The Best Live Music I Saw in 2019

Someone recently asked what were the best shows I saw in 2019. It's an interesting question because there are so many factors to consider:
  • Obviously, the MUSIC!
  • Venue
  • Crowd size
  • What krewe I was rolling with
  • New band vs. band I know pretty well
  • Other factors (weather, a milestone show, how much tequila I was overserved)
I save all my stubs (or bracelets where I'll write the show/date/venue) so I can easily look at the rundown. Yes, I sometimes pay extra for a paper ticket stub. 
I was surprised to find that 2019 was a lighter year for my live music attendance due to a mix of reasons ranging from work travel, kids' sleeping habits, health, getting older, etc. 
Not all of them but definitely hoarding this paper.

A few overall observations: 

  • I feel lucky I didn't catch any real clunkers in 2019. 
  • Really didn't see any shows until April and it seemed to accelerate from there with Jazz Fest being the inflection point.  
  • Phish held a consistent prescence in my concert-going world. I think I hit my 50th show and a buddy ran 300 miles solodolo to the show. Take care of your shoes, ya'll. 
  • December 2019 was a really nice exclamation point to the year as some annual shows (Dragonsmoke, Anders Osborne's Holiday Spectacular, George Porter, Jr.'s Birthday Celebration) seemed to elevate ↑
  • Mardi Gras didn't bring any shows of note (that I caught, at least) this past year - unfortunate and hope this coming Mardi Gras is a heavier Music Gras. I do wish I had gotten to Biz Markie Gras again. 
  • While many of my friends may fight me for not including JRAD's 4/26/19 Jazz Fest show, it didn't really hit me in the moment. In retrospect, I fux with this show hard but didn't catch the groove that night. Maybe, like Marco, it's because I left a little early before the show was over. Main differences being that I wasn't playing keys/didn't have another show to get to and Marco was/did. At any rate, anyone who sweats like that must be all right. 
  • In writing this post, I ended up changing the order I had originally crafted. 
  • Any links will take you to shows or recordings of those shows. With Tipitinas now streaming most (all?) their shows, this is strong. Also very loud shout out to Funkitblog for documenting SO MUCH GOOD STUFF. 

5th Place

Lettuce's RAGEFEST at the Joy Theater (New Orleans) on May 2nd featuring Oteil Burbridge and The Soul Rebels.  
  • Trap to close the second set (maybe, not sure if I made that up but definitely near the end) was way too good. Love those horn hits, that tension/release, and that the chords of this song are the same as the Kaylin and Miles' classic "Trampoline."
  • Oteil Burbridge sat in and brought his wonderful energy. 
  • Ty Coomes on percussion - not sure I'd seen him with Lettuce very often but adds a nice touch. 
  • Discovering the "Triple" was a thing. Greg went to get drinks in the famous Joy Theater Jazz Fest novelty cup. We always order doubles. Bartender dropped some science: "The triple is the best deal." Paradigm shift. We'll never be the same. 

4th Place

  • Second night of the summer tour
  • This is the night the St. Louis Blues broke through 50+ years of expectation and won the Stanley Cup. The music was great but the vibe is what puts this on the list. Folks were in the concourses watching the game on TV during the show. Those of us in our seats would hear cheers after each goal scored. Kuroda would respond with twinkling blue and yellow lights. The Washington Post, USA Today, and JamBase would all write about Phish playing "Gloria" (the out-of-nowhere-to-me theme song for the team and fans' during the season) (wish it had been the Van Morrison version), the most beautiful moment of the night for me was during the 1st set closing Antelope. Phish had brought the sound down and were beginning the build when another cheer broke out in the concourse. The energy and cheering flowed into the arena where we all also cheered and Phish, on a dime, responded to that energy by picking up the tempo and taking us up the crescendo. Just a special moment of a city, fanbase, and a band communicating with each other. 
  • The game was completed during setbreak and that's when Phish began the second set with the aforementioned "Gloria." 
  • Hanging with buddies, my sister for a bit, and spending time in a luxury box with my brother-in-law and his degenerate friends was special. He's a lifelong Blues fan who had skipped first set to watch the game. His arrival shortly after the game was over was beautiful to see how happy he was. 
  • That "Loving Cup" - another shoutout to the Stanley Cup victory - was a headknocker. 

