Music

These Are NYC’s Best Live Music Moments of 2015

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We came, we saw, we grooved, we gyrated, we moshed, we headbanged, we crowdsurfed, we cried: 2015 is over, and it was exhausting and worth every moment spent singing along at a concert instead of sleeping. From Miguel’s steamy T5 set to Paul McCartney’s Valentine’s Day serenade to Grace Jones’s epic evening AFROPUNK, here are our favorite live music moments of the year.

D’Angelo at the Apollo | February 7, 2015

The front row at the Apollo was privy to not only a fantastic view of the elusive r&b crooner for his much-anticipated return to the stage, but his direct affection as well: D’Angelo spent a hefty portion of his two-and-a-half-hour set extending himself over the divide between his stage and the outstretched hands of his adoring public, making contact with as many audience members as he could while working through the tracklist of Black Messiah and selections from his adored catalog. Last week’s Saturday Night Live performance had D’Angelo rolling through “Really Love” and “Charade” squarely behind the microphone and unapproachable, but the distance effected by ceremony and broadcast television wasn’t there at the Apollo. D’Angelo showed up in Harlem ready to get intimate, and you can’t get close to someone without touching them, without caressing them, without entwining your fingers with theirs. And while it was a given that many would be moved by Black Messiah and the sultry notes brought into being by D’Angelo and the Vanguard, the extent to which he’d touch the crowd surpassed expectations. — Hilary Hughes

Janelle Monaé at the Highline Ballroom | August 13, 2015

Janelle Monáe and the entire roster of her Epic imprint Wondaland took the Eephus Tour to Chelsea’s Highline Ballroom last night. The brief national jaunt is ostensibly a mission to promote their upcoming EP, also called The Eephus, but the outing has what you might call ulterior intent. Before the show, Monáe and her crew protested in Times Square against police brutality. This wasn’t novel to New York, as videos of “Classic Man” singer Jidenna chanting, “Michael Brown, say his name!” in a crowd in Philadelphia popped up on social media the day before. While the Times Square demonstration was unfolding, “Hell You Talmbout,” a percussive, gospel-tinged loosie, was unveiled, which features all of Wondaland naming victims of violence and abuse at the hands of police officers à la Jidenna’s Philly protest. The Eephus Tour may be how Monáe is getting the word out about her artists, but it is also brilliantly orchestrated traveling political action. But this is certainly not a ruse… – Claire Lobenfeld

Blur at the Music Hall of Williamsburg | May 1, 2015

Save for a short encore, the set was composed wholly of songs off Blur’s new album, The Magic Whip. The work is, true to Britpop form, a bit of a disjointed affair, with Gorillaz-ready vibes and The Good, the Bad & the Queen–appropriate fare butting up against arrangements harking right on back to Parklife, though the live setting, as ever, offered a forum in which the higher-tempo numbers could shine brightest. Jaunty leadoff track “Lonesome Street” made for a fitting opener, Damon Albarn confessing to his particularly English variety of self-doubt (“What do you got?/Mass-produced in somewhere hot/You’ll have to go on the Underground/To get things done here”) as the rest of the crew bopped and bounced merrily. Nor did the slower cuts sap any of the gig’s momentum, though they did occasion a whole lot of phones and Instagramming and then other people bitching vocally about all the phones and Instagramming. Of The Magic Whip’s gentler jams, “New World Towers” carried over just as prettily as it appears in album form, and “My Terracotta Heart” represented a slow-it-down-and-warm-it-up high point. (Doesn’t that song scratch precisely the same itch as Radiohead’s “Nude”? And — seriously — doesn’t it do it better, in all its pseudo-jazz emo desperation?) Oh, and how about the 13-y semipsychedelia of “Thought I Was a Spaceman,” with Graham Coxon taking that extended coda, howling into the vocoder, whammying the night into pure rapture? — Mike Laws

