Every year around this time I come down with a nasty ailment that I’ve self-diagnosed as chronic list fatigue (Latin translation: album defetigatio). When I see another in an endless parade of year-end lists pop up in my social media feed, I groan and grumble. Another list, areyoukiddingme? What’s it gonna be this time, top 10 places to have a total meltdown after a concert? Or the 20 best reasons to log off the internet forever?
Of course, that doesn’t stop me from clicking on each list and reading it obsessively, contemplating the placement of one artist or club or concert being ranked third place and another ranked tenth. Nor does it excuse me from participating in this annual tradition. This year, in between compiling my list of local favorites for the Star Tribune’s annual poll, my list of picks for our Local Show, and lists of my top 10 albums and songs for our annual Top 89 of 2013 wrap-up, I wanted to pause and spend some time reflecting on those harder-to-quantify musical moments that defined my 2013.
As you’ll see from my final entry, it’s been a significant year for me in many different ways, and even my most personal triumphs seem to be inextricably linked to music. I can’t tell you how grateful it makes me feel to realize that my life is set to such a vibrant soundtrack, and how many people I’ve met thanks to this universal language we call music.
Thank you, dear reader, for allowing me the freedom to write not just about the stuff I like listening to but the stories behind the music and how something as simple as a song can relate to our lives and connect us to one another. If you’re willing to share, I’d love to hear some of your own highlights in the comments below.
Behold, my favorite musical moments of 2013:
Being serenaded by Nona Marie Invie and her Anonymous Choir
I don’t get the chance to do many in-studio sessions here at the Current, so it always feels a bit daunting and surreal when I suddenly find myself on the other side of the glass window through which I’ve watched so many bands perform. This past April, as part of my annual all-female edition of the Local Show, I invited Nona Marie Invie of Dark Dark Dark and her dozen-strong Anonymous Choir to perform, and I had the honor of sitting a few feet from them as they climbed onto risers and sang classic soul songs in a splendid four-part harmony. When it came time for them to stop singing and for me to do the interview, I said, “I feel like I just floated up out of my body.” They just shrugged and giggled, like, “Yeah, we get that a lot.”
Interviewing Miguel two days after he was nominated for two Grammys
Speaking of in-studio sessions, the other one I did this year happened just the other week. I knew that Miguel would be coming through the studios to perform when he was in town to open for Drake at the Target Center, but what I didn’t realize was that the interview and session would happen just two days after he was nominated for two more Grammys and performed at the Grammy Nomination Ceremony with Keith Urban.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll tell you that I get a little nervous when I’m about to begin any interview. Much like the jazz improvisation that I’ve been studying on piano over the past two years, there is an unpredictable element to interviewing that can be both exhilarating and frightening, and when it’s being recorded for broadcast it can be downright intimidating.
Driving over to the studio last Sunday, I started to go through that familiar cycle of panic. This guy’s famous. Why would he want to talk to me? I AM SUCH A FRAUD. You know, the usual stuff. But I also felt prepared, and knew I was heading into the interview with about twice as many questions as we’d have time to tackle.
When I sat down in the chair across from Miguel and his guitarist, we did a quick mic check and I could hear my voice quivering in my headphones. Thankfully, though, as soon as he started to sing I entered a Zen-like state. What I remember is that he was genuinely engaged that whole time we were talking, genuinely flattered when I told him he reminded me of Prince, and genuinely sweet when he talked about missing his girl while he’s on the road and wishing he was back home watching documentaries on Netflix and ordering pizza.
After the interview was over, Miguel stood up, enthusiastically shook my hand, looked me in the eye, and said, “Great interview.” All I could think was Remember this. Let this in. Remember this forever. When I got back into the soundbooth, my voice reverted from the calm-as-a-cucumber state I had managed to stay in during the interview and back to shaking like a loose leaf in the wind, even though everything was done. Anxiety is weird. And I really will remember that forever.
Hearing Bjork play “Army of Me” and taunt Americans for being afraid of lightning
For my husband’s birthday this year I snagged a couple of tickets to the Pitchfork Festival and drove him down to Chicago to check out one of the artists on his bucket list, Bjork. We got into town with just enough time to drop off our bags and catch a cab to the Union Park, and found a spot about halfway back in the crowd to take in Bjork’s visually striking stage show. Backed by an all-female choir, and with a fantastic spiky silver orb atop her head, the powerful vocalist mesmerized the audience with sweeping arrangements and reduced us to awestruck giggles with her tiny, punctuated “Thank you!” after each song.
Three songs in, Bjork launched into “Thunderbolt” off 2011’s Biophilia and lowered a giant static contraption over the stage. As fake lightning shot across the stage and Bjork whimpered and wailed, some very real lightning started rolling across the darkened sky. And just as she had started working her way backwards through her catalog toward some of her best-known material, including the astounding “Army of Me,” her set was suddenly cut short.
“They are making me stop,” she sighed. “You know, this would be nothing in Iceland.”
The crowd cheered, and then panic broke out as everyone scrambled toward the gates. Within 10 minutes the sky had opened up and torrential rain was soaking all the young hipsters (and I don’t use that word lightly—but c’mon, if ever there were a sea of textbook hipsters it was at this fest), who were all frantically ducking into doorways and trying to Uber up a cab ride home. My husband and I decided to walk the mile and a half back to where we were staying, and the only casualty of that crazy night was a favorite pair of sunglasses that were whipped off my head in the straightline winds. After a certain point, your clothes get soaked so thoroughly that you can’t get any wetter, so we just shrugged and kept walking and laughed ourselves silly at what was actually the third in a series of times we got thoroughly drenched by unpredictable weather this summer.
