Our favorite performances from 2019

Best live shows of 2019 - Usher, Kacey Musgraves, Local Natives & Empire of the Sun

Ah yes, it’s that time again. Time to wave goodbye to another year, a hectic one that forced us to scale back our coverage toward the latter half of 2019. But before we officially ring in a new year and decade, it’s time for us to revisit the last 12 months at Showbams. For all intents and purposes, this space has provided us the access to witness so many amazing moments in live music, and even though we can’t show love to every performance we covered in 2019, we still managed to see some great ones.

Trimming down the list is never an easy task. Those who didn’t make the cut but still deserve to be mentioned here include the following artists, DJs and bands (in alphabetical order), all of whom we either covered at their own show and/or at a music festival this year:

Albert Hammond Jr., Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals, Ari Lennox, ASTU, AURORA, Bea Miller, Bebe Rexha, Beirut, Big Wild, Bobby, Bob Moses, Caroline Rose, Cherry Glazerr, Choker, The Claypool Lennon Delirium, Club Night, Coke, Counting Crows, Crumb, CupcakKe, Daniel Caesar, Denzel Curry, Derek Ted, DJ Koze, The-Dream, DREAMERS, Ella Mai, Film School, FITNESS, Foxtail Brigade, Ginger Root, Half Alive, Hozier, Illuminati Hotties, In the Valley Below, Judah & the Lion, Justin Martin, Kali Uchis, Kamaal Williams, Katzù Oso, KONGOS, Lapel, Leon Bridges, Leven Kali, The Lil Smokies, Lil Wayne, LPX, machineheart, The Marías, Max Frost, Melvins, Michigan Rattlers, Mikey Mike, Miserable, MNEK, Mother Mother, Nicotine, (((O))), ORB, Outer Embassy, Princess Nokia, Puddles Pity Party, Queens D.Light, Raveena, Ravyn Lenae, RL Grime, Robyn, Rose Droll, Santigold, Sea Moya, SOAR, Stonefield, Super Unison, Tia Nomore, Tony Danza, Toro y Moi, Twenty One Pilots, Uni, Winnetka Bowling League, You Me at Six, Yuna

Now, it’s time for The Bam Team to present our favorite performances from 2019.

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

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


Best of 2019 - MØ

Date: February 9th
Location: Fox Theater Oakland – Oakland

MØ’s performance, meanwhile, was even brighter than LPX’s with the colors just completely all over the place and smoke coming from behind her as the lights created larger shadows of the 30-year-old’s body against the back wall. Karen Marie Aagaard Ørsted Andersen went on to perform all five singles — “Imaginary Friend”, “Nostalgia”, “Sun in Our Eyes”, “Blur” and “Way Down” — off her sophomore album and even showcased her 2017 collaboration “Don’t Leave” with British electronic duo Snakehips. -Karina Kristensen, photo by Karina Kristensen


Best of 2019 - Bob Mould Band

Bob Mould Band

Date: March 2nd
Location: The Fillmore – San Francisco

Bob Mould has had a lengthy, fruitful relationship with Noise Pop and the packed Fillmore demonstrated that in spades after recently releasing his rather well-received, and 13th, solo album Sunshine Rock since disbanding Hüsker Dü and intersplicing Sugar releases. Mould is nearing the age of 60, but you’d be hard-pressed to think that when he frantically paces back and forth onstage while firing off his characteristic take of punk-leaning alternative rock. -Kevin Quandt, photo by Mike Rosati


Best of 2019 - Modeselektor

Modeselektor

Date: April 4th
Location: Echoplex – Los Angeles

At LA’s Echoplex last Thursday, we didn’t have the fortune of getting another surprise cameo from Yorke, but it was intriguing to see a sold-out crowd welcome Bronsert and Szary back to the City of Angels under the Modeselektor moniker for the first time in a long time (and on a school night no less). And considering they were only stopping through two U.S. cities — LA and NYC the night before at Elsewhere in Brooklyn — on this tour, the show felt a little extra special for those of us in attendance due to the circumstances. -Josh Herwitt, photo by Josh Herwitt


Best of 2019 - The Chemical Brothers

The Chemical Brothers

Date: May 15th
Location: Shrine Expo Hall – Los Angeles

Leading off with “Go” from their 2015 LP Born in the Echoes, The Chemical Brothers delivered a 24-song set that covered all nine studio albums, including their newest effort No Geography that dropped in April. They seamlessly transitioned from one banger to the next, keeping our spirits high and leaving us not a minute to rest our feet. The onstage production, meanwhile, was next level. With an arsenal full of lights and lasers as well as a massive projection screen mounted behind them, Rowlands and Simons created a scintillating audio-visual experience to remember and one of the best we’ve witnessed in a while. -Josh Herwitt, photo by Josh Herwitt


Best of 2019 - T-Pain

T-Pain

Date: June 15th
Location: The Queen Mary – Long Beach, CA

The sun finally came out for none other than T-Pain. Bouncing onstage like Tigger, T-Pain made a case for deserving a later set time (and was probably indirectly responsible for the wave of people passing out around 6 p.m.). The man is a party in a human body, and he’s aging like a fine wine — his music, his dance moves, all of it. It’s clear he belongs on that stage, whether it’s 2:15 or 10:15 p.m. -Rochelle Shipman, photo by Rochelle Shipman


