Friday, January 15, 2016

Totally Unauthorized Top Live Shows of 2015 25-1

2015 was such a phenomenal year for music that I couldn't fit it all into one post! If you missed part one, click here.

25. Rodrigo y Gabriela

September 10 at Live on the Green

These guys are always a fun sight. Their enthusiasm is infectious, as well as their breakneck guitar playing. Their Latin flared rhythms can get a crowd rolling or mellow them out, and they invited a bunch of people on stage to feel the vibes with them. But they're also well known for their covers. Rage Against the Machine's Bombtrack shreds, even on an acoustic guitar, Thrash metal classics Holy Wars, Symphony of Destruction & Battery are also great for getting fists raised in the air.

24. Flying Lotus

June 12 at Bonnaroo

Flylo has established himself as one of the most dominant personalities in electronic music. His trademark blend of twisted, warped electronica made it worthwhile. He brought along his Layer 6 stage setup, which consisted of one screen in front of him and one behind him showcasing crazy visuals. It looked like we were in space at one point, then we were being dragged into a wormhole at another. I got jazzed when he played “Sultan’s Request,” one of my favorite cuts from his 2012 album, Until the Quiet Comes. He also performed a little of his Captain Murphy side project, which consists of him coming out from behind the screen and rapping over his beats. We weren't fortunate enough to have Kendrick Lamar join for their collaboration, “Never Catch Me,“ but we were treated to it as the final song before the encore. I don’t do DJ music much, but I’m down with Flying Lotus.

23. Sylvan Esso

June 12 at Bonnaroo

I adore this girl! Singer Amelia Meath had such a laid back demeanor. Her exuberant and cheery nature makes you feel good inside! She encouraged us to seduce ourselves in front of a mirror whenever we aren‘t feeling good about ourselves. “You all should try it,” she advised. “It makes you feel like a million dollars.” Her dance moves are so quirky and full of personality that it makes you feel less self conscious to bust out a move yourself. Nick Sanborn’s production is mostly minimal, sleek and sophisticated. It could be a commercial for Ikea or Ipod, but what can I say? There’s something about that aesthetic I really dig! Every now and then he’ll drop a thick, intense beat and that’s when you’ll go really nuts.

22. Billy Joel

June 14 at Bonnaroo

This set was clearly not Billy Joel's best, but with an artist like this even a 50 percent effort is well worth watching. He ditched his attempts to interact with the crowd early on, and also cut out a big chunk of tunes that appeared regularly in his setlist. That made it hard to feel like we got the full Joel experience. Yet, the afro-boogie of "River of Dreams," the high spirited delivery of "We Didn't Start the Fire," his roadie coming out and delivering a spot on cover of "Highway to Hell," as well as the performance of rock solid gems like "Piano Man" made for a quality set, if not exactly a perfect ending to this year's Bonnaroo.

21. Courtney Barnett

June 11 at Bonnaroo

Courtney Barnett is my girl. She’s a bonafide rockstar. She’s sexy as hell. If you watch her set for longer than four hours, you'll probably have to call a doctor. Most importantly, she knows exactly who she is as an artist and she owns it. Get yourself out to a club and see her. She pours personality into each song, meaning there’s no one doing quite what she’s doing. Best of all, she’s got guts. While she delivers a laid back, grimy guitar sound on her LP, on stage she emanates incredible power while delivering those riffs. “Pedestrian at Best” and “Elevator Operator” hit with manic energy, while “Small Poppies” notified me there’s not much greater than watching this chick develop a riff. Now I’d better stop, cause if I say much more this whole article is gonna catch fire.

20. Run the Jewels

June 12 at Bonnaroo

Killer Mike and El-P bowled the crowd over with their incredible confidence. They came onstage while Queen’s “We Are the Champions” reverberated through the speakers, and before leaving Killer Mike declared themselves the best rap group in the world.  Opening cut “Run the Jewels” served as the duo’s mission statement, while notorious banger “Close Your Eyes and Count to Fuck” was so intense that El-P felt bad for what was going to happen to already sweat soaked crowd once they played it. But the singular moment that got the crowd most fired up had to be El-P’s speech declaring that each attendee had been given an invisible 36 inch chain, making them a member of the Run the Jewels family. That came with certain privileges, he informed us. Any political leader who “tries to tell you you’re not gonna do the job you want, that you’re not gonna marry the person you want, that you’re not going to be the person you’re supposed to be, you can tell them to suck your motherfucking dick!” The crowd was in the palm of their hands the rest of the night.

19. The Strokes

May 8 at Shaky Knees 

There is a certain intrigue factor when it comes to The Strokes. They don’t tour often; their site listed only four other shows for all of 2015. There is an unmistakable aura around this band, that I can’t deny was generated to a certain extent by their well coordinated light setup and smoke screen, and that may not be everybody’s thing.  Yet Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. are not your everyday guitarists. The guitar/bass interplay on opening cut “Reptillia” showcases one of the band’s biggest strengths. The way that guitar blast mollified the crowd right out of the gate left no doubt they were going to own this crowd. “Under Cover of Darkness” and “Take It Or Leave It,” show that the band has an ear for guitar work that is catchy, distinctive, and full of energy. Not to mention “Automatic Stop,” one of my personal favorites, It’s such positive, happy, feel good music. Julian’s stage banter leaves something to be desired. but as a whole the band was tight and on point. They sprinkled in some song rarely played or never played before on stage (“All the Time,” “You Talk Way Too Much,” Vision of Division”) and even allowed superfan Mac Demarco to come onstage and give Julian a hug in between songs. Unless you were just committed to being a hater, this was a set near impossible not to have a blast at. 

18. Exodus

November 16 at The Tabernacle

You are in the presence of heavy metal royalty. They may be down a few members, but this is still the same band that played an integral role in the development of thrash metal. These guys shared a scene with all time greats Megadeth and Slayer, and even more so with Metallica. This was the band that Kirk Hammet was a member of before joining Metallica. Vocalist Steve Sousa is relentless in firing up the crowd, at one point splitting the crowd into two sides and then having them charge at one another to create a mosh pit. The bulldozing intensity of cuts like "Bonded by Blood" would give them all the motivation they needed. 

17. Dwight Yoakam

September 4 at Ryman Auditorium

Dwight keeps his shows running like a well oiled machine. The king of country/honky tonk/Bakersfield sound impressed early and often, but the set’s second half truly shined with classic tune after tune from one of the most impressive catalogs ever released with nary a break in between. He had to bring some of those high notes down, but what’s impressive is there’s really no break in between these tunes; he displays endurance much younger performers wish they had. Personally, it gave me a bit of a surreal feeling hearing these songs live that I’ve been jamming to since I was about seven years old on my parents old cds. Turn It Up, Turn It On, Turn Me Loose, Pocket of a Clown, The Heart That You Own. And if that’s not enough, how would you like to have Dwight’s job? He still boogies and scuttlebutts across the floor getting the women to look at his ass, and it still elicits high pitched shrieks from the crowd. Over 30 years in, he’s still a sex symbol.

16. Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls

December 9 at 3rd & Lindsley 

He’s very warm and relatable. The biggest thing that shines through in his shows is just how personable he is. What you get is a very warmhearted, uplifting Englishman up there bouncing around on stage and whipping the crowd into a frenzy, and he’s very interactive with his crowds. He had us all sit down, then jump up at a certain point in the song, and told us to dance with someone we didn’t know before we came here. He makes everyone at his shows feel like part of a big, collective community. An artist who can pull that off is rare find indeed.

15. Mac Demarco

June 11 at Bonnaroo

Mac Demarco tried to set a world record for most people sitting on other people’s shoulders, placed a rubber dildo on his keyboard, had a crowd surfer throw their shirt onstage, his bassist climbed onto a stack of speakers, he popped the cork on a champagne bottle onstage, and to top it all off, he got a running start and stage dived into the crowd before finishing it off with a cover of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” for an encore. He landed directly on my forearm. And I haven’t even (really) talked about the music yet. Known for his lo-fi slacker indie anthems, he kicks it up a notch or two live. “Freaking Out the Neighborhood” and “Salad Days” had the crowd in a fit, but I’m partial to slow groover “Rock and Roll Nightclub.” It sounds like something the Bee Gees might listen to when they’re ready to unwind. 

14. Modest Mouse

July 19 at Forecastle

They’re a veteran live band who do damage in a variety of ways. Songs like “Bury Me With It” and “Styrofoam Boots/It’s Nice on Ice Alright” deliver almost punishing riffs, something I never got the sense the band had in them when listening at home. The boogie groove of “Dashboard” and ominous bass rumble of “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes,” meanwhile, got fest goers in the mood to shake their can. We got a taste of the band’s earlier days with “Dramamine,” pulled from their 1996 debut This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About. It paints a picture of the band as much more serene and thoughtful in constructing their riffs and instrumentation, but still with a decidedly rough edge. Frontman Issac Brock even broke out thumb picking on the banjo with mid career cuts “Satin in a Coffin” and “This Devil’s Workday."

13. Florence + the Machine

June 14 at Bonnaroo 

The Bonnaroo gods didn’t grant Florence much time, but she made the most of it. Whipping the crowd into a frenzy early and often by breathlessly sprinting across stage and down into the pit to mingle with fans, she put on a clinic on how to exert high energy while still slaying us with that captivating voice and never missing a beat. Kendrick Lamar needs to take lessons from her.  Her show is a spectacle without pomp, lights, or confetti being blown everywhere. Florence herself is a spectacle, even if she were all alone on the stage. There's a devotional feel to her shows-- hands raised all throughout the crowd while those deep, rich, overpowering tones of her songs boom forth. All signs point to her going down as one of the great performers of her generation.

12. Slayer

June 13 at Bonnaroo

Slayer is primal. My glasses were knocked off twice, I was hit in the head in the pit, and then was literally knocked on my ass. You might ask what I was thinking, but I got to scream “Angel of Death” from about three rows back with a bunch of other dedicated Slayer fans, and they knew every word. I was close enough I could feel the sweaty hair of the denim jacket guys sloshing against my raised fist. Slayer didn’t fuck around. “Raining Blood,” “Postmortem,” “South of Heaven,” and “Seasons in the Abyss” shows just how deep and unrelenting their catalog truly is. But they also show off humor and self-awareness. “Dead Skin Mask,“ with its lyrics celebrating the pleasant fragrance of death in the light of the moon, serves as one of the band’s most romanticized notions of death. Before playing it, frontman Tom Araya introduced it as their version of a love song. This is the roughest show I’ve even been to at Roo, or maybe ever.

11. Widespread Panic

July 19 at Forecastle

I see these guys get bagged on a lot on internet music forums. Most websites don’t even bother to cover them when they play at festivals. Accordingly, I went in not expecting much but willing to give them a chance. They ended up being the best thing I saw all day. You can picture the scene: old hippies jamming out. Guitar solos for days. Elaborate light patterns washing all over the stage. I was skeptical at first, but the closer I moved to the stage the more I fell into the spell of their beat. Their tasty riffs and improvisation is easy to find yourself lost in. My biggest criticism is they don’t play with much passion. The guitarist plays his leads and solos with clinical precision. It’d be nice to see them legitimately attack for once, to really go nuts on their instruments. But when you can play like these guys do, I guess you can get away with it. Before I knew it I found myself having an amazing time, and would have gladly rocked out with them for longer.

10. Sleater-Kinney

April 23 at Marathon Music Works

This was one of the most celebrated reunions in the early months of 2015 and I was just like, "who?" I'm glad I found out. Carrie Brownstien is one of the most magnetizing rock stars of this generation, and it's truly a shame she's taken a decade off from it (minus a side project here and there). She was like a true punk conductor up there, gesticulating with her hand motions ripping out clever riffs that show why she's one of the most creative guitarists out there. Songs like "Dig Me Out" hit with the force of wrought iron. The sheer intensity of "Jumpers" was brought to life in stunning, immaculate fashion. Drummer Janet Weiss is also amazing. The guitar/drum combo on the opening of "The Fox," couple with Corin Tucker's ear splitting shriek near the song's close, was one of the best full band moments I've witnessed in awhile. I wanted to hear "One More Hour," yet they wrapped it up with the mellow but lovely Modern Girl before shaking hands with eager fans on the floor. (“You’re never gonna wash that hand again!” one girl exclaimed to another). But perhaps, they did what many of the best bands do -- leave you wanting one more song. And the fact there’s so many great cuts they didn’t play attests to the strength of their discography.

9. Spiritualized

May 9 at Terminal West 

I feel like this is the quickest hour and a half that has ever gone by listening to live music. When it was done, I was like, is it done? Is it really done? It’s like that feeling when you first get out of the swimming pool. My senses were assaulted by this wonderful, glorious noise coming at me from all directions. Their sound is very spacey and chaotic, but equally beautiful. On a song like "Electric Mainline," the bass and drums come together to create this pumping, seething, breathing engine that powers much of what the band does. It is hypnotizing to behold. There are moments of chilled out bliss when the band settles down to allow J. Spaceman to take the microphone. And when everything falls into place at the end for a glorious sing along like "Come Together," you know you've witnessed a truly incredible concert performance. 


