This is my third year doing one of these “favorite concerts of the year” recaps. As I wrote the two previous times, the size of the room, or the amount of fans present doesn’t matter to me. This year, I have to add that nothing really matters. In a year when the last traditional concerts were held on March 10, everything else since then has been a combination of drive-in oddities, whatever it is that the Flaming Lips are doing—or unsafe and illegal. With that in mind, here’s my list of my 10 favorite shows in an abbreviated 2020.
As I started writing, I wasn’t even sure I’d have enough to construct a list. Even now, I’m pretty sure I’ll overlap with some of my fellow photographers’ shows. At this point, who really cares?
There’s no need for me to parrot how bad of a year 2020 has been for artists, music fans and the concert industry. But it started with such promise! I was beyond joyous that I’d get the chance to shoot My Chemical Romance at Riot Fest in Chicago in September, but that didn’t happen. I was going to work my fourth Outside Lands in San Francisco. That, too, was scrapped. Instead, I moved home to Chile. You can blame Trump for that rather than the new coronavirus. Still, I had hope of photographing artists at Lollapalooza Chile. You might not have been paying attention to what’s going on in Chile—it’s been a busy year—but you can probably guess that there was no Lollapalooza.
Instead, here are my 10 favorite concerts that did take place prior to lockdowns.
1. Thrice at The Warfield – Jan. 23
This concert came on the 15th anniversary tour of the band’s album Vheissu. Beside it being an album I love, the tour included one of the most fantastic, underrated opening acts with mewithoutyou. Both bands delivered amazing energy, in their own particular way. Thrice ranged from its signature post-hardcore exploration to a more alt-rock vibe, while mewithoutyou blended post-hardcore with spoken-word vocals, which still amazes me.
2. Motion City Soundtrack at the UC Theatre – Jan. 25
The reunion tour for Motion City Soundtrack was named “Don’t Call it a Comeback.” Yet, it certainly was that. And for fans like me, it was a thrill to have the band on stage again. The last time I saw MCS was back in 2016 (which seems like a long decade ago) at Riot Fest in Chicago. After that, Motion City Soundtrack went on hiatus. I’m so glad I had the chance to shoot them again, now in Berkeley—way closer than in Chicago.
3. This Will Destroy You at Slim’s – Feb. 14
This concert, at least for me, was pure emotion. Sometimes instrumental music will dig deeper into your primal feels than songs with heavy lyricism. Also, this was my final show at Slim’s (RIP). The venue was officially shuttered soon after I left the Bay Area.
4. Dashboard Confessional at The Fillmore – Feb. 15
It’s always cool to see Dashboard Confessional. Chris Carrabba and his bandmates deliver a great show that’s on-point and, usually, pretty perfect. At this show Dashboard went into its catalog of emo anthems as well as some new tunes, which I always appreciate.
5. California Takeover at the Great American Music Hall – Feb. 22
This was something unique: three of the most remarkable bands from the ’90s hardcore scene playing at the Great American Music Hall, using the moniker of the title of a concert film released in 1996. Snapcase, Strife and Earth Crisis were the hardcore energy California needed back then, as well as since then. The band still incites firestorms and moshpits.
6. Jennylee and TT at Bottom of the Hill – Feb. 25
The Noise Pop Music Festival is always a good chance to check out new bands or see some cool shows by well-known artists’ other projects. One prime example is this show at Bottom of the Hill. Jennylee and TT are actually Jenny Lee Lindberg and Theresa Wayman from Warpaint. Not only was it a cool show that I had the chance to photograph for RIFF, but I had my friend Chloe Catajan, an editor at RIFF, shooting next to me. If there’s something I love about music more than shooting at shows, it’s seeing my friends in the pit.
7. The Struts at the Warfield – March 3
There’s not so much for me here because The Struts play a style of rock I don’t particularly care for… but they perform it in a really entertaining way. Let me put it in the words of critic Tony Hicks, who covered the show: “Perhaps [frontman Luke] Spiller is some sort of insane genius who figured out how to inject Freddie Mercury’s DNA into his own. That would explain a lot.”
8. American Nightmare at The Fillmore – March 6
I was really looking forward to this concert and shooting the band. I’m a fan of American Nightmare and don’t miss any of their local show, especially because they don’t tour often. So when there’s a chance, I’m there. They mostly played songs from Love American, blending their hardcore roots with post-punk vibes, I feel like Wes Einsold was bringing some Cold-Cave-esque cpmosong into this band. At one point, I felt like I was about to stage-dive with my camera.
9. Refused at the UC Theatre – March 7
10. Keane at the Fox Theater – March 9.
Just days before I was set to leave the country, I finished off with two final, completely opposite shows. Refused’s concert was a blast, with stage-divers and moshpits for me to maneuver around. Keane… had none of that. It was a bit too mellow for my tastes, but I won’t forget the experience for being my last concert in the U.S. for a long while.
Follow photographer Joaquin Cabello at Instagram.com/joaquinxcabello.