What an epic year of gigs! It’s been a privilege to see so many brilliant acts. Here are my top 50 live acts, not gigs, but acts in general. I computed it based on ‘overall joy’ a live act brought me through the year in each of their gigs. It was really difficult, and all the bands in my top 50 are absolutely brilliant, top quality bands. I probably could have done a top 80 of solidly great bands. It was hard to order them, I mean, how do you compare seeing Alessi over 20 times to seeing Scary Mansion just once? It’s tricky, and maybe the lines are all blurred and it’s not as rigid as being my ’46th favourite live band’ of the year, or whatever, but I thought it would be fun to make a list and gush praise for 50 bands that I think are stunning live.
All photos by me except Lisa Hannigan, by Bobbles. So, here we go. My top 50 acts of 2009:
TIE: Wildbirds & Peacedrums & The Antlers:
Oh! What a bother. I could not humanly say which band is my favourite live act of 2009. I saw Wildbirds nine times and The Antlers five times. Wildbirds brought me so much happiness and excitement, and The Antlers moved me to tears. What both bands share is a relatable sincerity and passion that makes hearing the songs so live so special. Furthermore, both acts really build upon their recorded material in a live setting (the added steel drum parts in My Heart or the a’cappella opening to Epilogue, for example). The reason why I love live music so much is because it’s so visceral and involving, even more so than just listening to Hospice or The Snake at home. Both of these bands are nothing but stunning live. I laughed out loud with how brilliant My Heart was at Union Chapel, and had to hold back from bawling through Wake and Epilogue at Bush Hall. These bands are so special and I can’t recommend them enough.
3. Alessi’s Ark:
Alessi is something special; she’s in a whole league of her own. I think I saw her play 24 times this year. That’s more than anyone, and I still love her a bit more every time I hear a play. How is that even possible? She has like a movable ceiling on how much love I can have for seeing her live. And it’s super high. She’s so talented and wonderful, her voice is beautiful, her songs are beautiful. She is amazing, in the true meaning of the word. It’s unbelievable how incredible she is. What a complete and utter joy. Go see her live!
4. Whispertown 2000
Whispertown! How much do I love Whispertown!? LOTS. I’ve loved them for years and I was so hugely excited to see their first UK show back in May. I caught them five times in total this year, and joined them on stage twice to sing and clap along. They’re so much fun, seeing them live just makes me so happy. Morgan has a stunning voice and their good spirits are infectious.
5. She Keeps Bees
Love. Ohhhh. Love from the start! As soon as I saw them at The Britannia in June I was hooked. I saw them eleven times over the summer and I still wanted more by the time they went home. Jess has such an incredible voice and Andy is a brilliant drummer and they have such a good energy. They brought me so much happiness throughout the year, I want everyone ever to go see them live and to love them. I don’t think Jess realises just quite what an amazing talent she is, she’s completely brilliant. She Keeps Bees! I love them.
6. St. Vincent
H-E-L-P, HELP ME, HELP ME! This lady is such a brilliant guitarist; she’s so hugely talented. I love her voice. I saw her both solo and with a band. I enjoyed her every time I saw her play. She adds parts to the songs and they sound even more excellent live. Actor is such a great follow up to Marry Me, and it’s all so wonderful live.
7. Scary Mansion
I love Scary Mansion. Because this list is the collated happiness a band brought me, they are seventh, but in some ways, they are first. All the bands before Scary Mansion, I have seen four or more times. I saw Scary Mansion just once. But that one time was so brilliant it left a huge impression on me and I really, really can’t wait to see them play again. They are a wonderful live band, it was such a treat to hear them live. Leah had a sore throat, and if anything, it just made me love her voice even more. She is amazing, I love Scary Mansion so much. I will see them more in 2010 and it will be amazing.
8. Beach House
Beach House send me into comas. The good kind of comas. Despite mixed reviews of their Union Chapel show, I loved it. It was a treat to hear an old song followed by a new song throughout the set. But the real winner was their set at the Fleapit. A tiny, intimate venue tucked away in East London; it felt like a really special show. That’s because it WAS a really special show, all of the new songs are incredible and so wonderful to hear. Heart of Chambers made me swoon pretty epically, Victoria’s voice is so engulfing, and Alex’s guitar parts carry you away to… a coma. COMATOSE WIN!
