The Bam Team’s 5 Favorite Albums & Songs of 2020

Best of 2020 - Run the Jewels, My Morning Jacket, Fiona Apple, Hum, Fleet Foxes

Wow, 2020 … what can we say? This year will certainly be remembered for a lot of things, but none more so than the COVID-19 pandemic that has ravaged both the U.S. and world over the last 10 months and forced the live music industry to mostly shutter as musicians pivoted to livestreams and drive-in concerts to keep the show going as best they could and however possible. Yet along the way, we lost musical legends who spanned multiple generations from Neil Peart to Bill Withers to John Prine to Little Richard to Eddie Van Halen to MF DOOM — some due to COVID-19 unfortunately — making these past 12 months even more painful to endure than they already were. Ready to officially flush 2020 down the toilet and start anew? Don’t worry … you’re not alone!

In retrospect though, it has been a very quiet year for The Bam Team. You’ll notice there haven’t been a lot of updates in this space, and that’s partly due to the lack of live music on Planet Earth right now. But it’s also been a hectic time for all of us as we try to navigate our way out of these dark days and into some brighter ones, and like any good remedy nowadays, new music has definitely played its part in helping us physically and emotionally cope with the chaos.

It’s why after several months of inactivity here, we decided to dust the cobwebs off Showbams and deliver a modified version of our annual “Best of” lists like we have done since this blog first started (see our 2019 picks here). While that doesn’t mean we had time to hear and dissect every new album or song in the last 365 days — we are still in a pandemic after all — sharing our own individual picks offers a fun and stimulating opportunity for us to reflect on the year that was in music.

So, without further ado, Showbams presents The Bam Team’s five favorite albums and songs from 2020.

Listen to The Bam Team’s favorite songs of 2020:


Run the Jewels - RTJ4

Josh Herwitt // Los Angeles

Top 5 Albums of 2020
1. Run the Jewels – RTJ4
One might think that after three critically acclaimed albums with some of the most socially and politically charged material since Rage Against the Machine burst onto the scene, it would only seem natural for Run the Jewels’ act to turn a little stale by their fourth time around. But despite the three-year wait for RTJ4, the longest that the hip-hop duo has gone between releases, the final product — like a fine wine — has only gotten better with time. Anchored by stellar production (a RTJ trademark) and provocative rhymes, the 11-track offering sees the two emcees sounding off on everything from corporate greed to police brutality just days after the tragic death of George Floyd. It also boasts a guest list loaded with star power, with DJ Premier, 2 Chainz, Pharrell Williams, Zack de la Rocha, Mavis Staples and Josh Homme each lending a hand while El-P and Killer Mike inject truth serum into our ears with one verbal haymaker after another. In what proved to be a shitstorm of a year, this was the soundtrack a lot of us needed to survive 2020.

2. My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall II
3. Fleet Foxes – Shore
4. Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
5. Caribou – Suddenly

Favorite live album: Sylvan Esso – WITH

Top 5 Songs of 2020
1. Royal Blood – “Trouble’s Coming”
The British rock duo composed of lead singer/bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher are gearing up to drop their third LP in 2021 and wisely chose to wet our palette with an absolute banger for its lead single. “Trouble’s Coming” has all the makings of a Royal Blood song — catchy bass riffs that sound like they’re coming out of a guitar, heavy-metal drums and Kerr’s falsetto vocals — while charting a slightly different path for the band, one that conjures up some serious 70’s disco vibes. Just watch this scene from Charlie’s Angels to see what we mean, and if you have a pair of fingerless leather gloves handy, you might as well put those on too. We think Sam Rockwell would approve.

2. My Morning Jacket – “Wasted”
3. Run the Jewels – “JU$T” feat. Pharrell Williams & Zack de la Rocha
4. Pearl Jam – “Dance of the Clairvoyants”
5. Sylvan Esso – “Ferris Wheel”

Favorite remix: Bonobo – “Final Days” (Michael Kiwanuka)


Hum - Inlet

Andrew Pohl // San Francisco

Top 5 Albums of 2020
1. Hum – Inlet
This four-piece’s fifth studio effort came as a complete surprise when it dropped in June, and it was honestly THE album I needed. Being knee-deep into the COVID-19 pandemic, I wasn’t sure what the rest of the year would look like musically, and it was exactly the type of record that hits all the marks for me. It’s sonically huge, it showcases Hum’s trademark ultra-layered, dense instrumentation and it ebbs and flows between energetic and emotive. Inlet was easily my most-listened-to album in 2020.

2. Coriky – Coriky
3. PEARS – PEARS
4. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
5. Run the Jewels – RTJ4

Favorite live album: NOFX – The Decline (Live at Red Rocks)

Top 5 Songs of 2020
1. Run the Jewels – “Walking in the Snow”
Oh man, this track was just the thing I needed during what may have been one of the most tense times in modern history. And like all of RTJ4, it absolutely crushes as El-P and Killer Mike bring their signature styles to full effect on this dramatic, yet bouncy tune. The middle section, which sees Mike taking the lead, is not only effective, prophetic and timely, but it also serves as a reminder that the time for action is now and that history has a tendency to repeat itself if we’re not careful. Check out the song’s brand-new music video here, too.

2. Hum – “Desert Rambler”
3. IDLES – “War”
4. Middle-Aged Queers – “Gary’s Making Biscuits”
5. PEARS – “Zero Wheels”

Favorite remix: Squarepusher – “Pink Maggit” (Deftones)


Fiona Apple - Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Rochelle Shipman // Los Angeles

Top 5 Albums of 2020
1. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
I almost feel cheated that my two No. 1 picks went to the same artist, but this year belonged to Fiona as much as it did to Dr. Fauci. FTBC busted us out of our mental prisons and allowed us to imagine our lives were more exciting than they actually were in 2020. It reminded us that we are strong enough to survive anything, to use our voices to speak even louder for what we believe in and that we can work on our own healing even if we can’t quite get outside. Ms. Apple set women free together.

