Hard to believe it's that time of year again. Seems like only yesterday I was writing my 2015 "year in retrospect" post (maybe that's because I didn't do any other blogging in the meantime?), but it's already time to look back on another year.
2016 was a fun year for me. I got to shoot a lot of bands I hadn't shot before, and a few that I had already shot once or twice in prior years. There were new favorites to be discovered, unexpected help from unlikely sources, some disappointments and rejections, and a lot of lessons learned along the way. I tried to be a little more selective about the shows I agreed to shoot, and more disciplined about pressing the trigger when I did go and shoot (after all, you've got to sift through all those millions of shots in the hours after the show, and that's not nearly as much fun as it sounds...)
But without further ado, here's a sampling of my favorite moments from the last year. And like last year's review, these may not be what I'd consider my best shots - rather, they might be shots that capture something that reminds me why I love shooting shows, or they may have some other special significance to me.
In the vein of new artists I shot this year but didn't expect to, here's one of Troye Sivan from his show early this year at the Fox Theater in Oakland, CA. I hadn't heard of Troye until I went back to Michigan last Christmas and my teenage niece mentioned she was planning to drive 3 hours to see him. Any new artist that gets a teenager to drive that far for a theater-sized concert is probably someone worth paying attention to, because you can bet they're going to be huge soon. I immediately jumped on the chance to shoot his tour stop in the Bay Area, and was not disappointed. Oh, and that thing I said about "going to be huge soon"? After playing the 2,800 seat Fox in February, he came back and sold out the 8,000 seat Bill Graham Civic Auditorium across the bay just 8 months later. Needless to say, I'll be going over my niece's playlist again this Christmas.
If Troye Sivan is the next big thing, then Jonathan Richman might be the exact opposite. Richman has been around since the early 1970's, and is partly known for being in a band that later spun off members to The Cars and Talking Heads. Richman has been tremendously influential in his own right, however - I'll save you the history lesson, as you can learn all about him on Wikipedia - and he's still going strong playing clubs on the west coast. I caught him opening for The Growlers at the Fox, and honestly wasn't prepared for the madness to which I was treated. He has a childlike quality to his performance, wide-eyed and full of enthusiasm and wonder, and you can't help but smile wide and go along for the ride. There's nobody out there quite like him. Jonathan Richman reminded me that night of why I'm addicted to the surprise of live music... and why I always plan to show up for the opener.
Ok, what else? Well, I was thrilled to have the chance to shoot two supremely talented artists who caused quite a bit of confusion among Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran fans back in 2015 thanks to their uncannily similar names: Foy Vance and Vance Joy.
You've probably heard Vance Joy's song "Riptide" somewhere in the last year or two - on radio, TV, movies, etc. It's been pretty much everywhere. But Foy Vance remains somewhat under the radar, despite some pretty sweet gigs opening for Ed Sheeran and Elton John, among others. I'd recommend checking out his excellent new record "The Wild Swan" if you get the chance.
The award for my most intense, and perhaps most fun shoot of the year has to go to the band Foals. Their show at the Fox (yeah, I spent a lot of time there this year) was everything I expected and hoped it would be, which was loud, energetic and unpredictable. Foals is one of those bands that truly gets it when it comes to music photography. They want photographers to capture them at the show's peak - when they're sweaty, tired and cranking the energy to 11. So unlike every other band out there, Foals has the photographers shoot their last three songs instead of their first three.
The results are kind of spectacular. It's the end of the show so they're playing their biggest hits, the crowd is going crazy, there's guys jumping off the stage... it's a photographer's dream (as long as you've got good insurance on your gear, I suppose.) When the chaos was over, I had a stupid smile on my face that wouldn't go away for hours.
With that show, Foals might've entered my top 5 of bands to shoot.
One of the most unexpectedly cool shows I shot this year had to be Bon Iver at the Fox. I knew Bon Iver - aka Justin Vernon - was an impressive talent from listening to his records, but I didn't anticipate how impressive his live show would be. I've never seen so much gear packed onto the Fox's stage - instruments, lights, an imposing array of enormously tall video screens... there was hardly room to walk on the stage! It certainly wasn't at all what I expected from a guy who's known for some fairly melancholy electronic folk. While Justin was fairly reserved and stationary throughout the show (save for an amazing synchronized dance party at the end with his support act Francis and The Lights), the staging made for some incredible photos, even if it was challenging to get a clear shot at times and I wasn't given much time to shoot close-up. But I was the only photographer approved, and best of all I was given permission to shoot the entire show (except for the aforementioned dance party), which is a rarity for artists of his stature. So this one stands out as one of my favorite shows of the past year.
And finally there was Twenty One Pilots.
To say they've have a meteoric rise in the last few years is a severe understatement. They went from playing in Yahoo's cafeteria a few years ago to playing Saturday Night Live and selling out arenas around the world on their latest tour. I'd been fortunate enough to shoot these guys twice in the past two years, both times at the Fox in Oakland. I've always been amazed by their showmanship and the passion of their fanbase, known as the "skeleton clique", not to mention their remarkably candid and thought-provoking lyrics and the simple fact that they just seem like real, stand-up guys. So when they came to town yet again, this time playing not one but two sold-out shows at the venerable Greek Theatre in Berkeley, I knew I had to be there. And even better, they brought along one of my all-time favorite bands, MuteMath, as support. This was a must-shoot show for me.
Thanks to unexpected help from a friend of a friend who knows a guy, I was given the chance to shoot the first night. I wish I could say serendipitous opportunities like that come along all the time, but truthfully it doesn't usually work out that way. So I'm beyond grateful when it does. Shooting that show was truly the highlight of my year, and I'm already crossing my fingers that I'll get the chance to shoot them again in 2017.
And as I mentioned, one of my favorite bands - MuteMath - opened the show. That was a big one to check off my bucket list. I'd narrowly missed shooting those guys a couple of times previously, and wondered if I'd ever get the chance. Thankful to have gotten some really great shots of them this time around.
I've noted in the past that if there's one thing I love to shoot, it's passion. I love artists who lose themselves on stage and give their all to the performance. It makes for great photography, to be sure, but even as just a fan I find it intoxicating. There's nothing quite like being at a show surrounded by people who all feel the same euphoria about what they're experiencing, and the feedback loop generated with the artist in that moment can be incredible. So here's to those fans and the shows this year that brought the passion in spades. It truly is what keeps me coming back for more.
Here's to a great 2016, and much more to come in 2017.
Want to see a few more? Check out my Flickr album "Favorite Concert Shots of 2016 and the slideshow below!