More than ever, live music proved a welcome respite from the world outside the venue doors in 2016.
The fatigue and sense of relentless chaos could and often did abate for a few hours, as gifted musicians passing through North Texas provided audiences with uplifting, cathartic experiences.
These 10 concerts, in particular, were extraordinary reminders of the art form’s value, and linger as the most satisfying nights of music I was fortunate enough to witness these past 12 months.
With a paucity of fresh ideas at its disposal, nostalgia is increasingly becoming a prized commodity in the music business. But, properly channeled, a backward glance can be downright revelatory, as it was during Springsteen and the E Street Band’s revisiting, in full, of the seminal 1980 double album The River. Considered from the perspective of the 21st century, Springsteen’s haunted, hallowed songs about life and its inescapable choices landed with full force, plunging us all into the water, baptized anew by their brilliance.
2. Savages at Trees (April 11)
Young, hungry bands are fighting any number of external forces to gain a foothold in the fractured new world of endless entertainment options. Perhaps the best approach is to be unrelentingly direct, and willing to walk a tightrope between hope and despair, as Britain’s pummeling foursome Savages demonstrated during its airtight set of post-punk tracks that mowed down a Monday-night audience, leaving everyone in attendance bruised and electrified.
3. Case/Lang/Veirs at Winspear Opera House (Aug. 4)
Purely, simply effortless — the most succinct way to describe this luminous evening of music. Three titanic talents — Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs — formed a loose supergroup so casual in its skill that one moment after another was delivered in a way that could leave a person effectively breathless for 90 minutes. (I’ll carry with me lang’s rendition of Neil Young’s Helpless until my dying day.) Utterly phenomenal.
4. Dixie Chicks at Gexa Energy Pavilion (Aug. 5)
Perhaps the most emotionally charged performance on a North Texas stage in 2016, as the Dallas-formed country superstar act returned home for its first show in a decade. Dispensing with any political barbs — a fleeting mocking image of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump notwithstanding — Natalie Maines and her ride-or-die bandmates simply focused on what endeared them to so many for so long: the singular songs.
5. Sturgill Simpson at the Bomb Factory (May 7)
More than many of his Nashville contemporaries, Simpson is not an artist comfortable with being placed in a stylistic box. His sound — shaggy, stomping and soulful — isn’t bound to Music City tradition any more than it owes a debt to Bakersfield, Seattle or his own Kentucky roots. For those willing to let Simpson be himself, delivering a swaggering performance that’s also deeply vulnerable, the rewards are boundless.
6. Raul Malo at Kessler Theater (Aug. 20)
The Mavericks passed through town a handful of times in 2016, but it was Mavericks frontman Malo’s solo stop at the intimate Kessler that most stuck with me. Freed to follow his muse wherever it led him, Malo spent two hours dazzling a capacity crowd that was in the palm of his hand from the moment he stepped on stage. Bar none, the best voice in the business, and a fine showcase at a venue tailor-made for such nights.
In a year marked by far too much loss in the music business, it was heartening to see Kristofferson, at the tender age of 80, not going gently into that good night. His first Fort Worth appearance in two years was augmented by the Texas Gentlemen, a collective of area artists who brought subtle beauty to the troubadour’s durable songs, fusing the past and present in moving fashion.
8. Glen Hansard at Majestic Theatre (Sept. 24)
A formidably talented singer-songwriter who still carries with him the urgency of his experience as a busker — the need to cut through everything with the force of his music — Hansard delivered a performance that brimmed with all the stuff of life, its ups and downs, its beauty and ugliness. Weaving arresting anecdotes into a set comprised of vivid original songs and smart covers, Hansard made a lasting impression.
9. Kanye West at American Airlines Center (Sept. 22)
That West would prove to be one of pop culture’s most polarizing figures in 2016 was no surprise — provocateur is a role he’s ably played for the better part of a decade now. That the controversial rapper would continue to find new ways to push music, and particularly the concert experience, forward was also not entirely shocking, but the degree to which he elevated the game was stunning. One of the most visceral nights of live music I’ve experienced in years.
10. Jason Isbell at South Side Ballroom (Feb. 16)
Just 24 hours removed from winning a pair of Grammys in Los Angeles, Isbell was back on the road, reveling in the work that has brought him such acclaim. True craftsmen take pride in the process as much as the finished product, an attitude Isbell displayed repeatedly throughout this celebratory performance that put the spotlight on one of the finest singer-songwriters working today.