Every year after I finish the "Best Of" list, I always think of something I meant to add, or want to mention a couple of the items that just missed the cut. This scatterbrained year is no exception, especially since I didn't have the chance to do my usual "nominees" writeups.
In fact, this year is even worse, because it's almost March and other things are going on that have taken my attention. But the year deserves documentation, right? Here are (were) the nominees in the most important categories:
The slowdown of attending shows was inevitable, moving to suburbia and all. But in 2011 we had a nice mix of city and suburb musical action:
Les Miserables, Feb 25, Cadillac Palace Theatre
Robert Plant, June 16, Ravinia
Gin Blossoms, July 1, Arlington Heights (Frontier Days Festival)
The Jayhawks, July 2, Grant Park (Taste of Chicago)
Dave Matthews Band Caravan, July 10, Lakeshore (the old US Steel plant on the South Side)
Old 97's, July 20, Lincoln Hall
Hold Steady, Aug. 26, Metro
John Hiatt/Big Head Todd and Monsters, Sept. 11, Ravinia
Scott Miller, Nov. 9, Schubas
Paul Simon, Nov. 13, Rosemont Theatre
Wilco, Dec. 22, Civic Opera House
Les Miz was a bit of a disappointment: it's still an epic musical experience of course, but the revamped version lost the turntable and a little magic or wonder along with it. Plant had so many amazing musicians on stage with him, bringing to life his solo work and re-imagining old Zep tunes so well you sometimes didn't recognize them until the first or second lyric.
The Gins sleptwalked through a sorta-greatest hits set, and if that lead singer asked me to put my hands together one more time I was about ready to charge the stage and ask him and his band to actually put some effort into the show. We saw the Jayhawks twice in about a month, and as much as I wanted to like the reformed Louris-Olson lineup ... the new songs just put me to sleep.
The Caravan was a great musical experience, but the festival planners have some learning to do if they put the show on next summer. Too few restrooms and water stations, and wood chips do not replace grass for a festival space.
The 97's were fine; what I'll remember most is seeing that venue for the first time, and stepping out at 10pm to take an urgent work call while kinda buzzed. (This is why I don't say where I work or what I do.) Similarly, The Steady was a nice show, but they still miss Franz. Hiatt was reliable, but Todd Park Mohr stole the show with a stunning version of "America the Beautiful." Miller was great of course, looking clean-cut and rejuvenated. Paul Simon looked great for being 70, and delivered a wonderful night of his bouncy, African-tinged pop.
The Wilco show was a bit of a downer. First of all, the Civic Operat House is an amazing venue, but not for a rock show. The sightlines were blocked if anyone leaned forward, which of course rock fans are going to do. And the band was trying so hard to show off their new tricks in the first half, it nearly spoiled an otherwise good second half. And of course it's hard to complain about the encore: "Cruel to Be Kind," with opener Nick Lowe; "You Are Not Alone," with Tweedy friend and gospel legend Mavis Staples); "The Weight" with Staples and Lowe.
The Muppets, Green Album
Jayhawks, Mockingbird Time
R.E.M., Collapse Into Now
Baseball Project, Broadside Ballads
XRT, Live From the Archives, Vol. 13
Various, The Bridge School Concerts 25th Anniversary Edition
Old 97's, Grand Theatre Vol. 2
Wilco, The Whole Love
Civil Wars, Barton Hollow
She and Him, A Very She and Him Christmas
Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues
If I would have paid closer attention, "Helplessness Blues" might have won Best Album. It is a deep, warm, engaging record you can put on while sipping hot tea or curled up under a blanket. It is funny that my first experience with Fleet Foxes, not only was I not impressed but I called them "Fiery Foxes" since the Fiery Furnaces were also on the bill.
Adele had an awesome single, of course, but the rest of the album was C+. I hope the songwriting improves on the next record to match the quality of her voice. The Civil Wars had a nice debut that placed them firmly in that folky, alt-country groove.Wilco didn't impress me ... it is such a cliche, but I really do prefer their earlier work.
Cubs-don't care (Second Game Of The Year), April 2
Toledo Mud Hens rainout, May 28
Cubs-Sox, July 3
Kane County Cougars-Cedar Rapids, July 29
Notre Dame vs. Michigan State, Sept. 17
Notre Dame vs. Air Force Academy, Oct. 8
Ohio vs. Ball State (Homecoming), Oct. 13
It was great to see the Irish win two home games. On the flip side, I have yet to see the Bobcats win in person. Including our homecoming road trip, I've now seen four Ohio losses in four states in four tries.
Caribbean Cruise, Jan. 23-30
Washington DC, March 25-27
Frrr Wedding in Des Moines, May 20-22
Ohio U., Oct. 13-16
Boston, Oct. 28-30
Los Angeles, Dec. 6-7
We were lucky to take several neat trips this (last) year. It's safe to say the cruise was the highlight. We had each been on a cruise before, but not with each other.
OTHER COOL DATES
Easter Vigil, April 23.
Chicago River Cleanup with Leinenkugels, May 14
Mort visit, June 9-12
Arlington Park, July 9
I can't believe that Easter is coming up. We have so many good memories of the RCIA journey last year. We had a great visit from the Morts, and I suspect we'll have many more visitors in 2012!