The Bam Team’s 5 Favorite Shows, Albums & Songs of 2021

Best of 2021 - Olivia Rodrigo, Quicksand, Modest Mouse, My Morning Jacket, Moses Sumney, Caribou, Outside Lands

The past 12 months have been interesting to say the least. While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage across the world after almost two years, 2021 did prove to be a little better than its predecessor on the calendar and a big reason for that was undoubtedly the return of live music during the second half of this year. For so many of us after being locked down at home, just having the chance to attend a concert or festival in person again provided some sense of normalcy to our everyday lives.

But as we look forward to hopefully better days in 2022, it’s time for us to unveil our annual “Best of” lists like we have done since this blog first began (see our 2020 picks here). No, we didn’t have time to catch every show or hear all of the albums released in the last 365 days, but forcing ourselves to make difficult decisions can be a fun exercise that helps us reflect on the year in music before turning the page.

So, without further ado, Showbams presents The Bam Team’s five favorite shows, albums and songs from 2021.

Listen to The Bam Team’s favorite songs of 2021:

My Morning Jacket (Jim James) at Santa Barbara Bowl


My Morning Jacket at Santa Barbara Bowl // Photo by Josh Herwitt

Josh Herwitt // Los Angeles

Top 5 Shows of 2021
1. My Morning Jacket at Santa Barbara Bowl – Santa Barbara, CA – September 23rd
Almost six years had passed since the last time Jim James and company performed at one of Southern California’s best music venues, but after surviving 18 months without witnessing any live music, the wait for MMJ’s return to the stage felt even longer. Fortunately for us, the Louisville-bred quintet brought its A game to kick off a string of West Coast dates and powered through a collection of 23 songs at the Santa Barbara Bowl that included the emotive “In Color” off the band’s new self-titled album as well as “Where to Begin” from the “Elizabethtown” soundtrack. MMJ have earned a reputation over the years as one of the best live acts still out there, and they certainly validated that claim with a 2.5-hour performance that made the 90-mile drive from LA on a weeknight totally worth it.

2. Modest Mouse at The Theatre at Ace Hotel – Los Angeles, CA – September 25th
3. Caribou at Greek Theatre – Los Angeles, CA – November 15th
4. Lord Huron at Hollywood Forever – Los Angeles, CA – September 30th
5. Primus “A Tribute to Kings” at Greek Theatre – Los Angeles, CA – October 17th

Top 5 Albums of 2021
1. The War on Drugs – I Don’t Live Here Anymore
What can we say about Adam Granduciel that hasn’t already been said? After composing and producing The War on Drugs’ best material during his previous two trips into the studio with the latter effort winning a Grammy, we knew it would be tough for the Philadelphia native to match that same level of excellence attained in 2014 and 2017 with Lost in the Dream and A Deeper Understanding. And though I Don’t Live Here Anymore doesn’t quite get there, it marks another LP from Granduciel and his cohorts that you can listen straight through from start to finish without skipping a track. Because in an era when our attention spans have been shrunk thanks in large part to technology, that’s something we should all applaud.

2. Modest Mouse – The Golden Casket
3. DARKSIDE – Spiral
4. My Morning Jacket – My Morning Jacket
5. Royal Blood – Typhoons

Top 5 Songs of 2021
1. Royal Blood – “Boilermaker”
The English alt-rock duo comprised of lead singer/bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher shared “Boilermaker” in the lead-up to releasing its third full length this year, and the promotional single certainly stands out from the pack as one of the best songs on Typhoons. Produced by Queens of the Stone Age leader Josh Homme, it opens with Kerr’s fuzzed-out riff and quickly builds into a head-banging anthem over the course of three and a half minutes. If you haven’t heard it before, just make sure to also check out the badass music video that’s directed by and stars Liam Lynch. Enjoy!

2. My Morning Jacket – “In Color”
3. Modest Mouse – “Walking and Running”
4. The War on Drugs – “I Don’t Wanna Wait”
5. Bonobo – “Rosewood”

Favorite remix: Four Tet – “Never Come Back” (Caribou)


Quicksand - Distant Populations

Andrew Pohl // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2021
1. Kowloon Walled City at The Golden Bull – Oakland, CA – November 30th
Regardless of the fact that I didn’t go to many shows this year, this would have likely been my No. 1 even if I went to more. I had only recently been turned on to Kowloon Walled City, but I was immediately drawn to their heavy sound and they proved to replicate that sonic fury live. The Golden Bull is a nice, intimate setting for live music, and the fact that KWC were able to dial in such a balanced sound at a small club made a huge difference given how BIG they sound on their studio albums. Everyone was fixated on the band throughout its entire set, and I barely noticed anyone looking at a phone — one of the modern-day signs of a great show.

2. Quicksand at Great American Music Hall – San Francisco, CA – October 15th
3. Bad Religion & Alkaline Trio at The Masonic – San Francisco, CA – November 24th
4. The Slackers & The Aggrolites at Cornerstone Berkeley – Berkeley, CA – December 9th
5. Lagwagon with Red City Radio & Decent Criminal at Bottom of the Hill – San Francisco, CA – November 4th

Top 5 Albums of 2021
1. Quicksand – Distant Populations
During a turbulent time like what we’ve all been collectively experiencing since last year, I think this album resonated with me so much because Quicksand has always been such a solid standby. Distant Populations is heavy in all of the right ways without being abrasive while also effectively showcasing Walter Schreifels’ dynamic song-crafting abilities. Quicksand aren’t necessarily breaking the mold here, but they’re a band that had already set the bar high with their earlier albums and this LP is an excellent continuation of their contribution to the hardcore scene.

2. Turnstile – Glow On
3. IDLES – Crawler
4. Kowloon Walled City – Piecework
5. Snail Mail – Valentine

Top 5 Songs of 2021
1. IDLES – “The Wheel”
I love how IDLES have the ability to take a song about a heavy subject like chemical dependency and turn it into an absolutely infectious banger. “The Wheel” is a perfect example of this, leaving you drawn in and tapping your foot while giving you something to ponder. The way that it can make you feel equal parts uplifted and uncomfortable is part of the appeal to me, and this was easily one of my most played songs of the year.