Best of 2019 - Erykah Badu

Erykah Badu

Date: June 15th
Location: The Queen Mary – Long Beach, CA

As the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, the crowd swelled in front of the festival’s main stage, waiting for our lord and savior Erykah Badu. We waited. And we waited. Finally, 30 minutes later, Ms. Badu walked out and surveyed the scene before all was forgiven. Her shortened set was still probably more than the sun-dried fans could handle, with her vocals perfect and her vibe far-reaching and unmatched. As she threw her body left and right, jutting her limbs into the air and even jumping down to clasp a few lucky hands, you could feel a collective healing washing over the grounds. Before she left, she even thanked us for waiting for her, as though we had done her a favor. Psh. -Rochelle Shipman, photo by Rochelle Shipman


Best of 2019 - Usher

Usher

Date: June 15th
Location: The Queen Mary – Long Beach, CA

How do you follow Erykah Badu? I didn’t think it could be done until about five seconds into Usher’s performance. He came out swinging, energy and choreography at 110 percent, so fast and fierce that I yelped, “Holy shit!” I grew up listening to Usher and respect him for days, but I didn’t expect him to put on one of the most enjoyable shows I’ve witnessed in 2019 so far. To say “he’s still got it” wouldn’t nearly be enough. So, just trust me when I say “you’ve gotta get yourself to an Usher show.” -Rochelle Shipman, photo by Rochelle Shipman


Best of 2019 - Middle Kids

Middle Kids

Date: June 22nd
Location: Hollywood Palladium – Los Angeles

The Aussie rockers have been making a name for themselves on the festival circuit of late, and they did a fine job filling up the Palladium’s expansive floor. With Hannah Joy cementing the power trio’s sound on guitar and vocals, it was a performance that seemed to catch so many spectators off guard. Middle Kids’ songs possess the perfect amount of 90’s nostalgia to keep things catchy while remaining unpretentious and accessible, so expect big things from them in the future. -Zach Bourque, photo by Zach Bourque


Best of 2019 - Local Natives

Local Natives

Date: June 22nd
Location: Hollywood Palladium – Los Angeles

The band’s subdued lighting setup let the music do the talking and echoed its simple formula for success. Sometimes three amazing vocalists singing in harmony is all that you need to sell out a 5,000-person theater. While Local Natives haven’t taken a whole lot of risks over the last decade, including on the 10-track Violet Street, they still know how to hit you right in the feels every time. Nonetheless, time will tell which room they can sell out next. -Zach Bourque, photo by Zach Bourque


Best of 2019 - Empire of the Sun

Empire of the Sun

Date: June 25th
Location: The Regency Ballroom – San Francisco

We showed up for the second of three Bay Area performances only to find the crowd anxiously awaiting the group’s arrival onstage. When lead vocalist/guitarist Luke Steele finally emerged through all the smoke donning his usual headdress and face paint however, it quickly came to life. Complemented by a pair of backup dancers and plenty of eye-catching on-screen visuals, Empire of the Sun kicked things off appropriately with “Standing on the Shore” and between multiple costume changes and instrument swaps, completely blew us away before uncorking the LP’s title track to close their headlining set. -Karina Kristensen, photo by Karina Kristensen


Best of 2019 - Jim James

Jim James

Date: July 3rd
Location: The Wiltern – Los Angeles

That said, one could argue fairly easily that James’ songs are a bit more accessible than The CLD’s, and with that in mind, it wasn’t hard at all to understand why the man who has also put out music under the pseudonym Yim Yames assumed the closing duties for this tour. It became even more evident once James took the stage, shredding his way through tracks on Uniform Distortion like “Over and Over” and “You Get to Rome” before going to an acoustic guitar for “A New Life” from 2013’s Regions of Light and Sound of God. James would end up performing almost all of Uniform Distortion, but the real standouts of the show were in fact slightly altered versions of the Marvin Gaye-inspired “Here in Spirit” and the ever-haunting “Same Old Lie” to close what felt like a roller-coaster set full of peaks and valleys — and of course, plenty of screeches and squeals emanating from his Gibson ES-335, too. -Josh Herwitt, photo by Josh Herwitt


Best of 2019 - COMMON

COMMON

Date: July 25th
Location: Apogee Studio – Santa Monica, CA

That’s what COMMON does — he spreads love to each and every person his music reaches. As KCRW DJ Anthony Valadez pointed out during his sit-down interview with the emcee midway through the evening, COMMON has lots of songs about love, and you could quickly find more than enough evidence to assert that fact by looking at the setlist alone. Of the seven tracks he showcased off Let Love, five had the word “love” in its title, starting with “Show Me That You Love” that opened his set. The album, which is inspired by COMMON’s new memoir “Let Love Have the Last Word”, remains a departure from the political deliberations that dominated his 2016 LP Black America Again and spawned out of our most recent U.S. presidential election. I don’t think we need to revisit that moment in history right now, so let me stick to the script. -Josh Herwitt, photo by Brian Lowe


