Let’s take a quick look back at the best shows of last year.
It may not have been the best year for the world in 2017, but it was a very, very strong year in music. And that includes live concerts. It seemed that nearly all of my favorite performers were out on the road, bringing fantastic shows to a venue near me. But last year also revealed some new artists at the start of their careers, who have very bright futures ahead.
Without further ado, these are the top 10 concerts I saw in 2017. Keep an eye out for their names on marquees in your neighborhood.
Alex Lahey at Rough Trade – 3/24
New York City is one of the toughest audiences to impress. While we’re open to everything, you have to bring your A-game. For artists who don’t hail from the city, the first NYC show is a rite of passage. As the song says, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. Well, with her concert at Rough Trade, Melbourne singer-songwriter Alex Lahey made it here.
With only one released EP to her name, and her debut album a few months off, Lahey managed to get the packed crowd at Rough Trade fully invested in her music. It helped that virtually every tune was a rush of adrenaline. But more than the excellent songs, it was Lahey’s talkative, funny personality that brought a connection with the crowd. Whether chatting about a break-up in Perth, how she hasn’t been taking care of herself, or how her mother loves “Smooth” by Santana, she used every free moment to get the audience laughing and cheering her on.
LCD Soundsystem at Brooklyn Steel – 12/19
You would think that by the time they reached their 19th concert of the year at Brooklyn Steel (yes, 19th!), LCD Soundsystem would be exhausted and uninterested. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just like their reunion album, American Dream, proved the naysayers wrong, the dance-fest they put on showed that you can’t have too much of a good thing!
From the opening kick of “Losing My Edge,” through the body-shaking “Tonite” to the ecstatic finale of “All My Friends,” the group had everyone in the venue dancing and bouncing around carefree. Even James Murphy’s bad cold couldn’t stop him, as he sang through the pain on the slippery “I Can Change” or the groovy “Tribulations.” Three songs in, he told the audience to put their phones and cameras away and just enjoy the show. And the audience listened! That’s proof in itself that this was an excellent show.
Lorde at Governors Ball – 6/2
One of the most anticipated sets at Governors Ball last year was Lorde’s, back on the road in the weeks leading up to the release of her stunning sophomore record, Melodrama. Navigating the line of pop artistry, everyone by her stage was curious to see what performance the New Zealander had in store for us. Once she hit the stage, she blew away my already high expectations.
With a set that veered between her two albums, she sang and danced as only she could, while a play performed behind her in a transparent cage. During “Sober,” Lorde climbed in the cage herself, which tilted drunkenly. Even the quiet songs, like “Liability” with Jack Antonoff on piano, brought rapt attention to the outdoor fest. But nothing topped the closing “Green Light,” where she asked the crowd to take anything bothering them and let it go in that moment. We did, dancing and jumping in joy.
Los Campesinos! at Warsaw – 3/10
Los Campesinos! might be the most underrated band in the world today. Six albums into a near-flawless discography, every album brings a variety of catchy melodies and some of the best lyrics in music today. They should be playing theaters, but on a wintry day in March, the Welsh rock band were thrilled to be performing in the 1,000-capacity Greenpoint venue.
With their latest record, Sick Scenes, only a couple weeks old, the band surrounded the new tunes with old favorites. But there was no need to worry about the reception of the recent tracks. Songs like “I Broke Up in Amarante” and “Renato Dall’Ara (2008)” got as strong a positive reaction as did beloved singles “Avocado, Baby” and “Romance Is Boring.” It was one of those concerts where everyone in the venue, the band, the audience, hell probably even the merch people, gave those two hours all they had. By the end, we were drained and happy.
The National at Forest Hills Stadium – 10/6
As nice as Brooklyn is, there’s something special about seeing one of my favorite bands in my home borough. Standing about 20 feet away from the stage, I had the perfect vantage point to watch the five-piece play through a smattering of older numbers and the tracks from last year’s Sleep Well Beast. They opened with four songs from that album, some of which had already grown into fan favorites. The surreal backing visuals added a nice touch for the expansive sounds the band generated as well.
Singer Matt Berninger’s banter was on-point during the show. He joked about trying on John McEnroe’s shorts backstage, dedicated “Secret Meeting” to Jared Kushner and told a tall tale about Donald Trump stealing Joey Ramone’s girlfriend, right before The National covered “The KKK Took My Baby Away.” Just perfect. Outside the humor, Berninger remains a magnetic frontman, walking into the crowd, standing on the railing and even joining the audience to watch (and fake heckle) his bandmates close the show unplugged. I’ve seen The National plenty of times and this show stands above the rest.