Björk at Carnegie Hall | March 7, 2015

Björk’s performance was full of appealing contradictions: It was at once soul-baring and withdrawn, coy and fierce, unhinged and refined. While delivering a powerful and perfectly controlled vocal performance (no vestiges of the vocal polyps that troubled her following the Biophilia tour), she marched and skipped along in front of the half-moon of string players like a drill sergeant or the picker in duck-duck-goose. She arched back and delicately pliéd while wearing a spiky, Hellraiser-esque headdress and restrictive white gown. Assertive lines demanded finger wags at the offending “him” (“Show me emotional respect”) or a fist raised in solidarity with those who have been in her shoes (“I refuse, it’s a sign of maturity/To be stuck in complexity/I demand all clarity”). In the concert’s second, more upbeat half, she danced in a style that was somewhere between the spirited flailing of her onetime collaborator Thom Yorke and the stylized, atavistic moves of her British progenitor Kate Bush. Sometimes, she would become distracted, turning her back to the audience as she took in the sound of the band or focused on a difficult vocal passage. — Winston Cook-Wilson

Romeo Santos at the Barclays Center | July 12, 2015

…Santos didn’t need to pronounce his own greatness. He didn’t need a crown-adorned microphone stand to show himself as musical royalty, either. Kicking off with Formula Vol. 2 opener “Inocente,” Santos immediately proved himself as a consummate showman with a razor-sharp focus on how to balance being a bandleader and a superstar heartthrob. When he wasn’t gyrating across the stage or engaging with his band members and backup singers, he was talking to the crowd — and not just to hype them up. About every thirty minutes in the nearly three-hour set, Santos targeted someone in the first few rows of the arena and had a moment with him or her. Mostly, it was to flirt — at one point he took a woman’s cellphone to film himself and his band, only to ultimately go for a close-up on his nether regions; later, another audience member shared her beer with him — and to tease men about stealing their dates. It was the kind of closeness that was missing from last summer’s full-house doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. The relative intimacy of Barclays provided more access to Romeo’s gritty loverman stylings than the special-guest-packed celebratory marathon of those 2014 concerts. But this is always how Santos shines: He doesn’t require visual spectacle. — Claire Lobenfeld

Kendrick Lamar at Terminal 5 | November 2, 2015

Running through To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar performed for almost two hours, occasionally relating to the audience how his life changed after the release of good kid. It’s hard to tell if Lamar actually likes performing, as he still does it with relative unease, but that might also have something to do with the freighted meatiness of his message. He is victorious because he can be hyper-lyrical without being pretentious and can turn a song about severe depression into five minutes of jubilation. The party that broke out during “i,” “The Blacker the Berry,” and, of course, “Alright” hailed not just from the bump of the tracks, but from the portrait they paint of modernity and the release one needs when dealing with such ugly realities while the world continues to deny so many truths. Ultimately, this negated whatever the show might have suffered for being relocated from Webster Hall to Terminal 5. And giving more people that opportunity to feel liberated for a few hours — or, perhaps, to hear something from Kendrick Lamar they hadn’t really understood before — well, so much the better. – Claire Lobenfeld

Rudimental at Webster Hall | September 29, 2015

Joy is a contagious thing, and for a band like Rudimental — the unapologetically positive electronic outfit straight off of East London’s Kingsland Road — it sustains them through an impressive array not only of vocal and musical acrobatics, but physical ones as well. Though the group’s nucleus is found in the quartet comprising Piers Aggit, Amir Amor, Kesi Dryden, and DJ Locksmith (a/k/a Leon Rolle), Rudimental’s touring operation expands to include three walking sets of super-lungs (backup vocalists Anne-Marie Nicholson, Bridgette Amofah, and Tom Jules), a brass blast of a horn section (trumpeter Mark Crown and sax slayers Taurean Chagar and Will Heard), and an absolute maniac of a drummer (Beanie Bhebe). From the get-go, the members of Rudimental don’t just play with each other, but play with each other, as though their infectious dance anthems were games of tag set among stacks of instruments and amps. Locksmith eggs his bandmates on, getting in the face of Nicholson or vibing off the bassline Dryden’s putting to work on his keytar. Aggit rushes the drum kit only to grab cymbals and crash them like some wind-up monkey on a bender; Bhebe, in turn, takes the towel thrown over the protective Plexiglas divider on the other side of his snare and whacks Amofah with it when she isn’t looking. Nicholson, Amofah, and Jules make their way to center stage for their various solos, attempting to teach the the horn players how to dougie in between octave-leaping swells and r&b grooves that deserve their own spotlight. By the time they’ve reached “Free” — their so-uplifting-you-sprout-wings collaboration with Emeli Sandé that fanned the fire of their popularity following their 2013 debut, Home — Rudimental’s various players have lapped the stage, picked up and put down several instruments, and tripped over their own feet laughing all the while. They’re one of the few bands who enjoy the party they’re throwing as much as the audience before them does. Rudimental are a band that practices what they preach, and what they preach is the gospel of positive vibes. – Hilary Hughes

