Rock and Roll Thanksgiving Roundtable: Here’s What Ruled in 2021
What rock music or rock music-related happenings from 2021 are you most thankful for? We asked our writers that question, and here's how they responded:
Allison Rapp: There's a lot to be thankful for this year. To state the obvious, it's been wonderful to get back to live gigs. It's true that you often don't fully realize what you have until it's gone, and to be physically present once again at some of my favorite venues, seeing some of my favorite artists, is an indescribable feeling, particularly here in New York City, where the pandemic struck hard. There's been a different feeling in the air at these shows. More specifically, I'm thankful that acts like Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Lindsey Buckingham – some of the most resilient names in rock — have returned to touring. They're road dogs at heart and it's so good to see them continuing to do what they do best in spite of both public and personal obstacles in the last year.
I'm also thankful to see so many musicians standing up for what they believe in and using their platform to inspire forward progress. Whether it's encouraging people to vote, emphasizing that Black Lives Matter or motivating fans to get vaccinated, I'm grateful for the sense of camaraderie and hope it's created.
Ryan Reed: The hesitant return of live music has been a microcosm of our broader quest for normalcy, full of fear, false starts and awkwardness. For me — someone on immunosuppressant medication, who’s said “no” to most indoor gatherings throughout the pandemic — it’s been tricky to draw my own personal line. I’ve routinely passed on press tickets, including a +1 for an outdoor My Morning Jacket show, for which I would have normally jumped through hoops. But with “pandemic life” and, um, “life” now essentially the same thing, I’ve allowed myself a slight bump in risk — the mental health rewards of the occasional concert, I reckon, might just be worth it.
My first COVID-era show, Lindsey Buckingham in September, was incredible musically. No surprise there. But it was also weird re-learning how to be a concert-goer: “Does everybody have to yell so much?” “Wait, how much is a bottle of water?” And with that gig under my belt, I felt a little more prepared — if still more than a bit nervous — attending the first Genesis date in Chicago, which opened their North American tour. I’m absurdly thankful I got to attend. Given that I’m one year younger than Invisible Touch, I only had one real chance to see my favorite band live — but I was a broke college student at the time of their 2007 reunion. This will probably be their final tour, and in that context, seeing them live was even more moving than I anticipated.
Martin Keilty: In a wee rock dive in an unfashionable part of the English midlands, I watched an artist claim the recognition he’d deserved for four decades. Andy Glass of neo-prog band Solstice had missed out on success in the ‘80s through being a “Milton Keynes hippie” by his own admission, but he’d never stopped making music. I became part of the journey to promote their 2020 album Sia, making a lifelong friend who helped keep me sane during lockdown. After 40 years, the timing, the lineup and the material all seemed right. It was wonderful to see a small gathering of longtime fans receiving justification for years of belief. When he broke into his beautiful solo for classic track “Guardian,” it felt to me like something had just been put right in the universe.
To later see the praise for Sia and the handful of live shows Solstice delivered in 2021, noting the growing list of festival appearances they have for next year – when the world will see what we saw that night – has been an experience I can’t yet describe fully. Even though everything feels even more valuable this year, I don’t think I’ve understood the real meaning of art, music and community as well as I did during the closing moments of “Guardian” … and I hope I never forget how it felt. If that’s what my personal lockdown hell was for, I’m happy with that deal.
Nick DeRiso: The post-lockdown vitality of bands that you may have thought were lost to the ‘80s. “Wake Up,” the Fixx’s first song in nearly a decade, asks that we “question everything you see, look behind every fake smile – is it real or make-believe?” Their stark conclusion in a moment of rampant rumor-mongering and disinformation: "Baby, it's time to wake up.” That followed the Psychedelic Furs’ rejuvenated Made of Rain, which was powered to their second-highest U.K. chart position on the strength of the similarly themed "Don't Believe.” Duran Duran’s “Invisible” spoke to those who still aren’t seen in modern-day society. Mike Peters was moved to complete the Alarm’s tough new album War after protesters stormed the U.S. capitol. Gary Numan’s Intruder faced climate change head on. Even Crowded House got socio-political with "Whatever You Want.” Those MTV-era songs they play incessantly on the radio are unquestionably fun. But these matter.
Jen Austin: I'm thankful for rockers who seemingly have nothing left to prove and yet continue to prove things. Mick Jagger's incessant curiosity is fascinating to me because, in a 50-year career, he has traveled the world and seen it all, yet he never seems to lose his zest for discovering something new. During downtime on the No Filter Tour this fall, Jagger visited an art museum in Detroit, mingled with deer in Nashville, posed with graffiti art in Dallas and posted the adventures in curiosity on Twitter. At a tour stop in Charlotte, N.C., he had extra time to hang out and have a beverage at the Thirsty Beaver Saloon in jeans and a cap, and the locals didn't seem to notice that a rock legend was in their midst. On the 2019 tour, skeptics questioned whether or not he actually ate disco fries in East Rutherford and beignets in New Orleans, so this time around he posted pictures of his adventures. Apparently, he does still have something to prove. And at age 78, he can dance, wiggle and run better than most millennials.
Matthew Wilkening: I'm thankful and proud that Ultimate Classic Rock continues to grow stronger every day. In 2021 we added a new wave of writers who have made this an even more excellent place to work. Wolfgang Van Halen's debut album knocked me on my ass in a good way; it was a much-needed reminder that the next great thing could always be right around the corner. My young daughters are finally able to get vaccinated, and once that process is complete next month, I'll be attending indoor rock shows again for the first time in nearly two years. They've also completely taken over the car radio and turned me onto some great new non-rock songs, most notably Dua Lipa's "Levitating." But I've gotten a few important classic rock lessons through their defenses — they love AC/DC and the Beatles.
Bryan Rolli: I'm thankful for all the big and small moments that heralded a (partial) return to normalcy. Foo Fighters' Madison Square Garden show was one of the most glorious communal experiences I've ever had, and I will now make it a point to catch them every time they're in town. I'm thankful that Black Crowes brothers Chris and Rich Robinson stayed civil throughout the pandemic and put on one of the most kick-ass rock tours of the year. I'm thankful — and still in utter disbelief — that Guns N’ Roses released not one, but two new singles, their first in 13 years. (So what if they’re both repurposed demos and a new album seems no closer than it did in 2016? I’ve suffered enough. Let me live.) And, as cheesy as it sounds, I’m thankful for all the bands that sustained my faith in rock music this year, from old pros like Iron Maiden to young guns like Dirty Honey. Even if 2021 was a chaotic, unpredictable year, all the great new music kept me tethered to reality and gave me hope for the future.
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