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Reflecting on some of our favorite touring concerts of the year, Inlander music writers see hope for the future

click to enlarge TOP ROW: Violent Femmes, and Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin. BOTTOM ROW: Avett Brothers, The Thermals, Sturgill Simpson, Moon Hooch and Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett.
  • TOP ROW: Violent Femmes, and Steve Earle and Shawn Colvin. BOTTOM ROW: Avett Brothers, The Thermals, Sturgill Simpson, Moon Hooch and Robert Earl Keen and Lyle Lovett.

This is the time of year we focus on the shows that did come through Spokane. And while there will always be acts that pass us by for larger cities, this year's awesome bunch of national touring shows did not disappoint. Other than all of the music festivals — we're talking Volume, Elkfest, Gleason Fest, Pig Out in the Park and more — here's what we loved seeing in 2016:

LYLE LOVETT/ROBERT EARL KEEN

Northern Quest Resort & Casino | March 20

I've seen both of these Texans several times; typically, Lovett playing with his Large Band in front of genteel music fans, and Keen playing theaters full of boozed-up Lone Star Staters — no matter where the man is actually performing, the Texans find him. Together, they created an unforgettable night of hilarious stories that were as vital a part of the show as their solo acoustic performances of songs like "Cowboy Man" (Lovett) and "Then Came Lo Mein" (Keen); occasionally, they teamed up to share vocals or accompany the other on guitar. (DAN NAILEN)

THE THERMALS/SUMMER CANNIBALS

The Bartlett | April 16

No matter how often you see them, there's nothing quite like the visceral gut-punch of rock excellence that occurs when the Thermals take the stage. Their Bartlett show this spring kicked off their tour supporting their new album We Disappear, so naturally they decided to play the entirety of their 2006 classic The Body, The Blood, The Machine as part of the show. Hutch Harris' yelp was in fine form, and singer/guitarist Jessica Boudreaux beefed up the Thermals' set with her extra axe right after leading Summer Cannibals through a majestic opening performance worthy of much air guitar and Wayne's World-style worship. The whole gig was a reminder to never miss these Northwest treasures when they come around. (DN)

PONY TIME

Baby Bar | April 28

Not many bands would have the guts to release a record called Rumours 2: The Rumors are True, in homage to the classic Fleetwood Mac album. It's that sort of gumption that made Seattle rock two-piece Pony Time's cramped Baby Bar tour stop in April so captivating. Stacy Peck slayed on the skins, while Luke Beetham charmed with his whiny vocals and bass/guitar-playing prowess. This was one of those nights when bodies were on top of bodies. The audience was so packed in, they were nearly on top of the band. It was one of those nights the local Spokane music scene felt fully alive. (LAURA JOHNSON)

VIOLENT FEMMES

Knitting Factory | May 17

It may have taken Violent Femmes a while to get out on stage at their sold-out Knitting Factory show, but the trio and their backing band absolutely killed it. Not just in terms of musicianship; they had the crowd by the ear the entire time and never let go. All generations of punks were in attendance — those who grew up with the Milwaukee-based band in the 1980s, and also those who discovered them in the '90s and 2000s. Midway through the show, concertgoers were slick with sweat and the decision that many had made to forego deodorant became apparent. The mosh pit moved in waves of wildness. We wanted it to "go onnn" forever. (LJ)

AVETT BROTHERS

Northern Quest Resort & Casino | July 19

The Avett Brothers' tunes can come off as simplistic to some, and even devout fans can have trouble defending their infatuation. But their stage show is the place where it all makes sense. After 16 years together, they are tight, and loose, with a profound energy that never stops rolling. In July, touring as a seven-piece, the Avetts made fine use of the Northern Quest outdoor concert space. The best part of the set came when, from the shadows, Scott Avett sang "Murder in the City," arguably the band's best song. The climactic words "Always remember there was nothing worth sharing / Like the love that let us share our name," rang into the night. (LJ)

CHRIS CORNELL

Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox | July 20

I wasn't sure what to expect from a solo Chris Cornell show. His Spokane concert was just the man with one of the biggest voices in modern rock mostly playing acoustic guitar and totally mesmerizing a theater full of adoring fans, only occasionally calling out on stage a multi-instrumentalist to add some piano or extra guitar. The 28 songs drew on all eras of his career — from Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog and Audioslave, as well as his solo albums — and he dropped in several killer covers, including Prince's "Nothing Compares 2 U" and Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." (DN)

PARKER MILLSAP

The Bartlett | July 25

Parker Millsap is one freakishly talented youngster, and the 23-year-old's 2016 release, The Very Last Day, was one of my favorite albums of the year. Seeing him live made me love those songs (and tunes from his self-titled predecessor) all the more, as the charismatic frontman sweated and shimmied along with his band through 19 songs, bouncing from folk balladry to gospel to retro-tinged rock. Every song built momentum through the 90-minute show from beginning to end, when I realized I'd be a fan for life. (DN)

MOON HOOCH

The Bartlett | Aug. 12

Sloppy, sweaty jazz tunes don't usually get me excited, but in the case of Brooklyn-based Moon Hooch, seeing is believing. This trio of shirtless young 20-somethings not only crafted the most surprisingly fun show of the year for me, they also miraculously made brass instruments look somewhat sexy (especially homemade ones made out of traffic cones). Their Bartlett show was dirty and funky, and brought a whole range of fans together just to dance their brains out. There was a lull somewhere in the middle of the show where the music seemed somewhat redundant, but when that beat dropped once again, they had me by the face and wouldn't let go. (LJ)

SHAWN COLVIN/STEVE EARLE

Bing Crosby Theater | Aug. 24

These two are headliners when they play solo, but Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle put out an album of duets this year — the cleverly named Colvin & Earle — and it proved to be a delightful blending of their songwriting skills and singing chops. They played the whole thing at this show, between telling stories about how they wrote the tunes or chose covers like the Rolling Stones' "Ruby Tuesday" and Emmylou Harris' "Raise The Dead," and played plenty of their respective old favorites, too. Earle is a notoriously entertaining verbal bomb thrower, and Colvin proved more than happy to join in on tunes like "Thinking About Burning Walmart Down." (DN)

DOLLY PARTON

Northern Quest Resort & Casino | Sept. 22

When the Dolly Parton treated fans to "Jolene" early in her sold-out Airway Heights show, it was a bit more sing/talky than her seminal recording, but that prepared us for the rest of the evening full of... talking. Lots of it. That's part of what made the 70-year-old's show so incredible. She talked our ears off, and it was funny and moving. It was like she invited us all over to sit in her parlor one Thursday evening to tell us her life story. But the not-so-natural blonde also still has the chops, and she sang to the high heavens, continuing to prove she's far more than just a ton of rhinestones and plastic surgery. (LJ)

STURGILL SIMPSON

Knitting Factory | Nov. 9

Sturgill Simpson played Spokane on November 9. You may remember what happened the night before, or you may have chosen to forget. Among the folks I went to the concert with, there was worry that some emboldened Trumpian shit-kickers might make things really uncomfortable. Then maybe Sturgill would respond with some righteous wisdom. Then maybe someone would get punched. None of that happened. Instead, despite the tension (real or imagined), the crowd was absolutely knocked on their ass by Sturgill's incredible band. Led by his gut-wrenching voice, the band squeezed everything they could from song after song. I left the show scrubbed clean, confident that nothing beats totalitarianism like a kick-ass honky-tonk bassline. (GAWAIN FADELEY) ♦

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