Autobiographical Order No. 247: Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness

Here’s a sweeping generality about the records I own: Every artist in my collection is one who, at one point or another, I heard and was ultimately floored by the sounds I heard. We all have those artists—or more specifically those songs—that you take for a spin and have your mind blown. Everything from that moment on is changed, because you go from being merely a curious listener to an instant fan, an enthusiast, an obsessive. Whatever you want to call it. I’ve had it happen to me on probably hundreds of occasions, whether it was my brother playing Helmet for me the first time, randomly stumbling upon DJ Shadow on a magazine sampler in the ’90s, or hearing Failure on the radio (of all things) when I was a teenager. (Or lots of things when I was a teenager—it was a highly impressionable age.)

Angel Olsen’s “White Fire” was one of those songs. There’s not as much romance about the music I discover as an adult, since my career is in writing about music, and most of what I hear comes straight from press releases emailed directly to me. In fact, all the barriers have been removed. People are literally saying, “Here! Listen to this!” But the mundanity of the circumstances doesn’t remove anything from the actual experience of hearing the song. The emotional rush of something this stark and haunting hitting your ears and causing such a profound, if intangible feeling within you. And the thing is, I had actually listened to Olsen’s previous album and liked it a lot, even if it wasn’t a true “Holy shit!” moment. But those don’t always happen at first spin.

“White Fire” is nearly seven minutes of eerie detachment and gentle heartbreak, a genuine masterpiece of a Leonard Cohen-like indie folk song that hasn’t lost its impact in four years since I first heard it. I remember at the time I was so floored by it that I immediately sent it to my wife via email and was like “You have to hear this song!” I don’t know if she listened right away, but I couldn’t contain my enthusiasm. (She is an Angel Olsen fan though so she did listen eventually.) And really, it was just one small piece of a larger, breathtaking whole that likewise included gems such as the devastating “Windows,” the fuzzy “Forgiven/Forgotten,” and the dusty rocker “Hi-Five,” which makes sadness fun. (I feel weird typing that but it’s true.) This song might have also inspired me to revisit the Leonard Cohen catalog, which is a discussion for another time.

Around the time the album came out, Angel Olsen played in San Diego at Soda Bar (a tour stop I’m still waiting for her to return to *cough*), and for much of the set, she and her band blazed through a lot of the full band material. But at the end, her band stepped off stage and she made her way through the quiet, solo songs on Burn Your Fire (which I think I bought at the show? I might have pre-ordered it though). All of a sudden, the typically boisterous Soda Bar went pin-drop quiet, allowing in enough space to let her gentle, hushed songs land with the amount of space necessary to truly connect with the audience. She closed with “White Fire,” and there were times when she reached near silence. There aren’t many shows I’ve been to like it, and maybe it’ll never be something I experience again. But in that moment it felt good to be so enraptured by something with 200 other people.

Rating: 9.4

Sound Quality: Great

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My 20 favorite live shows of 2017

Since the year’s just about over and it’s my birthday, I thought it’d be fun to highlight the best live sets I’ve seen this year. Here they are in alphabetical order.

Algiers @ Soda Bar

I didn’t really want to include shows that my own band had participated in, but that would mean overlooking Algiers. And that’d be a mistake, because they smoked. They have an intensity that few live bands can match, and they’re making some of the most vital, incredible music of the moment. Plus they sang karaoke with us afterward, which is one of my favorite memories of the year. Fun stuff! Great dudes.

Mulatu Astatke @ Psycho Las Vegas

I don’t have deep, complex emotional feelings at shows other than “holy shit this rules!” very often, but seeing Mulatu Astatke live kind of blew my mind. It was a “is this really happening?!!” moment. He’s the architect of Ethio-jazz, a living legend, and he and his band were magnificent. Unfortunately their set was cut a little short due to festival backups, but nonetheless, best of year stuff right here.

Carcass @ Psycho Las Vegas

My wife got hit in the face with one of the bass players picks, as did likely about two dozen other people. He went through about two or three per song. But regardless, Carcass is one of the most fun death metal bands you can see live. Dudes are actually smiling while they shred.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds @ Civic Theatre

I’ve seen Nick Cave before, so this wasn’t so much of a surprise. But there’s really no better showman in rock ‘n’ roll right now. There just isn’t. And even the dark, weird, experimental songs from Skeleton Tree translated well live, which was a cool surprise.

