Live performances are a composite. A blending of multiple diverse factors that can make or break a concert-goer’s experience and more importantly dictate how the artist’s performance is perceived. The surrounding audience, style of venue and speaker system are among many other things can deeply impact your personal take away from the show.
I’m Daniel McCarthy and I live by concert going. Living in San Francisco and frequenting Austin, I experienced over 50 concerts in 2014, cultivating a deep understanding of this nuance. And if there is one thing that I have learned is that the only thing to do in any concert scenario – embrace it. If you don’t you’re only going to worsen your experience.
Try telling the people around you to ‘stop’ or to ‘bring it down a level’. This is one of the worst possible things you can do at a show, inciting incident and making you the point of attack. If they ruin the experience enough for you to leave – they have now won and your memories of the event are now tarnished, regardless of who was performing. At a Geographer concert in San Francisco’s Bimbo’s 365 venue, Travis and I were front and center a full forty minutes before the start of the show, as planned. There was no one on stage, yet. No one. To my left was an overenthusiastic and camp concertgoer who kept shouting for Geographer’s front man, “Mike Deni! Mike Deni! Mike Deniiii!” For almost an hour, even when Mike came out to set up the set. I didn’t say anything – I know better at this point. The overenthusiastic energy and wrath of the camp enthusiast would have been directed at us the entire night. Luckily, Mike Deni ignored the shrieker long enough to silence him.
The layout, aesthetics, functionality, size, staff and style of the venue can also dramatically affect the performance. It can be an intimate venue such as The Continental Club in Austin, Texas or Bottom of the Hill here in San Francisco, where you can get up close and truly receive a full and personal performance, experiencing the message the artist is conveying through music. Alternatively, it could be a large venue, say a festival or arena – where most tend to be looking at a big screen, searching out those intimate moments.
The amount of influential factors out of the artist’s control is considerable; with that said – if you strip the performance to what the artist actually can control, you get the raw talent of the performers and you can really understand what they bring to the table. Taking that methodology, I created a list of the top true performers I was able to experience in 2014 (in no particular order), including photos that I took of the performances.
Here it is – The Top True Performers I Witnessed in 2014:
Chromeo – SXSW 2014 – Austin, TX
From the opening chant (CHRO-ME-OOOOOO) this 80’s inspired electronic synth duo puts on a show. Maintaining a high level of octane, frontman David Macklovitch aka Dave 1 commanded the stage with his Gibson Les Paul while Patrick Gemayel aka P-Thugg pieced everything together on his Mac and provided back-up vocals through a talk box. The band utilized a variety of instruments, including agogos, cow-bells and mini-timbales, creating a thrilling, dynamic, energy filled environment. It’s obvious Maklovitch and Gemayel are there for their fans, passionate about their music and poised to make sure everyone has a great time.
Song to Experience Live: Night by Night
Ella Eyre – Rickshaw Stop – San Francisco, CA
With a bedazzled microphone and signature locks, Ella Eyre captures your attention with her transfixing, exaggerated body movements and her powerful vocals. Under the stage name, Ella McMahon gives an intense performance where you’re going to have a hard time not getting involved and gyrating right next to her.
Song to Experience Live: If I Go
Meg Myers – The Independent – San Francisco, CA
Pure raw emotion.
Powerful lyrics that confess personal intricacies of her life, Meg Myers’ passion and fervor hits you straight in the face. The experience is a deep seated connection with the agonizing approach of her lyrics, the sometimes pop other times metal sounds paired perfectly with her dominating stage presence. Make sure you hold on and keep your eyes open – you will be shocked as Myers pours herself out in front of you.
Song to Experience Live: Monster
Skrillex – The Mezzanine – San Francisco, CA
You never know what to expect going to an EDM concert, but when it is Skrillex – you do not miss out. Sonny Moore stands behind a table full of the latest music gear, with a thrilling and spectacular visual experience built up around him. He masters building tension in his music and in the surrounding audience until he decides to release us into a high energy frenzy. His ability to maintain the level of octane at an all-time high is second to none. With this performer, you never know what you might get – so keep an eye out.
