Best of Music 2016: 25 Favorite Concerts of 2016

We’re a week into 2017, but after much deliberating, I finally narrowed down the list of my favorite shows to my 25 favorite concerts of 2016 for this Best of Music 2016 feature. Including music festivals, I saw 166 shows in 2016, so it took quite a bit of thought to come up with a Top 25.

25. Father John Misty at El Rey Theatre, Aug. 26

What I love about local promotional juggernaut Goldenvoice is that for their two biggest festivals (Coachella and FYF Fest), they put together sideshows so people that can’t afford a high-priced festival ticket can still have a chance to see the acts they want to see. Father John Misty wasn’t initially part of the FYF After Dark schedule, but his intimate gig at the El Rey was added just a few days before it took place. Thanks to a friend in a high place I was able to snag a ticket and I got to see Josh Tillman do his thing in front of a packed house. It was a fun show, and seeing his latest song “Real Love Baby” performed live for the first time was a real treat.

day wave troubadour
Photo courtesy of Todd Westphal

24. Day Wave at the Troubadour, Nov. 2

One of my favorite discoveries of 2016 was Oakland lo-fi act Day Wave. I caught him as the first set of Shaky Knees in Atlanta this year and came away really impressed. After another early-day set at Treasure Island, I finally got to see his own headlining gig at the intimate Troubadour space. His two EPs Headcase and Hard to Read were tremendous from top to bottom and he played all the songs from those two, plus a few new songs and a killer cover of New Order’s “Ceremony.” I think he has a ton of potential and he’s got a similar vibe to Canadian lo-fi power pop act Alvvays, who have really taken off the last few years. This show convinced me to see him anytime he’s playing a town near me. FULL REVIEW

23. Savages at El Rey Theatre, Apr. 18

I saw Savages nearly a half-dozen times this year thanks to their frequent placement on festival bills in 2016. They didn’t really fit at Coachella so much, but still delivered a memorable set. At Shaky Knees and Sasquatch! however, they connected with the crowd in ways that gave me goosebumps. It was seeing them at their own Localchella gig, however, that I really finally experienced their magic up close. Lead singer Jehnny Beth is one of the best frontwomen in all of music — a certified bad ass who has this aura about her. You feel like she’s looking into your soul when she’s delivering her powerful words. The rest of the band are somehow able to match that intensity and they might be the most talented live rock group still playing the theater circuit. Watching Beth climb into the crowd onto the hands of people to crowd surf was one of the most intense moments of live music for me. FULL REVIEW

22. The Roots, The Internet and special guests at The Novo, June 25

The Roots have never failed in delivering a high-energy show whenever I’ve seen them. This gig was one of the first I saw after slipping into a reprieve from live music following a six festivals in six weeks marathon from May to June. Taking place during the BET Experience week, their show was chock full of special guests. T.I. came out and performed “Whatever You Like,” Syd tha Kyd and her group The Internet came out, and even cooler — Chicago hip-hop legend Common graced the stage, which included a performance of “The Light” — the song that first made me a fan. The Roots are so versatile and so fun that my expectations were so high and yet I knew they’d be met. This show also featured a brief but killer set from The Internet.

21. Lido at Theatre at Ace Hotel, Nov. 9

Performing his latest album Everything in its entirety, there are few electronic producers as gifted as this Norwegian. As part of the always epic Red Bull #30DaysInLA concert series, you knew he was going to bring his A-game. The show came just a few days after the terrible results of the presidential election that sent shockwaves across our country, and Lido took some time before jumping into his set to acknowledge it. “If you want to meditate, if you want to jump around, if you want to cry, I don’t care – it’s our place tonight,” Lido said before getting down to brass tacks. Watching him jump from piano to drums to rapping and singing, it was an impressive showcase of all of his many skills. Jaden Smith even showed up for their song “Only One” together. The visuals of the show were impeccable, no doubt helped by the beautiful space that the Theatre at the Ace is. FULL REVIEW

20. The Joy Formidable at The Roxy, Mar. 28

I’m all about seeing my favorite bands in tiny spaces. The Welsh rockers had two nights at the cozy Roxy just a few days after the release of their album Hitch. They started things off on a high, performing “The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade,” the familiar ringing of the beep-boop-boop sound igniting the crowd from the get-go. The band was clearly enjoying themselves on stage, engaging in cheeky banter between themselves and the crowd. Vocalist Rhiannon Bryan has a similar sound to that of The Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan, with Bryan’s voice as powerful as the heavy guitar riffs of her guitarist Rhydian Dafydd. An acoustic performance of “The Brook” took place in the actual crowd, something you don’t see every day. During the tail end of the show, I watched a girl make out with a guy that was a complete stranger — as in, they hadn’t interacted in any single way before it happened. It was one of the most surprising things I saw at a show all year. FULL REVIEW