Nick Cave covers night @ SPACE

This is kind of cheating (probably) since I participated in this show (I sang “Papa Won’t Leave You Henry” and I was amazing just in case you’re wondering). But honestly, everyone who participated was awesome, and the band (Josh Quon, Adolf Ns, Jason Hooper and John Mattos) sounded kickass. I realize I’ve complained about covers shows, but there are exceptions. This one being a big one.

Cloakroom @ Soda Bar

Part of what made Cloakroom one of my favorites this year was just how much I loved their new album Time Well, but either way this was a great set. It sounded great, plus it merged dreamy with heavy, which is a hard thing to pull off.

Father John Misty @ Humphrey’s

I saw Father John Misty twice this year, and I’ll give the edge to this show for a very specific reason: He had a string section. It was a big production, and made the material from his new album Pure Comedy all the more impressive. Opener Tim Heidecker was …. weird. He sang yacht rock songs about Trump.

fivepaw @ Casbah Atari Lounge

I saw some great local sets this year, many of which were bands that Blood Ponies played with. But seeing fivepaw for the first time was some serious “Holy Shit!” experience. Noisy, krautrock-inspired noise jams with live drums. Totally badass.

Inter Arma @ Brick by Brick

Another band I saw twice this year! I didn’t get to see all of their Psycho set, but they began it with about a minute of “Hot For Teacher,” which was a baller move. But they also made their way to San Diego a few days later and threw down an EPIC four-song set that was hard to beat.

Mastodon @ Psycho Las Vegas

I saw Mastodon once before and they played Crack the Skye in its entirety. It was great, but I was a little disappointed I didn’t get to hear anything from their first three records. At this show, however, they busted out “March of the Fire Ants,” played about half of Blood Mountain and seemed like they were having a blast the whole time. That’s a rock ‘n’ roll show!

Neurosis @ Psycho Las Vegas

I’d never seen Neurosis before, now I have, and wow.

 

Perfume Genius @ House of Blues

I sort of saw Perfume Genius once before, opening for Belle and Sebastian, but people were talking to me the whole time so I didn’t really soak it in. This show, however, was truly excellent. Mike Hadreas is a charismatic performer, and while I would have liked to see a bigger audience, it didn’t matter. He and his band played one hell of a show.

PJ Harvey @ Greek Theatre

PJ Harvey has been on my bucket list for a long time, and we finally got around to seeing her, and she didn’t disappoint. While much of her setlist was new material (which is cool, I like the new album and the songs sounded even better live) her performances of “50 Foot Queenie,” “Down by the Water,” “Highway 61 Revisited” and “To Bring You My Love” were amazing.

Power Trip @ The Casbah

I remarked that this was the first metal show I’ve seen in a while in standard tuning, and that elicited some Twitter guffaws. But seriously, Power Trip just ripped through a kickass set of thrash, which was sweaty, gnarly and led to a lot of crowd surfing.

Quicksand @ Belly Up Tavern

Back in 2012 when I saw Quicksand at FYF Fest after being broken up for 15 years or so, I was practically giddy. That emotional feeling had maybe worn off by now, but they’re still one of my favorite bands, and delivered a killer set that took place right before Tom Capone had to bow out of the rest of the tour. And Quicksand is always better with two guitars.

Run the Jewels @ Observatory North Park

Man, this year was kind of rough, and January felt like the coming of an impending dystopia (which is sort of true), but Run the Jewels helped to soothe the angst. They’re a political hip-hop group in some respects, but they also just put on a show that, between banter and the actual music, made it feel like we’re not alone. Like we’re together in this. And that felt good.

Silent @ Blonde

Blood Ponies played a show with Silent in Tijuana last year and they were so good that it kind of made us realize we needed to step up our game. Blonde didn’t seem like the right venue for them, but they still destroyed. Best band in the region right now, probably.

Chelsea Wolfe @ Belly Up Tavern/Psycho Las Vegas

I saw Chelsea Wolfe twice this year, and I’m inclined to say that the Belly Up one was slightly stronger just because of the energy and atmosphere. Though the Psycho set had a better set list and featured Aaron Turner bellowing. So, hard to say. But either way she’s awesome.

Jamila Woods @ Soda Bar 

This year I got acquainted with the music of Jamila Woods, as well as having interviewed her, which was cool. So naturally I had to go see her live. My god! What a performance. Her voice is magnificent, plus her band seriously JAMS! She also signed some vinyl for me, which was super cool.

