Friends, we have found the worst list of all time, and it is Rolling Stone Readers Pick the Top Ten Live Acts of All Time: Bruce Springsteen. The Grateful Dead. Queen. The Rolling Stones. KISS. Pink Floyd. Pearl Jam. Led Zeppelin. U2. The Who. Yes, that’s all ten. Yup, that is a whole lot of white rocker dudes. Uh huh, the only band on that list that formed since the ’70s is Pearl Jam. Where to even begin?
Instead of further dissecting the Rolling Stone list, we decided to make our own list of acts — all of whom you still might conceivably go see — that you need to check out live. This isn’t a definitive top 25; it’s just a roundup of Flavorpill staffers’ favorite live bands. Our recommendations are after the jump. You can add yours in the comments.
You probably already know that rapper Jean Grae rocks the mic like nobody’s business. But did you realize, as social media manager Russ Marshalek points out, that “she’s fucking hilarious and self-effacing live”?
Sales manager Michael Orell understands that Radiohead are another platinum-selling gang of white dudes, but he still loves them after all these years: “The hallucinatory yet intimate sound that made me a fan in the first place never faded or diminished in the slightest, even though I was all the way in the back of Madison Square Garden. My firstborn to whomever the fuck does their sound.” His colleague, Dave Coll, adds: “Radiohead’s most amazing achievement in concert is that time and time again they play songs that the crowd can recognize 100% and yet has never heard before. They take a synth-based song like ‘Spinning Plates,’ and do the whole thing on the piano. They get the crowd dancing to ‘Weird Fishes,’ zoning out to ‘Everything in Its Right Place,’ and holding up cellphones to ‘High and Dry.'”
Social media intern Sophie Weiner can’t recommend this experimental act highly enough: “The Books are a pair of artists who mix audio samples, including everything from 1980’s hypnotherapy videos to thrift store voice mail cassettes, with gorgeous, intricate cello and guitar compositions and vocals. Seeing The Books live elevates their music from intriguing, if a bit inaccessible, to a realm of brilliance inhabited by only the greatest multimedia artists. Every song is paired with a video, many of which use the clips that their samples were originally from. The mesmerizing visuals and words illuminate a multitude of possible meanings for every song, while they play their instruments flawlessly over the top. As if that wasn’t enough, The Books prefer to play in unorthodox concert spaces, like art museums or churches, so when you have a religious experience, you know you’re in the right place.”
“It’s always hard to imagine how a man who looks like Skeletor can keep a crowd fixated with balloons, a sampler, a laptop, and a big smile,” writes Flavorpill London contributor Oliver Spall. But don’t let appearances fool you — we guarantee you’ll be riveted.
Sometimes, you just have to give it up for a 20th-century master. “Leonard Cohen was also one of the best shows I’ve ever seen,” says Patrick Letterii, who works with Flavorpill’s venue partners. “He did like four encores, and he kept dancing the jig offstage and then dancing back on. This was last year. I think he’s like 80.” Close enough: he’s 76, so… yeah. Impressive.
Listening to a Beach House album, you’d think the production was too complex to replicate live, writes Dave Coll. But you’d be wrong: “Legrand has such an amazing voice that it actually can be amplified in concert to change the entire dynamic of their sound. Instead of going with the pleasant album sound mixture of equal voice, melody, harmony, and bass, in concert Beach House will amplify Legrand’s voice as well as the bass line to make an entirely new sound that feels as if it resonates through you.”
A recent Prince show at Madison Square Garden prompted our books editor, Kathleen Massara, to send an ecstatic email to some friends, which she’s kindly permitted us to excerpt: “Without notice, the lights cut out and all you could see was a fine mist surrounding a darkened stage. His band filed in from inside the symbol, taking their places in the pit of the circle, which was the cue that people needed to start screaming like the place was on fire. And then, out of nowhere, Prince was illuminated, standing on top of a piano like it was no big deal. He almost looked bored. How the hell did he do that? The only explanation is magic, and I don’t use that term lightly. The man has powers.” Ashley Waghorne, repping our sales department, agrees: “You get fabulous wardrobe changes, and he is an amazing guitar player, too. I can’t ask for more from a show.”
Russ Marshalek captures the wondrous experience of attending a Le Tigre show in the early ’00s: “I hate hate hate that they didn’t really do much after the perfection of their This Island tour, because it was… amazing. Slideshows, weirdly synchronized boy-band dance moves, and the encore was them coming on holding umbrellas to the sound of thunder and launching into ‘Deceptacon.'” Since they’re still technically “on hiatus” and are releasing a new tour DVD, we still hold out hope that we’ll see Le Tigre live, at least once more before we die.
“My friend and I kept turning to each other throughout the set going ‘Can you believe this guy?’ and ‘This is incredible!’ and “He is so good! Pinch me, is he really this good? You’re seeing this, right?’ The cool thing was, everyone around us was doing the same thing,” says Flavorpill NY managing editor Leah Taylor of the man formerly known as Final Fantasy.
Oliver Spall succinctly breaks down the appeal of a Daft Punk show: “Everyone wants a glossy silver visor and helmet and the ability to make thousands of people lose their self control.”
“Not only do they look like they’re having the best time of their lives, but they throw spoons at bowls and use plastic toys as instruments and have dubious costume changes and Honus Honus and Pow Pow jump on their chairs in tandem and make faces at each other,” writes Flavorwire weekend editor Emily Temple of indie rock’s rowdiest tribe, Man Man. “Also they have been known to reach out and ruffle the hair of any concert-goers pressed up to the front who are singing along. Just saying.”
