I love live music. There are few things in this world I enjoy more than going to a show and seeing an artist interpret their music in a live setting, so I get to as many shows as I can. In 2014 that means I’ve seen 88 different sets of music (with several more on the calendar before the year changes). Of those 88 sets, these are the 15 best:
#15: Bob Dylan – 11/4/2014 at the Orpheum Theatre
Bob Dylan doesn’t care what you want to hear. He’s going to play what he wants to play and he’s earned that right. At the first of three nights at the Orpheum Theatre, on the day his complete Basement Tapes were released, Dylan and his crack band played 19 songs. Two were from the ’60s (“She Belongs to Me” and “Blowin’ in the Wind”), two were from the ’70s (“Tangled Up in Blue” and “Simple Twist of Fate”), and the rest were released in 1997 and later. None of the songs played were from the Basement Tapes’ sessions. It didn’t matter. Seeing a true legend play what he wanted to play was an absolute joy.
#14: The Flaming Lips – 9/14/2014 in the First Avenue Mainroom
The Flaming Lips played the Mainroom twice in the span of two months (also on July 15, 2014). Both shows included everything you expect from the Lips: Confetti, lights, balloons, weird costumes, and Wayne Coyne in a giant hamster ball. The September show gets the nod from me as the better of the two, however, because it was at this show that the Lips played their seminal album Transmissions from the Satellite Heart in full. Many of these songs hadn’t been played in years, and some had never been performed live. This fact took the band out of their comfort zone and gave the show an element of danger that doesn’t exist in the standard Lips show. It worked.
#13: Chance the Rapper – 5/25/2014 at Soundset 2014 at Canterbury Park
As much as I love Soundset, hip hop in a live setting can be a let down and that goes double for a festival. A single MC with a DJ just isn’t usually enough in that format, and adding hypemen often just gets in the way of the MC. Chance the Rapper gets around these issues by bringing a full band, including horns. The live band backing Chance’s frenetic, left field flow are truly a sight to behold, and I truly hope more hip hop artists develop their live act in similar ways. In the meantime, if you find yourself at a festival with a Chance set, don’t miss it.
#12: Tickle Torture – 8/8/2014 in the First Avenue Mainroom
How to describe this Tickle Torture show? The gold costumes and crown need to be mentioned. As does the stripping down to a thong that barely contained the “D”. Can’t forget the confetti cannons. Or the guy on the leash wearing only a loincloth. There were also the scantily clad female dancers. What else…oh right, the sex drenched, throbbing R&B that would have had Prince nodding along in the ’80s and would make him blush these days. Seriously, this new local band is an absolute spectacle, but the music still finds a way to shine through and makes you dance a dirty, dirty dance.
#11: Lizzo – 1/24/2014 at The Current’s 9th Birthday in the First Avenue Mainroom
Seeing Lizzo in concert is to witness a force of nature. That goes for each of the ways you can see her (solo, with GRRRL PRTY, with The Chalice, with Caroline Smith, with Har Mar Superstar, etc., etc., etc.), but at The Current’s 9th Birthday we got a twofer: Lizzo with Lazerbeak and with GRRRL PRTY. This meant we had a set jam packed with all her best tunes, and a wonderful night in the Church of Lizzo. The only negative to the night was the slightly abbreviated set due to the setting. I could have watched her for hours.
#10: Roky Erickson & the Hounds of Baskerville – 2/3/2014 in the First Avenue Mainroom
If you’re unfamiliar with Roky Erickson, now’s the time to get introduced. In brief, (very, very, very brief) he was a co-founder of the 13th Floor Elevators, one of the first psychedelic bands, but after years of LSD use coupled with mental illness (and a stint in a hospital for the “criminally insane” after he was arrested for having a single joint) he became a recluse. Recently, though, he has reemerged, and this was his very first performance of any sort in Minnesota. Quite simply it was the most joyful show I have ever seen. He’s clearly still fighting his issues, but everyone in the building from the band to the crowd to Roky himself was so happy to be there that the show became one big love fest. Truly moving.
#9: Perfect Pussy – 3/30/2014 in the 7th Street Entry
This is the show that I had the most trouble ranking. I was anxiously awaiting my first look at this hot new hardcore band and thoroughly enjoyed the 2 opening bands. Then Perfect Pussy started and were awesome. Meredith Graves was a banshee, Ray McAndrew prowled the stage like a spitting lion, and the rest of the band made a tremendous racket. I was just settling in and…they were done. The set was slightly more than 15 minutes long, ended really abruptly, and I wasn’t sure what I thought. After serious consideration, though, I’ve decided (obviously) the show was fantastic. I reached this conclusion after a music friend asked “knowing what you know now would you have still gone,” and the answer was a resounding yes. So go see them, just don’t expect a long set.
#8: Mogwai – 5/18/2014 in the First Avenue Mainroom
Earplugs. If you don’t wear earplugs when you go to shows you need to start. I wear these and they are great. Even if you don’t start wearing earplugs when you go to shows, you must do so if you see Mogwai. The noise this band puts out in a live setting will rattle your dental fillings. Mogwai is post rock at its most primal and that translates to their live performances. There is very little talk, there are (of course) no vocals, and there is nothing soft. It is pure unadulterated noise rock, and it is amazing.