Miguel at Terminal 5 | August 2, 2015

Another way he expressed his appreciation for his fans occurred before Wildheart centerpiece “what’s normal anyway.” Explaining to the crowd the alienation he felt growing up half-Mexican, half-black, he revealed that the backdrop — which had mostly rotated between celestial landscapes and portraits of his heavily tattooed chest — for the song would be a collage of photos his fans sent him so he could see the diversity of his audience. Miguel, ultimately, has more hippie in him than most r&b singers who write lines like “I wanna fuck like we’re filming in the Valley,” but he was able to strike a balance in between so much overly positive stage chatter. At one point, Tupac’s “I Get Around” played as Miguel and his guitarist rapped to each other before they transitioned with the lyric “Don’t be picky, just be happy with this quickie” into Miguel’s All I Want Is You track “Quickie.” It was a real boon for fans who have been there since the beginning. – Claire Lobenfeld

Cannibal Corpse and Behemoth at Webster Hall | February 28, 2015

This was technically a co-headlining tour, so both Cannibal Corpse and Behemoth played for the same amount of time (roughly 50 minutes each), but Cannibal Corpse made substantially more of their relatively limited time onstage. They opened with one of their slowest songs, “Scourge of Iron,” as though warming the crowd up before a workout. And frontman George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher fits the role of coach or drill instructor: He’s an astonishing physical presence, big and bulky, with a neck the size of the average person’s thigh. He pinwheels his hair in precise circles every time the music speeds up, and barks the lyrics out like bullets. Behind him, his bandmates — guitarists Rob Barrett and and Pat O’Brien, bassist Alex Webster, and drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz — crank out the riffs, barely paying attention to the crowd at all. I don’t think I saw Webster’s face the whole night, as he bobbed his head above his instrument. The setlist was mostly drawn from their recent albums, with three tracks from this year’s A Skeletal Domain — “Kill or Become,” “Sadistic Embodiment,” and “Icepick Lobotomy” — coming in a row at the end of the first half. But a few classics surprised and excited the crowd, particularly “Stripped, Raped, and Strangled,” from 1994’s The Bleeding, and “I Cum Blood,” from 1992’s Tomb of the Mutilated, introduced by Fisher as “a love song…about shooting blood out of your cock.” Ultimately, they played fourteen songs with ruthless efficiency, never stopping for more than a few seconds. Fisher’s stage banter was limited to demanding that the crowd mosh harder, or headbang as fast as he could: “You will fail, but you can try.” — Phil Freeman

Madonna at Madison Square Garden | September 16, 2015

The name of the game of Madonna’s Rebel Heart Tour — or its Madison Square Garden stops, anyway — isn’t necessarily New, but Nostalgia. (She said so herself multiple times throughout the evening, referring to the performance she delivered on the same stage 30 years prior and shouting out members of the audience who were present for both MSG gigs.) Her Madgesty, Our Lady of Divine Reinvention, has changed everything from her gait to the genres she taps for inspiration with every passing album, from the rhinestone urban cowgirl stylings of Music to the cross-and-“Vogue”-bearing Like a Prayer to the lace-clad gyrations of Like a Virgin and more. In the 32 years since the release of her self-titled debut, Madonna’s biennial self-expression change-ups have become as dependable as the changing of the seasons, though recent forays like 2012’s MDNA and her latest offering, Rebel Heart, see her enjoying experiments with current trends instead of pioneering them. For her, revolution is routine, and it’s been that way from the start. – Hilary Hughes

