Last year, it took sets by Fucked Up in New York City, Arcade Fire in Chicago, My Dying Bride in London, Katatonia in Cleveland and Judas Priest in Cincinnati to tie together my top five, and only one in-state show would crack my top 10.
This year, Indianapolis and Bloomington impressed me time and again with incredible bookings, and the artists, by and large, delivered on the promise that their shows' announcements brought.
1. Iron Maiden
Klipsch Music Center, Noblesville, July 19
While you could rightly point to my track record as a rabid Maiden fanboy since somewhere around my twelfth birthday as evidence of homerism, there was still something undeniably special about the ageless English metallers making their first stop in Indiana since 2005. Playing a set list heavy on songs from the fan favorite Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, the band was in top form, with vocalist and erstwhile star fencer Bruce Dickinson doing his trademark acrobatic acts of derring-do and the five-piece instrumental section operating at the same lockstep proficiency they've displayed since reforming in 1999.
2. Aesop Rock
The Vogue, Indianapolis, Oct. 5
There's something so quintessentially studio-based about the creation of great hip-hop that translating it to the stage almost always loses something pivotal. That was not the case when Aesop Rock came to Broad Ripple in support of his searing Skelethon LP. The 36-year-old rapper was tireless, blasting through cuts spanning his discography without taking a breath. It was masterful proof that sometimes a young man's game is best played by an elder statesman.
Rhino's, Bloomington, April 21
With all due respect for the venue and its dedicated management, going to all-ages institution Rhino's in your 20s is a little bit like going to Chuck E. Cheese in your teens. The audience didn't matter at Cults, though, who played their best set by far of the three times I saw them this year in an intimate space befitting their of their famously intimate boy-girl pop.
4. St. Vincent
Old National Centre Deluxe, Indianapolis, May 10
As good as her records are, it's difficult to know just how much of a guitar god St. Vincent (neé Annie Clark) is until you see her dominate her '67 Harmony Bobkat onstage. Songs whose studio incarnations don't even seem to have guitar come to life as Jimmy Page shredfests when Clark adapts them for the live environment.
5. Dragged Into Sunlight
Melody Inn, Indianapolis, June 10
Punishing opening sets by Black Goat of the Woods, Coffinworm and MAKE may have set the tone, but when UK doom crew Dragged Into Sunlight lit some candles, raised their middle fingers high and turned their backs to the crowd at a sweltering summer show at the Melody Inn, the stakes were necessarily raised. The message of their blatant lack of audience engagement was that they didn't need to face us to kill us. How right they were.
Brad Sanders is a metal and punk writer living in Bloomington, where he works for Secretly Canadian Distribution.