7 songs that made me love 2016

As previously touched on, 2016 had me spinning wheels trying to get back to the past for most of its duration. As such, I spent most of it listening to songs I loved in 2006. But there were a few songs and albums that helped me sit still in the present for a little while last year, and reminded me there are things to look forward to in the future as well. Now that we’re 14 days into 2017 I thought I’d share some tunes (in alphabetical order) that made me love 2016.

Bastille – Fake It

Bastille grabbed my attention immediately when I saw them open for Muse in Coventry in May of 2013, and unlike a lot of new bands that catch my often short-spanned interest, they’ve kept it ever since. Their sophomore effort, Wild World, has been in my rotation ever since it dropped, and this song is often the one I jump to first. Fake It has basically been my anthem as I struggle to pretend I belong in a job I’m entirely not cut out for, and convince myself to stop constantly clawing for the door back to 2005. At the same time it’s simply a fabulous song that makes me thankful I’m still paying enough attention to new music to have noticed Bastille in the first place.

Tom Chaplin – Cheating Death

My most anticipated album of 2016 — and for that matter ever since my dear Keane parted ways at the end of 2013 — was Tom Chaplin’s solo debut, and when it finally came, it most definitely did not let me down. I’ve long known how special Chaplin’s voice is — he’s probably the best live vocalist I have ever seen — and his songwriting ability is now apparent as well. It’s been a bit bittersweet since I, selfishly perhaps, miss Keane more than I can express, but The Wave stands on its own as a treasure in my musical journey. All four of Keane’s LPs landed in perfect step with momentous points in my former career, so it seems just right that Chaplin’s new chapter landed right when I’m trying to start one as well. I have several favorites on The Wave — it runs up and down the whole spectrum of emotion as it chronicles his battle with addiction — but bonus track Cheating Death has especially been both cathartic and encouraging for me.

House of Wolves – Oh You Little One

Several years ago, on obtaining my first smart phone, I went through a short phase where I tried the exploratory frontier of Pandora instead of exclusively clinging to the same five bands’ catalogs. The one great discovery to come of that was a band called The Coral Sea, whose elegant and relatable melancholy I kept listening to for years. Last year I was thrilled to discover the songwriter responsible for it, Rey Villalobos, was still writing songs under his own name (which translates into “house of wolves”). Last year’s self-titled release House Of Wolves is exquisite front to back and was easily one of my favorite albums of 2016. I could have picked any song on it, but Oh My Little One has a particular hold on me, stirring my sense of fragility and strength all at once.

Keane – Tear Up This Town

In a year Keane fans were kept busy riding The Wave or waiting for news from Mt. Desolation, most of us didn’t see it coming when our old friends briefly flashed back into our lives with this unexpected gem penned for the film A Monster Calls. Just when I was coming to terms — or trying ineffectively to do so — with life without the band that’s essentially been a magic feather for me, it was nice to have a little dose of sound that’s distinctively Keane. I hope it won’t be their last, and don’t expect it will, but if it is, at least I got one last run with the thrill of a new song from one of my oldest favorites.

The Last Shadow Puppets – Sweet Dreams, TN

After seven years in absentia, Alex Turner and Miles Kane’s second carnation of The Last Shadow Puppets could have gone in any of several directions, and first offering Bad Habits didn’t leave me feeling like it was going to be up. But when the whole package came, Everything You’ve Come To Expect far outdid its own title for me. It had all the strings and swagger of the duo’s debut, but with enough new direction to avoid any redundancy. My instant favorite was the power-crooned Sweet Dream, TN, which sounds like a twisted Roy Orbison tune and showcases what a top-notch vocalist Alex Turner has matured into. One of my few disappointments of 2016 was never getting the chance to hear this live (I could have if I’d run a little faster through the streets of Manhattan, but that’s another story for another day), but fortunately there’s always YouTube.