FKA twigs at RBMA | May 19, 2015

A decade before she began inspiring breathless admiration with her series of minimal, glitchy, r&b-tinged singles (and their accompanying videos, brimming with a raw — though often metaphorical — sexuality), FKA twigs came up in London dance clubs, starring in a number of pop-music videos as a backup dancer. With the release of last year’s critically acclaimed LP1, twigs shifted from the shadows into the spotlight, sharply chronicling her move to stardom on one of the album’s standout tracks, “Video Girl.” More akin to eccentric performance artist than traditional pop singer, twigs produces work that defies categorization while defining her own unique sensibility. As a celebration of all that, FKA twigs performed three sold-out nights of her electrifying, choreographed epic “Congregata” in a Brooklyn warehouse, part of Red Bull Music Academy’s brilliantly curated annual NYC takeover. “Congregata” is a Latin word for “coming together,” and in that spirit, twigs collects all the elements and inspirations that have shaped her career and her work — most notably, her closest friends from London’s dance scene, who performed a kind of contemporary dance–meets–vogue competition that the audience may have been unlikely to come across otherwise. The entire show was built around this collusion of bodies and expression through movement, with FKA twigs playing both a central role and, more than once, sitting back and letting each of her dancers shine in their own right, including a showcase of voguing legends that brought the house down midway through the set. — Lindsey Rhoades

The Lone Bellow | November 13, 2015

On November 13, at about 10 p.m., the Lone Bellow sang a Paul Simon song and wept. The song — “Slip Slidin’ Away” — wasn’t some impromptu addition to the setlist, no cover turned off the cuff. The folks-rockers have departed their Brooklyn homestead time and again this year to tour in support of Then Came the Morning, which among other things has afforded them the chance to perfect their take on the tune, one show at a time, with Kanene Pipkin, Brian Elmquist, and Zach Williams reshaping Simon’s buoyant melody into a desperate, devastated ballad. To perform the number, the trio convene at the microphone at center stage. Their elbows or shoulders occasionally bump. When they hit the hard parts, the force of their voices ripples the eyelashes and folds of one another’s faces. With Pipkin in the middle and the men on either side, the members of the Lone Bellow navigate what’s become both lullaby and solemn farewell as one — the vocal swells, the emotional fry, the lyrics’ poignant nostalgia: the things that might have been. It’s a popular sing-along moment in the show, the chorus typically sung back to the band upon each repetition, as if in a round. But on November 13, when the final chorus came to an end and the sold-out crowd at Webster Hall, having done its part, erupted in a hooting, hollering cacophony, the three players didn’t return to their respective microphones, as they usually do. Instead of reaching for their mandolins and guitars for the next song, the three friends reached for each other, embracing before breaking apart, facing the back of the auditorium and taking a moment as, rather than ready for the next chord, they wiped away tears. The lyric the information’s unavailable to the mortal man had hit a little too close to home on this night. So had everything else surrounding the simple act of standing in that room with open, eager ears. – Hilary Hughes

Shamir at the Music Hall of Williamsburg | June 18, 2015

…At the Music Hall of Williamsburg, Shamir played what he said was his “biggest show in North America to date,” and his excitement over that fact was both palpable and infectious. Still, Shamir has an extremely charming air of nonchalance, a matter-of-factness born out of unassailable confidence buoyed to extremes by the unmistakable admiration in the room. It wasn’t quite the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, but the diverse audience made their enthusiastic support no secret, taking every opportunity to cheer, sing along, and of course boogie. Supported by live drums, a keyboardist, and a female backup vocalist whose voice occupied a register slightly below his own, Shamir started the set with relatively minimal album opener “Vegas.” The ode to his hometown made perfect sense as a launching point, its slow build reflective of the slightly sinister promises held in its lyrics. It’s also a great reference point for what’s influenced Shamir the most; like Sin City, the performer is imbued with a flashy allure that never falters but is hard to contain. He wasted no time in getting the party started, with the appropriately titled DFA-esque romp “In for the Kill” exploding into his standout single, “On the Regular.” The response was immediate: hands waving in the air, the audience spitting every sassy word of the self-hyping anthem that broke Shamir wide open. Waving a finger at the crowd while crooning his most genius line — “Don’t try me, I’m not a free sample” — Shamir never missed a beat, and neither did anyone watching; when he turned the mic on the Music Hall for its final “This is me on the regular, so you know,” everyone knew it indeed. — Lindsey Rhoades