Best of 2019 - The Raconteurs

The Raconteurs

Date: July 27th
Location: Santa Barbara Bowl – Santa Barbara, CA

On a Saturday night at the picturesque Santa Barbara Bowl — which we’ll argue is the best music venue in Southern California and where we caught White’s first-ever show there last year — The Raconteurs brought those songs to life as they stormed onstage and unleashed total sonic bliss on our ears with a 90-minute performance highlighted by Consolers of the Lonely tracks “You Don’t Understand Me” and “Carolina Drama”, the latter of which came during an extended encore that was capped off by the quartet’s biggest hit “Steady, as She Goes” and what ultimately inspired White and Benson to form the group back in 2005 as a couple of longtime friends from Detroit. All of this, of course, without having access to our mobile phones after locking them in a Yondr pouch and Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age, The Dead Weather) assisting on keyboards and guitar as a touring member. -Josh Herwitt, photo by David James Swanson


Best of 2019 - FKJ

FKJ

Date: August 5th
Location: Shrine Expo Hall – Los Angeles

2019 has already been a banner year for Venton in several ways. Besides making his debut at Coachella less than four months ago, he partnered with livestream media company Cercle to release this jaw-dropping live video that sees him performing on the world’s largest salt flat. Plus, he married Marieezy in March after previously working with the Filipino songstress. So with Marieezy by his side and fan bases in both Europe and North America now solidified, it appears that FKJ is ready to share his one-of-a-kind live show with the rest of the world. -Josh Herwitt, photo by Josh Herwitt


Best of 2019 - blink-182

blink-182

Date: August 9th
Location: Golden Gate Park – San Francisco

Though these 90’s pop-punk kings may be short an OG member, that didn’t stop them from a summer shed tour alongside Lil Wayne. Sure, we all miss Tom DeLonge, and yes, Matt Skiba of Alkaline Trio remains a considerably solid stand-in, but how effective is this nostalgia act in 2019? That’s a tricky question we won’t answer because at the end of the day, festivalgoers of all ages still love singing along to “What’s My Age Again?” and “All the Small Things”. It’s really as simple as that to be honest. Does frontman Mark Hoppus’ silly onstage banter work even as he approaches 50? That’s a whole other can of worms I won’t unpack here. -Kevin Quandt, photo by Marc Fong


Best of 2019 - Childish Gambino

Childish Gambino

Date: August 10th
Location: Golden Gate Park – San Francisco

As one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend, Childish Gambino (born Donald Glover) was an absolute highlight of OSL 2019 and it could very well go down as one of the best sets over the festival’s 12-year run. Minutes before making his grand entrance on the main stage, Glover was informed that he had induced the largest crowd in OSL history. When he finally dismounted from his disco platform in the middle of the polo fields, he shared the news and the audience’s energy from that point forward was palpable. Catching Childish Gambino on his current touring schedule is not only rare, but also few and far between. This year he has been mainly headlining festivals, and rumor has it that this cycle will be his final one billed under the “Childish Gambino” moniker, which made for an even more monumental event in SF. Glover dove straight into an aggressive set of songs from Because the Internet and notable cuts on 2016’s Awaken My Love while being accompanied by a backup band and rotating cast of creative support, including a full choir and crew of dancers/performance artists. More of a conceptual art piece than a typical headlining set, Childish’s masterpiece is one that we will remember for a long time. -Molly Kish, photo by Marc Fong


Best of 2019 - Kacey Musgraves

Kacey Musgraves

Date: August 11th
Location: Golden Gate Park – San Francisco

Kacey Musgraves is arguably one of 2019’s top artists. Her fourth LP Golden Hour has received incredible accolades since its release in 2018, eventually nabbing the highly coveted Grammy for Album of the Year. That said, it was little surprise that Musgraves was able to fill the main stage with fans. Her subtle, yet powerful opener “Slow Burn” could not have been more ideal as she took in the immense crowd. She cutely quipped about playing the Sutro stage in 2014, and you could tell she was well-aware of the moment’s gravity. She naturally leaned heavily on Golden Hour, making sure to include fan favorites such as “Butterflies” and “High Horse” during her set, and at this rate, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before this alt-country breakout star finds herself in big font at the top of festival posters. -Kevin Quandt, photo by Marc Fong


Best of 2019 - Paul Simon

Paul Simon

Date: August 11th
Location: Golden Gate Park – San Francisco

Now that OSL has casually cruised into its 12th year, some musical traditions appear to be in place. Sunday night has become the “legacy artist” slot for many years now, and while these may not be the highest-attended sets of the weekend, they have become a quintessential part of the event. Simon was no different in all circumstances referenced above. No one should be upset that his live retirement barely lasted a year, as the 77-year-old came out jubilant and as entertaining as ever. He quipped about his past musings and even invited a Bay Area legend onstage. As the sun began to set on a shockingly sunny August day, Simon waltzed out there and opened with “Late in the Evening”. Other classic hits like “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” and “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” were featured early. “Graceland” kicked off his encore, which saw the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir join in on the Simon & Garfunkel tune “The Boxer”. Although Weir didn’t tackle any major vocals, it was a unique moment to see the two share the stage. And in a fitting way, “The Sound of Silence” served as Simon’s closing song before the masses strolled into SF’s Outerlands one last time. -Kevin Quandt, photo by Marc Fong