8. Godspeed You! Black Emperor

September 19 at Marathon Music Works 

The best of the three times I’ve seen them. Much of that likely had to do with me knowing the material better, but this setlist was almost perfect. The new album material is a 40 minute roller coaster ride, and does a nice job of taking the place of “Behemoth,” which I never particularly cared about anyway. The twinkling chimes of “Moya” laud in 10 minutes of pure, sublime beauty, and it’s something anyone who’s a fan of live music should experience at least once. The only disappointment was no "Mladic." That would have elevated this concert from superb to unforgettable. “The Sad Mafioso,’ though, was the perfect way to end this set in a moment of bliss and serenity.  

7. Kraftwerk

September 27 at Ryman Auditorium 

I never thought silly songs about robots, highways, and computers could be so amazing. The defining characteristic of Kraftwerk is simply their warmth. They’ve got this element of holy crap, if you had verbally described what this show was going to be and told me how awesome it was going in, I doubt I would have believed you. The only band I can think of that comes close in that department is Animal Collective, and Kraftwerk blows them off the stage live. I’ve seen my share of concerts, as well as some impressive audiovisual displays as well. But nothing really compares to seeing the wide open autobahn stretching out before you on the display monitors and hearing those vibrant synth tones ring out. I'd bet they're the only band that can take you on an odyssey in a spacelab, unleash the grandeur of central European railways, and then tech things up with futuristic computer odes. Not to mention they’re THE pioneering band when it comes to electronic music. Get out and see them while you have the chance, folks. 

6. King Diamond

November 16 at The Tabernacle 

It’s not often that live music feels like a theatrical performance, but still provides the fist pumping energy of a concert. King Diamond’s Abigail tour is a truly captivating music related spectacle. This tour features Diamond performing every song from his 1987 Abigail album, which tells the story of two travelers, Miriam and Jonathan, who spend the night at a creepy mansion haunted by a wicked spirit known as Abagail. The stage is dominated by a big gothic staircase. Diamond brought out the baby Abigail and stabbed it with a knife. Marian wandered around the stage possessed like, wrapped in a white sheet and carrying a lantern. The setup is impressive and the musicianship is top notch, but make no mistake as to who the star of the show is. Diamond himself is not only one of the most underrated performers in metal, but also one of the genre's most underrated vocalists period. 

5. Jack White

January 28 at Bridgestone Arena 

No two Jack White shows are the same. He was always going to be hard pressed to live up to last year’s transcendent Bonnaroo performance, which ranked #1 on my 2014 list, but there were plenty of aces up his sleeve for his Bridgestone Arena show. We all knew he was going to play with Loretta Lynn (and what a treat that was, seeing a living country legend performing a set of vintage classic tunes to open the show). But what we didn’t know was that White would pull off a full blown reunion of The Raconteurs right here on our very stage! The boys came out to open the encore with a ravishing performance of their biggest hits. Other highlights included the folksy shuffle of "Hotel Yorba" and the heavy blues garage rock of "Ball and Biscuit" lit up our nights, while new cuts like "Three Women" and "Black Bat Licorice" provided an energetic jolt that will hopefully figure into his sets for years to come. The final chords of Seven Nation army would send us with our ears ringing into the night. 

4. The Rolling Stones

June 17 at LP Field

This night will always be a great memory for me. Summer is at its height, I was coming off of Bonnaroo hype from less than a week before, and it was the first concert I’d been to with my dad since Paul McCartney nearly five years earlier. Mick and Keith and the boys were in fine form and put on a stunning show. I just wish I had known half the songs they played. Hot Rocks and Forty Licks had not proven adequate to fully saturate my knowledge of their catalog, surprisingly, but The Stones had no qualms about reaching farther into their back catalog to pepper us with a few for the diehards. I did appreciate the nod to Nashville with the country swagger of “Dead Flowers” -- featuring Brad Paisley, no less -- which is a facet of the band that most people overlook in favor of I CANT GET NO SATISFACTION, MANG. Speaking of which, hearing Satisfaction’s opening riff live hit me in an all new way. After having heard the studio version a million times, I never pictured it sounding so thundering, world rattling, and all encompassing. If I didn’t before, I now understand why people would quiver at the very mention of this band’s name. They’re far removed from their glory days, but they still emit a shock that their records won’t ever quite be able to replicate.

3. My Morning Jacket

June 13 at Bonnaroo

Damn! These guys are good! What deal did they make with the devil? What kind of P.E.D.’s are they on? I don’t know, but I hope they keep taking them! The much ballyhooed house rock band of Bonnaroo lived up to their billing and more, putting on a two hour showcase that highlighted a wide selection from their back catalog. The Louisville jam rock outfit switched effortlessly between various styles, creating moments of sheer serene beauty, hair raising rock and roll, smooth, emotive soul, and everything in between. James never spoke to the crowd, letting his band’s play do all the talking that was needed. Their tour dates leading up to this point had focused heavily on their newest album, The Waterfall, but on this night they would salute their diehard fans by giving us only on the essentials from that album and focusing instead on older, fan favorite cuts.

2. Sufjan Stevens

November 11 at Ryman Auditorium

What’s great about Sufjan as a live performer is his versatility. His latest album, Carrie and Lowell, is one of the major critical darlings of the year, and serves as the centerpiece of his 2015 tour. For the first little bit, he’s just audiovisually fucking you up there. There’s this magnificent combination of lights, scenery, and this beautiful, lilting, fingerpicked folk music. These waves of relaxation to undulate over you in a way the album versions can’t come close to doing. He’s masterful at extending songs, as “Futile Devices” and “All of Me Wants All of You” demonstrates, the latter of which features an wild extended keyboard/guitar solo that sounds very Genesis-like, in the best possible way. His encore stripped away all the production and showcased his ability to wow a crowd with just bare bones folk music, piercing through the stillness of hallowed Ryman Auditorium. “John Wayne Gacy” gave me goose bumps. There’s also quite a bit of warmth and humor to the man. When he tried to line up his band members to sing into a single microphone, he said he didn’t see how Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris used to do it. The night’s most staggering moment, though, belonged to main set closer “Blue Bucket of Gold.” I won’t spoil it for you. You’ve just got to get out to a show and see it for yourself. Seriously.