YOB @ Brick by Brick

Seeing YOB is a spiritual experience. Mike Scheidt has a strangely calming presence for a metal frontman, and yet their sound is just massive—truly epic sludge/doom. They played “Marrow,” which is one of the greatest metal songs of all time. (OF ALL TIME!) And that alone was worth seeing.

Also here’s a list of all the live sets I saw this year that I can remember, kind of like when Bob Boilen does it for NPR. His list is always like 500 or whatever, but his employer pays him to go to SXSW and Icelandic jazz festivals or some shit so I still think over 100 is pretty good. Also, I’m almost certain I forgot one or two, and there were a few dudes in bars with acoustic guitars that I didn’t list. Anyway…

1/8 Iress @ Blonde
1/20 Hours @ The Casbah *
1/20 Exasperation @ The Casbah *
1/20 Tropical Popsicle @ The Casbah *
1/30 The Gaslamp Killer @ Observatory North Park
1/30 Run the Jewels @ Observatory North Park
2/5 Polish @ Whistle Stop
2/5 Dream Burglar @ Whistle Stop
2/24 DMDM @ SPACE
2/24 Uniform @ SPACE
3/3 Rad Cat @ CRSSD **
3/3 Billie Eilish @ CRSSD **
3/3 Lee K @ CRSSD **
3/5 Montalban Quintet @ The Casbah
3/5 Shiner @ The Casbah
3/11 Craig Finn @ Music Box
3/11 Japandroids @ Music Box
3/27 Khemmis @ Soda Bar
3/29 r beny @ The Casbah
3/29 Wire @ The Casbah
4/3 Silent @ Blonde
4/10 Destruction Unit @ The Casbah
4/10 Power Trip @ The Casbah
4/12 Tim Heidecker @ Humphreys by the Bay
4/12 Father John Misty @ Humphreys by the Bay
4/19 Springtime Carnivore @ The Irenic
4/19 Mitski @ The Irenic
5/12 PJ Harvey @ Greek Theatre
5/16 Gatecreeper @ The Casbah
5/16 Pallbearer @ The Casbah
5/26 fivepaw @ The Casbah
5/26 Hexa @ The Casbah
5/26 Vakoum @ The Casbah
5/26 Dream Joints @ The Casbah
6/3 Rafter @ Dave and Justine’s Wedding
6/11 Spare Parts for Broken Hearts @ Blonde *
6/11 Iress @ Blonde *
6/16 (Sandy) Alex G @ The Irenic
6/22 Donovan Frankenreiter @ Belly Up Tavern **
6/23 Ki @ Music Box **
6/23 The Mowgli’s @ Music Box **
6/26 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds @ Civic Theatre
6/27 Ogikubo Station @ House of Blues
6/27 Jenny Owen Youngs @ House of Blues
7/11 DMDM @ SPACE
7/11 Pharmakon @ SPACE
7/14 Nick Cave covers night @ SPACE *
7/26 Dabbers @ The Casbah *
7/26 Gloomsday @ The Casbah *
8/4 Exasperation @ SPACE
8/12 Of Ennui @ Stag and Lion *
8/16 SubRosa @ Brick by Brick
8/16 YOB @ Brick by Brick
8/18 Slo Burn @ Psycho Las Vegas
8/18 Chelsea Wolfe @ Psycho Las Vegas
8/18 Melvins @ Psycho Las Vegas
8/18 Toke @ Psycho Las Vegas
8/18 Khemmis @ Psycho Las Vegas
8/18 Magma @ Psycho Las Vegas
8/18 Sleep @ Psycho Las Vegas
8/18 Mulatu Astatke @ Psycho Las Vegas
8/19 Myrkur @ Psycho Las Vegas
8/19 Carcass @ Psycho Las Vegas
8/19 Celeste @ Psycho Las Vegas
8/19 Blood Ceremony @ Psycho Las Vegas
8/19 Inter Arma @ Psycho Las Vegas
8/19 Neurosis @ Psycho Las Vegas
8/19 King Diamond @ Psycho Las Vegas
8/20 Minsk @ Psycho Las Vegas
8/20 Windhand @ Psycho Las Vegas
8/20 Zeal and Ardor @ Psycho Las Vegas
8/20 Cirith Ungol @ Psycho Las Vegas
8/20 Cult of Luna/Julie Christmas @ Psycho Las Vegas
8/20 Corrosion of Conformity @ Psycho Las Vegas
8/20 Mastodon @ Psycho Las Vegas
8/24 Oh Spirit @ The Casbah *
8/24 The Slashes @ The Casbah *
8/26 Weight of the Sun @ Brick by Brick
8/26 Inter Arma @ Brick by Brick
8/26 Pelican @ Brick by Brick
9/9 Hours @ Title TK
9/9 Fivepaw @ Title TK
9/10 Bell Tower Bats @ SPACE *
9/10 Theatre of Hate (acoustic) @ SPACE *
9/11 No Joy @ Belly Up Tavern
9/11 Quicksand @ Belly Up Tavern
9/13 Manchester Orchestra @ Observatory North Park
9/21 Zola Jesus @ The Casbah
9/22 Swervedriver @ The Casbah
9/28 Kristin Kontrol @ House of Blues
9/28 Perfume Genius @ House of Blues
9/30 Polish @ Bar Pink
9/30 Sixes @ Bar Pink
9/30 Exasperation @ Bar Pink
10/1 Algiers @ Soda Bar *
10/2 Youth Code @ Belly Up Tavern
10/2 Chelsea Wolfe @ Belly Up Tavern
10/6 Father John Misty @ Observatory North Park
10/19 Verigolds @ CityBoat
10/19 Creepy Creeps @ CityBoat
10/19 Thou @ Soda Bar
10/27 Emma Ruth Rundle @ The Irenic
10/27 Low Points @ Whistle Stop
10/27 Forest Grove @ Whistle Stop
10/27 Bit Maps @ Whistle Stop
10/28 Something Strange noise readings @ Sew Loka *
10/31 Bosswitch (as Nirvana) @ SPACE
10/31 Nico & the Bunnymen @ Soda Bar
10/31 Rage Against the Machine cover set @ Soda Bar
11/9 Battery Point @ Soda Bar
11/9 Little Heroine @ Soda Bar
11/9 Cloakroom @ Soda Bar
12/1 Model Snake @ Skylark *
12/1 Sources in Code @ Skylark *
12/1 Graphene @ Skylark *
12/5 True Widow @ Mississippi Studios
12/9 Ta$ha @ Soda Bar
12/9 Jamila Woods @ Soda Bar

