Anyone who knows me could possibly say I’m a bit obsessed with live music. I like to try and see one show once a month. For me, it’s incredible to see an artist up on stage taking hold of the crowd. I’ve seen it happen in a lot of ways, and this year I probably saw 200 different sets. I decided this year I’d try and narrow down a handful of the most memorable ones, so here we go.
LCD Soundsystem at Coachella Music Festival in Indio, California
Coachella was a revolutionary experience for a number of reasons, but seeing LCD Soundsystem is definitely one of the best. We crawled our way through the remains of the Ellie Goulding set to be about five people from the front middle of the stage and it was great. They killed it, playing everything I wanted to hear from “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” to “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down.” James Murphy commanded the stage for two hours and sounded perfect, as well did the rest of the six or seven other people up there playing their instruments. A song in or so they had a giant-sized disco ball come down from the top of the stage like the sun. I was completely mesmerized by the entire thing.
Guns N’ Roses at Coachella Music Festival in Indio, California
I had expected this set to either be a shit show or incredible. Luckily, it was incredible. There were several cool things to see: a) Axl Rose singing from Dave Grohl’s guitar thone, b) Slash ripping through songs with Guns N’ Roses for only the fourth time in twenty years, c) Angus Young coming out and playing a couple AC/DC songs. You read that right. I got to watch a rock and roll reunion that spurred the title “Never In This Lifetime Tour” but I also got to see them accompanied by one of the greatest guitarists in classic rock. It was a magical experience. They killed it with all the hits, from “Paradise City” to “Civil War.” They even brought out a handful of covers, including “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd and “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” by Bob Dylan. There’s only one way I’ll ever see Guns N’ Roses and it’ll be five people from front and center at Coachella.
At The Drive In at Shaky Knees Music Festival in Atlanta, Georgia
At The Drive In was one of those bucket list bands that I never thought I was going to see. Relationship of Command is one of my favorite albums and luckily I managed to catch them play pretty much the whole thing. Cedric was wild and ran around the stage like a madman, tossing around mic and mic stand at will. They slammed through the first four songs of the night with ferocity, never stopping from that first line where we all screamed “I must have read a thousand faces.” I even got to see “Enfilade” which was awesome. They closed out the night with “Napoleon Solo” and “One Armed Scissor” back to back to soar above all expectations I had for the evening. It was so good, so good that I was just as mesmerized when I saw them again two days later in Nashville at Marathon Music Works. If I could go my life seeing At The Drive In play a set every two days I would.
’68 at Exit/In in Nashville, Tennessee
’68 was birthed from Josh Scogin of The Chariot, and four years ago The Chariot played what I still regard as one of the top five sets I will ever see in my lifetime. Knowing that, I had high expectations from Scogin’s new two-piece band with just him and a drummer. He had like, three different pedal-boards with probably eight to ten switches on each of them that made the two guys up there sound like a full band. Scogin was as destructive as ever, destroying a mic stand on accident. He grabbed the mic and handed it to a guy in the front of the crowd so that he could act as his own makeshift mic stand. It was one of the best parts of the night. They closed with a ten minute rendition of “Track 8 O” that was just magical. Never have I seen two musicians play a set in sync so well. I will try my best not to miss another ’68 set that comes close.
The Frights at Mercy Lounge in Nashville, Tennessee
Nathan and I had been waiting pretty much since Too came out to see FIDLAR. We rolled up into Mercy Lounge without any expectations for the opening bands, so boy were we surprised when The Frights came out and just ripped. I didn’t even know who was playing at first; I just knew that whoever was up there came out swinging with restless, relentless, garage-y punk songs that you could just yell along to. It’d been a long time since I’ve seen an unknown opener rile up a crowd so successfully. You expect the headlining bands to be magnificent; it should be expected. It’s few and far between that I have an opener steal the show for me, and man did The Frights do just that. If you ever have an opportunity to catch them you should.
The Avett Brothers at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee
I went into this show without any expectations. Honestly, The Avett Brothers have never really been a band I’ve been able to get into. However, this show at Bridgestone changed all of that. They sounded so good that for a minute I thought I was seeing a show at The Ryman. I’ve seen a good handful of bands in arenas, from Arcade Fire and Jack White to Fall Out Boy, and none of them sounded this good. They were vibrant on stage. They told stories about their songs, and then once I actually listened to their songs I realized that they were stories themselves. They even did a magnificent cover of “Mama Tried” in tribute of the passing of Merle Haggard. The Avett Brothers did a great job of taking a reluctant listener and changing him into an active one.
