Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top Live Music Events

I promise we’ll get to my Top 15 Albums of 2016 in a minute! But since I am my own editor, I think this is the perfect place to talk about my top live music events of the year.

Obviously, I love recorded music and the magic that comes with listening to your favorite album or hearing a new artist for the first time. However, music is most impactful when experienced live. There’s nothing in the world like hearing your favorite artists play your favorite songs and experiencing how their live performance differs from what you’ve heard on record, especially when you can share that moment with a friend or two or 100,000. Let’s do this!

10. The Stooges Brass Band, Double Door Inn This ended up being my final show at the Double Door, but this was one of the most fun shows I got to see all year. It gave me a warm and rich feeling seeing true New Orleans Jazz in one of the most history rich venues in town. Too bad it didn’t last.

9. Lake Street DriveThe Fillmore Lake Street Drive is just a damn good band. Fun and pop friendly, their style is effortless and infectious. This show was also bouncy and effervescent as the quartet brought lots of energy to the Fillmore stage, and the crowd responded with plenty of warmth. While I’m not a huge fan of their latest album, Side Pony (just a bit heavy on the pop angle for me), their music translates well to live shows. It’s also crazy to think that just a few years ago they were booked at places like The Evening Muse.

8. PhantogramThe Fillmore Phantogram came to town for the first time in a while in October. Touring in support of their new album Three, the duo of Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter came out strong, despite a few technical glitches with their projection system. I interviewed Sarah for CLTure prior to this show, which you can read here.

7. Deep Six Division Album Release Party – The Station As Charlotte continues to axe small live music venues, homegrown artists continue to have to find new places to play. The Station is small as a nickel, but sometimes that’s where the best music happens. On this night, the energy was tangible as RBTS WIN, Elevator Jay, Jr. Astronomers and Deep Six Division (Rapper Shane and Mike Astrea) absolutely threw down on a stage that wasn’t so much a stage as it was the corner of the bar. Despite the size limitations, I had more fun at this show than I had in a long time.

6. ScarfaceThe Fillmore This was part of the Arts, Beats + Lyrics mini festival sponsored by Jack Daniels Honey I believe. Sponsorship isn’t ideal, but in reality, that’s what makes awesome events like this one possible. This event combined some really cool art stations, a kind of traveling tour of artists’ work. Scarface, one of the true OGs in hip hop, far from disappointed as he stepped on stage with authority and supreme control. He was also looking fit and trim, a welcome sight for someone who’s battled health issues and depression.

5. KING – Neighborhood Theatre This neo-soul trio from Minnesota (by way of Los Angeles) released their debut LP, We Are KING, in January of 2016 after much anticipation. Counting the one and only Prince as a mentor, these three ladies’ sound is much more mature than their experience would lead you to believe.

They played on the “intimate” stage of the Neighborhood Theatre next to the bar in the front foyer, which actually worked well for the acoustics of the show.  It was a small, but dedicated crowd which added lots of energy to the show. Vocalists Amber Strother and Anita Bias’ effortless harmonies weaved in and out of each other over Paris Strother’s (Amber’s sister) hypnotic electro-pop instrumentals. This was an excellent show, and hopefully the next time KING plays Charlotte, their name recognition will warrant a bigger stage.

Read my interview with Paris Strother of KING in CLTure here.

4. Mobb Deep – Amos’ Southend Probably my last show ever at Amos’, but it was an absolute banger. The Infamous Mobb is just as grimey as ever and they showed it at the soon-to-be defunct music venue. Like most all hip hop shows, they made the crowd wait for what seemed like forever, leaving the hapless hype men out there to a chorus of boos and chants of “We want Mobb Deep!”

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So apparently it’s not that easy to get a photo that accurately depicts the show you’re seeing with just a cell phone camera. It’s almost as if you should just put the phone away and enjoy the show. Or nah.

Then, out of nowhere, Prodigy and Havoc appeared and immediately went into a ground shaking set that included all of their classics. The crowd went absolutely ballistic for songs like “Survival of the Fittest”, “Hell on Earth”, “Quiet Storm” and of course “Shook Ones, Pt. II”. The most impressive part for me was how P and Hav traded lines and stanzas seamlessly. The Queensbridge duo have been through a lot and have seen it all, and throughout the show you got the sense that shows like this had become almost second nature. If this was my last show at Amos’, then it was a hell of a way to send it out.

