It’s midway through 2019 and time to take stock of the shows we’ve seen in the last six months.
I didn’t make it to South By Southwest for the first time in more than three decades this year. So there are no entries from Austin on my top shows list. But there were plenty of options among the -- I'm guessing on the exact number -- 100 bands and solo performances I’ve seen since January.
Here, in chronological order, are my favorite, best or most memorable moments thus far in 2019:
Paul Shaffer & the Nebraska Jazz Orchestra, Lied Center for Performing Arts. The "Late Night with David Letterman" band leader came to Lincoln to play his first jazz concert with a big band and pulled it off in fine fashion, switching off between piano and organ and doing some singing as well.
Disturbed, Pinnacle Bank Arena. David Draiman and his band of hard rockers delivered a positive, uplifting two hours, paying tribute to Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell and bringing their great, slow, anthemic version of “The Sound of Silence” in one of the best rock shows in PBA history.
Death Cow, Duffy’s Tavern, The Undisco Kids, Zoo Bar and Gerardo Meza and Dead of Night, Lincoln Exposed. The annual frozen February festival featuring only Lincoln bands always elicits a few stellar performances. For me, this year’s top entries were garage rockers Death Cow who brought rock ‘n’ roll of the raw, finest variety, the Undisco Kids' two-keyboard, two-guitar funk/soul assault with superb singing from leader Lucas Kellison, and the tough-to-pigeonhole mix folk-pop, rock and country from singer/songwriter Meza and his band of veteran Lincoln players.
Elton John, CHI Health Center, Omaha. OK, it’s Elton John on his farewell tour doing all the hits -- and playing the piano better than ever. With any luck, I’ll get to see him again before he leaves the road.
Michael Buble, Pinnacle Bank Arena. I didn’t see much of Buble’s 2013 PBA concert -- I was busy running around doing a piece on the building’s first show. But I got to catch his thoroughly entertaining two hours this year that mixed his expert takes on great popular song, his own releases and plenty of laughs.
Ryan Bingham, Bourbon Theatre. Ryan Bingham and his band, featuring guitar wizard Jesse Dayton filled the Bourbon with people and the Texas music sounds lifted from “American Love Song” along with his Grammy- and Oscar-winning instant country classic, “The Weary Kind.”
Low Cut Connie, Reverb Lounge. My piano-pounding pal Adam Weiner and his band are the best rock ‘n’ roll outfit going and they proved it again with a sweaty blast of “Revolution Rock ‘n’ Roll” in the intimate Omaha venue, getting everyone from 60 to age 6 totally charged up.
Pink, CHI Health Center. Pink’s the standard-setter for pop concerts -- a great vocalist with great hit songs who brings the top production and, to cap things off, flies around the arena while singing. Her Omaha show was nearly identical to her 2018 Lincoln outing. And just as entertaining. I’d see her again tomorrow if I could.
Cher, CHI Health Center. Cher’s Vegas-style extravaganza featured a dozen dancers, giant props, film clips from her movies, seven costume and wig changes, plenty of funny dialogue with the audience and most of the songs you want to hear from the legend. It was great fun.
The Avett Brothers. Pinewood Bowl. A perfect match between artist and venue found America’s best roots band, The Avett Brothers in the filled-to-capacity, tree-lined amphitheater for a brilliant two hours that shifted from old-timey stomps to country balladry, yodeling and rock ‘n’ roll.
Kenny Chesney, Pinnacle Bank Arena. It was a “no sit Saturday" at PBA when Chesney rolled in with his high-energy, two-hour hit parade that had the 13,000 people who packed the arena on their feet singing and dancing from start to finish. He’s been the country music entertainer of the year multiple times for that very reason.
Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Zoo Bar. Alvin and Gilmore -- and Alvin’s fine band, the Guilty Ones, playing the Lincoln roots music show of 2018 at the Zoo Bar and returned for round two last month. The odds are it’ll be the roots music show of 2019 -- and it’s highlights -- Gilmore’s “Dallas,” and “Tonight, I Think I’m Gonna Go Downtown” and Alvin’s “Fourth of July.”
L7 & Le Butcherettes, Slowdown. Teri Gender Bender might be the most passionate performer in rock and she and her band, Le Butcherettes brought an intense 30 minutes at the Omaha venue that would have been one of the best shows of the year in itself. Then came L7, the ‘90s all-female punk/pop/metal outfit -- in top form with lots of attitude, classics like “Pretend We’re Dead” and an album’s worth of new material, including the political song of the year -- the biting satirical “Dispatch from Mir-A-Lago”.
Pokey LaFarge and Joshua Hedley, Nebraska Folk & Roots Festival, Pinewood Bowl. Pokey LaFarge, playing solo, and Joshua Hedley and his band The Headliners provided back to back memorable sets -- LaFarge’s for his loose, me-and-my guitar takes of his eclectic vintage Americana and Hedley for his classic honky tonk.
Carrie Underwood, Pinnacle Bank Arena. Very well saving the best for last, Underwood’s concert was as good as arena shows get -- strikingly sung and charismatically performed on a state-of-the-art production.