Cryptacize were an unexpected little joy in May. I got to see them a few times and I enjoyed their set so much every time. The music is quite playful and Nedelle’s delivery is animated and fun. Their 2009 record Mythomania is full of brilliant songs which were wonderful to see them live. I can’t wait for them to come back.
CURSE OF MY OBLIVION! I only got to see Soap&Skin once this year, but that one time was absolutely incredible. It was such a compelling, exciting performance, completely unique to any other show I saw this year. The young, Austrian pianist exudes darkness and is entirely hypnotic. There were moments when she would just scream, and at one point she left the stage and walked through the audience howling… it could have been cheesy, but instead it was brilliant. There was so much passion in her performance, the theatrics worked so well. The delivery of the songs was perfect, she played alone (though I would love to see her play with an orchestra) and at no point did the set lull. The encore performance a’cappella of an old Yiddish holocaust anthem was stunning.
11. Forest Fire
I love the Forest Fire record so much. There’s always a danger that when you love a record so much the band won’t be able to pull it off live. I love that record, and Forest Fire are even more brilliant live than on record. I absolutely loved their show at the Luminaire and I can’t wait until the next time I see them play.
12. Sharon Van Etten
Sharon is magic! Her voice is something incredible. I know the whole ‘voice like an angel’ thing is tired and old, and a lame example, but really, if anyone on this list has a voice like an angel, it’s got to be Sharon. I got to hear her sing a few times and she was stunning every time. You need to hear Sharon Van Etten live.
13. Ane Brun
Oh, Ane Brun and her diamonds. They need to play in Union Chapel every single time they come here. She has such a wonderful voice that is complemented so brilliantly by her three, wonderful, amazing back up singers- which she calls her ‘diamonds’. And on top of that, the acoustics of the chapel work a charm, and just lift their voices and echo them around so perfectly… there’s nothing like it. There was a warm atmosphere at both shows, it was something really special, that I really hope I get to witness again. Cross your fingers and toes that she plays in Union Chapel again, though, she’s so brilliant I’m sure she’d be wonderful anywhere with sound that lets the natural beauty of her voice and songs shine.
14. Andrew Bird
Andrew Bird is wonderful live, both when playing with a band and when playing solo. He’s an excellent performer and a very talented musician and it was great to hear him perform songs from Noble Beast as well as older ones. It’s so intriguing watching him play because he adapts and re-works the songs; and the new arrangements are always interesting to hear.
15. Fever Ray
I feel really very lucky to have seen Fever Ray perform twice this year. They are an incredible live band. I love when seeing a band live makes you view the album in a different way, and that was definately the case with Fever Ray and their self titled album. After catching them at Shepherd’s Bush Empire it made me love the album so much more. I was so excited to catch them again, and they were wonderful. It’s all about the show with Fever Ray. The costumes, the lazers, the smoke… it all adds to the dark mystery of Fever Ray, which is what makes the show so exciting. They sound perfect as a live band and Karin’s voice really is incredible
16. Music Go Music
Opening the show shrieking the introduction to I Walk Alone, and with a giant hourglass and venetian mask on stage; it’s clear Music Go Music are not subtle. Unashamedly over the top pop, Music Go Music are a brilliant live band who play with alot of energy and enthusiasm. Meredith Metcalf is a magnetic front woman, often outstretching her arms and dancing along. It was a wonderful show.
17. Jeffrey Lewis
I’ve seen the wonderful Jeffrey Lewis play quite a few times now and I love it every time. Every show is so unique, I just adore the fusion of art and music that he does so well. He’s a master of story telling and I love his shows.
18. Au Revoir Simone
I love Au Revoir Simone. I saw them play a few years ago and it was so wonderful to see them this year. The Bird of Music is a really special record for me, it was lovely to hear a few songs from that as well as songs from their latest record Still Night, Still Light, which I also enjoy alot. The Union Chapel show felt like something of a celebration… there was such a warm atmosphere.
