A Look Back at 35 of 2019's Best Cleveland Concerts

click to enlarge TOOL performing at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in November. - Chad Cochran
Chad Cochran
TOOL performing at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in November.
Even though Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse was dark for the summer, Cleveland still played host to plenty of major concerts in 2019.

Some highlights: As part of a lengthy farewell tour, singer-pianist Elton John performed here for the very last time; Garth Brooks brought his Dive Bar Tour to the Dusty Armadillo in Rootstown; the Black Keys returned after a hiatus; and Peter Frampton rolled into Blossom on his farewell tour.

All the while, plenty of quality acts also performed at Cleveland’s great collection of small clubs and mid-sized theaters.

Here’s a look back at 35 of the year’s best concerts.

Trey Anastasio
Canton Palace Theatre
Oct. 23

The guitarist from Phish played a dynamite set of songs and told stories about how he got here — and how we all got here. Most of the folks in the audience, I’d have to guess, have seen Anastasio perform these songs on stages all over the U.S., going back years, or even decades. There was a feeling of true community in the room, as there always is when Trey and his pals pick up their instruments and make cool things happen. The set list heavily favored Phish material, make no mistake: This was a solo outing from Anastasio himself, and he imparted a different, more nuanced emotion to a lot of these songs. Anastasio catered to the moment, as he’s been doing thus far on this tour. Not only did he need to restructure some of these songs for the acoustic guitar (“Back on the Train,” “Gumbo,” “Halley’s Comet,” etc.), but the cadence in Trey’s singing needed to accommodate the space of these songs when they’re stripped of his Phish bandmates’ vocals.
(Eric Sandy)

Big Freedia and Low Cut Connie
Beachland Ballroom
Nov. 4

The queen of New Orleans bounce music came out full of life and spirit. As she showed her Cleveland audience at this show, there’s nothing that a lot of booty shaking can’t heal.  Hot on the heels of a partnership with Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream (check out her delicious flavor, Bouncing Beignets) and a brand-new single with none other than Ke$ha, Big Freedia arrived with her crew of six dancers in matching blue choir robes rapping “I Got the Power.” The diverse crowd filled nearly two-thirds of the ballroom, and yelled and moved along to every beat, letting the wave of pure energy ride over them. Through the set, Freedia pulled out fan favorites like “Explode” and “Rent” as well as her biggest hit from last year that featured Lizzo, “Karaoke.” Her recent single, “Bawdy,” which has lyrics that literally tell you to grab a fork and a knife and a plate and shake your body, was also a huge highlight of the evening. (Laura Morrison)

Big K.R.I.T.
House of Blues
Oct. 30

Mississippi rapper Big K.R.I.T. (an acronym that stands for King Remembered in Time) has battled his own demons and wrestles with the duality of being K.R.I.T as well as Justin Scott. The rapper burst onto the national scene in 2010 with his K.R.I.T. Wuz Here mixtape which ended up landing him a deal with Def Jam Records. His journey in the industry has been well-documented, but he has persevered and earned the respect of his peers and also helped to grow his fan base over the years. His concerts are notoriously full of energy and theatrics, and the From the South with Love tour was poised to be no different as the show rolled into the House of Blues. The last time Big K.R.I.T. was in Cleveland, he only performed songs from his most recent album at the time, opting to have his DJ play a medley of some of his past hits during an intermission that also served as a wardrobe change. This time around, with the family reunion still going on, K.R.I.T. revisited a handful of those tunes including “Return of 4eva,” “4evaNaDay,” “Sookie Now,” “Talkin’ Bout Nothin’” and “1999.” (Emanuel Wallace)