* shows that I or Blood Ponies participated in
** shows I went to because of work obligations, I don’t actually like the Mowgli’s guys (also that fucking apostrophe makes me irrationally angry)

Photo by Candice Eley

Autobiographical Order No. 236: Cal Tjader – Soul Burst

Getting into jazz can be a tricky thing for a lot of people, especially when you don’t have much exposure to it outside of your own personal investigation. You can download all the top-rated jazz albums from AllMusic or whatever, but if all you’ve ever listened to was pop, then it might be hard to get into. This, I’ve learned, was the case with Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, which was heavily influenced by jazz records; if you’re not a jazz person, then a lot of it isn’t going to make sense. I was lucky enough to be exposed to jazz early on because my dad was always a big fan. Once I remember buying him a Cal Tjader compilation for Christmas on his request (at least I think that’s what happened), even though I knew next to nothing about the guy. He put it on almost immediately after opening it, and when I heard it, something clicked immediately. Maybe it’s because it’s not particularly abstract or avant garde; Tjader was a vibraphonist that mostly played Latin jazz standards, and for the most part they were all pretty accessible, even catchy. And in his most atmospheric and arty moments, his music could be downright gorgeous.

Soul Burst ended up being one of the first jazz CDs I ever bought, along with Charles Mingus’ Mingus Ah Um (and I think I also bought a Will Haven CD on the same trip, and this was before I had Napster so I was just going for it, as you can tell). I was stunned, particularly by the final track, “Curacao,” which was loungey but haunting, and not at all dated sounding in spite of the somewhat hokey sound of some exotica records of the ’60s and ’50s. By the standards of the jazz canon, this is a minor release, but it’s pretty damn great, all things considered. And like all mid-’60s Verve releases, the cover art is awesome.

I ended up picking up a copy used about 15 years later at M Theory, a pressing from the ’60s no less. It’s not a perfect one; there’s a fair amount of surface noise at the beginning of each side, and like all vintage records it had some dust in the grooves. But it’s a lived-in, loved record, and I’m happy to be able to give it a home, dropping it on the turntable anytime my wife and I have a “Latin brunch,” or just when I need a reminder of one of those records that got me here way back when.

