By far, 2013 was my most active year in terms of the number of different events I’ve attended. Here are my favorites.
1. The National at Riverside Theatre (Milwaukee, WI) – August 5, 2013
The National are all about subtlety – until you see them live. It’s entirely different than what you hear when you play one of their records. While those brood, crest and fall, the live performance is visceral and at times, in-your-face. The Dessner twins play their guitars with deadly determination and the Devendorf twins combine as an on-point rhythm section. Let’s not forget singer Matt Berninger, though, ambling around the stage, wine bottle in hand, prodding, mashing, stumbling.
This night was no different. A perfect setlist of ragers like “Abel” and the majesty of “The Geese of Beverly Road” (a perfect wedding song if i’ve ever heard one) and of course, “Mr. November” where Matt took off into the crowd and ran all the way up into the seats. There are moments at a show you marvel and moments you lose yourself. Screaming “I WONT FUCK US OVER, I’M MR. NOVEMBER!” is the latter. Many moments may seem bigger on this list, but none struck a nerve quite like this one.
2. The Replacements at Riot Fest Chicago (Humboldt Park, Chicago IL) – September 15, 2013
Riot Fest was enormous drag. Too many people, too crowded of a space and on the third day, it basically rained the entire time, which was miserable. But not too long before the ‘Mats took the stage, it stopped, and it stayed like that. Then there they were. There were the songs. Pretty much all of the ones you’d want to hear, too. We celebrated, sang and screamed.
The fact that this even happened still dumbfounds me. I never once thought in my life I’d have the opportunity to see The Replacements (or what’s left of them) play for an audience ever again. Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson. I’m typing those names out because it still seems preposterous.
To put it in the words of the guy you can hear on the bootleg recording of the show after “Alex Chilton”: “I just peed my pants. It was totally worth it.”
3. The Rolling Stones at United Center (Chicago, IL) – May 31, 2013
The Stones have been on my band bucket list for over eight years since the end of their last tour. Our seats were nosebleed-terrible, but it really didn’t matter by the end of the night. A bunch of seventy-year-old dudes BROUGHT IT. We got the hits. We got “Shine A Light” – my favorite Stones song – which voted by fans to be included on the setlist through the band’s website. Mick did his classic moves. Keef sang. Mick Taylor was there and Sheryl Crow even showed up. It was way better than I could have ever imagined and I’m happy to say I was able to see them on what could be one of their last full-scale U.S. tours.
4. San Francisco, California – November 16-19, 2013
Earlier this fall, my girlfriend surprised me with a trip to San Francisco, where neither of us had been. To put it simply, it was great. In a two-and-a-half day timeframe, we went to Haight-Asbury, Amoeba Music, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, In-N-Out Burger, drove across the Golden Gate Bridge into the Marin Headlands, explored Chinatown, saw both the “Full House” and “Mrs. Doubtfire” houses, walked through Union Square down to the San Francisco Ferry Building, walked up more hills than I’d like to talk about, saw the Cable Car Museum, rode a cable car, and ate lots of great food. It was a lot of fun and I’d most certainly like to go back sometime soon.
5. The Chris Gethard Show at MNN El Barrio Firehouse Community Media Center (New York City, NY) – April 3, 2013
If you haven’t heard of The Chris Gethard Show yet, go right to the show’s website and start watching episodes. Simply, it’s televised quicksilver. A late-night show on New York City public access that’s streamed globally is a dazzling array of high-concept comedy bits mixed with a low-budget mentality. It’s DIY TV personified. In it, is comedian (and sometimes actor) Chris Gethard, UCB stalwarts and more (hilarious) fictional characters than you can count present episodes with entirely different themes. A recent AV Club review said “This low-budget talk show has plot twists as thrilling as Breaking Bad’s”. Perfect.
That evening’s episode was titled “Royal Rumble of Twister”, which couldn’t have been more perfect for a professional wrestling fan like me. It featured indie professional wrestler (and Chicago native) Colt Cabana as a guest. Chris and Colt as well as the show’s cast of characters spent an hour playing Twister, while fielding phone calls from all over the world. Hijinks and hilarity ensued. Seriously, just watch it.
It was awesome to get to see a show that’s been appointment TV for me every Wednesday night in person. Having the opportunity to the cast members as well as Colt Cabana after the show made it perfect. While it’s time on cable access may be over, the fact that they’re making a pilot for Comedy Central is great news. We’ll see what happens from here. But I won’t forget this one.