Andrew Bird/Madison Cunningham
Masonic Auditorium
Sept. 24

Multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird captivated the audience at Masonic Cleveland. Bird, who seamlessly switched between performing on violin and guitar, also warbled with his signature whistle and had the crowd erupting in applause and hollers. The first half of his set featured all tracks from his most recent album, My Best Work Yet, with “Truth Lies Low” and “Roma Fades” from his 2016 album, Are You Serious, sandwiched between “Fallorun” and “Archipelago.” The rest of his set was filled with older hits performed in a close circle with his band. This portion of the set included “Give It Away” as well as beautiful duets with opener Madison Cunningham on “Left-Handed Kisses” and a cover of Dylan’s “Oh, Sister.” Cunningham kicked off the night with her incredibly tight band. The L.A. native boasted killer pipes (a la Maggie Rogers or Lady Lamb), finger picking and intricate guitar work that proved her musical prowess. The musicianship displayed by the group made it evident why Bird had tapped them to open. (Amber Patrick)

Black Keys/Modest Mouse
Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse
Sept. 30

The Black Keys took a four-year hiatus between 2015’s Turn Blue and their new album, Let’s Rock, and during that time, singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach recorded an album with the Arcs and released a solo effort. Both are solid releases, but something about playing with Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney brings out the best in Auerbach. In front of a crowd that filled about three-quarters of the newly opened Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, the Black Keys, Northeast Ohio natives who still proudly declare they’re from Akron even though they’ve relocated to Nashville, delivered a hard-rocking 90-minute set that suggested the break has really rejuvenated the band. Veteran indie rockers Modest Mouse opened the show by playing an hour-long set that was probably about 15 minutes longer than it needed to be. While the expansive band that included multiple drummers, a percussionist, strings and the occasional trombone sounded sharp, particularly when it jammed, frontman Isaac Brock seemed too detached throughout the performance as he yelped his way through many of the tracks and spent an inordinate amount of time squatting to adjust his guitar’s distortion pedals. (Jeff Niesel)

Bon Iver
State Theatre
March 29

One of the best parts of Bon Iver’s Cleveland concert — only the second stop on the group’s recent tour — was its live-ness. There’s no way the most recent record, 2016’s 22, A Million — with all of its stutters, chirps and layers of AutoTune — could have been replicated on the stage, so the five-piece band didn’t try. What we were experiencing was something wholly its own. Not all of the layers, done live, worked perfectly and the band wasn’t always 100 percent locked together. But those imperfections made the songs better, showing the humanity in the music during the performance. (Laura Morrison)

Leon Bridges
Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica
May 5

“Where my dancers at in the house?” Leon Bridges asked a buzzing crowd at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica. As much as his show was about soul tunes and heartfelt love songs, moving to the music was that much more important. With the exception of the encore, when he pulled out a guitar, Bridges didn’t play an instrument the whole night, opting instead to dance it out while singing in that angelic and pure way of his. Seeing him groove up on stage — body roll left, booty booty right, moonwalk that way, grapevine back — caused even the most subdued of attendees to wiggle around along with him. As if that didn’t get fans in the mood enough, he was wearing light blue flared pants … on purpose. During the final show of his spring Good Thing Tour (and also the outdoor pavilion’s season opener), Bridges did everything in his power to bring a little bit of summer to Cleveland. (Morrison)

Garth Brooks
Dusty Armadillo
Oct. 28

It might be a cliche, but country singer Garth Brooks clearly loves to perform whether he’s playing to a few hundred people or several thousand fans. While in the midst of a stadium tour that’s reportedly averaging 83,000 fans per stop, Brooks played a handful of shows at what he calls dive bars across the nation. For this gig, he and a police escort rolled into the Dusty Armadillo in Rootstown to play one such show and left a lasting impression as he truly embraced the intimate club’s atmosphere, shaking hands with fans who stood up against the stage and sharing stories about the early days of his career. Fans could win tickets through country radio station promotions, and about 700 lucky patrons made the trek to the bar and restaurant for the show. Brooks started the 90-minute set with “All Day Long,” and as he sang the line “somebody’s gotta find that honky-tonky out on the county line,” he gestured emphatically to suggest the Dusty Armadillo was just that kind of place. With its mix of heavy guitars and chirping fiddle, the tune served as the perfect opening number for this terrific set. (Niesel)