3rd Place

  • I don't get to see the same amount of hip hop that I once did. Awesome Free Friday show...
  • I'm also pickier in that I generally want to see it with a live band. The Roots and the Soul Rebels have spoiled me. The Low End Theory Players scratch that itch. 
  • The Low End Theory Players did a strong job with all of the Tribe material but it was the OTHER covers that really got me. In particular, their version of "International Players Anthem" by UGK f. Outkast was excellently executed. The musical build during ThreeStacks' verse built so much tension that when the drums hit for Pimp C's verse, the room popped. 
  • "And if I ever went solo my favorite emcee would be me." - RIP Phife

2nd Place

Break Science at One Eyed Jack's on May 5th, 2019 (New Orleans) 
  • This was my final show of this year's Jazz Fest. 
  • It was my second 2am show in as many nights. 
  • Highly committed group in attendance with me.
  • No footage I can find of this show so you'll never know if it actually happened. 
  • Tycoon Beats opened what felt like forever and it was bumping. 
  • Jesus Coomes (of Lettuce) (Ty's brother) was having trouble getting a friend in the venue as I was entering. Being able to vouch to the door man, "Sir - this is JESUS. Lettuce Jesus. He's going to be on stage soon" followed by a dap from Lettuce Jesus was one of those late night Jazz Fest encounters I look forward to all year. 
  • The very aggressive music-hall bouncer at OEJ was not in his usual post - seems he may have been promoted. We're happy to say that like many workers, he's a better individual contributor than he is a manager of others. 
  • I had been starving for the Break Science remix/mashup of Kendrick Lamar and Tycho - "Vibe Walk" remix for way too long and they delivered. 
  • The 5am bike ride home...annually, a firework for my soul. 

1st Place

  • Damn near the whole krewe of progress came through
  • This mix of musicians just WORKS. Let's do the math:
    • 1/2 Galactic (Stanton Moore and Robert "Bobby Mac" Mercurio setting the pace) + 1 Eric Lindell's rich songwriting skills multiplied by Ivan Neville the Gawd = FF
  • Generally, we get Dragonsmoke once a year - the Tuesday between weekends of Jazz Fest. In the past few years, we've been blessed with Winter Dragonsmoke. Supply low = high demand. But there is also an element of surprise in what new covers they'll add to the mix. 
  • Walk on music was the Pharcyde's "Oh Shit" and I'm pretty sure Bobby Mac knew all of the lyrics. 
  • Ivan did his regular "let me tell you how long we've been playing" where he always has NO IDEA how many years they've been playing together. This year, though, he went deeper on the group's origin story - their etymology, if you will - and explained it was originally Jon Cleary on keys for the first show at the Dragon's Den. No disrepect to Cleary but so glad Ivan got this seat. 
  • Stronger than usual, to my ears, reggae stylee and jam elements
  • My final show before the basketball hoop aka CENTER OF THE MUSICAL UNIVERSE was cut down. Must have had some intuition because I took this picture of the hoop before leaving that night. Rest in Melody my dear Hoop...may your rim always rattle from the reverberation of the big celestial Tuba in the Sky

In the Mix:

These shows didn't ultimately make the cut but deserve mention: 
  • Star Kitchen at the Maison on April 28th This newer band founded by Marc Brownstein of the Disco Biscuits was a ton of fun. The Maison always seems surprised they're having a show (terrible door organization, staff directions change every few minutes) so for any show there to make the list is a real testament to the music. Fun Eric Krasno sit-in as well. 
  • CIMAFUNK on April 6th at Tipitina's. Thanks to Emilia G. for recommending I go see this. A ton of energy, incredibly danceable, awesome crowd who just smiled the whole show...definitely check them if they come your way. 
  • Lett Us in the Dumpsta at the Maison on April 28th - 2am slot. After the Maison cleared the venue from Star Kitchen, we all had to line back up to get back in. After 1 hour of waiting to get back in in their joke of a door system, I just walked in and up to the VIP area where my friends had similarly made their way. Despite the terrible staffing/venue management, the show funked hard very late into the evening. Seriously, how do we get the Maison to a more organized place for Jazz Fest? 
  • Anders Osborne's Holiday Spectacular - Night 2 on December 21st at Tipitina's. For me, Anders' annual holiday two nighter is an ecstatic way to end the year. The past two years, the band has changed up a bit and so has Anders' songwriting and performance vibe. Night 2, for me, was a perfect mix of his older classics with newer material, great guests that really fit the vibe well, and a fun arc to the show that left me wide awake and wanting more. Hat tip to Hallelujah Hat Rack who answered the call at Le Bon Temps right after with a really delicious Shakedown Street -> Cissy Strut -> Shakedown chunk o' funk to end the night.