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! 

Sasquatch! 2015: Launch Party (Show Review)

Last weekend, I waited in line for two hours – playing guitar, drawing with strangers, and even taking a picture with “sasquatch”:

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Last Tuesday, I had the pleasure of using one of my (two!) free tickets to see a collection of chaotic, clever, and comedic acts. This was the Sasquatch Launch party – a random pageant of madness and fun that resulted in the release of the all-anticipated line-up!

Comedian, Chris Gethard, opened the show with an enthusiastic display of his tattoos and mental health issues. We laughed and he smiled, and we waited – through the sounds of Star Wars cantina music – for The Young Evils to perform.

Adorned in a Macklemore “My City’s Filthy” shirt, The Young Evils’ Mackenzie Mercer entered the stage, followed by Troy Nelson, Michael Lee, and Scott and Brendon Helgason. Slow at first, Lee’s guitar put us all into a trance – the band’s Black Sabbath-like breakdowns providing an outlet for us to rock out!

The Young Evils start off the show with a bang!

Their next few songs sounded like a surfer-pop weekend playlist with some Ramones thrown in. Mercer and Nelson stared at each other occasionally before turning to their mics to sing their teenage indie-gaze pop songs. “We keep running in circles,” they wailed over the wavy bass line.

Throughout their performance, The Young Evils maintained this surfer rock vibe. Mercer’s hands clapped to the innocuous rhythm. Buzzy and popping, Brendon’s bass led the rhythm – Scott’s drums keeping up with its dramatic kicks and snares. All the while, Mackenzie Mercer and Michael Lee enticed us with their solos as they sang and danced around the stage.

They played a brand new song to the audience’s enjoyment. Mercer came closer to the edge of the stage, the front row girls bobbing their heads to the rhythm. As the song continued to build, it would quickly move into The Young Evil’s characteristic breakdowns – hard and heavy chords breaking through deadly drums with electric guitar riffs thrown in haphazardly.

After thanking us, the band began a duet between the two frontmen.  "Dearly beloved,“ Nelson announced, "we are gathered here today to see the Tacocat, Ty Segall, and to see the rise of the scorch”

As we cheered in slight confusion, we picked up right back to where we left off. Bass shaking the floor, the frontmen sang in unison above crowd while short and sweet solos weaved in and out of the fluid verses.

Taking the maraca from the drummer, Mercer strutted to the front of the stage. She danced to the rhythm and her right hand joined in. While Michael Lee ooh-ed and aah-ed in the distance, the band sang in chorus until a quick switch sent the guitarist shredding as the song faded away.

Warped guitar and a reminiscent summer-time vibe filled the rest of the performance. After a quick announcement about what was coming up in the show, a melancholy guitar entered the mix. Despite lyrics like, “dead animals is what we’ll become,” the music brought us to life – the crowd moving their bodies with the tide of the music.

After a final song and a bit of cantina music (again), a Sasquatch montage video appeared before us. A distorted voice announced how amazing the festival was going to be before advertising ziibra.com/sasquatch – a media subscription that gives people a behind-the-scenes look at the building of Sasquatch!

Chris returned to the stage for another comedic break. He was astounded by how excited we get about free things. So, he “gave away free shit!” In response, one member of the audience screamed, “free stuff rules!”

Cue more cantina music (seriously, the same song), then along came Tacocat! Struggling to find their things in the dark, the band began to mic check and drink their beers. After the band tuned their instruments, bassist Bree McKenna described their first song to the applause of the audience.

The foursome did nothing but enthuse as they danced and sang in tandem

We all swung our hips and moved our lips in unison – oohs and ahhs echoing throughout the room. In a t-shirt and jeans, guitarist Eric Randall casually played until technical difficulties stopped him from doing so.

“We think the Neptune is haunted,” frontman Emily Nokes explained as Randall attempted to fix his amplifier. The awkward empty air provided a great time for stage banter as drummer Lelah Maupin recalled her favorite story about a cat that didn’t die. “The only lesson we have to learn from Bartok the Miracle Cat,” she concluded, “is that it proves that pet cemetery is real!”