1. D'Angelo & the Vanguard

June 13 at Bonnaroo 

If D’angelo hadn’t become such a recluse in the 14 years between 2000’s Voodoo and the shimmering followup, Black Messiah, he would have taken over the world two or three times by now without breaking a sweat. He’s drawn comparisons to Prince and James Brown. Women love him, but even if you’re male, he exudes such charisma that it’s impossible to not, at the least, want to have a beer with him or something. His band, The Vanguard, consisted of 10 members all engaging in crazy antics. His guitar had silver plated edges and had his name on it, two other guys would come to the front of the stage, guitars in tow, and jam with him. Later on, some of his band came up and did a little dance number with him. There was this one backup singer who was getting funky and kicking it the whole time. The Vanguard’s cascade of voices bubbled forth on “Back to the Future” and “Sugah Daddy” then put on his own personal vocal showcase on “Brown Sugar,” his breakout 1995 hit. He’s making a strong claim of not only being the greatest soul/R&B star of his time -- he might just be the greatest rock star of his generation as well.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Totally Unauthorized Top Live Shows of 2015: 40-26

This has been an exhilirating year for live music. I feel like I need to come up for air after everything I've seen over the past 12 months. I'm not sure if it's the best year I've ever seen; that honor would go to either this year or 2013. But I don't know if I'll see a year like it again. I'm not gonna come out and say this is the last year I'm gonna make one of these lists, but I will say not to expect one of these lists from me next year. At the least, it won't be anywhere near as big as the ones I have done. So in honor of that, I've decided to go big this year. Here are the 40 best bands I saw this year.

40. Unlocking the Truth

June 11 at Bonnaroo

Can metal get more respect at Bonnaroo now? These 14 year olds showed that talent and energy can sometimes trump experience, as they put on the most memorable opening set I‘ve seen at Bonnaroo. With raw bravado, front man Malcolm Brickhouse ordered the crowd to split in half and form a moshpit. Cue relentless crowd surfing. He didn‘t break out the guitar solos often, but whenever he did they melted face. Bassist Alec Atkins proved to be a great, sweat soaked showman as well; at one point, he could be seen dousing himself with a bottle of Dasani. No doubt many were interested in them merely as a novelty act due to their age, but they showed they have the most potential of any young band since Black Tide.

39. Iceage

June 11 at Bonnaroo

These Danish post punkers are too chaotic and noisy for me to listen to on record, but it translates very well live. Frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt drug his mic stand around behind him like it was his personal plaything and thrust himself toward the front of the stage like a vicious rottweiler trying to free himself from his leash. Twisting and sashaying around the stage, he exuded a heavy Jim Morrison vibe while taking sips of Corona. Guitarist Johan Weith pitched in with walls of battering sound, although at times he’d switch it up for a more American rock and roll type of guitar riff that worked to perfection. Even a few sound problems early in the set weren’t enough to sway them. Though I can’t see Corona being Morrison’s beverage of choice, their hypnotizing performance brought to mind memories of musical eras gone by.

38. The Offspring

April 28 at War Memorial Auditorium

There aren’t many surprises when it comes to an Offspring set, but you’re gonna have a hell of a time anyway. Lots of jumping, moshing, and rocking out. You know all their songs and probably know the words to the vast majority of them. They stick pretty strictly to their mid to late 90s hits in concert, delivering an energetic punk rock blast with “All I Want” and “Come Out and Play.” Fun, bouncy numbers like “Why Don’t You Get a Job,” meanwhile allow you to catch your breath a little while still providing a great opportunity to belt it out at the top of your lungs. And when they finish it off with “Self Esteem,” you’ll be transported back to wherever you were when first heard that song in your wayward youth. 

37. Mastodon

May 8 at Shaky Knees 

Third time seeing these guys in less than a year. Definitely my least favorite setlist of theirs; it was pretty much exclusively new album. Nothing at all from Blood Mountain, although we did get to see Brent Hinds break out his double necked guitar for “The Czar,” a rarely played 13 minute deep cut from their 2009 album Crack the Skye. None of that mattered though, it was still a great time. The pit was hella fun. I saw the same 45 year old shirtless guy I saw at the Clutch set. I was gonna leave early to get a spot for Pixies but I was having so much fun I decided to stay. Then they brought out Neil Fallon, the vocalist from Clutch, to do the final verse of “Blood and Thunder” at the end and ratcheted it up even further.

36. Grimes

November 10 at Marathon Music Works

I was drunk, in the back dancing wildly for most of this show. There’s a lot to like with her sets, but this was just too short. The warmth of Art Angels shines through very clearly, and she has the kind of personality that can translate very well to a live set, but she didn’t seem that interested in playing much of her material. I’m not a huge fan of when an artist decides they just don’t like their first two albums, so they’re just going to play you a shorter set. But she didn’t even touch on that much of her two newer album. "Flesh vs. Blood" didn’t get played, as well as a few other Art Angels gems. Right at the moment when it felt like the set was reaching its crescendo, it came to a screeching halt. My buddies and I had to work off our buzz at Café Coco. 

35. First Aid Kit

July 19 at Forecastle

The rich velour of their vintage, 70s infused, harmony rich folk is slightly out of place in Louisville’s blazing summer heat, but even so they got a crowd cheering under a baking midday sun. Johanna cheerily greeted patrons to the duo’s first ever Kentucky show. “We’re used to polar bears and snowstorms, not this!” she exclaimed. Rich harmonies, tambourine banging, and Ryman inspired swinging country combined with youthful wistfulness was the order of the day. 

34. The War on Drugs

June 13 at Bonnaroo

If you think they sound good in studio, you gotta see this band onstage. The dusky reverb emanating from Adam Granduciel’s guitar strings is one of the most glorious sounds I heard all weekend; his soloing skills make it worth the price of admission alone. Tunes like “Buenos Aires Beach” and “Arms Like Boulders” benefit greatly when freed from the grainy production of the debut, while towering solos in “Under the Pressure” and “Ocean in Between the Waves” serve as ringing reminders as to why you see live music in the first place. The band’s laid back onstage demeanor struck the perfect tone for a late afternoon set. 

33. Loretta Lynn

January 28 at Bridgestone Arena

Seeing Loretta Lynn takes you back to a different time. Her set is composed of two minute little country stompers that come in, make a quick point about a no good woman or cheatin' man, and are done before you know it. It's not hard to imagine a time when this was the industry standard, watching Loretta or Johnny or Waylon tear up in front of a packed rowdy crowd at the Ryman. This show gives a great idea of how much the music industry has changed, but also reminds us of our roots. 

32. Metric

November 18 at Marathon Music Works

I don't really remember much about this show. All I know is I was dancing wildly and Emily Haines has the best legs ever. 

