By Matt “Rabit” Martinez, Red Hare Images
I am very fortunate to be able to go to a lot of concerts over the year including small shows that take place in small clubs and dive bars, to large stadium shows. And something I have learned is that it doesn’t matter how famous the band is, how big their pyrotechnics is, or if there are 20 people in the crowd. If the band can connect with you personally, any show of any size can be your best concert experience of the year. Sometimes the band could even play second fiddle to the people that you are spending the concert with, or even the new friends you meet at the show. This isn’t a list of the hands down best shows of the year. This is a list of my favorite concert experiences I got the privilege to attend, and the people I got to spend it with that made them special.
So below are My Top 10 Concert Experiences of 2019. In no particular order:
1. Styx at the Grove of Anaheim – January 18th
I must start out with one of the bands I have seen the most in my life, the legendary classic rock stars known as Styx. I have seen this band over 10 times, and the band continues to perform a top-notch show, and sound just like they did on their albums that came out decades ago. You can still see and feel the camaraderie of the band members as they would all continually play off of each other and interact, smiling the entire time. You also feel like you are part of a family at a Styx show, as every person in the audience is so friendly and welcoming. You find yourself singing every single song and dancing with the person next to you like you have known them your entire life. But what made this show so special to me was that I got to see it with my Mom. She is the reason I am such a huge fan of this band, and she has seen them over 20 times herself. She’s also been in love with Tommy Shaw for longer than I have been alive. But I got to treat her to something special, as this show was the closest she had ever been to the stage at a Styx concert. She was watching the men she loves perform and could even “See the baby blue in Tommy Shaw’s eyes.” Getting to treat my mom to something that special will make this show stick with me for the rest of my life.
Full Styx gallery below:
2. KISS at the Honda Center – February 12th
When it comes to huge arena rock shows, there are not many bands that could sell out an Arena by themselves. But when KISS announced their final, truly the end, 20th farewell tour, they decided to end it themselves with no extra fluff. To say this was the most theatrical arena rock show I had ever been to would be an understatement. The band started by descending from the ceiling on 50 ft tall platforms, Gene Simmons breathed fire and spewed blood, Tommy Thayer shot rockets out of his guitar at floating space ships while ripping a heavy solo, Paul Stanley zip lined across the audience to a platform at the back of the venue to perform two songs before zip lining back. Then to end the entire show Gene & Paul got in seperate cherry pickers that hovered them across the entire crowd as fireworks and confetti rained over the crowd. All the while singing the greatest rock n roll anthem of all time “I Wanna Rock N Roll All Night.” You want the Best, we got the best that night.
Full KISS gallery below:
3. Fever 333 at the Regent Theatre – April 18th
A Fever 333 show is an experience that can’t properly be put into words in my opinion. This band I had been hearing amazing things about them, but I still needed to see them live for myself. I finally got to this past April when they did a solo headlining show at the Regent Theatre and sold out the venue. With no barricade and an idea of how rough this crowd was gonna get, I pushed my way to the front and got myself ready to be thrown around. The show started, and Fever 333 exploded over the stage. Lead singer Jason Aalon Butler and guitarist Stephen Harrison could not stay in one spot on stage for more than two seconds and were constantly running and jumping around the place. The only thing that kept Aric Improta from joining in was he had to play drums. But he still stood on his drum seat to jump from time to time. As the show continued, moshers turned into crowd surfers, into stage divers, and the place was a chaotic mess, and I was getting knocked around the venue. But I was loving every second of it. The highlight of the show was when Jason jumped into the crowd and was lifted up by the audience. I luckily was able to capture this moment and it is my favorite photo I have taken this year. Stephen also jumped into the crowd to finish the set playing guitar in the pit. While Aric brought down a smaller drum kit into the crowd, as people started circling him while he banged away on the kit. We also got a bonus surprise as Travis Barker, of Blink 182, came out to play drums for a couple songs.
Full Fever 333 gallery below:
4. Avatar at the Mayan – June 13th
I have been an Avatar fan ever since I first caught their last two songs showing up late to an In This Moment show a couple years ago. Those two songs alone peaked my interest enough to look them up the next day, and I was hooked. This show in particular was my 4th time seeing them, and it was easily their best. As they were headlining, we got over an hour and a half of this demented freakshow. Avatar brings a dark carnival aesthetic to their shows that just captures the imagination of the audience, along with some of the best head banging music in metal today. I honestly can not think of a better beat in a metal song to windmill your head to than “Let it Burn.” And to watch all 5 members flailing their hair in circles while singing, riffing, and drumming is a spectacle to behold. On top of that, lead singer Johannes Eckerström is the master of cynical and dark comedy with his banter in between songs. An added personal bonus to this show, was I got to take photos of it with all my friends as I knew every single person in the photo pit that night. I was with my metal family watching one of the most theatrical shows I had seen this year.
