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 @JayEssArr for rambling thoughts on music, politics, and random bullshit! 

New Album: Jaapur – Organic

Jaapur’s latest release starts out as a series of digital noise. Its momentum and tones feel like a throwback to the over-dubbed days of 8-bit remixes. A series of high and low pass filters add dynamics to the track, which make “Double Much.aac” an excellent introduction to the eclectic (yet satisfying) Organic.

The second track, “Conclusion.txt” starts out quietly as it, like the other songs on the album, plays off of the various computer file-naming conventions. Bass-heavy and trance-like, the contrast between synths and snares provides a basis on which to build a vibrant system of sounds. The melody alternates between instruments, each subsequent variation adding to the last. Towards the middle of the track, the rhythm becomes increasingly danceable, each instrument battling for its turn in the spotlight.

Following the quick-to-end instrumental that came before it, “Effigy.jpg” traces the line between highs and lows. Each synthetic instrument stays within its chosen scale – the unique sounds finding their individual places in the track. Various voices interrupt the flow, interjecting with plays on the name of the song. Although the bass line leaves something to be desired, the catchy chorus makes this track one of my favorites on the album.

The album continues in various forms, the tracks in themselves progressive as they build along with the broken pieces of the same theme. An occasional rap-track, featuring iamlogan and (most likely) Jaapur himself, can be found on the album – the flow, slow to match the tempo.

From disco beats to trance suites, Organic takes us back to a time before heavy-hitting bass lines ruled the boiler room. Be sure to take a good listen to the standouts (embedded below), “Akebono.flac” and “But Do You Know” which features Sarah Rain, Jaapur’s IRL sister, on vocals.

Organic by JaapurOrganic by Jaapur

Listen to the album and GET IT FOR FREE on Jaapur’s Bandcamp. To stay up to date, check him out on Facebook.

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DJ Desman