Welcome to my annual countdown of the most entertaining music experiences of the year. I only went to 41 concerts. Life commitments and a family took a higher priority. But then again, I enjoy profiling an artist over critiquing the music. I put more thought into the concerts I attended, so I think this compilation is still “deserving,” whatever that means. Still, some iconic and talented performers didn’t make my top 10: No Elton John or AC/DC, Royal Blood or Kacey Musgraves (who both came close), no Mumford and Sons or Duran Duran.
Those of you who have read my previous lists already know that I specifically use the word “favorite” because using “best” is too subjective. Everyone has their own opinions.
Like in years past (above), I set a few rules for myself. Opening acts didn’t count. Neither did non-headlining performances at festivals (that didn’t matter so much this year as even the headliners of Outside Lands didn’t make my list). However, as you see below, some earned “special considerations.” In order for a concert to count on my favorites list, the performer needs to be on stage for at least one hour or be a headliner.
I’ll share my favorites over the next few days, including a video from the performance, if possible. If the artist’s name is linked, it means I interviewed him/her/them this year and you can read the story. Here’s a quick breakdown:
I saw the most shows in May (nine; mostly thanks to U2 being on tour), while February had six and August and October both had a respectable five concerts. I only attended one concert in March, June and December.
May had the most “rated” shows (three). Unlike the previous year, the favorite shows were more spread-out throughout the year.
2015′s special considerations (IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER):
SAM SMITH at Bill Graham Civic – Jan. 31
Smith would go on to rule the Grammy Awards the following week and this show was a bit of a preemptive victory lap. High-quality tour production, full band and orchestral musicians, and backup singers were enough to mask that Smith is a stand-and-perform musician (i.e. Adele). His voice is golden and firing on all cylinders on this night.
CATHEDRALS at the Independent – Feb. 28
The San Francisco duo is still building steam, adding musicians to live performances and gathering fans. This Noise Pop Music Festival performance was an early showcase of just how far they’ve come in the previous few years. When they finally release a full-length album, I believe it will make some noise on nationally.
CHRISTINE AND THE QUEENS at the Warfield – April 17
I didn’t know what I was in for when I watched Héloïse Letissier open for Marina and the Diamonds for the first time this year. I read she was big in her native France, and that she danced. What I didn’t know was just how she and her dancers move around the stage. Like I told her later (we’ve spoken several time this year), it was like watching water flow in slow motion. And, oh yeah, she can sing, too.
ST. VINCENT at Outside Lands – Aug. 7
The 2015 version of the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival lacked a cohesive lineup, but there were several standouts. One of the brightest was Annie Clark, who was easily more qualified to headline the first night than Mumford and Sons. Her dazzling performance, while wearing a leather catsuit, was unmatched.
SHAKEY GRAVES at Outside Lands – Aug. 9
On a day most didn’t look past Sir Elton John on the lineup, Shakey Graves surprised those who showed up early with rolling blend of garage rock and blues. Yeah, I interviewed him beforehand so I was familiar with his folky sound record. His live show is definitely not that, and I wasn’t expecting this to be my top performance of the day. Shake Graves also returned to the Bay Area later in the year for two sold-out shows, but the gig I attended lacked the same level of energy as the festival performance.