1) Josh Ritter, solo acoustic
McGlohon Theatre, Charlotte, 11/2011
I didn't go to another show this year where I barely breathed from start to finish for the sheer magic of it.
2) Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks
Haw River Ballroom, Saxapahaw, 10/2011
Can I say this on the Bottom String? I hope so. For an old guy, Stephen Malkmus still looks great, and I would still bang him like a screen door in a hurricane just for his guitar playing, but the sexiness is a nice bonus, and this show was completely jaw-dropping for how magnetic and simultaneously bashful he is on stage. This is the show where I talked to two underage hipsters about how I would totally hit it with Kim Gordon except Thurston Moore scared me, and then they broke up! So I can now hit it with Kim Gordon without guilt. I would also totally hit it with both Deal sisters. Now you know, Bottom String readers.
3) Josh Ritter
The Cat's Cradle, Carrboro, 7/2011
There is a reason that Josh Ritter is my favorite live performer, and that is because he is utterly unrestrainedly joyous when he performs, and that is why he is on this list twice.
4) Bowerbirds & Mount Moriah
Motorco Music Hall, Durham, 06/2011
Everything about this show gave me chills, and it was the first time I saw Mount Moriah live.
5) American Aquarium w/ Shovels & Rope and Kenny Roby
The Pour House, Raleigh, 12/2011
I have a soft spot for American Aquarium's early December Pour House show, but thanks to Shovels & Rope's absolutely electrifying middle set that amped the crowd up even further, this is the best of the five I've seen.
1) Fleet Foxes w/ The Walkmen
Raleigh Amphitheater, Raleigh, 9/2011
This wasn't just my favorite show of the year, it was my favorite show. Period. The atmosphere at this show left me floored for more reasons than one. The rain was pouring down, thunder and lighting were abound, puddles, nay lakes, were forming at our feet. Did people leave? Well...yeah some people but those people are assholes. Standing in the pouring rain as flocks of people danced through the crowd, ecstatic at the sounds coming from the stage, I realized I may never experience a moment as beautiful as the one I was. The ethereal sounds of Pecknold's voice rang out through the storm, and although the set was forced to end early due to the broken p.a (that didn't stop the Fleet Foxes from trucking through another song though) even the band knew something special had just happened. Pecknold tweeted later that night, "Seeing you people in Raleigh tonight made me more proud to be a part of this than any other thing we've done. #thankyou #fucknature"
2) Bombadil w/ J. Kutchma and Future Kings of Nowhere
The Cat's Cradle, Carrboro, 11/2011
I left this show knowing this would be on my list. Bombadil brought me to tears with one of the most emotionally driven shows I've seen. The Cradle was packed out for this breathtakingly incredible show, it was one of the few shows where I've let my camera dangle awkwardly from my neck the entire time rather than snap videos and pictures. The set was too perfect for me to take my eyes off of the stage and by the time their encore was beginning I'd realized I had captured jack shit, however the same didn't go for the band. Bombadil captured my heart (cue canned "aww's"), they proved that they're masters of their trade. Bringing out old favorites from A Buzz, A Buzz like "Cavaliers (Har Hum)" and gems from Tarpits and Canyonlands as well, Bombadil's album release show All That The Rain Promises was everything their fans had hoped for and more. It was much more than just a release show, it was a valiant return for a group that in due time could rule the Triangle music scene. Seriously.
3) The Mountain Goats w/ Megafaun
The Cat's Cradle, Carrboro, 4/2011
I'm a diehard Mountain Goats fan and I'd scream it from a mountaintop if I could. John Darnielle is one of the most compelling songwriters of our generation, being able to flawlessly capture the visceral emotions of fear, love, longing, courage and everything in between, Darnielle and The Mountain Goats have been going strong for decades. Releasing masterpieces like Tallahasse, The Sunset Tree, and We Shall All Be Healed along the way, this set was a phenomenal mixture of old and new as well as some special surprises. Unheard songs as well as a guest appearance from Mac McCaughan of Superchunk made for an incredible Mountain Goats set. This also marked my first time seeing Megafaun live and it was nothing short of incredible. The combination of these two stellar North Carolina artists made for a show I'll never forget. Also be sure to catch The Mountain Goats when they play Haw River Ballroom on February 4, 2012 with Nurses.
4) Des Ark
Shakori Hills Fall 2011, 10/2011
I got to see two stunning Des Ark sets at Shakori Hills but her set in the Dance Tent on the first day of the festival was the perfect timing, perfect setting, and perfect atmosphere for my introduction to a live Des Ark show. I've been a fan for some time now, but never got the chance to see Argote perform live until this Shakori. The intimacy of the set combined perfectly with the raw emotional side of Argote's music which features an unfiltered view into the life of the songwriter. She's got a heavenly voice with entrancing guitar lines to compliment it, there's nothing that Des Ark doesn't bring to the table. Capable of hushed tones in a quiet tent in the middle of a farm as well as rocking the fuck out with punk bands and a full band set-up, Argote is one of the gems of this scene for sure.
5) Lost in the Trees
Fletcher Opera Hall, Raleigh, 9/2011
The final set I caught at Hopscotch was the highlight of the festival for me, as Lost in the Trees put on a performance that can be rivaled by few. Lost in the Trees have captivated me since I first found them in 2008 and I've been addicted since. Their music is therapeutic and sincere, the words come pouring out of Ari Picker's mouth from the depths of his person and when you see so much honesty being laid in front of you it compels you to pay attention. Everything was spot on for this performance, it was the last big show LITT would have in North Carolina for the year as they were set to head over to Europe and perform at Jeff Mangum's ATP Festival (which was pushed back to 2012), and it was certainly in the perfect setting. Cross legged on the floor of an opera hall I was able to explore the depths of myself with the dulcet tones of Lost in the Trees acting as my soundtrack. I'll always walk away from a Lost in the Trees set with a smile on my face and a new outlook on life, for their music is like a drug. I'm addicted.