2016 Didn't Suck That Much (At Least Not Musically)

There’s a rule in music…well, there’s a rule in my musical world:

If they hang out with Josh and Garth of The Rutabega, they make damn fine music.

This has held true through numerous events and opening acts. Really, the only exception I can think of is myself and, well, I don’t make any music at all. The rule certainly applies to what I deem my favorite find of 2016 (I really should come up with a name for this…the Golden Needle Award? The Drop Of The Year? Or maybe I shouldn’t).

I’m speaking of Jake Simmons & The Little Ghosts. I caught them while playing with The Rutabega at McCormick’s in South Bend and, while the late night show was making me feel a bit old, the music of JS&TLG revived me in a way I haven’t felt since I was a punk-ass kid watching Dave Kirchgessner of Mustard Plug hang from that weird bar above the two-inch stage at the original Intersection (cheers if you remember what I’m talking about).

JS&TLG make solid rock music, with high-energy dives into punk rock, blues, and, seemingly, whatever the hell sound they deem appropriate for each song. The bleeding guitars are best played on high volume and, hey, don’t be shy about singing along. Jake’s lyrics traverse the realms of quirky, angry, and sentimental, never once feeling anything but genuine.

As is often the case for me with my end of year favorites, most, if not all of the JS&TLG music I’m speaking of was released prior to 2016, but , hey, this was the year that I discovered it (you could chalk this up to my being slow and behind, but I prefer to blame it on the massive amount of great music being made today).

I’ve put together a Jake Simmons mixtape for you to check out some of my favorites. Make no mistake, though, as anything short of picking up the entirety of every release is simply shorting yourself of rock and roll greatness. And why would you do that to yourself? Check out that mix tape over on Spotify:

AtND Jake Simmons & The Little Ghosts Mix Tape

As for the rest of 2016, well, many claims have been made as to the negative nature of the year thanks to numerous deaths of our heroes, bad news stories, and the embarrassing and horrific election of Trump to the White House, but remember, nothing is all good or bad. Whatever else aside, 2016 certainly was a solid year for good music:

(Note: If you’re playing catch up, click on the album or song title to purchase the music from Amazon and help AtND pay the bills at the same time!)

Car Seat Headrest gave us Teens Of Denial, a rock album that finds new depth with each listen.

Amanda Palmer has found a prolific stride thanks to her reliance on Patreon, using the direct support of her fans to give us a constant supply of new and excellent music. It was by fortunate coincidence that AFP’s tour had hit my region the weekend after the election (not to mention the death of Leonard Cohen), giving me a place to process my shock, disappointment, and upset. The concert featured an emotional evening of music, with sing-alongs, scream-alongs, stomping, and crying. Amanda brought along guests, inviting Peter Sagal of NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and the Vice President of Illinois’ Planned Parenthood to deliver messages of love and action. Her husband, author Neil Gaiman, was in the room as well. He performed a reading (with Amanda backing him musically) of Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy” before spending much of his evening with their son in the back of the room, teaching him to walk a few feet from where I was standing (I put my fanboy away and just watched the moment in awe). Speaking of that reading of “Democracy”, you can pick that track up and, in the process, help out PEN America’s efforts to defend free speech by going here.

The Avett Brothers gave us their best album in years with True Sadness. You can check out my review of that here. I saw them too the weekend after the election, a last minute addition to my concert schedule that was the usual emotion packed evening from TAB, heightened so by current events. With protestors expressing similar feelings just around the corner from the Van Andel Arena, the crowd roared in defiance the line “your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected” during “Head Full Of Doubt, Road Full Of Promise“.

Swet Shop Boys brought us the Indian/Pakistan/American hip-hop album Cashmere, full of anger and commentary about our culture’s treatment of those of Middle Eastern descent (and not to mention all of those sick beats).

If you somehow missed it, Drive-By Truckers certainly broke new ground with American Band, giving us the American rock album we desperately need in our current culture.

And Charles Bradley gave us Changes, reminding us the true meaning of the word “soul” and recording an amazing cover of, oddly, Black Sabbath.

And we can’t forget all of the awesome coming from Grand Rapids’ The Crane Wives, giving us the epic Foxlore when I was still busy singing along with Coyote Stories and Safe Ship, Harbored. Watch for them in 2017. I expect amazing things.