Chris Martin – Hymn For The Weekend (acoustic performance on Conan)

Coldplay’s Hymn For The Weekend owns credit for one of the more dramatic changes of heart I’ve ever had about a song — I didn’t much care for it on first listen in 2015, but it so took over my mind, body and soul as to become one of my most-listened-to tunes in 2016. Chris Martin’s stripped-down acoustic version of the song, on the other hand, took no time at all to slug me wherever feelings come from. It might be cheating to include this on a “songs of 2016” list, but I felt it carries a life of its own outside the studio version, bringing the song’s emotional side to the surface and letting Martin’s vocals especially shine in an occasion he isn’t bouncing through a full aerobic workout while singing it.

The National – Find A Way

Since I already just shirked the logical standards for a end-of-year blog post as far as release dates are concerned, I might as well just include this unreleased beauty. The National debuted this song — which might be called Find A Way and might appear on some sort of release maybe this year — at one of the few shows they played last summer, which I was fortunate enough to bear witness to. It’s The National at their rainy-day best, and if it’s any indicator of what’s to come this year, it’s a 2016 memory that I’ll likely be able to jam into a 2017 listicle as well.

Well that’s where I belong (Pt. 2)

dscn1594-3

(continued from Part 1)

Even having lamented my inexplicably short live tally for Coldplay — at three shows, leagues behind bands I’d liked not half as long — I only planned to see them once on the first round of their exultant Head Full Of Dreams tour.

That financial dubiety again, my third go at joblessness since they toured last, kept me from a heavy trigger on Ticketmaster, but I had no doubt I’d be there when they came back to the Philadelphia Sports Complex to play the stadium beside the revolving-bank-name arena I first saw them in.

Then someone hired me. And after a month shouldering the humility of trying to switch from journalism to welding at age 34 and wishing to any heaven for a way back to something that felt like myself, I decided I was not going to wait until August to see the band I knew would bring me just that.

I bought a ticket for the closer of their two-night tour-opening swing through New-York-but-really-New-Jersey, trusting the concert-goers’ axiom of second-night preference. Two days before the first show, I deferred to my personal axiom of just going to both shows because why wouldn’t I, and bought a ticket to the tour kick-off.


The day came and I carefully unshelved my otherwise-retired Viva La Vida tour shirt. My first concert shirt has grown ragged after years of wear, but I felt it the only sartorial choice for this occasion.

Despite my usual taste for the road, the three-hour drive felt interminable if only for the challenge of sitting still that long under the influence of unmeasured giddiness.

I arrived early, of course, even though I had a seat and no particular reason to be in it hours ahead of the show. I just wanted to be there.

The element of surprise that came with my first gig shouldn’t have really been in play in 2016. I had Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and every other window into exactly what was coming. I knew what the stage looked like, knew what they’d play save a couple wild-card slots, knew who’d be where during what part of what song, and, after studying seat maps, stage angles and stadium photos as if planning a space expedition, had a pretty good idea what my view would be.

It didn’t matter. I still damn near cried when I looked down and saw the expanse of it all before me. Not many artists can fill stadiums in the U.S. — to see the guys’ stuff all laid out in one felt momentous.

13754523_10100343875307959_4300950078453125358_n

I delicately affixed the blue Love Button handed to me at the gate above the crazing Delacroix masterpiece on my chest and made sure my Xyloband was in position for maximum hand-flailing potential.

Excellent sets from support acts Foxes and Alessia Cara helped the passage of time, and then the wait was gone.


It didn’t take 10 minutes for Coldplay to run through the gamut of human emotion and flex the beauty in all of it — moving from the majestically plaintive aria “O mio babbino caro” into a worldly compilation of elated fans introducing the band, into a supercut of Charlie Chaplin’s iconic Great Dictator speech, right into Chris Martin power-pogoing onto the apron as the band punched out the opening notes of their seventh album’s title track.

When the band had announced they were playing stadiums on this tour, I worried I’d feel detached, and that it might be compounded by the fact that most of the songs from my heyday were gone from the setlist, given way to ones that, no matter how much I liked them, still felt a little unheimlich.

If my fears hadn’t already been overthrown by explosive joy during the opening number, they certainly would have been done-in as soon as the first notes of Yellow rang out.