Thunderbitch at the Knitting Factory | October 16, 2015

Thunderbitch is rounded out by members of Clear Plastic Masks and Fly Golden Eagle; Howard’s strengths onstage are complimented by the surgical precision with which they shake their tambourines and make their bass lines strut and guitar solos scream. (Andrew Katz is a great foil for Howard’s Thunderbitch and served up rough-around-the-edges-Jagger moves for days.) Alabama Shakes brings out the best in Howard as a songwriter and singer, while Thunderbitch shines a brighter glare on Howard as a rock deity, a tempest of a temptress, a sage performer who sees the value in a bit of fun and can’t help but beam while singing songs fueled by backyard bonfires and an ample supply of cheap beer. Howard has long since proven herself as a rocker to watch, and “Hold On” remains a favorite with die-hard fans and new listeners alike. But Thunderbitch is a thoroughly enjoyable detour that further drives this point home, so here’s hoping projects like this keep Howard front and centerstage in between albums and sold-out tours with Alabama Shakes. The sounds of yesteryear can’t sound stale or tired when they’re helmed by a woman with a throat of fire and the guitar chops to back it up, and that’s what separates Thunderbitch from the pompadour-sporting guys who keep reviving the tricks of Chuck Berry, Elvis and other vintage rockers in spades. – Hilary Hughes

Alessia Cara at the Bowery Ballroom | August 26, 2015

Cara is a natural, confident performer, striding purposefully across the stage, punctuating verses with a casual sweep of her arms, holding out the microphone for the audience to sing back choruses they heard for the first time just a few minutes earlier. She transformed “Sweater Weather” from the starchy alt-rock band the Neighbourhood into a slice of lithe R&B, skipping across its syllables and shifting the cadence of its verses until it was difficult to imagine anyone singing it but her. In the smoky doo-wop throwback “Outlaws,” her voice dipped and swooped, finding odd crannies within the off-kilter percussion to wriggle through. And though she introduced it as a song about standing by the ones you love, it too was tinged with an air of defiance: “You’ll never face the judge without me / You’ll never battle the gavel alone / and if they lock us away, then I’ll be still here proudly / waiting to kill more time with you.” Her voice is suited to this kind of material. Moving effortlessly from classic-soul rasp to commanding, full-throated roar, it conveyed resilience and determination. There’s a touch of torch singer in her lower register, which makes it all the more striking in the rare moments when Cara turns loose its full power. Nowhere was this more evident than in “Seventeen,” a powerhouse pop song with an irresistible whoa-oh-oh hook and lyrics that face head-on the panic of growing up. Cara nimbly hopscotched her way through the verses, but when it hit the chorus, the music dropped out and Cara summoned her strength and soared all the way up to the top of her register, filling the room without breaking a sweat. It was a stunning moment, and before she could make it to the second verse, the room erupted in applause. Magic in the making, indeed. – J. Edward Keyes

Grace Jones at AFROPUNK | August 22, 2015

Pink clouds rippled across the night sky as Grace Jones took the main stage. There is a reason she is considered a legend, an icon, and a visionary. Her presence is commanding, and not just for the depth and power of her voice; truly, what she does on stage is rooted in performance art more so than simple vocal exercise. Her costumes were impeccable, appearing first in a dark cloak and shimmering gold facemask, part skull, part sunburst. As her set went on she removed these pieces, eventually wearing not much more than bodypaint, a corset, and a chainmail headdress, while hula-hooping continuously through her final songs. Vivid, awe-inspiring, and totally unique, Jones made for the perfect headliner, embodying the embrace of eccentricity, body positivity and acceptance that AFROPUNK espouses. And hits like “My Jamaican Guy,” “Slave to the Rhythm” and “Pull Up to the Bumper” saw her meld her Caribbean heritage with dance trends that have endured in pop music as long as she’s been a part of it. – Lindsey Rhoades

