few acts that I’ve been into for most of my life and a few that became new favorites in the last 10 years. Interestingly, it wasn’t a big year for acts new to me although I did some promising new stuff.

Of my top 10 shows of 2012, I reviewed eight of them for We Love DC. I didn’t review two of them because they were out of town and I was quite busy! Without further ado, here in reverse chronological order then are my top 10 concerts of 2012.


1. The Faint

930 Club, Dec. 5

It’s become all the rage for a band to tour on the strength of a single album and to perform it in its entirety these days. Most of the time, we see that happen with bands celebrating the 20th or 25th anniversary of an album. But although the album is only about 10 years old, The Faint toured earlier this month on a reissue of Danse Macabre, a record that strikes a powerful chord and compels you to dance like crazy. And dance like crazy the audience did at a very full show at the 9:30 Club on Dec. 5. The album sounded as amazing as ever and The Faint even snuck in a new song, suggesting there is more to come from Nebraska’s favorite electronic sons.


2. Shiny Toy Guns

Rock and Roll Hotel, Nov.4

It’s a great feeling when a band justifies your faith in them. And so it goes with Shiny Toy Guns at the Rock and Roll Hotel on Nov. 4. This stellar new wave band recently put out its third and best album, III, bouncing back strong after a temporary split with their female vocalist Carah Faye and a disappointing second album. The sold-out crowd welcomed the band back like old friends. (And Jeremy Dawson gave me the inside scoop on reuniting with Carah Faye.)


3. Saint Etienne

U Street Music Hall, Oct. 25

Few things are more amazing than an intimate show with one of your absolute favorite niche bands. Saint Etienne has captured a Europop sounds so fresh and invigorating that they surprisingly sound timeless and modern all at once. They captivated a large group composed of mostly men who came out to dance and fawn over Sarah Cracknell, the most modest of divas, when they played at U Street Music Hall on Oct. 25. Although I loved the actual show to bits, my experience was bittersweet as the lovely lady who introduced me to the band went to the show with someone else. As Saint Etienne knows, “Only love can break your heart!”

4. Adam Ant

The National, Richmond, Va., Oct. 2

Sadly, I didn’t write a review of Mr. Adam Ant on his comeback tour of the US because he didn’t play DC! Quelle surprise (as “Young Parisians” might say)! Oh well, I traveled to the National in Richmond, Va., on Oct. 2 to hear some Antmusic at a $20 show — a steal for such an icon. And Adam Ant delivered a great glam-punk set that favored his early works, the highlight of which may have been a dramatic version of “Desperate But Not Serious,” which was pretty thrilling. As much as I personally enjoyed the show, however, I felt that Adam didn’t bring his strongest performance to bear that night. Still, it was an amazing opportunity to catch a fascinating artist close to home.


5. Madonna

Verizon Center, Sept. 23

You have no idea how much I love Madonna! While MDNA is not a terribly strong album, the accompanying tour was a treat for the eyes and ears. On Sept. 23, Madonna paraded her army of dancers into a sold-out show at the Verizon Center to perform a retrospective of her career. It opened with an over-the-top homage to gangster movies but ended in a bright celebration of all the good things that make Madonna Madonna. And as a fan wrote on her back during the show, she’s a sexy woman for being in her fifth decade.


6. The Zombies

The Howard Theatre, Aug. 9

The Zombies don’t usually fit my style or preferred music genres but I cannot deny they put on an amazing show when they visited The Howard Theatre on August 9. Anyone who listened to the radio, as I did growing up, in the 70s would instantly know and recognize The Zombies’ staples like “Time of the Season” and Argent’s “Hold Your Head Up.” Throw in some “Eye in the Sky” from Alan Parsons and a new album that extends The Zombies legacy, and you have an evening of amazing sounds from amazing talents.


7. Duran Duran and Steve Aoki

Terminal 5, New York City, June 20

This show also didn’t occur in DC — so I didn’t review it — but entertainer Steve Aoki remixed Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” into an extended house jam, which they debuted on John Taylor’s birthday at Terminal 5 in New York City on June 20. Although the show represented a bit of a culture clash between Aoki’s young party-seekers and graying Duranies, it was a unique and fun chance to see both come together for this one-time event. Simon Lebon singing the reworked “Hungry Like the Wolf” over Aoki’s live mixing was a highlight of the performance, but my personal music heroes also took the time to perform a special mini-set that included a few selections from their new album along with some perennial favorites like “(Reach Up for the) Sunrise” and “Notorious.” (And my date and I got some cool face time with none other than Nick Rhodes.)



