The Key’s Year-End Mania: M.J. Fine’s five most memorable nights of music in 2012

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For The Key’s year-in-review, we asked our trusted sources – our writers and photographers, XPN’s on-air staff, fellow bloggers in the Philly scene and even a few musicians – to send us their Top Five Whatevers. Could be the traditional music route – albums, songs, concerts of the year – or it could be only loosely connected. We’ll be sharing these recaps every day through to the end of the year. Today, contributing writer M.J. Fine recounts her five most memorable nights of music in 2012.

Working nights means I can’t catch every great band that passes through Philly.  But I do what I can, whether that means using up vacation time for a must-see show, cramming a few days’ worth of performances into a couple of hours, taking a quick trip to another town, or going the festival route. Here were my five most memorable nights of music in 2012.

1. June 15 (Theresa Andersson and Lucius at Tin Angel; Eternal Summers, Bedroom Problems and Catnaps at MilkBoy)

Dashing from show to show is a mood-booster for a music junkie, but it’s fraught with peril. Worst-case scenario: You suffer through a lousy opener at an empty club, wait too long for the band you came to check out and give up before they get there; then you get stuck on the bus while hurrying to catch another show across town, only to get shut out because the headliner’s almost done and the place is too packed to accommodate even one more person. But when it works, you wonder why it ever has to be so hard. June 15 was one of those serendipitous nights. First came harmony-happy Lucius and loopy one-woman noise-soul band Theresa Andersson at the Tin Angel; a swift walk later, the fun was just getting under way at MilkBoy, with the sweet-and-sour Catnaps, dreamy-doomy Bedroom Problems, and hypnotic Eternal Summers. Not a bad one in the bunch.

2. June 23 (Supercluster, The B-53s and The New Sound of Numbers at the Georgia Theatre; Nutritional Peace at Ciné; Incendiaries at Little Kings Shuffle Club)

AthFest — Athens, Ga.’s eclectic music festival — is always my favorite way to start the summer. It doesn’t even matter who’s playing anymore; even if I haven’t heard of most of the acts, I always find a new band or three to love. This year’s installment may not have been as can’t-miss musically as the past few years’, but the Saturday-night club crawl offered an irresistible challenge: John Fernandes played multiple instruments in multiple groups at multiple venues. We enjoyed The New Sound of Numbers’ amiably experimental pop at the Georgia Theatre; ran over to Ciné to be awed by Nutritional Peace’s sprawling art-jazz; and ended the night back where we’d started for Supercluster’s life-affirming new-wave meditations. Outside of Fernandes’ orbit, we danced our asses off to The B-53’s faithful re-creations of classic B-52’s tunes and nodded vigorously to Incendiaries’ twisty, righteous riffage.

3. Sept. 16 (Patterson Hood & The Downtown Rumblers and Hope for Agoldensummer at World Café Live)

Patterson Hood and his non-Drive-By Truckers band did a great job with the character-driven pieces on Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance, while Claire and Page Campbell of Hope for Agoldensummer opened the show with songs from this year’s excellent Life Inside the Body and then slipped gently into the ensemble for the headlining set. But the night’s highlight was “After It’s Gone,” the non-album track Hood wrote to fight plans to build a Walmart in downtown Athens. Proof that a protest song, done right, can still be powerful enough to help thwart a corporate giant and passionate enough to satisfy listeners without a direct stake in the matter.

4. Sept. 28 (Madonna at Wells Fargo Center)

So what if Madonna made us wait for it? Her perfectionism is legendary, and it’s only natural that she wanted the tour’s North American debut to be flawless. Though heavy on material from the blah MDNA, her set was the year’s most thrilling spectacle. What was the best part? The mystical-industrial overture? The guns-blazing “Gang Bang”? A fresh treatment of “Open Your Heart,” in which she was backed by a Basque folk trio? All solid choices. But seeing “Express Yourself” performed with a nine-man marching band suspended in midair had me floating the rest of the week.

5. Oct. 11 (John Wesley Harding, Jukebox the Ghost, Eleni Mandell, Chuck Prophet, Dave Alvin & Christy McWilson, Robyn Hitchcock & Scott McCaughey, Nick Lowe, and Los Straitjackets at Cat’s Cradle)

The first official night of Yep Roc’s long-weekend YR 15 party was teeming with singer-songwriters I can see anytime here in Philadelphia (emcee John Wesley Harding, for one) and those who rarely play here (Christy McWilson, an unbilled foil for Dave Alvin), as well as a youth choir and comedian Eugene Mirman. But of all the fantastic collaborations on tap, one really summed up the spirit of the whole label-centric lovefest. Wandering around Chapel Hill and Carrboro that weekend, it was impossible to avoid running into friendly fans and bands. A chance encounter with Robyn Hitchcock at a coffee shop prompted a tender take on “No, I Don’t Remember Guildford,” along with a dedication as funny, touching and weird as you could hope for. It’ll stick with me for a while.

Honorable mentions: March 9 (The Suzan at the Art Museum), May 11 (Bei Bei at PSALM Salon), Sept. 18 (Corin Tucker Band and Trophy Wife at Johnny Brenda’s).

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