2. Fleet Foxes – Shore
3. Mura Masa – R.Y.C.
4. Kari Faux – Lowkey Superstar
5. Liv.e – Couldn’t Wait to Tell You…

Favorite live album: Dolores Diaz & The Standby Club – Live at O’Leaver’s

Top 5 Songs of 2020
1. Fiona Apple – “Shameika”
This is a badass, “can-do” tune that was inspired by a passing comment made decades ago, one Fiona surely never thought twice about until now. And as she pounds the piano with the strength of RBG, it’s clear that this is the song 2020 needed — not to mention that it came full circle, inspiring Shameika herself all these years later. Sweet.

2. Noname – “Song 33”
3. Open Mike Eagle feat. Kari Faux – “Bucciarati”
4. Liv.e – “Lessons From My Mistakes…but I Lost Your Number”
5. Quakers feat. Sampa the Great – “Approach with Caution”

Favorite remix: Thundercat feat. Smino & Guapdad 4000 – “Dragonball Durag”

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The Bam Team’s 5 Favorite Shows, Albums & Songs of 2018

David Byrne at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium


David Byrne at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium // Showbams’ Photo of the Year, by Tim O’Shea

We have to be honest: 2018 was kind of a weird year for music. Sure, there were some major highlights — many of them listed below, in fact — but we also saw a serious changing of the guard. The decline of mainstream rock and the continued rise of hip-hop, R&B and pop was more noticeable than ever, from this year’s Coachella lineup to the cancellation of FYF Fest, making us wonder what the next twist or turn will be for the industry now that the demand for EDM has started to cool off following its boom circa 2012. That said, we still listened to a lot of new albums and caught plenty of concerts over the last 12 months, and it’s once again time for us to share our annual “Best of” lists, much like we have done over the past several years (see our 2017 picks here).

So, without further ado, Showbams presents The Bam Team’s five favorite shows, albums and songs from 2018.

See our favorite performances from 2018 here.

Listen to The Bam Team’s favorite songs of 2018:


Jamiroquai at Coachella 2018


Jamiroquai at Coachella 2018 // Photo courtesy of Coachella

Josh Herwitt // Los Angeles

Top 5 Shows of 2018
1. Queens of the Stone Age at The Forum – Inglewood, CA – February 17th
Just more than two months after his infamous assault on a photographer at The Forum for KROQ’s Almost Acoustic Christmas, Queens of the Stone Age leader Josh Homme made his return to the LA arena for a proper, sold-out affair with UK rock duo Royal Blood delivering what proved to be a headbanging opening set. From there, it only got better as Homme and the boys dazzled with a headlining performance that even included Villains producer Mark Ronson sitting in for most of the five-song encore and the band’s live debut of its “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” cover. You can bet Elton John, whom Homme actually collaborated with during the writing and recording of QOTSA’s sixth album …Like Clockwork, would have been proud. I always know when I’ve seen a good rock ‘n’ roll show because my neck will be sore the following day, but after this one, it was sore for the next three days. Ouch.

2. Nine Inch Nails at Hollywood Palladium – Los Angeles, CA – December 12th, 14th-15th
3. Jamiroquai at Coachella, Weekend 1 – Indio, CA – April 13th
4. David Byrne at Santa Barbara Bowl – Santa Barbara, CA – August 24th
5. Foo Fighters/Nirvana reunion at Cal Jam 18 – San Bernadino, CA – October 6th

Top 5 Albums of 2018
1. Jungle – For Ever
Unlike previous years, picking a favorite album in 2018 wasn’t quite as easy for me. I’ll admit that I didn’t hear every one that was released this year, but I listened to a lot of them. So, call me boring and short-sighted if you like, but nothing totally knocked my socks off. After much deliberation, it was Jungle’s sophomore LP For Ever that stood the test of time for me (no pun intended). The English soul collective’s follow-up to its 2014 self-titled debut doesn’t veer off in a completely different direction from what came before, but it still moves the sonic needle forward enough. After two full lengths, Jungle have shown a knack for writing catchy, dance-fueled tunes that transport you to a different time and place — even if it’s only for a three- or four-minute stretch.

2. Khruangbin – Con Todo El Mundo
3. Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
4. Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth
5. Big Red Machine – Big Red Machine

Top 5 Songs of 2018
1. Nine Inch Nails – “Over and Out”
When I first listened to Bad Witch, I immediately knew this one was my favorite track on the album. But hearing it performed live on the final night of NIN’s “Cold and Black and Infinite” North American tour sealed it for top honors in 2018. Layering a brooding, yet funky bass line on top of a glitchy, experimental beat, Trent Reznor shows that he isn’t just playing it safe and merely saving his creativity for scoring films with bandmate and longtime collaborator Atticus Ross. You can tell Reznor had his late friend David Bowie in mind when he wrote the song too as he conjures up an even deeper baritone from behind the microphone than the one we have come to know over the last 30 years.

2. Childish Gambino – “This Is America”
3. Jungle – “Heavy, California”
4. Wild Nothing – “Partners in Motion”
5. The Raconteurs – “Now That You’re Gone”


Richard Russell - Everything Is Recorded

Molly Kish // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2018
1. David Byrne at Fox Theater Oakland – Oakland, CA – August 16th
In support of his seventh solo album American Utopia, musical virtuoso David Byrne hit the road for one of this year’s most creative and ambitious tours. Over more than 150 dates that spanned the entire globe, the 66-year-old delivered Broadway-caliber performances with a traveling 11-piece band that served as a traveling retrospective of his solo and collaborative work. Meanwhile, the tour also doubled as a platform for him to deliver his “Reasons to Be Cheerful” manifestos on civic engagement, climate/energy, culture, economics, education, health, science/technology and urban transportation. He partnered with HeadCount while encouraging audiences every night to engage in public discourse through social media and their own personal stories on his website. And as a result, Byrne elevated the concert-going experience into more of an interactive, performance-art space that his fans became a living, breathing part of.

