When I was in high school, I remember having a conversation with my father about concerts he had attended when he was younger. I asked if he had ever seen a particular band and he hesitated before telling me wasn’t sure. This seemed unfathomable at the time. At age 16, I had only been to a small handful of concerts (The Eagles, Weird Al, The Darkness, etc.) and they all loomed so large in my memory, I couldn’t imagine ever forgetting the experience. Unwilling to let live music experiences disappear from my memory, I did what the men in my family do when confronted with crisis: I made a spreadsheet. I’ve maintained the document for over a decade and it contains the date and venue of every live show I’ve ever attended and it’s spectacular. In 2015, I attended my 400th concert and I began writing more about my live music experiences. It’s proven to be a fun new challenge and if nothing else, it’s neat to have a detailed first hand record of these experiences for future generations or whatever. In other words, writing about stuff that happened to you is cool and I’m gonna do it more.
Narrowed down from over 60 concerts, here are my top 5 favorite live performances of 2015.
#5. Gesaffelstein at Coachella Valley Music Festival in Indio, CA (Weekend 2)
Regular readers of Compact Discography know that I have a tenuous relationship with EDM but that doesn’t mean I can’t recognize a good thing when it’s melting my face and Gesaffelstein melted my face. It was not a big budget multimedia experience. He never pressed play on a laptop and walked away while the music continued. At no point did Gesaffelstein tease a beat drop and shout “ARE YOU READY” with one hand raised in the air. In fact, he never once addressed the crowd. Allegedly his final live performance (though he still does DJ sets), Gesaffelstein just chain-smoked his way through an hour and a half of hard techno and it was f***ing magnificent.
#4. Jenny Lewis at Coachella Valley Music Festival in Indio, CA (Weekend 2)
Just hours before Gesaffelstein laid waste to the Mojave Tent in the closing hours of Coachella, Jenny Lewis brought me to tears. I had seen her play only a few months prior in Las Vegas at the Life Is Beautiful festival and was expecting to get more of the same delightful indie pop rock that Lewis has built a career around. She played a few Under the Blacklight era Rilo Kiley songs, new solo material and it was all very nice. Then, with only 10 minutes left in the set, her Rilo Kiley bandmate Blake Sennett joined her on stage and they played Rilo Kiley classics “Portions For Foxes” and closed the set with “A Better Son/Daughter”. Just when I thought Coachella couldn’t surprise or delight me anymore, Jenny Lewis sings the nostalgic anthems of my teenage years and it just about wrecked me.
#3. Run the Jewels at The Marquee Theater in Tempe, AZ
There aren’t a whole lot of artists that are worth the effort of seeing three times in the same year but Run the Jewels operate on a different plane than their contemporaries. They are more ferocious, more fun, and more experienced than just about any rap act worth talking about in 2015 and their live shows highlight the difference. They killed at Coachella earlier in the year and then again at FYF in Los Angeles but they peaked in October at The Marquee Theater in Tempe, AZ. I wasn’t just entertained – I was entirely moved.
#2. Future Islands at Pot of Gold Music Festival in Tempe, AZ
Future Islands won 2014. I obsessed over their album Singles for months after first hearing it. I never wavered in my opinion that it was the album of the year. They played as the sun set at the Pot of Gold Festival in Tempe, AZ last march and their performance exceeded every one of my expectations. Future Islands’ front man Samuel T. Herring is an effervescently passionate rock god of the highest order and I walked away from their performance profoundly inspired.