RDR Music Director’s Top 10 Live Acts of 2016

Every year, I make sure to spend a decent chunk of my hard-earned income on supporting the amazing bands I love so much. It’s not like you make much money from streaming royalties unless you’re, like, The Weeknd or something, so most independent and lesser-known bands make their money from ticket sales and merch sales. It’s for this reason, and many others, that I make it a goal to see as many bands as I can, especially in low-cost, intimate local venues.

Listed here are my ten favorite live acts of the year, which I found to be an extremely difficult thing to measure. One must consider both the effort and performance of the artist as well as the overall subjective experience. It’s this mish-mash of objectivity and subjectivity that has helped me perfect this list, and understand that this is not meant to say that one act is better or makes better music than the other. All these artists are fantastic and deserve their spot on this list for their efforts and the success of those efforts in my personal experience.

10. Show Me The Body (The Vera Project, September 2016)

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(Photo credit: Andy Sawyer)

New York noise rock group Show Me The Body has been carelessly melding post-hardcore, hip-hop, and experimental rock music to craft the ultimate NY experience. Think of the gritty, grimy nature of groups like Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Anthrax, and Ratking distilled into one, transcendentally aggressive experience. This is SMTB in a nutshell.

I learned a lot about the trio when I saw them perform in the gallery space in The Vera Project, an all-ages venue located in the Seattle Center. Namely, I learned that lead vocalist Julian Cashwan Pratt plays the banjo, not an effects-laden guitar as I initially assumed when I first dug into their 2016 debut album, Body War.

I also learned that SMTB are some intimidating, hardcore motherfuckers. Despite being only a couple years older than me, the group’s aura was one of experience, cynicism, and rage. Despite being a NY native, Pratt showed solidarity with Seattle’s disenfranchised by revealing a crudely made “Fuck South Lake Union” shirt. Genius.

They only played for like 30 minutes, and things took an uncertain turn when some drug-addled misfits started a legit fight in the mosh pit. As tensions mounted in the crowd, Pratt tackled and effectively forced out the offenders, making it really clear that not one bit of that shit will be tolerated at a SMTB concert. It was awesome, and made me enjoy the show that much more, especially with the threat of being tackled by a cokehead effectively removed.

Overall, this band is an absolute riot when performing live. It seems like they opt to go for the “house show” appeal, setting their instruments up on the floor, level with the crowd. Seeing this band live is a personal experience, especially if you’re right up front where you can be grabbed and have your faced screamed into by Pratt. Additionally, the band’s bassist and drummer make for an extremely tight rhythm section, especially as the bass parts get more and more complicated.

Band’s performance: 9/10

Personal experience: 7/10

Avg score: 8/10

9. Godspeed You! Black Emperor (Neumos, January 2016)

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(Source: Jambase)

Godspeed You! Black Emperor has been on my must-see list since their brilliant first comeback record back in 2012, ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! I unfortunately missed them at Primavera Sound Festival in 2014 (I saw Kendrick Lamar instead, which I don’t regret). Thankfully, they put out another post-reunion album, 2015’s somewhat underwhelming Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress, which was basically a recording of the group’s 40-minute song “Behemoth,” which they’d been playing live for years.

And, as you can guess, this track made up about 50% of the band’s set at Neumos, when 2016 was but a young cub. The eight-piece Canadian post-rock collective set up a semicircle of chairs and instruments onstage, projector and anarchist literature in tow, and set that fucking stage on fire (not literally).

Performing for over 90 minutes, GY!BE proved why they’re still one of the most vital live acts in music today. The sold out crowd of middle-aged folk and young hipsters alike would probably agree with me. I got to hear a revitalized edition of the aforementioned Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress in addition to the passionate, tight playing of some of the band’s classic material.

While not the life-changing experience I had hoped it would be, I was still beyond floored with the group’s performance. To hear them play such long songs and know exactly how they’re going to sequence was even more rewarding to me than actually being there and hearing the music performed live. Regardless, GY!BE brought a level of intimacy that is typically absent in post-rock, and I’m extremely happy I was able to cross them off my list.

Band’s performance: 9/10

Personal experience: 7.75/10

Avg score: 8.4/10

8. Carly Rae Jepsen (Showbox, February 2016)

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(Photo credit: Sunny Martini)

Canadian pop sensation Carly Rae Jepsen recently appeared on both my Top 23 EPs of 2016 and Top 50 Albums of 2015 list, so naturally my newfound appreciation for her impeccable music would result in money spent on the real thing. As soon as I found out she’d be at one of my favorite venues, The Showbox, I unhesitantly bought a ticket. And it was so fucking worth it.