Quicken Loans Arena
Feb. 6

As the crowd anxiously waited for Cher to take the stage at the Q, she peeked out from the side of the stage to wave and say hello to her fans. Wearing a gold Viking helmet over a huge tousled mound of apricot hair, Cher looked giddy as she shared this quick secret wave. Then, the music started, the lights dropped and the curtain fell to reveal a stage full of dancers as Cher stomped her gold boots, performing “Woman’s World.” Looking Teflon-tough in her showgirl armor, Cher made it perfectly clear that fans were about to get their money’s worth as she shined and sparkled while singing “Strong Enough.” Strength and confidence beamed off of her throughout the radiant concert. (Julia Charvat)

Eric Church
Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse
April 19

At the start of an epic, three-hour-plus concert at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, country singer-guitarist Eric Church warned the capacity crowd about what he had in store. “We are going to give it everything we got,” he said. “If you just meet us halfway, it’ll be the best damn show you ever saw.” He wasn’t kidding. Church and his terrific backing band gave a Springsteen-like performance that drew from all six of his studio albums and featured more than 30 tunes. The concert, the first of a two-night stand at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, featured all the trappings of an arena rock show too. There was a multi-tiered stage, a gigantic video screen that occasionally separated into panels that hung from the arena’s rafters, and a party pit filled with rabid fans who brought items for Church to sign (and he obliged them throughout the night). (Niesel)

Kelly Clarkson
Quicken Loans Arena
March 21

Whereas Lady Gaga and Katy Perry subscribe to the more-is-more model at their shows, and Beyonce slays with the works, Kelly Clarkson’s show at the Q felt less like a huge event and more like a party (she did genuinely thank us all for coming at one point). Of all the American Idol winners, with the exception of Carrie Underwood, she’s the most decorated (Grammys and American Music Awards galore) and beloved, and that’s no accident. As this show proved, she’s truly one of this country’s greatest musical treasures. (Morrison)

Luke Combs
Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse
Nov. 16

Many of today’s top acts, whether they play hip-hop, country, rock or pop, bring enormous, elaborate shows along with them to arenas and outdoor amphitheaters.  Singer-songwriter Luke Combs, however, chooses to let his music stand on his own. During this concert, he didn’t need much in terms of production to enthrall the sold-out crowd at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Playing in front of a very minimal backdrop that included a circular video screen that showed everything from shots of the band performing live to old family photos, Combs let his working-class anthems speak for themselves during this terrific show. (Niesel)

Cosmic Honky Tonk Revue
Beachland Ballroom
May 21

Singer-songwriter Chuck Mead put together this tour that featured fellow singer-songwriters Jim Lauderdale and Jason Ringenberg. Mead’s backing band, the Grassy Knoll Boys, capably served as the house band as Mead, Lauderdale and Ringenberg each took the stage individually and then together to sing solo tunes and covers. The set included a great cover of the Byrds tune “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” that found the three trading vocals. (Niesel)

Celine Dion
Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse
Oct. 18

At this, the first American stop on her recent Courage World Tour, Celine Dion was in the most celebratory of moods, gladly sharing her talents with the people of Northeast Ohio. Entering center stage from a trap door in a bright red Jessica Rabbit-esque dress, Dion quickly rolled into the power ballad, “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.” Her voice was every bit as strong as when the cover came out in the mid-’90s. She unfortunately did not perform the entire 7-minute album version, instead, and understandably, choosing to move on with the show. A large video screen box then lifted up into the air to reveal an entire band, complete with a horn section, a string quartet, two drum kits and three backup singers. She got right into one of her more recent hits, 2007’s “That’s the Way It Is,” electrifying the crowd. She looked fantastic and healthy with a brand-new shoulder-length blunt bob haircut. Throughout the show, Dion had five costume changes, all achieved in mere minutes. In the downtime, her band excelled at keeping everyone entertained while various videos showed Dion putting on makeup, dancing and moving through water. (Morrison)