8. Kasabian

930 Club, March 20

I took a long time to warm to Kasabian despite some early interest. But they released a terrific fourth album, Velociraptor!, last year that was at turns optimistic, brash and fun. Almost every song on that album stood on its own. And the band cemented their reputations as one of the UK’s top live acts when they stopped into the 9:30 Club for a sold-out show on March 20.


9. Kaiser Chiefs

930 Club, March 9

If you’re a man who doesn’t like the Kaiser Chiefs, you must not have an ounce of testosterone in you. The lads from Leeds rocked out in a high-energy show that surprised and thrilled the sold-out 9:30 Club on March 9. Ricky Wilson and company came to town on a fourth album that was far superior to their third if not as strong as their first two. The Kaisers didn’t play favorites, however, and got all of us blokes singing and dancing about womanizing, drinking, and fighting — albeit with a glossy new wave beat.


10. The Dead Milkmen

U Street Music Hall, Feb. 18

Indulging in pure nostalgia sometimes can be a dicey proposition. What if the music doesn’t hold up? In the case of the Dead Milkmen, the music not only held up but seemed as freshly irreverent as ever. The punk quartet bounced through their greatest hits, some nicely accessible new material, and some surprising cover tunes from the likes of Gary Numan and VNV Nation. They also boldly covered Fugazi’s “Waiting Room” in an a bow to hometown heroes during their one-off, sold-out show at U Street Music Hall on Feb. 18.

Parenthetical Girls, photo by Angel Ceballos


1. Parenthetical Girls

Iota, March 31

Went for a Perfume Genius show, but was so blown away by Portland’s Parenthetical Girls I went and saw them three nights later in Baltimore. Lead Zac Pennington is a sassy, sexy bitch with a special voice, his band rocks, and there’s an aura of constant danger as he runs around the audience.


2. Mark Eitzel

Black Cat, Dec. 6

Old School Indie Rock Veteran packs a punch with just a keyboardist. He is in top form vocally, soaring and soulful and funny, and between-song banter is sharp. On this night he was in a good mood too, and it showed, thankfully.


3. Millie Jackson

Howard Theater, Aug. 3

I hope some young buck realizes that a 68-year-old foul-mouthed, gravel-throated R&B veteran that tours with a 10-piece band is a good thing, and invites her to tour with ’em. She holds her own and people outside of her core middle-aged demo needs to see it.


4. Johnny Foreigner

Velvet Lounge, Nov. 2

Big following in England, I was surprised Johnny Foreinger played the Velvet. Singing from the audience, vamped up boy/girl vocals, and noisy guitar made me wish they were local.


5. Octopus Project

Red Palace, Oct. 4

Electronic/Electro/Theremin awesomeness hit Red Palace one Thursday, and it was chunky and meaty and awesome, with some fabulous OpArtish visuals and a friendly vibe with the crowd.


6. The Cell Phones

Sova, Oct. 23

Any quasi-neo-grindcore band fronted by a soulful Rock Chick and a noise-activated strobe-lit bass drum is amazing. This show was the big surprise of 2012, and I hope these Chicago punks get their due. Especially if they keep closing with that crazy Beatles/Devo cover.


7. E.D. Sedgwick

Comet Ping Pong, April 14

Edie Sedgwick made me dance and smile, which is what happens when you see them, which I did like 6 times this year.  First time was the greatest.


The Torches, photo by Tara Welch

8. The Torches

Galaxy Hut, Feb. 13

Best place to see music, best band to play that place. Seriously one of my most joyous shows of the year!


9. R. Ring

DC9, May 5

Breeders vet Kelley Deal summoned distant beauty with 2 guitars and her sweet voice. Don’t miss her album.


10. Austin Lucas

Lot 49 house show, Nov. 25

Young but seasoned alt-country crooner Austin Lucas rocked a house show; his sweet, mournful voice, a houseful of strangers, and Lucas’ sweet dog Sally brought an intimacy to live music you just can’t get in a clerb.




Alexia: 2012 has been a great year for music, and a great year for shows in DC.  I must say it was really, really hard to whittle it down to 10, and I threw in a show that was not in DC, but was one of the best shows of my life, so I just couldn’t leave it out. My top picks are in chronological order.


1. Thurston Moore, Kurt Vile

Black Cat, Feb. 6

An evening of understated, mesmerizing, beautiful music, sprinkled with amusing anecdotes from Thurston Moore about Black Flag, Jello Biafra, and Jimmy Carter.