Best of 2019 - King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

Date: August 13th
Location: Greek Theatre – Los Angeles

All jokes aside, as these Aussie weirdos continue to explore other creative avenues, catching a King Gizzard show remains a fairly unique experience in its own right. You can usually expect at least one mosh pit, if not more, to form, but with the Greek only having a small floor area at the front of the stage, the lively audience that showed up on a Tuesday night could only get so rowdy with most of it resigned to the venue’s seated sections. That, however, didn’t stop these mates from delivering the goods. Over the course of a 90-minute set, they touched upon seven of their 15 albums, including opening and closing with three straight tracks off Infest the Rats’ Nest. There was “People-Vultures” from 2016’s Nonagon Infinity, plus a version of “Wah Wah” that featured a snippet of “The River” at the performance’s midway point. I’m actually a little surprised that they didn’t throw us a couple of curveballs before saying goodbye to be honest, because for as prolific and unpredictable as they’ve become lately, King Gizzard might be one of the most versatile rock bands on Planet Earth, too. -Josh Herwitt, photo by Josh Herwitt


Best of 2019 - Maribou State

Maribou State

Date: October 16th
Location: The Regency Ballroom – San Francisco

When Maribou State walked off stage for their encore break, it was almost as if the crowd immediately expected an encore. But no one left until they came back out and performed “Turnmills” from Kingdoms in Colour in honor of the London club that closed in 2008. We really couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend a fall night in The City by the Bay. -Karina Kristensen, photo by Karina Kristensen


Outside Lands 2019

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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 Chemical Brothers give fans at Shrine Expo Hall the electronic show they desperately need in 2019

The Chemical BrothersBy Josh Herwitt //

The Chemical Brothers //
Shrine Expo Hall – Los Angeles
May 15th, 2019 //

When former childhood classmates Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons burst onto the scene in the mid-to-late 90’s as The Chemical Brothers, electronic music for most was still a relatively new phenomenon — even in their home country of England.

Sure, some of the UK duo’s counterparts such as The Prodigy and Fatboy Slim were attracting more mainstream appeal around the same time, but that commercial success at the height of the big beat movement doesn’t hold a candle to what many of the biggest EDM stars today are amassing in the social media age. Just look at what Calvin Harris, Diplo, Skrillex, Zedd or The Chainsmokers are bringing home if you don’t believe me (hint: it’s well over eight figures). Of course, those Las Vegas hotel residencies sure do help their cash flow.

The Chemical Brothers, nevertheless, have managed to maintain a loyal following for three decades now and that was evident by the sold-out crowd that welcomed them to the Shrine Expo Hall last Wednesday for the first of two dates in LA. It’s not often that an artist or band books two different venues in the same city while on tour, but that’s exactly what Rowlands and Simons did with their other LA show taking place up the road at the Greek Theatre only one day later. That said, the Shrine Expo Hall’s open floor plan proved to be perfectly suited for the pair’s dance-ready tracks.

The Chemical Brothers

Leading off with “Go” from their 2015 LP Born in the Echoes, The Chemical Brothers delivered a 24-song set that covered all nine studio albums, including their newest effort No Geography that dropped in April. They seamlessly transitioned from one banger to the next, keeping our spirits high and leaving us not a minute to rest our feet. The onstage production, meanwhile, was next level. With an arsenal full of lights and lasers as well as a massive projection screen mounted behind them, Rowlands and Simons created a scintillating audio-visual experience to remember and one of the best we’ve witnessed in a while.

At a time when electronic music has become relatively predictable and almost formulaic, The Chemical Brothers are still experimenting with new sounds and breathing some fresh air into their live sets. Case in point on this night was a cover of New Order’s 1982 single “Temptation” and a rendition of Come with Us cut “Star Guitar” that wrapped up with a snippet of “Gravity Drops” from No Geography. But the Brothers saved what we all had been anticipating for last, uncorking “Block Rockin’ Beats” off 1997’s Dig Your Own Hole before their encore break.

When they returned, Rowlands and Simons gave us a few more before waving goodbye — not that we needed anymore to feel satisfied. Because if this was what an electronic show in 2019 is supposed to feel like, then we can safely say … mission accomplished, boys.

Setlist:
Go
Free Yourself
Chemical Beats (with vocal sample from “Sometimes I Feel So Deserted”)
MAH
EML Ritual
Swoon
Temptation (New Order cover)
Star Guitar (with “Gravity Drops” outro)
Got to Keep On
Hey Boy Hey Girl
Eve of Destruction
Saturate
Elektrobank
No Geography
Escape Velocity
Hoops / Get Up on It Like This
Under the Influence / Dig Your Own Hole
Wide Open
Galvanize
Leave Home / C-H-E-M-I-C-A-L / Song to the Siren
Block Rockin’ Beats

Encore:
Got Glint?
Catch Me I’m Falling (with “Hold Tight London” intro)
The Private Psychedelic Reel

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

Showbams_Sticker_Rectangle2

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

Caribou


Caribou at The Fillmore // Showbams’ Photo of the Year, by Justin Yee

Ah, where did 2015 go? It felt like we were just ringing in a new year a couple months ago. But with another year in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to once again doll out our annual “Best of” lists. Much like we did in 2014, we heard a lot of music this year, whether it was at a show or at a festival, at work, on the bus or in our cars. From established headliners who continue to amaze us to emerging artists who rekindled our excitement for new music, our collective lives were filled with one musical memory after another over the past 12 months.