Peter Frampton/Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening
Aug. 8

For this show, singer-guitarist Frampton brought six decades of musical prowess to Blossom Music Center. The 17-song, two-hour-and-15-minute spectacle showcased why Frampton has deservedly become a musical and cultural icon. Touching down at Blossom smack dab in the middle of a 50-date farewell tour, billed as the Peter Frampton Finale, Frampton treated the audience to a warm, intimate evening full of engaging stories and expressive jams. Frampton strayed from his usual cookie cutter-ish format, and the captivating and engaging set contained a handful of tracks from his latest release, All Blues. Many songs had an improvisational and spontaneous vibe. The band was as far away from “phoning it in.” Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Evening opened the show with their tribute to the late, great John Bonham and Led Zeppelin. The band tore through a set of Zeppelin’s biggest hits but lacked the depth of longer jams and deeper cuts, which were a staple of live Zeppelin shows. (Joe Kleon)

Beachland Ballroom
May 14

To a bystander observing the Beachland Ballroom on the night of this show, the line of ratty teens-to-boomers decked in clothes black, ripped or studded waiting outside the bar’s entrance, combined with the sound of buzzsaw-sharp guitars that leaked from the bar throughout the night, might have suggested that blood, or at least sweat, would spill on the dance floor for English rock quintet Idles stop in Cleveland. Those inside the club saw a very different, though no less sweaty, outcome, as the hardcore punks inspired the most loving mosh-pit to hit the city yet this year, with a tight 75-minute set. (Jacob DeSmit)

Elton John
Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse
Nov. 11

John, who is 72, was in town just one year ago playing pretty much the same set of songs. But no one in the audience seemed to care that he wasn’t spicing it up with each show as Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse was packed to the gills — every nook and cranny seemingly stuffed with people, including what had to be limited vision seats on the sides of the stage. Northeast Ohio fans, many wearing sequins, boas, sunglasses and Dodgers apparel in John’s honor, were revved up to see the piano rocker in action, and when he arrived on stage nearly right on time to play the classic “Benny and the Jets,” people went nuts. After he finally officially retires from the road, John will no doubt continue to perform in some capacity as he loves his fans too much. But this is (most likely) the final time the Brit is going to grace Cleveland with his presence. And after this show, during which he held nothing back, area fans will always have something to cherish. (Morrison)

Quicken Loans Arena
March 17

If this was indeed the “end of the road,” as the name of their current tour suggests, the members of Kiss are going out with a show that was impressively energetic (and visually, it’s their most over the top staging and production to date), especially when you consider that it’s been nearly 45 years since they made their first appearance in town at the Cleveland Agora. For more than two hours, the group entertained the masses with a 20-song set list peppered with a lot of vintage video and additional explosions that went heavy on the hits with a few deeper cuts. And no matter how many times you’ve seen the band, it’s impossible not to marvel at their gimmicks. Who doesn’t love watching Gene Simmons breathe fire at the conclusion of “War Machine,” right? (Matt Wardlaw)

Los Mirlos
Now That’s Class
May 21

When Now That’s Class owner Paul Shlachter heard that Los Mirlos, a cumbia band out of Peru, was playing a Pittsburgh festival and needed another show in the region, he took a gamble and booked the band even though his club tends to cater to much noisier bands. The gamble paid off. The group drew a huge crowd and definitely delivered. The group’s two main members have played together for decades and the band’s solid percussion kept the groove going. The guitar work had a surf-rock element to it and a touch of keyboards made the music sound spacey at times too. The show drew a really diverse crowd of hipsters and older Spanish-speaking folks, all of whom mingled nicely at the gig. (Niesel)

