1. Owl John + Mike Pace and the Child Actors//The Bell House
(Note: the opening act for this show is completely irrelevant. Completely.) Sometimes I just know a concert is going to be amazing before it even starts. This was one of those shows. Two hours of Scott Hutchison and a guitar, pretty much playing only requests, in a room that only stood 500? It doesn't, and won't, get any better than that. (I mean, if you're a big Scott Hutchison fan, of course.) I remember walking out of The Bell House in complete shock and awe that night. And the set! "Scottish Winds?" "Good Arms Vs. Bad Arms?" "Floating the Forth?" "Footshooter?" Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And "The Loneliness and the Scream" and "The Woodpile" are pretty much the most perfect songs in a live setting. And I won't even get into all of the other amazing songs played that night. I walked out of the venue thinking, "Jesus Christ, Hutchison is the best songwriter right now." He's also one of the better performers I've seen (I immediately likened him to Glen Hansard, so you know I'm serious about it. Thou shall not bare false comparisons to Glen Hansard. That's my second commandment, after "He is Glen Hansard, there is nobody better than Glen Hansard.") Everyone deserves to see their favorite musician play solo in an intimate space.
It also helps that I managed to meet Scott before the show. I'm not sure how it happened or what I said to him but it happened. And I'm still fangirling about it.
2. We Were Promised Jetpacks + The Twilight Sad//Webster Hall
I'm putting this out there right now: this show happened at just the right time for me. I basically listened to only the new Twilight Sad record in the weeks leading up to this show. So I was really psyched to see The Twilight Sad (even though I had seen them the month before, I don't know, it's very complicated, I suppose). Throw in WWPJ (who were one of my favorite bands of 2014) and you've got one hell of a bill.
I saw WWPJ back in March and it was kind of an odd show. They didn't have it, and the tone of the show seemed off to me. They'd do songs like "Quiet Little Voices" and "Ships With Holes Will Sink" and the crowd would get really into it but then they'd do new songs and the crowd would just shut down completely. There was no momentum. I felt like they had the capacity to be a great band, they just needed a bit more charisma and personality. Well, fast forward eight months and it was like a totally different band on that stage. All of their songs worked so well (especially the new ones), and they sounded very tight. They looked like they really wanted to be up on that stage, and that they were having fun. I still can't quite figure out their fans, and why they don't respond to some great songs (i.e. "I Keep It Composed) but lose their shit for stuff on These Four Walls (I know, that's a killer album). I still think they lack something, maybe whatever it is but I really enjoy them and I think they are really improving with every record.
But for me, this show was about The Twilight Sad. Now, I've been a casual listener/fan of theirs since 2012 (does this all sound like a song and dance I gave about another Scottish band?), and for some ungodly reason I got tickets to their show at Rough Trade because well...Scotland. (Scottish men, you are my weakness.) But holy shit, if I didn't fall in love with Nobody Wants To Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave. And I enjoyed every damn second of their set at Webster Hall (as I held said album in my hands because I just had to buy it and worried it was going to sell out after the show.) They're sort of an intense live experience, and I know they get compared to Frightened Rabbit all the time (I don't see nor hear it), but I feel like watching James Graham is similar to watching Matt Berninger. They are a really great, unfairly underrated band (I suspect accessibility is the case with them but fuck that) and let me just say, I haven't listened to anyone but them in the two weeks since this show. You know it's love when I binge on you after seeing you live (see: Andrew Bird in the summer of 2009).
This has nothing to do with how much I enjoyed this entire night but...I met James Graham after the show and he was very, very lovely.
3. Kevin Drew + Andy Kim//The Bowery Ballroom
2014 was the year of impulse concert going (see: The Twilight Sad at Rough Trade). I also thought 2014 was going to be the year of Kevin Drew (it was more like the month of Kevin Drew) but regardless, this was an incredibly fun show. Wanna talk about personality! I'd seen Kevin with Broken Social Scene open for TV on the Radio, which is one of my favorite sets I've ever seen, so I know he is a great performer. No, "Darlings" isn't as great as any of the BSS stuff but the live show was, as I just said, very, very fun. Complete with crowd spooning and hugs!
Andy Kim, while a bizarre pick for an opener, was also strangely very fun. Sometimes all I want is a fun concert and to have a good time.
4. Phosphorescent//Webster Hall
I often get annoyed when I see a band and their songs sound exactly the same live as they do on the album (looking at you, Bell x1). Well, Phosphorescent changes his songs up so much to the point where some of them are unrecognizable, and frankly, it's amazing. Matthew Houck is truly amazing live, period, end of story, and really, he's just so damn talented. And look, "Wolves," "Song for Zula" (that song will never not be incredible in any context), and "Ride On/Right On" back to back to back just about killed me.
I also saw Phosphorescent open for The National about a month later (this was a running theme of the year I see), and they were still pretty damn awesome.
5. James Vincent McMorrow//Town Hall
I was very apprehensive about this show. For one, it was at a seated venue, which I always find can be hit or miss when it comes to enjoyment. I like to feel like an active participant at shows. I like that feeling of collectivity. The feeling of being in the same room with your favorite artists. For me, seated shows can often just feel like I'm there, sitting, watching you play. If I wanted that, I'd go to the theater. Another reason I was a bit apprehensive was that although I love Post Tropical, I don't love his first record and wasn't super familiar with it.
Well, the show began and JVM is just playing song after song and I guess the crowd was into it, but JVM wasn't really doing much in terms of entertaining us. But then something changed, and I was suddenly really enjoying myself. I think it has to do with his voice. Jesus Christ, that voice! And once he started talking and interacting with the crowd, I found him very engaging and the show became a bit more intimate. Look, not everyone needs to be like Glen Hansard or Scott Hutchison when it comes to stage banter but I do like it when artists acknowledge their crowds. When they don't, it almost feels invasive on the part of the audience. Or like they don't want us to be there. I also find it very uncomfortable as well. But anyway...back to James Vincent McMorrow. He just came off so charming, and with a voice (again, my goodness, that voice!) and those excellent, excellent songs, it made for a great night.
He also did one of his new songs, "When I Leave," and it was so frickin' good that I bought it right away. It's a bit more straightforward than his stuff on Post Tropical but I'm excited for whatever direction he goes in.
6. Sylvan Esso//Webster Hall
This was actually in support of tUnE-yArDs, and you know me with tUnE-yArDs: I cannot say a bad thing about Merrill Garbus. She is fantastic live. Really, her live shows are practically unparalleled. But that night, I wasn't feeling the whole atmosphere. It was really crowded, and there were a few people around me who were very, very annoying, and in total disregard for the people around them, and that pretty much soured me on the whole show. (Let it be known that tUnE-yArDs sounded really fantastic anyway. It wasn't them, not at all.)
Sylvan Esso however...boy are they a blast live. I know a lot of people are turned off by the whole karaoke singer vibe (look, I get it; it's one of the reasons I haven't seen Chvrches live) but when the songs are that fantastic, fuck it, just go along for the ride.