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The 25 best live music acts of 2014

Best-Live-Acts-2014_post

It’s that palpable sense of excitement in the crowd, how musicians can seize the moment and make you feel something unexpected or enlightening. Being able to connect with music through a collective experience is breathtaking when it happens, especially when you can tell fellow fans (and sometimes the artists themselves) are affected similarly. Nothing beats a transformative show that takes you to another place — or one that just fucking rocks.

Showbams covered many excellent bands, musicians and DJs throughout 2014 — the following 25 acts are our favorite live performers of the year.

Showbams’ Top 50 Albums of 2014
The Bam Team’s 5 Favorite Shows, Albums & Songs of 2014

Listen to The Bam Team’s favorite songs of 2014:


25.sylvan_esso

25. Sylvan Esso

Singer Amelia Meath’s voice sparkles with the tone of Feist and the intonation of Regina Spektor, while Nick Sanborn’s live production hits the sweat spot of trending sound in 2014 — the wobbles and looping vocals are somehow familiar and fresh all at once. -Mike Frash, photo by James Nagel


24.Fucked Up

24. Fucked Up

Now, it’s hard to not say that [Damian] Abraham is the show here. Not only because he is a musical madman who would rather be in the pit with his fans than on the stage with his longtime band, but also because frankly, the rest of the band seemed aloof at times. Sure, all but one help in the vocal department, but trying to compete for attention with Abraham would be a futile effort. The frontman, now shirtless (which is tradition), was cruising all over The Indy like a whirlwind. First, he was up in the seats on house right, and the next thing you know, he is having a full-blown mock-luchadore wrestling match with a fan in front of the stage. I kid you not. -Kevin Quandt, photo by Pedro Paredes


23.parquet-courts

23. Parquet Courts

Andrew Savage and his newly-grown Sideshow Bob-esque afro couldn’t help but remark on the younger members of the crowd having the time of their life; “Sure like watching you boys move around out there,” he stated with a smirk. “Stoned and Starving” was oddly missing from the night’s set, possibly a product of not being awarded the headlining set on this night. Whatever, Parquet Courts don’t give a fuck. -Kevin Quandt, photo by Kory Thibeault


22.disclosure

22. Disclosure

It was refreshing to witness intelligent dance music prospering, playing to an enthusiastic & packed Greek Theater Berkeley for the first ever “Wild Life”. Disclosure are revamping contemporary dance music by repurposing past elements into poppy, progressive packages, which is consequently influencing mainstream music in a meaningful way. -Mike Frash, photo by Sam Heller


21.Blood Orange

21. Blood Orange

Dev Hynes and company gifted us with a performance abundant in groove and energy. The crowd intensity quickly translated from the stage onto the entire venue, with the London-native acting as the master of ceremony, surrounded by talent. Samantha Urbani’s (Friends singer and Hynes’ girlfriend) vocals on “It is What It Is” were beautiful and hypnotic, and put the audience in a soothing stage that was only broken when Dev Hynes decided to bring the house down with an explosive version of “Uncle Ace”. -Pedro Paredes, photo by Pedro Paredes


20.deerhoof

20. Deerhoof

The ever evolving musical dialect that Deerhoof have created for them, and them alone is a big takeaway. The four members share a vernacular on stage that only they speak. Greg Saunier’ musical training allow him to ebb and flow with the other members on stage; never playing over Satomi’s dainty vocals while allowing Dietrich to expand on his freakish chords. -Kevin Quandt, photo by Greg RaMar


19.Rubblebucket

19. Rubblebucket

It should be stated that Kalmia Traver is one of the best frontwoman in the business. She truly is the full package as she sings with a rigorous passion, dances joyously, plays baritone sax and wins the adoration of nearly every member of the audience. Her dedication is refreshing and infectious. The group’s sound has evolved to a more varied palette as comparisons to Arcade Fire could begin to fester in one’s mind. -Kevin Quandt, photo by Kory Thibeault


18.Volcano Choir

18. Volcano Choir

It was the minimalist songs, complimented by reverent crowd silence and attention, that were the memorable highlights…attempts at discovering new sound spaces is an absolute success for Volcano Choir, making Bon Iver seem almost boring in retrospect. It’s understandable why Vernon said this might be his new band — Vernon’s claim to fame almost seems superfluous now. -Mike Frash, photo by Chaya Frash


