Okay, so you guys know our deal… no not the kickass Best Coast song of the same name, but rather the fact that we love to make lists all the time, badass lists I might add. Well, it recently occurred to me that for all the concerts I have attended, hundreds of bands along the way, I have never made a list of the best live bands I have ever seen. This is purely personal favorites, so don’t make an asshole out of yourself by commenting that this is “wrong” or “You don’t know what your talking about.” You are better than that. Make your own list.
– how fun, how memorable, how awesome as performers/entertainers/artists
– how visceral
– how did the crowd react as a whole (though I tend to not let others get in the way of my concert experience, if people aren’t into a show, it’s just not the same).
– first impressions
– lasting impressions
– Venue (to a certain extent, as you’ll notice there are no stadium/arena shows here and only two seated sets (Pixies and Sonic Youth, both of which I was fairly close up for)
Speaking of venues a shout out to the Middle East in Cambridge, MA, which has hosted the most KLYAM attended concerts (12) than any other venue.
Okay, let’s go!
Yayyy Allie (White Wires, Peach Kelli Pop) in the background!!!
15) Hunx and His Punx @ Harpers Ferry, October 2009-
Straight up, I came to see Jay Reatard and had never heard of Hunx and His Punx whatsoever. Thus this set was easily one of the most surprising, unexpected sets I had ever seen. At the time, I thought the songs were decent, but they didn’t stand out much to me. Hunx, however did. As I said earlier, unexpected. I just didn’t expect a dude in his thong singing about how his boyfriend won’t come back and using his crotch as a pillow for the gentlemen adjacent to me. Eventually, I checked out Hunx and now I love the band. But, without a doubt one of the most unusual and simultaneously fun concert experiences.
14) Magic Kids @ Brighton Music Hall, April 2011-
The Magic Kids really put on a terrific set that night. I’ve seen many bands, but I have rarely seen a band as equally engaged with their art as they are committed to having fun! Sonically, everything sounded fantastic and enhanced their already amazing recordings. A Magic Kids live LP? Someday, I hope.
13) Nobunny @ Harpers Ferry, October 2009 & @ PA’s Lounge, June 2010
So, I saw the bunnyman fresh off Hunx on that cool October night waiting in anticipation for Jay Reatard. Nobunny, like his contemporaries destroyed that night and left me with serious lasting impression. The second time around, it was just as fun, perhaps a tad less wild, but definitely one of the best moshpits I’ve been in. Just great rock and roll and mayhem. What more can you ask for?
12) Deerhunter @ House of Blues, March 2010, Royale, August 2010, and Royale, October 2010.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Deerhunter are mesmerizing. Maybe their sets are more structured than the guys would like them to be, but for me they still blow me way each time. In particular, I always love the showmanship of Bradford Cox and the entire group simply has an undeniable Great Rock and Roll Band presence to them, I don’t see very often these days. Whilst, still being trippy and demented as fuck. I remember when they played “Fluorescent Grey” it felt like the the place was going to implode at any minute, because the guitars were so violent. Yet, the group remains quiet and mellow the whole time. Excellent.
11) Sonic Youth @ Wilbur Theater, November 2009
I made a list a couple of years ago of fifty things I want to do before I die, seeing Sonic Youth was one of them. Honestly, as much as I dig SY, much of their discography is foreign to me, but this time around I lucked out; the set included nearly every song off their latest LP The Eternal (2009) as well as plenty of their classic 1980s material. As it turns out, I knew and enjoyed every number. For a theater show, this one was pretty damn electrifying.
10) The Pixies @ Wang Theater, November 2009
Another band I enumerated as a “must see before I die!” and what do you know they played my favorite, Doolittle (1989) in its entirety. The insanity and harmony of The Pixies was even more pronounced live than on record; I’ve seen several old school bands, but few can garner the same crowd response as these guys.
9) Animal Collective @ House of Blues, May 2009
By far the most bizarre show I have ever experienced. This was not simply a tear off your ticket, get escorted to your seat, sit back and enjoy the show kinda concert. This was more like dying and being reborn via the music of Animal Collective. The wholes show everyone was stuck together and in a 90 minute trance. When all was set and done, you were not the same person you were when you entered. It had that life altering, extremely visceral, almost lose your mind sorta effect, that’s the effect of their music live.
8) Best Coast @ Paradise- February 2011
Musically, one of the finer bands I have seen. The sound was amazing and as performers Best Coast were extremely tight. Songs that stood out were “Summer Mood” (the pounding of the drums after each utterance of the words “there’s something about the Summer” was even greater in concert), “Bratty B,” and “Each and Every Day”- one of the best closers I have ever seen.