So, without further ado, Showbams presents The Bam Team’s five favorite shows, albums and songs from 2015.

The 25 Best Live Music Acts of 2015

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


Tycho


Tycho at Lightning in a Bottle // Photo by Josh Herwitt

Josh Herwitt // Los Angeles

Top 5 Shows of 2015
1. Jack White at Coachella Music and Arts Festival, Weekend 1 – Indio, CA – April 11th
There’s a reason why Mr. White was named our No. 1 live music act of 2014 around this time last year, and it’s not because he’s simply a guitar god. The Detroit native and former White Stripe is much more than that now, as he has proven with the kind of clever, genre-swirling songwriting that permeates his two solo albums Blunderbuss and Lazaretto. But witnessing White perform live almost feels like a musical right of passage in and of itself, reminding us that while inventive, mainstream rock ‘n’ roll may be harder to come by these days, it’s still far from dead. On this warm, spring night in the California desert, he imparted on us that “music is sacred” — not just with his words in between songs, but also with every ferverous note that he struck on his fret board. From the moment White appeared on the festival’s main stage, his 20-song, headlining set was bold and powerful, even if it would serve as one of his last shows for a while.

2. My Morning Jacket at Santa Barbara Bowl – Santa Barbara, CA – October 11th
3. Modest Mouse at Hollywood Forever – Los Angeles, CA – August 21st
4. Tycho at Lightning in a Bottle – Bradley, CA – May 24th
5. The War on Drugs at Coachella Music and Arts Festival, Weekend 1 – Indio, CA – April 10th

Top 5 Albums of 2015
1. My Morning JacketThe Waterfall
When My Morning Jacket announced that they would be releasing a new studio LP in May after nearly a four-year layoff, their longest between albums since forming in the late 90’s, I wasn’t sure if they could top what they had devised on 2011’s Circuital. But these Louisville rockers, rather, did just that, putting together a flawless record that opens with the inspiring “Believe (Nobody Knows)” and concludes with the gloomy, yet poignant “Only Memories Remain”. In between it all, frontman Jim James continues to build off his 2013 solo album, showing what a thoughtful songwriter he has become — knowing when to step on the gas pedal and when to ease off of it. With an already impressive catalog highlighted by 2005’s Z, it’s hard to definitively say that The Waterfall has taken over the throne as MMJ’s best album now, but there’s no doubt it belongs in the conversation.

2. Father John MistyI Love You, Honeybear
3. Silversun Pickups – Better Nature
4. Jamie xxIn Colour
5. Tame ImpalaCurrents

Top 5 Songs of 2015
1. My Morning Jacket – “Tropics (Erase Traces)”
It’s only fitting that my favorite album of the year also boasts my favorite song of the year. The penultimate track on My Morning Jacket’s The Waterfall is an absolute rocker that gradually builds from the opening, Led Zeppelin-esque guitar lick before peaking midway through for a chilling finish. There might not be a better example in MMJ’s catalog that demonstrates how well Jim James and Carl Broemel play off each other, and if the two guitarists haven’t already, then they’ve certainly cemented themselves as one of rock’s best one-two punches by now.

2. The Weeknd – “The Hills”
3. Modest Mouse – “The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box”
4. Battles – “The Yabba”
5. Tame Impala – “The Less I Know the Better”


The Chemical Brothers


The Chemical Brothers at The Armory // Photo by Justin Yee

Molly Kish // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2015
1. Jamie xx at Bimbo’s 365 Club – San Francisco, CA – July 31st
Whereas those familiar with his early XL Records mixtapes were satiated by his intermingling of Gil Scott-Heron and Idris Muhammad samples between hits, Jamie xx’s newfound, post-In Colour fans experienced equally breathtaking moments with the crowd hitting peak energy levels during the chorus of “Loud Places” amidst the glow of a warped-speed, neon-green strobe light. Another notable moment included the near-religious choral drop of “Gosh” that escalated the packed house to spiritual levels of enthusiasm, all while bathed in the glowing sparkle of Jamie Smith’s staggeringly iridescent, ceiling-to-floor disco ball and stage lights.

2. The Chemical Brothers at The Armory – San Francisco, CA – November 30th
3. Kate Tempest at The Independent – San Francisco, CA – May 20th
4. Kishi Bashi at Palace of Fine Arts Theatre – San Francisco, CA – January 30th
5. Caribou at The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA – March 1st

Top 5 Albums of 2015
1. Jamie xxIn Colour
Acclaimed London-based producer and half of electronic powerhouse The xx, Jamie Smith (aka Jamie xx) broke the mold this past year with his stunning solo debut In Colour. Earning top accolades within the music industry, including a 2015 Mercury Prize nomination and a Grammy nomination for “Best Electronic/Dance Album”, In Colour featured both individually conceptualized strokes of production ingenuity as well as many of the biggest contemporary-crossover hits this year. Smith explored his dubstep, house, garage and trip-hop influences on In Colour to deliver a genre-spanning masterpiece, highlighting his illustrious career as an electronic composer while setting the standard for the current and future state of EDM.