5 Seconds of Summer at Nikon Jones Beach | September 1, 2015

The set ended with a cover of the Romantics’ power-pop anthem “What I Like About You,” a song about a decade older than the band’s eldest member. It’s a hit that’s had an interesting life, with endless covers and new people to find new affirmation within it. It echoes the power of 5 Seconds of Summer themselves: They’re not reinventing the wheel here, but they’re perfecting their own prototype. This show and this band will continue to serve as the first show and first favorite band for many, many people in the years to come. They’ll continue to lay a foundation for decades of music fandom and taste, and kids will remember these songs for the rest of their lives. Critical legitimacy? Who needs it when you’re helping kids find their passion with a single song? – Maria Sherman

Azealia Banks at Irving Plaza | May 11, 2015

Beaming, Banks wasted no time, easing instantly into “Idle Delilah.” Gliding across the stage in sequins, hair flowing, Banks’s presence was majestic and eagerly affirmed by her adoring audience. By the time “Gimme a Chance” began, the dance floor was teeming with movement, with nearly every fan dutifully mouthing along to each line of Banks’s clean-cut diction and rhythmic genius. The vogue-ready intro to “1991” gave way to “Liquorice,” which forced even the most stoic of showgoers into a state of unabashed awe. “JFK” premised the ominous pulse of “Heavy Metal and Reflective,” which was greeted with collective exhilaration. “BBD” and “Wallace” were similarly received, the audience’s enthusiasm building as each second passed. Banks’s latest single, “Ice Princess,” rendered the venue willingly sweaty and out of breath as her fans pushed their way closer toward the stage without missing a single word of the track. Despite the generally well-mannered crowd, a brief, but quickly squashed, fight sprang up toward the right of the stage. Immediately — and gracefully — Banks admonished the instigators, assuring them that there was no place for their behavior at her show. The beat dropped and the show continued, “Luxury” and “Miss Amor” turning the focus back on Banks. — Dianca Potts

Ghost at Terminal 5 | September 22, 2015

Move over, Pope Francis, there’s a new pope in town. Sure, Papa Emeritus III’s miter may bear an upside-down cross, and the word “Lucifer” may be intoned onstage with seeming glee, but Ghost’s own front-pope held the Sunday-night masses in thrall with his rock ‘n’ roll benedictions and stately bearing. There was Latin; there was swooning (sweatily, with metal horns thrust aloft); there were men, women, and children of all ages lustily intoning, “Belial, Behemoth, Beelzebub, Asmodeus, Satanas, Lucifer” from the song “Year Zero.” Are Ghost calculated? Yes. Are they shticky? Yes. Are they good? YES. Listen if you like anthemic, melodic Euro-metal with shades of Marilyn Manson (the intensity of a “Beautiful People”), Queen (grandiose layers of sound), and (the campy vibe of and Paul Williams’s stellar songs from) cult film Phantom of the Paradise. The Swedish-born band — rounded out by “nameless ghouls” on bass, drums, keys, and two guitars — strode onto a stage bathed in bloody red light, then launched into “Spirit,” the first song from their new, third album, Meliora (Latin for the pursuit of something better). – Katherine Turman