Dancing to Janelle Monae’s “Q.U.E.E.N.” while Prince waved his shiny cane in the air up in the balcony
I don’t know what else I can say about that. Janelle’s show was one of my favorite of the year, “Q.U.E.E.N.” was my favorite song and video of the year, and she’s one of the greatest live artists of our generation. Case closed.
Sitting on a barstool two feet from Ike Reilly while he played his new album to a crowded bar full of drunk and giddy fans
I was beyond bummed when I realized that I was going to be out of town for two of my favorite annual traditions, the Ike Reilly Thanksgiving Eve concert that I’ve been attending for the past decade and the Replacements Tribute that happens on the Friday after Thanksgiving at First Avenue. But all was saved on Thanksgiving Eve Eve when I quickly threw some clothes in a suitcase and then booked it over to Grumpy’s Northeast, where Ike and his entire Assassination backing band (plus his three back-up singers, the Ikettes/Assassinettes) had crammed all of their gear and guitars into the tiny open space in front of the bar’s dartboard.
Somehow I managed to snag a barstool right in front of the band, and grinned ear to ear as Ike strummed his guitar a few feet in front of me and leaned into my very pregnant friend Stacy as he sang. I know it’s a cliché to call the music community my second family, but if I had to name two extra dads in my life who have helped to introduce me to this rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, they’d have to be my writing friend and mentor Jim Walsh, who first snuck me into the Turf all those years ago, and Ike, who was on stage at the Turf and who showed me just how potent live music can be when you’re standing within spitting range of an artist who’s laying it all out on stage. It was such a formative time, and as I stood at Grumpy’s last month sandwiched between Jim and Ike once again I couldn’t help but feel like I had come home.
Listening to Kat Bjelland talk about fashion, mainstream culture, and Babes in Toyland
I wasn’t sure if Kat would want to talk to me—the last time she granted an interview was back in 2007, and it didn’t paint her in the prettiest light—but I asked to speak with her for my all-female Local Show, which was historical in nature this year, and to my surprise she said yes. I could sense she was nervous, but I told her I was a little nervous too, and by the end of our chat she was asking me to play piano for her and talking to me about which herbs work best for treating anxiety and other ailments (she’s been on an herbalism kick the last few years). It was an honor to be welcomed into her home and to give her a microphone to tell her story in her own words, and something tells me it won’t be the last time she and I converse on record.
Weeping openly to Trampled by Turtles’ “Widower’s Heart” at the State Fair and not even being that embarrassed about it
“Widower’s Heart” hit a nerve with me the very first time I heard it, and it’s the song that pulled me over the ledge where I had previously been observing Trampled by Turtles as an appreciator and into full-blown fandom. I grew up near Duluth and have had a lifelong fascination with the melancholy that courses like an undercurrent beneath the city; “Widower’s Heart” makes my own heart ache in a very familiar way.
Even though the song came out last year as part of Trampled by Turtles’ album Stars and Satellites, it hit me the hardest watching those five Duluth boys sing it to thousands upon thousands of people at this year’s Minnesota Music on a Stick show. I stood near the stage watching the whole thing in awe, and by the time the song was finished my face was soaked with tears.
Talking to Willie Murphy, Paul Metsa, Dan Wilson, Gary Louris, Mason Jennings, and many others about the history of the 400 Bar
This one doesn’t need much explaining; I conducted around 15-17 interviews over the course of about 10 days, and wrote a 6,000-word oral history and produced an hour-long documentary about the 400 Bar that came out just a few days after it had closed for good. It was one of the most interesting and rewarding projects I took on all year.
Clinging to the railing of the Dakota Jazz Club and sucking in my breath while Prince played “Nothing Compares 2 U”
There was a lot of Purple activity this year, and I almost labeled this one “That time Prince asked if he could own my drawing of him and his band,” but if I have to choose just one highlight from the three Prince shows I saw in 2013 it’d have to be from the second night at the Dakota Jazz Club back in January. “Nothing Compares 2 U” has always been my favorite Prince song, and watching him and singer Shelby J belt it out while sitting just above the stage in the balcony was transcendent for me. As I wrote on Facebook after the show, “It kind of felt like my guts had turned to quicksand and my heart was going to beat out of my chest?”
Traveling 1,000 miles to see the Replacements
A moment that has been well documented, to be sure. It wasn’t the first time I’d traveled 1,000 miles to see a concert, but it was my first time getting a passport and first time flying out of the country. All so I could be in the third row of moshing, screaming, shrieking, crying die-hard Replacements fans as the band came out and tore through their first set in 22 years. The moment of relief and release that washed over everyone when the band launched into “Takin’ a Ride” was insane; I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever experience something like that at a show again. And I’m totally fine with that.
Walking down the aisle with my new husband as our family sang “All You Need is Love” with Lizzo and Lydia Liza
Uh oh, things just got sappy. As I said, this list encompasses all of my personal musical highlights, and it didn’t get much better for me this year than a sunny, hot afternoon spent in Loring Park surrounded by my closest family members and friends. My relationship with my newlywed husband and my relationship with music are deeply intertwined; it’s how we met, it’s how we first connected, it’s how we relax together, it’s how we celebrate. So when it came time for us to be married, we knew we had to have a killer soundtrack.
So many musicians came to the reception to offer up songs in celebration: the Chalice did “Hot Cheetos and Takis” and “Push It,” Chris Perricelli of Little Man did an acoustic version “Light Years” (a song that was on the first mixtape I gave my husband), and Mark Mallman sang a triumphant and dramatic rendition of “Music of the Night.”
But the quiet moments in the ceremony that afternoon are the ones that took my breath away, and I’ll always remember the moment when my husband and I said our I-dos and walked down the aisle together as our two wedding singers, Lizzo and Lydia Liza, led our family through a cheerful and sweet “All You Need is Love.” I can’t think of a better way to start this part of our lives together.