2. Young Fathers at The Independent – San Francisco, CA – November 10th
3. Erykah Badu & Thundercat at The Armory – San Francisco, CA – February 14th
4. Beck at The Independent – San Francisco, CA – August 8th
5. LCD Soundsystem with TV on the Radio at Greek Theatre Berkeley – Berkeley, CA – April 27th-28th

Top 5 Albums of 2018
1. Richard Russell – Everything Is Recorded by Richard Russell
A multi-artist project released as the debut album of XL Recordings founder Richard Russell, Everything Is Recorded is collaborative effort representing the ties between past and present sounds currently shaping the framework of hip-hop, funk and soul. Featuring collaborations with Sampha, Kamasi Washington, Syd, Damon Albarn, Peter Gabriel, Ibeyi, Obongjayar and more, the album also plays as the soundtrack to a 30-minute film, which documents the time each spent in the studio during its conception and is interspliced with archival footage of Gil Scott-Heron and Curtis Mayfield. With its underlying themes of loss and isolation, Everything Is Recorded effectively communicates Russell’s emotional journey as he battles a debilitating autoimmune disease in hope of finding salvation through the shared experience of creating a beautifully mastered piece of art.

2. George Fitzgerald – All That Must Be
3. Pusha T – DAYTONA
4. Robyn – Honey
5. Khruangbin – Con Todo El Mundo

Top 5 Songs of 2018
1. Childish Gambino – “This Is America”
If any song embodied the insanity and collective discontent of 2018, it was definitely Childish Gambino’s epic single “This Is America”. The juxtaposition of an a cappella choir leading into Donald Glover’s soft crooning over island beats and drum samples before staunchly diverting to a menacing base line reminiscent of 90’s gangster rap — as well as the hortative delivery of degrading lyrics about the current state of violence and American ideals — is near-perfect. Of course, the provocative music video that accompanied the track’s surprise release during his “Saturday Night Live” debut was incredible. The song, lyrics, video and marketing campaign could not have been a more flawless “slice of life” reflection of modern American society and justifiably has boomeranged into probably the most important moment of Childish Gambino’s career so far.

2. The Presets – “Downtown Shutdown”
3. Jon Hopkins – “Everything Connected”
4. Jungle – “Casio”
5. Parquet Courts – “Wide Awake”


Kevin Quandt // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2018
1. David Byrne at Jazzfest – New Orleans, LA – April 29th
You know what they say: the first time is always the best. With David Byrne’s 2018 “American Utopia Tour” being universally acclaimed as one of the most enigmatic live shows of the year, it’s not surprising to see it top other “Best of” lists. Byrne and his merry band of “unplugged” pranksters created a feast for the eyes and ears, and his daytime set on the Gentilly Stage did not disappoint at all. While his Fox Theater Oakland shows were more intimate and featured some more dynamic lighting features, his performance at Jazzfest back in April was the most memorable for NOLA revelers.

2. Jamiroquai at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium – San Francisco, CA – April 17th
3. Polo & Pan at The Independent – San Francisco, CA – June 20th
4. Nine Inch Nails at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium – San Francisco, CA – December 4th
5. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever at Primavera Sound – Barcelona, Spain – June 2nd

Top 5 Albums of 2018
1. Khruangbin – Con Todo El Mundo
What a banner year for this Texas trio! Khruangbin have been on a steady rise the past few years as they turn on the masses to their infectious amalgamation of psychedelic soul, Thai surf rock and subtle funk. Having cemented their reputation as beasts in a live setting, Con Todo El Mundo proved their knack for penning tunes of equal strength with its emotive first single “Friday Morning” serving as a clear standout. “Evan Finds the Third Room” has also become a fan favorite, and the accompanying music video only lends to its growing charm. The sky’s the limit for Laura, Mark and DJ, so grab your ticket to fly.

2. Hookworms – Microshift
3. Amen Dunes – Freedom
4. Shame – Songs of Praise
5. Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Sparkle Hard

Top 5 Songs of 2018
1. Jonathan Wilson – “Trafalgar Square”
LA producer-turned-frontman Jonathan Wilson churned out one helluva album opener for his third solo LP Rare Birds, as this six-plus-minute romp has all the right pieces for true liftoff. A proper intro leads into a riff so heavy that it’ll break your mama’s back. Top-notch production is key to this track, as Wilson is a wiz behind the boards. As you cruise down the 405 with this whopper blaring, you’d be hard-pressed not to nod along. Extra points for those of you with a 1970’s convertible, too.

2. Tom Misch – “Water Baby” feat. Loyle Carner
3. Childish Gambino – “This Is America”
4. Jonathan Something – “Happy Day”
5. Men I Trust – “Seven”


Shame - Songs of Praise

Andrew Pohl // San Francisco

Top 5 Shows of 2018
1. The Smashing Pumpkins at Oracle Arena – Oakland, CA – August 27th
The Smashing Pumpkins are the quintessential 90’s arena-rock band, and they fully lived up to that billing at Oracle Arena for their Bay Area stop over the summer. I’ve seen them several times over the years, and although this time it was pegged as a “reunion tour” (minus D’Arcy, sigh), you never know what you’re going to get from them. Billy Corgan led the band through over three hours’ worth of material with some killer stage production to go with it. The show was definitely a marathon, but totally worth being there for. It came to light later that Corgan was also fighting off a bad case of food poisoning, but it didn’t show. It was great to see James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlain back onstage, too — the way it should be.

2. Nine Inch Nails at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium – San Francisco, CA – December 3rd
3. Against Me! & Turbonegro at UC Theatre – Berkeley, CA – May 25th
4. Alkaline Trio at The Warfield – San Francisco, CA – October 6th
5. Back To The Beach Festival – Huntington Beach, CA – April 28th-29th

Top 5 Albums of 2018
1. Shame – Songs of Praise
This album hit me like a ton of bricks in the best way. I had heard a ton of hype around Songs of Praise before giving it a first listen, and usually I am a healthy skeptic, but good Lord, does this record rip. It has a dark flavor and carries with it a lot of angst, and you can’t help but get caught up in the hooks that Shame offer. These five lads from South London simply killed it.

2. IDLES – Joy as an Act of Resistance
3. Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth
4. Hot Snakes – Jericho Sirens
5. Snail Mail – Lush

Top 5 Songs of 2018
1. Shame – “Concrete”
Conjuring up the ghost of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis without sounding like a complete poser is challenging for newer post-punk bands it seems — except for Shame’s Charlie Steen. Paired with some brilliant instrumentation, I just couldn’t stop listening to “Concrete” when I first heard it. I must have listened to the track a solid 10 times in a row on the first go. This song has an infectious quality to it and is a straight-up ripper.

2. The Soft White Sixties – “I Still Love You, San Francisco”
3. Hot Snakes – “Six Wave Hold-Down”
4. IDLES – “Colossus”
5. The Sword – “Come and Gone”

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Our favorite performances from 2017

Best live shows of 2017 - The xx, Miguel, Moderat & Coldplay

2017, where the hell did you go? It just felt like the other day that we were ringing in a new year, and yet, here we are again as we plow straight ahead into 2018.

But before we officially put a bow on 2017, it’s time for us to revisit the past 12 months at Showbams. This year, we had the opportunity to capture many amazing moments in live music, and while we couldn’t pay homage to every single performance we witnessed, we made a conscious effort to include a wide range of talent spread across the industry.

Whittling down our list, though, was not that easy. Those who didn’t make the cut but still deserve to be mentioned here include the following artists, DJs and bands (in alphabetical order) whom we either covered at their own show and/or at a music festival this year:

21 Savage, The Accidentals, Action Bronson, Alice Cooper, Alina Baraz, alt-J, Amber Mark, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Animal Collective, Atlas Genius, The Avalanches, The Band Perry, Beach Slang, Belle and Sebastian, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Bleachers, Blonde Redhead, Bob Moses, Car Seat Headrest, Cate Le Bon, Cigarettes After Sex, Circles Around the Sun, City of Caterpillar, The Coathangers, Claude VonStroke, Chris Robinson, Con Brio, Conor Oberst, Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile, Crystal Castles, The Crystal Method, Daniel Caesar, Dawes, Dead Meadow, Deafheaven, Deep Purple, Diet Cig, DIIV, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Dr. Dog, Dr. Octagon, Duke Dumont, Eagles of Death Metal, Electric Guest, Emancipator, Emily King, Empire of the Sun, Foxygen, Future Islands, Gabriel Garzón-Montano, Gatecreeper, Girl Talk, Gone Is Gone, Grizzly Bear, Gucci Mane, Hamilton Leithauser, Hazel English, Hinds, The Hip Replacements, Hiss Golden Messenger, How to Dress Well, Iggy Pop, Isaiah Rashad, Jack Johnson, Jagwar Ma, Jamestown Revival, Jamie Isaac, Jay 305, Jen Cloher, Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas, Jessie Ware, Jim James, JR JR, Julie Byrne, Julien Baker, Justice, Karen Elson, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, KAYTRANADA, Kelis, K. Flay, Khalid, Khruangbin, Kilo Kish, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Kurt Vile, La Femme, LANY, Lauv, L.A. Witch, Lettuce, Lil Yachty, Little Dragon, Lo Moon, Lorde, Lord Huron, Miike Snow, Milky Chance, Minus the Bear, Mister Heavenly, MØ, Mondo Cozmo, Neon Indian, Nicki Bluhm, Norah Jones, North Mississippi Allstars, NVO, Oh Sees, OK Go, Once and Future Band, Pallbearer, The Palms, Passion Pit, Peaches, Perfume Genius, Petit Biscuit, Phoebe Bridgers, Playboi Carti, Pond, Porcelain Raft, PRAYERS, The Radio Dept., Real Estate, The Revivalists, Royal Blood, Sampha, ScHoolboy Q, Sheer Mag, serpentwithfeet, Silversun Pickups, Sleep, Sleigh Bells, SOFI TUKKER, Solange, Spiritualized, Styles P, Sunflower Beam, Talib Kweli, Tank and The Bangas, Tash Sultana, Tei Shi, Temples, Tennis, Tennyson, Thou, Thundercat, TOBACCO, Touché Amoré, Tool, Tove Lo, Travis Scott, Twin Peaks, Ty Segall, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Vagabon, Vance Joy, Vic Mensa, Warpaint, Weezer, White Fence, Woods, YG, Young the Giant.

Now, it’s time for The Bam Team to present our favorite performances from 2017.

