Roman Gokhman’s favorite concerts of 2014: Introduction & special considerations

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Last year I predicted I would never see as many concerts as I did in 2013, and I was right. Having two kids can do that to any guy, even a music journalist. From 64 shows the previous year, I was only able to attend 40 in 2014. That number will probably drop again next year.

In judging what I enjoyed most, I decided to grade based on my favorites rather than the “best.” This is a subjective list, so I’m not going to try to decide who performed best. Additionally this year, I dropped from a Top 15 list to only 10.

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Just like last year and in 2012, I set a few rules for myself. Opening acts don’t count – though as you see below, some opening sets earned “special considerations.” Neither do non-headlining performances at festivals. 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.

Over the next few days I’ll share my favorite music experiences from 2014, and share a video from most of those concerts. If the band’s name is linked, it means I interviewed them this year and I linked to my story. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • I saw the most shows in February and April (7; before my kids were born) and the fewest in January, May and June (1).
  • The month with the most “rated” shows was February (4), and all but two of my Top 10 were prior to May.
  • All of my special considerations were in August or later in the year.

Without further ado, the special considerations (IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER):

KACEY MUSGRAVES at Outside Lands – Aug. 8.

Musgraves stole the day with two separate performances – her own set as well as a tribute to Janis Joplin earlier in the day. Country music doesn’t always translate well after the festival grounds at Golden Gate Park reach near capacity, but someone forgot to tell Musgraves. Has either set lasted an hour, this would be in my top 10 for the year. From the moment she performed Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz” Friday night’s other acts would have a standard that couldn’t be matched.

JENNY LEWIS and IMELDA MAY (and LYKKE LI) at Outside Lands – Aug. 10

Li had my favorite set at the music festival, but she appears later in my list, so I’ll focus on May and Lewis here. May had the last-minute responsibility of saving the final day for hundreds of fans who bought tickets only to see Chvrches. They camped out in front of the main stage for hours just to get the announcement that the band missed their flight to San Francisco and wouldn’t perform. May stepped onto the stage a short time later and did more than enough to appease those who remained. She’s still an unknown quantity in America, but her combination of rockabilly, blues, punk and rock really got people to move around.

Lewis played to a no standing room remaining crowd, picking up the energy from May and delivering one of the most memorable performances in Outside Lands’ seven years. The performance incited a couple to try to jump the barricade, which led to a an interesting pursuit by security, which Lewis incorporated into her lines and mid-song banter. Still, she was on stage for 55 minutes; five short of my requirement.

JESSIE WARE at The Chapel – Oct. 21.

Ware’s performance at the Fillmore was one of my runners up in 2013. And here she is again outside my top 10, this time because the show was just under 60 minutes. Very few fans even knew the show was happening, and it was advertised only on Ware’s Facebook page. It was one of five album release gigs worldwide for “Tough Love,” her sophomore album that made many best-of lists this year. There was no opener or distractions that took away from the material being presented, as well as a couple of older tunes. The intimacy and Ware’s sharing the stories behind the new songs is what made this show special. Also, there may not be any other performer out there today who watches her fans as closely as Ware. This adds to closeness of Ware’s connection to the crowd.

ALT-J at Live 105’s Not So Silent Night at Oracle Arena – Dec. 13.

The English band’s musicality has never been in question. The write and perform songs as interesting and complex as any mainstream artist. The problem I’ve had with them in four previous Bay Area performances was their lack of any stage presence. It was like watching a band rehearse without an audience. Now they’re touring a new album that’s as terrific as the first, and improvement in their performance was measurable. Drummer Thom Green, the one who makes this band’s song possible in a live setting, is a main attraction, encircled by 270 degrees’ worth of digital and traditional drummer apparatus. But lead vocalist Joe Newman, who used to make eye contact with only his guitar or the bar at the back of a room, is now making a concentrated effort to be a frontman. Had they played an hour, Alt-J would be looking at a possible spot at the back of my top 10.

COMING NEXT: 10 through 6. Follow me to keep up!

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