Allow sales pro Nate Hageman to sell you on the mysterious alter ego of The Knife’s Karin Dreijer Andersson: “Transcendental shaman spooky light show AWESOMENESS.”
Lauren Epstein calls alt-country vets Lambchop “a band so simultaneously understated and dynamic that you literally feel like you’re hearing music for the first time. Their set at XX Merge left everyone dazed and blissful.”
The Roots are so legendarily good live that it’s cliche to mention them,” says Russ Marshalek, “but there’s a reason for that and it’s because the hype is 100% legit. They bring the steady-handed stage mastery of some of the world’s oldest and most classic rock bands with brash hip-hop bravado that ensures electricity from start to finish.”
A few staffers suggested Sonic Youth, and we couldn’t agree more. Kathleen Massara recalls a particularly wonderful performance of Daydream Nation at Brooklyn’s McCarren Park Pool: “That was such a good outdoor concert. Kim Gordon’s bangs were in full force as she bounced up and down with her heavy bass.” The entire band is wonderful, but we’ve seen Sonic Youth more times than we can count, and Kim is always the highlight.
Flavorwire contributor Tom Hawking sings the praises of funky Stones Throw stalwart Dâm-Funk: “He is always great live, especially when he plays solo. No one rocks the keytar quite like he does!”
Irish singer-songwriter “Damien Rice was unreal live,” writes Patrick Letterii, who works with Flavorpill’s venue partners. “I saw him at L’Olympia in Paris, which is huge, and at one point, he walked downstage sans mics and played this song ‘Volcano,’ filling up the whole house with his voice. It was pretty incredible.”
Janelle Monáe and of Montreal
Confession: We tried to choose between high priestess of neo-funk robotics Janelle Monáe and her friends and frequent tour mates, the shapeshifting pop act of Montreal, but the truth is, you’ve got to see both of them. Now. Preferably on the same night. One of the most charismatic performers of all time, Monáe takes the stage in a suit and dares you not to dance along. Meanwhile, of Montreal shows often involve a stage full of dark fantasy characters, lurid pantomime, multiple costume changes, live horses, full-frontal male nudity… and, once, Susan Sarandon spanking some pigs.
The Mountain Goats
If Grateful Dead fans are Deadheads, then can we call Mountain Goats fans Goatheads? Sophie Weiner writes: “Whether you’re part of the Mountain Goats’ cult-like hardcore fanbase, or you just like a few songs off The Sunset Tree, their live show is not to be missed. John Darnielle, who is the Mountain Goats with or without a backing band, can talk onstage in a way that makes other bandleaders seem like kindergarteners. It’s as if he’s not capable of saying something that isn’t simultaneously profound and hilarious. The camaraderie/competition between the serious fans requesting their favorite obscure songs inverts the usual dynamic of that one obnoxious dude yelling ‘Freebird.’ When he does play with a band, they know how to seriously rock out: their drummer Jon Wurster, of Superchunk and that one New Pornographer’s video fame, consistently kills it. And you never know when they’re going to throw in an Ace of Bass cover.”
“Setting up a live show with the premise that you’ll party till you puke is adventurous to say the least,” writes Oliver Spall. And while vomit is optional, the party is mandatory.
“They’re the only band that can make super jaded New Yorkers dance for five nights in a row,” says Nate Hageman, and if you’ve ever been to an indie rock show in this neck of the woods, you’ll understand that this is quite a feat. Flavorpill general manager Aaron McClain co-signs: “Fucking amazing live show.” Too bad they only have a few performances left before calling it quits forever.
Dave Coll can’t get enough of Gogol Bordello’s gypsy-punk frontman, Eugene Hutz: “This guy is simply the king of concerts. He is a maniac. He crowd surfs on a drum. He gets hipsters to mosh. His songs like ‘Start Wearing Purple,’ ‘Wonderlust King,’ and ‘Tribal Connection,’ seem to be built for getting a room full of young, anarchic kids on their feet and having an amazing time. I was not a huge fan before I saw him in concert. He is the only live performer who has ever ‘converted’ me into a fan only after seeing him perform live.”
As we’ve said before, there is no other performer quite like Patti Smith. She’s smart, earnest, affable, and unaffected. Each song is an invocation. And even if she’s played something thousands of times before, she puts the whole weight of her emotion and meaning behind it. If you see her live and aren’t riveted, then you must be doing something wrong.
“Atmosphere’s a hip-hop band for sad-eyed girls and the guys that want to write them poetry but don’t know how, and they know it,” Russ Marshalek says. “Frontman/emcee Slug’s been known to encourage a boy standing next to a girl to buy that girl a drink and put his number on a napkin… and then take the drink from him when he brings it. Atmosphere has evolved, but I still recall the 7’s Travels tour, when they’d break out a cover of Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name,’ when Slug would encourage the audience to scream back the ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me’part, stop everyone mid-chant just as as mosh pit began and ponder aloud, ‘Wait… does anyone get the irony here?’ before returning to the thrash.”
The Avett Brothers
Emily Temple recommends the melting pot that is your average Avett Brothers gig: “They have this uncanny ability to get hipsters and frat guys and teenage girls and everybody’s parents dancing together all at once. They are also incredibly sweet and earnest live, with good Southern manners, and their infectious gratitude makes you feel like you’ve just done them a huge favor by coming to see their show, and also that you’re best friends. And they are very good looking to look at.”