19. Neko Case
This woman has such a powerful voice! Her band are tight and she has some amazing songs… it was a treat to see her perform at the nice, intimate Bush Hall, and then at End of the Road. I loved it both times.
20. Bishop Allen
Bardens Boudoir was ram packed for Bishop Allen’s first London show in support of their new record. Pleasingly, they played a wonderful mix of old and new and put alot of energy into their show… I’ve only seen them once and I’m pretty keen to see them play again. Songs like Butterfly Nets are so swoon worthy.
21. Dirty Projectors
Dirty Projectors seem to polarize people. Some people I know absolutely adore them, and others loathe them. I think they’re brilliant. The sheer vocal power of the three ladies during Stillness Is The Move was absolutely incredible. I loved their whole set at End of the Road and I really would love to catch them in a proper venue.
22. Handsome Furs
There’s such a magnetic chemistry between Dan and Alexei that works so perfectly with their music! They play with so much passion, Dan sings so intensely. They seemed so appreciative of the audience and you could tell they were thoroughly enjoying themselves playing, which is so endearing to watch. A brilliant duo.
23. Frida Hyvönen
Oh! It seems like so long ago I saw Frida play. Her voice is amazing and I’m so glad she played with a band; the songs all sounded really full. It was perfect.
This man is so talented. So many artists do the whole looping tricks now, but Peter Broderick does it so well. His songs are all so rich and his performances are so special… I really think there are big things in store for Mr. Broderick.
25. Chimes & Bells
This band are brilliant. They’ve released an EP but I think they’ve slipped largely under the radar and alot of people have missed this little gem. I hope 2010 is the year for them. They make wonderful, rich, epic music and Caecilie Trier has such an incredible, deep voice with alot of power.
26. Laura Gibson
I saw her solo three times, and caught her playing a little acoustic session to my friend and I. She is amazing. Her songs are sparse, highlighting her beautiful voice and how she takes so much care over evert word she is singing. I listened to her soundcheck Take This Waltz with her band and it was so brilliant.
27. of Montreal
of Montreal are so much fun. Ninjas, tigers, pigs… no other band has this in their live show. I am pretty sure ninjas could make every show more fun.
28. Matt & Kim
Matt and Kim were an unexpected huge amount of fun. I didn’t realise their live show would be quite so energetic. Matt and Kim were obviously enjoying themselves so much and seemed really happy to be playing, it was really endearing to watch. And crowd-surfing in the Old Blue Last is genius. The place is so tiny and intimate. It was brilliant
29. Alela Diane
Alela Diane has a stunning voice. Singing with Alina Hardin and playing with a band, it’s nothing but perfect.
30. Chris Garneau
Almost a year since I last saw Chris Garneau, I caught him once more at The Luminaire. This time the band included a drummer, Ben Shapiro, which added so much to the set, especially on the new songs. I love Chris’s music and I should think I’ll try to go to all his London shows… he’s consistently lovely.
31. Julie Doiron
There was something really charming about watching Julie Doiron play. At the Pure Groove show she took requests, and I asked for Me and My Friend. She played it and it was such a treat to hear, after loving that song for so live. I thought it was very kind and she was amazing the next day at the Luminaire.
32. Lulu & the Lampshades
Fun fun fun! I think 2010 will be an amazing year for Lulu & the Lampshades, I’m glad I got to see them play so many times this year.
33. Tom Brosseau
I think the best word to describe Tom Brosseau is ‘charming’. His songs are like stories that pull you in and have you hanging on his every word. His latest record Posthumous Success has some great songs on it, and I enjoyed hearing them played in a more stripped-back fashion, with Tom playing solo the two times I saw him.
34. Emily Loizeau
Emily Loizeau is an AMAZING live performer. She sings with so much gusto, and her cellist and drummer are both incredible at their instruments. There were a’cappella parts where her voice was just stunning, and her ability to involve the audience (clapping and stomping in Fais Battre Ton Tambour, performing in the centre of the crowd) was brilliant. I thoroughly, thoroughly recommend catching her play next time she’s in London.
