Monday, January 13, 2014

My ten favorite concerts of 2013

Okay. Just one more list and then I promise I'll shut up about how great 2013 was. (Sorry about the pictures looking terrible; it's a formatting issue and I'm frankly too tired to fuss with it right now.)

 10. Local Natives @ Electric Factory (9/28)

After being forced to miss Local Natives' GovBall set due to risk of hypothermia (no, really), I was treated to a lengthy performance in Philly that heartily showcased their new album but didn't neglect the old favorites from Gorilla Manor, either. In fact, I can't think of a single song that I wanted to hear and didn't. Their energy was off the roof (Taylor Rice is certainly a bit of a prancer), and the light setup prompted one band member to note how much their show looks like Dredd upon seeing it broadcast on monitors throughout the venue.

9. Sigur Rós @ Mann Center (9/20)

I'd already seen Sigur Rós twice, and I'd been in the front row both times, so having a seat behind the pit was a bit of a step back. Having said that, though, no live act that I've ever seen has ever really matched the ennobling audiovisual splendor of this band. Beautiful, haunting and devastating often at once, Sigur Rós sound brilliant with the additional eight musicians and vocalists that they tour with, and "Popplagið" still stands as the single most exhilarating live song I've ever seen, to the point that it literally left me quivering this time.

 8. The xx @ Electric Factory (1/27)

Probably the one show of 2013 that most transformed my perception of the band more than any other. The xx's absurdly popular music was always missing something for me on record, yet the interplay between Romy and Oliver on stage (simultaneously restrained and unbearably intense) lent their hush love songs an immediacy and intimacy that I'd never quite felt before. They were also backed by a hell of a light show, and Jamie's spectacular percussive/electronic work. I only took a chance on this band after Hurricane Sandy pushed their original show to a date on a weekend, but I couldn't be more glad that it worked out.

 7. Animal Collective @ Union Transfer (10/27)

I actually saw Animal Collective twice this year. The first time was at GovBall, in which their closing song, "The Purple Bottle," had to be awkwardly cut short due to technical difficulties. The band had just played "My Girls" and "Peacebone" back-to-back, and nothing was going to bring me down from that high... but after seeing Animal Collective in an intimate venue and experiencing the spectacular buildup and release of "The Purple Bottle" in full, I can't imagine how I ever walked away from their first set satisfied.

 6. Cut Copy @ Governors Ball 2013 (6/8)

As with Sigur Rós, the impact of this one was dampened a bit by me having seen Cut Copy before. This time, though, they were imbued with as much energy as ever following a touring hiatus, and the set had the added benefit of being full of Guns N' Roses fans who, shall we say, didn't exactly have the dancing feet for an Australian synth pop band. Cut Copy know how to work a crowd like no one's business, and even if only a couple of us were actually there to see them and not a has-been '80s rock band, it didn't stop us few hardcore fans from throwing our hands up in the air, jumping up and down and screaming along with "Lights and Music" regardless.

 5. Empire of the Sun @ 9:30 Club (9/1)

It'd be easy to dismiss Empire of the Sun's live show as being all about spectacle, what with the dancers and elaborate costumes and confetti cannons and enormous LED screen and so forth. But while I wouldn't describe most of Empire's music as ambitious or even particularly great, they certainly know how to sell it: with charisma, attitude and terrific musicmanship, transforming the fluffy synth lines of songs like "Old Flavours" into arena-ready guitar riffs. This show also marked the only time I've ever actually seen someone smash a guitar on stage.

 4. My Bloody Valentine @ Electric Factory (11/9)

They were giving out free earplugs upon entrance to this show, a terrifying omen for a legendarily loud band. I didn't actually need them, and I'm glad; My Bloody Valentine make the sort of music that you're supposed to envelope yourself in, and any barriers would have detracted from the experience. Kevin Shields isn't a great showman, but as they say, the music spoke for itself, particularly during the climactic feedback eruption during "You Made Me Realise," when I couldn't figure out if the band was having technical difficulties (as they were throughout the night) or if they were riding this particular segment out because, well, that's what they do. The vibrant projection reels left me eyes feeling just as my ears did: overwhelmed in the most satisfying way.

3. Atoms for Peace @ Liacouras Center (9/24)

It's some sort of evil genius to put the two most animated showmen that I've ever seen, Thom Yorke and Flea, together on one stage. For however different their musical backgrounds are, their sputtering vibes bounced perfectly off of one another and transformed Atoms for Peace's airtight studio sound into a rollicking 100-minute jam session accompanied by a terrific light setup and three other super-talented musicians (particularly Mauro Refosco, who instantly became one of my favorite percussionists). The unbelievably intense live rendition of the title track from Amok, capping off their first encore, was the easy standout. (Points for not pandering; only one Radiohead song was played, and it was a b-side.)

 2. Boris @ Le Poisson Rouge (5/7)

Boris could play anything from their absolutely massive backlog and I'd be happy, as demonstrated when I first saw them in 2011 while they were touring in support of three (!) new albums that they'd released that year and played only a couple of older songs. This set, though, gave me the rare opportunity to see them play Flood, a 70-minute longform aural depiction of the world being consumed by water, in near-full. It was one of the most spectacular performances I'd ever seen, made all the better by the selection of rarities that preceded it (including a cover of My Bloody Valentine's "Sometimes," before I'd have dreamed that I'd see the actual band play that later in the same year).

1. Iron & Wine @ Union Transfer (5/15)

Sam Beam, otherwise known as Iron & Wine, toured with a 13-person band in support of his most recent album. It lent an entirely new layer to a backlog of famously low-production music, much of which he recorded solo. It sounded magnificent, particularly when the band played a new arrangement of "Jezabel" that might stand as my single all-time favorite live reworking of a song. Even better, however, were the stretches in which Beam dismissed the band and played by himself, actively taking requests, engaging the audience in conversation and frequently messing up lyrics to songs he rarely played. The set lasted two hours and ranged from bright polish to down-and-dirty rawness, showcasing everything I possibly could have wanted from a show like this. Absolutely superb.

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