Musical Memories of ’23 – Style Weekly

Hey, why not? Everyone does this time of year. It might also take stock of what stood out from 2023, musically speaking.

After two years of mostly pandemic silence, it’s been a very good year for live music memories in Richmond and surrounding areas. Specifically, I was more than ready to hit the road, so this year’s slate is a bit heavy on shows outside of Richmond, especially my first return to Raleigh’s Hopscotch Fest in about 7 years, which was a blast. Below are my ten favorite shows of the year, followed by a few songs and albums that stood out. Cheers!

The Feelies at Ottobar (Baltimore, Maryland), March 25: Although I hate to give my best seat to a show outside of Richmond, it was worth the trip and the hotel room. As Lou Reed once said, the Feelies were the only band that really “got” what the Velvet Underground was all about. That observation was made clear tonight by catchy originals that often reached telepathic, full-band throttle, while select encore covers included Television’s “Glory” and “See No Evil” and REM’s “Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars).” I can’t remember the Feelies playing Richmond in the last 20 years. I hope they do. An added bonus of this show was the opportunity to spend the day at the Baltimore Museum of Art, viewing John Waters’ “Upcoming Attractions” exhibit in his hometown.

Richard Thompson in Tin Pan, February 26: The legendary British guitarist who lives in New Jersey is arguably one of the greatest living songwriters and guitarists. As a musician friend of mine once remarked, he’s also one of the few solo artists who can really play solo. And he did it again tonight on acoustic guitar, performing consistently incredible songs from across his catalog, ranging from Fairport Convention (“Genesis Hall”) to beautiful solo gems like “Persuasion” and “Beeswing,” and even a rousing sing-a-long with “A Letter with Tears” audience. It was a pleasure to interview RT before the show (which I would have linked here, but Google still hasn’t caught up with the recent changes to the URLs of Style Weekly’s huge archives of stories, which could take a month or two, I was told. But archived stories should come back).

ESG at Hopscotch (Raleigh, NC), September 9: This outdoor show in downtown Raleigh during Hopscotch Fest was my feel-good favorite of the year. I knew these funky ladies from the South Bronx (1978) would be inspiring, but I didn’t expect the show to go so hard with non-stop dancing and bell-ringing action, not to mention dancing aliens on stage during thrilling performances of minimalist dance-punk jewels like ‘You Make No Sense’ and ‘The Beat’. Seeing original lead singer Renee Scroggins walk slowly onto the stage with the aid of a walker, then sit down and proceed to rock an entire downtown block was a major highlight of my musical year. Upcoming: Watch the band’s new documentary Are You Serious? The story of ESG. They can feel the rhythm for a long time.

Violent Femmes at the National on October 22: I had a great night before my birthday dancing to a seminal album from my youth, the Violent Femmes’ self-titled 1983 debut, which has no strumming. Lucky for us, the band performed the album in its entirety, cover to cover, to kick off this sold-out show. After tonight’s tour wraps up, Femmes grill drummer John Sparrow hits Broad Street and plays with a local drummer to add a perfect coda to a fun night. Side note: I have yet to see a bad show by this band in four decades. It’s a sequence.

Rosali Middleman performs with the David Nance Group at Hopscotch. Photo by Larissa Tyler.

Rosalie at Pour House (Raleigh, NC), September 8: Yeah, I know, there’s a thread about developing good shows on Hopscotch, what can I say. Years earlier I’d met the talented singer-songwriter Rosalie Middleman and seen her play Richmond a few times at Black Iris, but she really came into her own with 2021’s solo album No Medium. Having just signed to North Carolina’s Merge Records this year, Rosali looked in her prime during this standing-room-only show (which left a long line of people outside the club). Something about the energy in the sweaty room made it feel like a “moment” in the career of a rising star, and Rosali delivered beautiful rock/pop/folk tunes backed by the excellent David Nance Group. Definitely an artist to watch; she told me that her debut Merge is due out early this year. Congratulations, Rosalie!

Dinosaur Jr. at Broadberry, Sept. 5 : After a somewhat lackluster showing about five years ago in Richmond, it was nice to see Dino Jr. pick it up a bit and rock a mix of new tunes and classics from their best album, You’re Living All Over Me, to a grateful, sold-out crowd at Broadberry. Sure, I wish J. Mascis would figure out a way to make his vocals clearer in the bleeding wash of his Marshall stacks on stage, but this show rocked a lot.

Todd Barry at the Ashland Theater (Ashland, VA) August 24: Why not throw a comedian/drummer on the list? I don’t have a hard set of rules. Anytime I hear veteran New York comedian Todd Barry’s name associated with grassroots work, I’ll be there as long as it’s within about 25-30 miles. He was dryly funny again tonight, especially when he was talking to members of the crowd. This show took place right before Barry released one of his best comedy specials, “Domestic Shorthair,” which is now streaming on YouTube. Better to peak late than never.

Bob Dylan at the Altria Theater, November 27: At 82, Dylan is a grizzled veteran if ever there was one, and the songs on this round of his never-ending tour felt mostly like brutal, extended blues vamps in the vein of one of his favorite contemporary artists, Tom Waits. Those hoping for golden old Dylan songs will be disappointed, as he mostly sticks to newer material, not even playing “Like a Rolling Stone” or a similar classic for an encore. But if that was the last time I saw one of the most influential and important songwriters in history, I’m glad it happened at the former mosque (where Dylan first played in 1966, a few days before he recorded “ Visions of Johanna’ in Nashville, one of his greatest songwriting achievements). And I’m glad he came out tonight, blowing a powerful harp on a wonderful rendition of “Every Grain of Sand.”

Opening Fishbone at the Altria Theater, August 12 – At age 58, Angelo Moore, lead singer of Fishbone, is still performing virtuosic, high-energy, ska-punk-funk sets featuring new music. And he’s still one heck of a front man, which was evident from the moment he launched himself into the crowd at the Altria Theater and proceeded to sing the tune perfectly as he walked the tops of many chairs around the floor section. (I’m sure that’s not easy at any age.) While Fishbone played a mix of new songs and classics from the ’80s and ’90s, one definite highlight was the jazzy, noirish opener, the band’s chilling new take on the classic Abel Meeropol’s protest lynching song, “Strange Fruit”, renamed “Estranged Fruit” on the band’s last album. This concert was an opening slot for George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic.

Hip-hop legends Digable Planets at Hopscotch in Raleigh, NC. Photo by Larissa Tyler.

Digable Planets at Hopscotch (Raleigh, NC) – The classic Brooklyn hip-hop group returned to the stage to “chill out” like no time had passed since their early 90s heyday. This isn’t a rap group that just spits over pre-recorded songs, they bring it live with veteran funk and jazz acts; while original member Ladybug Mecca still has one of the best streams around. If you ever get a chance to see them, especially outdoors, I would.

Some favorite songs of the year:

“Cold Water” – Kurt Weill

“Spiky Boi” – Surprise Chef

“Message Intercepted” – Osees

“Something in My Basement” – Purling Hiss

“Stuck Inside a Cloud” – Rosalie (George Harrison cover)

“Christmas Time is Hear/Skating” – Vince Guaraldi covers by pedal steel player JD Bohannon

“Get over it” – Michael Hurley

“When the wind blows” – at night

“Don’t Lie” (Live) – Ty Segall & Emmett Kelly

“Echoes of the Deep Valley” – Ho Lan

Some additional albums that play a lot: Malombo Jazz Makers’ Down Lucky’s Way, Padang Moonrise: The Birth of the Modern Indonesian Recording Industry (1955-69); and Arthur Russell’s Picture of a Bunny Rabbit.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *