Top 10 Concerts of 2012 | Mike Rengel

best2012 sqYes, my Top 10 contains 11 entries. I promise you I really can count—I just couldn’t bear to leave any out.


A huge work-related time crunch, a money-sucking parade of car repairs, travel, and a death in the family cut into my show-going the second half of the year, but I’d still like to think of 2012 as a pretty fine year for gigs. Here’s a list (more or less in order) of the 10 best concerts I managed to get out and see, in St. Louis and points beyond. And yes, my Top 10 contains 11 entries. I promise you I really can count—I just couldn’t bear to leave any out.

(Warning: I’m kind of crap at finding the right vocabulary for writing about live music, so bear with me here, especially if things veer off into the realm of personal journal entry.)

  1. Radiohead | 03.09.12, Scottrade Center
    Thom Yorke dancing in the big barn! Thunderous, skittering electronic rock that was simultaneously as huge as the arena, but intimate enough to make you forget you were there with 10,000 other folks. Hands down my show of the year.
  2. Marillion | 06.22-23.12, Park West, Chicago
    One of my all-time favorite groups on their first North American tour since 2004, and the amazing good fortune of two shows in two nights (different sets each night, including a brand new song each show) in an always-vitalizing city? Yes, please. The concerts themselves were augmented by a convergence of like-minded fans from the far-flung online community (reuniting with old friends and making new ones), beer tourism, fortifying time on El trains, and a chance meeting with Mark Kelly (Marillion’s keyboard player) on the street outside the venue the first night! I thanked him profusely for enriching my life the past 15 years. These were two gigs and a long weekend that were very, very good for a weary soul in dire need of a recharge.
  3. Craig Finn | 02.10.12, Off Broadway, St. Louis
    He kept ordering drinks from the bar from stage: Folks would grab PBR tall boys and generous shots of whiskey and bring ’em over to him. Boozy but focused, darkly funny and cutting—this was a warm, affirming night in Off Broadway’s cozy confines on a bloody cold, windswept winter’s night in STL. This show also featured an outstanding opening set from country-folk ball of brilliance Mount Moriah. Is very good deal.
  4. Ben Folds Five | 09.28.12, Starlight Amphitheater, Kansas City
    This was no cash-grab nostalgia show. Sure, it was full of 30-somethings in thrall to the sounds of their college years, but it was also jam packed with younger, newer fans and a huge chunk of the Five’s excellent new record. This was a show that was steeped in nostalgia, but had a real, artistic reason to exist. The band hadn’t lost a step in the nearly 12 years since they last toured—you can’t fake or concoct natural interplay and rapport like this. This was a night of sentimental, hilarious, on-your-feet-movin’, sing-along, piano-jamming late summer magic.
  5. M83 | 05.02.12, The Pageant, St. Louis
    A neon-lit dreamscape of the mind, made corporeal —electro-pop joy for white boy dancin’ fools such as myself. Also featured a far-too-short opening set from Swedish purveyors of indie-synth goodness I Break Horses.
  6. LouFest | 08.25-26.12, Forest Park, St. Louis
    Highlights including but not limited to: Son Volt, Cults, Phantogram, Wild Nothing, and the Flaming Lips’ thunderstorm downpour extravaganza.
  7. EMA | 03.20.12, Luminary Center for the Arts, St. Louis
    She metaphorically and literally shattered glass.
  8. Zola Jesus | 02.23.12, Luminary Center for the Arts, St. Louis
    Clad in a flowing robe, drifting across stage and out into the crowd like an existentialist specter, Zola Jesus delivered an arresting set at the Luminary that was breast-pounding, blue-light-cube-lit gothic drama—including percussion that felt as if it could lift the subterranean venue up to street level.
  9. Best Coast | 05.12.12, Fox Theater, Oakland, Calif.
    OK, storytime—hang tight. This show was a personal cosmic harmonic convergence: I lived in Oakland from 2005 to 2008, and my very first place in the city was a tiny studio apartment smack dab downtown, a block over from the then-shuttered Fox. For three years, I watched them slowly raise money, and then re-light the marquee, and finally renovate the theater, only to see it have its grand reopening mere months after I moved back to St. Louis. Bah!

    So it was extra joyous to finally get to see a concert there (its elaborate Moorish/Subcontinental interior resplendent and fully restored) while back out in the Bay Area on my annual visit/vacation/reverse homecoming. Even better, it was Beth Cosentino and Bobb in their home state, bringing the stoner-pop grooves and channeling Stevie Nicks to the very best of her ability, all experienced in the company of two of my favoritest friends in the universe. A solid show made circumstantially transcendent, fortifying, and unforgettable.

  10. Blind Pilot | 03.02.12, Plush, St. Louis
    Blind Pilot parked their old Carpinteria bus out in front of Plush (and, charmingly, even ran an extension cord to it from inside) and set up shop, bringing to the stage emotionally honest, gorgeously heart-stirring folk-rock, soaring harmonies, and endless grace that succeeded in filling up dreamers’ souls —despite the persistent din from the many talking bros in attendance from nearby SLU.
  11. fun. | 06.09.12, The Pageant, St. Louis
    The place was stuffed to the rafters with teeny-boppers and casual music fans, but fun. was fun. They put on a acrobatic, melodic, captivating display of pop-opera befitting the natural showmen that they are. This performance, tempered with hip-hop and slick Top 40 influences, was far closer to the ELO-meets-Queen vibe of their amazing first record than the auto-tuned overload of their latest. The evening was also notable for the captivating opening set from the equally excellent, far more indie-centric Now, Now. I ran down to the merch kiosk between sets to buy their album and rave to ’em in person.

I can’t do a list like this without giving a special shout-out to William Shatner’s one-man spoken-word storytelling tour-de-force at the woefully under-attended Peabody Opera House in St. Louis on April 12. For what it’s worth, he did perform one song to close out the evening, a version of “Real” from Has Been, his 2004 collaboration with Ben Folds. | Mike Rengel 

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