Matt James’ Favorite Shows of the Year

As promised, here is a list of my favorite live acts this year. For my list of my favorite albums of 2014, click here. As per usual, NYC has been a live music hotbed for extremely popular bands and the new, up-and-comers alike. I’ve had the privilege to catch 85 live acts over the past year, and while nearly all of them were entertaining and talented regardless of the genre, writing about each one would take forever and would probably be tl;dr anyway. Therefore, you get the cream of the crop, the shows I couldn’t stop thinking about and still look back on fondly.

Disclosure – Terminal 5, 1/17/2014

My first show of 2014 really kicked the year off in a big way, as Disclosure was still in the middle of their meteoric rise off of the success of their debut album, Settle. I was unable to see them at Central Park’s Summerstage the summer before, so I was more than excited to make up for that missed opportunity, and they definitely did not disappoint. Disclosure started the show with their house/Southern gospel preacher blend, “When A Fire Starts to Burn,” and kept T5 burning all night. They held back their collaborative efforts for the end of the set, playing their remix of Jessie Ware’s “Running,” the London Grammar-fronted “Help Me Lose My Mind,” and “F For You” featuring Mary J. Blige, before ending the show by calling Sam Smith on stage to sing live vocals for “Latch.” It was a spectacular finale that crowned a top-notch show.

Arthur Beatrice – Mercury Lounge, 3/3/2014

Admittedly, I didn’t know too much about Arthur Beatrice outside of a few of their songs prior to catching their show in March, but seeing them live absolutely blew me away. Most Mercury Lounge shows can be aptly described as ‘intimate,’ but Arthur Beatrice took that a step further with a captivating set featuring nearly every song from their debut album, Working Out. Fronted by the smooth, deep vocals of Orlando Leopard woven intricately with the beautiful operatic voice of Ella Girardot, the quartet played a set strikingly similar to what you would hear on their album, which is always a sign of great musicians. The cherry on top of this amazing show was shared with us by Girardot, who graciously thanked the crowd for sharing in a special night for them, as it was their very first show in the United States. This list isn’t ranked, but if it was, this show would have been at the top of the list.

Mr Little Jeans/SOHN – Bowery Ballroom, 5/9/2014

Thinking about this show back in May, it just didn’t seem right to separate either of these artists from each other when talking about my favorite shows, as both played their parts perfectly on an enjoyable Friday evening in NYC. Mr Little Jeans (who is actually distinctively-female Monica Birkenes) treated the Bowery faithful to her quirky brand of electropop, disclosing to us that this was only her 5th show after releasing her debut LP, Pocketknife. Her opening performance set the stage well for SOHN‘s headlining act, who took the audience on a groovy, occasionally abstract electronic ride supported by a colorful light show courtesy of some clear PVC pipe and LED lights. Both sets were fantastic, and certainly deserving of inclusion on this list.

OutKast – Governors Ball Music Festival Main Stage, 6/6/2014

Easily the senior members of this grouping, OutKast were the headliners of the first night of the Governors Ball Music Festival on Randall’s Island. After squeezing my way towards the front of the crowd, I was treated (along with thousands of excited others) to a throw-back production by Big Boi and Andre 3000, their latest stop on their 2014 festival reunion tour. Playing songs from each of their studio albums and including guest appearances from Run The Jewels’ Killer Mike, Janelle Monae, and several appearances by Sleepy Brown, OutKast took us all down memory lane for a couple hours and showed us that they still got it, even after all these years.

Childish Gambino (pictured) – Governors Ball Music Festival Honda Stage, 6/7/2014

Day 2 at Governors Ball had a ton of great acts performing, including Skrillex, Disclosure (again), and the Strokes, the latter of which I somewhat regrettably passed on to instead have a front row spot for Childish Gambino. Spoiler alert: I didn’t regret it for long. I had the added bonus of watching Childish Gambino’s set right next to Andre 3000, and saw a high-energy, in-your-face show which only ended because of the time restrictions of festival shows. His flow was on point as expected, sharing with the crowd a couple freestyle performances, and also including a guest appearance by Chance The Rapper for their song “The Worst Guys.” Everyone in the audience, including myself, completely forgot about The Strokes after Gambino’s masterful performance.