Sleater-Kinney at Market Hotel | December 16. 2015

…Last night was the fourth in a row that Brownstein invited her Portlandia co-star Fred Armisen onstage for a rollicking rendition of the B-52’s kitschy classic “Rock Lobster” during an encore that also included “Call the Doctor” and “Dig Me Out.” Again, the floors threatened to buckle. Armisen wore a black t-shirt with white letters that spelled out ANOTHER LADY FOR KATIE, referring to the band’s recent addition of keys-smith Katie Harkin, who said last night in a bit of stage banter that this year has been the best of her life. The tees are a play on the fan-made JANET FUCKING WEISS garments that have been circulating; that tee also spawned a FUCK CARRIE KILL? version that references Brownstein in the context of the hypothetical who-would-you-rather game, and a newly minted WHORIN’ FOR CORIN tee (which Brownstein wore all night). It cannot be stated enough that Sleater-Kinney’s impact on rock ‘n’ roll is absolutely essential. They’ve never compromised their sound, politics, or work ethic, using the hiatus to pursue personal projects, each with their various merits. But there is little that compares to the magic that happens when they come together. On the foggy back window — the one behind the band that looked out onto the Myrtle-Broadway JMZ platform, where the trains rocketed ceaselessly by, for once dwarfed by a different kind of thunder — someone had scrawled an S, a K, and a series of hearts in the condensation. By now it will have evaporated, just like this remarkable comeback tour that Sleater-Kinney fans have been blessed with. But the band has left a permanent impression on the Market Hotel, imbuing it with the ecstatic joy that comes from a fortuitous rebirth, one Sleater-Kinney certainly know a thing or two about. – Lindsey Rhoades

Carly Rae Jepsen at Irving Plaza | November 11, 2015

Before performing another one off Emotion, bright spot “L.A. Hallucination,” she explained that when she first moved to the city, she would end up getting drunk and start insulting it to the natives because she hated to live there that much. Certainly the crowd was already in her palm, but this moment cemented the love. Another NYC-only surprise was a cameo from Dev Hynes, who came out to perform their John Hughesian collab “All That.” Genuine warmth was the mode of the night, one that didn’t even require a performance of “Call Me Maybe” to feel complete. Jepsen’s music is a pure reflection of the many hues that love comes in, free from bitterness because it’s made by someone who has been through enough to know that after we hurt, we heal, and the cycle is worth repeating. She did, of course, include “Call Me Maybe” in her encore — unsurprisingly, it was not as commanding as cuts like “Your Type” and “Warm Blood” — and what was most remarkable about it was how she didn’t seem to be tired of the song. It did, however, beg the question, Why isn’t she being booked at larger venues which she would just-as-likely sell out? Or, perhaps, even asking this question is like biting the hand that feeds you — Jepsen doesn’t require fireworks-enabled spectacle because she only needs to be herself. And the closer one can be to that, the better. – Claire Lobenfeld

Korn at Irving Plaza | October 5, 2015

As Korn’s set began, Irving Plaza seemed to shake with the reverberations of cheers and screams, with many members of the audience proclaiming, “This is epic!” Performing before a backdrop reminiscent of their music video for “Freak On A Leash,” the band’s mere presence sparked subsequent minutes of joyous applause. Beginning with “Blind,” Korn’s performance felt timeless, each song rounding out with a visceral weight and audible precision, proving to any skeptics that nu metal is an art form in its own right. As “Blind” led to latter tracks like “Need To” and the undeniably infectious “Clown,” the energy brewing between frontman Jonathan Davis and his fellow bandmates was tangible. The crowd seemed to hang on every movement of the set, their shouts and cheers rising in volume as Davis played the intro to “Divine” on bagpipes and rising again during the chorus of “Shoots and Ladders.” As countless generations of Korn fans moshed, thrashed, and threw their arms in the air, the band seamlessly played through one of the Nineties most memorable albums with an unwavering level of energy and finesse. – Dianca Potts

Jason Isbell at the Capitol Theatre | May 20, 2015

His intensity never wavered, but some of Isbell’s strongest moments are fueled by the megawatt might of the 400 Unit behind him, his band of insane players that happens to include the Slash of accordionists. (That’s the kind of gusto Derry deBorja played that wheezing organ with, anyway.) “Flying Over Water,” “Codeine,” and “Alabama Pines” buoyed Isbell through warm sing-along moments; the unfurling waltz of “Decoration Day” and drive of “Never Gonna Change” had Isbell favoring his solos over his vocal lines and nodding reverently to his Drive-By Truckers days. The transition between Isbell’s tried-and-true road staples and the songs he’s still finessing was fluid, with the crowd clamoring for Southeastern tracks as much as it did for the throwbacks. But “Cover Me Up” — the halved, bleeding heart of Southeastern — was the undeniable set highlight, the peak of Isbell’s might as both a writer and a performer. “Cover Me Up” is a raw, down-on-his-knees declaration of love and commitment, one that’s definitively transcendent when singer-songwriter and violinist Amanda Shires, his wife, joins him onstage, and their performance at the 2014 Americana Music Honors & Awards reflects that. Shires wasn’t at the Capitol last night, but Isbell soared over those notes, letting his voice grow hoarse when the song called for it and hypnotizing the crowd from the front row to the back of the balcony. After a particularly passionate rendition, a guy by the bar screamed “GOD DAMN!” at the top of his lungs, and the titters of laughter that rippled around him weren’t of a teasing sort — if anything, they were in nervous agreement and too timid to voice their approval in the same way for fear of breaking the spell of Isbell. — Hilary Hughes