7) Box Elders @ Harpers Ferry, October 2009 & Middle East Downstairs, March 2010
Just thinking about their excellence live makes me sad that they are no longer together. Wanna talk about presence, character, personality, look no further. The songs were fast, fun, and totally unique- but the visual was perhaps the best aspect about the Box Elders. You could not help, but be in sheer awe and joy when you saw Dave Goldberg pounding away at the drums while working the accordion and giving us all aerobics lessons or Clayton’s long golden hair reflecting the idiosyncrasies of his songwriting, and who could forget Jeremiah’s double guitar. Box Elders you are missed!
6) Wavves @ Great Scott, June 2010 & Paradise, February 2011
Wavves kid, really catchy songs kid. Indeed, they are fine sir, indeed they are. On stage, all of the fun of Wavves on record is even further duplicated, an obvious trend in almost all of these bands on this list. They are a powerhouse live, it’s like Jay Reatard (duh, Stephen and Billy, at least before) meets Blink 182, except, I love the former and don’t care for the latter. But, it’s there. No matter what the kiddies dig Wavves; the songs become youthful anthems, if they weren’t already. Also, by and large, they play all yer faves, so it’s always a gay old time.
5) The King Khan & BBQ Show @ The Middle East Downstairs, October 2009
King Khan and BBQ (Mark Sultan) are two of the greatest Rock and Rollers of the past two decades. They are students of this music and their knowledge bleeds through on all of their releases. Seeing these two wild and crazy guys in the flesh is a whole new chapter in this story. In terms of showmanship, it’s a ten. The duo truly put on a show for their audience, but they also don’t rely on theatrics either, their music is sufficient. On that particular night they played most of their classics and when “Shake Real Low” was unleashed the hunnies were doing just that; it was spectacular.
4) King Khan & The Shrines @ The Paradise, May 2009 & @ The Royale, October 2010
On record, I am way bigger fan of the King Khan & BBQ Show, but in terms of the live show, at least what have I seen, I gotta say Shrines takes the cake. That initial show was pure euphoria. It had everything you could wish for in a concert: A rocking band, everyone primitively shakin’, great performers, intense charisma, dancin’ cheerleaders, and supreme genius after supreme genius. Shrines are seriously one of the funnest, silliest, and best Rock and Roll bands on the planet.
3) Jay Reatard @ Harpers Ferry, July 2009, Harpers Ferry, October 2009, and Wang Theater, November 2009
Jay was a rarity live. He did his own thang, with little concern for anyone else, whether it be band mates, the audience, club owners, or even contemporaries. He played with his hair covering his eyes the entire time, shouting off the song titles and if need be berating the people in front of him were the only forms of communication outside of the songs themselves. This was a void between the performer and spectator, no doubt. You never knew whether you would get a quick burst of a set or a decently long show. I’ve seen both from the man and in either instance he was always on fire, as if the songs were merely tools to keep him from igniting. It was always a total whiplash and there was definitely an overwhelming feeling of astonishment, but there was also this delayed reaction feel to it too; you didn’t totally appreciate it until the moment was over. We didn’t totally appreciate him ever.
2) No Age @ The Middle East Downstairs, July 2008, Middle East Downstairs, November 2008, Wellesley College, April 2009, and Middle East Downstairs, November 2010
No Age is a band that satisfies the three basic elements I look for in all bands: Punk, Pop, and Rock. Yes, three extremely broad qualities that mean something very personal to me. When No Age opens their sets and everyone goes nuts that’s the Rock band in them. That wonderful moment of anticipation before the duo explodes in “Every Artist Needs a Tragedy,” for example. Randy Randall strategically swings his guitar around at just the right moment when the song begins to speed up and Dean kicks into the vocals and the crowds starts to really move. That’s the work of an excellent Rock band and something you just can’t, see, feel, or appreciate listening to the record at home, alone. Or at the last show at the Middle East when they opened with “Life Prowler,”- those first few quiet moments, where just the presence of Dean and Randy alone is enough to make you excited and Dean begins pounding the drums a la the Bad Brains- “Big Takeover” he simultaneously sings “One time is all I need to know my job is complete/ and when I reach into, my past, my past comes true…” this is the pop end of No Age. These are strong hooks that wrap the listener in, in spite of or in association with the noise surrounding the music. Lastly, the whole show is Punk to me, and the way people react to the music with plenty of energy is the way people should react to any good Punk band. Another one of my favorite moments from No Age’s sets, at least some of their older ones, is when Randy would leap off his amp into the crowd during the triumphant closer and my number one NA tune, “Everybody’s Down”- very Punk.
1) The Black Lips!!! @ The Middle East Downstairs, March 2009, Middle East Downstairs, March 2010, and The Paradise, April 2011
Do I need to explain why these guys are number one, as if we don’t cover them enough on this site. Look up all the Black Lips concert reviews on here and do some youtubing of your own and then you’ll see why they are and can only be number one. No one even comes close.
Well, that was fun.
Honorable Mentions: Meat Puppets, Dinosaur Jr, Radiohead, Gentlemen Jesse and His Men, Strange Boys, Girls, Arctic Monkeys