Justin Wells returned from the ashes of Fifth On The Floor with one of the best American rock albums I heard all year in Dawn in the Distance, about his life as a musician, an outcast, and a father.

PUP gave us The Dream Is Over, a mischievous, loud, and ultimately fun punk rock record worthy of losing one’s voice while screaming along and playing far too loud.

So much good music. So whatever the “dumpster fire” view of 2016 you may have, remember unrest and upset makes for some fine music and certainly gives us a soundtrack for fighting the battles ahead. And, oh, do we have battles ahead.

I want to thank you all for another great year of support. Remember, if you love what we do, you can support us directly at our Patreon campaign or visit any of our sponsor links.

Let’s finish 2016 with our heads high and our hands ready for the battles of 2017. Until then, here’s to life.

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It was Jon who got us on the tour bus.

I would have gone home, but then, that’s the guy I’ve always been.

Not that I didn’t want to stay, that I would have turned down a chance to hang with the band.  A possibility like that just never would occur to me.  I’d seen the show that my ticket had paid for and now it was time to go home.  Had I been on my own, I would have done just that.

I’d always been smart enough, however, consciously or unconsciously, to surround myself with people who hold to other expectations.

It was Jon who got us on the tour bus.

Wednesday, May 3, 2000.  The Intersection in Grand Rapids.

The old Intersection, that wonderful venue shaped like a storage dock; long, deep, and dark.  Flyers and namecards from entertainers who had graced the stage were plastered haphazardly on the upper walls from end to end.  There were couches and lounge chairs of questionable cleanliness  crammed into an awkward sitting area.  The floor looked like that of your dad’s old garage and something on it stuck to your feet as you moved about.  Corrugated sheet metal covered the bathroom walls.

A ragged movie screen (usually playing anime) was the prelude to the stage.  And then there it was.  That wonderful stage.  Not eight inches off the floor, crammed into the back corner like an afterthought, that weird metal rod, where the guy from Mustard Plug used to hang while singing, sticking out from the rafters above it.  There were only a handful of tables set far back from the stage, leaving an uncomfortable standing area that had little distinction from the stage itself.

It was there I stood for two hours of magic, Louise Post in her recently reformed Veruca Salt inches from my face, so close we could banter between songs.

That night we discovered Starling, those charming boys from Canada.  Not that Starling.  This Starling:

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Delusional- Starling

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That night, we rocked to Veruca Salt, reformed with a new line-up out of the ashes of a band I was sure I’d never see again.

That night, instead of heading to our car after the show, the evening already turning to memory in my mind, Jon turned us down the alley behind the Intersection.  Behind the scenes.  The tour bus.  The band.

We approached.

“Are we allowed? Can we do this?”

We could.

And we made friends.  Hanging on the tour bus.  Autographs and guitar picks.  Photo ops.  Sitting crossed legged on the asphalt discussing life with bassist Suzanne Sokol.

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And my shoes.  They signed my shoes.  I’d taken, in those days, to drawing outwardly directed smiley faces on the toes of my Chuck Taylors.  Miss Sokol so enjoyed them that she demanded she sign her autograph on my shoes.  It seemed only fitting to ask the rest of the band to do the same.

The bus driver and the band were kind enough to put up with our fandom for hours.  They even put us on a guest list for the next night’s show in Detroit.

I was still in high school at that point and I remember rolling in at some ridiculous hour on a school night, it having been exempted from curfew rules due to pre-concert clearance with the parents.  I remember, at that late hour, excitedly recapping the evening to my mother, my enthusiasm somehow convincing her to allow me to do the same the next evening, another school night, in a city even further away than the last.  “But only if you show up to school on time and your work is complete.”  She worked in that very school, so there was no getting out of it.

I remember the streak of shows that would follow.  Jon and I would finish our school day, hop in his truck and head off to the next Midwest Veruca Salt show, making it back each night for just a little sleep, the day’s classes, and another show after that.  The only way we survived our morning speech class each day was by twisting every single topic, creating some relevance between that day’s speech and the concert adventure we’d had the night before.

Oh, the shows we saw.  Over thirty-seven hours on the road.  1850 miles traveled.

And I still have those shoes.

Louise Post Intersection

 

Photos of the evening (and the souvenirs!) at Flickr.