Tuesday, December 29, 2015

THE BEST OF 2015 - The Best ROCK Of The Year


- In 2015, I saw some of the best and most memorable concerts that I've ever seen. I saw AC/DC play at Dodger Stadium on my birthday, in what may well prove to the final tour for the legendary rock band. It was an incredible show - I'd seen the band play once before, but this one took the prize for sheer enormity and earth-shaking epicness. Angus Young strutted around the stage like a man possessed. Brian Johnson's voice rang out through the stadium leaving fans thunderstruck. For one night only, we were all passengers on the proverbial highway to hell, and lo, it was good. Seeing AC/DC perform to a sold-out stadium filled with people of all ages - young people, old people, parents with kids - it made me realize that rock n' roll was alive and well, even if the radio won't play it, the media largely ignores it, and the awards shows will barely acknowledge it. People love to rock, and they always will.

And yet, so many of the legendary bands are nearing the ends of their runs - and too many have had their reigns prematurely cut short. You have to wonder - who will be left to carry the torch?

I also saw Rush - one of my all-time favorites - perform live this year, as part of their R40 tour. It now looks like that will also have been their final major tour, following iconic drummer Neil Pert announcing his retirement. Rush has been around for forty years, and in all that time they've continued to innovate. Their incredible, career-spanning live set on the R40 tour took audience-members on a journey from the band's classic-rock roots to its high-concept experimental stuff to its synth-filled prog-rock era to its more modern hits. When will we ever see another band like this again?

One of my favorite new rock songs of 2015 came from The Darkness' new album. Its title track, "Last of Our Kind," felt appropriate in terms of how I felt about rock music this year. Bands like The Darkness sometimes felt like the last survivors of some great rockpocalypse, keepers of an ancient but dying tradition. I think people will come around though. These are crazy times we live in, and crazy times call for rage against the machine. And one of the most cathartic ways to do that is via some good, old-fashioned, rock n' roll. It's why The Interruptor's punk-rock protest song "Take Back the Power" felt like the kind of thing we needed a lot more of in 2015 and will need in the years to come. A straight-up fight-the-power fist-pumper. Not something we're going to get from the Coldplays of the world.

In addition to the aforementioned, life-changing, mind-altering AC/DC and Rush live shows, I saw a bunch of other great live music this year from some of my favorite bands. After decades of being a fan, I finally saw The Offspring live this year at the OC Fair in Costa Mesa - an absolutely kick-ass show that also featured a fantastic opening set from The Interruptors. The hometown hero Offspring brought the house down, and it was amazing to see some of the defining rock songs of my pre-teen and teen years performed live. I also saw another live show from The Scorpions, who released a great new album this year celebrating 50 (!!!) years of rock. The Scorpions don't show their age at all when you see them live. This was my third time, and they destroy every time they go on stage. Opener Queensryche was also pretty excellent. And to cap it off, I saw another legend live - the one and only "Weird" Al Yankovic - at the storied Greek Theater. Getting to the Greek to see Al for the third time was yet another reminder that no one, and I mean no one, puts on a show like the Weird One. Dare to be stupid? Yes, please.

In any case, here are my top rock songs of the year. Here's hoping that as torches continue to be passed, there are bands waiting in the wings ready to keep the fire burning.


1.) Dead Sara - "Something Good"

-  Dead Sara put out my pick for 2012's song of the year with "Weatherman," In 2015, they came roaring back with an all-new album, the highlight of which was the timeless, sing-along rocker "Something Good." Dead Sara's latest album has a decidedly 90's alt-rock feel, but "Something Good" blends fuzzed-out 90's sound with the kind of classic rock power-ballad feel that evokes the likes of Heart and other such bands. One thing's for certain, vocalist Emily Armstrong has one killer set of pipes, and she can belt 'em out with the best of 'em. Dead Sara is one of the best things to happen to rock in quite some time,

2.) The Interrupters - "Take Back the Power"

- I discovered The Interrupters by accident. They opened for The Offspring when I saw the band live, and I was sort of blown away by what I saw. When I realized that the lead singer was actually Aimee Allen - who had been a favorite of mine since she did the kick-ass theme song to the Birds of Prey TV show - I was sold. Allen brings amazing vocal chops to the group, and a lot of personality to boot. But what's more, the band is exactly what's been missing of late from the mainstream rock scene - a peppy punk-band who can both sing both tongue-in-cheek party songs and fight-the-power ragers. "Take Back the Power" is going to be a personal rock anthem of mine for a long time to come.

