I’ll admit it, I am not into “list articles” ranking art seems artless to me. However, I am naturally feeling nostalgic at the end of 2014, a year that was particularly packed with mesmerizing musical performances. So, in no particular order, I found the following concerts quite exceptional.
Nick Cave at The Orpheum- Vancouver
There really is no one quite like him and although I try to challenge this notion to remain controversial and I can’t. He is the Adonis of rock and roll, the poet of punk and the Godfather of murder ballads. The comically Australian Renaissance man is on his 30th tour. Seeing him perform is like an uncomfortable counseling session with a psychotic genius. You are entirely emotionally exposed, you can’t help it and you kind of want to- like a self-conscious nudist. He captures the audience and holds them in his dirty palm. He has a massive bank of material to choose from in which he did so flawlessly. His voiced is drenched in distinctive contours and his long time band The Bad Seeds perfect the art of being loud but not noisy. The crowd was a pile of ominous graduated party punks. It seemed as though they all avoided blinking to prevent from missing out on a single moment of this rare occasion.
I was lucky enough to sit down with the man himself, he is as fascinating and intimidating as one might imagine at first. However, he gracefully un-packs his thoughts right before you. We talked about Tennessee Williams, French films and soup. I asked him when he wrote his first song in which he answered “With Alphagetti when I was 8” he didn’t flinch an inch.
Valerie June- Pickathon Music Festival- Happy Valley, Oregon
Valerie June is an exquisite and unusual woman from Tennessee. She is a rare blend of classic bluegrass and gut wrenching blues. She is best described as “ Organic Moonshine Roots Music”. Her voice can be heard from miles away both in volume and emotion. Her songs are stories that express the wretched corners of struggle, the quake of falling in love and tales about the past. Her songs can be sloppily danced to in the middle of the night with a glass of scotch and mascara running down your face or provide a perfect background to baking a pie- depending on the level of production, some of her songs where makeup, some of them don’t. Her performance got everyone sitting on haystacks mesmerized by the glimmer of her sequinned dress and arsenal of passion belting out of her gifted vessel.
Kishi Bashi – Bumbershoot Music Festival- Seattle
Kishi Bashi is Kaoru Ishibashi’s self recorded and produced project who also plays with Of Montreal and Regina Spektor. He is a unique and uplifting marvel currently outfitted with a stellar 4 piece band. Kishi Bashi Plays violin graciously yet gleefully followed with looping and estranged lyrics that mysteriously elevate the spirit. Kishi Bashi navigates the perfect balance of silly and stealthy. This is what music would sound like if Grizzly Bear and Yo Yo Ma had a child that ran a hot air balloon company in space. They played at the perfect point of the festival when your mind becomes more existential than you would like and you start questioning your life, Kishi Bashi took these thoughts and turned them into psychedelic origami-reminding you that you are exactly where you are supposed to be.
Nils Frahm at the Imperial- Vancouver
In the world of live music there are shows that fulfill a certain temporary void and choreograph exciting evenings accompanied with the sound of clanking glasses and shouting fanatics. Then there are concerts in which various fans buy tickets far ahead of time, go to a place they usually don’t and watch a 2-3 hour exhibit of why they are fans of this artist. Then there are sonic experiences that alter your senses and rearrange your mind so powerfully that you walk out with a completely different perception of the world-this is the kind of performance Nils Frahm achieved. The man is a maddened supernova, he seems possessed by the 18th century yet integrates a contemporary flare to his music that seeps out of his body. It’s as if a melodic apparition rattles through his veins and he needs to execute this force before he explodes. So, the young German man with over ten albums released in the past six years unraveled to his anesthetized audience for three luscious hours. He combines his rare approach to the grand and upright piano with a drum machine, Rhodes, Juno 60 and Moog Taurus. He does this with no looper, no computer and no playback. He is reminiscent of Brian Eno and Phillip Glass but certainly withholds his own dynamic sound such as playing the piano with toilet brushes and excelling at various rare instruments simultaneously right before your eyes. He attacks his piano keys like a wild beast with mallets for fingers and somehow flawlessly ethereal music is generated. The exceptional performance was punctuated by Frahm’s inconceivably humble anecdotes towards the audience. Vancouver’s Imperial was the perfect venue for this event, the sound, the lighting and the size gave the respect a performance like this deserves .As the show concluded, Frahm was drenched in his own mastermind perspiration and the audience with their drool. We had completed our ritual and were now reborn and unleashed into the leftovers of Friday night.
Sharon Van Etten at the Rickshaw-Vancouver
Van Etten is one of those amazing musicians that makes being sad awesome. The Brooklyn born babe takes your hand and walks you down the alley of tortured memories mostly consequential of bad relationships. She is an adorable, guitar slaying, song belting fire darling. She is complicated, dark yet inviting. This concert was on behalf of her release of “Are We There” which is a self-admitted break up album. This concept isn’t new and potentially dangerous, however she is able to understand the implications of heartache in a progressive and self-reflective way. Her melodies are moods and her instrumentation is intellect.
St. Vincent at the Commodore-Vancouver
Annie Clark- the singer, songwriter and guitar shredder behind St. Vincent is an ever-evolving maddened genius whether people like it or not. Some fans stick to the early stuff and declare “ I liked her before she was cool” This argument is never particularly worthy and especially isn’t in this case. I state that because St. Vincent is stranger and less radio friendly than ever. This tour is on behalf of her fifth studio album which is self titled. She has become performance artist that maintains her brilliance in a musically, emotionally and artistically generous concert. She sings like an angel and plays guitar like an old bluesy man from Texas. She moves her body with reckless abandon yet looks like a ballerina. She is bizarre, beautiful and bold all at the same time and we need to just accept that.