31. The Tallest Man on Earth

May 27 at Ryman Auditorium

About 20 minutes into his performance, Mattson stands stage right while the shadows drape his shoulder, eyes downcast, entirely focusing on the beautiful, finger picked riff emanating from his guitar. I’m sitting in the fourth row at Ryman Auditorium, close enough to hear the scraping of his thumb pick against the strings of his guitar. His band has left the stage. Matsson himself isn’t even really pushing himself very hard in particular and still he is killing it. “Your voice is sexy!” some girl calls from behind me. Mattson takes notice, approaches the mic and sardonically replies, “I’m just trying to figure out the pedals up here.” The Wild Hunt” and “Where Do My Bluebird Fly” evoked lush, pastoral dreamscapes, while closer "Like a Wheel" saw Matsson gathered with his band for a five part harmony section in his most stunning moment of the evening.

30. Tears for Fears

June 12 at Bonnaroo

These guys have more great songs than I think most people give them credit for. “Mad World” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” were obvious humongous sing alongs, but don‘t forget “Head Over Heels,” popularized by Donnie Darko. I liked the backup singer dressed like Debbie Harry; she was grooving the whole time. One of the key moments of the entire festival occurred near the close of their set, when they dropped a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep.” It was the biggest sing along I have heard at Roo since Paul McCartney. Set closer “Shout” was almost equally outstanding. There was so much power pulsing through everyone in the tent, with dramatic light beams sweeping  all over the stage.

29. Clutch

May 8 at Shaky Knees 

Vocalist Neil Fallon declared they were 100 percent committed to having a good time, and it showed. There was this shirtless 40-something dude in front of me who was going nuts the whole time, and his enthusiasm was neat to see. The only song I knew from the going in was “Earth Rocker,” but the last two songs were the best.  The second to last song, which he said was from their first album, had some of the best riffs I heard all day. The finale, “Electric Worry,” had this great sing along section  during its chorus. I walked away from this set with a big smile, and was able to say to myself I had a great time watching Clutch tear it up in a blazing Georgia field.

28. Gogol Bordello

July 2 at Marathon Music Works

They're unbelievable hype men who know how to get a crowd moving. The best part was this old guy they had wearing a ship captain outfit who played violin. At one point, the rest of the band stopped to let him solo for a moment and all the lights went out except for a blueish hued spotlight that centered directly on him. It‘s proof that sometimes minimalism can be the best driver of hype. “Start Wearing Purple” and “Pala Tute” were great, but they missed a few good ones from Trans-Continental Shuffle.


27. Jamie xx 

August 4 at Marathon Music Works

Jamie is big on 70s funk and soul -- music that’s easy and great to groove to. That final three song run of "Gosh," "Loud Places," and "Gonna Be Good Times," was something to behold. I had retreated back toward the back of the club by that point and I was having a better time back there. I’m not big on dancing, but "Gonna Be Good Times" had me visualizing dance moves in my head I’d never have the guts to break out in actual public. When an artist can do that to me, it’s safe to say  they’re doing something right. 

26. Brad Paisley

June 17 at LP Field

He might have been opening for The Rolling Stones, but Brad Paisley was doing his best to match them in star power. CMT queen Carrie Underwood and Joe Walsh of The Eagles made guest appearances to sing duets with Paisley. If you can't get hype about seeing a legend like Walsh, you can kindly get the hell out sir. My favorite part was seeing something a completely different subset of music fan sees. I admit I don't identify much with their scene but there is something electrifying about seeing these guys (and gals) I've heard about so much. Paisley's material ranged from hardcore honky-tonkers about moonshiners running from the cops to easy listening love ballads that sounds like something CMT would have on when I was a kid getting ready for school in the morning, to general beer commercial/titans commercial soundtrack music. There is talent, it's just that Nashville music labels whitewash the music until it sounds just like everyone else.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Totally Unauthorized: 2014 Album of the Year Awards

There are several reasons why 2014 was not the greatest year in music or media. First off, Robin Williams died. Rest in peace to one of comedy's all time greats. Secondly, a metric ton of my favorite electro-pop bands either split up or went into extended hiatus. Nicolas Jarr's ambient guitar synth project Darkside fired the first shot by releasing an ambiguously worded statement that they were disbanding but left open the possibility to a future reunion. Electro-freaks The Knife called it quits, Alice Glass left the future of Crystal Castles in doubt by declaring her departure from the group, and all-time greats Orbital decided to hang up for the second (and presumably last) time. In the span of a few months, four of my favorite groups in the genre were no more.

Secondly, it just wasn't as good a year for music than what we've become accustomed to. When you think about it, who really had a big year? I suppose you could nominate War on Drugs. Lost in the Dream catapulted them from being random Pitchfork Best New Music act to 80s rock and roll enthusiasts' wet dream, but would their rise to stardom be as recognizable to the random joe on the street as that of Yeezus? Or Vampy Weekend? Or half a dozen others from the last few years? When the tale of these years are penned, they're liable to be best remembered for a six minute folk diss track than anything else. Sun Kil Moon's Mark Kozalek had possibly his biggest moment yet, then managed to squander almost all his goodwill overnight with his stirring rendition of "War on Drugs: Suck My Cock." Foos were a good candidate for awhile. Their Sonic Highways HBO series gave a thought provoking look into the musical legends behind eight U.S. cities, and their ticket controversy at Ryman Auditorium on Halloween night attracted just enough any press is good press controversy to bolster their status as a major story, but then the album actually dropped and everybody realized: oh wait, it's yet another fucking Foo Fighters album. Swans already had their moment with The Seer. Aphex Twin, observing the success of comeback attempts by Neutral Milk Hotel, Nine Inch Nails, Outkast, and tons of others, decided to step out of the limelight himself but forgot that it doesn't really work the same way without the live act.

So here we are, at the end of another year, and I guess it could have been worse. If nothing else, this may stand as the year to reaffirm our faith in guitar based rock music. Cloud Nothings, Swans, St. Vincent, Ty Segall, Rodrigo y Gabriela, The War on Drugs, Spoon, Jack White, and Tom Petty all put out excellent albums, not to mention the fact that metal had a banner year. Electronic music had a slow start but recovered in the second half with strong releases from Caribou, Aphex Twin, and Iamamiwhoami. Rap, as mentioned before, decided to take the year off.

So if I don't seem that enthusiastic about this year, well, just think that with all the technological advancements we have now, coupled with all the musical breakthroughs of the past 60 or 70 so years, I know we can do better. And we will. But for now, let's get this out of the way so we can move on to the (hopefully) far superior 2015.
10. Badbadnotgood - III
One of the most intriguing occurrences of the year was Badbadnogood's transformation into an electro-jazz outfit. They shed some of their hip hop stylings but the atmosphere has never been better. It's like wandering around a darkened warehouse at night, but it's a mystical and awesome experience. Not to mention that each band member here -- even the bassist -- gets their moment in the spotlight with an array of dazzling solos, proving just how deep the talent runs in this outfit. These guys are bold, young, and know they're going somewhere -- and they make music that sounds like it.