2. Decent Criminal – “Reap”
3. The Dirty Nil – “Doom Boy”
4. Kills Birds – “Rabbit”
5. Snail Mail – “Valentine”


Adam Schatz


Adam Schatz at The Gold Room // Photo by Rochelle Shipman

Rochelle Shipman // Los Angeles

Top 5 Shows of 2021
1. Adam Schatz at The Gold Room – Los Angeles, CA – November 18th
The Landlady frontman actually served as the opener on this night, but armed with little more than his saxophone, keyboards and loops, it’s safe to say Schatz stole the entire show. Fresh off a tour playing with Japanese Breakfast, he stepped onstage and quite literally let loose. It was the most refreshing, freeform, organic set full of wit and wonder, offering a sharp reminder why we need to protect the live music space (and to buy the killer album Landlady put out this year, too).

2. Foxx Bodies with Suzie True & Lando Chill at Resident DTLA – Los Angeles, CA – November 7th
3. Islands at Lodge Room – Los Angeles, CA – September 9th
4. Spoon at Teragram Ballroom – Los Angeles, CA – September 28th
5. Armand Hammer & The Alchemist at Echoplex – Los Angeles, CA – September 19th

Top 5 Albums of 2021
1. Foxx Bodies – Vixen
The raw emotions that come through Foxx Bodies’ debut on indie label Kill Rock Stars grabbed me by the ankles and knocked me off my feet the first time I heard it. For an album that explores everything from mental illness, sexual abuse, eating disorders, gender fluidity and beyond, it’s equally shocking how upbeat and uplifting it comes off. It’s part empowering riot grrrl and part rollicking surf punk, full confessional. Trigger warning: it will change your life.

2. Olivia Rodrigo – Sour
3. Tyler, the Creator – Call Me If You Get Lost
4. Backxwash – I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND MY DRESSES
5. Noga Erez – KIDS

Top 5 Songs of 2021
1. Hiatus Kaiyote – “Red Room”
This song is the antithesis to 2021. It’s so warm and beautiful, so intimate as though it was conceived in a world where social distancing doesn’t even exist. Nai Palm’s soft, raspy vocals envelop you, and the uncharacteristically subtle sounds (for Hiatus Kaiyote) deliver perhaps the most consistent semblance of peace felt this year.

2. Olivia Rodrigo – “Brutal”
3. Foxx Bodies – “BPD”
4. Yaya Bey – “fxck it then”
5. Little Simz feat. Cleo Sol – “Woman”

Favorite remix: Kari Faux feat. J.I.D – “While God Was Sleepin’… (Remix)”

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The Bam Team’s 5 Favorite Shows, Albums & Songs of 2019

Kali Uchis at Smokin Grooves Fest - Rochelle Shipman


Kali Uchis at Smokin Grooves Fest // Showbams’ Photo of the Year, by Rochelle Shipman

Um, that’s it? Another year in the rear-view mirror? Where the hell did the last 12 months go? Time sure does seem to fly when there’s so much good new music out there to enjoy.

With that said, it’s once again time for us to share our annual “Best of” lists like we have done the past few years (see our 2018 picks here). From new emerging artists to reunion tours to the return of rock ‘n’ roll, this year had a little bit of everything for both the casual and passionate music fan. And even if you didn’t have the time to listen to every album that came out (neither did we), that’s why we’re here: to help point you in the right direction whenever you do finally get the chance to dig in.

So, without further ado, Showbams presents The Bam Team’s five favorite shows, albums and songs from 2019.

See our favorite performances from 2019 here.

Listen to The Bam Team’s favorite songs of 2019:


The Chemical Brothers at Shrine Expo Hall - Josh Herwitt


The Chemical Brothers at Shrine Expo Hall // Photo by Josh Herwitt

Josh Herwitt // Los Angeles

Top 5 Shows of 2019
1. Tool at Staples Center – Los Angeles, CA – October 20th & 21st
Unlike the delay on Tool’s fifth album Fear Inoculum, I thankfully didn’t have to wait 13 years to see my favorite band perform live. It was only a couple of years ago when I caught the boys at The Gorge, earning top honors as my favorite show in 2017, and subsequently a week later at Glen Helen Amphitheater for an all-day affair with Primus, Clutch, Fantômas, Melvins and The Crystal Method. Perhaps my tastes haven’t changed all that much since then, but even in a year that saw me attend half as many concerts as I usually do, Tool are still finding new and innovative ways to enhance their live show. Whether it’s tinkering with their stage production to incorporate a see-through curtain at times or adding surround sound throughout the arena, a Tool performance has evolved into a spiritual, meditative and almost out-of-body experience over the last decade. It’s no wonder why scoring tickets remains a trial of good fortune.

2. The Raconteurs at Santa Barbara Bowl – Santa Barbara, CA – July 27th
3. The Chemical Brothers at Shrine Expo Hall – Los Angeles, CA – May 15th
4. Jim James & The Claypool Lennon Delirium at The Wiltern – Los Angeles, CA – July 3rd
5. Foals at Shrine Expo Hall – Los Angeles, CA – March 24th

Top 5 Albums of 2019
1. Tool – Fear Inoculum
When a three-time Grammy-winning band takes more than a decade to release its next album, it’s only natural for expectations to go through the roof. And I’ll be the first to admit that there was a small seed of doubt in my mind when it came to just how epic Tool’s latest sonic voyage in the studio could and would be. But upon first listen, any uncertainty I had about the merits of Fear Inoculum was quickly dispelled. The title track lures you in from the onset, building to a higher place as Maynard James Keenan (vocals) and company — Adam Jones (guitar), Justin Chancellor (bass) and Danny Carey (drums, percussion) — take listeners on an 80-minute rite of passage that holds up as some of the quartet’s best material in its entire catalog. I just hope they got at least one more LP in them, even if it takes another 13 years to make.