Quicken Loans Arena
Feb. 1

Set opener “Hardwired” and “Atlas, Rise!” got the crowd in the mood after a lengthy wait for the band (and after a good-not-great metalhead comedy set from emcee Jim Breuer). When the band ducked into “Seek & Destroy” though, that’s when the room lost its collective mind. The rest of the night featured excellent playing from guys who could easily phone it in; what’s so exciting to watch is how passionately Kirk Hammett lay into his solos and how playful drummer Lars Ulrich can be on the kit. It’s all been done before, sure, but it’s an art form crafted and perfected by these very dudes. And they simply don’t let up. That’s the lesson, the takeaway, from a Metallica concert. (Sandy)

House of Blues
Feb. 11

Metric launched its 27-city winter tour here at the House of Blues, the band’s first stop in Cleveland in quite some time, with a 19-song show that hit the high points of 2018’s Art of Doubt while showcasing the band’s strong seven-album career. It’s amazing, if you haven’t thought about it for a second, that they can fill a set with hits from 16 years without playing “The Shade,” “Blindness” and “Synthetica” and those absences don’t even really register or leave you feeling like you missed out. Anyway, Art of Doubt feels bigger and louder than its predecessor, 2015’s Pagans in Vegas, which found Shaw doing more producing than guitar work. By bringing in outside producer Justin Medal-Johnson for Art of Doubt, Shaw was freed up to get back to guitar and the result was a something more familiar, rounded and similar to Metric’s early albums. (Vince Grzegorek)

Mott the Hoople
Masonic Auditorium
April 6

Mott the Hoople singer-guitarist Ian Hunter began this sold-out show at the Cleveland Masonic by singing a few riffs from “American Pie.” But after delivering the line, “the day the music died,” he added another lyric that set the tone for the group’s two-hour concert. “Or did it?” he wondered aloud as he and a retooled version of the 1974 incarnation of the British glam band launched into “The Golden Age of Rock ’N’ Roll,” a tune they delivered with Stones-like swagger. The revamped version of the group features members of Hunter’s backing band, the Rant Band, and two old-time Mott the Hoople associates, guitarist Ariel Bender and keyboardist Morgan Fisher. It proved to be a potent combination as the group capably revisited the past and added a few choice covers to the mix too. (Niesel)

Kacey Musgraves
Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica
Sept. 6

A giant fractured rainbow glowed above the sold-out crowd at Jacobs Pavilion as the tiny silhouette of Kacey Musgraves emerged on stage. With a guitar casually slung over her oversized denim jacket, Musgraves set the tone of the evening with “Slow Burn,” the first track off her Grammy-winning album Golden Hour. Self-empowerment anthems “Follow Your Arrow” and “Rainbow” ended the evening on good vibes and good times, and closer “High Horse” had everyone on their feet. Musgraves instructed everyone to “fucking jump” and fucking jump they did as the disco country pumped into the air, and the Queen of Sweetheart Psychedelia picked her denim jacket up off the ground, dangled it over her shoulder and winked good-night, a disappearing space cowgirl. (Charvat)

Panic! At the Disco
Quicken Loans Arena
Jan. 30

Despite the polar vortex, fans of Panic! at the Disco came out in droves to attend the Cleveland stop of the Pray for the Wicked tour. The band, fronted by Brendon Urie, kept the crowd dancing and singing through a 28-song set that spanned the band’s nearly 15-year career. The bar was set high from the first few moments, as Urie rose from the floor, appeared to jump nearly twice his own height and catapulted into the tune “(Fuck A) Silver Lining.” The seasoned performer made it look easy as he slipped effortlessly between a rich tenor and a boisterous falsetto that highlighted his expansive three-and-a-half octave range while never skipping a beat, notably on “Casual Affair.” In a generation of Auto-Tune and bland pop, Urie rose to the top with unmatched showmanship and vocal prowess. (Patrick)