The Bam Team’s 5 Favorite Shows, Albums & Songs of 2017

Listen to The Bam Team’s favorite songs of 2017:


Best of 2017 - Run the Jewels

Run the Jewels

Date: February 1st
Location: Shrine Expo Hall – Los Angeles

Yet, in just four years, Run the Jewels have already reached hip-hop’s mountaintop with their politically charged lyrics and hard-hitting beats. Just take last Wednesday’s sold-out show in LA for example. With the duo’s third studio album still only a few weeks old, 5,000 or so fans poured into the spacious Shrine Expo Hall to watch El-P and Killer Mike fuck shit up (for lack of a better term). And that’s exactly what they did after opening sets from The Gaslamp Killer, Nick Hook, Gangasta Boo and CUZ. -Josh Herwitt, photo by Josh Herwitt


Best of 2017 - BADBADNOTGOOD

BADBADNOTGOOD

Date: February 23rd
Location: The Fillmore – San Francisco

As one of the bands to take the coveted headlining spot for NoisePop25, BADBADNOTGOOD seemed as — perhaps more — excited as all of the fans who made it to their sold-out show at The Fillmore. Combining consummate instrumentation with classic MC-style showmanship led by drummer Alexander Sowinski, the Canadian jazz-rock quartet has mastered the art of keeping the audience guessing where they’re going. -Brett Ruffenach, photo by James Pawlish


Best of 2017 - Spoon

Spoon

Date: March 7th
Location: Apogee Studio – Santa Monica, CA

In total, Spoon performed five songs from the new record, including “First Caress” to open a brief encore that left us eager for more. But as the five-piece rocked “Rainy Taxi” from 2014’s They Want My Soul to close, I couldn’t help but think to myself that this is one band I never should have slept on. -Josh Herwitt, photo by Larry Hirshowitz


Best of 2017 - Sigur Rós

Sigur Rós

Date: April 8th
Location: Greek Theatre – Berkeley, CA

Now a trio, Sigur Rós have been delivering goosebumps for over two decades — and it’s a delight to hear Jónsi’s voice-as-an-instrument this clear, this powerful and as confident as ever. It would be a wonderful treat to check in on this outfit every 5-10 years going forward and realize they are still going strong. -Mike Frash, photo by James Nagel


Best of 2017 - DREAMCAR

DREAMCAR

Date: April 9th
Location: Great American Music Hall – San Francisco

Fresh off a stop at Berkeley’s Hearst Greek Theatre the night before, Adams showcased some older favorites and a slew of new tunes from his 16th and latest studio album Prisoner, which came out in February. SoCal fans were treated to some extended full-band jamming, a couple of solo acoustic performances and Adams’ usual witty banter over the course of the evening.
-Jared Stossel, photo by Jared Stossel


Best of 2017 - A Perfect Circle

A Perfect Circle

Date: April 13th
Location: Bill Graham Civic Auditorium – San Francisco

In the world of rock supergroups, there are few that have sprung up in the last few decades that can hold a candle to A Perfect Circle. From the onset, APC have been a powerhouse on the senses, combining members from bands such as Tool, The Smashing Pumpkins, Failure, Primus and more over the years. Their body of work has been met with high praise across the board, and they have been able to solidify themselves as one of the most unique and tenured groupings out there, as opposed to bands like Zwan and Velvet Revolver. -Andrew Pohl, photo by Mike Rosati


Best of 2017 - Radiohead

Radiohead

Date: April 14th
Location: Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Weekend 1 – Indio, CA

Yes, the sound problems (all three instances) put a real damper on what was easily one of the most anticipated performances of the weekend. This was the third time Goldenvoice called on Radiohead to headline Coachella, and for one of rock’s most important bands over the last 30 years, it certainly wasn’t a charm as the saying goes. In that moment, it was pretty hard not to feel bad for Thom Yorke, who could only make light of the situation by cracking a joke even if it wasn’t supposed to be one — or so he claimed. But Radiohead more than made up for it with a masterful setlist that opened with A Moon Shaped Pool cuts “Daydreaming”, “Desert Island Disk” and “Ful Stop” before circling back to older hits such as “Everything in Its Right Place”, “There There”, “Idioteque” and even “Creep”. -Josh Herwitt, photo courtesy of Coachella


Best of 2017 - Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar

Date: April 16th
Location: Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Weekend 1 – Indio, CA

All hail, King Kendrick! Or should we say “Kung Fu Kenny?” The Compton rapper reached hip-hop’s mountaintop more than two years ago with his Grammy-winning masterpiece To Pimp a Butterfly, but headlining Coachella was still on his to-do list. In fact, it was only the second time he had ever been booked to perform at Coachella after being listed on the last line of the 2012 poster. Closing out the fest is no short order for any artist, let alone one who dropped his new album less than 48 hours before taking the stage, but K-Dot lived up to the billing with a show that provoked as much thought as it entertained. -Josh Herwitt, photo courtesy of Coachella


Best of 2017 - The xx

The xx

Date: April 17th
Location: Bill Graham Civic Auditorium – San Francisco

Playfully alluding to their material’s emotional sentiment, Romy Madley Croft (vocals, guitar) and Oliver Sim (bass, vocals) managed to entrance all of us with their tension-filled gazes and syncopated dance moves. Prolonging vocal arrangements, especially during their accelerated live interpretation of “Infinity”, were also stunning to witness. About halfway through the set, Jamie Smith (beats, MPC, production), aka Jamie xx, took the lead and transformed the room into a giant disco party thanks to an onslaught of consecutive dance hits before finishing with “Loud Places” from his 2015 solo LP In Colour. -Molly Kish, photo by Norm de Veyra


Best of 2017 - Moderat

Moderat

Date: April 20th
Location: Mayan Theater – Los Angeles

Moderat subsequently circled back to III, performing “Intruder” before exiting the stage to a rousing applause. Yet, when the house lights didn’t come on right away, the suspense began to build once again. Less than a minute later, the three-piece reemerged, giving the audience more than its money’s worth. Two-encore shows are usually reserved for high-profile groups with extensive catalogs like Radiohead, but Moderat have never played by any rules. -Josh Herwitt, photo by Josh Herwitt


