This is the second in a three-part series. Read the introduction to learn how I’m scoring my list and find out about my “special consideration” in PART 1.
10 – Franz Ferdinand
At the Fox Theater – May 17
I’ll be a Franz Ferdinand fan until my last day, but at the same time, here’s proof I can look at this list without being a total homer. They’re over here instead of in the top spot. After six years of writing this column, I can still surprise you! Franz Ferdinand was closing out its first full U.S. tour in support of its fifth album, Always Ascending. After founding guitarist Nick McCarthy left the band prior to this album, this tour was not a certainty. But Alex Kapranos, Paul Thomson, bassist Bob Hardy and new members Julian Corrie and Dino Bardot still had enough intensity and showmanship in the tank at this show. Kapranos, dressed in a slim black suit, sparkly red slippers and a bolo tie, worked the stage tirelessly. The majority of the set consisted of new material, which Franz Ferdinand never laid on too thick, but interspersed with past hits and fan favorites. It was a good mix and appealed to both the fans of the band’s new electronic-heavy direction and those who preferred their Franz strictly guitar-based.
9 – Lorde
At Oracle Arena – March 13
Lorde has proved she is one of the biggest pop stars on the planet, released a critically acclaimed second album with arguably the best song of 2017 (“Green Light”) and has gotten countless chances to improve her live show. And that showed at this show. Lorde began by singing “Sober” in darkness while her team of dancers, dressed all in white, held center stage. The song was was one of three from 2017’s Melodrama that kicked off the show, including “Homemade Dynamite” and “Tennis Courts.” There was a live band as well, but it was hidden in the shadows behind Lorde, her dancers and a platform that would at various times in the show rise up, revealing a glass box that looked like a cross between a microwave and the plastic packaging one might find when buying a toy car or doll. The singer-songwriter would sometimes interact with the dancers, and sometimes would sing and dance separately from them; her posture was pure Lorde, with her signature jerky moments and gesticulations. But there was more polish and fluidity as well. The best moments came when the box was lifted 40 feet into the air by cables and tilted from side to side, while the dancers acrobatically performed inside.
8 – Public Access T.V.
With The Soft White Sixties at Bottom of the Hill — March 24
New York indie rock band Public Access T.V. was the headliner, but because of The Soft White Sixties‘ history with the Bay Area, this was more of a double-bill. Public Access T.V. frontman John Eatherly exuded late ’70s cool. He didn’t spend any time on banter, other than to wish drummer Pete Sustarsic a happy birthday; instead, he led his band right into “Evil Disco,” off 2016’s Never Enough. Sonically, the song recalled both modern garage rock bands like the Strokes and classic rockers like Tom Petty or Bad Company. The band’s songs were three minutes or shorter, power chord-filled dance numbers. But they were different enough from each other to keep momentum going and were consistently good.
The Soft White Sixties electrified with an in-your-face multi-genre blast. The band opened with new track “Teen Wolves,” a pulsating song that blurred the lines between rock and EDM. Genera slinked around like Mick Jagger, with one hand on his belt buckle. Later in the set, on “Brick by Brick,” Genera sang in both English and Spanish. “It’s about a wall,” he said. The live version of the track emphasized the wood block, organ and squelchy synths. Another highlight was the stripped-down, bluesy “Tell Me It’s Over,” with Genera slow-strumming a Fender Jaguar.
7 – Dream Wife
With RUSSO at Cafe Du Nord — Oct. 9
I’m not really a fan of true punk rock, so the sweetened pop and rock of Icelandic-English band Dream Wife appealed to me so much. Bassist Bella Podpadec, guitarist Alice Go and frontwoman Rakel Mjöll came out fighting like post-punk juggernauts from the first note of set opener “Hey Heartbreaker.” The band’s sound, driven by Go’s angular guitars, Mjöll’s Iggy Pop swagger and speak-singing and screaming, and Podpadec’s infectious grooves, was the perfect blend of sweet and bitter. In previous years, I was a stickler for artists playing for a solid hour to make this list, but because I loosened the rules, Dream Wife was a perfect fit. My favorite part of all was Go’s surgical mask. Maybe she just had a cold. But the way it hid her face and emotions really added to the mystique.
This show was made even better by openers RUSSO. Singer Cailin Russo sauntered about the stage, and had the pipes to back it up. Guitarist Tyler McCarthy was a Tasmanian devil, spinning in circles, walking his head into a wall (literally), his mouth agape for the entirety of the set. Drummer Hayley Brownell was the band’s other energizer bunny, smashing away at complicated impressive drum fills, and this left bassist Sean Ritchie to keep the rhythm under control. But back to McCarthy. His manic energy may be the type of fun that’s missing from more serious bands these days.
6 – Christine and the Queens
At the Fox Theater – Oct. 27
I wasn’t expecting this to be as much of a Broadway-style production that this was. I knew that Heloise Letissier had a passion for the theater, but didn’t think she would attempt to turn her concerts into a musical drama. Of all the shows I saw in person this year, this Christine and the Queens performance stretched the concept of what a concert could be the most. There were distinct acts, and stories and roles for “Chris” and each of her dancers. Like myself, other fans were probably picking their own protagonists. The band was mostly hidden in shadows, coming in and out of focus during pivotal moments.
While her new record, Chris, emphasizes what’s modern about Christine and the Queens, the sound oozed with ’80s nostalgia. The frontwoman and her dancers at times moved as one block, and at other times seemingly randomly across the stage, snapping back into position effortlessly. An encore included Letissier and the dancers parading right through the parting crowd, dancing with fans along the way.
CONCLUSION (COMING SOON)
Follow Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.