June 19

Phish returned to Blossom for the first time since 2015 on the heels of a Toronto show that left wide swaths of the fervent fan base grinding their teeth over certain song selections and a ballad-heavy creative message. It’s easy to complain, I guess, when your passion for something transcends most other words. It’s easy to take things for granted. Phish, a band that once broke up for good, supplies a great lesson in why you shouldn’t do that. This show’s first set was a healthy mix of frequent flyers and newer material. The “Soul Planet” opener was vintage 2019 Phish. After what seemed like the shortest set break in history, Phish opened the second frame curiously with a languid “Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan.” Then the band ran into the always-jarring opening chords of “Birds of a Feather.” The show closed with a classic pairing of “Chalk Dust Torture” and “Slave to the Traffic Light,” and I thought the last few minutes of “Chalk Dust” were a nice blissed-out coda to the “Birds” jam earlier. (Sandy)

Grog Shop
March 13

Throughout songs like “Rings” and “Darkness,” singer Evan Stephens Hall presented a vulnerable sense of self-actualization, like he’s been looking into the mirror for way too long. On stage, this came across pretty clearly: Hall often seemed like he might as well be in his teenage bedroom, singing to himself while Montclair suburban vistas loom just outside. Hall didn’t engage the Grog Shop crowd much, offering only a few moments of friendly stage banter. “Thanks for being so respectful to one another and to us, and for bringing the enthusiasm,” he said midway through the show.  At times, the band reminded me of a younger, more buttoned-up version of Wilco. While they weren’t diverging much from the studio versions of these songs, a lot of their material plays with time signatures and skitters across unconventional song structures. Oftentimes, it really is just Hall up there, working through a nice melody on his own and earnestly vaulting through lyrics that veer extremely close to the news stories and blog posts that have affected the band as a whole. Throughout, the audience was great. The crowd was happy, respectful (indeed) and frequently caught up in singalong moments with Hall. (Sandy)

Psychedelic Furs/James
Agora Theatre
July 19

Strange to think that the Psychedelic Furs and James, two veteran British bands who’ve been around for decades, might be in their prime. But that’s the impression the groups left last night after performing at the Agora on their co-headlining tour. The Furs capped off the evening with a 75-minute set that started strong with the searing “Love My Way.” Wearing sunglasses and a black trench coat that he’d quickly ditch, singer Richard Butler looked as dark and brooding ever. His raspy voice sounded sharp, and he clapped and snapped while singing the tune. James singer Tim Booth takes great pride in the fact that the band alters its set list from night. He even apologized if opening tracks such as the shimmering “Dream Thrum” and moody “Born of Frustration” came off as “really soft.” “We thought it was Sunday,” said the band’s guitarist. “We must’ve forgot it’s a Friday night.” But even the “soft” songs in the set possessed an intensity, thanks to the chrome-domed Booth, who’d often tip-toe to the front of the stage to sing to the fans in the pit or gyrate under a flickering strobe during instrumental sections. At one point, he even made his way to the back of the pit to sing and dance with fans. (Niesel)

Raconteurs/Ex Hex
Agora Theatre
Aug. 15

The Raconteurs took Cleveland on an auditory ride as they played the Agora on the Help Us Stranger tour. The band packed a punch with a 20-song set that included MC5’s “Looking at You,” “Help Me Stranger,” “Level,” “Somedays (I Don’t Feel Like Trying),” “Now That You’re Gone” and “Sunday Driver” before ending with a five-song encore that concluded with their infamous hit “Steady as She Goes.” With phones locked safely away, the crowd was fully engaged in everything the band did onstage — from multiple collisions between Jack White and Brendan Benson before they ricocheted in opposite directions to the driving precision emanating from Patrick Keeler’s drum kit. The crowd met the band’s energy by fist pumping and scream singing through the whole show, which only seemed to embolden White to take his wailing solos further into the stratosphere. Washington D.C.’s heavy-hitting Ex Hex took the stage first to hit the crowd with a sonic smack in the face. (Patrick)

