Tampa Bay's best concerts of 2012, Part 4: Bon Iver, Florence and the Machine, SBTRKT and more
(All week on Soundcheck, our contributors are looking back at the best local concerts of 2012. Up today: Carole Liparoto, who writes weekly concert picks for tbt* and the Tampa Bay Times, posted here each Thursday as "This Week In Tampa.")
SBTRKT (March 24, Orpheum): From Slipknot and GWAR to deadmau5 and Daft Punk, musicians have masked themselves for the sake of anonymity, for spooks or scares, or sometimes, just for fun. For SBTRKT, a.k.a. London producer Aaron Jerome, wearing a tribal mask suggests ceremony and celebration. And that’s exactly what he and honey-soul vocalist Sampha delivered on a spring night at the Orpheum. Pharaohs was a surefire feet-mover with a retro, acid-house style and enough swank for even the most upscale of lounges. The downtempo Hold On showcased the group’s catlike, never-grating electronic flair. James Blake and Little Dragon are fair comparisons, but the way SBTRKT’s Jerome and Sampha bounced from live drums, keys, knobs, faders and tables was one of a kind live.
Bon Iver (June 7, Straz Center): A woodsy, pillow-soft (and potentially snoozy) set was what I anticipated from delicate strummer and beardy outdoorsman Bon Iver. What I got was a sprawling, lively evening of wintry wonder. Justin Vernon, his falsetto, two drummers, horn players, violinists and a cast of other fine orchestral players brought modest, affecting tunes to a new dimension. Lanterns flickered and burlap curtains danced as the group uncorked tunes Perth and Michicant. (If you’d have told me the A/V portion of the Bon Iver show would best SBTRKT’s stuff, I would have called you crazy.) Also of note: Opening trio Staves, a British bunch of whiskey-drinking lasses with killer harmonies. Think a cross between the Dixie Chicks and Laura Marling. If there was any act worth an immediate, post-show Googling, Staves were it for me this year.
Florence and the Machine (Sept. 25, USF Sun Dome): If ever there was a woman who could a rock an arena in a dark, flowy nightie, a Victorian-era hairstyle and pasty bare feet, by God, Florence Welch is the gal. At a newly renovated USF Sun Dome, more than 5,000 fans witnessed the London siren and most gracious host bare her soul … with soul. Shake It Out and Cosmic Love were cathartic dance-alongs. Welch encouraged lots of audience participation, too. “We want to see as many people on shoulders as possible,” she said, breaking into Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up). We met the request. “Turn to each other, shake each other’s hands, embrace each other,” she appealed during the finale of Dog Days Are Over. We did that also. An evening of grace, elation and group hugs — really, what more could we ask for?
The Weeknd (Oct. 16, House of Blues, Orlando): This year in music, I had no greater guilty pleasure than the slow-mo, sexually-charged jams of The Weeknd. A vanguard musician flirting with mystery, The Weeknd, or Abel Tesfaye, dodged press requests and record labels and interacted cryptically on social media for much of the year. He built his swoony fan base solely on a series of free mixtapes. The only real way to get to know the dark, secretive Tesfaye would be to see him on stage. Two times this year, I travelled to do just that. His sound, “codeine R&B,” as I’ve heard it described, was a quiet storm of lust, longing and drug allusions. With the backing of a savvy full band, Wicked Games was a lady-loving shriek-along while Outside was the strong but subdued closer. It was a little Michael Jackson. It was a little Frank Ocean. It was a little Drake. Best of all, it was The Weeknd.
Best Coast (July 9, The Social, Orlando): Best Coast’s The Only Place has topped a heap of best album lists for 2012 for its sunny, lo-fi hijinks. That kind of fuzzy fun dominated the group’s first summer tour date at a sold-out Social. Singer, guitarist and cat lover Bethany Consentino and company expertly tackled vintage, surf-style guitar pop. And they had a hell of a time doing it. They rock-paper-scissored through the set list, dished out birthday Jager shots and mocked Florida’s oppressive heat and Mickey Mouse. And just then, when we thought it was all fun and games, out came a performance more heart-wrenching than I’d ever anticipate from a group like Best Coast — a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Storms. You might just have to YouTube it.
Explosions in the Sky (June 19, The Ritz Ybor): It was eerie — a bit like a scene out of The Walking Dead. A spellbound capacity crowd at the Ritz Ybor looked almost glazed over as it took in layers of soft, cinematic soundscapes on Postcard from 1952. The twinkly opening lullaby would build and build until it erupted with marching drums and authoritative, atmospheric guitars. The “dead” were finally riled up and dishing out applause. Texas instrumentalists Explosions in the Sky ironed out their place as kings of the crescendo over the course of the 90-minute show that night. It was just one of those evenings that said so much without saying anything at all.
Earth, Wind and Fire (June 23, Tropicana Field): Truly great-sounding concerts in the cavernous Trop have been in short supply since the Rays began their summer concert series. It just takes a ton of oomph to fill the sonorous space. Pat Benatar and Daughtry were formidable opponents, but somehow, Earth, Wind and Fire may have taken the cake. Longtime member Philip Bailey and his famous falsetto have withstood the test of time, and powered EWF on cloud-clearing anthems of positivity like Shining Star and September all the way to the cheap seats.
97X Memorial Day Backyard BBQ (May 26, Vinoy Park): Quite possibly the best value of the year, 97x’s free Backyard BBQ delivered sets from promising up-and-comers Middle Class Rut and Imagine Dragons, as well as an absolutely nutballs showing from Queen-channeling Foxy Shazam. Frontman Eric Nally offered somersaults, headbangs, hairwhips, splits and flying leaps of glammy rock insanity. Then, in closing, he lit a cigarette and ate it. True story.
— Carole Liparoto, tbt*
PREVIOUSLY ON THE BEST TAMPA BAY CONCERTS OF 2011:
Jay Cridlin’s picks: Fun., Mutemath, Coldplay, Fiona Apple, Rubblebucket, 97X Next Big Thing, 97X Memorial Day Backyard BBQ
Sean Daly’s picks: The Kills, The Civil Wars, Fiona Apple, Regina Spektor
Stephanie Bolling’s picks: Radiohead, The Ventures, Fun., Antiwarpt Music Festival, Andrew Bird