2. Kendrick LamarTo Pimp a Butterfly
3. Tame ImpalaCurrents
4. The Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness
5. Lord Huron – Strange Trails

Top 5 Songs of 2015
1. Jamie xx – “Loud Places”
As part of a track list that included some of 2015’s most groundbreaking and genre-defining hits, “Loud Places” holds its own as a standout cut on Jamie xx’s monumental solo debut In Colour. It comes in toward the latter half of the UK producer’s LP and enlists the gorgeously haunting vocals of Romy Madley Croft, one of Jamie Smith’s partners in The xx and a longtime collaborator of his. Amid a packed roster of acclaimed vocalists, emcees and iconic samples, Croft’s contributions, while paired with a full choir, help manifest the lyrical content of the song while evoking a near-religious experience for its listener.

2. Tame Impala – “Let It Happen”
3. Robyn – “Love Is Free”
4. Kendrick Lamar – “King Kunta”
5. FKA twigs – “In Time”


Outside Lands 2015 - Tame Impala


Tame Impala at Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival // Photo by James Nagel

Brett Ruffenach // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2015
1. Four Tet b2b Floating Points at Public Works SF – San Francisco, CA – May 3rd
Sparked by their set at Plastic Peoples in London earlier in the year — a set, coincidentally, that was named “Best of the Year” by THUMP a few days ago — SF’s own DJ Dials was kind enough to bring Kerian Hebden and Sam Shepherd, better known as Four Tet and Floating Points, to Public Works last May. Starting early in the evening, the two well-established English producers put on a scorching, non-stop, six-hour, vinyl-only DJ set. Kicking off the evening with over an hour of early-70’s Brazilian samba and steadily moving from there to all forms of funk, big band, soul, jazz and of course their own eclectic catalog of music, the two DJs seamlessly moved between tracks, bringing up and down the energy at just the right point to keep you guessing what’s going to happen next. After dozens and dozens of shows and DJ sets this year, I always keep thinking back to this one because it wasn’t only a chance to see an artist I like play their music — it was a chance to see two artists I like play the music that they love, and do it on an absolutely killer sound system.

2. Kendrick Lamar at Fox Theater Oakland – Oakland, CA – November 10th
3. Tame Impala at Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival – San Francisco, CA – August 8th
4. Jamie xx “In Colour” album release show at Church of St John-at-Hackney – London, England – July 16th
5. Nicolas Jaar at Symbiosis Gathering – Oakdale, CA – September 19th

Top 5 Albums of 2015
1. Kendrick LamarTo Pimp a Butterfly
Kendrick wins. No contest. At this point, there’s nothing I can say that will be new or not already over-analyzed by the blogosphere over TPAB. All I can say is that TPAB is one of those rap albums that, just like Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in 2010, expanded my understanding of what a rap album can be. From the very start you hear Lamar’s voice in the genius, FlyLo-produced “Wesley’s Theory” — a track that I think is among the greatest album openers ever — to the closing conversation with 2Pac in Mortal Man, TPAB is among the most ambitious and thoroughly conceptualized productions I have had the pleasure of hearing (and seeing) in my life.

2. Tame ImpalaCurrents
3. Nicolas Jaar – Nymphs I-IV
4. Jamie xxIn Colour
5. Beach HouseDepression Cherry

Top 5 Songs of 2015
1. Pumarosa – “Priestess”
“Priestess” is a seven-minute, punk-meets-disco dance party that starts as an observation and ends as a declaration. Its declaration? To dance. Its lyrics (for instance: “Cut from clay and stone / Electricity flows through your spine and shoulders/In the night when we’re alone”), its visceral rhythm and undeniably entrancing, three-minute instrumental closing out the track (DAT SAX) are what make it an easy choice for my favorite of the year. In a culture engulfed in consumerism, celebrity and over-consumption, “Priestess” reminds us all that dancing is free. Dancing can be a protest. Dancing can be a celebration. Dancing is whatever you make of it. “Priestess” is a track that reaches into your soul and forces you to do one simple thing: dance. That’s something we all need in our lives every once and a while.

2. Kendrick Lamar – “Wesley’s Theory”
3. Jamie xx – “Gosh”
4. Tame Impala – “Eventually”
5. Nicolas Jaar – “Swim”


High Sierra Music Festival 2015 - The String Cheese Incident


The String Cheese Incident at High Sierra Music Festival 2015 // Photo by Benjamin Wallen

Benjamin Wallen // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2015
1. Greensky Bluegrass at The Independent – San Francisco, CA – November 1st
Many bands get bigger and play bigger shows. Every now and then, you get to see them in a smaller venue with a more “intimate” feel. This was that show. Following a crazy night at the Fox Theater Oakland celebrating Halloween, the band crossed the Bay Bridge to play a birthday show for its dobro player Anders Beck at The Independent. It was a “Greatest Hits” setlist of all the songs I loved the most: past, present and future. The show was definitely intimate and filled with energy, and Greensky ended the night with some acoustic tunes. I think it says a lot about a band that can pack a big venue and then play a smaller venue and still the heat. This is my favorite band these days. They are consistently great and just too much fun.