17.connan-mockasin

17. Connan Mockasin

It’s about time that the US markets pay a little more attention to this dream-psych export that has made waves in a handful of international markets, and for good reason. Sure, the likes of Ariel Pink and Animal Collective are hailed as gods in the genre, but Connan has something a little more unique to offer us. -Kevin Quandt, photo by Pedro Paredes


16.Sun-Kil-Moon

16. Sun Kil Moon

Before launching into “I Watched the Film The Song Remains the Same”, something rather extraordinary happened. He looked at a young male fan in the front and asked why he had headphones on his head. Then Kozelek forcefully stated, “You look like a fucking douchebag”, filling the venue with tension and a bit of laughter. This happened right before playing a track about coming to terms with once bullying a kid on the playground in his youth. In the song he discusses the incident, “though I grinned, deep inside I was hurting.” It appears this whole incident was a creative, effective way to foreshadow and show his contradictory nature, as opposed to him being horribly passive aggressive. -Mike Frash, Photo Courtesy of Sun Kil Moon


15.sharon-van-etten

15. Sharon Van Etten

Despite her songs being so often daunting and bleak in nature, Van Etten was able to break up the heaviness with the levity of her between song banter. One crowd member shouted to Van Etten that she should do standup comedy, to which Van Etten responded, “So you’re saying my music career is over,” to even more laughter…Songs from her new release are much fuller in comparison to earlier Van Etten offerings and the benefit was instantly felt when performed with her talented band. -Mark E. Ortega, photo by Pedro Paredes


14.The National

14. The National

Grown to be more comfortable with themselves, poised and energetic with precise control, The National’s music is more accessible and impactful than ever before, and the group is pulling it off in front of the biggest audiences of their career. Slowly winning over fans for 15 years, The National have earned it. -Mike Frash, photo by James Nagel


13.Flume

13. Flume

In the past year, Flume’s set has become more sophisticated, led by a restrained approach that intermingles hip-hop, trap, R&B and rap. The drops are inverted in their intensity compared to traditional EDM, offering slight delays and unpredictable syncopation…his ability to curate a festival-sized mega party cannot be questioned at this point. Fortune favors the bold. -Mike Frash, photo by Josh Herwitt


12.Ryan Adams

12. Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams impressed this year with sets laced full of cuts from his remarkable self-titled album, his 14th and newest. At his headlining show at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Adams transitioned his endearing goof-spaz stage banter into an impromptu gem of a song revolving around a someone holding balloons in the back of the show taking place in Golden Gate Park. -Mike Frash, photo by Pedro Paredes


11.Outkast

11. OutKast

OutKast was the reunion tour of the year, hitting a festival in nearly every region of the world. While Big Boi is the consistent, poised professional day after day, his partner André 3000 a bit of a wildcard, as we all witnessed as he turned his back on Coachella audience on opening night. But Dré’s rhymes were clean and on point as he sported a jumpsuit that told you how he really felt night to night. -Mike Frash, photo by Marc Fong


10.future-islands

10. Future Islands

Sam Herring is in no rush, and he takes it slow while the bass line marks a steady beat. He wants the people not just to feel, but to listen as well, and he takes time to give some context before commencing a new song.It became clear that Herring is all about making a connection with the audience…his style seems to draw inspiration from multiple sources, and I can’t help but to be reminded of the insane intensity of Ian Curtis, the shamanic charisma of Jim Morrison, and the storytelling skills of Johnny Cash. -Pedro Paredes, photo by Pedro Paredes


9.darkside

9. DARKSIDE

Simmering melodic-based atmosphere moved to dramatic slow-builds, and Nicolas Jaar would introduce a track along the way — all while creating tension. Then well-deserved bass drops revealed themselves in both sneaky and progressive ways, establishing a prolonged release in the form of the crowd losing their shit to four on the floor house beats and body-shaking bass…One of the most memorable transitions came deep into “Paper Trails” when the drop developed over four quick beats in a measure, from no bass to full on bass domination. It was a striking example of Jaar’s original, crafty abilities in the moment. -Mike Frash, Photo by James Nagel