2. The Raconteurs – Help Us Stranger
3. Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1
4. The Chemical Brothers – No Geography
5. Black Pumas – Black Pumas

Top 5 Songs of 2019
1. Tool – “Descending”
If you’re still reading, you’ve probably gotten the hint by now that I’m a big fan of Tool. After all, it only seemed fitting that my top song in 2019 should also come from my No. 1 album of the year by my favorite band over the last two decades. I have seen Tool perform a shortened version of “Descending” several times since 2014, before it ever had an official title, so when Fear Inoculum arrived back in August, there was no track I anticipated hearing more. In fact, at more than 13 minutes long, it’s one that requires your full, undivided attention, which can be a significant amount of time to dedicate in a world of three-minute pop songs and endless distractions now. But for prog-rock enthusiasts like myself who are more than willing to take the ride, “Descending” delivers a total rush of blood to the head that ultimately leads to pure unadulterated euphoria.

2. Bon Iver – “Hey, Ma”
3. Hot Chip – “Hungry Child”
4. Foals – “On the Luna”
5. Karen O and Danger Mouse – “Turn the Light”


Cate Le Bon - Reward

Kevin Quandt // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2019
1. Stereolab at Primavera Sound – Barcelona, Spain – June 1st
Primavera Sound has always had a knack for booking reunions (i.e. Pulp, The Avalanches and Pavement) to its “musical mecca” on the Balearic Sea. 2019’s iteration featured the first proper show in nearly a decade from the anti-capitalist art-pop darlings Stereolab. “Come and Play in the Milky Night” on 1999’s Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night would open the evening to the international consortium of aging music nerds who undoubtedly knew that they were about to be treated to a “best of” set from the English-French outfit. Better yet, their politically themed lyrical content seemed more relevant in 2019 than it was around the time of their creation a quarter-century ago.

2. Mike Dillon’s New Orleans Punk Rock Percussion Consortium at The Music Box Village – New Orleans, LA – April 26th
3. BLACK MIDI at Rickshaw Stop – San Francisco, CA – November 21st
4. Amen Dunes at August Hall – San Francisco, CA – January 10th
5. Ween at Desert Daze – Perris, CA – October 12th

Top 5 Albums of 2019
1. Cate Le Bon – Reward
What a banner year for the Welsh artist as she created her most highly acclaimed LP to date. Le Bon has truly honed her craft over the last decade as she has collaborated with a laundry list of indie-music royalty before writing the whimsical and austere Reward that employs an array of fresh sounds swirling around her haunting, pixie vocals. 2020 will see Cate jump on tour alongside Kurt Vile in a solo capacity, but we can’t wait to see what she produces next.

2. Wand – Laughing Matter
3. (Sandy) Alex G – House of Sugar
4. The Murder Capital – When I Have Fears
5. Omni – Networker

Top 5 Songs of 2019
1. Foals – “Sunday”
As Foals teeter on the edge of being rock’s next big headliner, the British group semi-quietly unleashed a pair of albums entitled Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 1 and Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost – Part 2. While their style continues to hover around math, dance and indie rock, they dig into a deeper realm of sonic atmosphere as frontman Yannis Philippakis questions, even laments, the state of our current times. “Sunday” tends to borrow a tad from the grandiose nature of their fellow Brits in Coldplay before dropping into a four-on-the-floor section that was rather well-received during their March stop at the Fox Theater in Oakland.

2. Crumb – “Ghostride”
3. Vampire Weekend – “Sunflower” feat. Steve Lacy
4. Oh Sees – “Henchlock”
5. Allah-Las – “In the Air”


Rochelle Shipman // Los Angeles

Top 5 Shows of 2019
1. slowthai at Lodge Room – Los Angeles, CA – September 4th
Shortly after releasing his debut album Nothing Great About Britain in May, Tyron Frampton played a few intimate U.S. shows several months later. My guess is that those were probably the last ones he’ll do if the UK rapper out of Northampton continues to rise and deliver, just like he did for much of 2019. Part Johnny Knoxville-type grime smart ass, part brilliant gritty-crust punk, slowthai shook the roof off LA’s Lodge Room, which turned out to be a warm-up show before he returned to play Camp Flog Gnaw in November. Frampton certainly came to please, setting the energy level at 11 and even performing his rowdy hit “Doorman” twice in the set. He could’ve run through it 15 times and the crowd would’ve left just as satisfied.

2. Little Simz at The Echo – Los Angeles, CA – June 13th
3. Taking Back Sunday at Hollywood Palladium – Los Angeles, CA – April 11th
4. Night Moves at The Echo – Los Angeles, CA – September 21st
5. Usher at Smokin Grooves Fest – Long Beach, CA – June 15th

Top 5 Albums of 2019
1. Little Simz – GREY Area
The production. The flow. The bars. The BALLS. Little Simz absolutely brings it on GREY Area, leaving no space for second-guessing, sexist bullshit or honestly anyone else at all. This latest studio album from the British emcee is all her, and you can feel it with every breath she takes. We should all be so lucky to come into our confidence the way that she did on this record, but most of all, we should just be grateful “Simbi” trusts us to keep her deepest secrets — and that they sound so, so good.

2. slowthai – Nothing Great About Britain
3. Shura – forevher
4. Ari Lennox – Shea Butter Baby
5. White Reaper – You Deserve Love

Top 5 Songs of 2019
1. slowthai – “Doorman” (with Mura Masa)
This song technically dropped in 2018, but its spotlight was shone even wider with slowthai releasing his debut LP this year. The Mura Masa-assisted cut pulses with adrenaline, carries the air of a movie soundtrack in only three minutes and has a beat that will take you all the way to the moon and back. In the words of Lizzo, it’s a whole damn meal!

