As a music photographer, every gig presents a new challenge and an opportunity to make great images, but as 2009 comes to a close, it's time to look back at some of the best tours, festivals, and events of the year.
In 2009, I photographed 73 concerts and events, and the year was packed with a ton of great tours. These are my picks for the top ten best gigs to photograph in 2009.
It was true in July when I shot it and I think it's true now: No Doubt was the tour of the year. I'm sure I had a huge grin on my face in the photo pit during this show and I can say without any hesitation that I loved every second of photographing Gwen Stefani and crew. With big white lights, a tremendously energetic band, and non-stop action, I think No Doubt locked it up early as the top-shelf show in 2009.
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
With a working pass for this show that featured some of the great music legends of our time, I was living the dream with this show. Without a doubt, the highlight was photographing Metallica on stage in an all-star jam with Joe Perry, Ron Wood, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, and Flea.
When photogenic bands come to mind, I think music shooters have to think of KISS, and this fact was only cemented by the Alive/35 tour this year. Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, though they may be pushing 60, were still epic on stage and it was a pure adrenaline rush photographing this show. Non-stop posing and mugging by the band along with arena-blinding white lights made this a sure bet of an assignment – like shooting fish in a barrel.
With Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Dave Matthews, John Mellancamp, and a host of other big names, Farm Aid 2009 was a stellar event that brought together a huge amount of talent on one stage. But aside from the star power, one thing I love about shows like this are the diversity of media that come in for coverage. It was a pleasure to talk shop with photographers who had come in from all over the country to photograph the benefit. What's more, the Farm Aid volunteers were a joy to work with.
I loved photographing Mayhem Fest. Metal is always hugely fun to photograph, but what made this a standout event for me was all-access and the thrill of a high-pressure photo shoot with metal legends Slayer.
Semi Precious Weapons
When I heard that Semi Precious Weapons were playing Gramercy Theatre, my favorite live music venue in New York City, it was a done deal: I was there. I did a promo shoot with the band before the show, then staked out a spot front and center for the main event. The epic lights of the theatre combined with the insanity of SPW were a match made in heaven, and exceeded all expectations.
Steven Tyler singing right into one's lens is not something that is easily forgotten, and kind of a gimmie for this list. But I'll take it. The one adjective that comes to mind for this show is simply “electrifying.” Aerosmith's tour opener in 2009 was pure love.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Karen O. of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs was a magnetic subject when I photographed her in 2006, and the band's 2009 tour did not disappoint. While the lighting was a chaotic mix of deep washes and weird sidelighting, the dynamic singer made this one show that was pure eyecandy.
I'll be honest – Green Day put on an exhilarating show that exceeded my expectations. A big part of it was the crowd interaction – while we only had two songs to photograph, the band made it worthwhile. In the first two songs, Billie Joe had ran out into the audience, shaken hands with the front row, and made some kid's year by having him stage dive the floor of a packed out arena. With all that and nice lights, there was a lot to love about this performance.
The Dillinger Escape Plan
Dillinger Escape Plan is one of those bands that always brings on an entertaining and unexpected set with one certainty: chaos. Capturing their show is as challenging as it is fun, and I had a blast in the pit while these guys tore it up on stage. Add the ability to use wireless flash and it's a done deal.
2009 was a great year for concerts. Though I photographed what seemed like far fewer shows than 2008, I had a blast. The above ten gigs are what I felt were the most fun concerts to photograph, and many of which were opportunities to make some of my favorite images from the year.
These are a few of the event highlights of the year. What are yours?
You can see my Year in Review for 2009 here.