Magically, the technical difficulties were resolved! “Fuck you Neptune…” Nokes yelled, “-ghost!” she quickly added with a smile. As the band played their breakout single, “Bridge to Hawaii”, orange lights reflected off of Emily’s watermelon dress and Bree’s bright white and studded guitar. Lelah danced in the rhythm, her head leading her body in waves of intensity.

After a quick break for a drink of beer, Tacocat started to play a more intense set as the song “sk8 or die” caused the audience to start to mosh. Lelah’s commentary broke up the intensity. “The only thing I remember seeing here was Juno…” she said. “Twice!” the Emily quickly added. “Twice,” Lelah responded.

“She has the soundtrack on vinyl,” Eric remembers to announce. With a turn and a smile, Lelah responded with a gleeful, “That’s true!”

With a laugh, the band started playing their next song like before – Bree’s bass moving our muscles and Eric’s guitar blowing our minds. All the while, simple riffs flew right by Emily’s voice as she danced in a ska-like jig.

“Psychedelic Quincerniera,” was announced by Bree through a smile. The whole time, Maupin kicked ass! Throughout the song, she never stopped moving, despite the infrequent discourse of the crackling guitar. Even through the continual technical difficulties, the song ended with with a big, trippy Mexican guitar riff.

Reveling in the awkwardness, The band made a series of jokes including “that signature tacocat sound… Crunch!” said through a Noke’s ear-to-ear smile.

“I have a joke!” Lelah announced, “The busty crustacean joke!” Those who had previously attended the band’s shows cheered – a member of the audience even giving the answer to the drummer’s innocuous riddle.

The set continued and crowd favorite after favorite caused us to reminisce and cheer. Occasionally a crackled guitar would scream out above the mix and we would smile with the lead singer as she commented on “how beautiful the Neptune was.”

Throughout the set, the guitar continued to crackle but Randall played through it, never ceasing his harmonies for Noke’s catchy melodies. Meanwhile, I found myself wondering how Maupin could be so cute yet so menacing! Her sparkles shaking off with every bead of sweat, she smiled maliciously as she sang, “this is anarchy” and other clever one-liners.

For their last song, a man-sized lobster joined the band on stage as he began to dance alongside Emily. The crowd went wild with energy, once again moshing in the center of the floor.

In a surge of energy, the band left the stage and the lineup announcement began. We cheered as familiar names scrolled across the screen and was met with the same enthusiasm as Chris, the comedian, re-entered the stage. In case you missed it yesterday, check out nilorap’s full coverage of the lineup in our Rainy Blawg article.

Chris Gethard presents us with more free stuff!

Ty Segall entered the stage with nothing but a hard-shell acoustic guitar case in his hand. Adjusting the mic to his guitar, he lets us know that he’d be playing an acoustic set. The guitar propped up on his knee, Segall kept his impeccable instrumental skill as he sang along so fluidly. Quieter than the other performers, Segall kept us interested with his unorthodox lyricism and devilishly detailed guitar parts.

Segall commanded the stage with nothing but a guitar and a notebook

He played us a bunch of songs, both new and old. From some that were untitled to favorites like “Crazy,” Segall never let down his Led Zeppelin demeanor and face that might as well be Kurt Cobain’s during Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged set.

“This song is about my girlfriend” he said, before forgetting the chords and starting over. We laughed as he continued to sing the song, “Sleeper.” He moved his capo around his guitar as he decided which songs to play. He played us stories on his guitar, his lyrics bringing us into his universe – where every moment is precious and every person has their own world of importance.

He stopped playing to continue his story, connecting it with yet another song. “she said she wants to buy a couch” he sings. We laugh at his humor which remained interspersed throughout his lyrics.

“I’m gonna keep going with this theme of consumption,” he finally states, “this one is called Manipulators.” We ooed with him between verses and reveled in his relaxed demeanor. At one point, a man in the front row – later to be known as Sean – requested his favorite song and Ty obliged, his casual niceness and cheer flowing out until the end of the event.

When I left the show, I felt like I had just been to a friend’s house. It was strange since the event was free and there was nothing keeping us there except our love of the music. These artists felt the same vibe and rocked with us throughout the night! If anything, this sort of approach to music performance gives me hope for the beautiful time that will be Sasquatch! 2015.

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DJ Desman