Rating: 9.0

Sound Quality: Good (Mostly decent sounding, with some surface noise in parts)

Autobiographical Order No. 235: The Smiths – The Smiths

I’ve always been a little fascinated and frustrated by the fact that albums can have entirely different tracklists in different markets. American issues of UK albums, for instance, often feature non-album singles as bonus tracks. See: Just about every Elvis Costello album. And then there’s the issue of how The Beatles’ catalog was nearly doubled because their American label could sell more records to people. It doesn’t really work that way anymore, but times were different then.

The Smiths have been one of my favorite bands for as long as I can remember being actually conscious about the music I was hearing. Their songs ended up on mixtapes my brothers made me, and an early CD purchase for me was their Best Of Vol. 1 compilation. (Side note: They released four studio albums and had two best ofs, then several other compilations thereafter, such as Singles…what a racket). And while I don’t necessarily think it’s their best album, the self-titled album has always been a personal favorite because of its jangly post-punk sound.

When Rhino reissued the band’s albums on vinyl, however, they did so with the UK tracklists. Which means: No “This Charming Man.” Gah! One of their best songs, and first single, and a highlight of the U.S. issue of the self-titled album. Which isn’t to say the rest isn’t great, but it’s not here. However “Still Ill” is, and “What Difference Does It Make?” is, and “Hand In Glove” is—songs I still somehow know all the words to after all this time.

I still haven’t bothered to pick up “This Charming Man” in any vinyl format, be it seven-inch, compilation or otherwise, partially because it’s just one song and partially because Morrissey doesn’t need any more money. And he’s kind of a dipshit—if loving The Smiths doesn’t mean being conflicted about how much of a dipshit Morrissey is for you, then you’re doing it wrong. But I digress. I love this album, and I’m comfortable with my complicated feelings about who made it (Johnny Marr’s a real one though, that guy kind of made me want to play guitar).

One more thing this album taught me: Don’t leave your records out when you have a cat with a tendency to chew on stuff. Little jerk.

20171010_094542

Rating: 9.5

Sound Quality: Great

Autobiographical Order No. 231: Real Estate – Days

There are certain records that just sound good any time you play them. They’re maybe not the albums you put on when you need a jolt of something intense or passionate, and they’re not necessarily the albums that change your life (though those are pretty rare anyway). But they’re albums you enjoy, you listen to somewhat regularly, and you always feel good hearing them.

Real Estate’s Days is one of those albums. It’s a very good album. It’s maybe even a great album. But it’s not the first thing I think of when I need an album that’s jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring…any of those hyperbolic, hyphenated statements. It’s pretty, it’s pleasant, it’s even hypnotic in a way. It’s not an exciting album, but not everything has to be.

I bought this the same day as Dum Dum Girls’ Too True, and it’s arguably the less dramatic, less flashy of the two. But it’s an album I’ve liked for a long time, and every time I hear it, it’s like having a gin and tonic or something. It’s refreshing, it’s satisfying, it’s exactly what you want it to be.

Now, that being said, it does have some spectacular songs. “It’s Real” is a jangly gem that felt like it could have been a hit were it released at the right time. “Easy” is an outstanding opening track, and “Green Aisles” is hazy and beautiful. Because of its breezy, feelgood (though slightly melancholy) nature, it seems like a perfect summer album. But that melancholy also makes it a perfect fall album. It could go either way (and works just fine in winter and spring, for that matter).

It’s not an album that made me listen to music differently, but not all of them can be. Days is just what it needs to be, and while I hesitate to tell any band to stay in their lane, knowing your strengths is something more valuable than anyone likely realizes.

Rating: 9.1

Sound Quality: Great

Autobiographical Order No. 140: Women – Public Strain

Women were a very good band that didn’t last very long. The Calgary indie rock outfit only released two very weird, very good albums before breaking up. If they even really broke up. Brothers and bandmates Patrick and Matthew Flegel began fighting with each other, leading to an onstage flameout and eventual hiatus, during which guitarist Chris Reimer died. It’s sort of a sad and unfortunate story, really, though Matthew Flegel started Viet Cong a couple years later and they’ve gotten considerably more attention than Women ever did.

When I found this album, though, it was a breath of fresh air. It was more than that really; 2010 in hindsight seems like a fairly underwhelming year, despite being the one that gave us My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. It also gave us a bunch of shitty chillwave and witch house records that I’d like to wipe from my memory. Women, whose even weirder debut album I already liked quite a bit, were cut from a different cloth. They were inspired by weird post-punk bands like This Heat and noisy krautrock stuff. And it came out twisted and beautiful, as on standout closing track “Eyesore.”