However many times I hear it — and I’ve heard it a lot — Yellow simply never outgrows the particular romance of having been the song that got me into Coldplay, which I can say without histrionics led me to almost everything that brings me happiness in my life now.

Looking out over a vastness of 50,000 yellow lights all flickering in time to the song was a cosmos I wouldn’t have even had the capacity to imagine when I first found comfort in its soft melody 16 years ago in my tiny dorm freshman room.

It wasn’t lost on me that some portion of the crowd weren’t yet school-age in the days that moment carried me back to.

I could see, or hear, others transported to some beginning of their own at the opening notes of the next song, Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall.

dscn1526

Mylo Xyloto’s lead single, on its release in 2011, was the first Coldplay song that felt like it wasn’t written for me, ultimately more a lesson in perspective than it was a disappointment. One of the great privileges of loving the same band for 16 years is watching them reach not only people just like yourself but also those who are moved by different forces. Every Teardrop, never a song I gave much pause, felt radiant to me that night because I could tell it was someone else’s Yellow.

I managed to lose myself in it enough that at its end I was caught off-guard by the moment I could never have sufficiently steeled my emotions for anyway, when the lachrymose embrace of The Scientist kicked in before the lights came up.

The right song is a companion for life, and that’s what The Scientist has been for me since the day I bought A Rush Of Blood To The Head. I’m fortunate my most-beloved ballad has hung tough in the setlist for 14 years, because every second of hearing it played in my presence is moving beyond the conveyance of words.


After just the right allowance of simultaneously basking and wallowing in my own sentiment, the throwback ambiance of Ghost Stories’ Oceans segued a dozen years ahead into the more energetic measure of new tune Birds and less-new adrenaline-pumper Paradise.

In another moment that, for entirely different reasons, I would not have imagined in the early oughties, Paradise tailed off into the fiercely fun Tiesto remix of the song, turning the concrete bowl into the only nightclub I’d ever want to be in.

dscn1548

It had felt something of a shame to me that I wasn’t able to make it to either of the only two Ghost Stories-era concerts held on the East Coast of America, a regret in part placated when one of my favorite tracks from the album, Always In My Head, opened the three-song B stage set.

On and on Coldplay bounced seamlessly from the melancholic to the jubilant, from the songs that were part of my soul to the ones that were just part of my summer, somehow making it all fit in the same story.

There was enough vibrant color and friendliness and love and positivity and humor and humility to take me, for a night, away from a self that hadn’t become very good at seeing any of those things in the world outside that stadium.

There was the resolute affection of Everglow, with a prefatory call for nothing more than love and kindness, serving to remind that those things are actually effective.

There was my old college companion Clocks, and captivatingly buoyant Hymn For The Weekend, and increasingly nostalgic Viva La Vida.

There was everybody’s anthem for something dear to them, Fix You, the only song I know that can be at once so deeply personal and powerfully collective.

If there was a moment of suspense, it was the little sojourn to their tiny C stage near the back of the floor — as ever, giving the non-high-rollers a moment in the sweet seats and also rolling in various oldies in acoustic form.

One of the few — the only, really — downsides to loving a band so long is that the necessary attenuation of older material from the setlist will invariably knock off some of your favorite songs. And In My Place, one of the cornerstones of my development as a music fan, was a victim of that on this tour.

So it was a kind turn of fate that it showed up on the C stage in New Jersey, in an acoustic version that for its duration seemed to erase both temporal and physical distance.

dscn1624

After its album-mate God Put A Smile Upon Your Face and a touching solo cover of Bruce Springsteen’s cover of Tom Waits’ Jersey Girl, it was back to the main stage with the serenade of my most anticipated new song of the show, Amazing Day, which delivered all the sentiment I’d loved about it all year.

From there it went all too fast to the end, marked by a fittingly uplifting finale of Up and Up.

Then I hit the highway home for an overnight intermission before getting right back on the same ride — giving myself no chance for withdrawal back to earthly worries.


From a new seat I watched it all again; let it carry me back to 2000 and forward to the present and find the one part of me that hadn’t changed in that interim.