8.tune-yards

8. tUnE-yArDs

Driven by percussion, vocals and ecstatic hyperactivity, tUnE-yArDs win with a lighthearted, quirky mentality that skewers conformity…this show had all the indications of an essential live performance; the music was thoroughly impacting, and the crowd was completely immersed and wide-eyed throughout, taking in tUnE-yArDs’ breathtaking sonic concoctions. -Mike Frash, photo by Pedro Paredes


7.mac-demarco2

7. Mac Demarco

DeMarco’s fans screamed in sheer delight as he transformed himself into some sort of pop-slacker, earning hoots and howls from a bevy of females in the crowd. His rise to King Weirdo status has been swift, and it’s been for good reason. His likeability, coupled with his unique playing style, is pretty damned infectious, after all. -Kevin Quandt, photo by Pedro Paredes


6.Arcade Fire

6. Arcade Fire

Throughout the Reflektor tour, Arcade Fire premiered a new cover each night. For example, halfway through their epic Coachella set, the band broke into the opening notes of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass”, only to be joined by Debbie Harry of Blondie fame for this full rendition. Arcade Fire successfully cultivated a party atmosphere, adding to the high level of revelry already there. -Molly Kish, Photo courtesy of Arcade Fire.


5.run-the-jewels

5. Run the Jewels

Much like at a Phish or Die Antwoord audience, most everyone in the room at Run the Jewels was there in “full buy-in” mode, not worried about what someone might think of you by getting a bit too into the moment. Which, when you think about it, is pretty elusive for a rap act that is beloved by the indie blogosphere and its readers. Yet, there is a collective acceptance, a mentality that has bubbled up from impromptu social media memes, gifs and videos that are moving RTJ into mainstream mentality. -Mike Frash, photo by Alfonso Solis


4.st-vincent

4. St. Vincent

Captivating an audience has never been much of an issue for St. Vincent due to the incredible musical talent Annie Clark possesses. Her amazing skills as songwriter, lyricist and guitar-shredding icon are nearly unmatchable in contemporary pop. This tour however is incredibly unique, in that it finally showcases these undeniable aspects of Clark on a grand scale. From the production elements to various costume and instrument changes amidst an encapsulating set design, Clark has finally emerged as a true rock star. -Molly Kish, photo by Pedro Paredes


3.the-war-on-drugs

3. The War on Drugs

Adam Granduciel has arrived to the next level, as The War on Drugs have broken through the underground in a big way with their latest release entitled, Lost in a Dream. The subsequent, and long awaited, tour has been nothing short of fantastic as an expanded band has led to their most sonically pleasing tour to date. -Kevin Quandt, photo by Sterling Munksgard


2.atomic-bomb

2. ATOMIC BOMB! The Music of William Onyeabor

Luaka Bop founder and musical virtuoso David Byrne unearthed Onyeabor’s self-released eight album discography and organized a top secret live music project called “ATOMIC BOMB! The Music of William Onyeabor”, bringing it to life on stage at the Warfield Tuesday for the third time ever.

With an all-star cast of incredible artists, the Atomic Bomb! band took the stage in a handful of lucky cities to provide a near-religious experience (mock-secular program included), reviving the spirit of Onyeabor’s body of work. Lending their various talents to the incredible performance, Alexis Taylor (Hot Chip), Kele Okereke (Bloc Party), Pat Mahoney (LCD Soundsystem), Joshua Redman, Money Mark, The Lijadu Sisters and Sinkane (the musical director) were accompanied by Byrne (along with a full horn section and backing band). -Molly Kish, photo by Marc Fong


1.Jack White

1. Jack White

It’s been Jack White’s year on the live music circuit. His endless Bonnaroo headlining set this year is now a recognizable career milestone based on word of mouth alone. He severely twisted his ankle in SF and kept touring against the advice of his doctor. Jack seemed more focused and engaged than on prior tours, while also appearing authentic, positive, comfortable and likable. Labeled as grumpy, sad and controlling in the past, White embodied the ambassador of fun, and a sharp haircut seemingly signified the “new” Jack White further. The newest item of actual substance is that the man is in the prime of his career, playing truly epic shows, proving to be the biggest rock star in the world with grit night after night. Without question, Jack White is one of the best live artists of 2014 — and now with a humble, inclusive attitude, his stock should only rise further. -Mike Frash, photo by David James Swanson

4.st-vincent2

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