Favorite Live Acts of 2014
To continue with our year in review, we bring you our favorite live acts of 2014. We all attend of lot of shows and music festivals, but there's always that special someone who stands out. Find out who we fell in love with as they took the stage this the past year.
Ben Lowden - Future Islands at Field Day Festival, London
Future Islands could be one of 2014's biggest success stories. With the release of their third LP, “Singles”, they grabbed everyone’s attention and the hearts of many. This lead to more high profile shows with bigger audiences, something they weren’t been used to yet. I was lucky to catch them at Field Day Festival in London. They had an evening slot on the second day, and with 10 minutes left before they came on the tent was already jampacked. I got there early enough and had a front and center location. What I experienced next was the best performance I saw all year (and perhaps ever).
It’s difficult to put into words the connection frontman Sam Herring created with the crowd. He seemed to have us all on strings, like puppets. During the first song a few of us in the center were jumping up and down, dancing along with Sam. After that he shouted, “Let’s get fucking rowdy y’all”. From then on out the whole crowd was dancing along, smiling and cheering, creating an amazing euphoric feeling. Then when Future Islands slowed it down, the emotion shifted, yet stayed uniform; we were all on the same page with the band. The emotion they put into their music shone through and was felt by everyone in attendance. The performance was a roller coaster of high fives, dancing, hugs, and teary eyes. Signs of a phenomenal show if you ask me.
Gabi Schwartz - Slow Magic at Blind Pig, Ann Arbor
When it comes to good concerts I’m all about the vibes. That includes solid performing, but also how the artist interacts with the audience and the types of audience members themselves. Some shows I’ve been to I’ve been disappointed with the artist’s live performance and other times I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a musician that I didn’t know that well or—to put it bluntly—I didn’t think was that good. There are shows where I’ve felt incredibly unengaged with the musician and other shows I’ve felt as though I personally knew the artist. Lastly, the crowd can really make or break a show, and sometimes that has to do with the type of venue but sometimes it’s just the types of people that decide to come to that show on that night.
When I saw Slow Magic at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, everything I wanted in a show was there; he was better than I was expecting, engaging, and the crowd was all there to have a good time. At one point he took his drum with him off stage and into the the audience to play in the middle of everyone. Definitely something you don’t see at every show.
For those of you that don’t know who Slow Magic is, he’s an electronic artist who drums over his beats. It’s something a little different than a lot of electronic music out there right now, and he wears a mask so that it’s all about the music and not at all about him. If given the chance I highly recommend seeing him live. Often during concerts it can feel like the musician is in a separate world than the rest of us. This isn’t to say those shows aren’t good, but when I saw Slow Magic this barrier between artist and audience was broken, making his performance that much more awesome.
Ben Schechter - Steve Gunn, Woods, and Foxygen at Neumos, Seattle
Jam packed at Neumos, the show was sold out. I spent a lot of time on Seattle’s Capitol Hill this summer attending concerts and eating Dicks, Pike Street Fish Fry, and Rancho Bravo. The concert came on a Thursday, following a wild, annoying, teenager-packed Capitol Hill Block Party with headliners such as Spoon, Chromeo, and A$AP Rocky. The sold-out crowd ranged from 18 year olds to 60 year olds, young people and grey haired people, all together, their bodies rocking in unison to the psych-rock rajahs and their openers.
The show, featuring Steve Gunn and Woods jammed Neumos the fuck out that night. Steve Gunn is the former guitarist for The Violators, Kurt Vile’s backing band, and can be related to genres ranging from funk to country to psych and folk. He shared with us a very John Fahey-esque talent similar to that of Jack Rose with easy-going tunes. Following, the middle performer was Woods. This Brooklyn-based jam folk band is a group that I had been listening to since middle school and had been waiting to see live for so long. Woods were the reason why I bought my ticket, Foxygen just happened to be the best icing on top. Unfortunately, music like the kind that Woods produces isn’t too common anymore. Woods’ With Light and With Love was released in April, similar to the rest of their discography, fans of theirs don’t hover over a single track, all of them are exceptional, mellow melodies of gold. The lead singer, Jeremy Earl has a distinct high-pitched voice that makes this band particularly unique. The quartet has been on the road for a long time producing LPs here and there, because of this and their unique fan base, With Light and With Love can very well be related to Singles by Future Islands. Both, contestants for the best album of 2014. At the show, Woods went on long jam sessions to connect the tracks, captivating the audience. For that night, Neumos was still stuck in the cassette underground.
Foxygen was next. The original two members of Foxygen consist of childhood friends, Jonathan Rado and Sam France. At the show, Sam France was the crossdressing, erotic-dancing vocalist while Rado was the pianist wearing a trucker hat. In addition, there were three string instrument players, a drummer, and up front, parallel with France, there were three super sexy ladies wearing rompers from the 80s and dresses. Occasionally the microphone made its way inside France’s pants and sporadically he fell over on the stage, crawled a bit, and then fell over again. It was an energetic and entertainment performance, Foxygen did a wonderful job succeeding Woods. The best way to top off the month of July.
David Cooper - Phish at Randall's Island, New York
For anyone who really knows me, this is pretty obvious. My favorite show of 2014 was Phish at Randall’s Island. No surprises here. But wait, this show was different! I know I say that every time but I really mean it this time! This year Phish released Fuego, their first album in five years and their subsequent summer tour was incredible. All four members of the band were en fuego throughout the whole tour and when they showed up to Randall’s Island this summer, they were relentless.
If you’ve never seen Phish live, you really should see them at least once. The whole concert is just a big party. Everyone there is so friendly; they just want to hang out, listen to some music, and have a great time. Smiles and laughter donned the faces of audience members as we waited for the band to take the stage. I was standing about 5 rows back from Trey and the light show was mesmerizing as usual. But like I said before, this show really was different. In the past five years, I’ve never seen Phish so in sync. It was clear that they were really listening to each other on stage, improvising new musical ideas at the drop of a hat. After a killer first set that featured a funky “Sand”, an absolutely blissful “Winterqueen”, and a “Maze” that sounded exceptionally evil, Phish took the stage for their second set. The first three songs, “Chalkdust Torture”, “Light”, and “Tweezer”, bled into each other for a forty-five minute long jam. Can you believe that? They jammed over three songs for almost an hour. I kept waiting for the music to taper off but Phish pushed themselves further and further into the unknown, perfectly playing off each other to create one of the best jams I’ve ever heard. Finally, the show ended with an ecstatic “Slave to the Traffic Light” and a “Tweezer Reprise” that had Trey grinning and dancing across the stage. What a fun show. I left in a state of awe and I couldn’t wait to listen to the recording when I got home. If you’d like to give it a listen, let me know and I can send it to you.