I acquired the album during a vinyl dig in Portland, while my wife was investigating graduate school programs, and I’d end up seeing them live just weeks later in San Diego at The Casbah. It was a rainy weekday night, which is always murder for getting people to leave their houses in this part of the country (there’s WATER… falling from the SKY!). And I was halfway tempted to stay home and watch Travel Channel Halloween programming with my wife on the couch. She opted not to go, but I really wanted to see this band that pulled me out of the 2010 indie drudgery. And they were great, of course, though the room was half-empty (or more) and I got rained on. That’s how it goes sometimes, but I’m glad I went. I didn’t anticipate it’d be my last chance to see the band, but it’s a good reminder that sometimes blowing off a show can make you regret it later on.

Rating: 9.1

Sound Quality: Good/Great

The 20 Best Shows I Saw in 2015

Photo by Candice Eley, via Treble

Just like last year, I’ve assembled a top 20 list of my favorite live performances of the year. I saw more bands this year than last, so it was trickier to pick my favorites, but I’m aiming for an even higher number in 2016. Anyway, here are my favorites.

20. Sure Fire Soul Ensemble (Seven Grand, San Diego)

Seven Grand isn’t really hosting shows anymore, but the last one I saw there was extra super funky. The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble sure can cook.

19. Torche (Casbah, San Diego)

I saw Torche in 2008 and they were good, but they were awesome this time around, basically like a sludge metal version of the Ramones, cranking out an endless stream of rockers with little to no breaks in between. Punk rock.

18. Eyehategod (Observatory, Santa Ana)

Eyehategod are metal legends, and I was even more stoked on seeing them this year ahead of a planned trip to New Orleans (which was also super fun). They rocked hard, had some great stage banter. Good times all around.

17. True Widow (Constellation Room, Santa Ana)

True Widow stuck with me for several reasons, one being that they’re just an excellent band, but also because they were the sparsest band at a festival of mostly metal bands. They also helped me think more about doing a lot with a little, which is important since I started a band this year (there’s just two of us…)

16. Restorations (The Hideout, San Diego)

One of these days, I hope Restorations is huge. They’ve certainly earned it, and their mix of Fugazi-style punk and Springsteen-ian rock ‘n’ roll killed live.

15. Belle and Sebastian (Observatory, San Diego)

Despite a reputation for being twee superstars, Belle and Sebastian put on one hell of a live show, complete with string section! Too bad about the annoying girl taking selfies onstage, but whatever. Show was still great.

14. Pallbearer (Observatory, Santa Ana)

I saw Pallbearer twice this year, and both times were awesome. But I give the edge to their show at Psycho California. They kicked ass on a big stage. You wouldn’t think a slow, proggy doom metal band would do that well in a big venue. You’d be wrong.

13. Spoon (Observatory, San Diego)

I’ve seen Spoon play great shows and boring shows, but this was easily the best they’ve ever been.

12. Monochromacy (St. Francis Chapel, Balboa Park, San Diego)

Maybe the closest I’ll get to hearing Sunn O))) play in a cathedral, but Esteban Flores’ drone ambient sound was a breathtaking experience inside an actual place of worship.

11. Courtney Barnett (Casbah, San Diego)

Courtney Barnett’s new album was in my personal top five of the year, so there was no way I was missing this show. And it was about as fun as can be expected, complete with a cover of The Breeders’ “Cannonball.”

10. Run the Jewels (FYF Fest, Los Angeles)

Kind of kicking myself for missing Run the Jewels at Porter’s Pub (RIP) last year, but it’s cool, since El-P and Killer Mike absolutely destroyed at FYF Fest, including guest appearances from Zach de la Rocha and Gangsta Boo.

9. Neutral Milk Hotel (Observatory, San Diego)

During “The King of Carrot Flowers Part 3,” the drummer kind of lost tempo with the band, but that small hiccup aside, this was a show that gave me feels. I never thought I’d see them live, and when I did, it affected me more than I thought. Awesome.

8. Swans (Constellation Room, Santa Ana)

My wife went to Chicago in April on a business trip, thus missing out on the chance to go with me to see Swans, which I’m sure she didn’t mind a bit (she’s not really a fan of the band in their current state). That said, I was blown away. More like a two-hour spiritual experience than a concert. Long open-ended performances mixed with intense jams.

7. Savages (St. Vitus Bar, Brooklyn, NY)

This was one of the first shows I saw this year and it kind of set a pretty high bar for everyone else to follow. Savages previewed some new material at a series of shows in New York, for which I just happened to get tickets on a brief trip there. They killed, natch.