9. Swans - To Be Kind

It's not that I didn't think anyone would ever make an album like this, it's that Swans make music in ways that never would have occurred to me in the first place. The first disc is an imposing slab of dark art rock, while the second disc sounds like a crazy priest chanting while the earth is being sucked away into a vortex. Admittedly, I like their more straightforward (at least for their standards) rock more so than the 15+ minute post rock nightmares, but Swans are who they are and no one can take their place.

8. Thee Silver Mt. Zion - Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything 
Efrim Menuck has a way of talking about things that will stone cold sober you. This side project fronted by Menuck, of Godspeed You Black Emperor fame, touches on powerful themes including dealing with the bleak reality of everyday life, trying to pass on a better world to your children, and realizing that no matter how much love you put out in the world you can never put out enough. Sometimes it's a tough listen with walls of wavy guitars, Menuck's acquired taste vocals, and various elements that stack up and sometimes crash into one another, but there are other times where the post-rock/punk inspired ethos comes together with the backing choir to create sheer beauty. Conceptually, it's one of the most beautiful albums I've heard.

7. Behemoth - The Satanist

The complaint may be that there's not much new in metal, and blackened death certainly isn't either. But what makes The Satainst is all the little touches Nergal puts into it. He's not the first to have to bone to pick with the Almighty, but Nergal insists on elevating his dissent to the realm of high poetry. The amount of passion he put into this is staggering. There's abundance of biblical, Latin, and ancient Roman imagery that gives the album an atmospheric, silver screen type of feel, while the horns, backing choirs, and epic, weighty guitar solos will compel you to raise your hand like a Roman emperor in the coliseum over a downed gladiator. Do you point thumbs up or down?

6. Rodrigo y Gabriela - 9 Dead Alive

9 Dead Alive marks a key turning point for this Mexican acoustic guitar duo. Once known for their white hot metal inspired guitar leads, however, this one is much more of a thinking man's album. Each song is dedicated to a luminary who fought to improve the human condition, or who has pushed the envelope with their creative endeavors. There are sounds of sorrow and of triumph, dedicated to finding our place in the world and meaning in our lives. It appears that their fans didn't follow them in their new direction as this is the least buzzed about album yet, but what they do put forth here is contemplative music to calm the soul, and I find great value in that.

5. St. Vincent - St. Vincent

The tagline everyone floated with this album focused on how bizarre and eccentric it is on the surface, but in truth it is actually a very confessional and interpersonal record for Ms. Clark. She proves she can kick ass and write a killer guitar lick, and crafts one of the most intoxicating albums of the year thanks to her rose tinted guitar and synth crunch. But she also reveals herself to be very sensual and full of longing and desire. Which of her revelations are the most confessional in nature? That she prefers her mother's love to Jesus? That she begins her day with taking out the trash and beating off? Or is it this line: I'm afraid of heaven because I can't stand the heights/I'm afraid of you because I can't be left behind."

The mainstream publications may have focused on her zany image, but this album, maybe more so than any album this year, is a triumph of allowing us to see its creator as human and vulnerable.

4. First Aid Kit - Stay Gold

Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg have crafted their finest work yet. It's chock full of themes that will appeal to youth, including insecurities about the future, realizing the transience of people, places and situations when you're young, and figuring out who you are. There are themes of traveling or moving on from certain things in life, which calls to mind Dylan in a way. Even if you aren't a youngster, the breezy melodies, brilliantly arranged harmonies and that retro 70s folk/country vibe are so easy to get swept up in.

3. Caribou - Our Love

The electronic production here is better than any album I've heard this year, and can hold its own with anything this decade. A deep, dense, swirling world composed of IDM beats and hazy psychedelia rise up to engulf the listener from the moment the needle hits vinyl. Dan Snaith's tender croon paints images of love and love lost, but he never dives full bore into the subject lyrically. Instead, he allows his stunning dreamscapes to transpose the message he wants into the listeners' mind. This album that will penetrate every little pore if you let it.

2. Cloud Nothings - Here and Nowhere Else

This album is great for anyone who's ever felt uncertain about life, which is a feeling I think many of us can relate to. It presents a pulsating, driving hard rock sound accented with fist pumping choruses and guitar leads reminiscent of 90s punk. Meanwhile, Dylan Baldi pours out his frustrations and anxieties pour out in full force. It may not help you chart your course for life, but it will provide a hell of a soundtrack for doing so.

1. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 2

One of the biggest areas in which music this year lacked was that there wasn't anything with much of a message. War on Drugs might have wowed listeners with waves of reverb, and Swans sure as hell developed some intense experimental soundscapes, but when you boil it all down it's all just music, and nothing more. Run the Jewels 2 was one of the few notable albums this year that actually attempted to say something relevant to its time. Now, I'm not going to try to tell you this is The Times They Are A-Changin' or anything, but a hell of a lot happened in 2014 that didn't involve our headphones and this sums it up as well as anything else. "Early" presented a depiction of police violence and a summation of our society's response to it. In a year in which violent protest dominated our headlines, it's enough to rank Run the Jewels 2 among the year's most socially conscious records.

Of course, the album is great for many reasons other than that. Emcees Killer Mike and El-P talk about some very real themes but don't shove it down your throat. They mix great production with mostly intense hardcore lyrics and then slip the themes in here and there. It's very intense in every sense of the word, from the beats and overall sound of the album all the way down the to lyrics and presentation. They laid down basically what they wanted to do with RTJ1, but this one fixed all of its problems. The beats are better, they cut the shit, cut out all the weak watered down hooks, and tightened everything up.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Totally Unauthorized Presents: the Top 25 Live Shows of 2014

If nothing else, the concert scene in 2014 shows why it's important to strike while the iron's hot. Two of my top six acts are highly unlikely to tour again in the imminent future, and one of those are headed out on their final tour next year. That said, it was still another great year for live music. Here's the best I saw:

25. Deafheaven

February 18 at The End

Watching Deafheaven on stage isn't like watching a typical metal band.  This was an epic, energy draining set. Their frontman was kind of weird, but in a good way. He practiced lots of exaggerated hand motions, and he liked to scream right in the faces of people that were close. Of course, they were eating it up. His vocals were barely audible, though. I stopped by a Papa John's on the way back to ask for a bottle of water. They were closed, but thankfully they let me have one. 

24. Goat

June 15 at Bonnaroo

Even with all the shows I've seen, there's still few bands like Goat. Their sound is a carefully culled mixture of 60s psych folk rock, but the colorful gypsy costumes they don onstage and their bold sense of creativity makes this a must see. They're a rare act to catch stateside but with any luck a successful new album might bring them around more frequently.