This night my second-favorite song made a rare appearance — as if by fate, Trouble again found its unlikely way into one of my few shows. It had also, on fluke, done so four years ago when I saw them in Philadelphia. I needed it then and I needed it now.

While I’d hoped my fan request video pleading for A Rush Of Blood To The Head might be chosen, I could hardly feel duped when instead the band uncorked a two-song Back To The Future tribute — requested by Chris’s son Moses — complete with appearance by Michael J. Fox. It was worth, too, the bumping off of Amazing Day to make time for it.

I only had to suffer reality, which now seemed more sufferable in the lingering light of those two nights, for a couple weeks before I was back on the cloud, right near where it all began, in South Philadelphia.

Aside from the self-kicking I had to endure after missing a soundcheck that would have allowed me to hear, albeit not see, my Rush Of Blood request, it was another dose of all the same comfort I’d found up the turnpike.

It came with another throwback to my foundation as a fan, Don’t Panic, another chance to clutch all the memories that go with In My Place, the warmth of X&Y denouement Til Kingdom Come, and even its own Springsteen cover.

It came with all the same awe and reverence and gratitude I’d felt on that very expanse of concrete and tarmac in 2008, and alone in a little cube of white drywall in 2003.

dscn1905

It wasn’t the end of my summer run. After contently watching my idols from rather far-flung perches all these times, I finally had a chance at the holy grail of a general admission Coldplay performance in the United States, something they haven’t often done since I found my show-going stride, as the band came back to Philly for the Made In America Festival on Labor Day weekend.

That story is probably best told in photographs, of which I took shamefully many in every wave of silly excitement that swept over me whenever Chris swooped out onto an apron that was about 10 feet from my face. And I’ll tell it and show it in another post I promise won’t be as prolix or self-indulgent as this one.

chrisjonnymia


I can’t say on the surface I’ve ever been the best Coldplay fan, or even a very good one. I nicked Parachutes off the student-share servers two years before I bought it (I’ve bought everything since, and you should, too). For eight years I didn’t know you could go to shows. I only lurked on fan forums and never participated. After a decade I bumped them off the top wrung of my favorites list when I decided to instead chase the crown of world’s biggest Muse fan for three years. I only have four Coldplay shirts after 16 years, while accruing about 15 Frank Turner shirts in a two-year span.

I don’t have any great badge of loyalty to show-and-tell. Just my own memories, and my own love, and a decade and a half of holing up in song after song.

I’ve stayed in love with Coldplay longer than I’ve stayed in love with anything else.

Whenever I go back to them, whether it’s a show or just a song in my head, whether it’s every day or wedged around whatever other band I’m cavorting with, I know where I am.

In solitude or in a stadium, they’re where I belong.

dscn1668

 

Well that’s where I belong (Pt. 1)

14724577_10100393142441229_2993186154243072889_n

The first photo I’m posting on this blog (thoughtfully grayscale header notwithstanding) is eight years old and one of the worst I’ve ever taken. Part Two (concision is not my strong suit) of this particular reflection will have some prettier ones, so sit tight.

This, taken with a Samsung V-Cast on precipice of the smart-phone era, is one of my most important.

Concerts were not a part of my schematic of the universe for most of my life, and it wasn’t until 2008 I came to know I was missing anything.

By that time it had begun to cross my mind — the advent of the Palladia channel did much to agitate this curiosity — but felt like more trouble than I could bear. I worked during the hours concerts were generally held, I was terrified of cities, I was terrified of people and I was terrified of spending money. And I had other ends on my mind — how could I find time for such things on the way to becoming the greatest sportswriter in the world?

In the summer of 2008 my longstanding favorite band released their fourth studio album and my devotion to them was approaching critical mass. By the mid-oughties I had branched out to a half-handful of other key-crushing British musicians, but Coldplay was my band.