6. WWE Payback at Allstate Arena (Rosemont, IL) – June 16, 2013
This is damn near impossible to explain to non-fans, so I’m just going to go for it. I went to a lot of professional wrestling this year (More on that later.) This was my favorite.
Without a doubt, Chicago (okay, Rosemont) is the best town to see WWE. Some fans would like to argue that maybe New York can compete, but those fans are soulless and hate everything cool. For this event – broadcast live around the world on pay-per-view, it showed that the crown was rightfully ours.
The card was unique in the fact that many of the matches weren’t rematches from previous pay-per-view events (save for the main event) and that Chicago native CM Punk was allegedly about to make his return after a two-month absence to face Chris Jericho. No one was sure he’d actually show up until his music hit that evening. When he did, the roof exploded. Punk was decked out in Chicago Blackhawks tights. This was right in the midst of the Hawks 2013 Stanley Cup winning run and he couldn’t have been any more popular, despite the fact that the angle he wrapped before his absence was that of an ultra-bad guy who stole the urn of the Undertaker which may or may not have contained the remains of his former (and dead in real life) manager.
Curtis Axel won the Intercontinental Championship that night – Father’s Day – the very same championship his Dad, “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig won 22 years prior. Daniel Bryan (arguably WWE’s number 2 or 3 top good guy now) was beginning to ride the wave of enormous popularity that shot him to stardom, leading all 17,000 people in the area to chant “YES! YES! YES” (his catchphrase) back at him in unison.
TL;DR: It was a really fun way to spend three hours. Go to a WWE show and tell me that you didn’t find at least one moment that you didn’t enjoy. It’s impossible.
7. Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z at Soldier Field (Chicago, IL) – July 22, 2013
Two modern-day icons at the height of their powers alternating songs at a machine gun pace, attempting to outperform each other in a football stadium. Absolutely bonkers.
8. WWE WrestleMania 29 at MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, NJ) – April 7, 2013
WrestleMania is professional wrestling’s Super Bowl, and WWE’s most important event of the year. There’s nothing like it. In a good year, WrestleMania showcases the culmination of long-simmering feuds, resulting in the biggest matches of the year. Of course, that was the case with this year’s installment.
Headlined for the second year in a row by The Rock and John Cena, WrestleMania 29 was attended by a staggering 80,676 people. It is the second highest attendance for a WrestleMania behind III in 1987, which was the highest-attended indoor sports event in the world with 93,173 people, a record that would not be broken until 2010.
I’ve never been anywhere with such an enormous number of people. The show itself was all about pageantry, fireworks, high-definition video screens and of course, top notch wrestling talent. While the matches may have not been my absolute favorite, being in a football stadium with a set designed to look like the New York skyline (complete with the Statue of Liberty above the ring), watching wrestlers put their bodies on the line for our enjoyment was one of the more ridiculous situations I’ve found myself in this year.
9. Paul McCartney at Miller Mark (Milwaukee, WI) – July 16, 2013
I saw a Beatle.
Paul is seventy-one and he played a thirty-eight song set. THIRTY EIGHT SONGS AT SEVENTY-ONE. Beatles songs. Wings songs. Songs from his solo records. Two encores, and a lot of fire (and fireworks too.) From that, you should know how it went.
10. Harmontown Live at UP Comedy Club (Chicago, IL) – January 22, 2013
Dan Harmon, best known as creator of NBC’s “Community”, had a brief wilderness period after being dumped from the show for it’s fourth season before eventually rejoining for it’s fifth. During this time, he took to the road with his podcast featuring regulars from the LA version of the show. I can’t remember a night where I laughed as hard as this one. It was looking into the mind of a (rather hilarious) madman.
It all seems like a blur. It actually pretty much was. Probably for him too. I remember “Dungeons and Dragons” being played with cast members. Some drunk dude had an awkward back and forth with Dan, and a 16-year-old was invited on stage to chat with him but ended up rambling on about Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”. But at some point it devolved into audience members rap battling with him and ended with Dan crowd surfing while singing the podcast’s theme song.
Titus Andronicus at Metro (Chicago, IL) – May 4, 2013
The Mountain Goats at Lincoln Hall (Chicago, IL) – June 17, 2013
Run the Jewels at Pitchfork Music Festival (Chicago, IL) – July 21, 2013
Superchunk at A.V. Club Fest/Hideout Block Party (Chicago, IL) – September 7, 2013
The Hold Steady at A.V. Club Fest/Hideout Block Party (Chicago, IL) – September 7, 2013
WWE Monday Night RAW at Allstate Arena (Rosemont, IL) – September 23, 2013