Best of 2013: Concerts

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We may not have gotten everything we wanted -- no Stones stadium show, no Radiohead or Vampire Weekend (again), for starters -- but there was little else unlucky, concert-wise, about '13.

The big venues were well stocked with talent young and old, and the smaller promoters scrambled to keep the theaters and clubs packed on an almost nightly basis. Drusky and Opus One did 500 shows -- each!

The result is that it's hard to narrow the wealth of shows down to a Top 10, but that is the task at hand:

1. Pearl Jam (Consol Energy Center, Nov. 8)

The best Pearl Jam show we ever saw here was still the crazy half-hour the young band did around 1:30 p.m. at Lollapalooza '92. This one was the second best in that it was the opening night of a new tour playing new songs (from "Lightning Bolt") for the first time, giving the night a raw, anything-goes edge. The band had been here all week rehearsing. So it seemed invested in Pittsburgh and in doing a kick-ass show in that building. The wild cameo by Jason Grilli only added to the celebration.

2. Taylor Swift (Heinz Field, July 6)

Yeah, roll your eyes. Thing is, Taylor is The Boss of her pop-country genre. She has one of the most elaborate spectacles on the road with almost every song played out like an elaborate awards-show production. But she doesn't just go through the paces, like a Britney or a Bieber. She is there 100 percent, in every moment, going all out on every song and making every person in the house glad they came. A solo-acoustic Ed Sheeran, in a custom-made Steelers jersey, was a nice counterbalance and duet partner.

3. Savages (Mr. Smalls, Sept. 11)

Go see Savages and try to take your eyes off of Jehnny Beth. Dare ya. The diminutive French singer for this all-girl British art-punk band had that rare kinetic energy and the look of a woman who was going to go for the throat of anyone who made a wrong move. The band was so hard and tight, I was ready to drop everything and follow them to Cleveland or wherever else they were going. The small crowd was filled with old-school punks, who were equally blown away.

4. Jeff Mangum (Carnegie Music Hall, Oakland, Jan. 10)

With most artists, you know pretty much what you're going to get. Seeing Jeff Mangum, on the other hand, was like spotting Bigfoot. The frontman for Neutral Milk Hotel, who mysteriously withdrew from the music scene in 1998 after releasing the brilliant folk/punk album, "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea," reappeared on this the second show of a tour looking like a homeless person and sounding like a prophet. I could totally see people crying at this.

5. Bob Mould (Hartwood Acres, June 9)

An old, white bearded dude in a plaid shirt by himself on an cavernous amphitheater stage. Sign me up. It was one guitar, two amps, zero production values. And it was brilliant! The show, ranging from his Husker Du days through Sugar right up to his excellent last record, cut to the raw essence of what makes Mould so great: the slashing guitar, razor-sharp voice, emotional heft and full-on intensity.

6. John Fogerty (Cal U, Nov. 5) and Eric Clapton (Consol Energy Center, April 6)

All of the old guard were strong, as usual, including Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles and Steve Winwood. This year, let's give kudos to these 68-year-olds, who delivered exquisite sets from their legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame careers and came with lots of guitar firepower. Mr. Fogerty could have left the confetti and pyro to the Def Leppards of the world, because just playing Creedence songs that well ("Cosmo's Factory" was the focus) was more than enough. As for Mr. Clapton, he seemed half-interested during his last visit here, but this time he played with passion.

7. The Flaming Lips/Black Keys (Consol Energy Center, April 30) and The Flaming Lips (Stage AE, July 16)

We were treated to two visits from The Flaming Lips, and on the first one, they were kind enough to bring headliner The Black Keys. It was a stark contrast, the Keys' black-and-white blues rock and The Lips' fluorescent psychedelic space-rock. Touring on the rather grim album, "The Terror," the Lips put aside the usual carnival atmosphere for a darker, sci-fi aesthetic, but it didn't tether the rambunctious spirit of frontman Wayne Coyne, especially at the more complete Stage AE show.

8. Sigur Ros (Stage AE, Sept. 19)

In only its second Pittsburgh appearance, and first in a decade, the Icelandic post-rock ensemble led by falsetto-singing and guitar-bowing frontman Jon "Jonsi" Birgisson made a gorgeous noise and a dazzling visual presentation on a beautiful September night. For all the sound it generates, Sigur Ros is a minimalist band that builds its mountains with precision, repetition and simple melodic structures.

9. Nine Inch Nails (Petersen Events Center, Oct. 8)

This was rage in the cage, as NIN, back from hiatus, was enclosed in gates that served as screens for a stunning theatrical light effect. Although Mercer's Trent Reznor has been busy as dad and Oscar winner in recent years, he fit back into his role of fierce industrial rocker and, with comeback album "Hesitation Marks," added fresh sonic updates.

10. Bruno Mars/Miguel (Consol Energy Center, July 2)

Why not Justin Timberlake? After all, he's the new King of Pop, right? Perhaps, but over a more compact 90 minutes, the 27-year-old star from Honolulu did it all: James Brown dance moves, Chuck Berry guitar riffs, Sam Cooke vocal chops, MJ vocal chops, even a drum solo. In a refreshing change of pace, he kept the gimmicks to a minimum and took his place as just another member of a hard-working unit. The equally divine vocals of Miguel helped put it over the top.


I wish I could have seen them all and I know I missed a few great ones, but here are more moments worth noting:

• The Wilson sisters of Heart teaming Jason Bonham and his crew for a shredding tribute to Led Zeppelin at the First Niagara Pavilion.

• Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper doubling the nightmare and the fun with an "I'm Eighteen" duet at Stage AE.

• Green Day putting on an ecstatic Easter show at Consol Energy Center that put the three new albums aside for a healthy shot of "Dookie."

• The Eagles, melodic as ever, digging back through their History at Consol with the addition of returning Bernie Leaden.

• Wiz Khalifa, topping a bill with B.O.B. and A$AP Rocky at the Pavilion, exuding style and cool with a band that sounded bolder and funkier than ever.

• Wiz adding a thrill to the excellent Drake tour opener at Consol by rolling on stage for "Black and Yellow."

• Black Prairie (featuring members of The Decemberists) turning into The Old 97's at Club Cafe to back Rhett Miller.

• The Breeders and Dandy Warhols doing justice to "The Last Splash" and "Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia," respectively, in Mr. Smalls shows.

• Icelandic indie-pop band Of Monsters and Men making a strong Pittsburgh debut at Stage AE.

• The jaw-dropping drumming display by Dave Turncrantz of post-rock band Russian Circles, opening for Coheed and Cambria.

• Hometown star Mac Miller jumping on stage with Tyler, the Creator at Mr. Smalls to premiere a new song, and then returning for an excellent summer showcase with the Internet.

• The crowd in the pit providing half the entertainment at the Stage AE Rancid and Slayer shows.

• The quiet acoustic beauty of the Bonnie Prince Billy show at Carnegie Music Hall.

• The psychedelic world created by MGMT at Stage AE.

• Bonnie Raitt returning after a long hiatus to show that her pristine vocals and slide guitar skills are still intact at Heinz Hall.

• The bombastic fun of party animal Ke$ha, opening for Pitbull at First Niagara Pavilion.

• Soundgarden's Mother's Day marathon on a frigid night at Stage AE.

• British singer-songwriter Frank Turner rocking like a young Boss at Mr. Smalls.

• Yes, with humble Jon Anderson-sound-alike Jon Davison, doing perfect renditions of three classic albums at Carnegie Library Music Hall.

• Kansas choosing Pittsburgh for its 40th anniversary and playing a dynamic show with a reunion of band members (except for the ailing Robby Steinhardt) at Heinz Hall.

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