6. D’Angelo (FYF Fest, Los Angeles)

I missed a little bit of this set to see Morrissey (kind of regret that considering all of his buzzkill meat-shaming) but D’Angelo is to date the closest I’ve come to seeing Prince. The dude can put on a SHOW. Let me tell you. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that D comes back to Southern California before too long so I can watch an even longer set.

5. Drive Like Jehu (Casbah, San Diego)

Under different circumstances, this would have topped this year’s list. I mean, one of my favorite bands in the universe played almost all their songs. And it ruled. And I saw them twice. However, they’ll never top the reunion show at Balboa Park last summer. That was a bucket-list, best-of-lifetime show. This, however, still was nothing less than amazing.

4. Kamasi Washington (Soda Bar, San Diego)

A lot of my favorite sets from this year were in shows that comprised longer pieces or songs than a long string of hits (though there were those too). Jazz in particular tends to go that way, so seeing Kamasi Washington play about eight compositions in two hours made sense. But not a single second of it was anything less than pure, spiritual, soulful joy. Few shows have made me leave feeling that good.

3. Deafheaven (Casbah, San Diego)

Deafheaven’s new album New Bermuda was my Album of the Year, so naturally this was going to be up there. But I think they’ve grown even stronger as a live act. They sounded impeccable, had a lot of material (by their standards) and showcased some new dance moves from George Clarke. I’ll see this band every chance I get.

2. Sleater-Kinney (Palladium, Hollywood)

I’m not the type to be cynical about reunions, but most of the time my response is more “that’s cool” than “OMG I have to be there right now!” But Sleater-Kinney was definitely the latter. I’ve seen them a few times before, way back in my early 20s, and they were good then. But 10 years after the ol’ indefinite hiatus, somehow they became something much bigger and better. This would have easily been my show of the year, if not for…

1. Savages (FYF Fest, Los Angeles)

I don’t think there’s a better live band out there right now than Savages. They’re just on a totally different level. Their Brooklyn show from January was incredible, but this was something of an entirely different nature. Now, I tend to be skeptical about festivals, but their FYF Fest show changed my mind. The band was tight, dynamic and intense, and singer Jehnny Beth was an animated and seemingly magical figure. She literally walked on the crowd. At one point, she was singing while being held up by members of the audience, then spun on to her back without missing a beat. It’s hard to put into words how jaw-dropping this set was, but there’s no question about it, show of the year.

***

Here’s the complete (more or less, probably forgetting stuff) list of bands I watched this year. Not counting my own band or DJ sets or whatever:

