The Year of Living Musically (Pt. 5) – Best Live Music Moments of 2014

The 2014 recap comes to an end with my attempted summation of the year I spent going to more live music than ever before. After the dust settled, I attended 111 shows that featured 257 bands. Now for the actuaries out there, my “show” accounting goes as follows: one “show” equals one event worth of live music. In other words, a single day of seeing multiple bands at Pitchfork counts as 1 show. However, I do keep a running tab of all the bands I saw over the year. Some acts I saw multiple times, such as the National (x4), Lucius (x3), Lydia Loveless (x3), Wilco (x3), but despite “repeats” it is fair to say that I saw at least 200 different bands last year. Not bad for these 37 year old bones that don’t get paid to go see bands or work in an industry that subsidizes my concert-going. While the volume might impress some, I am struck more by how many truly magical moments I experienced and to the wonderful company I had with me along way. (Thanks to all you crazy, lovely friends, who share in these adventures with me, especially the dance parties! You are special beyond words.) From tiny halls to outdoor festivals to historical theaters to overstuffed showcases, I had the amazing fortune to see some of the best musical minds of my generation (and those that came before and are coming up) perform. So here were my most memorable moments…

  • IMG_20140416_154441The National (w/ Daughter), April 15th at the Chicago Theatre – The opening night of the National’s four night sold-out residency at the Chicago Theater (I went to nights 2 and 3 as well) absolutely melted my rock n roll heart. No band packs their live performance with depth of emotion and dynamism like these gents from Ohio. I had the amazing fortune of being 7th row center and having an intimate experience with a band that plays to arena-sized crowds. Crowd pleasers like “Mr. November”, “Fake Empire”, and “Sea of Love” always get me going but the epic majesty of “Terrible Love” or the acoustic sing-along “Vaderlyle Crybaby Geeks” that have become staple show-closers are what soothe my soul.
  • IMG_20141008_224107Lucius, August 2nd at Lincoln Hall and October 8th at the Metro – Nobody knows how loud my heart gets when I hear this band. I absolutely fell in love (all over again) with this band in 2014. It is a thing of utter joy to watch these five folks perform on stage and to hear Jess and Holly’s mesmerizing harmonies on “Don’t Just Sit There” or “Two of Us on the Run”. Or, to watch them get worked up and dance with the crowd and crowd-surf on their backs while singing!?! Oh, and at the Metro show, Jeff Tweedy came out and performed an acoustic version of “Jesus, Etc.” with Jess and Holly on backing vocals (#swoon). It is hard to top that. Well maybe my making their way into the center of the crowd and closing with acoustic sing-alongs. Yeah, they are a treasure.
  • IMG_20140914_094532The Get Up Kids, September 13th at Riot Fest – Matt Pryor and company played all of Something to Write Home About to a crowd of kids that had likely Sharpie-d or tattooed every line of that record on to their adolescent skin. The entire crowd was scream-singing at the top of their lungs with fists in the air to every single moment. And, for a brief 40 minutes, it was as though everything was right with the world.
  • IMG_20140719_090901Sharon Van Etten, July 18th at Pitchfork – It is the rare moment when a songwriter can bear their soul and heart in front of thousands of eager festival attendees in broad daylight and have everyone quiet and attentive. Sharon and her band absolutely owned a Festival filled with artistic giants by doing what is most essential: making us listen.
  • Weezer, September 14th at Riot Fest – For all my disappointment with this band’s work since the Green Album, hearing Rivers playing the Blue Album from start to finish was another moment of having your youth injected back into your soul. From the angst of “My Name is Jonas” to the dreamy pining of “Only in Dreams”, all us 30 something aging rock/hipsters relived our heartaches and our first loves through a raucous sea of nostalgic bliss.
  • IMG_20140907_000753IMG_20140907_001710Sylvan Esso & the War on Drugs, September 6th at the Hideout Block Party – The Hideout Block Party is far and away my favorite Chicago festival because it has the feeling of community and home. Sylvan Esso wooed us by day and War on Drugs wowed us at night. For those unfamiliar, the Hideout Block Party tends to be more rock and country, yet Sylvan Esso got the day drinking crowd grooving with their sumptuous and sultry beats. Their live rendition of “Coffee” floored me. 2014 was the year of the War on Drugs, the band. Set against the backdrop of the Chicago skyline, these guys played a guitar jam infused show that made your remember why you love rock and roll and evoked a timeless quality.
  • Moments I never thought would happen at Riot Fest Days 2 and 3, September 12th and 13th – Seeing Patti Smith play “Because the Night” (dedicating it to her late husband Fred Sonic Smith of the MC5), Television play “Marquee Moon”, Billy Bragg play “New England”, and the Afghan Whigs play songs from n
  • IMG_20140721_095727Perfect Pussy, July 20th at Pitchfork – A blistering, non-stop, nothing-left-behind, bullet of a set with Meredith Graves pouring every ounce of her soul and heart into the songs. It was sweaty and tear-filled. This is how every punk rock show should feel.
  • The Front Bottoms and You Blew It!, July 11th at Concord Music Hall – …and speaking of energy.  Watching the kids (because it was an all-ages show) screaming back every single word of the punk/emo tinged rock of these two bands was life-affirming. I’m happy to know that teenagers can still rock out and scream at shows without having their phones in the air and appreciating the immediacy of the moment.
  • IMG_20141107_161221The Flat Five, November 6th at the Hideout – One of the most talented, joy-bringing, mirth-making collection of artists I have ever seen perform, and, thankfully I see them quite often. The five members of the band, which includes Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor, play in and around Chicago in many different permutations. This project is devoted to singing old pop classics and standards from your parent’s day. The songs may at times sound silly and simple (remember we lived in a more “nuanced” world back then) but they are filled with such wonder and joy.  If you live in Chicago, watching them perform is a must.
  • wilcoWilco, December 8th, 9th, and 11th at the Riviera – Speaking of Chicago based bands…. I again had the good fortune to see these guys play on multiple occasions this year. Watching them is utter joy. They are masterful musicians in every sense of the word and love playing and giving their hearts and soul to their fans. I can’t pick one night because each had its brilliant moments of digging back into their archives with new arrangements (e.g., an acoustic “Misunderstood” or a punk infused “Passenger Side”) or playing deeper less heard cuts (e.g., “Poor Places”, “Reservations”, etc.) and outtakes from 20 years of brilliant music making.
  • IMG_20140426_130659Lydia Loveless, April 25th and 27th at Schubas – I love a good country rock song and I adore female fronted bands. Two nights of whiskey and romance-infused rock songs with this young woman and her ferocious band nearly did me in, in the best way possible. Lydia’s songs are filled with raw and unabashed desire and yearning that will speak to every broken-hearted, pining, and hopeless romantic in the house. And, her covers of “The Killing Moon” and Ke$ha’s “Blind” were awesome.
  • IMG_20140504_234734Angel Olsen at Lincoln Hall, May 5th – Every time I see Angel perform it feels like an otherworldly experience. With a voice that will both intoxicate and haunt, her songs are confessions, indictments, reckonings, and ruminations of this mysterious and perplexing existence we lead.
  • IMG_20141026_013449Ex-Hex, October 25th at the Empty Bottle – These ladies simply put on the best adrenaline infused guitar rock show from start to finish of the whole year.
  • American Football with Braid, December 30th at Bottom Lounge – The last show of the year and possibly the most “beautiful” show too. Despite only one album to their name and nearly a decade and a half of dormancy, American Football packed the Bottom Lounge with “older kids” intoning every sing line of their album, a delicate and gorgeous collection of songs about growing up and ebbs and flow of love.