Ninet Tayeb at Echoplex – 2/16
Sometimes, timing just works out well! I headed to Los Angeles last February for some quick R&R and a Doctor Who convention. Lucky for me, it turned out that Ninet Tayeb had a concert in the city at that time as well! Given that she just released an incredible album with Paper Parachute, it felt like an opportunity too good to pass up. And I was right!
If you want to know the appeal of Tayeb, just listen to her sing. She has one of the most astounding, powerful voices in music today. This is sheer, raw strength that feels like it could flatten a mountain. But as seen at the Echoplex, on songs like “Child” and “Elinor,” Tayeb has a remarkable amount of control over her voice as well. If her own songs didn’t display this enough, the covers of “I Put a Spell on You” and Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” achieved the difficult task of transforming those classics into her own.
Nine Inch Nails at Panorama Festival – 7/31
Trent Reznor is a perfectionist that also knows how to let his concerts furiously explode. At this point, you would expect, and receive, nothing less than a standout performance from Nine Inch Nails. Closing the Panorama Festival on Sunday, Reznor stripped away all visual distractions and put the focus on the band playing a set of superb, aggressive songs. When it comes down to it, that was all the crowd really needed.
Most of the set favored Nine Inch Nails’ back catalog, and that served everyone just fine. When you have tracks like “Wish,” “Closer,” and “Head Like a Hole,” what more do you need? But the new songs they played fit right in, including the frantic opener “Branches/Bones,” the New Order throwback “Less Than” and the cacophonous “Burning Bright (Field on Fire).” One of the biggest highlights though, was the gentle tribute to Reznor’s hero, David Bowie. The low-key, subtle arrangement of “I Can’t Give Everything Away” brought the frenzied crowd back to Earth, giving them a moment to listen to a serene tribute to the departed legend.
Priests at Brooklyn Bazaar – 1/28
If you asked me to pick one debut album to check out from 2017, my answer would be Nothing Feels Natural by Priests. This riotous album, full of grooves, bent melodies and cathartic fury, is made for these difficult times. The music is political, but focuses more on the disease than the symptoms, as to what’s ailing our society. At their record release show, eight days after the Presidential Inauguration, this concert was exactly what we needed.
Priests played through the entirety of their new record, throwing in a few older songs in the middle. With a rabid rhythm section and fuzzed out, roughshod guitar, the band created the perfect amount of chaos for singer Katie Alice Greer. Besides her stunning voice, which can go from mellow to combative in seconds, she brought boundless energy that the stage was too small to contain. So, she climbed on speakers, played off the crowd and even swung from the pipes attached to the ceiling. Whether or not you pick up Priests album, you should see them live. There’s no band out there like them right now.
St. Vincent at Kings Theatre – 12/3
I’ve seen St. Vincent on every album cycle since she released her sophomore record in 2009. I’ve watched her grow into bigger and bigger venues, bringing a greater theatricality to her stunning songwriting and jaw-dropping guitar skills. This journey has taken its next giant step forward with her tour in support of MASSEDUCTION, my favorite album of 2017.
At Kings Theatre, St. Vincent performed onstage by herself, the backing tracks hidden off-stage. She started by playing a couple of songs off each of her first four albums, in chronological order. As she went from one record to the next, the stage show evolved with her. It culminated in a full performance of MASSEDUCTION, St. Vincent standing on a platform, shredding as bits of video played behind her. The corrupted pop of her latest album was treated as reverently as her older work. Plus, she seemed genuinely happy to be playing in her old New York stomping grounds. In a career of transformations and evolutions, this has been her greatest yet.
U2 at Metlife Stadium – 6/28
U2 has always resisted looking backwards. There’s never been room for much nostalgia, outside of the occasional remaster or reissue. But then again, it’s not every day that your most famous and beloved album turns 30 years old. So, for this milestone of The Joshua Tree, the band hit the road last summer to tour the album in full.
And U2 didn’t disappoint! Incorporating modern video technology into a revised take on the Joshua Tree Tour stage, the band played through the album like it was brand new. The classics of “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “With or Without You” lived up to their reputation. But it was the lesser known tracks that truly exceled. “Trip Through Your Wires” showed a playful side of U2 that’s too rarely-seen. “One Tree Hill” was a beautiful tribute to their lost friend, Greg Carroll. And “Exit” turned into a raucous, political rocker. For many, this concert was a trip down memory lane. For people not yet born, like me, it was a chance to see one of the greatest albums of all time played from front to back.