The best Tampa Bay concerts of 2013, Part 6: The xx, Grizzly Bear, Gasparilla Music Festival and more
(All week on Soundcheck, our contributors are looking back at the best local concerts of 2013. Today: Soundcheck contributor Carole Liparoto.)
When I visit my favorite restaurants in Tampa Bay, I rarely order the same dish twice. (That way I needn’t worry about the soup that got away.)
My concert-going experience this year told a different story. Ninety percent of the acts on my top list are ones I’d seen before (although not always in Tampa Bay). And in some instances, I’d seen these acts not once or twice, but three times (the lady).
Am I settling into a married, 30-year-old’s comfort zone? I can’t say for sure. The thing is, these artists never bored. They only got better — some more ballsy, some more buttoned-up. Some just found better settings or stages. Here’s a wrap of my favorites...
The xx (Feb. 7, Ritz Ybor): They wore all black. They said little. They moved even less. And yet, it was tough to keep the eyeballs off seductive British trio The xx during its debut appearance in Tampa at the sold-out Ritz, where skeletal sounds got hipster blood pumping hard. I’d last seen The xx at Bonnaroo in 2010, when curiosity over the electro-pop act overflowed, as did the crowd, making sightlines an issue. This time I got the full, upfront experience. The stark sounds and lyrical longing meshed wonderfully with the displays of light. It really wasn’t until this show did I fully appreciate tracks off Coexist (an album without an obvious single like Islands or Crystalised).
Gasparilla Music Fest (March 9, Curtis Hixon Park): Imagine 70-degree March weather, water views, minarets, diverse music and people, indulgent food and just the right number of pirate references. At its best, that’s Tampa. The second installment of the Gasparilla Music Fest had all of this and then some. Cali lo-fi rock act Best Coast played the sunset set with careless abandon, witty one-liners and bouncing beach balls. Black Joe Lewis plucked and chewed the hell out of his guitar strings on blazing blues numbers like Booty City, and Latin-hip-hop-rock mixer-uppers Ozomatli gave reason to dance like no one was watching.
Grizzly Bear (June 19, Ritz Ybor): Every bearded indie-rock enthusiast showed up to Grizzly Bear’s first-ever Tampa show. I mean every last one. Singer Ed Droste and crew’s retro harmonies seemed even more chilling live than on their albums, particularly on best-known tracks Two Weeks and While You Wait for the Others. Ready, Willing, Able was super-psychedelic with carefully-timed lantern flickers. Droste expressed that he liked Tampa (an indie-rock underdog, as far as medium-sized cities go). And we showed we liked him back, giving the biggest ovation during encore, Knife, the group’s most intense cut.
The Weeknd (Sept. 26, Straz Center): “I went from staring at the same four walls for 21 years to seeing the whole world in just 12 months,” sang Abel Tesfaye, a.k.a. The Weeknd) on title track Kiss Land. It’s an excellent synopsis of the Canadian R&B crooner’s rise to quasi-mainstream success. He was playing his biggest venue of the three times I’d seen him, and boy did he bring in the noise, and on occasion, the funk. On funky, ’80s-esque Wanderlust, I am fairly sure he BECAME Michael Jackson. He was more confident, animated, more explicit. His band was tighter, too — bigger, better and more buttoned-up. As for the explicit part, let’s just say our usher, a greying senior who had escorted us inside earlier, looked absolutely terrified.
Jonny Craig (Oct. 13, The Local 662): Drug problems and arrests stifled Jonny Craig’s talent for far too long. But at last, at a fall show at the The Local 662, Craig looked like a guy serious about getting his s--- together. The foul-mouthed soul and R&B vocalist, who sang in metalcore and math acts like Emarosa, Isles and Glaciers and Dance Gavin Dance, was solo and in control. When a fan offered to buy Craig a drink, he coolly replied, “n=No thanks, man, I am working.” Then he performed what turned out to be my favorite cover of the year — Drake’s Marvin’s Room. (Give it a whirl.) Huge win for Craig. Huge win for his fans.
OneRepublic (Aug. 17, Tropicana Field): One of the worst Rays games I’ve even seen (a rout by the Blue Jays) preceded one of the best concerts I’ve seen at the Trop. The cavernous dome has swallowed up plenty of pop-rock acts before (ahem, sorry Goo Goo Dolls), so my expectations weren’t so stellar for OneRepublic. But just then, a Rays-capped Ryan Tedder, a guy who’s penned and produced hits for Adele and Daughtry, showed up as one heck of a frontman — charming, personable and possibly even a true Rays fan. Good Life and an unveiling of now-hot single Counting Stars were standout moments.
Jessie Ware (Oct. 23, State Theatre): Maybe this isn’t saying a lot, but British pop/R&B/dance artist Jessie Ware might be the classiest performer to every play State Theatre (and I’ve seen GWAR there). Ware brought a subtle, refined style, one that recalled a cross between Sade and Solange Knowles. A performance of Wildest Moments, with its warm, sexy civility, still gives me goosebumps. Had the crowd been bigger, this show, a quiet storm of slinky synth-pop, would have certainly been higher on my list.
Beres Hammond (Aug. 30, Jannus Live): This might not totally count, and hopefully the good people at Jannus won’t come calling for me, but I saw reggae-R&B singer Beres Hammond entirely accidentally from my tiptoes on the ledge of the outdoor patio at Mastry’s. The smooth, smoky-voiced Hammond sounded so fantastic on Feel Good, I endured some serious calf pain to listen to the entire show.