Full Avatar gallery below:
5. Slipknot at the Glen Helen Amphitheater – July 27th
When the Knotfest road show was announced, I knew I had to be there. I had never seen Slipknot before, but everyone I talked to said it was a life changing spectacle. Sadly, I was not able to photograph the show, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t gonna miss this experience. I had bought my grass seat ticket, and I was ready to see these maniacs. This show turned into an all-day event starting with tail gating in the parking lot hours before the show with fellow Uncivil contributor and best bud Brandon McCarthy, and Tyler Olsen. Being we were in the San Bernardino desert in the middle of July, every person at the show was ready to get sunburned red in the 100+ degree heat for the metal gods. When we finally got in, we lucked out with running into some friends who got us into the Tier 1 seating, so we were even closer to the stage than originally thought. By the time Slipknot was ready to come on, everyone was boozed up and ready to bang their heads. I have seen Stone Sour twice, but vocalist Corey Taylor is a different kind of madman behind the mic with Slipknot. Pyro shooting off all night mixed with an almost trance inducing light show kept everyone on their feet with endless amounts of energy. Multiple mosh pits broke out in the pit, as well as on the grass area including a trash can fire. Audience members were throwing full cans of beer throughout the crowd in a blissful craze. All the while Brandon and I were screaming lyrics at each other banging our heads almost into each other. The band lived up to every expectation I had been told, and as we stumbled the mile walk back to our car, drained of energy, voices raspy barely able to speak, we had the biggest smiles on our faces for making it through the show.
6. Lindsey Stirling at the Pacific Amphitheatre – August 7th
This was another show I was unable to photograph, but the day of the show I decide to check and just see how much tickets are. There were some nose bleed seats for not too much money, but there were four seats in Orchestra Row 1 touching the stage available, and only $65! I bought two tickets immediately. My girlfriend Kendra is such a huge Lindsey Stirling fan, so I decided to surprise her. I told her I bought us two nose bleed seats to see Stirling that night and I would pick her up after work. As we got into the venue she tried walking to where she thought our seats were, and I had to try and swerve her to the front row as she playfully questioned what I was doing. As we were greeted by security who had to check our tickets to get into orchestra, it finally dawned on her where our true seats were. The lost for words, stumbled ramblings that fell out of her mouth was the second best part of the night. As we waited for Lindsey to start her set, we put our feet up on the stage to recline as we both were shocked at just how great these seats were. Lindsey Stirling came out and is one of the most joyful performers you will ever see. She really does give her all to the show and truly entertains the entire crowd as she never stops dancing throughout the show. But what really made this show special, and the best part of the night, was just looking over at Kendra’s face to see the gleam in her eyes and smile on her face as she was mere feet from a performer she loves. She even got her own personal moment as Lindsey would momentarily stop right in front of us, and locked eyes with her. The show was completely surreal as I had never had a seat that close to the stage at any concert before. Being this close to the stage, it felt like Kendra and I had our own personal private Lindsey Stirling concert with no one else there, even though there were thousands of people behind us.
7. Ghost at the RaboBank Arena – September 16th
Where Slipknot was an all day event, Ghost was a two day trek. Brandon and I had already missed Ghost three times due to random circumstances, so when they announced their Ultimate Tour Named Death and the only close stop being Bakersfield, CA. We decided to make the journey out there. The arena was packed to the brim with Ghost fans, dressed up as different iterations of Papa Emeritus and the Nameless Ghouls. Once the show started, the arena had been turned into a gigantic white cathedral to our lord and savior Satan. Leader Cardinal Copia exudes sexual pheromones in his sleek velvet red coat with tails. Gyrating his hips and serenading the entire crowd with his satanic sultry voice and liver spots, the audience could not get enough of him. Throughout the show the Cardinal would go through multiple costumes changes from different style suits, to an actual Cardinals attire. During the song “Mommy Dust,” two canons blasted and bathed the crowd in Papa Nihil bucks worth $666. During “Dance Macabre” the arena turned into a 70s dance hall with rainbow color lights shooting everywhere. I also got to enjoy this show with some of my most dedicated concert going friends: Elena Pedroza, Steven Pedroza, and Angela Luevanos who also made the trek out to the show. There are not many bands I would make this kind of trek out to see, but Ghost was 100% worth it.
