I don't foresee going to any more shows this year, so I decided that it's time to start this thread. Here's my early list. Criteria: I list by set, not by whole concert (a pathetic or fantastic opener does not change the headliner, one festival set does not drive a whole festival). Don't feel obligated to follow the same rules.
10. James Blake - FYF Fest (9/1) - I highly enjoy James Blake's music and was excited to see him, but a festival seemed far from the most apt setting for his spare, sparse melodies. When he started, it was a bit quiet and tepid, but then something miraculous happened: the band in the tent next door started to play. It seemed as if Blake and cohorts took this as a challenge, and for the rest of their set they continually upped the intensity, the craftsmanship and the volume. They spanned electro, jazz, folk, rock and so many other genres while creating their own great sound. I eagerly await seeing them again.
9. Huun Huur Tu - Millpond Music Festival (9/22) - Huun Huur Tu are from Siberia. Millpond is a small festival in my hometown in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, Bishop California. Their sound is completely foreign to pretty much everyone here, yet they write about living in harsh climates in very mountainous and rural areas. They are also an act that I've loved for years, as they take traditional Tuvan throat singing and inject a healthy dose of modern playing and composition. This performance nailed both, and was made so much more special due to the gorgeous and very fitting surroundings. Watching four men intone these truly bizarre yet moving vocal parts, knowing full well they had been sung in similar fashion for decades, while seeing the sun set behind 10,000+ foot snow-capped mountains was something I'll probably never forget.
8. The Lance Bangs Birthday Band - Cinefamily (9/7) - Some shows are great because of the rarity of the performance; some are great simply because a band nails it on all cylinders. Some, on the other hand, hit both pleasure points and more. This show was one of those. Bradford Cox from Deerhunter, Dean and Randy from No Age, and Mike Watt from The Minutemen joined together for a 30 minute set to celebrate the birthday of Lance Bangs, music video director and guy who worked on Jackass. They played four songs, and each destroyed me and brought me near to tears for different reasons. They did a killer Stooges cover. Even better was the cover of Cortez the Killer, with Bradford playing a guitar that would not stay in tune and the band going nuts around him. Best though were the two Minutemen songs. I tear up even now thinking that I got to see Watt play some of my all-time favorite music for one of the only times since D. Boon died. Tiny place, astounding set.
7. Elizabeth Cook - The Grand Ole Opry (7/28) - This woman is great. The Opry really only allows performers to do 2-3 songs in their limited time, and her and her band took full advantage. They did two songs. The first was an acapella gospel track that they turned into a haunting lament about the passage of time. The second was a spare country-by-the-way-of-the-Velvet-Underground track that had me completely floored and put my jaw on the ground. Country at its best at one of the US's most venerable institutions.
6. Mike Watt and the Missingmen - The Redwood Lounge (6/16) - I have seen Watt play in so many different iterations (see, e.g., number 8, supra) that I went to this set mostly to catch him playing something weird and fun. Instead, I was treated to a complete performance of his third opera, The Hyphenated Man, with his band the Missingmen. The "opera" is composed of 30 short tracks that all reference creatures from Hieronymus Bosch paintings. They were further inspired by Watt finally revisiting his old Minutemen work after decades of avoiding these songs for the pain they brought. What he dragged forth is a completely human and utterly real performance, full of humor, sadness, volume and spectacular playing. By the time I saw this set they had toured the opera once and were locked in; when I saw them later they seemed to be more weary of playing the same set, but here they were on pure fire. The closest I'll ever get to seeing my beloved Minutemen, and it felt like it was about as close as one would ever get.
5. Titus Andronicus - The El Rey (11/8) - As Andrew (bballarl) has stated to me before, both Japandroids and Titus Andronicus record music that should, live, make them the best bands in the world. I agreed with him that neither fully captured this potential on stage until this show, my fifth time seeing the band. They played long, they played hard, and, unlike the times prior, they were completely locked in and focused for the whole show. Somehow they were able to make a song like No Future Part 3: Escape from No Future sound even more epic and despairing live than on record. I can't help thinking that, a few years from now, I will look back and say that this was one of the top ten shows I've ever seen.
4. Atlas Sound - Eagle Rock Center for the Arts (2/24) - I've seen Bradford perform in various iterations over 20 times, so at this point he shouldn't be able to astound me as much as he still does. This set was the best Atlas Sound set I've ever witnessed. Fresh off Parallax, he performed the entire show solo. However, unlike previous solo Atlas Sound sets, which have either been ambient loop-based fares or acoustic shows, he decided to go all out. The set featured only a few tracks, but he built every song from the ground up, playing live drums to a sampler and then performing every instrument on his own. This was the later show, so he was pretty drunk and also completely in the zone. What followed was just great, and I hope he can do something this spectacular again.
3. Steve Reich/Bang on a Can All Stars - Walt Disney Concert Hall (1/17) - I could review the whole show, as it was a complete success. Watching Reich perform Clapping Music with a young contemporary was great, the Bang on a Can performance of Video Phase was among the most visually striking performances I've ever seen, and they did some great early violin stuff. None of that mattered in the end, though, because the band performed all of Music For 18 Musicians, Reich's masterpiece and one of the only classical pieces in recent memory that truly changed the way music can be perceived, in one of the most beautiful and sonorous venues in the world. Over the course of an hour, the marimbas and percussionists made this early piece of trance-inducing music breath, pulse and fill the room. I was spellbound for the whole thing and would gladly watch it again. Monumental
2. Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Hollywood Bowl (10/17) - Classic rock live shows are always a risk: will the band be able to perform their great classics with a semblance of the force that they were initially known for? Thankfully, Neil and Crazy Horse could give less of a shit about this, and instead filled their first tour as a full group since 1996 with long new songs that are some of the best of their career. They were great and so much more shocking when I saw them at Outside Lands, but knowing the songs (and having heard Psychedelic Pill in its full) made this show even more impactful. I'm a huge fan, and they blew me away.
1. D'Angelo - The House of Blues (7/4) - There is only so much I can say about such a masterful, powerful and completely astounding set. D'Angelo's first full Stateside performance in nearly 12 years, I was about as full of anticipation as I've ever been for a concert. That he was able to come out with a crack band and completely destroy my expectations over the course of two hours was great. He played songs from both of his albums as well as a healthy dose of new material, and filled the gaps with generous amounts of great covers. He played guitar and piano, he sang like James Brown and Prince combined, and he generally proved that he's so much more talented than we could ever even hope to grasp. I CANNOT wait for James River. There was no highlight: it was all high.
Honorable Mentions: Joanna Newsom with Philip Glass and Tim Fite at the Warfield (Would have made the list with more Joanna), Screaming Females at Eagle Rock Center for the Arts (Holy shit, one of the best live acts in the world right now), Dinosaur Jr. at FYF Fest (They didn't play any new songs, and it didn't matter whatsoever), Liars (the new album was great, the live show at the Fonda even moreso), feedtime at the Echo (After 30+ years, they finally played the US and were just crushingly great), Cloud Nothings at the Echo (they brought so much energy) and Metz at the Echo (they brought even more energy).