Sept. 26 during the Cropped Out festival at the American Turners Club in Louisville.
After 7 p.m., as the sun was going down, Callahan walked out onto the American Turner Club’s deck next to the Ohio River, where a small crowd had gathered for his performance. As Callahan played, insects along the rivers buzzed and chirped. Boats passed by on the river. Birds flying in V-shaped formations crossed the sky overheard. Throughout it all, Callahan sang with his typical poise, quirky sense of timing and wry humor. The astounding guitarist Matt Kinsey coaxed incredible sounds out of his Gibson SG electric guitar, almost like a second voice duetting with Callahan. What a transporting and unforgettable hour it was. See my blog post and photos. (Honorable mention: The Callahan concert I saw a few days later at Constellation in Chicago was also damn good.)
Aug. 7 at the Chicago Theatre.
Three terrific singer-songwriters — Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs — teamed up for a album last year, and their concert was just as collaborative and warm-spirited. A special night featuring three amazing voices.
Sept. 9-10 at the Chicago Cultural Center.
A 15-hour concert of Indian classical music, stretching from 6 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 9, until 9 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10, with sitars, tablas, flutes, violins and singers sounding all night under the magnificent Tiffany Dome in Preston Bradley Hall. The music was mesmerizing, beautiful and astonishing. Many of the pieces that were performed were intended to be heard at the specific times they were played, such as ragas for the “coming dawn,” which were heard around 4:30 a.m. The pink hues of the rising sun trickled into the grand room after 6 a.m., glinting in the world’s largest Tiffany glass dome. It was a gorgeous sight to behold, all the more so with such incredible musical accompaniment. See my blog post and photos.
4. Le Butcherettes
March 3 at Subterranean.
Le Butcherettes’ beautiful frontwoman Teri Gender Bender (aka Teresa Suárez) strides around the stage like she owns it — rapidly changing her facial expressions from wide-mouthed, wide-eyed insanity to gentle smiles as she switched between guitar and keyboards. See my blog post and photos. See my blog post and photos.
5. Joan Shelley
Dec. 3 at the Hideout.
Shelley’s voice was stunningly beautiful at the Hideout show, especially when she sang a cappella versions of two traditional folk songs: “Darlin’ Don’t You Know That’s Wrong” by Addie Graham and the chillingly macabre “Little Margaret,” which closes with the lyrics: “Three times he kissed her cold corpsy lips/And fell in her arms asleep.” Honorable mention goes to Shelley’s lovely set at the Cropped Out festival in Louisville. Like the set by Bill Callahan, it was performed at sunset on the banks of the Ohio River. Both times I saw Shelley in 2016, the beauty of her song “Not Over by Half” brought tears to my eyes. See my blog post and photos.
Aug. 25 at the Empty Bottle.
This felt like a quintessential night of live Chicago music: seeing Tortoise at Millennium Park, followed by Ryley Walker’s late concert at the Empty Bottle. (Consider the Tortoise show an honorable mention here.) Walker and his collaborators know how to stretch a song out, to revel in grooves, to explore a chord progression or melodic motif in ways that are hypnotic and enchanting. This set was a marvel. See my blog post and photos.
8. The Flat Five and Chris Ligon
Oct. 22 at the Old Town School of Folk Music.
As I wrote in my album review, the debut album by the Flat Five, It’s a World of Love and Hope, is a strange and wonderful thing. I doubt you’ll hear any other record this year that sounds anything like this. And this performance was especially great, with an opening set by Flat Five member Scott Ligon’s brother, Chris — the eccentric genius who wrote all of the songs on the album. (Honorable mention: The Flat Five also played a lovely show at the Green Mill.)
9. The Necks
March 27 at Constellation.
The Necks’ minimalist motifs gradually transformed, growing in volume and intensity, but a steadiness remained at the heart of the music — each musician closely following the lead of the others but then pulling the trio in a slightly new direction. It was a wonder to see and hear. See my blog post and photos.
10. Reigning Sound
Sept. 29 during Goner Fest at the Hi Tone in Memphis.
The excitement of the crowd was palpable. Maybe it was because this was a hometown show for the band. Or maybe people were just thrilled to see this version of the band. People were dancing and singing along all around me, and the enthusiasm was contagious. And as Greg Cartwright sang one quick masterpiece after another, it reminded me of just how impressive those Reigning Sound albums are, with tightly wounded rock tunes reminiscent of the 1960s, packing memorable melodies into every minute. See my blog post and photos.
Special prize: Robbie Fulks
Monday-night residency at the Hideout.
So many excellent nights of music and repartee. If I had a choose a favorite from 2016, it might be Fulks’ show with Linda Gail Lewis on Aug. 29. Jerry Lee Lewis’ sister sang and played the piano very much in the style of her more famous brother — including many covers of his hits — with Fulks, Scott Ligon, Casey McDonough and Alex Hall (aka those guys from the Flat Five and the Western Elstons) providing just the right accompaniment. Lewis kept smiling, and so did I.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Feb. 13 at Rockefeller Chapel
Neko Case and Robbie Fulks, Feb. 15 at the Tivoli Theatre in Downers Grove
eighth blackbird with Bonnie “Prince” Billy, March 26 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Waco Brothers and The Sadies, May 21 at Wire in Berwyn
Savages, July 16 during the Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park
Kamasi Washington, July 17 during the Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park
King Sunny Ade, July 18 at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park
Vulgar Boatmen with Walter Salas-Humara, July 27 at Martyrs’ Radiohead, July 29 during Lollapalooza in Grant Park
Mbongwana Star, Aug. 11 at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park Wilco and Twin Peaks, Aug. 21 at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park Guided By Voices, Sept. 3 at Metro Eleventh Dream Day, Sept. 10 at the Hideout
Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society + Bitchin Bajas and Emmet Kelly with Joshua Abrams Quintet, Nov. 15 at the Hideout Robyn Hitchcock and Emma Swift, Nov. 17 at City Winery
Kawabata Makoto & Tatsuya Nakatani, Nov. 29 at the Empty Bottle