3.) Scorpions - "We Built This House"

- I don't know how they do it, but The Scorpions keep coming out with great rock albums that sound like they'd fit in seamlessly with their catalog in their 80's heyday. "We Built This House" is just a classic Scorpions rocker that showcases their trademark melodic guitar-playing and arena-friendly anthems.

4.) The Darkness - "Open Fire" / "Last Of Our Kind"

- After a lengthy hiatus, The Darkness thankfully re-united a few years ago, and have been on a tear ever since. Their latest album - a concept album with a running barbarian-age theme - continues the band's resurgence. "Open Fire" is just a great throwback rock song, with strong shades of The Cult. "Last of Our Kind" is a soaring rock-ballad with a belt-it-out chorus. These two - and the entire Last of Our Kind album - come highly recommended.

5.) Twenty One Pilots - "Stressed Out"

- Last year I hailed Twenty One Pilots as the next big thing in rock - a totally unique fusion of rock, pop, rap, and EDM. Looks like others felt the same way, as the band has blown up and become huge - their hybrid style winning them fans across multiple music genres. I'll be honest though, I thought their new 2015 album, Blurryface, was a bit of a step down from their breakthrough Vessel. Whereas Vessel raged, Blurryface plays it safer - with a much more pop-y feel. Still, "Stressed Out" is a clear standout - a catchy, super-likable song that showcases the band's trademark rapid-fire rap lyrics with a throw-your-hands-up chorus.

6.) Fallout Boy - "Uma Thurman"

- How can you not like this song? It samples the theme song to The Munsters and is all about Uma Thurman's character from Pulp Fiction. Plus, it's just a really fun dance-rock song that puts you in a good mood. Fallout Boy continues their late-period comeback - and I can't complain that they've seemed to embrace the ways of rock n' roll since they jumped back on the scene. If songs like this one help nudge the mainstream music scene a little bit back towards rock, hey, I won't complain.

7.) The Dead Weather - "Cop and Go"

- Jack White's super-group side-project has been a reliable source of solid, Zeppelin-esque rock for a while now. And so their new 2015 album was a welcome package of straight-up rock grooves, with Alison Mosshart's searing vocals ripping through song after song. My favorite of the bunch is "Cop and Go," a heavy, atmospheric rocker filled with sick riffs and satisfyingly snarling delivery from Mosshart.

8.) Hollywood Vampires - "My Dead Drunk Friends"

- A super-group featuring Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, and Johnny Depp?! Okay, I'm interested. The Hollywood Vampires released a one-shot album this year of mostly covers, but the original track "My Dead Drunk Friends" was a nice bonus. It's a whiskey-tinged barroom elegy to friends that have come and gone -a tribute to the guys Cooper used to party with on the Sunset Strip, where he and other legendary rockers were knows as the Hollywood Vampires. I'm always excited for new Cooper material, so this one was an interesting oddity that also happens to be a nice, down n' dirty rock song.

9.) Weezer - "Thank God For Girls"

- Weezer released a couple of late-in-the-year singles that made for a nice end-cap to 2015's year in rock. "Thank God For Girls" is a fun, tongue-in-cheek song about, well, girls - but it's nice to see Weezer having fun and rocking hard following a few rough patches over the previous decade.

10.) The Offspring - "Coming For You"

- No new Offspring album in 2015, but they did release this one-off single that is vintage Offspring - an aggressive punk-rocker that could easily live alongside the band's old-school material. Seeing The Offspring live this summer, it's amazing what a deep catalog of great songs they have - and also amazing that they continue to put out new material that has been largely excellent. Write them off if you will, but The Offspring can still bring it.

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