Best of 2017 - The Flaming Lips

The Flaming Lips

Date: May 9th
Location: The Theatre at Ace Hotel – Los Angeles

The Lips, of course, made sure to play that song, and even though it was without Watts, it still proved to be an unforgettable moment due to the fact that Coyne rode a life-size unicorn from one end of the stage to the other as he belted out lines like “Yeah, there should be unicorns / The ones with the purple eyes / It should be loud as fuck / Hope the swans don’t die” to open the tune while wearing a big smile across his face. If that’s not psychedelic to you, then I don’t know what is. -Josh Herwitt, photo by Josh Herwitt


Best of 2017 - Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams

Date: June 3rd
Location: Greek Theatre – Los Angeles

Fresh off a stop at Berkeley’s Hearst Greek Theatre the night before, Adams showcased some older favorites and a slew of new tunes from his 16th and latest studio album Prisoner, which came out in February. SoCal fans were treated to some extended full-band jamming, a couple of solo acoustic performances and Adams’ usual witty banter over the course of the evening.
-Stephanie Port, photo by Stephanie Port


Best of 2017 - Jay Som

Jay Som

Date: June 17th
Location: Potrero del Sol Park – San Francisco

Melina Duterte’s band goes by the name Jay Som and hails from Oakland. Do yourself a favor and remember this name: Jay Som. The Polyvinyl-signed songstress bathed the crowd at the Potrero Stage in her dreamy vocals and inanely catchy tunes that appeal to a wide-range of music fan; her songs could feel just as viable in the 90’s college rock area as they do today. Highlights from the set included a vibe-soaked rendition of “Baybee” as well as “The Bus Song”, arguably the artist’s first real “hit.” -Kevin Quandt, photo by Emmeline Munson


Best of 2017- AIR

AIR

Date: June 23rd
Location: The Masonic – San Francisco

AIR’s live performances focus on capturing the crisp, detailed production style that the duo has honed over two decades. It’s a vibrant, textured sound. Centered around acoustic guitar, synthesizers and the breathy timbre of the duo’s immaculate harmonized vocals, the use of live drums helped round out the contrast between both the artificial and acoustic sounds in songs like “Cherry Blossom Girl”. -Brett Ruffenach, photo by Steve Carlson


Best of 2017 - PLANETARIUM

PLANETARIUM

Date: July 21st
Location: Fox Theater Oakland – Oakland

PLANETARIUM’s music, which channels Stevens’ reflections on astronomy, science and even the intricacies of human consciousness, is a fusion of styles from all four band members that evokes feelings of unity. The group’s performance was accompanied by otherworldly visuals that filled the backdrop as it traversed the Solar System with quite a few emotionally charged songs inspired by the planets and other celestial bodies like “Neptune” and “Jupiter”. -Norm de Veyra, photo by Norm de Veyra


Best of 2017 - The Drums

The Drums

Date: July 21st
Location: The Fillmore – San Francisco

By the time The Drums took the stage, the intimate venue was packed to the brim with fans. The Brooklyn outfit made as much of an impression as it did when frontman Jonathan Pierce and company exploded onto the scene in 2009 with their initial EP Summertime! From then on, it became glaringly obvious with their eccentric band members and seemingly effortless style that they possessed an energetic presence. And at their SF show, it didn’t take long for the capacity crowd to fall into a groove as the venue’s whole atmosphere lit up. -Jacqueline Moore, photo by Jacqueline Moore


Best of 2017 - Miguel

Miguel

Date: July 23rd
Location: Annenberg Space for Photography – Los Angeles

Once the sun set and Miguel stepped onstage, the audience was transported somewhere else entirely. Born and raised in LA, the 31-year-old’s silky-smooth voice floated through the cool evening breeze over the twinkle lights in the trees, giving the impression of an island retreat rather than a concert in the park. -Rochelle Shipman, photo by Rochelle Shipman


Best of 2017 - The War on Drugs

The War on Drugs

Date: August 5th
Location: Apogee Studio – Santa Monica, CA

Granduciel’s raspy voice, as well as his driving (no pun intended) guitar rhythms and reverb-laden riffs, are largely what separates The War on Drugs from the rest in a crowded indie-rock scene, but the sum of the band’s parts — Charlie Hall (drums), David Hartley (bass), Anthony LaMarca (guitar, keyboards), Robbie Bennett (keyboards) and finally Jon Natchez (saxophone, keyboards) — also creates a sound that while familiar, still feels uniquely different. -Josh Herwitt, photo by Larry Hirshowitz


Best of 2017 - Gorillaz

Gorillaz

Date: August 11th
Location: Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, Golden Gate Park – San Francisco

Easily one of the most anticipated acts of the weekend, Gorillaz’s Humanz tour made its West Coast debut on Day 1 at OSL. After a six-year hiatus, expectations ran extremely high for this headlining performance. On previous tours, the band’s members had played second fiddle to the cartoon projections of their alter egos onstage, but everyone was visible this time around. Several collaborators from Gorillaz’s previous albums, including Kali Uchis, Yukimi Nagano and Del the Funky Homosapien, came out to join them, and the Damon Albarn-led group still pulled some even bigger surprises with cameos appearances from De la Soul and Pusha T. -Molly Kish, photo by James Pawlish


Best of 2017 - Cage the Elephant

Cage the Elephant

Date: August 12th
Location: Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, Golden Gate Park – San Francisco