Playing virtually every song from her 2015 sleeper hit E•MO•TION, as well as her inescapable bop, “Call Me Maybe,” Carly and her band didn’t miss a beat. The musicianship was extremely tight, CRJ really made it seem like the band gave the show a sense of completion.

And, of course, CRJ played the frontwoman role extremely well, whether she was serenading the audience with a performance of her Dev Hynes collaboration, “All That,” or giving us goosebumps with the iconic saxophone lead of “Run Away With Me.” She even, *gasp*, made eye contact with me for a couple seconds during a song. I think I now know what Justin Bieber fans feel when he hits the stage.

I’m not ashamed of how great this concert was, nor am I ashamed of how many words I know to literally every song on E•MO•TION. With her newly released E•MO•TION SIDE B EP, I can only hope she’ll be making her way back to Seattle next year so I can get another chance to see the undisputed Pop Queen of 2016 in the flesh.

Band’s performance: 8.75/10

Personal experience: 9/10

Avg score: 8.9/10

7. The Dillinger Escape Plan (El Corazon, October 2016)

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(Source: Metal Injection)

Experimental metalcore band The Dillinger Escape Plan, whom I’ve loved for many years, just released their brilliant and final album, Dissociation, which I’ve been enjoying quite a bit. Additionally, the group has been embarking on a tour to mark the end of the band, making it quite clear that these would be the last chances to catch TDEP at one of their notoriously raucous live events. I obliged.

While El Corazon isn’t my favorite venue in the city, it consistently comes through with amazing metal concerts. And so far, this is definitely my favorite show I’ve seen at the venue. When TDEP finally came on after, like, three opening acts, they lit up that venue the way I didn’t think an artist could.

Vocalist Greg Puciato made all the horrifying sounds he makes on the album, and guitarist Ben Weinman hung from rafters and stood on top of the audience while unleashing impossibly complicated riffs. It’s amazing to me that the band can balance an energetic, frantic performance with an impeccably played song in fuck-if-I-know time signature.

In addition, the concert was made into a truly special event when they invited original vocalist Dimitri Minakakis (who performed on their amazing debut album, Calculating Infinity) to join them for a couple songs. Needless to say, this filled me up with glee.

And, of course, the mosh pits were violent, filthy, sweaty, and hot. So much so that, for the first time in awhile, I actually had to take a break during the band’s set to catch my breath, tie my shoes, and hydrate. It was so awesome.

Band’s performance: 10/10

Personal experience: 8.5/10

Avg score: 9.25/10

6. Jeff Rosenstock (Funhouse, May 2016)

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(Source: Brooklyn Vegan)

At this point in the year, I had no idea that Jeff Rosenstock was five short months away from blowing my mind yet again with another amazing solo album. All I knew is that he was 14 months out from first blowing my mind with We Cool?, a pop-punk album that reclaimed Rosenstock’s position as the G.O.A.T.

His headlining set at Funhouse was raucous and passionate, much like the small crowd of people gathered to partake in the merriment. This was a much more spirited performance than what I caught when Rosenstock opened up on the 2015 AJJ/The Smith Street Band tour, due in no small part to the fact that Jeff could be the star of the show. Him and his amazingly talented band blazed through all the remarkable tracks on We Cool?, as well as a couple newer and older songs.

There isn’t much else to say, honestly. Apart from a humorous half-cover of Lenny Kravitz’s “Fly Away,” Rosenstock didn’t stray much from the songs he’s more than used to performing live at this point. When it’s music this good and you’re as passionate a punk rock vocalist as Jeff Rosenstock, it’s hard to play a bad show. Now I just need to catch him live a third time when he brings the more complex, political music of aforementioned new album WORRY. to the stage.

Band’s performance: 9.5/10

Personal experience: 9/10

Avg score: 9.25/10

5. Matmos (The Vera Project, December 2016)

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(Source: i1os.com)

Experimental electronic duo Matmos are way more than two of the creative minds behind Björk’s early 2000s output. They’re also two of the most creative minds to ever put out music under the “electronic” label, with their trademark unique brand of sampling bringing them a cult following.