23. Lily & the Parlour Tricks

June 13 at Bonnaroo

Glorious harmonies from this band. They showcase three part girl harmonies backed up by crunchy rock guitar. And if that's not enough, they closed with a cover of Black Sabbath's War Pigs, which segued into Ann Peebles' "I Can't Stand the Rain" before finally morphing into Nine Inch Nails' "Closer." They harmonized their three voices together to replicate the closing piano coda of "Closer." My jaw was on the ground.

22. Samantha Crain

October 29 at Ryman Auditorium

Crain is a consummate singer/songwriter, in the sense that she definitely expounds on the motivations and inspirations behind her songs. Onstage, her manner of speaking to an audience causes her to feels very down to earth, and easy to relate to. An example of her loveable, quirky personality: she wrote a song inspired by a movie Convoy about a trucker running away from cops and said if Convoy 2 ever came out she hoped it would make the soundtrack. 

21. Swans

June 30 at Exit/In

They rose from the grime and grit of the early 80s New York art scene, but now Swans have finally arrived and they're here to kick your ass. There is also a strong art house vibe with frontman Michael Gira doing some weird Native American spirit dancing, and rolling his tongue all around the microphone. But more than anything else, it's all about those riffs.  The opening salvo on "Bring the Sun" hit with so much force it felt like the equivalent of being mugged on a street corner.

20. Machine Head

July 21 at Exit/In

Rob Flynn of Machine Head is one of the most well respected voices within metal today, not to mention one of the most thoughtful and insightful. On stage, he will stop at nothing to fire up a crowd. It may have been an odd, between album cycle tour but it marked the band's first headlining gig in Nashville in almost 20 years. The spitfire riffing in "Aesthetics of Hate" and the pounding, old school punishment of "Ten Ton Hammer" were as good of a welcome back present as any.

19. MS MR

June 12 at Bonnaroo

If you know me you know I love my synth pop bands, so the moment I found out that's what they were I had to check 'em out. They're more about vocals/hooks as opposed to electronics/production, which has its pros and cons. On stage though, the band is far too infectious to deny.

Lizzy Plapinger and Max Hershenow ripped their way through most of the cuts from their debut, Secondhand Rapture, and tossed in covers of the Arctic Monkeys' "Do I Wanna Know" and LCD Soundsystem's "Dance Yrself Clean" for good measure. This was the first band of the weekend I saw people seriously getting hype over, and it looked like the band themselves were blown away by the reception they were getting. We were feeding off their energy as much as we were feeding off ours.

18. First Aid Kit

October 29 at Ryman Auditorium

The Swedish dual threat of Johanna and Klara Soderberg have emerged as one of the day's most compelling indie folk duos, and the grand glory of their dual vocal harmonies rang forth in fine fashion at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. They also put on display considerable charm that wowed the audience, and left little doubt the only direction they're headed is up.

17. Rodrigo y Gabriela

August 8 at Ryman Auditorium

A duo doing little more than playing guitars on stage might not sound that exciting at first glance, but there's something living, breathing, and vital about Rodrigo y Gabriela onstage. They capture the giddy, whirlwind energy of street performers. Rodrigo works out speed metal inspired guitar leads and Gabriela practices the most insane rhythm playing I've ever witnessed. If that's not enough, they throw in a pretty bitchin' set of covers as well.

16. Cake

June 14 at Bonnaroo

Bahaha, these guys are insane. I knew of Short Skirt Long Jacket and The Distance, but didn't get really turned on to these guys until I started researching the fest lineup and heard their cover of I Will Survive. I had a front row spot for this show, and one of my friends caught a drumstick they tossed into the crowd. It's fun, sing along, breezy feel good music that makes you feel good and doesn't make you think too much.

15. Tune Yards

October 9 at Marathon Music Works

It has been a joy to see Merrill Garbus's band and stage show grow over the years. The band's presence is delightfully bizarre, while never deviating from their brand of exotic rhythm based pop music. They've gotten more diverse and electronic since I first saw them, and seem to be getting into the artier side in terms of dress and presentation as well.

14. Hundred Waters

November 11 at Marathon Music Works

I caught these guys opening for Interpol. I knew very little going in but they turned out to be one of the most pleasant surprises I've had in a while. What impresses me most is their versatility. They vary from James Blake like downtempo soul vibe but can also get more upbeat and frenetic in their drumwork without losing their aesthetic. They can be more electronic/ambient at times, and sometimes the girl even pulls out a flute and starts wailing away. I found myself wondering if there's anything this band isn't capable of.

13. Janelle Monae

June 13 at Bonnaroo

Her set was significantly shorter than the last time I saw her, but Monae was undeterred as she demonstrated that sparkling, vivacious, electric showmanship that's made her one of today's must see acts. It was mostly an energetic set, only slowing down for rosy cheeked love tune "Primetime," in which Monae urged us all to bring our lover closer together for a slow dance. She closed the set by hopping off stage and mingling with the crowd before being carried off piggyback by one of her crew members.

12. Cloud Nothings

June 12 at Bonnaroo

One of my favorite Bonnaroo moments was raging out with this band. The set was a pure unleashing of energy and emotion.  So cathartic moments: the shrieking of "Psychic Trauma," the colossal build up and release of "Wasted Days", straight up to the eerie parting drone of "No Future No Past." The crowd responded in kind, whipping up some of the most intense moshing of the entire weekend. Apparently it was too much for some, as people were leaving the show in droves.

11. Kvelertak

November 6 at Marathon Music Works

Norwegian heavy metallers Kevelertak come across like viking conquerors onstage, come to smite us with heavy metal. Their frontman, Erlend Hjelvik, knows how to play to a crowd; he came out wearing an owl mask for their opening number "Åpenbaring," and never let up from there. The gang is very energetic on stage. They hit loud, fast, and hard, and played with the swagger of 70s rock and roll stars.

10. Elton John

June 15 at Bonnaroo

Seeing Elton was a highlight of the year, even if his show didn't quite live up to other headliner caliber sets I've seen. He opened with the 11 minute epic "Funeral For a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding," which was among the greatest songs I heard at Bonnaroo. After drawing top billing, many festivalgoers began to wonder how he'd compare to last years #1 billed act, Paul McCartney. He didn't come close to the majesty of that set, but that's not a bad thing. Unlike fellow headliners Kanye West and Jack White, Elton didn't have much to say. He simply kept his head down and powered his way through his hits. It seemed like he was going through the motions to a certain extent, but when your catalog contains "Bennie and the Jets," "Tiny Dancer," and "All the Girls Love Alice," it's not hard to forgive. Not to mention that Ben Folds came out to join him for "Grey Seal." Before hitting the exit gate, I saw a group of people who joined hands together and ran/danced around in a circle, and then brought it in and high fived one another, and I managed to get in on it. It was one of my favorite moments of the weekend for sure.