While the cancellation of Queens of the Stone Age was a blow a week prior to the event, the replacement that was lined up more than delivered a blistering set of rock ‘n’ roll. Cage the Elephant are now being widely considered festival-headliner material, and frontman Matt Shultz is making a strong claim for that accolade as he continues to elevate his stage act to near-Mick Jagger levels of pomp and energy. “Come a Little Closer” and “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” received hearty sing-alongs from a decidedly youthful crowd as Cage have become a favorite of Generation Z. -Kevin Quandt, photo by Marc Fong


Best of 2017 - J.I.D

J.I.D

Date: September 9th
Location: Day N Night Fest, Angel Stadium – Anaheim, CA

While the headliners thrilled as expected, it was at the side “Day” and “Night” stages where the festival’s biggest highlights were generated. J.I.D, the rising Atlanta rapper who is signed to J. Cole’s Dreamville imprint, absolutely thrilled during his set. Dazzling with his rapid-fire and agile flow, J.I.D showed off his ability to command a crowd with songs such as “General” and “EdEddnEddy” before jumping into the crowd for the tempo-changing hit “Never” that left the crowd chanting for “one more song!” -Joseph Gray & Rochelle Shipman, photo by Rochelle Shipman


Best of 2017 - SZA

SZA

Date: September 9th
Location: Day N Night Fest, Angel Stadium – Anaheim, CA

Saturday, meanwhile, featured the vintage gospel spirit and warm vibes that have elevated Chicago emcee Chance the Rapper to superstardom. Earlier in the day, SZA, this summer’s breakout star, delivered her first festival performance since the release of her well-received debut album Ctrl. Swaying, spinning and singing her raw emotions and shortcomings while coming of age, the Top Dawg Entertainment songstress didn’t disappoint. -Joseph Gray & Rochelle Shipman, photo by Rochelle Shipman


Best of 2017 - Bonobo

Bonobo (Live)

Date: September 27th
Location: Greek Theatre – Los Angeles

The real reason things felt different this time around, though, was the music. Extending and reimagining his tracks for easily one of the largest crowds he has ever performed in front of, Bonobo followed an uplifting opening set from Canadian electronic duo Bob Moses with an array of soothing sounds that paired beautifully with his lighting setup and entrancing stage production in the same way Scott Hansen (aka Tycho) creates an awe-inspiring audio-visual experience during his live-band performances. -Josh Herwitt, photo by Josh Herwitt


Best of 2017 - Coldplay

Coldplay

Date: October 4th
Location: Levi’s Stadium – Santa Clara, CA

Coldplay took the stage shortly before 9 p.m. as a video montage of fans who introduced them as “the biggest band in the world” played onstage. While I’m pretty sure there are a few other artists or groups from their side of the pond (ehem, U2) who might take issue with that claim, they certainly did nothing during their electric, almost two-hour performance to dissuade that sort of thinking. Chris Martin and company, in fact, wasted no time getting down to business, flooding the stadium with confetti and firing off pyrotechnics at a steady clip while opening with “A Head Full of Dreams” and subsequently all throughout the night. -Steve Carlson, photo by Steve Carlson


Best of 2017 - Broken Social Scene

Broken Social Scene

Date: October 26th
Location: Fox Theater Oakland – Oakland

Here’s the thing about BSS — after 15 years, the web of musicians that makes up the collective have created their own individual projects, from Metric to Stars to Feist to Do Make Say Think to Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton. And while many of the band’s members who have gone on to find success in their own solo careers didn’t happen to join the group on this particular tour, the sense of professionalism built into the BSS live experience remains prevalent. Every person who stepped onstage demonstrated consummate abilities in their own realms, never missing a beat or a note. -Brett Ruffenach, photo by Norm de Veyra

Best of 2017 - Jim James

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Outside Lands 2017: Our 10th anniversary awards

Outside Lands 2017Photos by Marc Fong & James Pawlish // Written by Kevin Quandt & Molly Kish //

Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival //
Golden Gate Park – San Francisco
August 11th-13th, 2017 //

Outside Lands celebrated its 10th anniversary this August, and it was a weekend that we can definitively say had its share of ups, downs and unexpected twists. While many found plenty to gripe about, some took away a more positive experience, proving that music festivals and live music events are truly unpredictable even when you have some of the best in business at the helm. That said, the increasingly over-inflated market of music festivals right now can be volatile and may not be a cakewalk for concert promoters as more and more folks are drawn to large-scale events such as Lollapalooza, Coachella and Outside Lands.

Some stated that the 2017 edition of OSL lacked fireworks when the lineup dropped. Others said the lineup catered closer to the 25-35 demographic. There was no lack of opinions with regard to the acts that Another Planet Entertainment and Superfly booked, but it was clear they did have a vision and a bill that stood apart from the pack with a rare group of festival legends in The Who, Gorillaz and Metallica. Below those names led to further intrigue with the return of Queens of the Stone Age, Fleet Foxes and A Tribe Called Quest after a multiyear absence from the live arena.

But many now know that two out of those three sub-headliners were unable to perform for one reason or another, and while these sorts of things are generally out of anyone’s hands, they still take a toll on everyone involved in the days, hours and even minutes leading up to those highly anticipated sets. Alas, when you have such festival production pros who were backed by three insanely spot-on headliners, these bumps in the road can create something different than initially intended, yet equally satisfying.

So, without further ado, here are our awards from the 2017 edition of Outside Lands.


