Tampa Bay's best concerts of 2013, Part 1: Depeche Mode, Sigur Ros, Leonard Cohen and more
(All week on Soundcheck, our contributors are looking back at the best local concerts of 2013. Up first: tbt* and Soundcheck editor Jay Cridlin.)
Another year gone, another 50 or so concerts in the books. This was an especially tough list to winnow down; I’ve actually listed eight shows here instead of the normal five or six. Funny thing is, I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of some of the artists who made my top shows and honorable mentions — but that just goes to show you that a great live concert can totally change your perception of a band. Click the links for the full reviews.
Underoath (Jan. 27, Jannus Live): Christian metalcore act Underoath is arguably the biggest band ever to come out of Tampa, so when they announced they were breaking up following a final hometown show at Jannus Live — a show that attracted fans from around the world — you knew it would be an emotional night. Sure enough, singer Spencer Chamberlain and keyboardist Chris Dudley got choked up all night, particularly on final song Writing on the Walls, during which members tossed their instruments and equipment into the crowd. Throw in a return appearance by founding drummer/singer Aaron Gillespie, and more than a few tears were shed everywhere in the courtyard. “You guys have stood by our side through thick and thin,” Chamberlain told the crowd, “and we can’t thank you enough for that. All I can say is, we love you.”
Gasparilla Music Festival (March 10, Curtis Hixon Park): Are the organizers of the Gasparilla Music Festival lucky, or are they just that good? For the second straight year, Tampa’s latest, greatest musical lovefest was blessed with gorgeous weather, splendid vibes and spectacular music from Best Coast, Dawes, Dr. Dog, Black Joe Lewis and the Meter Men with Phish’s Page McConnell. The festival drew more than 10,000 fans despite the absence of (A) a rib-smoking contest and (B) REO Speedwagon, which is a minor miracle in this market. They’ll up the ante in 2014, bringing in a big-time headliner (the Flaming Lips) and expanding to two days. Whether the Gasparilla Music Festival can continue to grow is up for debate, but I do know this: Anyone who attended the first two probably won’t bet against it.
Leonard Cohen (March 18, Straz Center): No one should be performing nearly 3-1/2-hour concerts at age 78, right? Well, maybe Canadian crooner Leonard Cohen simply isn’t mortal. This rare Florida concert captured his indelible career in full, from global hymns like Bird on the Wire and Hallelujah to the noir poem A Thousand Kisses Deep, it was a spellbinding show from beginning to end. He took his time performing each of nearly 30 songs, as well he should — each one was a portrait, a painting, a poem, a novel. Hearing Cohen sing Hallelujah was reason enough to buy a ticket, but you’d have gotten your money’s worth even if he skipped it.
Live (May 30, Mahaffey Theater): Fans had every right to be skeptical about the ’90s-tastic Summerland Tour, which brought reanimated versions of Everclear, Live, Filter and Sponge to the Mahaffey Theater in May. Live, in particular, seemed like a risky proposition — how could these Pennsylvania rockers possibly come back from their acrimonious split from founding frontman Ed Kowalczyk? But a few songs in, they proved they were more than ready. New singer Chris Shinn may not be the most dynamic frontman on the planet, but no one seemed to care — the entire house was pumped just to sing anthemic singles like I Alone; All Over You; and White, Discussion; and especially the unforgettable Lightning Crashes. Look, I freely admit I can tend to be a shill for ’90s radio rock, although Live was never one of my favorites. But this was an eye-opening performance. Live may never reunite with Kowalczyk (who, coincidentally, is coming to the Mahaffey Theater in March, opening for Collective Soul), but its remaining members still have plenty of soulful, communal goodness left in the tank.
Depeche Mode/Bat For Lashes (Sept. 14, MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre): Never did I think a goth-pop outfit that’s been around for more than 30 years would deliver one of the baddest, brawniest shows of 2013. But the sweat and swagger that Dave Gahan and Depeche Mode poured into their first Tampa performance in four years was mind-blowing. From heard-’em-a-million-times hits like Personal Jesus and Policy of Truth to thundering newbie Soothe My Soul, the band was in peak form all night. Making the night even better was a moody and pitch-perfect set by British chanteuse Bat For Lashes, an indie favorite delivering a rare performance in Florida.
TIE: Miguel (March 24, Tampa Bay Times Forum) and The Weeknd (Sept. 26, Straz Center): I had a front-row seat for Alicia Keys at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, meaning I had a prime view of Miguel’s wildly charismatic opening performance, during which he put on a Prince-like display of over-the-top sex-rock befitting his amazing album Kaleidescope Dream. After that show, I knew Miguel was a shoe-in for this list. Then in September, Canadian R&B dynamo The Weeknd dropped a similarly simmering sex bomb on the Straz Center, offering a dazzling stage setup to go along with his NC-17 bedroom jams. And at that point, it was a legitimate debate: Am I Team Miguel or Team Weeknd? I debated it with friends and colleagues for days afterward, even asking British R&B singer Jessie Ware for her pick between the two (“Oh, that’s so mean!” she replied.) In the end, I simply can’t choose. All you need to know is it's impossible to go wrong with either.
Sigur Ros (Oct. 7, USF Sun Dome): It’s rare that a bucket-list band can live up to your idealized expectations in concert, but Sigur Ros’ performance at the USF Sun Dome did all that and more. Though the dome was far from full, the Icelandic post-rockers’ 11-person mini-symphony and Broadway-caliber stage display mesmerized every person there, particularly on the epic Festival, Glosoli, Saeglopur and the untitled song known as Vaka. I’ll admit it, that last one kind of choked me up a little bit. It was a beautiful and unforgettable performance by a band many fans honestly thought would never come to Tampa — and perhaps they never will again. This, friends, was my favorite concert of 2013.
Honorable mention: The xx (Feb. 7, Ritz Ybor), Muse (Feb. 23, Tampa Bay Times Forum), Bon Jovi (March 1, Tampa Bay Times Forum), The Joy Formidable (May 5, State Theatre), Paul McCartney (Amway Center, May 17), Dillon Francis (May 25, Sunset Music Festival, Raymond James Stadium), Night Beds (June 13, New World Brewery), Gin Wigmore (July 26, Vans Warped Tour, Vinoy Park), Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (Nov. 23, USF Sun Dome).
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*