2. String Cheese Incident at High Sierra Music Festival – Quincy, CA – July 3rd
3. The Sam Chase at High Sierra Sierra Music Festival – Quincy, CA – July 3rd
4. Jeff Austin Band at Great American Music Hall – San Francisco, CA – April 26th
5. The Devil Makes Three at Fox Theater Oakland – Oakland, CA – February 3rd

Top 5 Albums of 2015
1. Della Mae – Della Mae
These girls are damn talented as much as they are cute. I stumbled upon these five girls from Nashville while at The Chapel a few years back, and they were just damn good. Then, I heard that they were nominated for a Grammy and only beaten by the legendary Del McCoury Band. These ladies can pick and tick and get the crowd jumping. For Della Mae, powerful songs and epic throw-down jams are just par for the course. This album was Kickstarter-funded, which I was happy to contribute to, and continues the revival of bluegrass for the younger generation and modernizing the sound with the energy of youth. I find myself playing this album more and more each day from start to end — it’s just that good.

2. The Dustbowl Revival – With a Lamp Shade On
3. Father John MistyI Love You, Honeybear
4. Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers – Loved Wild Lost
5. Jackie Greene – Back to Birth

Top 5 Songs of 2015
1. Jackie Greene – “A Face Among the Crowd”
I have been a Jackie Greene fan since I moved to SF almost 10 years ago. This song I heard a number of years ago when Greene was uploading hotel room solo tracks on the road. This song was put up on Father’s Day for Greene’s dad and was a touching song. Creepily sitting in a hotel room, you can feel the emotion. Hearing it on a record in my home is just heaven. After some of those really tough days in life, I come home, put this song on while listening on my best pair of headphones and zone out — let all the crap from the day that doesn’t mean shit just fade away. This song does that for me, and as a music lover, finding this type of song is like finding gold on the street.

2. The Dustbowl Revival – “Standing Next to Me”
3. The California Honeydrops – “When It Was Wrong”
4. Father John Misty – “I Went to the Store One Day”
5. Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers – “Mr. Saturday Night”


Father John Misty


Father John Misty at Treasure Island Music Festival 2015 // Photo by Marc Fong

Andrew Pohl // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2015
1. Father John Misty at Treasure Island Music Festival – San Francisco, CA – October 18th
Of all of the performers on Day 2 at the festival, Father John Misty held my attention the most. A stellar performance, hitting all of the right points, which gave me good reason to believe that he may in fact be one of the best frontmen of the last 10 years.

2. Hum at Slim’s – San Francisco, CA – September 18th
3. Fat Wreck Chords 25th Anniversary at Thee Parkside – San Francisco, CA – Aug 22nd & 23rd
4. Refused at Great American Music Hall – San Francisco, CA – May 28th
5. alt-J at Greek Theatre – Berkeley, CA – April 16th

Top 5 Albums of 2015
1. Tame ImpalaCurrents
From top to bottom, this is an album that I can listen to over and over without feeling burnt out (and believe me, I have). I appreciate the fact that on this album, they steer clear of too much “jam” and keep it straight forward. I can’t help but move my feet when I hear some of the tracks on Currents.

2. Kendrick LamarTo Pimp a Butterfly
3. Failure – The Heart Is a Monster
4. Father John MistyI Love You, Honeybear
5. God Is an Astronaut – Helios/Erebus

Top 5 Songs of 2015
1. Tame Impala – “The Less I Know the Better”
From the first time I heard this track, I knew it was the best song of the year. Infectious as hell, you cannot stop your body from getting into that groove.

2. Grimes – “Kill V. Maim”
3. Father John Misty – “Bored in the USA”
4. The Velvet Teen – “All Is Illusory”
5. Viet Cong – “Continental Shelf”


Viet Cong


Viet Cong at Rickshaw Stop // Photo by Diana Cordero

Kevin Quandt // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2015
1. Viet Cong at Rickshaw Stop – San Francisco, CA – March 5th
Viet Cong were easily one of the most brilliant bands in 2015 as they shook up South by Southwest (even when their drummer had a broken arm), generally not caring about the whole band-name fiasco and releasing a stellar debut LP. The brooding studio work from this Canadian outfit turned out to be way more accessible on the live stage as bassist/singer Matt Flegel bounced between playful banter and pile-driving post-punk.

2. Caribou at The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA – March 1st
3. Todd Terje (Live) at Coachella Music and Arts Festival, Weekend 1 – Indio, CA – April 10th
4. Kendrick Lamar at Fox Theater Oakland – Oakland, CA – November 10th
5. BADBADNOTGOOD at FYF Fest – Los Angeles, CA – August 22

Top 5 Albums of 2015
1. Kendrick LamarTo Pimp a Butterfly
No surprises here, as truly this was objectively the best album of the year. With expectations high from his growing fan base, Lamar delivered an LP that had it all: crushing singles, a bold concept and a clear message. The smorgasbord of genres and vibes TPAB lays out for the listener further shows that K-Dot’s bag of tricks has no end in sight.

2. Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect
3. DJ Paypal – Sold Out
4. Tame ImpalaCurrents
5. Archy Marshall – A New Place to Drown

Top 5 Songs of 2015
1. Tame Impala – “Let It Happen”
This track was our first taste of Currents, and it got fans salivating in no time. “Let It Happen” was the perfect amuse-bouche with Kevin Parker’s vision shifting a bit toward synths over his trusty Rickenbacker guitar, which slightly became the resounding chatter behind the LP. Oh yeah, and there was the “record skip” in the middle of the track that we all went mental over.

2. Ought – “Beautiful Blue Sky”
3. The Weeknd – “Can’t Feel My Face”
4. DJ Spinn – “Dubby” (feat. DJ Rashad & Danny Brown)
5. Deerhunter – “Snakeskin”

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The Chemical Brothers melt faces at The Armory for the premiere of HARD SF

HARD SF - The Chemical BrothersPhotos by Justin Yee // Written by Molly Kish //

HARD SF featuring The Chemical Brothers, Claude VonStroke & J.Phlip //
The Armory – San Francisco
July 30th, 2015 //

During this time of the year, Bay Area residents are inundated with opportunities to catch some of the best musical talent filtering through their local venues, awarding those fortunate to acquire tickets the chance to see some of the circuit’s top headliners as they pass through town amid their summer festival appearances.

However, one of the most anticipated artists playing on the main stage at several top EDM festivals throughout Europe, Asia and the United States wasn’t slated to perform anywhere near the Bay Area — that is until HARD Presents decided to book an extremely rare, quintessentially “San Francisco” performance by The Chemical Brothers at The Armory last Thursday for its Northern California debut.

HARD SF - Claude VonStroke


Claude VonStroke

The original lineup also consisted of local female DJ J.Phlip and French producer Brodinski, but due to a last-minute schedule change, the Bromance Records owner was swapped out for Dirtybird Records founder Claude VonStroke. Enthusiastic about the late addition, crowds filled the historic venue early, if not to simply get a glimpse at the 100-year-old Kink.com “Porn Palace”, then at least to catch a bass-thumping, back-to-back throw down by two of the Bay Area’s finest.

Eagerly awaiting the first of only two Chemical Brothers appearances on the West Coast this summer, the audience was able to traverse the National Guard Arsenal-turned-S&M fortress. HARD, the Los Angeles-based event company founded by music executive, concert promoter and DJ Gary Richards (aka Destructo), couldn’t have picked a more ominous, fetishistic and tongue-in-cheek venue to have allured in the massive swarm of locals, either familiar or intrigued by the Kink.com residence. While the dungeons were closed off and private tours were suspended for the evening, the dense aura of the Moorish castle ran deep. Especially noticeable was the lack of air conditioning and ventilation, forcing the bustling crowds to hit the amply-stocked bars before the dance-floor temperatures peaked during the sauna stages of the night.

HARD SF - The Chemical Brothers


The Chemical Brothers

After what many crowd members referred to as the “DJ Change Over” in reference to the show’s flyer image, The Chemical Brothers hit the stage full force. While the opening acts most likely kept their set to a bare minimum as far as design and lighting to not detract from the main performance, The Chemical Brothers lived up to their live-show theatrics well beyond anyone’s expectations. Known for their incredible arena-style stage shows, the electronic archetypes blew away the crowd with mind-melting imagery, hypnotic light sequencing and yes, two giant mechanical robots with laser beams shooting out of their eyes.

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.

https://instagram.com/p/5y2reIJ59j/

The crowd, although 18-and-over, was absent of the stereotypical amateur-level ravers who often frequent HARD events. Everyone who was there that evening came solely to immerse themselves in the overwhelming euphoria that only a veteran electronic act like The Chemical Brothers could produce, and plenty of sweaty, ecstatic dance enthusiasts had to ultimately feel like they got their money’s worth. Because in the end, amongst elated peers, adult entertainers and electronic music purists, SF most definitely went HARD on this night.

Setlist:
Intro: Tomorrow Never Knows (Junior Parker song)
1. Hey Boy Hey Girl
2. EML Ritual
3. Do It Again (With acapella of “Get Yourself High”)
4. Go (“Edge of Control” version)
5. Swoon
6. Star Guitar
7. Sometimes I Feel So Deserted / Chemical Beats
8. Acid Children / Setting Sun
9. Setting Sun / Out of Control / It Doesn’t Matter
10. Saturate
11. Elektrobank
12. I’ll See You There
13. Believe
14. The Sunshine Underground
15. Escape Velocity (contains snippet of “The Golden Path”)
16. Don’t Think
17. The Golden Path
18. Under the Influence
19. Galvanize (contains snippet of “Music: Response”)
20. Block Rockin’ Beats

Encore:
21. The Private Psychedelic Reel (with “Sympathy for the Devil” breakdown)