The Bam Team’s 5 Favorite Albums & Songs of 2020

Best of 2020 - Run the Jewels, My Morning Jacket, Fiona Apple, Hum, Fleet Foxes

Wow, 2020 … what can we say? This year will certainly be remembered for a lot of things, but none more so than the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic that has ravaged both the U.S. and world over the last 10 months and forced the live music industry to mostly shutter as musicians pivoted to livestreams and drive-in concerts to keep the show going as best they could. Along the way, we lost musical legends who spanned multiple generations from Neil Peart to Bill Withers to John Prine to Little Richard to Eddie Van Halen to MF DOOM — some due to COVID-19 unfortunately — making these past 12 months even more painful to endure than they already were. Ready to officially flush 2020 down the toilet and start anew? Don’t worry … you’re not alone!

In retrospect though, it has been a very quiet year for The Bam Team. You’ll notice there haven’t been a lot of updates in this space, and that’s partly due to the lack of live music on Planet Earth right now. But it’s also been a hectic time for all of us as we try to navigate our way out of these dark days and into some brighter ones, and like any good remedy nowadays, new music has definitely played its part in helping us physically and emotionally cope with the chaos.

It’s why after several months of inactivity here, we decided to dust the cobwebs off Showbams and deliver a modified version of our annual “Best of” lists like we have done since this blog first started (see our 2019 picks here). While that doesn’t mean we had time to hear and dissect every new album or song in the last 365 days — we are still in a pandemic after all — sharing our own individual picks offers a fun and stimulating opportunity for us to reflect on the year that was in music.

So, without further ado, Showbams presents The Bam Team’s five favorite albums and songs from 2020.

Listen to The Bam Team’s favorite songs of 2020:


Run the Jewels - RTJ4

Josh Herwitt // Los Angeles

Top 5 Albums of 2020
1. Run the Jewels – RTJ4
One might think that after three critically acclaimed albums with some of the most socially and politically charged material since Rage Against the Machine burst onto the scene, it would only seem natural for Run the Jewels’ act to turn a little stale by their fourth time around. But despite the three-year wait for RTJ4, the longest that the hip-hop duo has gone between releases, the final product — like a fine wine — has only gotten better with time. Anchored by stellar production (a RTJ trademark) and provocative rhymes, the 11-track offering sees the two emcees sounding off on everything from corporate greed to police brutality just days after the tragic death of George Floyd. It also boasts a guest list loaded with star power, with DJ Premier, 2 Chainz, Pharrell Williams, Zack de la Rocha, Mavis Staples and Josh Homme each lending a hand while El-P and Killer Mike inject truth serum into our ears with one verbal haymaker after another. In what proved to be a shitstorm of a year, this was the soundtrack a lot of us needed to survive 2020.

2. My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall II
3. Fleet Foxes – Shore
4. Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
5. Caribou – Suddenly

Favorite live album: Sylvan Esso – WITH

Top 5 Songs of 2020
1. Royal Blood – “Trouble’s Coming”
The British rock duo composed of lead singer/bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher are gearing up to drop their third LP in 2021 and wisely chose to wet our palette with an absolute banger for its lead single. “Trouble’s Coming” has all the makings of a Royal Blood song — catchy bass riffs that sound like they’re coming out of a guitar, heavy-metal drums and Kerr’s falsetto vocals — while charting a slightly different path for the band, one that conjures up some serious 70’s disco vibes. Just watch this scene from Charlie’s Angels to see what we mean, and if you have a pair of fingerless leather gloves handy, you might as well put those on too. We think Sam Rockwell would approve.

2. My Morning Jacket – “Wasted”
3. Run the Jewels – “JU$T” feat. Pharrell Williams & Zack de la Rocha
4. Pearl Jam – “Dance of the Clairvoyants”
5. Sylvan Esso – “Ferris Wheel”

Favorite remix: Bonobo – “Final Days” (Michael Kiwanuka)


Hum - Inlet

Andrew Pohl // San Francisco

Top 5 Albums of 2020
1. Hum – Inlet
This four-piece’s fifth studio effort came as a complete surprise when it dropped in June, and it was honestly THE album I needed. Being knee-deep into the COVID-19 pandemic, I wasn’t sure what the rest of the year would look like musically, and it was exactly the type of record that hits all the marks for me. It’s sonically huge, it showcases Hum’s trademark ultra-layered, dense instrumentation and it ebbs and flows between energetic and emotive. Inlet was easily my most-listened-to album in 2020.