Song to Experience Live: Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites
Sir Sly – Rickshaw Stop – San Francisco, CA
As soon as the first note is released, all you can do is succumb to the transfixing performance happening before your eyes. Sir Sly is relatively new to the music game, but they know how to play it like the more veteran ensembles. The whole group looked as if they all had the same barber, which to be honest, made them look even more cohesive. Despite the synchrony, front man Landon Jacobs was the focal point – able to take over the stage with his body movement and steal the show through his presence alone.
Song to Experience Live: Gold
ASTR – Rickshaw Stop – San Francisco, CA
Give it up to producer Adam Pallin, who grabs your attention and refuses to let you go with his edgy beats and out of this world grooves, but the stage actually belongs to Zoe Silverman. The front woman takes over the room and comes at you like a Mack truck. Keep your expectations high, don’t be shocked by what’s served up, as they will leave it all out there on the table for you to see.
Song to Experience Live: Operate
Flume – Outside Lands – San Francisco, CA
Unfortunately, CHVRCHES cancelled their set at Outside Lands at the last minute – inciting most of their followers to migrate to the ambient electronic artist Flume, who was able to play in front of one of the largest crowds at a single stage in the history of the festival. Harley Edward Streten was the center of attention, putting everything on the table, playing a technically flawless set that engaged everyone from the front row to the end of the line. Purely. Amazing.
Song to Experience Live: A Baru in New York
SOHN – The Mezzanine – San Francisco, CA
Playing in almost complete darkness, with a few outward facing lights and plenty of smoke. Toph Taylor, aka SOHN, sets the mood quick. He will have you dancing the night away, until he decides to go a cappella. His voice stops you in your place – and has you appreciate his hypnotic tenor as he bellows before you. The hooded crooner can be mistaken for a classically trained vocalist as he hits near flawless timing and points.
Song to Experience Live: Artifice
Chet Faker – Treasure Island Music Festival – San Francisco, CA
Playing with the skyline of San Francisco during the west coast sunset, Nicholas James Murphy, or Chet Faker, took advantage of the environment around him and took us on a journey of soulful alternative Rhythm and Blues. He embraces the moment and the crowd, and the crowd reciprocates, following along the dynamic performer as he leads you through his repertoire of smooth and versatile tracks.
Song to Experience Live: Gold
Sam Smith – Haven – Austin, TX
There’s only one thing you can do with this virtuosic singer takes the stage – sit back and watch as he pours pure unadulterated emotion out for the world to see. Smith’s voice does all of the talking as he croons his evocative songs about unrequited and realized love. His wholesome songs will transport the audience into a dimension of heavy emotional gravity. Stay focused – because you will not want to miss a single note being sung by Sam Smith.
Song to Experience Live: Money On My Mind
Banks – The Independent – San Francisco, CA
With a rich noir blend of somber lyrics, slow building sultry beats and ghastly background sounds, Jillian Rose Banks, lurks around the stage, conveying the ache that is intertwined in her music. Lyrically on point, she grooves her hands in a delicate trance like manner, and maneuver’s her body in a sultry and hypnotic fashion. She commands a presence that is inescapable. This dark siren will captivate you, your eyes transfixed on her presence and her music leaving you stunned.
Song to Experience Live: This is What it Feels Like
MØ – Outside Lands– San Francisco, CA
Game, set, match.
MØ is the truest of performers I witnessed this year. Karen Marie Ørsted manages to put full, uninhibited emotion and energy within each and every lyric she serenades the audience with. Her electrifying performance will send voltages through your body, igniting an irresistible impulse to move right along with her. Her undeniable passion and intensity carries your attention, no matter the venue. She maneuvers around the stage with sultry grace and has a tendency to join the crowd, surfing the concertgoers, dancing alongside them or even singing directly to them (earning major bonus points). Captivating, MØ grabs your attention and denies return until hours after the concert.
MØ will never disappoint.
Song to Experience Live: Don’t Wanna Dance
Call to Action!
I encourage you, the next time you are at a concert, in order to get the full experience the performer is trying to provide for you: get front and center, understand the venue’s impact, put your blinders on, give the artist the attention they really deserve and you will encounter an unparalleled, viscerally engaging experience.
by Daniel McCarthy
Other notable, talented performers worth mentioning include:
The 1975 – The Black Keys – Glass Animals – Future Islands – Lo-Fang –
Local Natives – Outkast – MS MR – Phantogram – Watsky – Young the Giant
Let me know what you think.