Banks – Governors Ball Music Festival Gotham Tent, 6/8/2014

The final day of Governors Ball was stocked with phenomenal shows (Vampire Weekend, Foster The People, The Head and the Heart), but it was a performance on the smallest stage at the festival that was the most memorable of the day. Banks was just on the verge of becoming one of the biggest breakthrough artists of the year, as her debut album, Goddess, had not yet been released at the time, so being able to see her show beforehand made it extra special. Although she only performed nine songs during her set, each one was done in a way that transfixed the crowd, gracefully sauntering around the stage and carrying herself like a modern-day Stevie Nicks. There are several shows that my mind goes back to when I think about Governors Ball, but it is Banks’s performance that comes to mind the most.

Sam Smith – Apollo Theater, 6/17/2014

Having seen Sam Smith perform “Latch” with Disclosure in January, I was excited to get the opportunity to hear more of his wonderful voice apart from the electronic production that surrounded it at Terminal 5. This show also had the added bonuses of being his album release party for In the Lonely Hour that came out earlier that day and my first experience with Harlem’s world-famous Apollo Theater. The fact that the show didn’t start until much after it was supposed to only increased the crowd’s anticipation, and once Smith reached the stage backed by a full band, backup singers, and a string quartet, what followed was simply incredible. His voice in-person is identical to what you hear on his album, although only live can you experience the power and depth of emotion that it conveys. Adding in a guest appearance by Mary J. Blige to help Smith sing “Stay With Me” for the show’s finale, and you’ve got yourself a very memorable evening.

Johnnyswim – Bowery Ballroom, 8/19/2014

If you ever want to know what it looks like to see two people madly in love with each other performing music together on the same stage, then make a point to check out a Johnnyswim show. The folksy duo of Amanda Sudano Ramirez and Abner Ramirez performed wonderful melodies and excellent acoustic instrumentation that fully engaged the Bowery crowd. Not only that, but the Nashville duo repeatedly allowed us into their lives, regaling the audience about the backstories of several of their offerings (and relationship), adding yet enough facet to their show. The romantic spectacle alone was entertaining enough, but pairing with that their aptitude for singing, songwriting, and storytelling made this show the total package.

Jungle – Warsaw, 10/1/2014

Easily the most interesting venue on this list, Warsaw is housed inside of a Polish cultural center in Brooklyn with the added benefit of being able to enjoy authentic pierogies during your visit. If you haven’t been, you have to go. That being said, it was the perfect space to experience Jungle, a seven-piece UK band who makes beautiful music blending electronic, funk, and soul. Bucking the ongoing 80’s synthpop trend we’ve seen over the last few years for more of a 70’s vibe, Jungle’s show was phenomenally entertaining, with each song keeping us on our toes both figuratively and literally. Dancehall mode was in full effect, especially at the end of their set when they played “Time” and “Busy Earnin’,” songs that had the Warsaw faithful dancing like their lives depended on it. It was a unique band with a unique sound in a unique venue—all of which made for a great evening.

Kimbra – Music Hall of Williamsburg, 11/3/2014

Having previously seen Kimbra at Terminal 5 as an opener for Gotye in 2012 when “Someone That I Used To Know” was wildly popular and all over the radio, I was excited to see her again in a much smaller venue and without a crowd that only wanted to hear one song the whole night. To my delight, we were treated to that and much more from Kimbra, who is quite simply a pop performer extraordinaire. With flashy, over-the-top outfits, a bubbly stage presence, and an unbelievably powerful voice, Kimbra dazzled the Music Hall of Williamsburg crowd. Her set was almost perpetually upbeat, with songs like “Miracle,” “90s Music,” and “Nobody But You” getting everyone moving their feet throughout the entire show. However, when she slowed things down, specifically with “As You Are,” the beauty and power of her voice was something to behold. Kimbra put on an amazing show, which is definitely worth your time and effort to experience.

1 Comment

John Harrison

12:39 PM, 12/26/14

I'm with you on Arthur Beatrice. That was a special show.