2. Coriky – Coriky
3. PEARS – PEARS
4. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
5. Run the Jewels – RTJ4

Favorite live album: NOFX – The Decline (Live at Red Rocks)

Top 5 Songs of 2020
1. Run the Jewels – “Walking in the Snow”
Oh man, this track was just the thing I needed during what may have been one of the most tense times in modern history. And like all of RTJ4, it absolutely crushes as El-P and Killer Mike bring their signature styles to full effect on this dramatic, yet bouncy tune. The middle section, which sees Mike taking the lead, is not only effective, prophetic and timely, but it also serves as a reminder that the time for action is now and that history has a tendency to repeat itself if we’re not careful. Check out the song’s brand-new music video here, too.

2. Hum – “Desert Rambler”
3. IDLES – “War”
4. Middle-Aged Queers – “Gary’s Making Biscuits”
5. PEARS – “Zero Wheels”

Favorite remix: Squarepusher – “Pink Maggit” (Deftones)


Fiona Apple - Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Rochelle Shipman // Los Angeles

Top 5 Albums of 2020
1. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
I almost feel cheated that my two No. 1 picks went to the same artist, but this year belonged to Fiona as much as it did to Dr. Fauci. FTBC busted us out of our mental prisons and allowed us to imagine our lives were more exciting than they actually were in 2020. It reminded us that we are strong enough to survive anything, to use our voices to speak even louder for what we believe in and that we can work on our own healing even if we can’t quite get outside. Ms. Apple set women free together.

2. Fleet Foxes – Shore
3. Mura Masa – R.Y.C.
4. Kari Faux – Lowkey Superstar
5. Liv.e – Couldn’t Wait to Tell You…

Favorite live album: Dolores Diaz & The Standby Club – Live at O’Leaver’s

Top 5 Songs of 2020
1. Fiona Apple – “Shameika”
This is a badass, “can-do” tune that was inspired by a passing comment made decades ago, one Fiona surely never thought twice about until now. And as she pounds the piano with the strength of RBG, it’s clear that this is the song 2020 needed — not to mention that it came full circle, inspiring Shameika herself all these years later. Sweet.

2. Noname – “Song 33”
3. Open Mike Eagle feat. Kari Faux – “Bucciarati”
4. Liv.e – “Lessons From My Mistakes…but I Lost Your Number”
5. Quakers feat. Sampa the Great – “Approach with Caution”

Favorite remix: Thundercat feat. Smino & Guapdad 4000 – “Dragonball Durag”

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The Bam Team’s 5 Favorite Shows, Albums & Songs of 2016

Danny Brown


Danny Brown at The Regency Ballroom // Showbams’ Photo of the Year, by James Pawlish

Time flies when you’re having fun, right? Well, while we’re still wondering where the past 12 months have went, 2016 proved to be bittersweet for the entire music community. With David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Paul Kanter, Phife Dawg, Merle Haggard, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones and most recently George Michael all leaving us too soon, it’s been a rough ride to say the least. But amid all the heartbreak, we experienced plenty of amazing moments in music from January to December, and now it’s time for us to once again unveil our annual “Best of” lists just like we did in 2015.

So, without further ado, Showbams presents The Bam Team’s five favorite shows, albums and songs from 2016.