2. Kari Faux – “Latch Key”
3. Billie Eilish – “bury a friend”
4. Little Simz – “Venom”
5. Smino – “Trina”


Tool - Fear Inoculum

Andrew Pohl // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2019
1. IDLES – Fillmore – San Francisco, CA – October 10th
After putting out one of my favorite albums from 2018 and missing their show earlier this year, I was thrilled to finally catch IDLES live. To say that these English punk rockers put on a good performance would be a true understatement. They had the energy of an out-of-control freight train but were able to contain it while proving to be an incredibly fun act to see live. Frontman Joe Talbot engaged with the audience in a very authentic way, talking and singing to fans, not just at them. There were crowd-surfing guitarists, mosh pits and sing-a-longs … it was wild.

2. Punk Rock Bowling 2019 – Las Vegas, NV – May 23rd-27th
3. Judas Priest at The Warfield – San Francisco, CA – June 24th
4. Van’s Warped Tour 2019 at Shoreline Amphitheater – Mountain View, CA – July 20th-21st
5. ITCHY-O at Cornerstone – Berkeley, CA – November 23rd

Top 5 Albums of 2019
1. Tool – Fear Inoculum
Well, after all of the waiting and speculation, Tool have done it again, in a really big way. Fear Inoculum is everything that I was hoping it would be, and then some. HUGE-sounding drums, guitars and bass wrap your head in a warm prog blanket while Maynard does what he always has so well. It takes the best parts of their previous albums and combines them to showcase a band that has clearly not missed a step in the 13 years since 10,000 Days.

2. Bad Religion – Age of Unreason
3. Brittany Howard – Jaime
4. Catbite – Catbite
5. Plague Vendor – By Night

Top 5 Songs of 2019
1. The Hammerbombs – “I Hate Cars”
The Hammerbombs are an undersung Bay Area pop-punk group that have written some of the catchiest and fun songs I have heard from the East Bay scene in a long time. Their 2019 release Goodbye, Dreamboat made my top 10, and this track is the hands-down standout on an album chock-full of toe-tappers. It’s a heartfelt song written by singer and bassist Jen Louie, who has a knack for crafting some really fantastic tunes. The chorus is saccharine sweet, and you can’t help but sing along.

2. Lizzo – “Juice”
3. Bad Religion – “Do The Paranoid Style”
4. Ceremony – “In The Spirit World Now”
5. Lagwagon – “Surviving California”

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The 25 best live music acts of 2015

Best Live Acts of 2015

Around this time last year, we shared our 25 favorite live performers of 2014 after spending the past 12 months covering many excellent bands, musicians and DJs. So, with 2015 almost in the books, we thought we would give the same exercise another try, except this year, we made the call to exclude any artists we named in 2014. What fun would it really be to list them two years in a row anyway?

In the end, it wasn’t an easy task whittling down our list to 25, but some tough decisions had to be made. Those who didn’t make the cut but still deserve to be mentioned here include the following artists and bands (in alphabetical order) who we either covered at their own show and/or at a music festival this year:

AlunaGeorge, Ariel Pink, BADBADNOTGOOD, Bad Religion, Battles, Beirut, Belle and Sebastian, Big Grams, Billy Idol, Black Lips, The Black Keys, Blonde Redhead, BØRNS, BROODS, Built to Spill, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Chet Faker, Chromeo, City and Colour, Classixx, Cold War Kids, Dâm-Funk, Damien Rice, Death Cab for Cutie, Dengue Fever, Django Django, Dr. Dog, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Failure, The Flaming Lips, Flight Facilities, Goldroom, Glen Hansard, The Glitch Mob, Gorgon City, Holly Herndon, Interpol, Israel Nash, James Bay, Jeff Tweedy, Jenny Lewis, The Jesus and Mary Chain, JMSN, Jose Gonzalez, Jurassic 5, Kanye West, Kindness, King Tuff, Marina and the Diamonds, Miami Horror, Milky Chance, Modest Mouse, Morrissey, MS MR, Les Sins, Lotus, Natalie Prass, Neon Indian, ODESZA, Of Montreal, Oneohtrix Point Never, Panda Bear, Penguin Prison, Phantogram, Portugal. The Man, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Purity Ring, Ratatat, Royal Blood, San Fermin, Shlohmo, Slow Magic, SOHN, St. Paul and The Broken Bones, STRFKR, Surfer Blood, Talib Kweli, Tame Impala, Tennis, Toro y Moi, Tycho, Umphrey’s McGee, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Vintage Trouble, Vulfpeck, Widespread Panic, YACHT.

Now, without further ado, The Bam Team presents our 25 favorite live performers of 2015.

The Bam Team’s 5 Favorite Shows, Albums & Songs of 2015

Listen to The Bam Team’s favorite songs of 2015:


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #25 - Lord Huron

25. Lord Huron

The audience reacted with just as much enthusiasm during classic Lord Huron tunes as they did in hearing brand-new material, especially during fan favorites like “She Lit a Fire” and back-to-back rockabilly-tinged jams “The World Ender” and “Fool for Love”. At this point, the crowd had not only warmed up to Lord Huron’s infectious stage presence, but also gave into their buoyant vibes as mini dance parties broke out throughout the venue. -Molly Kish, photo by Steve Carlson


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #24 - Puscifer

24. Puscifer

Maynard James Keenan and friends have established themselves as not just a group of musicians who play songs on stage, but rather an assemblage of entertainers that provide their viewers and fans with something they may not have ever seen before — a true experience. Paying homage to the likes of Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd and the glory days of the rock opera, Puscifer have a very special way of combining their music with a stage show that offers so much more than just music. -Scotland Miller, photo by Mike Rosati


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #23 - Viet Cong

23. Viet Cong

Once the appetizer had been digested, Viet Cong were taking the stage and beginning a theme of quirky banter that eased the crowd into the blistering set as opposed to bombardment. Within the first few chords, it was evident that continued time on the road found the band at the peak of perfection. -Kevin Quandt, photo by Diana Cordero


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #22 - Kate Tempest

22. Kate Tempest

This decade will likely be known for the death of “genre,” the end of how groups have been contained into categories like R&B or rap since the birth of record labels. And with dance music on the rise, digitized conventions are creeping into pop, rap and indie music on the regular. With music more accessible than ever and for free, listeners are willing to experiment with their auditory material — and amalgamation is the natural result. Tempest represents this change as much or more than anyone as we enter the smack-dab middle of this decade. And that includes Kanye West, Sylvan Esso or Run the Jewels. -Mike Frash, photo by James Nagel


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #21 - Deerhunter

21. Deerhunter

Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox talked about how he decided on the way over to the island that he wouldn’t play many songs, how he took ayahuasca on Saturday night in LA and he was surprised at how reserved the TIMF audience was. He said we were “polite like the Japanese.” Bradford, that’s what we call “respect” — and you’ve earned it. -Mike Frash, photo by Marc Fong


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #20 - Faith No More

20. Faith No More

It can be hard to know what to expect from a crew like Faith No More and their eccentric, yet prolific members. The entire stage was dressed in white, from the curtains to the amplifiers to the mic stands. Lining the entire length of the stage and any flat surface that would support them were thousands of dollars worth of beautiful, fresh flowers. The abundance of purples and pinks, reds and yellows created a very comfortable and soothing, yet incredibly eerie feeling as to what was about to happen next. Once the setup was complete and the lights dropped, the crowd was let in to the stark contrast that is the weird world of Faith No More. -Scotland Miller, photo by Greg Ramar


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #19 - Sufjan Stevens

19. Sufjan Stevens

Stevens spoke of the need for community in the throes of grief, and the audience ably did their part to help him through this very public grieving process. At the end of the main set, a young woman crashed the stage to offer a bemused Sufjan something (a hug? words of love and encouragement?), and it seemed wholly appropriate, as if the audience needed in some small way to collectively reach out to the man after he bared his soul so openly. -Steve Carlson, photo by Steve Carlson


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #18 - Allen Stone

18. Allen Stone

In many ways, Stone’s ideological stance on technology shapes not only his set as a performer but also his fan base. Watching an Allen Stone show, one can feel certain that all pretenses will be left at the door and those surrounding you will be committing their full attention to the music. Midway through Stone’s set, the venue was completely under his charismatic spell. The audience actively followed the Seattle-born frontman’s lead as he prompted a group participation “2-step” and rolled through crowd favorites from his self-titled LP and latest album Radius. -Molly Kish, photo by Tom Dellinger


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #17 - The Kills

17. The Kills

Mosshart, tall and slender, strutted her way through just about all of it, displaying a bravado that exudes both sex and confidence, while Hince handled his axe like a bona fide rock star, eventually playing some slide guitar during the gritty, blues-infused track “Pots and Pans” that got the crowd roaring after it was over. After all, it’s that blues/garage-rock overlap, along with the chemistry exhibited between Mosshart and Hince onstage, that makes The Kills such a captivating rock ‘n’ roll act to see live these days. -Josh Herwitt, photo by Josh Herwitt


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #16 - The Chemical Brothers

16. The Chemical Brothers

Directly following their dramatic entrance to a recording of Junior Parker’s epic “Tomorrow Never Knows”, the duo kicked off their career-spanning set with crowd favorite “Hey Boy, Hey Girl” from 1999’s Surrender. They launched into a full-blown frenzy from that moment on, and the UK dance legends went hard (no pun intended) throughout the rest of their two-hour performance, debuting live remixes of new material from their 2015 release Born in the Echoes while interspersing nostalgia-inducing EDM classics off their seven previous albums. -Molly Kish, photo by Justin Yee


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #15 - Eagles of Death Metal

15. Eagles of Death Metal

EODM have the perfect style as a rock band, one that takes itself just seriously enough. As a whole, they are a hard, fast and tightly-wound production, with their silly lyrics and even sillier frontman bringing a perfect balance to what you want to see at a rock show. Closing with “Speaking in Tongues”, EODM walked off the stage at the Great American Music Hall knowing that they had accomplished what they came to do — to prove that rock ain’t dead. -Brett Ruffenach, photo by Mike Rosati


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #14 - Florence + the Machine

14. Florence + the Machine

Welch lapped around the inside ring of the bowl, stopping briefly at the sound stage. What a cool moment. -James Nagel, photo by James Nagel


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #13 - Sturgill Simpson

13. Sturgill Simpson

Simpson has stage presence, that is without a doubt. The conviction of his voice bolsters his words as he describes a life of highs and lows, trials and tribulations. This was evident on renditions of songs like “Turtles All the Way Down”. If there is a song to capture your attention and convince you of Simpson’s talents as a songwriter, this is one of them. Just like that of his predecessors, he writes music that goes against the grain of popular country music. It may be defined as “outlaw country,” but I personally feel it is music that resonates with a wider audience than that of its counterparts. -Kory Thibeault, photo by Kory Thibeault


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #12 - alt-j

12. alt-J

The 2012 Mercury Prize winners echoed a semblance to that of Sigur Rós or Volcano Choir, leaving audience members entranced in a near-altered state while observing the foursome. The biggest fan responses erupted during the band’s singalong favorites “Breezeblocks”, “Fitzpleasure” and their token cover of Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day”. -Molly Kish, photo by Mike Rosati


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #11 - Hot Chip

11. Hot Chip

In recent years, only ever getting the chance to see the outfit in stripped-down DJ sets or as part of side projects/collaborations, the afternoon crowd full of die-hard, nu-disco fans were not disappointed as the UK dance veterans set the polo fields ablaze. Refraining from any slow builders, Hot Chip performed an hour-long set of career-spanning bangers, keeping the crowd moving with hit after hit, that seamlessly blended into one another. The set procured one of the most viral dance party moments of the festival, with the audience spiraling into a collective bliss as it came to a close. -Molly Kish, photo by Josh Herwitt


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #10 - Dan Deacon

10. Dan Deacon

One of the toughest things to do in the world of electronic music is to sound organic, to imbue a sense of heart into the digitized nature of ones and zeroes. The Baltimore native accomplishes this through his hilarious and improvisational free-form, stand-up comedy, which thrives on wandering non sequiturs. And he mirrors this by adapting his insane-train of sound to meet and exceed the energy in the room. The “America” suite finished off the show with an extended doom metal quality that gave a sense that no aesthetic boundaries can contain Deacon’s sense of musical exploration. -Mike Frash, photo by Pedro Paredes


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #9 - FKA twigs

9. FKA twigs

British singer-songwriter Tahliah Debrett Barnett, better known as FKA twigs, has been all the rage lately after performing at Coachella in April, and she closed out FYF in style, donning an elaborate burgundy- and gold-colored robe for her Sunday night set. Just the week before, the 27-year-old fiancée of actor/musician Robert Pattinson released her brand-new EP M3LL155X, and with it receiving high marks from a number of music outlets, there were quite a few fans who stuck around after 11:30 p.m. on a “school night” to watch her perform some of them, including the opening track “Figure 8”, “In Time” and “Glass & Patron”. FKA twigs might be one of the most compelling live acts out there right now, and after scheduling Purity Ring to close out The Lawn the night before, FYF seemed to make a point of letting women rule that stage in the late-night hours this year. -Josh Herwitt, photo by Josh Herwitt


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #8 - Empire of the Sun

8. Empire of the Sun

As Steele belted out “Alive”, the hit single off the band’s sophomore studio album Ice on the Dune, to close things out, he brought the audience to a transcendent place of exhilaration. Crowd members embraced and danced amongst a like-minded family of people lost in the moment, even if it involved intergalactic creatures dancing in colored smoke and a crowned Emperor playing without his bandmate on stage. EOTS shows are a special kind of magic that regardless of the material’s absurd nature, translate into an experience unlike anything else. -Molly Kish, photo by Steve Carlson


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #7 - My Morning Jacket

7. My Morning Jacket

Though it was more than understandable to see the band play a large majority of The Waterfall for its first performance at the Santa Barbara Bowl in almost four years, there were plenty of other deep cuts mixed in over the next two hours, from “Bermuda Highway” to “Mahgeetah” to “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2”. After all, it’s no secret that My Morning Jacket have always been good to their most loyal and dedicated fans, and in once again taking song requests as part of their “Spontaneous Curation Series,” they made sure to dig up many of the classics from their seminal album Z, including “Wordless Chorus” and “Off the Record” one after the other in the middle of a loaded, four-song encore. -Josh Herwitt, photo by Josh Herwitt


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #6 - Jamie xx

6. Jamie xx

Throughout his tour, Smith has refused to compromise his individual style for the sake of appeasing either extreme of his now commercially hybrid audience. Whereas those familiar with his early XL Records mixtapes were satiated by his intermingling of Gil Scott-Heron and Idris Muhammad samples between hits, his newfound post-In Colour fans experienced equally breathtaking moments with the crowd hitting peak energy levels during the encore chorus of “Loud Places” amidst the glow of a warped-speed, neon-green strobe light. Other notable moments included the near-religious choral drop of “Gosh” that escalated the packed house to spiritual levels of enthusiasm, bathed in the glowing sparkle of Smith’s staggeringly iridescent ceiling to floor disco ball and stage lights. -Molly Kish, photo by James Nagel


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #5 - Elton John

5. Elton John

The star-spangled legend sat at his majestic piano as the sun went down on Sunday and moved the crowd with his brilliant playing. The adoring audience hung on every word and joined in singing his most popular hits. Walking off stage quickly after his last song, the audience demanded more and Elton happily obliged. With rumors of Lion King songs being played at past performances, some doting fans wanted a second encore to the tune of “Circle of Life”. While he didn’t indulge the Lion King fans, his stellar performance was a perfect ending to an amazing weekend at Outside Lands, leaving everyone’s festival tank full of love. -Nik Crossman, photo by James Nagel


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #4 - Father John Misty

4. Father John Misty

Father John (Sassypants) Misty has his festival game on point, and he has progressed his I Love You, Honeybear songs into epic plateaus since premiering them in the Santa Cruz mountains last February. He spewed banter like an Stephen Colbert-esque contrarian, saying, “Look at these suckers with their hair blowing all over the place.” And as he approached the mic for more improv-snark later on, Tillman paused to say, “Sorry, I have nothing to say. Ha.” FJM was speechless for once, but granted, it might have been set up for “Bored in the USA”, a song that should be considered an American classic at this point. -Mike Frash, photo by Pedro Paredes


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #3 - Kendrick Lamar

3. Kendrick Lamar

As Kendrick Lamar’s incredible performance began to wrap up with his newest single “Alright”, a group of fans in the crowd proceeded to lift someone up in a wheelchair, who, if I recall correctly, was the same guy who had his photo famously taken at Outside Lands in 2013. Kendrick took notice and called him out — his sense of sincere appreciation for a place like the Bay Area was written all over his face. -Brett Ruffenach, photo by Marc Fong


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 #2 - Caribou

2. Caribou

Described by fellow musician Dan Deacon as “one of the most brilliant acts touring right now” just before their set, Caribou lived up to the hype. Starting with “Our Love”, the four-piece band led by Dan Snaith perfectly set the stage for the next hour — a series of tightly wound compositions that, as the song progresses, expand in rhythmic complexity before reaching a climax that will get even the most tired Sunday afternoon crowd moving. Heavily augmenting its live performances from its studio recordings, the band’s live rendition of “Jamelia” in particular was a highlight of the set. Caribou is a band not to be missed. -Brett Ruffenach, photo by Justin Yee


Best Live Music Acts of 2015 - D'Angelo & The Vanguard #1

1. D’Angelo & The Vanguard

One of the most anticipated sets of the entire weekend was none other than D’Angelo’s — and for good reason. The R&B/neo-soul singer-songwriter hadn’t put out an album in 14 years until he suddenly dropped his 2014 masterpiece Black Messiah last December, so you knew that getting the rare opportunity to see Michael Eugene Archer work a crowd at FYF would be something special. Sounding more like a youthful James Brown than a wannabe Prince (we still don’t totally understand where those comparisons are coming from), D’Angelo and his eight-piece backing band The Vanguard took the audience for a ride as they doled out new and old hits. -Josh Herwitt, photo by Josh Herwitt

Outside Lands 2015 - Dan Deacon

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Bad Religion excavate their 20th-century roots at The Regency Ballroom

Bad ReligionPhotos by Greg RaMar // Written by Molly Kish //

Bad Religion with Adolescents, 5 Days Dirty //
The Regency Ballroom – San Francisco
April 19th, 2015 //

Bad Religion’s “Battle of the Centuries” tour hit The Regency Ballroom this past Sunday for the first of two nights in SF. Pitting the punk band’s early-era (1980-2000) material against its modern-day equivalent, Bad Religion’s current tour will extend through the end of June and revolves around a series of dates scheduled as a two-night bill as a way to highlight tracks from their extensive 35-year catalog.

5 Days Dirty


5 Days Dirty

Warming up the sold-out crowd, local act 5 Days Dirty opened the evening off with a somewhat confusing set filled with angsty pop punk. Donning Taylor Swift and mock tuxedo shirts, the band, although vocally charged and technically proficient, seemed a bit out of place in preceding two of hardcore punk’s most iconic bands. Whether the decision to book the group was an intentional tongue-and-cheek nod to the genre’s current state of affairs or simply a local spotlight, it provided the perfect amount of distaste in the crowd salivating for raw, old-school punk.

Adolescents


Adolescents

Up next on the bill was SoCal supergroup Adolescents. Mirroring a legacy similar to that of Bad Religion — though much more fractured — the band has also remained a part of the hardcore punk-rock scene for more than 30 years, serving as an influence for many of the genre’s contemporary artists and fans. It was during this set full of ear-splitting distortion that not only the speakers blew out, but also the crowd finally started to kick it into high gear. Filling out the main ballroom was an audience of middle-aged punks who started to stir, anxiously awaiting the perfect time to unleash amongst their punk-rock peers.

About halfway through their set of two-minute thrash anthems, Adolescents seized the moment. Recognizing the crowd was at a boiling point, lead singer Tony Cadena launched into an extended “Aaaaaaah …”, coursing the audience into a full-blown scream during the band’s quintessential call-to-arms track “Amoeba”. A huge circular mosh pit exploded on the main floor and remained rampant throughout the show.

Bad Religion


Bad Religion

With the energy at an all-time high and the venue packed to the brim, Bad Religion finally took the stage. With its token Crossbuster logo banner back lit and hanging high, the band entered stage right in dramatic fashion to the “Jesus Christ Superstar” soundtrack blaring through the Regency’s re-calibrated speakers.

A true showman, lead singer Greg Graffin immediately commanded the crowd, raising the collective energy to a fever pitch before the six-piece broke into an explosive 34-song set. Hearing the LA band rip through some of the most impassioned punk-rock ballads still contextually pertinent to this day felt near spiritual at times, especially when I stopped to look around and witnessed the audience’s reaction to such hyper-evocative material.

Bad Religion lead singer Greg Graffin


Bad Religion lead singer Greg Graffin

Only ever breaking pace to joke about the absurd amount of songs they were covering on their current tour, Bad Religion recognized how each night has been a dually cathartic process, playing hard and sounding just as flawless as ever. Each song they performed inspired crowd banter and shared choruses amongst complete strangers who were euphorically lost in the moment.

After Sunday’s show, it’s safe to say that in SF, the spirit of the 20th-century punk-rock scene never left and was justifiably resurrected at The Regency Ballroom.

Setlist:
Spirit Shine
Recipe for Hate
We’re Only Gonna Die
Stranger Than Fiction
Against the Grain
Sowing the Seeds of Utopia
You Are (The Government)
1000 More Fools
How Much Is Enough?
Suffer
Delirium of Disorder
Do What You Want
The Gray Race
Part III
The Hopeless Housewife
Modern Man
Skyscraper
No Direction
Change of Ideas
Big Bang
I Want to Conquer the World
Sanity
Henchman
Billy
You
Struck a Nerve
Slaves
The Handshake
Infected
Generator
American Jesus

Encore:
Along the Way
New America
Fuck Armageddon… This Is Hell

New Music Tuesday: Bad Religion • Toro y Moi • Ra Ra Riot • The Joy Formidable • Nosaj Thing • FIDLAR • The Growlers • Foxygen

Bad Religion - True North

Every Tuesday, we focus on new music releases by naming our top tracks, album highlights, lowlights and important takeaways for select albums.


Bad ReligionTrue North

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Past is Dead”
“Hello Cruel World”
“Dept. of False Hope”

Album Highlight: Bad Religion’s sound has been crafted over three and a half decades, and it hasn’t deviated much from a strong drive, mixed in with educated, anti-establishment lyrics and endless touring. Some faster tracks from the “80-85” era are a pleasant surprise.

Album Lowlight: A few odd songs like “Dharma and the Bomb” could have been omitted, as they are a little goofy and misplaced. If you aren’t a fan of 90’s punk drumming, this album may not be for you.

Takeaway: A must for any fan of Bad Religion or punk-tinged rock and roll fan. There are lots of thoughtful lyrics sung masterfully. True North continues a great punk rock tradition, what you’d expect from vets like Greg Graffin and Co.

~Kevin Quandt


Toro y MoiAnything in Return

4.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“So Many Details”
“Say That”
“Cola”
“Cake”

Album Highlight: Chazwick Bundick’s new LP Anything in Return is heavily dance-influenced compared to his prior works, and he’s brought a new beat to the table by lacing his first three tracks with UK deep house and R&B sensibilities. The opening section of the record has the freshest sound on the record.

Album Lowlight: It’s Toro y Moi’s longest record, and it does feel a bit long. “Touch” and “Day One” aren’t spectacular, but they aren’t bad either.