…and I couldn’t leave out these amazing shows too

  • Lykke Li at Lollapalooza, August 1st
  • St. Vincent at the Riviera, April 5th
  • The Hotelier at Township, March 15th
  • Neutral Milk Hotel at the Riviera, February 6th
  • Phox at Lincoln Hall, August 9th
  • Mutual Benefit at Brooklyn Vegan Party (SXSW), March 13th
  • Anthony Saint at Schubas, August 26th
  • Tycho at Concord Music Hall, April 10th
  • Waxahatchee at Empty Bottle, April 26th
  • Neko Case at Chicago Theater, May 13th
  • Chvrches at the Vic, July 31st
  • Cloud Nothings at Pitchfork Day 2, July 19th
  • Jon Hopkins at Pitchfork Day 3, July 20th
  • Blood Orange at Lollapalooza, August 1st
  • San Fermin at Lollapalooza, August 1st
  • First Aid Kit @ the Vic, November 22nd
  • James Vincent McMorrow at Lincoln Hall, March 27th

…and if you really want to see a list of all the shows, well here it is:

IMG_0135 IMG_0136 IMG_0137 IMG_0138 IMG_0139

And to all my friends that joined me at shows, to the bands I watched and chatted with after their performances, to the strangers I geeked out over music with or with whom I danced, to the young woman at Lolla that called me the best fan ever, to Chicago, and to all the faithful and kind readers, don’t ever forget…


yours in music,


2 thoughts on “The Year of Living Musically (Pt. 5) – Best Live Music Moments of 2014

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