Paul McCartney at Irving Plaza | February 14, 2015

The pleasure and miracle of McCartney’s Irving Plaza show wasn’t just the fact of his presence, as you might expect. It was how, throughout the first hour or so, these songs seemed to stir such emotion in him. The simpler the lyrics, the better: “All My Loving,” “Another Day,” “It’s So Easy to Fall in Love,” and “I’ve Just Seen a Face” received crisp, airy treatments, his vocals buoyant, his whooing still delicious. (Throughout the night, the cheery polymath played guitar, piano, and a sporty Hofner bass.) By the time the Beatles got around to recording it, “The One After 909” seemed a nostalgic toss-off, a train song rocketing back from troubled 1969 to when the band, and the Sixties, had the whole world before it. (He wrote it, he has said, at seventeen.) But the joy and heat McCartney and company found in it last night felt not like old men looking back but like artists plunging into the very source of what they do. The guitars snarled and bit, more than you might expect, and the rhythm section edged encouragingly toward abandon. It felt, for a breath, like maybe something could go wrong, which is the most precious feeling a professional rock show can manage. As with “And I Love Her,” the song feels unsettled, like there’s still something to discover in it. Sadly, some of his most inspired compositions no longer have that sense of possibility. McCartney closed the set with dutiful airings of “Hey Jude” and “Let It Be,” warhorses he feels obliged to trot out for the dudes who don’t think they like “And I Love Her.” On these, Paul the Pro takes over, Mr. Wings Over America, probably by necessity. Just like at Beatles shows you couldn’t really hear him, but instead of the squalls of teen girls, it’s everybody in the venue belting along, with many of the dudes making damn sure you know that they’ve memorized every ad-libbed Jude-y Jude-y WOW! OW!. Onstage, the performance becomes merely technical, with all the emotional dynamics of a fireworks display. This is ritual, our chance to join him in celebrating songs bigger than even he is, songs that he — like us — is singing along to, approximating the records that were a hit before your mother was born. — Alan Scherstuhl

And an honorable mention for Patti Smith’s Parisian celebration of Horses and Rimbaud:

Patti Smith opened her 2015 tour celebrating the 40th anniversary of her first album, the now-legendary Horses, in Paris at L’Olympia on October 20. Inside, the stage was bedecked with red and white roses, with a crown of alternating colors atop the bass drum skin, which read, “Patti Smith. Horses. 40th. 1975–2015.” The band would continue the celebratory theme by coming out dressed crisply in white dress shirts with black vests and ties, and then Patti herself took the stage in her usual uniform of black jacket and vest over Electric Lady T-shirt, dungarees, and black lace-up boots. She picked up the album liner for Horses and stepped up to the microphone. The audience burst into applause before she had a chance to perform anything more than that initial gesture. Patti flipped over the sleeve and began to read the poem that appears there, ending, “Charms, sweet angels — you have made me no longer afraid of death.” With that, Tony Shanahan hit the opening notes to “Gloria” on the grand piano, and the energy in the venue went into the stratosphere. The sold-out audience of 2,000 sang loudly along with each and every word of the initial verse, and when the band reached the chorus, veering into Van Morrison territory, full speed ahead, the house lights came on. Anyone who wasn’t singing began doing so, and everyone who was singing sang louder. The general-admission floor of the theater was a bouncing (literally, the floor actually bounced) sea of arms and pogoing French people creating a minor riot in the first seven minutes of the concert. – Caryn Rose