We didn’t get out to every concert this year, but we sat, stood, rocked, rolled and waved our hands in the air like we just didn’t care at dozens of live-music shows over the course of the past 12 months. These are the ones we saw that left the longest-lasting impressions.
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Spectrum Center, April 17: With help from studio-quality vocalizing by Anthony Kiedis, offbeat humor and face-melting bass-playing by Flea, and a living/breathing/dancing light show worthy of gallery space inside the Museum of Modern Art, the Chili Peppers rocked an ultra-high-energy show that proved they are still, improbably, at the very top of their game. Flea can even still do passable jump-splits while jamming, and when he came back out for the encore, he walked across the stage on his hands for almost 15 seconds. How many 54-year-olds do you know who can do that? – TJ
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Paul Simon, Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amphitheatre, June 6: During the first encore, the more enduring half of Simon & Garfunkel brought the house to its feet with a standing-O-worthy rendition of “Graceland” and to its knees with the brilliant “Still Crazy After All These Years” (oh, that solo by his sax player, Andy Snitzer!). Then he reloaded his guitar and came back firing with five more songs in Encore No. 2, sprinkling it with gentle political statements. And while at first blush the whistle from the nearby passing train that interrupted “The Sound of Silence” seemed obnoxious, Simon smiled and said, “So beautiful” – suddenly, it felt like poetry. – TJ
Muse, PNC Music Pavilion, June 15: If it weren’t for the extenuating circumstances, I’m not sure if the English rock trio’s show would have been as memorable, but in this particular case, the moment they stepped on stage was triumphant. Following 30 Seconds to Mars’ opening set, the weather almost instantly took a turn for the worse. Rain was ripping through the venue so hard it felt like a hurricane or tornado might be on deck; there wasn’t really anywhere we could go safely anyway. Once it finally blew over, we learned Muse had stuck it out, too. I tend to compare every Muse show to opening night of “The Resistance” Tour in Atlanta in 2010, which is one of the best arena shows I’ve ever seen – towering sets, technical innovation and the grand capabilities of the musicians. But this show was a close second. They didn’t cut their set short, and the electrifying finale of “Uprising” and “Knights of Cydonia” took the crowd, once again, by storm. – CD
Garbage, Red Hat Amphitheater in Raleigh, Aug. 4: While seeing co-headliner Blondie was fun, Debbie Harry is in her 70s now; she looks good, and usually sounds good, but I wouldn’t say she’s at her peak. Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson, however, is much like Harry was 20 years ago. She’s 51, but she carries herself like she always has. Wearing what was basically a satin striped sack, Manson proved she’s still the seminal ’90s rock goddess and provided proof that even newer songs like “Even Though Our Love Is Doomed” hold up with the rest of their catalog – which is aging as well as Manson. – CD
Guns N’ Roses, BB&T Field in Winston-Salem, Aug. 11: If traffic and parking and fan-friendliness were the key considerations, Axl Rose & Co.’s long-awaited return to North Carolina would receive a big fat F. We were stuck in gridlock for hours, we were directed in circles around the venue once we could see it, and when we finally arrived in our section a drunk woman cussed me out in front of my kid even though she had taken over our seat. But Axl, Slash, Duff and the rest of the gang, meanwhile, came across as much more grown up and much more professional than ever. And while Atlanta’s 2016 show was a goosebump-inducing exercise in nostalgia, this GNR seemed more at ease, loose and real. So in retrospect, it was all worth it. – CD
Kendrick Lamar, Spectrum Center, Aug. 29: Riding high off a kung-fu-fueled performance at the MTV Video Music Awards just 48 hours earlier, Lamar (the heir apparent to the rap throne that Jay-Z isn’t quite ready to give up) took the stage wearing a Bruce Lee-ish yellow jumpsuit and gave the chopsocky treatment to everything from “Swimming Pools (Drank) to “LOVE.” There were swordfights. Backup ninjas instead of backup dancers. At one point, the then-29-year-old hip-hopper performed eight feet in the air, suspended horizontally over a similarly sideways female martial artist. Weird? Kind of. Wildly inventive and completely befitting a creative genius? Absolutely. – TJ
Paramore, Ovens Auditorium, Sept. 11 – The band practically exploded in a burst of light from the start, with frontwoman Hayley Williams charging around the stage, jumping, kicking, and running in place without her voice faltering. She’d done enough cardio by the end of the two opening songs, “Hard Times” and “Ignorance,” to constitute most people’s daily workout. Yet she wasn’t even winded. Even on her earliest Warped Tour, Williams commanded the stage, but she’s developed into such a charismatic, comfortable front person that it’s hard to imagine her doing anything else. – CD
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, Ovens Auditorium, Sept. 29: Going into night one of a two-night stay, I knew the bandleader and his wife/fiddler/harmony singer Amanda Shires’ rendition of “If We Were Vampires” would be stunning. I knew his band would be completely on point. What I didn’t count on was such an awesome opening set by Frank Turner, who blew away the crowd with his enthusiasm, humor and band choreography. And I didn’t count on Isbell and his band making me cry during “Cover Me Up.” When I noticed my still-fresh-from-a-break-up friend weeping beside me, knowing every word of that song applied to her situation, I reached out to hold her hand – but couldn’t hold back my own tears. You’re good, Jason Isbell. Real good. – CD
Foo Fighters, Greensboro Coliseum, Oct. 15: The band went on for so long – stopping just shy of midnight – that lead singer Dave Grohl’s shaggy, dark-brown locks seemed to have grown an inch or two between the start and the end of the show. Part of what kept it going? Foo dutifully played more than half of their new album, “Concrete and Gold,” but then they milked the heck out of the fan favorites because (surprise!) fans came to hear their favorites. Exhibit A: The band closed out the main set by essentially singing “Best of You” not once, but twice. And somehow, after using and truly abusing his voice for 165 minutes, Grohl still had enough for a soaring version of “Everlong” to top it off. – TJ
Fantasia, Ovens Auditorium, Dec. 19: The Charlotte-based singer closed out her pre-holiday “Christmas After Midnight” Tour at home with a rousing yet sophisticated set of jazz, blues, gospel and – of course – soul. But she did so without mining the same old holiday clichés or revisiting the same carols we’ve heard a thousand times. She framed the set around stories from her grandparents’ generation, highlighting the good and the bad with songs from their record collection and original hits of hers that fit their story. She paid touching tribute to tradition and her family (including her younger brother, who was injured in a motorcycle incident this summer), while proving that Christmas concerts don’t have to be predictable. – CD