3. Frédéric YonnetJazz at the Bechtler Quick aside, the Jazz at the Bechtler shows have been truly influential for me in the past year. Held the first Friday of every month, the performances feature the Ziad Jazz Quartet, led by Ziad Rabie, playing a different theme, style or artist each month. These guys play together all the time all over the place in various iterations so they are razor sharp wherever they play.

This particular show, however… whoa. Frédéric Yonnet is a harmonica player who’s played with Prince and Stevie Wonder (he toured with Wonder for the Songs in the Key of Life tour), as well as playing the opening ceremony of the Smithsonian National African American Museum of History and Culture, officially making him the most badass harmonica player in the world.

Yonnet’s energy was absolutely infectious and impossible to ignore. He’s the only guest musician to be so remarkable that he absolutely overshadowed the rest of the quartet. Yonnet’s talent with the harmonica was mind bending, making sounds and melodies that I truly couldn’t believe I was hearing. Neither could the crowd, as they gave a standing ovation after every single song. I asked one of our frequent attendees of the Jazz at the Bechtler series, Loyd Dillon (who’s seen 65-ish of the 70-ish shows held in total over six years) to rate it, and he said “Top three” without hesitation.

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Frédéric Yonnet’s performance was pure, concentrated energy.

If you ever see the name Frédéric Yonnet on a bill anywhere you are, drop what you’re doing and get a ticket to that show because I promise you won’t regret it.

2. Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra – Knight Theater With jazz being such an influential force in my personal auditory world in 2016, this was a real treat. The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, headed by Wynton Marsalis, are clearly some straight jazz OGs. On the final night of the Charlotte Jazz Festival, Marsalis led the orchestra in recreating the vibrant big band sounds of Duke Ellington and George Gershwin.

I went to this concert by myself, a bit socially burnt out but also wanting to experience the mastery of the musicians in complete focus (I’m kinda weird like that). My efforts were rewarded as I could simply sit and take in the way the musicians played off of one another, communicating with no words, only their instruments.

Big band is a style of jazz that has plenty of action, as there were probably 13 or so musicians on stage at once. Despite the big bouquet of sounds, Marsalis was the ever-present maestro, controlling the group at his will, but letting them improvise when needed. He also served as a narrator for the audience, telling stories about the music and how it came to be.

It goes without saying that I’m already anticipating what this year’s Charlotte Jazz Festival will bring to Uptown.

1. Music Midtown – Piedmont Park, Atlanta Granted, this isn’t a single concert, and it was the only true musical festival I attended this year, but oooh lawdy it was a good one. While getting to see acts like Big Boi, Logic, Lil’ Wayne and 2 Chainz, Twenty One Pilots, Alabama Shakes, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, The Killers and more was nice, the best part of the weekend came outside festival grounds.

One of the things that struck me, as someone who doesn’t go to music festivals all that often, was the sheer number of people that were there. I’ve been to a Bonnaroo or two, but those are held in farms in the middle of nowhere. Music Midtown featured 100,000 strong in the heart of Atlanta. The park, while still sprawling, is a relatively confined space in comparison, making the number of people there seem endless. This was most palpable when one set would end and another would begin as enormous waves of people would shift from one side of the park to the other, moving in a sort of chaotic unison, like a school of fish in the sea. There were times where this would happen, and I wasn’t going anywhere, where if I had got knocked over, I probably would have been trampled.

Despite the massive crowds, I still had an almost ideal (and ultimately unforgettable) experience in Atlanta. The mood of the weekend was one of unison and unabashed ecstasy. It’s exactly the reason why music is so powerful. Tens of thousands of strangers came together to experience something that binded them together no matter the distance travelled, color of their skin or content of their bank accounts. It was absolutely beautiful and was probably my favorite moment of the year, musical or otherwise.

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To be fair, I took this photo of Killer Mike, Big Boi and the Dungeon Family with my cell phone.

Two things before I wrap this post.

One, I’ve got to thank my homie Cameron Lee at CLTure for helping me get into and being a part of several of these shows. Cam does tremendous work and his contributions to the local music scene are far underrated in my opinion. CLTure is exactly the type of grassroots organization this city needs, driven by someone so passionate that they won’t be denied by anything. If Charlotte is ever going to be a truly world-class city like we hope it will be one day, we need more Cameron Lee’s and more CLTure (no pun intended).

Second, I’ve got to get to more live music in 2017. This is non negotiable. Especially when it comes to local acts, I’m embarrassingly deficient when it comes to the quantity of shows I’ve seen, at least for my standards.

