I must begin this post by telling you that I saw a ridiculous amount of great shows this year, so this was a tough list to put together. Again, this is really in no particular order (also, I was going for a top five but a few boys from Vancouver screwed that up).
1. Glen Hansard + Lisa Hannigan//The Beacon Theatre//06.29.12
Some of my fondest concert-going memories are courtesy of Glen Hansard, and seeing him this past summer was like revisiting an old friend. He is without a doubt one of, if not the, best performers I've had the privilege of seeing live, so I expect him to blow me away. But there he was, with the rest of The Frames as his backing band, tearing up the stage for about two and a half hours. It was magnificent to have my favorite band back together, if only for one night. One of the highlights of the night was definitely hearing "Fitzcarraldo" again. It was almost like a reward for all of The Frames fans in the crowd, as though they were saying, "hey, even though we're not around much anymore, thanks for still sticking around." (And just so you know, Colm Mac Con Iomaire's violin is still one of my favorite sounds in the world.) The real highlight, however, was Glen singing "Falling Slowly" with only his guitar, with the whole audience singing along to every word. It was magical, and one of those moments where even in the thick of it, you realize it is very, very special. Sitting among roughly 3000 people singing in unison with so much joy and love and just this feeling of, "this is our song, our show" was incredible.
2. Calexico + The Dodos//Webster Hall//10.13.12
I had been anticipating this show for over three years. I saw Calexico open for Andrew Bird at Radio City back in 2009 and they blew me away, and I vowed that the next time they headlined in NYC, I was going to be there, no questions asked. Well, Calexico did not disappoint. Their level of musicianship is outstanding, and it is always a pleasure to watch a band have fun on stage. The fun translates to the crowd and it just becomes a huge party. Not to mention, I always love this idea of collectivity at shows. That we're all there because we love this music, and we're going to enjoy ourselves together. That was the vibe of this show. I've always been in Calexico's corner, and I always will. They are a perfect band.
3. Andrew Bird//The Bell House//02.25.12 & The Riverside Church//12.10.12
It's difficult to be objective about this man and his music. But it would be incredibly disingenuous to not include him on my lists because it's hard to deny just what an incredible experience he is live. Although I saw him three times this year, these two shows were too special to pick one over the other. The Bell House show was probably my favorite concert experience ever; being about oh, three feet away from my favorite human being in the universe, in a venue that holds about 500 people, hearing his new album live in its entirety. It certainly was surreal. And I remember hearing "Orpheo Looks Back" for the first time ever, being absolutely blown away. There was also a strong feeling of collectivity in this show; 500 people sharing a love of really beautiful fucking music. It was a secret show, and it truly felt exclusive.
The Riverside Church show definitely had a feeling of collectivity as well. It was truly an experience, and this may seem cheesy but it was all so beautiful. I had been waiting for three years to go to a Gazelligheid show, and I was so glad to finally be a part of one. For as difficult as it is to be objective about Andrew Bird, it is also pretty difficult to describe just how good he is. You just have to trust me on this one.
4. DeVotchka+Clare and the Reasons//The Bowery Ballroom//09.14.12
Like Calexico, DeVotchka was a band I was dying to see live, and they did not disappoint. They are an incredible live band. And as an added note, Nick Urata's voice is absolutely stunning.
5. David Byrne and St. Vincent//Williamsburg Park//09.29.12
I don't really believe in idols and heroes, most likely because I don't have any. But if I did have to name one, it would be Annie Clark. Girl is a brilliant and beautiful talent, and has collaborated with basically every musician I respect. Put her together with David Byrne, who is a god, and you have an incredible, and an incredibly fun, night. "Marrow" absolutely killed, and yes, "Burning Down the House" was as awesome as it seemed on YouTube. This show was a party-like atmosphere, and I didn't want it to end. Also, David Byrne danced.
6. Japandroids+DIIV//Webster Hall//12.04.12
Webster Hall holds about 1400 people, but there was this moment, at the beginning of "The House That Heaven Built" that made this feel like an arena show. The energy was outstanding, from both the band and the crowd. Mayhem it was, but it was also a blast.
And, to the most surprising, unexpected, holy fuck show of the year...
Animal Collective+Highlife//Terminal 5//12.05.12
Nothing prepared me for how good this show was going to be. Check Animal Collective out on YouTube, or television, and you'll think, "eh, whatever, fine." I went into the show with some reservations, expecting it to be a ho-hum affair. Wrong. This band is ridiculous live. And the new stuff? Outstanding live. Stop writing off Centipede Hz because it's a great fucking album. I knew this show was going to be special when they did "Wide Eyed." That song is such a dud on the record (well, until you see it live, of course) but that night, it was insanely good. But the real highlight of the night was being in a crowd that knew they were about to play "Brother Sport," and the anticipation as it continued to build until it broke into a wave of...movement. This show was all about movement. You just kept moving, you went with the flow and the sound, until you realized you had been listening to the same song for like ten minutes (and you also realized "Pulleys" is a good fucking song. "Amanita" too.)