5 – TOM PETTY at BottleRock Napa Valley – May 27
Tom Petty was performing right up until his timely death. I didn’t catch his band’s shows at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley but was fortunate enough to watch him headline at BottleRock in May. He stuck largely stuck to the hits on that night, but the sheer quantity of those familiar songs spoke volumes about his amazing songbook. “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” “You Got Lucky,” “I Won’t Back Down,” “Free Fallin’,” “Walls (Circus),” “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” “It’s Good to be King.” All of those songs were interrupted only by “Forgotten Man,” a track off Petty’s newest album, 2014’s Hypnotic Eye.
Another stretch of songs highlighted Petty’s 1994 solo album Wildflowers, including the title track, which struck a chord among fans and prompted a singalong, and “Learning to Fly.” The band performed the latter as a beautiful, stripped-down piano ballad, with the audience holding down the chorus. The latter end of the set included even more hits like “Yer So Bad,” from 1989’s Full Moon Fever, “Refugee” from 1980’s Damn the Torpedoes, “Runnin’ Down A Dream,” and “American Girl.”
The only thing that made me nervous about the performance was just how much Petty’s hands shook at times, it was obvious his health wasn’t great. But closing my eyes, I pushed those thoughts out of my head.
4 – BIFFY CLYRO at The Fillmore – March 28
The Scottish band burned through a blistering 75-minute set, with only a few ballad breaks in-between. The trio, who routinely headline stadiums in the U.K., kicked right into “Wolves of Winter,” one of seven tracks off 2016’s new album Ellipsis. Biffy Clyro’s set was a mixture of new tracks as well as fan favorites off 2013’s Opposites, 2009’s Only Revolutions and 2007’s Puzzle. “Black Chandelier,” “Stingin’ Belle” and “Sounds Like Balloons” connected especially well.
3 – U2 at BC Place in Vancouver, B.C. – May 12
U2 have a habit of flubbing their tour openers, but out of the three times I saw them in 2017, including Santa Clara, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans, this first show was by far the best. It could have been the uncertainty of how The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 would be arranged (a handful of songs, then the album from start to finish, than a handful more). It could have been that I didn’t have to review the show, leaving me free to simply experience it. But a huge reason was a song, “A Sort of Homecoming,” that I had never heard live. The band played it here, and it soon disappeared off its setlists. Another highlight was “Exit,” which hadn’t made a stage appearance in many years. There were others as well I was hearing for the first time; a byproduct of a band playing an album in its entirety. Overall, the band was tighter than they would be later in the tour, and appeared genuinely excited to be undertaking something that was new for them, too.
2 – DREAMCAR at Great American Music Hall – April 9
Playing just its third-ever public gig, this Los Angeles supergroup—Adrian Young, Tony Kanal and Tom Dumont of No Doubt and Davey Havok of AFI—sounded nothing like a new band. The entire 14-song set carried a sense of urgency and energy. The quartet blasted through all of their debut album’s 12 tracks and threw in covers of David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” and INXS’ “Don’t Change” in one hour. Havok played ringmaster in a salmon-colored jacket, shirt, tie and pants. He strutted back and forth, gesticulated to various fans as if they were his best friends in the room, shook hands and at one point climbed an unsecured stack of speakers to serenade a balcony.
The packed GAMH crowd was equally divided between fans of the ska and pop-punk bands. Havok’s fans followed his movements across the stage while the No Doubt fans stuck in their places, screaming the names of their favorite musicians. And by the end, neither side cared that Dreamcar sounded like neither band. The No Doubt members, for the most part, ceded the spotlight to Havok. Young played it straight (for him) and stayed clothed. But he, bassist Kanal and guitarist Dumont were also clearly having fun and soaking up the opportunity to play together once again.
1 – MUNA at Popscene (Rickshaw Stop) – Feb. 3
It takes a certain level of guts to debut your new songs on the same night as you release an album. MUNA did just that at Popscene, inside a sweaty, crowded and frenzied crowd of fans. Judging solely on the reaction of fans, many of whom knew the lyrics to the entire album and not just the previously released singles, these songs could have been around for quite some time. New songs like “End of Desire” and “If You Love Me Now,” brought not just the original heartbreak and feelings of isolation they were written about, but also the joy of overcoming those detriments.
While the older songs built the skeleton for the performance, the other album tracks provided the meat and showed Muna as more than a singles band. When the band performed the new album’s penultimate track, “Everything,” Gavin pleadingly delivered the song’s key line—”Everything’s about you to me,” a song about facing a one-side, overpowering relationship—several fans in the front took the silence to raise their drink cups to her. Perhaps feeling embarrassed to bare such an intimate moment, Gavin closed her eyes. But to me, the moment was a shared passing of empathy, or even, love.