When you spend money on a ticket to these shows (or the requisite transportation, lodging, food etc.), you don’t leave with something tangible that you can hold on to or an investment that generates future returns.

No, what you get out of these experiences is much more valuable. What you get is something that speaks directly to your soul, something that unifies you with the performers and those around you, like Jedi and the force. The electricity and atmosphere aren’t things that can be recreated in any recording or social media post. What you get from live music is an experience that shapes you as a person, filling your world with color and character that stays with you, leaves an impression in you and makes you a different person than you would have been otherwise.

These memories and moments are priceless, and in the long run, we as people are only what our memories and moments make us. I’m sure I could have taken the money I spent on that Music Midtown ticket and invested it or bought a swanky new overcoat. But I know that when I’m nearing my final breath in this life, I’ll have had a more rich and wonderful experience in this world because of the trip I chose to make and the lasting memories I made with my friends. That will never change. Damn an investment and damn a piece of clothing because you damn sure can’t take that with you to the other side.

2017, like David Bowie said, let’s dance.

Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top Jazz Albums
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top Vinyls
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Garbage Albums
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Honorable Mentions
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Best Local Projects
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top 15 Albums (15-8)
Andy Goh’s 2016 Music Year in Review: Top 15 Albums (7-1)

What Qualifies as Music?

Music consists of three elements: rhythm, melody and harmony. If it lacks any one of those three elements, it’s not music anymore.

Back in my high school days, the most popular kind of music (according to record sales – which I never take much stock in) were boy bands. Yes, let’s hop in the way back machine to 1999. The Backstreet Boys’ Millennium, 98 Degrees and Rising, plus self-titled albums by N*Sync, Ricky Martin and Britney Spears ruled the airwaves.

The bane of my musical existence in 1999

Personally, I avoided this sugary sweet, unfulfilling and ultimately annoying brand of music. My heros of the day were Jay-Z, OutKast, Nas, Tupac and other hip-hoppers. I held their lyrical storytelling and head-nodding beats in high regard, and similarly denounced the corporate-manufactured pop music as a product of the shameless big music business machine. I still feel the same way today.

But that’s not the point of this blog. Back in the day, my friends, who also listened to hip-hop (we were few and far between in southern Indiana), also despised boy bands and pop princesses. We often trashed them with great vitriol, dismissing them as a sham of the music industry.

One argument that we used was basically this: It wasn’t real music because they didn’t play real instruments.

It seemed to make sense, given our preconceived notion that these bands were just shills for their record companies (that part I still don’t doubt). But that raises the question: What musical ability does an entertainer need in order to be considered a musician?

If you want to look at it that way, what instrument does a rapper play? In the same way JT, Lance, Joey, JC and Chris sang prepackaged harmonies, rappers would use only their voices to convey rhythm, melody and harmony. Often times, as I would later discover, using lyrics written by others. Fundamentally, some of my favorite rappers were no different than those annoying pretty boys with their stupid frosted blonde tips (can we all agree that frosted blonde tips should never EVER come back in style?).

In reality, music, like many other art forms, is a subjective experience, one that will differ from person to person. What one person sees as trash is another person’s proverbial cup of tea. While songs like “I Want it That Way” and “Bye Bye Bye” (let’s not even get into the abomination that LFO’s “Summer Girls” was) were the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard to me, I cannot deny that a significant number of people my age adore those songs to this day (you know who you are).

This mentality is still very much alive today. Most notably, it takes the form of people criticizing the rise in popularity of DJs and producers, who often times perform on stage with merely a laptop and perhaps a pair of turntables. The exact same argument is used to discount the idea that because an artist is making music with electronic instruments that it is somehow not music.

Still very much music

While I personally prefer live instrumentation, music that is made electronically is no less worthy of the definition of music since it contains rhythm, melody and harmony. It may not speak to everyone, but it does speak. Hip-Hop itself was born out of DJs using two turntables and a microphone, which predated the modern day MC. In that sense, pioneers like Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa are not too different from the Calvin Harris’, Steve Aoki’s and Mark Ronson’s of today.

With this in mind, pop music is no different than the polarizing views people hold in regards to works of art like Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain”, Damien Hirst’s “Mother and Child” and basically the entire realm of Modern Art. The beauty or apathy are truly in the eye of the beholder.

So while you won’t catch me with a One Direction, Skrillex or New Kids on the Block record any time soon, that doesn’t mean I don’t respect it as a work of art that connects and speaks to so many other people. If it makes others happy, that’s cool even if that’s not what I prefer. It still holds rhythm, melody and harmony, which meets my definition of music.

Now let me get some of that “Party in the USA”, that’s what I call rhythm, melody and harmony!

In One Week I Saw the Spectrum of Human Emotion Play Out in the Streets: Part I

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Killer Mike, Big Boi and the Dungeon Family

In one week I saw the spectrum of human emotion play out in the streets in two very different situations.

Sunday, September 18, Atlanta, GA. It was the second day of Music Midtown, a music festival held in Piedmont Park in downtown Atlanta. The weather predicted rain all day long, so my crew and I prepared with dollar store ponchos and zip lock bags for our valuables (having dropped my phone in the New River two weeks earlier, I wasn’t making the same mistake twice).

The cold grey clouds loomed ominously over our heads all morning long. After a thoroughly underwhelming set by… some generic band I don’t even remember, they opened up and dropped a steady rain on the 100,000 people in the largest park in downtown Atlanta. Evacuation signs appeared on the LED boards flanking each side of the stage telling us to head to the nearest exit in a “calm and orderly” fashion.

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Just before the rain hit

Naturally we held our ground, thinking it would be over soon and we could go back to the party. Despite our best efforts, however, the rain and threat of lightning forced us to find our way out of the park and into the streets. We (along with the 999,994 other music fans) suddenly were a roving band of music thirsty gypsies of various states of intoxication. With no plan, no word from organizers when/if the show would continue and plenty of booze-fueled energy flowing through us, we knew we had to find our own party, or at least a bar that would let us sit our soaked butts down for a few drinks.

Not knowing where we were or where we were going, and with every bar we passed packed to capacity, the situation looked bleak. The crew was restless. We had no choice but to continue searching.

Eventually we turned a corner and saw a small group of people outside of a bar. The bar was still full, but it had open air windows. Not quite the size of a garage door, but large enough that the music from inside the bar could be heard outside. At first it was just a few people happily hanging out. “It’ll be broken up in a few minutes” we thought, despite the street being closed. Then the group got bigger. Then more people joined in. All of a sudden, like a moth to a flame, it turned into a full force dance party. With hundreds of displaced festival goers looking for a party, and the rain steadily falling, it soon became its own living breathing organism.

Instantly we became part of something bigger than ourselves. The energy was inescapable. People were dancing and singing in unison, each and every one of us with huge grins and smiles that we couldn’t suppress, even if we tried. The crew and I kept exchanging glances as if to say “Is this real?”

Adding to the serendipity of the moment, we randomly connected with three different groups of Charlotte friends who just happened to be walking by at the same time. None of us coordinated the impromptu meetup, none of us texted each other and we damn sure didn’t use the hopeless friend finder app that the festival provided us. It’s as if we were all connected by a certain telekinetic energy, subconsciously reaching out through the masses of downtown Atlanta to say “The party is right here, right now.”

“You are right here. This is right now” is the chant that then broke out, confirming exactly what we were feeling. When Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” came on, the crowd erupted in pure ecstasy. Not one person wasn’t singing, not one person didn’t dance and everyone was moving in unison as if we were possessed by a higher power. The people inside the bar may have been nice and dry, but outside was where all the fun was. I overheard someone say they were disappointed the music festival wasn’t happening and was possibly cancelled. To that I said, “Whatever experience you were hoping to have at the show, this organic, unscripted moment beats it all and didn’t cost you a single dollar.”

It’s wet, fam. #MusicMidtown #RIPWhitneyHouston #RainDelay💃🏻☔️

A video posted by Cameron Lee (@clturecam) on

The scene that is forever seared into my memory happened when a man in a wheelchair became the center of the dance party. Moving his chariot back in forth in the most rhythmic way possible, for the moment he became the epicenter of all that is good, righteous and pure. In that moment, there were no barriers, no inhibitions and no worries. Despite not being able to walk, this man led the entire crowd in the most enthusiastic dance party I had ever witnessed. In that moment, all I could feel was absolute joy to the degree of which I had rarely experienced. I wasn’t the only person in my crew who had a tear brought to my eye by this surreal scene.

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Pretty neat, fam. Lit, even

Eventually, the dance party thinned out, the sun came out, the rain continued to fall and word got around that the music festival was back on. As waves of festival-goers marched back into the park, we all knowingly gave each other a look that what we just witnessed was indeed special.

The exuberance and communal feeling of that moment is one that I will never forget. It was truly the high end of positive emotion in the vast spectrum that is human emotion.

At the time I wouldn’t have believed it, but in the next week, I would also see the exact opposite of that emotion played out in the streets of the city that I call home. Read Part II here.

“I Got a Stolen Wife and a Rhinestone Life” – Beck @ Uptown Amphitheater 7.11.14

In the middle of a summer-long tour taking him throughout the south and midwest, slack-rock superstar Beck stopped by the Uptown Amphitheater Friday night. Under the shine of a luminous full moon, Beck brought many people in the audience back 20 years, while also displaying a more measured tone found in his most recent album.

Beck took the stage in a grey two-piece suit, lighter-toned shirt and a stingy brim hat. Leading the show like a orchestra conductor, Beck had great energy throughout the night, and showed off many of his half-choreographed dance moves in a very playful manner.  While known for his monotone vocal style, Beck also showed that he’s got the chops to carry a verse as well as any rapper, especially on “Qué Onda Güero”.

Touring in support of Morning Phase, Beck had with him many of the musicians that recorded on that album. A trio of guitarists, led by Smokey Hormel, showed great versatility throughout the night. Much of the material from Morning Phase and Sea Change is based on a layered acoustic guitar sound and the axe men did a terrific job of creating a very aural sound. The Dan Electros and distortion pedals came out in full force on several songs, however, including the opener “Devil’s Haircut”, the slide-guitar driven “Loser”, and the main set finale “E-Pro”. The rhythm section (Joey Waronker on drums and Justin Meldal-Johnson on bass) provided excellent pace all night, and shined particularly well on “Black Tambourine” and “New Pollution”. The band was rounded out by Roger Manning Jr., who handled all the various keys, synths and organs. With the many different styles and influences covered in the set, the band never failed to adapt to what was next.

"Loser" (photo courtesy of Susan McClellan)

“Loser” (photo courtesy of Susan McClellan)

Long-time fans of Beck were not disappointed as Beck tore through the classics with a fervent energy. Live favorites and older hits like “One Foot in the Grave”, “Hell Yes”, “Debra”, and “Sissyneck” all pleased the more discerning Beck fans. While much attention was given to the newer songs on Morning Phase and Sea Change(seven songs total), those songs by nature were much more calm and stoic in contrast. Acknowledging the gleaming full moon behind the audience, “Blue Moon” was the first cut from the newest album, while “Heart is a Drum”, “Say Goodbye” and “Waking Light” were the three penultimate songs in the main set.

Beck also managed to squeeze two covers in as medleys in his own songs: Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” was weaved into “I Think I’m in Love”, and the bass line in “Sissyneck” shifted seamlessly into “Billie Jean”.

Closing the main set was “E-Pro”, which finished in a flurry of feedback-fueled distortion, and Beck rolling on the ground trying to seemingly strangle his guitar. The keyboard player then wrapped a line of yellow caution tape around the stage, in a bit of an odd send-off.

The band came back in full-force for the encore, however, and probably had more bounce and energy than at any other time in the show. “Hell Yes” had the entire crowd jumping and singing along. The faux-love classic “Debra”, was a treat even if Beck’s tongue-in-cheek falsettos weren’t exactly Al Green. “Where it’s At” closed the show to a standing ovation.

The show was not without it’s faults however. Several times throughout, feedback from the microphones would jolt through the speakers to fairly noticeable degrees, such that you could see the band and Beck have to adjust on the fly to compensate. It seemed to be a problem throughout the night, with three-to-four really noticeable incidents. While the band as a whole played very well together, any time a musician other than Smokey Hormel stepped out to solo, the results were not pretty (Beck included). This was particularly evident in the encore when Beck credited the band and they all solo’ed over a few bars. Beck himself even muffed a dance move where he threw off his jacket, not quite getting the left breast and sleeve off in the smooth, fluid motion he was looking for. However, in typical Beck fashion, Beck winked to the crowd, said “Let me try that one more time”, and pulled it off again to a rousing cheer.

Charlotteans couldn’t have asked for a better atmosphere as the full moon shone brightly over the crowd all night, and the cooler temperatures and lighter humidity made it comfortable whether you were deep in the pit or siting in the lawn.

Beck will make several stops at music festivals to finish out his tour, including thePitchfork Festival in Chicago, the Forecastle Festival in Louisville, and two dates atAustin City Limits in October to close. If you missed Beck here in Charlotte, you can catch him in Atlanta on July 22nd at the Fox Theater, and in Raleigh the next night at Red Hat Amphitheater.

Andrew Goh (@andygoh) is the Director of Content for QC Independent. He’ll step to you with a fresh pack of gum.