The 25 Best Live Music Acts of 2016

Listen to The Bam Team’s favorite songs of 2016:


Jim James at Orpheum Theatre


Jim James at Orpheum Theatre // Photo by Josh Herwitt

Josh Herwitt // Los Angeles

Top 5 Shows of 2016
1. LCD Soundsystem at Coachella Music and Arts Festival, Weekend 1 – Indio, CA – April 8th
When reports started swirling around this time last year that LCD Soundsystem would reunite to headline Coachella a few months later, it was a chance to relive that one time I saw them on the same polo field six years earlier — the only time I was lucky enough to see James Murphy and company in action before they called it quits way too early. And while band reunions at Coachella are starting to feel like a gimmick these days, LCD had already played a couple of warm-up shows back home in New York by the time they stepped foot on the main stage for their highly anticipated headlining set at the Empire Polo Club. They didn’t perform any new material like some fans may have hoped they would, but rather a setlist laced with hits that also included their live debut of David Bowie’s “Heroes” as well as a nod to fellow headliner Guns N’ Roses. And as the final words to “All My Friends” left Murphy’s mouth that night, I walked away still buzzing from what I had just witnessed.

2. Radiohead at Shrine Auditorium – Los Angeles, CA – August 8th
3. Jim James at Orpheum Theatre – Los Angeles, CA – December 9th
4. Temple of the Dog at The Forum – Inglewood, CA – November 14th
5. Pretty Lights (Live) at Santa Barbara Bowl – Santa Barbara, CA – November 10th

Top 5 Albums of 2016
1. Moderat – III
With so many excellent albums being released each year, picking a favorite is never an easy task — but this year felt even more difficult than usual. And although I’ll admit I didn’t have time to hear every LP that dropped in 2016, it was hard not to choose Moderat’s latest studio effort after much thought and consideration. Time after time, I found myself coming back to III after countless listens. From the record’s opening track “Eating Hooks” to its initial single “Reminder”, the Berlin trio seems to get better and better with each release. As difficult as it can be to describe Moderat’s music, there’s something about the way Sascha Ring’s emotive vocals pair perfectly with the supergroup’s haunting melodies that makes III‘s repeatability incredibly strong. I guess the third time really is the charm for these three gents.

2. Jim James – Eternally Even
3. Anderson .Paak – Malibu
4. RadioheadA Moon Shaped Pool
5. Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered

Top 5 Songs of 2016
1. Jim James – “Here in Spirit”
My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James often receives praise for his unique singing style, but the Louisville native’s songwriting chops remain equally impressive. On his sophomore solo album Eternally Even, James takes a more political stance than what he devised for his 2013 debut Regions of Light and Sound of God. What results is some of James’ most poignant and inspiring material to date, including the soulfully psychedelic cut “Here in Spirit” that bats third in the LP’s nine-track lineup. With lines like “No compromise / But willing to sacrifice / Believe what you want / Go on and be who you are / Go out and get what you want” to open the song, James empowers his listeners to not sit on the sidelines and instead, speak up for what they believe in. He might not be able to solve the world’s problems, but “Yim Yames” knows how to make you think about the issues that matter.

2. Moderat – “Reminder”
3. Glass Animals – “Youth”
4. Tycho – “Division”
5. Run the Jewels – “Legend Has It”


Brainfeed at Fox Theater Oakland


Brainfeeder at Fox Theater Oakland // Photo by Marc Fong

Molly Kish // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2016
1. Brainfeeder at Fox Theater Oakland – Oakland, CA – September 15th
This showcase featuring artists from Flying Lotus’ label, including himself, was an experience to behold. No matter who you went to see on this night, eyes were opened and brains were fed — so to speak — thanks to the sonic diversions that continue to make Brainfeeder one of the most important players in shaping the future of music.

2. Danny Brown at The Regency Ballroom – San Francisco, CA – October 11th
3. James Blake at Fox Theater Oakland – Oakland, CA – October 17th
4. Erykah Badu at The Warfield – San Francisco, CA – November 15th
5. Black Madonna at Public Works SF – San Francisco, CA – November 18th

Top 5 Albums of 2016
1. Anderson .Paak – Malibu
Elevating the current state of hip-hop by ultimately bringing it back to its jazz roots, Malibu finally brought Anderson .Paak the credit he sorely deserved. The 16-track album boasts an intricately curated, eclectic roster of recording, production and songwriting talent. Easily the most important sophomore full-length release of the year, Malibu opened a brand-new door to a musical stratosphere that .Paak was born to commandeer.

2. Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered
3. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo
4. The Avalanches – Wildflower
5. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

Top 5 Songs of 2016
1. Solange – “Cranes in the Sky”
Another career-skyrocketing release of 2016 that was introduced to the world through this single, “Cranes in the Sky” helped bring attention to “the younger Knowles sister” as a force to be reckoned with. Amidst a track list of powerful ballads and political anthems, this song delivers a personal testimony of introspection that humanizes Solange in a way most artists are too afraid to convey. The track, which was delivered through a series of avant-garde music videos, shook the world of modern soul and R&B with one of 2016’s most influential power moves.

2. Chance the Rapper – “All Night”
3. Blood Orange – “Best to You”
4. Kaytranada – “LITE SPOTS”
5. Flume – “Never Be Like You” feat. Kai


YG at The Wiltern


YG at The Wiltern // Photo by Joseph Gray

Joseph Gray // Los Angeles

Top 5 Shows of 2016
1. Kanye West at The Forum – Inglewood, CA – November 1st
Prior to its bizarre, abrupt ending that included a long-winded tirade critical of Beyoncé and some outspoken support for President-elect Donald Trump, Kanye West’s “Saint Pablo Tour” was a once-in-a-lifetime party. Seriously. In LA, the show featured a floating, illuminated and spaceship-like stage that traveled back and forth — while raging youngsters moshed below — to give everybody a great view of their favorite contradiction and/or superhero, who was later hospitalized due to a reported “psychiatric emergency.” With the elevated platform, a smiling and dancing West manned through his conflicts, happiness and faith, reminding us of why he provides the unmistakable feel-good vibes that only he can bring.

2. Young Thug at The Fonda Theatre – Los Angeles, CA – May 16th
3. Isaiah Rashad at Echoplex – Los Angeles, CA – November 14th
4. Jhene Aiko at Avalon Hollywood – Los Angeles, CA – November 21st
5. YG at The Wiltern – Los Angeles, CA – November 29th

Top 5 Albums of 2016
1. Anderson .Paak – Malibu
The unearthed gem on rap legend Dr. Dre’s long-awaited Compton opus a year prior, Southern California rapper, singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (he really does it all) Anderson .Paak kicked open the door to his fully-formed world of warm, unbridled expressiveness and raspy soul with Malibu. Brilliantly combining funk and jazz-filled triumphs (“Come Down”) and hip-hop’s reflective grit (“The Season/Carry Me”) with distinct and sprawling elegance (“Room in Here”), .Paak unquestionably put his mark on 2016. A detailed dot (just like the one in .Paak’s moniker), you better not forget it because Malibu proved that you have to pay attention to everything his name is attached to.

2. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
3. Young Thug – Jeffery
4. NxWorries – Yes Lawd!
5. Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

Top 5 Songs of 2016
1. A Tribe Called Quest – “We the People…”
In a year drenched in political prejudices and panic for many citizens in the U.S., Q-Tip roared through the darkness over the funkiest of synths: “We don’t believe you ’cause we the people / Are still here in the rear / Yo, we don’t need you.” A message that echoed even louder after the presidential election, one of the standouts tracks from their celebrated final LP We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service invigorates a culture seemingly under attack more than ever.

2. Anderson .Paak – “Come Down”
3. Kanye West – “Real Friends”
4. Anderson .Paak – “Room in Here” feat. The Game & Sonyae Elise
5. Kendrick Lamar – “untitled 07 | 2014 – 2016”


Radiohead at Outside Lands 2016


Radiohead at Outside Lands 2016 // Photo by by James Pawlish

Brett Ruffenach // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2016
1. Kanye West at T-Mobile Arena – Las Vegas, NV – October 29th
In some ways, there’s an unspoken hierarchy to the live-concert experience. The structure is simple — the closer you are to the front of the stage, the better your experience is, the bigger the fan that you are. Only the “rail riders” are the truest fans. In my experience seeing Kanye West’s “Saint Pablo Tour” in Las Vegas — a performance that ended up being one of his last uninterrupted shows prior to a breakdown and a subsequent cancellation of several future dates — he not only completely destroyed the hierarchy, he reinvented what a concert can be. Under a floodlight-filled sky, he spent 90 minutes on a floating stage playing a nonstop show that brought out a level of hype in the crowd I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before. On the floor, underneath the stage, you are instantly a part of the performance. As the stage moved back and forth across the arena, West captured a sense of connection with fans, making it nearly impossible to not scream every damn word to every damn song. It was an emotional roller coaster filled with adrenaline (“Black Skinhead”, “Father Stretch My Hands”), joy (“Waves”, “Fade”), swagger (“Can’t Tell Me Nothing”, “Heartless”) and some transcendent moments so intense during reworked songs like “Only One” and “Ultralight Beam” that many in the crowd (myself included) couldn’t help but be brought to tears. I’ve never seen a concert like this one and will probably never see something like it again. But for those 90 minutes as I jumped and sang with my brothers and friends, there was no world outside of Kanye’s floating stage. It’s a memory that I will cherish for the rest of my life as Kanye proved to us there is no hip-hop artist in the world doing what he’s doing.

2. LCD Soundsystem at Coachella Music and Arts Festival, Weekend 1 – Indio, CA – April 8th
3. Beyoncé at Levi’s Stadium – Santa Clara, CA – May 16th
4. Tame Impala at Greek Theatre Berkeley – Berkeley, CA – September 3rd
5. Air at Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival – San Francisco, CA – August 6th

Top 5 Albums of 2016
1. The Avalanches – Wildflower
I really enjoy albums that can be experienced as one cohesive piece. Twelve years in the making, The Avalanches’ Wildflower is best experienced in one listen from start to finish. Using a near-plethora of samples from both ends of the musical spectrum, the Australian plunderphonics pioneers wove together a soundscape that’s not only textured and groovy, but also just plain old fun. From “Because I’m Me” and “Frankie Sanatra” to “Subways” and “If I Was a Folkstar”, the feel and experience of listening to Wildflower simply fills me with joy. After a year like 2016, it’s something we all needed.

2. RadioheadA Moon Shaped Pool
3. Beyoncé – Lemonade
4. Anderson .Paak – Malibu
5. The Range – Potential

Top 5 Songs of 2016
1. Radiohead – “Present Tense”
In a serene moment watching Thom Yorke and Co. play a live rendition of “Present Tense” at Outside Lands, I first thought to myself that this may be one of Radiohead’s best tracks. Ever. Their stripped-down rendition featuring Johnny Greenwood solidified that thought. “Present Tense” seems to capture all of the things I find most appealing about Radiohead: complex and beautiful chord progressions, subtle and complimentary percussion, and melancholy lyrics and ambient sounds creating a sense of space that no other band I know is capable of producing in a studio or on a stage. It’s an introspective song that blooms into a plea for a return to what was once had with “in you I’m lost …” That melody gives me goosebumps every time.

2. Blood Orange – “Best to You”
3. Brian Eno – “Fickle Sun (iii) I’m Set Free”
4. Hundred Waters feat. Chance the Rapper – “Show Me Love”
5. DJ Shadow feat. Run the Jewels – “Nobody Speak”


Anderson .Paak at South by Southwest


Anderson .Paak at South by Southwest 2016 // Photo by Rochelle Shipman

Rochelle Shipman // Los Angeles

Top 5 Shows of 2016
1. Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals at South by Southwest – Austin, TX – March 18th
Anderson .Paak played 13 shows in three or four days at SXSW this year. The Pandora show was one of his last ones, so he and his bandmates had their set down to blind perfection and played their hearts out to 150 new fans as the sun went down. Austin was falling in love with .Paak right in front of his eyes, electrifying his performance and even bringing him down into the audience to crowd surf. When he wasn’t behind the drums, he spent the rest of the show dancing on the monitors in between the barrier and the stage, seemingly as close to is fansh as possible. He was just grateful to be there, and it spilled from every ounce of his body. I’m going to be completely honest: I went to SXSW this year to see .Paak because I knew once he played it, tickets to his shows would be impossible to get. Six months later, $30 tickets to his show in San Francisco at The Fillmore resold for upwards of $400. If you didn’t have another way to get into that show or rent to pay, it was worth it. The energy that comes out of .Paak while he’s performing is charming, infectious and unmatched. He splits his time roaming every inch of the stage and behind his drum set, often singing and rapping without missing a beat. At .Paak’s December show at the Hollywood Palladium in LA, Stevie Wonder came out not to sing, but to tell the crowd what a big fan he is. So basically, Stevie Wonder dropped by. OK, Anderson … we see you.

