Providence’s music scene in 2017 went through some changes. Longtime venue Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel underwent under a renovation and became The Strand Ballroom and Theatre. Aurora and Firehouse 13 both closed up shop, the latter an incubator during the late 2000s for a lot of bands currently affiliated with the city’s music scene. Despite a few venues closing down, there’s a still a bit of hope. New bands are still popping up out of the woodwork, and people are still coming out to support local music.
Hopefully the new year brings more progress and unity in that vein rather than the division that seems to be all around us. There was a lot of that with a bunch of shows in Providence in 2017, and that’s why I have this list of the 10 best shows I saw in the city during the year. Keep in mind: Due to my schedule I couldn’t make all of them, so please don’t be upset if your favorite show didn’t make the list. Anyways, here it is.
10. Cat Has Claws Oh Well EP Release @ Dusk 11/16
One of the best local shows of the year went down on a Thursday fall night at Dusk. Alt-synth rock duo Cat Has Claws were ringing in the release of their latest EP, Oh Well, and it had an awesomely attentive crowd. The bill was rounded out with an abundance of variety with indie rock act Thug Honey, new wave dance magnets Triangle Forest and garage rock dynamos Super Natural II sharing the stage. It was a fun night with great vibes and each band was on point musically. Not all local shows have a great turnout on Thursdays and it was refreshing to see so many people having a great time.
9. Bella’s Bartok @ The Parlour 12/30
When it comes to bands around New England, Bella’s Bartok from Northampton, MA, are one of the few that provide a jaw-droppingly memorable experience live. This gypsy rock act has a lot of energy when they perform and they brought that and more when they played at The Parlour on the night before New Year’s Eve. The whole lineup was amazing with locals Psychedelic Clown Car and Consuelo’s Revenge opening things up. Psychedelic Clown Car rocked the rhythmically tightest set I’ve ever seen them exhibit and it was special to see Nicholas Smyth rejoining Consuelo’s Revenge for the first time in months. There was also so much dancing going around that you couldn’t help but shake your feet around.
8. The Obsessed @ Dusk 10/25
Believe it or not, this show almost didn’t happen. Metal legends The Obsessed were supposed to play at The Cafe at Parlor in Newport on this night but it ended up getting cancelled. In a clutch move, Intrinsic Events’ John Difruscio and Dusk teamed up to host this show and it was a special one. The Skinny Millionaires, Pilgrim and Cobalt all shredded before Scott “Wino” Weinrich and the gang took things over. It was really cool to see the best place to see metal in Providence have a band play their stage that has so much influence. Unfortunately this show also has a somber note to it: Pilgrim’s final show because frontman Jon Rossi passed away the following day; he is still very much missed.
7. Beach Slang @ The Met 5/12
I know that The Met is in Pawtucket, but since the place is a stone’s throw from the border and this list is mine, then the venue qualifies. Philadelphia punks Beach Slang have a sound that’s as nostalgic as it is contemporary. James Alex is an amazing lead singer and guitarist who has magnificent stage presence along with writing heartfelt songs. With Portsmouth, NH, act Alcoa, fellow New Hampshire natives Notches and locals Twin Foxes sharing the bill, Beach Slang were incredible on this night and they solidified why they’re one of the best live bands out there today. One highlight of their performance was their rendition of “Smooth” by Carlos Santana and Rob Thomas.
6. Phantogram @ Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel 1/12
It’s a bummer that the final incarnation of Lupo’s is no longer around and the name is a memory. With that being said, it’s personally refreshing that I got to see a wonderful act like Phantogram during my last time there before it became The Strand. The duo of Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel exhibited stellar camaraderie on stage and Barthel really played to the crowd well. They were joined by guitarist and synth player Nick Shelestak and drummer Chris Carhart who contributed their talents to create a sound that took over the entire venue. Los Angeles act Foreign Air kicked the night off with a chill vibe that set the mood.
5. H.R. from Bad Brains @ POP 12/16
One of the best things about 2017 when it came to Providence’s music scene was the Out of Control: The Spirit Of ‘77 exhibit at POP in December. Part of the exhibit had H.R. from Bad Brains playing with the new incarnation of his reggae band Human Rights. It was eye-popping seeing all of the photos from Richard McCaffrey and f-Stop Fitzgerald in the gallery along with all the vintage goods in the shop across the hall. H.R. and his band were awesome and it was a treasure seeing a one of a kind show in a one of a kind venue. I can’t wait to catch another show at POP.
4. Lee Ranaldo @ Columbus Theatre 1/11
There’s something about a trio of acoustic singer-songwriters that can stick in the mind. The beauty within the simplicity of it all can be hard to describe but you can really see someone’s pure talent when they’re performing by themselves on stage. Ex-Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo headlined a night of stripped down music and I’ll never forget it. Ranaldo was fantastic and his electric pick-up sounded out of this world. Ever since that show, one of the openers in Steve Gunn has become one of my personal favorites, and Meg Baird was great that night as well.
3. Aesop Rock @ The Met 1/24
Let’s face it, 2017 was a bad year for mainstream hip hop. The emergence of “mumble rap” has upset every purist under the sun. The underground side of the style is still going strong and Aesop Rock proved that again at The Met. No one can captivate a crowd like the way he does and the whole show was a lot of fun. Opening act Homebody Sandman was pretty good and Rob Sonic was way better than when I saw him a few years ago. When “None Shall Pass” kicked in, the whole crowd went crazy and that’s a moment I’ll never forget from that show.
2. Sheer Mag @ AS220 4/13
2017 was a wonderful year for Philadelphia rock ‘n’ rollers Sheer Mag. They put out a kickass debut album with Need to Feel Your Love in June which got a whole lot of acclaim from nearly every media outlet that covers music. They also ripped apart AS220 in February with local punks Downtown Boys and Hairspray Queen that was a raucous time. There was a never-ending mosh pit and the crowd kept on getting bigger and bigger as the show went along. Sheer Mag is due for even greater things in 2018, and if you were at this show then you know why.
1. Ted Leo & The Pharmacists @ Columbus Theatre 12/2
Seeing Ted Leo & The Pharmacists play the main stage at the Columbus Theatre was extraordinary for numerous reasons. First, Bill Janovitz from Buffalo Tom started things off with a set that included him and Leo performing the song “Taillights Fade” together. Second, it was incredible seeing ex-Downtown Boys and ex-Gavage sax player Adrienne Berry playing in Leo’s band. She brought a swagger to the whole thing that added a ganache. Lastly, seeing the band in such a grand setting was unforgettable and that’s why it’s the best show that happened in Providence this year.