From the late summer of 2000, when I heard “Yellow” on the late, great paragon of alternative rock, Y100, and in my first weeks of college found a new home for my mind in the pensive ethereality of their debut LP; to 2002’s A Rush of Blood to the Head entirely shifting what music meant to me (in short, from background to lifeline); to their X&Y being a much-needed friend in the detached pocket I fell into during my first year of the “real world” — Coldplay stayed with me everywhere.

Through all that, all I needed were the songs.

When Viva La Vida came out, I started, for reasons I can’t pinpoint, to notice faces in the crowdshots of live footage. My old Live 2003 DVD, the Fix You video, TV appearances, anything — I became aware of the human beings watching them in person, whose expressions suggested they might feel similar to the way I did about the music.

I kind of started to wonder if it might be a nice place to be.

In the week before the band came to Philadelphia, the closest arena-qualified city to me, my manager at the time (before our little sports desk was depredated by the first of many layoffs, taking him with it) asked if I was going to the concert. I dragged my feet and said I shouldn’t, I couldn’t, it was too hard and I had to work.

He put me down for a vacation day, and said I should go. So I did.

From the bloodiest of nosebleed seats I felt doors I didn’t know existed blow open.

I don’t remember many details. I remember the lights, the sound — oh that sound, you could feel it — the crowd energy, Chris Martin’s unmistakable voice and inimitable ability to make the sort of dancing I do with the curtains pulled look cool, the jolt of holy shit they’re real people when the four of them walked out on stage, the rush when every song, any song, started — Yellow, oh god I can’t believe it’s really Yellow! — and how it felt like I was watching someone hand-craft all my emotions in real time. I remember hearing The Scientist, to this day one of my three favorite songs ever written by anybody, played in a little pocket of the crowd in the back, which was still far from my rafter but felt so close.

I knew that night that I needed to do this more, that I had to be back here, whenever I could. I found my world.

But right after that, the bottom fell out, and I didn’t find my way back for a while. I returned to listening to Coldplay alone at 3 a.m., on underwhelming sound devices in dark places. I listened also to my second-in-command Keane and to a band called Muse who were slowly claiming a larger territory on my iPod.

When the lights came back on, Coldplay weren’t on tour anymore. While they were working on another album, I got deeper and deeper into the heavier, slightly angrier and exquisitely cathartic offerings of Muse.

In 2010 I went to see Muse, and then did it again, and then did it in England. I made friends. I went from the rafters to right in front of the stage. I became part of something and I became blindingly driven to stay part of it.

By 2011, Coldplay wasn’t my favorite band anymore. Their incarnation of that era on some level left me behind. It was brighter and poppier and I was too entwined in the avarice of angst to find a place for myself in most of the Mylo Xyloto world.

Then I got into the explosive folk-punk planet of Frank Turner and relegated Coldplay a little farther down my depth chart.

Even in the middle of all my infidelity, Coldplay was still some kind of home. I knew it every time I put on an old album, every time I saw a livestream or an interview or just remembered something, anything. Hell, even when I listened to MX, which had its high points and only grew on me.

I only saw them twice on that tour. Tickets were expensive, there wasn’t GA, and I’d just lost my job. I knew from the moment they hit the stage for the first of those two shows that I’d wish I’d gone to more.

I knew I belonged there, with my old friends, even with their new songs and dayglo livery. I didn’t know it was going to be so long until I could be there again.

dscn2211-2

After quietly gracing the world with the brilliant but tourless Ghost Stories, an album that was right back in my wheelhouse, they went back to the studio.

So I chased around other bands and tore up the road and forgot, until that all fizzled in the face of dwindling funds and the weight of starting a whole new career. I lost the freedom and I lost the spirit of pursuit and I missed the old days — “a glory from it being far” and all that, if I may borrow from Tennyson.

And then Coldplay came back.

I was for a while still somewhat on the fence about their new album, which I dutifully bought the day it came out but hadn’t yet decided whether my anguished soul could find a place for all its colors. But I watched with pride this year as they played the Super Bowl Halftime show, won NME’s Godlike Genius Award, lit up Glastonbury, and looked as happy as I’d ever seen them.

I read all the setlists and watched all the YouTube videos and waited, and started to fall in love with the vibrant Head Full of Dreams palette.