For their first LP in 3 years, Ultimate Care II, Matmos sampled a washing machine, specifically the washing machine owned by the romantic couple that constitutes Matmos. They processed, sampled, sequenced, rubbed, drummed upon, and made 40 minutes of incredible music entirely from the machine, the namesake of the album. After becoming a critical success, Matmos figured why not bring the trusty Ultimate Care II (by Whirlpool®) on the road and recreate those sound experiments in front of a studio audience.

It sounds audacious, even dangerous, yet they pulled it off in spades. They brought the same catchy, gorgeous intensity they did on the album to the live set, even putting a volunteer’s shirt in the Ultimate Care II, which they promised would merely redistribute the dirt and result in a wet, dirty piece of laundry.

Set to an inspiring and humorous washing machine-centric visual accompaniment, Matmos got a couple people in Seattle’s experimental/noise crowd to actually dance to 40 minutes of laundry music. I’m convinced that that was a once-in-a-lifetime performance in this city, and I’m extremely happy I got to be a part of it.

Band’s performance: 10/10

Personal experience: 8.75/10

Avg score: 9.4/10

4. PUP (The Vera Project, June 2016)

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(Photo credit: Jessica Flynn)

I got into Canadian pop-punk group PUP a few months after they dropped their 2014 self-titled debut, an album that hooked me immediately with its off-kilter guitar work, self-deprecating lyrics, and ultra-catchy hooks. If there’s anyone in rock music embodying the spirit of Jeff Rosenstock besides the man himself, it’s PUP, and seeing them live for the first time proved that more than anything could.

There was not a dull moment during the band’s set, and seeing them perform at The Vera Project was one of the most life-affirming crowd experiences of the year for me. I don’t think I’ve seen Vera go harder for a band, before or since, and that’s because PUP writes anthems. Even their most depressing songs go fucking hard, and they ran through all the hits and deep cuts from their debut and their even-better new album, The Dream Is Over.

Go support this band in any way you can, because their music is a hell of a lot of fun and they’re a hell of a lot of fun to see live. As if that wasn’t good enough on its own, they had to steal my heart by encoring with objectively the most fun Weezer song, “El Scorcho.” I don’t think PUP knew that Pinkerton is one of my favorite albums, they just wanted to have some fun with a song that always keeps the party going.

Band’s performance: 9.5/10

Personal experience: 9.5/10

Avg score: 9.5/10

3. Swans (Showbox, September 2016)

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(Photo credit: Jens Wassmuth)

Since the beginning of the group’s career, Swans have held notoriously loud live concerts. In its most recent iteration, the band has taken the volume of its ‘80s concerts and fused it with the meditative transcendence of its mid-90s post-rock era, both on record and on the stage. In celebration what could very well be Swans’ final album, which was marred by some unfortunate press on behalf of vocalist and bandleader Michael Gira, the group embarked on a victory lap of a tour.

This was my second time seeing the band perform, and it was just as hypnotic, visceral, and loud this time around as it was back in spring 2013. They kicked things off with a 40-minute unreleased song, which seems to be called “The Knot,” before breaking into a handful of epic, winding songs from their two most recent albums, The Glowing Man and To Be Kind.

A Swans live concert is either something you crave or something you don’t understand. To put things in perspective, Swans stretched out six or seven songs into a 160-minute set. I rather enjoy seeing Michael Gira direct his band of merry noisemakers in creating the loudest wall of sound possible, and that’s exactly the sort of chaos Swans wrought that fine late summer’s eve.

Band’s performance: 10/10

Personal experience: 9.25/10

Avg score: 9.6/10

2. clipping. (Neumos, August 2016)

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(Source: KEXP/NPR)

2016 has been an incredible year for Daveed Diggs, the underground rapper who won some real-ass awards with his acclaimed dual performance in the universally successful “Hamilton” musical. After parting ways with the musical, he’s dropped two projects with his main squeeze, noise-rap trio clipping., who celebrated their big return with a one-off gig at Seattle’s beloved Neumos.

Tickets to the event were cheap, it was changed to an all-ages gig, and clipping. totally came through with a hell of a concert. Production duo Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson dropped their creatively produced beats with considerable aplomb, blasting the audience with harsh noise as Diggs delivered his rapid-fire raps without missing a beat.

The group played a healthy dose of material from their debut mixtape Midcity, Sub Pop debut CLPPNG, and freshly released Wriggle EP. They even debuted tracks from their not-yet-released sophomore album, Splendor & Misery. It was virtually everything I could want from a clipping. concert, and I hope to catch them again in a couple months at The Crocodile.