2. Conor Oberst at The Cathedral Sanctuary at Immanuel Presbyterian Church – Los Angeles, CA – December 17th
3. Chance the Rapper at Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival – San Francisco, CA – August 7th
4. Islands at Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery – Los Angeles, CA – June 9th
5. Animal Collective at Scala – London, UK – September 8th

Top 5 Albums of 2016
1. Anderson .Paak – Malibu
Anderson .Paak has put out a lot of material, even before he was Anderson .Paak and went by Breezy Lovejoy. There are gems sprinkled throughout his early releases, but his latest studio album has a funky backbone that lets .Paak explore aspects of his range that he never shared before. It resulted in a rhythmic, emotional journey that’s flirty, genre-defiant and fun as fuck. Malibu nearly ruined music for me because nothing else is it.

2. Vince Staples – Prima Donna
3. Conor Oberst – Ruminations
4. Gallant – Ology
5. Noname – Telefone

Top 5 Songs of 2016
1. Childish Gambino – “Redbone”
I like Childish Gambino. I’ve always liked Childish Gambino. But the first time I heard his song “Redbone”, every hair on my body stood up and started grooving. It happened the second time and the third time, and even the 643rd time. And this dude is singing about peanut butter chocolate cake with Kool Aid, but because of how he’s singing about it, it’s somehow OK. I made a playlist with only this song on it 20 times over and it was still too short.

2. Anderson .Paak – “The Waters”
3. Sonder – “Too Fast”
4. Danny Brown – “Really Doe” feat. Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul & Earl Sweatshirt
5. Mac Miller – “Dang!” feat. Anderson .Paak


Tame Impala at Greek Theatre Berkeley


Tame Impala at Greek Theatre Berkeley // Photo by James Pawlish

Andrew Pohl // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2016
1. The Cure at Shoreline Amphitheater – Mountain View, CA – May 26th
I saw a ton of amazing shows this year, but seeing The Cure for the first time on my birthday topped them all. For more than three hours I got to catch Robert Smith and company churn out hit after hit, and hanging out with some of my best mates only added to the splendor. A setlist that spanned their entire career on a beautiful evening was just what I needed for my 38th trip around the sun.

2. Tool at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium – San Francisco, CA – January 7th
3. At the Drive-In at The Warfield – San Francisco, CA – June 4th
4. Tame Impala at Greek Theatre Berkeley – Berkeley, CA – September 3rd
5. Temple of the Dog at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium – San Francisco, CA – November 11th

Top 5 Albums of 2016
1. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
This is the album that we needed, and it was delivered at the right time, in the right way. For a year that had taken so much away from the music world, ATCQ surprised everyone with an LP that delivered a vibrant, thoughtful and politically charged gift to the masses. No guys, thank YOU for your service (RIP Phife Dawg).

2. Mitski – Puberty 2
3. David Bowie – Black Star
4. Mall Walk – Funny Papers
5. Tycho – Epoch

Top 5 Songs of 2016
1. David Bowie – “Lazarus”
Oh, Bowie … even on the eve of your own passing, you knew how to pull out all of the stops and push your art to the limit. A true showman and artist to the end, this song encapsulates all that is raw, beautiful and bizarre about our beloved Ziggy Stardust. Its somber tone is met with a sexy, sinister groove, which leaves you with a sense of unease and is honestly perfect in my opinion. Thank you, sir. RIP.