Santana/Doobie Brothers
Aug. 7

Santana’s concert at Blossom commemorated the 50th anniversary of the guitarist’s extraordinary performance at Woodstock, so it made sense that the show would start with footage from that iconic concert. During the two-hour performance that followed, band leader Carlos Santana showed he hasn’t lost a step. Playing guitar so vigorously that you could see the beads of sweat on his forward, Santana, who wore his signature fedora and a black T-shirt with a giant white dove on it, demonstrated just how captivating a great guitarist can be. While he had two singers with him in his terrific band, the spotlight mostly shone on him, a real anomaly in today’s pop/rock world where the singer is almost always the star. The Doobie Brothers delivered an opening set laden with their hits from the ’70s. A vibrant saxophone solo put a punctuation mark on a rousing rendition of “Without You,” and the band played “China Grove,” a track that featured pitch-perfect harmony vocals, with a real fierceness. Fans even ushered the group back for a two-song encore that included “Black Water” and “Listen to the Music,” the latter of which found the band pausing to involve the audience in an energetic singalong. (Niesel)

Social Distortion/Flogging Molly/Devil Makes Three/Le Butcherettes
Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica
Sept. 4

Concertgoers at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica experienced one hell of a show as Social Distortion and Flogging Molly teamed up to deliver a raucous evening that won’t soon be forgotten. Social Distortion brought serious swagger to the stage with “I Fought the Law,” “Over You,” “1945” and “Untitled.” “I’m tired of Americans being so quiet … that’s not the America I know,” said frontman Mike Ness before the band ripped into “Don’t Drag Me Down.” Social D welcomed members of Flogging Molly to the stage to help sing and play “Sometimes I Do.” The band finished out its 40th anniversary show with the hit “Story of My Life.” Flogging Molly delivered hits including “Drunken Lullabies,” “Devil’s Dance Floor” and “Seven Deadly Sins,” which caused a rowdy circle pit to form and sent crowd surfers toward the stage where frontman Dave King kept the energy at its peak. Guitarist Dennis Casey delivered a never-ending supply of high kicks and jumps throughout the band’s set. The band also performed the beautiful ballad, “A Prayer for Me in Silence,” which featured multi-instrumentalist Bridget Regan on vocals. Also on the bill, gritty bluegrass band the Devil Makes Three showcased their lightning-fast picking and whiskey-infused harmonies. Le Butcherettes kicked off the evening with 25 minutes of feral femme energy that erupted across the stage. (Patrick)

Tool/Killing Joke
Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse
Nov. 6

Fear Inoculum, the terrific new album from the prog metal act Tool resonates right from the start. The opening title track, a song that begins with spine-tingling percussion and a gentle hum before the heavy guitars kick in, sets the tone for the album, the most nuanced record in the band’s catalog.  Appropriately enough, this epic two-hour-plus concert at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, in front of what looked to be a capacity crowd, also began with “Fear Inoculum.” Hard-hitting drummer Danny Carey was positioned at the center of the stage, and that made sense. Carey, who wore a Cavs jersey with star forward Kevin Love’s number on the back of it, was the driving force for much of the show. The English post-punk band Killing Joke, a group that just celebrated its 40th anniversary, opened the show with a 30-minute set. The band delivered a white-hot set that drew from its extensive catalog and included the apocalyptic dirge “Requiem” from its full-length debut and the eerily prescient “Pandemonium,” a dire warning about today’s upheaval that the band penned back in 1994. (Niesel)

Vampire Weekend/Chicano Batman
Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica
June 14