Band’s performance: 9.5/10

Personal experience: 10/10

Avg score: 9.75/10

1. Ty Segall (Neptune Theater, January 2016)

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(Photo credit: Chip Luman)

The first concert I attended this year was the one for which I probably held the lowest expectations. Not that I expected a Ty Segall concert to be bad, per se, it’s just that I had never quite connected with his music the way a lot of people do. But, it was free, so why not? Plus, it turns out the show included a front-to-back performance of his surprisingly fantastic new album, Emotional Mugger, which is probably the most batshit of any album Segall has ever released.

Let’s just say Ty Segall exceeded my expectations exponentially. Within seconds of kicking off the first song of the evening, he pointed his finger right in my face, making uncomfortably prolonged eye contact with yours truly. It felt like I was being chosen, or maybe Ty Segall sensed somehow that I was not yet a bleeding heart believer in his music. If that was the case, he turned that shit around immediately.

With a band that included King Tuff, Mikal Cronin, and Emmett Kelly (The Cairo Gang), Segall played the “crazed, unpredictable frontman” role very well, spitting at the audience and himself, wearing a terrifying baby mask, and making similarly awkward eye contact with other people in the crowd. Even as fans knocked down his mic stand, almost as a childish taunt, he played along like a pro.

This is my favorite live act of the year not just for the shock of enjoying a Ty Segall concert (and album), but also for the originality and humor in all of it. While groups like Animal Collective and Of Montreal take the visual and conceptual game to sometimes garish levels, Ty Segall managed to take a stripped-back approach to that same sense of weirdo-humor with a more successful result.

It sucks that there will probably never be a tour like Ty Segall’s Emotional Mugger tour again, because nothing will beat the euphoric surprise of being challenged by the man himself to try and have a bad time at this concert, only to fail. I had an amazing time at this concert, and Ty Segall and his band of Emotional Muggers were 100% of the reason why that was the case.

Band’s performance: 10/10

Personal experience: 10/10

Avg score: 10/10

Honorable mentions: Danny Brown, Everything Everything, Melt-Banana, SOPHIE, Sleep, Modern Baseball, Joyce Manor, Aesop RockVince Staples

Jakob Ross is Rainy Dawg’s 2016-2017 Music Director. Follow him on Twitter @jakobsross for rambling thoughts on music, politics, and random bullshit! 

Live Show Review: Jai Wolf

On Friday night, in
between a prolonged beat, Jai Wolf
stole my heart at The Showbox in downtown Seattle, and put his concert in my list of top 5 concerts. 

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The show opened with Ramzoid, an 18-year old from Canada, whose alternative electronic vibe was
refreshing. While electronic music is extremely common, his music pulled
everyone in. The second opening act was Jerry Folk, another person I had never heard of until that
night. I am glad to have heard him because his remixes were outstanding. This
one of Oh Wonder’s Lose It  and Years & Years’ Desire was definitely one of my favorite moments of the
night. 

Ramzoid and Jerry Folk
played on either side of the main stage. Leaving the main stage for the main
act: Jai Wolf. By the time he came
on, we had been waiting for almost 2 hours, but his show was worth the wait.
Right of the bat, he pulled the entire crowd into his music as everyone jumped,
and danced—swaying as a giant crowd. And as I looked around, I saw a sea of
people whose face had the same goofy grin I am sure I wore too.

Standing behind that
beautifully constructed stage, and using the disco ball in the middle of the
room, Jai Wolf’s entire concert was one that pulled the audience in.

In the middle of his set,
Jai Wolf reminded us this was his first show since his EP Kindred Spirits had
dropped and he was beyond excited to play for us—and near the end, we as a
crowd could tell he was overwhelmed. Yet, his dominance was unwavering. For a
minute there, he let the beat go on a little longer than it was supposed to as
he got emotional, and left the stage soon after to regain his composure.

But he was back in no more
than a minute, closing the show magnificently. He played his most commonly
known and greatest hit Indian Summer where I am guessing the confetti was
supposed to burst but didn’t, and so he said “I am going to pull a Kanye and
replay that last one for you.”

In between the tiny
mishaps and the amazing set, in the midst of confetti, the show was over
leaving us with an abundant memories of a night well spent.

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If you haven’t heard of
Jai Wolf, you should look him up: Facebook / Twitter/
Soundcloud.

Megha Goel

Check out more music and news from Rainy Dawg Radio @ RainyDawg.org!

