My favorite concerts of 2012 included a legendary rock band, an experimental pop newcomer, and a Cirque du Soleil tribute to the King of Pop. Here’s my Top 20 list.
For previous years’ lists, see:
Ranking every band I saw live in 2011
Ranking every band I saw live in 2010
Ranking every band I saw live in 2009
1. Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Wrigley Field, Sept. 7
Bruuuuuce! The Jersey rocker’s unforgettable show at Wrigley featured 28 songs over three and a half hours. With his legendary band, featuring the late Clarence Clemons’s nephew Jake on sax, Springsteen played hits like “Hungry Heart,” “Atlantic City,” “Born to Run,” “We Take Care Of Our Own” and “Dancing in the Dark.” Read full review
2. Sigur Ros, Lollapalooza, Aug. 5
The ethereal Icelandic troupe had only an hour to perform in the hot Lolla sun, but they still managed to transport listeners to a dream world with their lengthy post-rock compositions. The best of the new tracks was “Varuo,” from the group’s Valtari album.
3. Radiohead, First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre, June 10
They’ve kept a low profile for the past few years, but Radiohead still rock like few other acts can. Their stellar show included mostly newer tracks but also some classics like “Street Spirit” and “Myxomatosis.”
4. Rodrigo y Gabriela with C.U.B.A., Chicago Theatre, Apr. 12
Talented Mexican guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela brought along the jazzy Cuban orchestra known as C.U.B.A. for their latest Chicago appearance. The two acts meshed wonderfully, bringing exciting new life to Rodrigo’s acoustic tunes. Read full review
5. Prince, United Center, Sept. 26
The Purple One’s three shows at the United Center were so-so, but on the final night, Prince stepped it up a notch, delivering memorable renditions of “Little Red Corvette,” “Raspberry Beret,” “Jungle Love,” and an epic 14-minute “Purple Rain” with four false endings.
6. Tune-Yards, Lollapalooza, Aug. 4
On the stormy day at Lolla when other anticipated acts were canceled, Tune-Yards fortunately got a chance to perform. Ukelele-playing singer Merrill Garbus built her captivating songs around looped vocal and drum parts.
7. Black Sabbath, Lollapalooza, Aug. 3
Ozzy! Led by Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Iommi, perhaps the greatest metal band ever capped off opening night at Lolla with a fierce performance that culminated with the classic “Paranoid.” Read full review
8. Florence + the Machine, Lollapalooza, Aug. 5
Florence Welch accented her majestic pop sound and even added some dance beats to some of her music during a terrific Lolla set. She played “Breath of Life” live for the first time and sang all the hits for the appreciative crowd.
9. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lollapalooza, Aug. 4
“Snow (Hey Oh)” from 2006’s “Stadium Arcadium,” was an early highlight, while a trippy bass solo from Flea led into “Otherside.” The band played many of its hits, though we wish they would have focused more on some of their funkiest songs. Read full review
10. Frank Ocean, Lollapalooza, Aug. 4
At the same time the Chili Peppers were rocking the south stage, Frank Ocean was opening his set with a beautiful cover of Sade’s “By Your Side” and following up with performances of “Thinkin Bout You” and “Pyramids” that showed why he was the year’s biggest critical favorite.
11. Sleigh Bells, Pitchfork Music Festival, July 14
Made amends for poor ’10 Pitchfork showing with energetic, loud performance Read full review
12. M83, Lollapalooza, Aug. 3
Electropop band brought down the house with sax-infused “Midnight City”
13. Of Monsters and Men, Lollapalooza, Aug. 5
The year’s best new band impressed with their creative Icelandic pop
14. Amanda Palmer, Metro, Nov. 10
Played “Missed Me,” “Girl Anachronism,” and nearly her entire new album
15. Outasight, Lollapalooza, Aug. 5
Dance singer of “Tonight is the Night” far surpassed our modest expectations
16. Jack White, Lollapalooza, Aug. 5
The former White Stripes frontman carried the show on his own
17. Michael Jackson Cirque du Soleil, United Center, July 20
The Cirque du Soleil troupe did MJ’s memory and music justice
18. B-52s, Charter One Pavilion, July 5
The kooky pop band keeps carrying on with new songs just as good as “Love Shack”
19. Air Supply, North Central College, Mar. 31
The ’80s pop duo played all their cheesy guilty pleasures Read full review
20. Amadou & Mariam, Lollapalooza, Aug. 5
Blind African married couple have a unique blend of rock and world music
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