Improbably, at least by the standards of the bleak start of summer in Cleveland, Vampire Weekend’s stop at Jacob’s Pavilion at Nautica couldn’t have landed on a better night, as a mostly millennial crowd of fans caught a sold-out show of tunes as breezy and fun as the Lake Erie waves that backdropped the venue. Compared to the band’s last stop in Cleveland, a greater ensemble of supporting musicians flanked frontman Ezra Koenig on this tour, which is in support of the band’s latest album, Father of the Bride. Joining founding members Chris Baio, Chris Thompson and Koenig, guitarist Brian Robert Jones and guitarist/keyboardist Greta Morgan —along with an additional percussion player stationed behind a second drum set — helped fill out the band’s sound and allow for a more diverse range of instrumental interplay. Chicano Batman opened the night with soulful jams. (DeSmit)

The Who/Peter Wolf
Sept. 10

The vibe of legend was everywhere at Blossom as Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend were joined by a half-dozen band members and a stage full of locally sourced orchestral players for a 22-song set that relied heavily on the rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia. A definite highlight of the evening was an acoustic version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” that found Daltrey and Townshend locked in to each other and simply excelling. Some of the material was tuned down a bit, but Daltrey hit high notes almost always with ease, his power holding the notes. His charismatic and energetic stage presence was massively impressive. Peter Wolf opened the show to an audience that was there to gush for the Who. They were not ready, in the heat, to give too much to Wolf and his set of mostly watered-down J Geils tunes. (Kleon)

Young the Giant/Fitz and the Tantrums/COIN
Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica
June 30

Multi-band bills rarely work as well as this one that featured Coin, Fitz and the Tantrums, and Young the Giant. The three bands all brought something slightly different to the table, and the near-capacity crowd responded favorably to each act. Young the Giant and Fitz and the Tantrums were co-headliners, but Young the Giant took the stage last and played a little longer, delivering a compelling 90-minute set that allowed frontman Sameer Gadhia to show just how inspiring he could be. At one point in the set — right before the band played the ballad “Firelight,” a tune he said was about “things that carry the deepest weight” — he asked audience members to introduce themselves to the person standing next to them as a way of engendering good will. That kind of thing usually only works at church, but fans obliged, and the moment typified the concert’s positive vibe. Fitz and the Tantrums preceded Young the Giant with a high-energy set that commenced with the neo-soul tune “Get Right Back.” For the rollicking “Out of My League,” agile singer Michael Fitzpatrick hopped atop the speaker monitors to encourage fans to sing along with him and his very capable sidekick Noelle Skaggs. The synth-heavy new single “123456” sat well next to old favorites such as “Break the Walls” and “MoneyGrabber.” The infectious “MoneyGrabber” remains one of the band’s best tunes, and it translated well live as Fitzpatrick adopted a particularly soulful wail and dedicated the tune to the fans who have followed the band since the days when it played venues such as the Grog Shop, which received a shoutout from Fitzgerald as he introduced the tune. Nashville-based Coin started things off with a 20-minute set of refined power pop. (Niesel)

ZZ Top
Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica
Sept. 21

Much like heavy metal icons AC/DC, Texas-based bluesmen ZZ Top happened upon a musical formula and proceeded to stick with it all the way to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In September, ZZ Top, affectionately known as “that little ole band from Texas,” brought its 50th anniversary tour to town, closing out Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica’s season in the process. Though the band’s 90-minute set suffered from a sound mix that often buried the vocals, the group still seemed to revel in delivering an overview of its career that came complete with a few choice covers and some snippets from the music videos that helped propel them into the mainstream in the 1980s. Fellow Rock Hall inductee Cheap Trick opened the show with an hour-long set that also suffered from a poor sound mix. And yet, the veteran power-pop band sounded ornerier than ever, something that came across well as it delivered a noisy rendition of the Velvet Underground tune “I’m Waiting for the Man.” While the band played hits such as the power ballad “The Flame” and the rousing “I Want You to Want Me,” it also dove deep into its catalog for tracks such as “Big Eyes” and “Baby Loves to Rock,” fully embracing the raucous garage-rock side of their sound, even if meant alienating some of the crowd. (Niesel)

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About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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