And then one day in July, a week and a day shy of eight years since the first time I saw them and a little over four years since the last, I was finally headed to a concrete collosus in New Jersey, to see my band.

13767192_10100344320271249_2085991898643148431_o

(continued in part 2)

Where we start

As something of a preamble to forthcoming posts (call it a warning, if you will) I thought I might address the matter of my nostalgic canon becoming well near untamable in the last year.

Most people who will read this know a version of me that’s only come to be in the last half-decade. They know the me who drives for hours, queues for hours, talks for hours and is altogether ambitious and unencumbered all for the love of music.

They don’t know the me that wouldn’t have fathomed driving into a city — any city, let alone one 500 miles away — parking somewhere unknown and walking into a building unknown full of people unknown.

When I started going to concerts in my late 20s, I started having friends. I started having a self outside myself, I started having stories to tell. In some sense it feels like the start of me.

But it wasn’t. And even though my life is profoundly better for those changes, I’ve started in some way to miss the strange secluded condition in which I became inextricably glued to music, when I had nobody to tell about it, nobody to laud it and nobody to tear it down.

It was just me and my mind and the Coldplay CDs I spun in near perpetuity. I had a career and dreams and ambitions but most of that’s gone and the farther it seems behind me, the more I appreciate what stood through all of it: a few songs and my cars.

In years since, I’ve been exceedingly lucky to have my world blown open by live music and the people I’ve met through it. I belong there, which I don’t altogether do anywhere else. But a piece of me also belongs to the music I loved alone, because that’s how I got here.

Twenty-sixteen gave me two opportunities to let my desperate obsession with nostalgia ride full-speed while still moving forward, rather than the backwards that nostalgia tends to want to go. One of them was a powerhouse year for Coldplay that I needed more than I thought I did; the other was a bucket-list titan of a tour from David Gilmour.

I hope to post some belated thoughts on both in the coming days, with pictures to keep it marginally interesting. There are a handful of other bands I’ve come to love intensely that will make appearances here, but Coldplay and Pink Floyd seem a good lead off.

Because they are, in so many ways, where I start.

Hello, is there anybody in there?

I’ve been telling myself since about 2010, when I started going to concerts and otherwise doing things that seemed marginally blog-worthy, that I ought to start a blog.

My stories are not spectacular or particularly unusual or more interesting than anyone else’s, and I’m not sure I’m any better at telling them than most anyone. But I love them, and I love sharing them, to the extent that my Facebook timeline has probably gotten a bit self-indulgent and cloying to anyone who doesn’t care to know, for the 12th time, the particular details of how A Rush Of Blood To The Head changed my life or Pink Floyd changed my life or my first oil change changed my life or things equally overreaching for an Instagram caption.

I keep those thoughts to those platforms because those platforms are binding and limited and no one cares if you write flawlessly or even coherently on them. I haven’t started a blog because I don’t ever again want the pressure of living up to my own standards I long-ago set for myself as a writer. My journalistic writing career was short and underwhelming. I stopped for good in 2010. I wrote one piece in 2014, a month before I was laid off for the last time from the copy editing job I backed into — quit my way into — because I couldn’t write. Or thought I couldn’t. Whatever was in me that fueled my overwrought but heartfelt creative nonfiction, I lost, and I’ve never really dared look for it in myself since. I know what I find won’t be what I thought I was 15 years ago, and my hubris doesn’t want to settle for the mere mortal that’s there instead.

But I miss writing. I miss telling people all the things I think are profound and know probably aren’t. I read beautiful things on other people’s blogs and wish I had been the one who wrote it. So, I’m going to try.

In order for this to work I need to try more than anything here to forgive myself for leaving a little slack in my writing, choosing a drab word when I can’t think of a perfect one, and writing like a normal human being.

So, here it is. It will be about things I like a lot. Bands. My car. Cats. It won’t be terribly eloquent, it won’t be my best; I hope it won’t be either as who can relate to that?

My blog name is a Pink Floyd reference, and the name of this first post goes with it.

Cheers.