35. I’m From Barcelona
I defy ANYONE to go to an I’m From Barcelona show and not have fun. It was so magical to catch them in the intimate Favela Chic and watch them turn the room into one giant party.
36. Caitlin Rose
Caitlin has a brilliant, amazing, powerful voice and her live performance is stunning. She’s got some great songs that seem so genuine and real, and I can’t wait for her to back over here and to see her live again.
37. Black Lips
The whole band are so rowdy and up for fun, it’s great. Underneath all the fuzz and feedback, the songs are actually really poppy and so much fun. It was a treat to see them to an acoustic Bandstand Busking session including the punk-gospel gem Bow Down And Die (now an Almight Defenders song), I loved it.
38. Ghost Bees
These twin sisters harmonize so beautifully! Their voices combine and create something beautiful, which contrasts so perfectly with the dark lyrics of some of their songs.
39. Lightning Dust
I really enjoyed catching Lightning Dust at Bush Hall. Their show was really laid back and relaxed and Amber Webber’s voice is just a amazing live as on record. Antonia Jane = SWOOON.
This show was beautiful! The fusion of animation and music was something that I enjoyed hugely. The three ladies from Amiina are very talented musicians, and the involvement of musical saw was enough to give me chills and a little swoon. Musical saw is my favourite, and Amiina used it so perfectly. Seeing those animations to such lovely music was a truly gorgeous, beautiful experience.
41. Final Fantasy
This was a sweet show, with projections being beamed all around the chapel. You could just shut your eyes and slip off into a dream…. it was lovely.
Such a rich show! The Barbican is a wonderful place to hear music and the orchestra was beautiful.
43. Lisa Hannigan
An unexpected treat! I went to see her play after being given a spare ticket by a friend who loved her. I listened a bit and was quite excited and intrigued to see Lisa Hannigan and her band. I was curious; the singer had been nominated for a Mercury award earlier in the year. Going to a show without any expectations and being so ‘wowed’ is always a lovely surprise and joy. Lisa and her band were tight and there was a warm, intimate feeling, despite being in the pretty big Royal Festival Hall. Lille is a stunning song.
44. The Tallest Man On Earth
What a magnetic performer! Kristian Matsson played as a lone troubadour but totally commanded the audience and ruled the stage. He had so much charisma and was so fun to watch.
Beirut were consistently good all through their set at The Forum, but it wasn’t until the encore of Siki Siki Ba Ba that I really swooned. I adore the song and it was just as epic live as I had hoped.
Vetiver! I have to admit, at first I wasn’t exactly bowled over by their live show. I saw them at the Roundhouse and Pure Groove, and while I thought they were pleasant, I didn’t really give them much of an afterthought. Then, five months or so later, I saw them at Union Chapel. The acoustics there worked perfectly for them and it made me enjoy them so much more. They have some really sweet songs, and at Union Chapel I could actually hear the lyrics. I Must Be In A Good Place Now really hooked me in, in particular. The lyrics were just really sweet and the song had such a warm feeling. I was completely won over and caught them again at End of the Road and loved it.
Girls get so much love around the blogosphere. I only caught them at Pure Groove, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Their songs are dreamy and summery and it was perfect for an afternoon instore. I’d love to catch them again in a proper venue.
48. Dent May
Dent May makes music that makes you smile. It’s light hearted and fun, and his accomplice Bobby provides brilliant back up vocals. I’m always down for some ukulele fun!
49. Taken By Trees
Swedish poppy goodness with projections of cats and red pandas on the screen behind them… PERFECT!
50. Fiery Furnaces
Eleanor Friedberger is an intense singer; she really glares into the audience while she sings. I like the latest Fiery Furnaces record and it was good to hear those songs performed live.
And there we have it. My favourite 50. Just because a band isn’t in my top 50 doesn’t mean I didn’t love them, my top fifty is pretty ram packed with brilliance. Go see all these wonders! Swoon.