Outside Lands 2017 - Gorillaz


Gorillaz

Best three-time OSL performer: Hamilton Leithauser
One highlight this year was the debut of Hamilton Leithauser’s solo act on the Sutro Stage. Having played the festival in 2008 and 2012 with his primary outfit, The Walkmen, his set marked the rare occasion of an artist performing at Outside Lands for the third time, and while Leithauser did have to battle some minor sound issues, he rallied past them like the consummate professional that he is. Short of “Alexandra”, Leithauser exclusively dug into tracks from his collaborative album with fellow New Yorker Rostam Batmanglij (formerly of Vampire Weekend) by the name of I Had a Dream That You Were Mine. The spirited crooner still remains at the top of his game, and his vocal performance can’t be rivaled by even the best. One can only hope that this will not be Leithauser’s final time onstage at OSL as fans clamor to know what’s next from this crooning, indie god. -KQ

Best cameo’d performance of the weekend: Gorillaz
Easily one of the most anticipated acts of the weekend, Gorillaz’s Humanz tour made its West Coast debut on Day 1 at OSL. After a six-year hiatus, expectations ran extremely high for this headlining performance. On previous tours, the band’s members had played second fiddle to the cartoon projections of their alter egos onstage, but everyone was visible this time around. Several collaborators from Gorillaz’s previous albums, including Kali Uchis, Yukimi Nagano and Del the Funky Homosapien, came out to join them, and the Damon Albarn-led group still pulled some even bigger surprises with cameos appearances from De la Soul and Pusha T. The two-hour set also saw Little Simz deliver a blistering performance of “Garage Palace” as well as a string of radio hits that included “Feel Good Inc.”, Clint Eastwood” and “Demon Daze”. With longtime fans and a new generation of contemporaries on hand, there was something truly special about seeing a packed crowd sing along with some cartoon legends. -MK

Best reason to sit in Golden Gate Park with your friends and listen to music: Real Estate
Real Estate continue to tour off this year’s stellar LP release, In Mind, and they demonstrated their live prowess at OSL with a sphincter-tight set of jangle pop. “Stained Glass” got the show started for the rather sizable crowd, which only grew over their allotted time. The Sutro Stage has become an ideal locale for mellower acts to play for slightly-more-seated audiences, and this set felt more loungey than others even though fan favorites “It’s Real” and “Green Aisles” punctuated a strong, breezy performance from Martin Courtney, Alex Bleeker and crew. -KQ

Most in need of performance pointers: KAYTRANADA
KAYTRANADA’s debut LP 99.9% was a highlight from 2016, and the Canadian producer has been continuing his victory lap with banner festival sets all around the world. While there’s no denying the infectious nature of his tracks like “Glowed Up” and “Got It Good” in a large-group setting, we yearn to get a little more out KAYTRA when he’s onstage. To be fair, he has loosened up a little and will toss a quick little dance move or hand gesture, but he still really doesn’t engage his audience much, whether it’s in the intimate confines of Mezzanine or in front of 25,000 strong at Outside Lands’ Twin Peaks Stage. Kay, like many others, was pretty stoked for A Tribe Called Quest to follow, but we all know how that ended. -KQ

Outside Lands 2017 - Cage the Elephant


Cage the Elephant

Next “big” rock headliner (TIE): Cage the Elephant and Royal Blood
While the cancellation of Queens of the Stone Age was a blow a week prior to the event, the replacement that was lined up more than delivered a blistering set of rock ‘n’ roll. Cage the Elephant are now being widely considered festival-headliner material, and frontman Matt Shultz is making a strong claim for that accolade as he continues to elevate his stage act to near-Mick Jagger levels of pomp and energy. “Come a Little Closer” and “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” received hearty sing-alongs from a decidedly youthful crowd as Cage have become a favorite of Generation Z.

But Cage did have some competition at OSL, and these guys are moving at a helluva pace for the crown. Royal Blood have been one of the hottest rock acts over the past few years. I mean, their first single wasn’t even released four years ago. Royal Blood quickly rose to fame in the UK, then set their sights on Europe and lately have become the new darlings of alt-rock radio here in the U.S. with one of their newest singles, “Lights Out”. The bass-and-drums duo make a serious racket for only two blokes onstage, but they put on a show that rivals any full-band act with four or five members. Similar to Cage, the kiddos were swirling up a decent little pit in front of the stage while Mike Kerr belted out an impressive setlist with minimal effort and contributed to the low end in a serious manner. -KQ

Best use of Thai funk in a group setting: Khruangbin
Sure, many think K-bin (short for “Khruangbin”) have Thai origins with their Thai name (which means “airplane”) and their Thai funk-infused groove rock. But this rising trio that met and formed in Texas have steadily built a following based around an infectious sound that feels home both on the dance floor and at the lounge. Mark Speer on guitar is a phenom to behold; his playing style, coupled with his tone, has a true lyrical quality that’s perfect for the trio, which opted to not have a lead vocalist. It was clear that the band, like many fans in attendance, were bummed about ATCQ’s sudden cancellation, so they decided to bring one of their classics, “Electric Relaxation”, to life as drummer Donald Johnson delivered the chorus. Many chuckled and grooved to the track before the band jumped back into a set that featured “Mr. White” and “The Infamous Bill”. We can only hope a sophomore LP is not too far off. -KQ

Best use of a festival billing for a greater purpose: Solange
After a weekend marred with schedule changes and cancellations, Solange was the festival’s saving grace on Day 3. Despite starting 15-20 minutes late, she descended upon the glowing stage in a choreographed flight pattern, followed by her backing band and team of dancers, and segued directly into a soulful montage of hits from 2016’s A Seat at the Table, extending each breakdown with some interpretive dance routines. An outstanding cover of Thundercat’s “Heartbreaks + Setbacks” was seamlessly woven midway into her set before leading into an all-out dance party with deep cuts from her 2012 LP True. Solange then took a minute to touch upon the events that were happening concurrently in Charlottesville. As the only artist on the OSL bill to do so, she addressed the tragedy and utilized the stage as a final public platform before deleting her Twitter account the next day. The evening ended in dramatic fashion with the power getting shut off and the performance concluding with the crowd singing the lyrics to “Rise” in the dark. -MK