My 2014 concert-going adventures matched my age, or came damn close. I witnessed around 30 live performances this year, a number that suggests maybe I am slowing down as my vintage increases or slowing down as my New York City rent obligations grow.
The news isn’t all bad though. 2014 provided me the opportunity to check off several artists from my bucket list and witness many others who I had loved in previous years. It even provided me a chance to see Jennifer Lopez lip-sync for 90 minutes in the Bronx, and live to tell the tale (which I haven’t).
You will notice this list skews heavily toward festival performances. That is because I am poor – to maintain an active concert-going existence in NYC means buying tickets bloated with Ticketmaster and Live Nation fees four or five months in advance – and the club shows featuring up-and-coming acts I witnessed were mostly misses, with one key exception.
Here is my favorite concerts 2014 edition list:
10. JASON ISBELL – Governors Ball (NYC)
Kudos to whoever handles booking at Governors Ball for sneaking Isbell onto the lineup. Even though early afternoon, outdoors, and mid-summer will never be the ideal time to witness Isbell, I found myself transfixed watching the Alabama troubadour and his band, the 400 Unit, recreate the alt-country gems off 2013 instant classic, Southeastern.
9. FRANK TURNER – Governors Ball (NYC)
On paper Turner and his mates had the same misfortune as Isbell, playing early in the day at Governors Ball. The reverie that hallmarked Turner’s performance – the sing-along choruses, the band’s balls-out enthusiasm for their songs, the endless references to drinking, etc. – created an all-inclusive, joyous spectacle that would have translated at any time, day or night.
8. TV ON THE RADIO – Governors Ball (NYC)
My ninth time seeing TV On The Radio perform also happened to be my first time seeing the Brooklyn/L.A. band play before a Refused audience. I am only half-joking. TV On The Radio played its characteristic soul-laden futuristic rock on fire to a crowd eager to push and elbow and jump into strangers. Maybe they were letting loose aggression in advance of the impending Outkast shitshow later that night.
7. ANGEL OLSEN – Le Poisson Rouge (NYC)
The amount of times she smiled could be counted on one hand, maybe two if you were generous with your definition of smiling. And yet Olsen produced a transcendent wonder at her first NYC show in 2014 with her at turns haunting and beatific voice. Her backing band fleshed out the ethereal nature of her songs in a manner that, when joined with her live vocals, made me hear the wondrous songs off Burn Your Fire For No Witness as if for the first time. (Original Review)
6. ARCADE FIRE – Barclay’s Arena (Brooklyn)
Distance at arena shows is a bitch. How do you feel connected to something or someone at a musical event when you are a football field away from them? Rhetorical question, I know. Canadian supergroup Arcade Fire managed to close the gap about as well as any arena rock act I’ve witnessed. There were celeb appearances, showcased dancers, and massive headpieces. Yet, the overwhelming highlight was just hearing songs that have soundtracked my 20s, even if stick figures in the distance produced the sounds I cherished. (Original Review)
5. HAIM – Brooklyn Bridge Park (Brooklyn)
I wore Levi’s to this show. Don’t ask me which. The conceit of Haim’s free Brooklyn Bridge Park show with Sleigh Bells was all attendees had to wear an article of clothing from the California-based jean titans. And while I am not sure the concert resulted in more Levi’s purchases I can report Este’s bass face, Danielle’s shredding, and the ridiculous view of lower Manhattan behind us made me a true believer in everything Haim and free in New York City.
4. THE STROKES – Governors Ball (NYC)
So this is what seeing Blur or the Stone Roses or Oasis in the UK is like, eh? The Strokes are not a sing-along band, per se. You would not have known that seeing them at Governors Ball. It was as if seas of people were handed lyric sheets, in which they dutifully sang along to every drunken bit of wisdom/faux wisdom Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas ever committed to page. And it was FUCKING GLORIOUS! My 20-year-old self would have been super jelly. Hell, my current self is super jealous – I’ll only allow myself one abbreviation of jealous in this post – of seeing the Strokes this summer.
3. JANELLE MONAE – Governors Ball (NYC)
Real talk: I blinked back a tear or two during the diminutive Monae’s performance when she sang the line “I was made to believe there was something wrong with me” off her song “Cold War”. It’s a testament to how good Monae is that she can be emotionally wrenching one moment, and be the personification of human joy, sex appeal, and grace for the rest of her allotted hour. It doesn’t matter where Monae performs, her voice’s beauty, the audacity of her dance moves, and her willingness to please and entertain wed to create the type of beautiful environment that makes everything else disappear in the moment, and that is a rare gift.
2. MATT AND KIM – Hudson Valley Project (Saugerties, NY)
I mean, Matt and Kim is always a spectacle. Matt and Kim at a hippie festival with a dozen people in sperm outfits floating around the audience at all times? GOOD LORD, THAT SHIT WAS RIDICULOUS! And a lot of fun. Far be it from me to understand how most of Matt and Kim’s recorded music annoys me yet the husband and wife’s ADHD on steroids live show excites and delights me. Sometimes you just have to go with it. Like Kim twerking on her drum kit like her supper depended on it, the hundreds of balloons that were blown up and then released during the show, and the aforementioned sperm. Ridiculous is good.
1. THE FLAMING LIPS – Hudson Valley Project (Saugerties, NY)
Wayne Coyne prefaced his band’s set with the words “This might be the best night of your life”, and I’ll be damned if he and his band didn’t come close to making that hyperbolic statement a reality for a Flaming Lips agnostic. As concert experiences go The Flaming Lips’s mix of euphoria, surreal stage props, and Wayne’s fucking hamster ball – or whatever that blessed thing was – floored me. Like, made me reconsider what a concert could and should be. An outpouring of love, a sensory orgasm, like floating in space while inside your mother’s womb. OK, not every concert can scale those heights. OK, pretty much none can. Flaming Lips did, and I am still a little dumbfounded, and more than a little giddy, that I witnessed it all.
Stay tuned for my Favorite Concert Photos of 2014 on Monday and my Favorite Songs of 2014 on Tuesday