2. Bob Moses – “Tearing Me Up”
3. Savages – “Evil”
4. Zack de la Rocha – “digging for windows”
5. Deep Sea Diver – “Secrets”

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First Times: Experiencing Seattle’s music scene

Seattle skylinePhotos by Melissa Hebeler & Josh Herwitt // Written by Josh Herwitt //

Growing up in the 90’s, Seattle always had a special place in my heart.

From my days of listening to Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains albums in my bedroom, grunge music had already produced a profound impact on my musical taste by the time I entered my teens. Unlike so many of my peers, I never became a crazed Nirvana fan, but the rock music I did like — whether I knew it or not at the time — was being born in the Pacific Northwest.

As time passed and my music palette grew, grunge wasn’t the only genre coming out of the region that tickled my ears. In fact, Seattle’s musical history stretches further than it just being the birthplace of grunge. In more recent years, Seattle’s hip-hop scene, for one, has exploded in part due to Grammy winners Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, but even experimental acts like Shabazz Palaces and Blue Sky Black Death have helped build the local scene. And let’s not forget that we’re talking about the city that bred the one and only Sir Mix-a-Lot, of course.

Knowing this, my expectations of Seattle’s music scene have always been quite high. Since the late 60’s when Seattle native Jimi Hendrix took London by storm with bassist Noel Redding and drummer Mitch Mitchell, there has been a musical fabric that has run through the Emerald City. It’s a city, after all, that has a nonprofit museum dedicated largely to pop culture and music, with informative, in-depth exhibits on the history of The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Nirvana that include authentic artifacts, hand-written lyrics, used instruments and original photographs of both groups. You never know — maybe someday Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Foo Fighters memorabilia will also find its way behind the EMP Museum’s glass doors.

EMP Museum

Meanwhile, Sub Pop, Seattle’s famed independent record label, has found continued success outside of its home base long after popularizing the grunge movement, with indie contemporaries like The Shins, Fleet Foxes, Beach House, Foals, The Postal Service and Wolf Parade all signed to its current roster. And even more than 25 years after its inception, the label Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman created hasn’t lost its charm in a city where the Seahawks carry as much weight as any local band on the brink of national prominence these days.

With that said, while history can’t be erased, it certainly doesn’t mean it will be repeated. The Crocodile, formerly known as The Crocodile Café, has long been a fixture in Seattle’s music scene; the relatively small, intimate club on the corner of 2nd Avenue and Blanchard Street in the neighborhood of Belltown was the place where bands like Nirvana and Death Cab for Cutie first got their start. Even though the 525-person venue closed its doors in 2007, it reopened them a couple years later and has remained instrumental in maintaining Seattle’s reputation as one of America’s best music cities.

But whether it was the Fourth of July holiday or just the band that was booked for the night — in this case, San Francisco’s Geographer, who I have seen a handful of times at this point — I was surprised to see a room only half full of spectators when I walked inside. Maybe Geographer just doesn’t draw in Seattle what it does in SF or LA — or maybe I’m just spoiled. Since graduating college, I have had the privilege of living in New York and Los Angeles while getting to experience both cities’ music scenes for an extended period of time. My concert-going experiences haven’t been restricted to just LA and NYC, though. Over the years, I have made numerous trips to Denver — a city smaller than Seattle, yet one that undeniably eats, breathes and lives for live music — to attend shows at Red Rocks and beyond.

Geographer

At The Crocodile, something felt missing unfortunately. Sure, it was just one show, but there wasn’t the same kind of buzz I found in any of those aforementioned cities. For whatever reason, my native LA often gets vilified by outsiders and transplants for our crowds’ lack of enthusiasm; words like “rude” and “unengaged” are regularly thrown around when it comes to LA’s music scene. But the energy at The Crocodile on that Friday night wasn’t anything better than what I experience on a regular basis in Southern California. If anything, it was considerably worse.

As disappointed and uninspired as I was after the show, my respect for Seattle’s music scene hasn’t wavered. With so much of my youth influenced by the musicians who have called this majestic seaport city home, it will always remain an important place for this music lover. Yet, what it’s made me realize is just how lucky I am to have lived where I’ve lived and been where I’ve been.

Geographer