Rob Zombie at Riot Fest in Chicago, Illinois
There was every intention for me to split the Rob Zombie and Sleater-Kinney sets. I was going to watch the first half of Rob Zombie playing Astro-Creep: 2000 front to back, but halfway through the set when it was supposed to be time to leave, I just couldn’t. The stage itself was something to be seen: coated in carnival props and other horror-like items that you’d image seeing on a Rob Zombie stage, it was a sight to behold. Rob Zombie commanded the attention of the audience with vigor, stomping around the stage mic stand in hand. To top it all off, at the end of the excellent presentation of the album Rob Zombie admitted to the crowd that they hadn’t ever actually practiced the album itself together as a band prior to this debut performance. I might not like everything that Rob Zombie puts out, but if given the chance I would definitely miss a Sleater-Kinney set to watch them again.
Brand New at Ascend Amphitheater in Nashville, Tennessee
Brand New is my favorite band. Brand New is also the most consistently good live band I’ve ever seen. They play with such intensity. I can’t ever look away. The band opened with a handful of Daisy songs, including “Noro”, a song I’ve been dying to hear live. They took it down a notch and played the Deja Entendu songs you’d expect them to play before playing half of The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me with a couple surprise songs mixed in, like “Brothers” and “I Am a Nightmare.” It was really, really cool that Jesse Lacey came out and performed “Moshi Moshi” acoustic as the first song of the encore. I always expect Brand New to be excellent, and every time they’re excellent.
Sia at Coachella Music Festival in Indio, California
Sia was one of those sets we watched because we figured we’d never go see Sia again even if she came around close. Sia is also one of those sets I split because I thought that the Death Grips set was going to be equally as awesome, if not better. Both of those ideas were incorrect. If Sia comes anywhere near Kentucky you can bet I’ll be there. She sounded incredible. Sia herself stood in the back right corner of the stage with a microphone and a low spotlight. She had dancers taking up the main portion of the stage acting out what’s going on in those songs’ respective music videos. It was a lot to take in, honestly. She even sang a cover of Rihanna’s “Diamonds” that wasn’t really a cover because Sia actually wrote it. It was an incredible performance, and if I could go back in time and watch the second half of Sia and miss the Death Grips set I would.
Mac Sabbath at Exit/In in Nashville, Tennessee
I love Black Sabbath, so when I found out there was a Mcdonald’s themed cover band I was all about it. I wasn’t going to miss it. They’re coming back in March 2017 and I’m not going to miss that either. This show was incredible; it was better than half the sets on this list and all those were also incredible. The band dresses like Mcdonald’s characters: Ronald Osbourne, Slayer MacCheeze, Grimalice, Catburglar. They stay in character the entire time. They make jokes about their band’s entire existence, calling themselves the best “drive-thru metal band of all time.” They have songs called “Frying Pan”, “Pair-a-Buns”, “Sweet Beef” and more. It’s hilarious. He comes out in a Ronald McDonald styled straitjacket. During our show he pulled out a twelve foot long extendable giant drinking straw. A girl from the crowd poured a whole beer down it as he chugged it. Did I mention that the straw came out of his pants? Their theatrics were perfect, but I think one of the best parts about the show is that they also perform extremely well musically. They pull out the same “Paranoid” riff with their own lyrical twists just as good as Black Sabbath probably could. If you’re reading this review, go see them in March. You won’t regret it at all.
Those were the ten best sets I saw this year. There were a good handful of sets that I didn’t even get to mention but I’ll list them here really quick:
- Taking Back Sunday at Exit/In in Nashville, Tennessee
- Saosin at Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati, Ohio
- Panic at the Disco! and Weezer at Ascend Amphitheater in Nashville, Tennessee
- Refused at Riot Fest in Chicago, Illinois
- Thrice and La Dispute at the Cannery Ballroom in Nashville, Tennessee
- Kanye West at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee
- Good Charlotte at Marathon Music Works in Nashville, Tennessee
and those aren’t nearly all the sets I saw this year. Live music is awesome, and if you get a chance to see a band you really, really like listening to live, then you should.