Takeaway: Anything in Return blends tracks influenced by dance (“Harm in Change” and “Say That”), R&B (“So Many Details”), micro-house (“Rose Quartz”), disco/chillwave (“Studies”), electronic pop (“Cake”) and funk (“High Living”). It’s a sexy, cohesive album, and Bundick takes a mature look at youthful living with his smooth lyrics. This is a winning record.

~Mike Frash


Ra Ra RiotBeta Love

4.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Dance with Me”
“Is It Too Much”
“Angel, Please”
“Binary Mind”

Album Highlight: Ra Ra Riot’s new album Beta Love is upbeat and infectious, combining many elements from their previous work with a more developed electronic sound. If Ra Ra Riot was in the alpha phase before, they have certainly progressed into the Beta phase with ‘Beta Love.’

Album Lowlight: Nitpicking here, but the second half of the album doesn’t quite retain the all-out dance party of the first half. After “Angel, Please”, the LP settles down a little and takes the listener into a nocturnal state with “When I Dream”.

Takeaway: Ra Ra Riot has created a tremendous indie electropop album. The band’s sound has evolved, moving away from the heavier, classical sounding music to a more electronic, synth vibe. Ra Ra Riot purists might be skeptical towards the change, but I love it. One of the best albums in a very young 2013, IMO.

~Kevin Raos


The Joy FormidableWolf’s Law

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“This Ladder Is Ours”
“The Turnaround/Wolf’s Law”
“The Leaopard And the Lung”

Album Highlight: The second half of Wolf’s Law contains enjoyable tracks that don’t sound like the typical, upbeat alt rock this group usually puts out. Check out “The Leaopard And the Lung” and a slow but lovely “Silent Treatment.”

Album Lowlight: Why throw a 70-second gap in the middle of the last track “The Turnaround/Wolf’s Law”? Both the parts within this track are excellent and could have been bridged. I’m sure there’s a reason they weren’t completely merged, but it just breaks up a beautiful final song in an unspectacular way. And “Maw Maw Song” is a little meh.

Takeaway: The Joy Formidable produce a noisy wall of sound that abruptly comes and goes, and Ritzy Bryan’s guitar-work dominates this album. If you’re a fan of The Joy Formidable, give it a spin, but you may be stumped by the odd, yet entertaining second half of the record. Overall, there isn’t anything particularly groundbreaking to be found in this LP.

~Mike Frash


Nosaj ThingHome

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Glue”
“Tell”
“Try” feat. Toro y Moi

Album Highlight: Subtle, yet contemporary beauty at its finest. Tracks such as “Distance” from LA electronic musician Jason Chung feature a fresher take on old legends like Boards of Canada. “Tell” leans closer to the dub-scape sound of London-based beat maker Burial.

Album Lowlight: Though it’s not Chung’s style, one bigger, fuller or faster track could have helped full-album listening experience. I had higher expectations, as this album was nearly four years in the making. I guess when you’re producing for hip-hop stars, it gets time-consuming.

Take-away: It was well worth the wait for Jason Chung’s new album under his Nosaj Thing monicker, as this fresh batch of progressive down-beat tracks is full of his unique sound.

~Kevin Quandt

FIDLARFIDLAR

3-BamsTop Tracks:
“Cheap Beer”
“Wake Bake Skate”
“5-9”
“Blackout Stout”
“No Waves”

Album Highlight: “Cheap Beer” is the lead single and party anthem of the album, leading into the record apologetically with screeching distortion, pelting lyrics and surf rock guitar riffs. The song sets course for a 14-track homage to the grittier side of punk rock, highlighting the angst of wasted youth set in the streets of LA.

Album Lowlight: “LDA”, reminiscent of a Ramones ballad, is a song that sidetracks from the anxious energy that keeps this album interesting. Appearing in rotation after the most lively track on the album “5-9”, the song stunts the manic motion of Fidlar’s material in what seems like a forced attempt to squeeze a cheesy love song into the mix.

Takeaway: “Paycheck,” a track which starts off unconventionally slow, is sung in unison, and is placed on the coattails of the least impressive song on the album. One might pass this up the first listen or two. The latter half of this song shreds, slapping the listener in the face with the albums’ strongest guitar solo.

~Molly Kish


The GrowlersHung at Heart

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Someday”
“Naked Kids”
“One Million Lovers”
“Row”

Album Highlight: The opening one-two punch of “Someday” and “Naked Kids” gets the album started in a big way. “Someday” finds Brooks Nielson singing about the future and “when tall boys turn into champagne, and Bologna turns to steak”. “Naked Kids” is a slower-paced psychedelic ode to a lost lover, and he swears he’s changed and has had an epiphany. Great opening tracks here.

Album Lowlight: Every song seems to blend together — it’s hard to distinguish between different tracks. Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys was supposed to produce this album, but The Growlers weren’t happy with Auerbach’s touch, so they went back in the studio and did it their way. It does make me wonder what Auerbach could have done with these songs.

Takeaway: All in all, this album is enjoyable, especially the lyrics and the 60’s SoCal psych-rock vibe, but I feel it could have had stronger material. All the songs are good, but only a couple stand out from the others.

~Pete Mauch


FoxygenWe Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Shuggie”
“We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic”
“San Francisco”
“Oh Yeah”

Album Highlight: “We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic” is the album’s title track and undoubtedly the strongest song. A psychedelic freak-out coated with soulful shrieks, impressive percussion, steady guitar riffs and someone ripping on the organ, Sam France and Jonathan Rado showcase their incredible musical talent and chops for songwriting.

Album Lowlight: The least complicated effort on the album, “No Destruction”, lacks in production value and lyrical content. It’s great in the context of a stripped-down country song, but it doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the tracks on this album.

Takeaway: With its borderline obnoxious lyrical interludes, “On Blue Mountain” seems silly at first. I was at first deterred from what ends up being one of the most enigmatic tracks on the album. Approach this album with acceptance of the ironic song structure, and you’ll sure to be smitten by the end.

~Molly Kish