2. The Darkness, Foxy Shazam

930 Club, Feb. 8

 This show rocked! Pure, unabashed glam-rock extravaganza! Openers Foxy Shazam were ridiculous and totally entertaining. The Darkness embodied everything that is good about totally over-the-top, cheesy, stadium glam-rock, on the stage of the 930 Club! Singer Justin Hawkins had at least 2 costume changes, and was carried around the club on the shoulders of a 930 Club bouncer. Where do you go from there?


3. Bjork

New York Hall of Science, Feb. 18

This show, part of Bjork’s 10-night residency in New York, felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was an audiovisual masterpiece. It was presented in the round, so that everyone in the audience was very close to the stage. Bjork’s costumes were spectacular, as were her custom-made fantastical instruments (including a freaking musical double-tesla coil!), and the Icelandic women’s choir were magical. One of the best shows I’ve seen in my life!



Coup Sauvage & the Snips


4. Coup Sauvage & the Snips, Chain & the Gang

Comet Ping Pong, June 2

A great line-up, with two of my favorite DC bands! The sassy, soulful, quirky & comical awesomeness of Coup Sauvage & the Snips was spot on at this show- they even got the dense crowd to part and form a dance circle/lane, a la Soul Train, which took the performance and night over the top! They were a tough act to follow, but Chain and the Gang brought their own weird, fun soul-punk freak-out to end the night with a blast.

5. Radiohead

Verizon Center, June 3

I’ve loved Radiohead since I was a teen, and been fortunate enough to see them live six times now. Their live shows have never been anything less than amazing experiences for me. I was doubtful of seeing them at Verizon Center, such a big and seemingly sterile setting (I’ve always seen them at semi-outdoor or totally outdoor venues previously), but being lucky enough to get floor tickets I was able to get closer to them than I ever have before. They played their hearts out, as they do. Their lights/bells & whistles were beautiful, impressive, and spectacular, and added to the experience. But it was the music, their special alchemy they create onstage, that transported me to that magical Radioheadland, where I would like to take permanent residence.

6. Heavy Breathing, E.D. Sedgwick

Comet Ping Pong, Sept. 22

This was the CD release party for Heavy Breathing, and they blew my mind. So energetic, crazy, weird and fun- made me want to jump, dance, and headbang all at once. They seriously rock. The bill was made doubly awesome by E.D. Sedgwick, who brought their super-fun disco-punk dance party to the room.


7. The Gossip

930 Club, Sept. 24

Beth Ditto & her cohorts blew the roof off of the 930 Club with their dancey, soulful, disco-drenched extravaganza. It was so fun to dance and sing along at the top of my lungs, and pretty much everyone in the club was doing the same thing.


8. Jack White

(at Virgin Free Fest) Merriweather Post Pavilion, Oct. 6

The beaming highlight of a largely dreary festival, Jack White shone like a dark star onstage with his super-talented band of lovely ladies. He played lots of White Stripes songs, which made me really happy as I never got to see White Stripes play live. Energetic, charismatic rock and roll with a southern gothic twist. Jack White was brilliant, and saved the day.


9. Other Lives

Rock & Roll Hotel, Nov. 30

 This show was not only one of the best shows of the year for me, but definitely belongs on a short list of the best shows I’ve ever seen. I first saw Other Lives in April at the Coachella Music Festival. I’d never heard them before, and their performance there blew me away. Seeing them in a venue as small as Rock and Roll Hotel was a real treat, and they put on such a magical and awesome performance. They are amazing musicians, and while there are five of them onstage they collectively play at least 20 instruments. It’s mind-boggling, yet beautiful, and creates this gorgeous sonic landscape. It took me to another plane, and I didn’t want to come back. It was a musical-spiritual experience for me. (check out my interview with singer Jesse Tabish here.)
Wilson Center (aka Next Step Public Charter School), Dec. 30
A super way to end the year- a classic DC experience! Ian MacKaye and wife Amy Farina played in a space that has been home to DC shows off and on for many years (MacKaye said he’d first played in the spot in 1982!). A benefit show, it was full of DC music scenesters, supporters, and enthusiasts. The vibe was really positive, MacKaye encouraged singing along, and told some good stories.

Alexia Kauffman

Alexia was born and raised in Arlington, VA. She has been a cellist since age four, and a lover of rock & roll soon after. The first tape she owned was “Make It Big” by Wham, and the first tape she bought was Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” and she still loves both. She was a member of local synth-rock outfit Soft Complex for several years, and has recorded with bands including Engine Down and Two if By Sea. By day she works for a non-profit distributing royalties to musicians and labels. She currently plays cello, lap-steel guitar and tambourine in the DC post-folk/Americana band The Torches.