9. Mastodon

June 13 at Bonnaroo

Mastodon has gained a reputation as one of the best live acts in their field for good reason. I saw them twice this year, and it was tough to decide which performance was better. Ultimately I'm going with their Bonnaroo set for its more varied setlist. They pulled a good amount of traditional metal from fan favorite albums Blood Mountain and Leviathan, but delved into their more noodly, progressive side also. They've got great stage presence, one of the best drummers walking the planet, and a killer light setup. I was also jazzed for Capillarian Crest, one of the best deep cuts they've done.

8. Beck 

July 15 at Ryman Auditorium

Last time Beck hit Nashville, we saw him stealthily slipping into a nearby restaurant to wow patrons with secret set. No such festivities occurred this time, but what we did get was a career retrospective from a stunning artist who observes no rules but his own. He shared the tale of how many cuts from his latest album, Morning Phase, originated from recording sessions in Nashville and wooed us with a handful of those dreamy cuts. The highlight, however, was when Beck rolled out yellow police tape and finished his set with a combination of crazed harmonica playing, 90s hip hop, and a mashup of Rolling Stones' "Miss You."

7. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

June 14 at Bonnaroo

I only caught the last half of Nick Cave, but even from that it is dead obvious the man was born to be onstage. He cast a sinister shadow as he leered over his crowd and wove his tale of the murderous madman Stagger Lee.  I loved how the drummer clashed his stick against the kit to make it sound like gunshots when Billy Dilly got filled full of lead. But if that wasn't enough, Cave drops a secret verse on us where Stagger Lee straight up kills the Devil! I loved the the chilled out dissonance of his Push the Sky Away material as well as the gothic, Quentin Tarantino vibe, but Stagger Lee was the most badass moment of Bonnaroo for sure!

6. Outkast

July 18 at Forecastle

Forget everything you've heard about that off-kilter Coachella performance. Hip hop's most dynamic duo dominated Forecastle during their Friday night headlining set, delivering spitfire rhymes and hooks tastier than Southern fried steak and gravy. The duo's reunion was one of the inescapable music stories of the year, and with a chance to hear "Ms. Jackson," "So Fresh So Clean," and "The Whole World," among many others, it's no surprise why. The only nagging concern was whether or not Andre was truly on board, and apparently he wasn't. In a post tour interview he talked about how much he disliked the entire experience so it's almost certain we'll never have the chance to see them again.

5. Damon Albarn

June 14 at Bonnaroo

Albarn is pound for pound one of the best pure performers I have ever seen, but the frontman of Blur and Gorillaz had no designs on hogging the stage during this solo set. Along with him came a dazzling cast of guests, paving the way for one of Bonnaroo's most unforgettable main stage acts in recent memory. He belted out hard rockers, hip hop inspired beats, more downtempo fare and even a bit of circus style music as he weaved his way through material from all the various bands and collaborations he has been a part of over his career. But when he brought out De La Soul for "Feel Good Inc." followed by Del the Funky Homosapien for "Clint Eastwood," an uproarious celebration broke out and engulfed the entire field.

4. Neutral Milk Hotel

June 13 at Bonnaroo

Few reunions have been more lauded by fans and critics than that of 90s indie folk darlings Neutral Milk Hotel. After a somewhat disappointing performance at Ryman Auditorium, their set at Bonnaroo showed me exactly why.What is typically a laid back affair became balls to the wall as the normally timid Jeff Mangum unleashed a torrent of buzzsaw guitars. The moshing, pushing and shoving became so intense that several people had to flee the set. But suddenly you got hit with the 8 minute ballad Oh Comely. After all the roughhousing we were all so drained it felt you were dying and that song was the only thing keeping you alive.

3. Darkside

June 14 at Bonnaroo

Navigating Bonnaroo, especially on a Saturday night, can be a trying experience. Fortunately, Dave Harrington's minimalistic, ethereal guitar work coupled with Nicolas Jarr's heavenly, all encompassing synth washes proved to be the perfect healing salve. Jarr's high pitched vocals sneak in to a track and then slip back out like a thief in the night. There was an booming bass beat that keeps kicking you in the chest. And then there was their gigantic mirror, reflecting radiant beams of light throughout the tent.  This was one of those experiences that made me forget where I was -- to just forget about everything for a moment. For that reason, I'll always hold it in the utmost regard.

2. Arcade Fire

May 1 at Bridgestone Arena

Win Butler and crew are some of the brightest, most innovative and forward thinking musicians of our day. It's hard to put a finger on what exactly it is, but everything about their stage show and production is a breath of fresh air. The band's first stadium tour had it all: raging calypso drums, blankets of confetti, Mexican wrestler masks and crystal monsters dancing around. Famed DJ Kid Koala even showed up to jam while the equipment was set up. But Arcade Fire also have the booming catalog to back it up. They could rattle the arena with Springsteen-esque rock or get experimental with more exotic material from their latest album, Reflektor, but it was the giant anthems that carried the night as the entire building was swept away in a riveting rendition of "Wake Up."

1. Jack White

June 14 at Bonnaroo

He may hail from Detroit, for but three hours in a field in Tennessee Jack White did all he could to position himself in the pantheon of all time greatest Southern musicians. He had a particular concept in mind, so I'll let him tell you in his own words:

"All the musicians up here with me now, I think they all mentally decided that the best thing to give to you right now was not a show that would put on a bunch of explosions behind us and give you some sort of pyrotechnics for some festival or something like that. But the kind of show that we show you what kind of music we would play if we were in a room all by ourselves and you were there too."

As simple as it may seem, some performers put too much stock into presentation or focus too much on trying to girls onstage topless with them. With Jack White it was not just about the music; it was a celebration of music. This show was special because everything about his delivery felt very personalized; it was like he was talking directly to you in the crowd no matter where you were.

But you also have to excel in terms of musicianship to make a concept like this work, and in White's case he's capable of doing things that many musicians can't. There are plenty of blues players with amazing instrumental skills, but White combines electrifying charisma with awe-inspiring musical chops, and he can actually write songs too. I found myself mesmerized by his playing. He belts out blues inspired solos but can also jam out quite a bit.

"Seven Nation Army" was the moment the audience had been anticipating all night. When he hopped onto the speaker and belted out that riff it was a full blown coronation. Of all the iconic, instantly recognizable guitar riffs that one is the most recent, and may well be the last for all we know. But what we do know is this: there may not have been any pryo at this show but you're out of luck if you're trying to determine anything else it was lacking.