Full Ghost gallery below:
8. Greta Van Fleet at the Five Points – September 30th
With this next band, I had the pleasure and opportunity to see their first ever Los Angeles performance when they headlined the Viper Room back in 2017, and boy did the following two years blow them up. Greta Van Fleet was now headlining the Five Point Amphitheatre and packing the venue. I know this band can be very divisive to some people, but I genuinely like this group, and seeing them this night truly shows just how amazing these young musicians are. Yes, Greta Van Fleet sound exactly like Led Zepplin, but I don’t hold that against them as they are using their style and flair to bring classic rock to a new and younger generation. I have never in my life seen a horde of teenage girls rush a barricade screaming for a band that sounds like Greta. Bands with a classic Rock n Roll sound just don’t have that kind of pull anymore. But Greta is doing it, and that is a wondrous thing to see. And these screaming fans aren’t just there for the hits, these fans were singing every song Greta Van Fleet played over their 2 hour set. But it wasn’t just the fans that blew my mind, but the band themselves. The Kiszka brothers are candy to the eyes, as they bring a 60’s style show to the 21st century. They aren’t just there to play the instruments and sing the songs, they broke into three separate jam sessions over the night, and you could feel the unity of the crowd as they got lost in Jake Kiszka’s guitar work and Sam Kiszka’s grooving bass lines. I don’t think spirit of the 60’s peace and love will ever come back the way it was, but at a Greta Van Fleet show it feels like you’re travelling back in time for just a couple hours. And that’s just magical.
Full Greta Van Fleet gallery below:
9. Ice Nine Kills at the Belasco – November 9th
Ice Nine Kills has been around for over a decade, but never seemed to break out past an opening or support band. But after 2018’s The Silver Scream that all changed. Lead singer Spencer Charnas managed to create an album dedicated to his favorite horror movies that blew the band up. I have seen them twice as a direct support for another band while touring this album, but I knew they needed a proper headlining tour to do this album justice live. They finally got that on the Octane Accelerator Tour. This show was everything I wanted it to be and more. With each song on the album being based on a different horror movie, each band member came out dressed as a different horror movie character like Freddy Kreuger, Jack Torrence, Georgie, and The Crow. Where as Spencer would constantly go through different costume changes to fit the icon of the song he was specifically singing about like Michael Meyers, Jason Vorhees, Ghostface, and Pennywise. Also bringing actors on stage to portray side character and victims to be killed off by Spencer throughout the night. We weren’t just seeing your average live concert, we were seeing a full on theatre production. One of the highlights of every show is when Spencer does a crowd walk, being held up by the audience in the middle of the room as he sings. On top of the incredible show we were privilege too, I got to enjoy this show with some of my favorite photographers in the pit. And free Booze.
Full Ice Nine Kills gallery below:
10. Mac Sabbath at the Observatory – November 22nd
The last band I must talk about is the stuff of legends. What happens when you take a Black Sabbath cover band, and grill them up with fast food mascots, you get Mac Sabbath. It takes a special kind of creative mind, or minds, to come up with a concept this out of the box. These masters of drive-thru metal carefully and hilariously re-lyric Black Sabbath songs to songs with the subject matter of fast food and gluttony. This was easily the funniest show I have seen in a long time, not just this past year. The ridiculous concept of a band helmed by the pseudo-British Ronald Osbourne, a giant purple butt plug known as Grimalice, a hamburger headed Slayer MacCheeze, and the Catburglar shouldn’t work. But these master minds crafted a cult following of fans that they are constantly headlining venues. The band aren’t just musical masters, but comedic geniuses. At one point Ronald Osbourne went on a two minute tangent just punning different band names like Twisted Sizzler and Motörhead & Shoulders. The band had me in stitches so much, that I would frequently not be able to shoot as I was bending over laughing so hard. I’ve been blown away by musicianship, dazzled by production theatrics, awestruck by stage antics, but I have never been all these things and belly laughing an entire show until Mac Sabbath. Out of all the bands on this list, Mac Sabbath is the one I would have to give the biggest recommendation for people to go out and see live. It is impossible not to leave this show without a smile on your face, I guarantee it.
Full Mac Sabbath gallery below: