AMERICANARAMA

62674_10151612355235421_1609523347_nLast week the Summer concert series continued as I voyaged to Peoria, IL to catch a sure-fire show of Bob Dylan, Wilco, and My Morning Jacket under the guise of a traveling “festival” named AmericanaramA. The bill was too fantastic to pass up. My favorite artist of all-time in Dylan with two of my favorite bands Wilco and My Morning Jacket.  It was supposed to be a co-headlining venture with British blues veteran Richard Thompson opening for them.

This marked the ninth time I had seen Bob Dylan perform live and the eighth time for Wilco. Both delivered fantastic performances. Wilco delivered an eclectic mix of early material with “Airline to Heaven,” “Via Chicago,” “California Stars,” “I’m Always in Love,” “Box Full of Letters,” and “Kingpin” and latter-day songs from their latest effort, the two lengthy workouts from The Whole Love “One Sunday Morning” and “Art Of Almost” as well as “Dawned On Me.” They had the home-field/home-state advantage closing out the set with “Heavy Metal Drummer,” “I’m The Man Who Loves You,” and “I’m A Wheel” to the delight of their gracious Illinois compatriots.

Bob Dylan filled the main event slot. With as much historical significance and clout as he has (Arguably more than any other North American artist), you can’t argue against that. Dylan sauntered on stage with his spectacular backing band willing and able to follow him down any rabbit hole he dares at a split-second notice. He kicked things off with a rollicking runaway wagon version of “Things Have Changed” before sinking his teeth into the live rarity of Time Out Of Mind‘s “Love Sick.” It was good to hear cuts off Tempest this time around as well with “Soon After Midnight,” “Early Roman Kings,” and “Duquesne Whistle.”  The band roared into a stampeding “All Along the Watchtower” and came back out for an encore of “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Dylan and company soaked up the admiration, stoic as ever.

Make no mistake about it though, the night belonged to My Morning Jacket. There’s a reason they’ve been heralded as one of the greatest live bands of this generation, because it’s positively true. They might just be the best of this generation. The band played for about 80 minutes and it seemed like they were just warming up. They had the audience completely captivated. There was no doubt some individuals, probably older, that were there only to see Dylan and maybe Wilco. Those audience members had to at least have been instilled with a bit of wonderment during the MMJ set. Front man Jim James was awe-inspiring howling passionately in a register that was as ferocious as it was gorgeous. Guitarist Carl Broemel by now has to be considered the co-captain of the band along with James. He’s a classically trained musician and veered from guitar, to lap steel, to sax during the show. MMJ hit the stage with the powerhouse “Circuital” and they poured every ounce of energy they had into this truncated set. The optimistic thunder of “I’m Amazed”, pulsing neon ballad “Smokin From Shootin,” and underwater disco epic of “Touch Me, I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2” capped off a fantastic triad of Evil Urges tunes. Then came my favorite MMJ song “Dondante”, the monumental closer from Z. To me, it’s their “Jungleland” (Even featuring a sax solo!). It’s haunting, ethereal, and transcendent, everything a masterpiece should be. It was a great sight to see a monster jam next with Wilco joining MMJ on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass classic “Isn’t It A Pity”. They returned for “Victory Dance,” “Wordless Chorus,” and “Dancefloors” before leaving me completely spellbound and I can’t wait to see them again.

Lollapalooza is right around the corner as the Summer concert series hits Chicago next!

P.S.- Welcome back Kings of Leon. They released their first single from their new album Mechanical Bull (Out September 24th) yesterday entitled “Supersoaker.” From the sound of things, the talk of them rediscovering the raucous magic of their first three records is true as this seems like a return-to-form of the full-throttle angst they broke onto the scene with while still retaining an arena-ready size:

Kings of Leon- Supersoaker

MID-YEAR RUNDOWN: THE 25 BEST ALBUMS OF 2013 SO FAR

It’s July 1st, meaning we’re exactly half way into 2013. What a fast six months! With the past six months has come a plethora of great music. I’m more than likely going to do another Top 50 albums this year at the end of 2013. I said that was as much as I’d do because it’s pretty daunting but I may do a top 75 this year, with the last 25 just being honorable mentions and not writing about them. We’ll see.

It’s been a little bit slow developing in terms of massive blockbusters from the Rock scene (My main area of focus) but it’s been a grab-bag of return to form brilliance from vets, surprises from artists who completely took their game to new levels, and newcomers threatening to steal the show. There’s destined to be a lot more shakeup on this list by year’s end with records still expected out by Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, MGMT, and Deer Tick to name a few. Add to that the rumored possible releases by artists like The Black Keys, Ryan Adams, Pearl Jam, Arcade Fire, and yes maybe even U2 and you’ve still got a bounty of magnificent music left on the table.

So here’s a little taste of what’s to come down the road of the Top 50 at year’s end. The Top 25 at halftime:

1.       Black Sabbath- 13

2.       Queens Of The Stone Age- …Like Clockwork

3.       The National- Trouble Will Find Me

4.       Portugal. The Man- Evil Friends

5.       Phosphorescent- Muchacho

6.       Dawes- Stories Don’t End

7.       Frank Turner- Tape Deck Heart

8.       Jake Bugg- Jake Bugg

9.       David Bowie- The Next Day

10.   Palma Violets- 180

11.   Iggy Pop & The Stooges- Ready to Die

12.   Frightened Rabbit- Pedestrian Verse

13.   Andrew Stockdale- Keep Moving

14.   Vampire Weekend- Modern Vampires of the City

15.   Dropkick Murphys- Signed And Sealed In Blood

16.   The Joy Formidable-Wolf’s Law

17.   Free Energy- Love Sign

18.   Treetop Flyers- The Mountain Moves

19.   Ivan & Alyosha- All The Times We Had

20.   The Strokes- Comedown Machine

21.   Local Natives- Hummingbird

22.   Tribes- Wish to Scream

23.   Smith Westerns- Soft Will

24.   Foals- Holy Fire

25.   Josh Ritter- The Beast in its Tracks

It’s been a fierce battle for the top spot with two heavies-  Black Sabbath’s excellent return to form with 13 and Queens Of The Stone Age reemerging after a six year hiatus with …Like Clockwork as the monstrous 1-2 punch. The National, Portugal. The Man, and Phosphorescent are all chomping at their heels right behind them though.

I guess some people will inevitably see ranking music as stupid since it’s ultimately subjective (…well). That’s fine you can think whatever you want, you’re entitled to your opinion. Most people that voice this thought are on a total different wavelength than me anyway both in processing music and in preference. For me I see this as engaging and exciting. New releases have never been more pivotal or eventful to me than in the last five years when I started doing this back in 2008. I wish I had started it sooner in all honesty. I may be old fashioned but I still love the feeling of days when new records come out you’ve been anticipating for weeks and months before hand. I really hope the art of making an amazing record isn’t lost in the future when people have millions of songs in the palm of their hands with their Spotify accounts without paying attention to the artist’s true vision… or let’s be honest, paying attention to anything really. Regardless, it’s been a very good first half of 2013 for music and the second half could be even better.