Live Show Review: I Can’t Get Enough of Stanaj

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By the time 7:00 PM rolled around on Tuesday night, the line of concert-goers waiting to be let into the Showbox stretched around a corner and over block and a half. I talked to nearly everyone waiting in line before the show, and most of them weren’t aware of who R&B artist Stanaj was other than being the opener for SoMo. By the end of the night, I think the singer made quite the impression on the crowd as he showcased his good humor and impressive voice in a relatively short set of 7 songs.

Stanaj opened with “Goddess”, one of the four songs released on his first EP, The Preview.  The song started him off strong and showed many clueless members of the audience what they were in store for with him, as he belted out the lyrics “Love beyond the sky / When heaven and Earth collide” in falsetto during the song. He was able to perfectly set the tone for the night, which was decidedly sexy, and display his wide vocal range at the same time.

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The singer took a moment to address the crowd in front of him in between songs to talk about food poisoning and being sick, both of which he experienced the day before the show. He drew laughs from the audience when he went on about using throat spray for his voice due to his recent illness, and commenting that he wasn’t sure who he’d be kissing tonight because the throat spray tasted so awful. He kept up similarly playful “banter” with the audience throughout his time on stage, and this worked to create some rapport between him and the crowd and made his show, at least for me, pretty enjoyable even when he wasn’t singing.  

Stanaj continued the show with two more songs from his EP. “Romantic” was the slowest song of the night, and it worked nicely with the crowd’s energy. He also sang a personal favorite of mine, “Ain’t love strange”, which is really something else to hear live. I couldn’t get enough of his super smooth voice and emotional intensity on stage as he belted out “Maybe baby, I’ve seen crazier things / Stranger things have happened, how strange would it be / If I told you I believed you were made for me?”.

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He gave a sneak peek at a new song called “Meant to Be”, a slow, bittersweet ballad that included beautiful lyrics like “it must have been our names written in the stars”. Stanaj also did a cover of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” while playing the piano, a song which he said was one of his favorites to play. He has a cover of the song on YouTube, where he first started posting covers and was able to initially gain popularity through the platform. He humorously told the crowd, “It gets me in the feels bro” after finishing the song, which helped to lighten up the heavy, heartsick feeling permeating the venue when he finally finished the emotional song. He finished the set with the slightly more upbeat “Sleep Alone”, which is also on his EP. It served as a nice finale and definitely pumped the crowd up for SoMo’s following set.

Stanaj waited by his merch booth to meet people after show, and took pictures with fans as they waited to exit the venue. Though he might not be an influencer yet, his music is already catching the attention of fans and established artists alike. He has already been seen in circles with big music names like Drake and Chris Brown, and I can say after seeing one live show, I cannot wait to see what he has in store. My one complaint about the singer? He has only four songs out. I’ll definitely be watching out for new music from artist Stanaj. 

http://www.stanaj.com/ / YouTube

Stanaj- Ain’t Love Strange

-Kenzie Wamble

Check out more music and news from Rainy Dawg Radio @ RainyDawg.org!

Angus and Julia Stone Live at The Showbox

A throwback post right here guys! A few weeks back (Oct 12th to be exact)(or last month to be more precise), with two tickets, I got to watch Angus and Julia Stone live at The Showbox. We were ushered in at 7pm but it started out with a local opening act who was touring with them. They didn’t come out till 9.30pm so it was quite a wait!

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The four-pieced band came out and immediately started performing “A Heartbreak.” The ambiance of it all suddenly made me feel like I was in a ‘70s rock concert. The voice you listen to on your iTunes or Spotify of Julia’s voice was exactly the same when she performed live. Scratch that, even better! Angus, with his shabby facial hair in a cap and strumming his heart out on his guitar, was looking hella attractive. His voice was a great combination with Julia’s.

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One of the highlights of the night was when they agreed to play “Devil’s Tears” upon one of the audience’s request. Personally, their best performance was when they played their top hit “Big Jet Plane.” It was just goosebumps and feels for me from the start to end. Just when we thought the concert was over, the crowd was cheering for more. They came back on the stage and the siblings did a duet of the haunting lullaby “Santa Monica Dream.”

You would expect to be bored at a concert by a duo who usually sings slow indie rock songs. However, for a huge fan like me, it wasn’t boring at all. The beauty of Angus and Julia’s voices matched together followed by atmospheric background music playing was entertaining. It was everything I expected it to be and more! They’re definitely a duo to spot out for at any upcoming music festivals in Seattle.

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Ellisha “take me for a ride… on a Big Jet Plane” Rosli