1 Cumbia Machin (Soda Bar, Jan. 8)
2 La Diabla (Soda Bar, Jan. 8)
3 California X (The Hideout, Jan. 12)
4 Happy Diving (The Hideout, Jan. 12)
5 Causers (The Hideout, Jan. 12)
6 Wild Wild Wets (Casbah, Jan. 16)
7 Kim and the Created (Casbah, Jan. 16)
8 Max Pain and the Groovies (Casbah, Jan. 16)
9 Savages (Saint Vitus, Jan. 24)
10 Mac Sabbath (The Hideout, Feb. 21)
11 Black Fag (The Hideout, Feb. 21)
12 Jim Adkins (Bar Pink, Feb. 22)
13 Reubens Accomplice (Bar Pink, Feb. 22)
14 Swervedriver (Casbah, March 4)
15 Restorations (The Hideout, March 7)
16 Chris Farren (The Hideout, March 7)
17 Viet Cong (Soda Bar, March 7)
18 Jenny Owen Youngs (Casbah, March 20)
19 Tim Barry (Casbah, March 20)
20 Ditches (Balboa, March 27)
21 Cardielles (Balboa, March 27)
22 Pile (Soda Bar, March 30)
23 Yazan (Soda Bar, March 30)
24 Sure Fire Soul Ensemble (Seven Grand, April 4)
25 Drive Like Jehu (Casbah, April 7)
26 Ghetto Blaster (Casbah, April 7)
27 Drive Like Jehu (Casbah, April 14)
28 Octagrape (Casbah, April 14)
29 Swans (Constellation Room, April 16)
30 Angel Olsen (Constellation Room, April 16)
31 Belle and Sebastian (Observatory SD, April 17)
32 Perfume Genius (Observatory SD, April 17)
33 Waxahatchee (Casbah, April 26)
34 Girlpool (Casbah, April 26)
35 Inter Arma (Soda Bar, April 30)
36 Yautja (Soda Bar, April 30)
37 Sleater-Kinney (Hollywood Palladium, May 1)
38 THEESatisfaction (Hollywood Palladium, May 1)
39 Ian Rubbish (aka Fred Armisen) (Hollywood Palladium, May 1)
40 Author & Punisher (Observatory OC, May 16)
41 Cough (Observatory OC, May 16)
42 Old Man Gloom (Observatory OC, May 16)
43 Sinister Haze (Constellation Room, May 17)
44 Dead Meadow (Observatory OC, May 17)
45 Earth (Observatory OC, May 17)
46 True Widow (Constellation Room, May 17)
47 SubRosa (Constellation Room, May 17)
48 Pallbearer (Observatory OC, May 17)
49 Old Man Gloom (Observatory OC, May 17)
50 Alex G (Soda Bar, May 19)
51 Speedy Ortiz (Soda Bar, May 19)
52 Rolling Stones (sort of – overheard from Fairweather next to Petco Park, May 24)
53 The Minders (Observatory SD, May 28)
54 Neutral Milk Hotel (Observatory SD, May 28)
55 Spoon (Observatory SD, June 1)
56 Chastity Belt (Casbah, June 2)
57 Courtney Barnett (Casbah, June 2)
58 Ditches (Whistle Stop, June 12)
59 Geyser House (Whistle Stop, June 12)
60 Cardielles (Whistle Stop, June 12)
61 Riververb (The Hideout, June 20)
62 Barrows (The Hideout, June 20)
63 Monochromacy (Saint Francis Chapel in Balboa Park, June 21)
64 Genders (Belly Up, July 17)
65 Built to Spill (Belly Up, July 17)
66 Mike Guerrero – the Shredding Ninja (Whistle Stop, July 18)
67 Death Eyes (Casbah, July 29)
68 Torche (Casbah, July 29)
69 Lucifer (Casbah, July 30)
70 Pallbearer (Casbah, July 30)
71 Le Chateau (Casbah, Aug. 8)
72 Soft Lions (Casbah, Aug. 8)
73 Ilya (Casbah, Aug. 8)
74 Cold Cave (The Hideout, Aug. 14)
75 The Victoriana (The Hideout, Aug. 14)
76 Joyce Manor (FYF Fest, Aug. 22)
77 Metz (FYF Fest, Aug. 22)
78 Melody’s Echo Chamber (FYF Fest, Aug. 22)
79 Run the Jewels (FYF Fest, Aug. 22)
80 Savages (FYF Fest, Aug. 22)
81 The Jesus and Mary Chain (FYF Fest, Aug. 22)
82 Kanye West (FYF Fest, Aug. 22)
83 Andrew Jackson Jihad (FYF Fest, Aug. 23)
84 Spiritualized (FYF Fest, Aug. 23)
85 HEALTH (FYF Fest, Aug. 23)
86 Death Grips (FYF Fest, Aug. 23)
87 D’Angelo (FYF Fest, Aug. 23)
88 Morrissey (FYF Fest, Aug. 23)
89 FKA Twigs (FYF Fest, Aug. 23)
90 Gilbert Castellanos (Westgate, Aug. 27)
91 Dam Funk (Casbah, Sept. 4)
92 Destruction Unit (The Hideout, Sept. 12)
93 Die Mißbildungen Des Menschen‬ (The Hideout, Sept. 12)
94 Kamasi Washington (Soda Bar, Sept. 13)
95 Garrett Jamison (Soda Bar, Sept. 20)
96 KEN Mode (Soda Bar, Sept. 20)
97 Dan Deacon (Observatory SD, Sept. 23)
98 Future Islands (Observatory SD, Sept. 23)
99 Panda Bear (CRSSD Fest, Oct. 11)
100 Todd Terje (CRSSD Fest, Oct. 11)
101 AlunaGeorge (CRSSD Fest, Oct. 11)
102 Tribulation (Casbah, Oct. 15)
103 Deafheaven (Casbah, Oct. 15)
104 Pixies cover band (Hideout, Oct. 31)
105 Cock Sparrer cover band (Hideout, Oct. 31)
106 Nirvana cover band (Hideout, Oct. 31)
107 Pictureplane (Mohawk, Nov. 13)
108 HEALTH (Mohawk, Nov. 13)
109 Vattnet Viskar (Til-Two Club, Nov. 27)