#7: FKA twigs – 11/14/2014 at the Fine Line Music Cafe
There have been a lot new female pop/r&B artists over the last couple years and they’ve been really hit-and-miss in their live performance abilities. While twigs is more experimental than most of those other new artists, I still had an early concern she wouldn’t be able to bring it live. Seeing her performance on The Tonight Show put those concerns to rest and rocketed this show up my anticipated list. It did not disappoint. FKA twigs takes center stage with her band in the shadows and uses her history as a dancer to put on a truly artistic performance. There may not have been any floating sheets of silk, but the performance was just as good as the one she gave Jimmy Fallon. The next night Prince invited her out to Paisley Park for a show. Obviously.
#6: The War on Drugs – 9/22/2014 in the First Avenue Mainroom
It has been a pretty great year for Adam Granduciel. He put out an album that is nearly universally falling in the top 5 of year end lists (I fully expect that to change when certain MiG authors start posting their lists), and the War on Drugs live show lives up to Lost in the Dream‘s billing. Granduciel is a true virtuoso with the guitar and the rest of the band has no issue keeping up. “Under the Pressure” in particular took on a new level of hazy brilliance when played live, but every song translates well to the stage, ‘beer commercial lead guitar’ or not.
#5: HAIM – 5/19/2014 in the First Avenue Mainroom
It sure took them long enough, but the Haim sisters finally made it to Minnesota on their never ending tour in support of Days are Gone, and they were worth the wait. The show was tight as a drum with every song being note perfect (well nearly every song. “Don’t Save Me” had a couple false starts that showed no matter how many times you play a show you can still mess it up now and again). Sometimes an overly rehearsed show can be a put off, but in this case the sisters’ enthusiasm (real or otherwise) was so infectious it didn’t matter. It didn’t hurt that Este Haim’s awe at playing the venue where Purple Rain was filmed appeared genuine (nearly every artist mentions this fact, so I’ve become fairly adept at determining who is telling the truth and who is just fluffing the local crowd).
#4: Paul McCartney – 8/2/2014 at Target Field
Paul McCartney is 72 years old and played 39 songs over nearly 3 hours. Of those songs 25 were Beatles songs, which included “Hey Jude”, “Yesterday”, “Let it Be”, and “Something”, and he still has the voice to pull this off. I can’t really explain the impressiveness of this performance other than to repeat: Paul McCartney is 72 years old and played 39 songs over nearly 3 hours. Of those songs 25 were Beatles songs, which included “Hey Jude”, “Yesterday”, “Let it Be”, and “Something”, and he still has the voice to pull this off. Go see him while you still can.
#3: Run the Jewels – 11/20/2014 at the Fine Line Music Cafe
Run the Jewels are the best live hip hop act right now. Up above where I mentioned hip hop in a live setting can be a disappointment? Yeah, that doesn’t apply to Killer Mike and El-P. These guys are rowdy and raucous and having so much damn fun it’s impossible to not have fun with them. The show was so bonkers, in fact, I found myself front and center bouncing around with kids half my age (literally), and I haven’t done that in ages. Mike and El are just so infectiously fun there was no other option. My hands are now permanently “stuck in a fist and a gun.”
#2: Bob Mould – 8/31/2014 in the 7th Street Entry
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Bob Mould play with his current crack band (Jon Wurster on drums and Jason Narducy on bass) on a few occasions, and they are always great. That said, I don’t think I’ll ever seem them play a better show than this one. Announced the day before it was scheduled, the show was in the 250-capacity Entry where Hüsker Dü played many early shows, and Mould made it a throw back show. The band played 2 headlining sets with nearly all of the second set being Hüsker songs (among them the great “New Day Rising”, which I’ve never heard Mould play before). The room got so worked up the heat fogged Mould’s glasses forcing him to remove them and causing an old person squint to read the set list. Old person or not, he still rocks as hard as ever.
#1: The Replacements – 9/13/2014 at Midway Stadium
Anyone who knows me knew there was no question what show would be #1 on this list. The Replacements have long been my favorite band, but I was 13 when they broke up. Accordingly, when they reunited (yes, I know it’s only half the band) it was clear I was paying whatever it took to see them when they played locally. Then they started playing shows at festivals around the country. Nonetheless, I waited for the local show. And waited. And waited. And waited. Finally, they announced a show that would essentially close out the minor league stadium a mere 2 miles from my house and I got tickets the second they went on presale. Joining 14,000 of my closest friends on a Saturday night, I witnessed Paul, Tommy, and couple top notch fill ins play just about everything. “Alex Chilton”, “Bastards of Young”, and “Can’t Hardly Wait” of course, but also “Skyway”, “Take Me Down to the Hospital”, “Buck Hill” (!), and especially “Unsatisfied”. I even sang. I don’t sing at shows, but these songs left me with no option. It was pure magic (with just the right amount of Mats mistakes), and it was easily the best show I saw this year.
An author and editor at MiG, Craig lives in Minnesota with his wife and son and is an attorney in his real life. Once upon a time Craig played the trumpet and spent four years in the Hawkeye Marching Band and pep band. These days Craig finds himself most often listening to experimental rock, hip hop, and post punk, but you can see everything he's listening to at: www.last.fm/user/cafreema Craig is not ashamed to admit the first concert he ever attended was New Kids on the Block.
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