19. Nas and Wild Belle at Annenberg Space for Photography, July 23

Free shows are always a welcome thing in LA, even better when you get to see a iconic rapper and an up-and-coming act on the same bill. The KCRW Sound in Focus series that happens in the summer is probably the best free-with-RSVP series that takes place every year in LA. This year, they brought out the big guns with a rare Los Angeles gig from Nas, coupled with an opening set from psych pop act Wild Belle. I wasn’t too familiar with the latter but was really impressed by their show — one of my favorite discoveries at a gig in 2016. Nas brought the heat during his set, which I took in from the middle of the crowd on a beautiful night weather-wise. Few things are as uplifting as seeing “The World Is Yours” performed live.

18. Catfish and the Bottlemen at Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, May 2

British rockers Catfish and the Bottlemen are on their way to becoming stadium rockers, with a sound that is The Killers meets Kings of Leon meets The Strokes. It made seeing them in the tiny confines of the Masonic Lodge on the grounds of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery was an especially special treat. It was one of a limited run of shows that took place in small venues in the States before their second full-length record The Ride dropped later in the month. The crowd got a preview of the record via a handful of songs played, and it was amazing to see how a large portion of the crowd already knew every word. They are one of the biggest sing-along rock acts currently out there, and you could tell vocalist Van McCann and his band could barely contain their excitement at what they were seeing from the crowd all night. One of the highlights of 2016 was seeing McCann transition the breakdown of “Cocoon” into a snippet of Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.” These guys are going to be mega stars and I have a feeling I’ll be telling people about this show for years to come.

Photo courtesy of Kelsee Becker

17. Portugal. The Man at the Troubadour, Nov. 19

As is the case with a lot of these gigs that made the list, this was an opportunity to see a fan-favorite in a venue much smaller than they can sell. Hell, only a few years ago, Portugal. The Man was playing a co-headline show with GROUPLOVE at the Greek Theatre. They wanted to give fans a chance to see them in a smaller space, and the energy of the crowd was one of the highest I witnessed all year. Every song is an anthem, and their music really connects to their mostly-young core fans. One of my favorite things about seeing them live is how they medley songs together, and they closed their set with a transition of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall Part 2” into their own song “Purple Yellow Red and Blue,” as well as an earlier medley of “Evil Friends” into the song “Day Man” from the show It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Their two-song encore of “Atomic Man” and “Modern Jesus” ended things on a high note, while earlier they also previewed their new song “Noise Pollution.” FULL REVIEW

16. G-Eazy at The Shrine, Feb. 10

The last few years, G-Eazy has made a habit of delivering incredible shows during GRAMMY Week in Los Angeles. 2016 was the year he officially crossed over into the mainstream for good on the shoulders of the inescapable radio hit “Me, Myself & I.” Clearly he was going to make the most of his two shows at The Shrine, which was a major step up in venue size from The Wiltern the previous year. His stage production was stepped up tremendously, and so were his surprise guest appearances. During his sold-out lengthy show, he brought out the likes of Diddy, Chris Brown, Wiz Khalifa, YG, A$AP Ferg, Ty Dolla $ign, Marc E. Bassy, and of course, Bebe Rexha. It was one of the highest energy rap sets all year and proof that he isn’t some gimmick. FULL REVIEW

15. Courtney Barnett at Rough Trade NYC, June 5

I attended Governors Ball for the first time in 2016, and the third day was cancelled due to issues that stemmed from a crazy amount of rain the day before. Artists that were set to perform on the final day of the festival scrambled to set up shows around town, and indie darling Courtney Barnett was one of them. Her show ended up being booked in the hipster haven of Williamsburg at Rough Trade Records. After a little finagling, I got myself on the list for the show. It was an intriguing performance. As I watched, I got the feeling I was watching with a lot of long-time fans that were almost afraid of losing Barnett to the mainstream masses as her profile had grown considerably off the success of her record Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. Barnett seemed to cater to the crowd, playing some more obscure songs from her latest record like “Scotty Says” and “Kim’s Caravan” to go with her hits like “Pedestrian at Best” and “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party,” my personal favorite. Her encore included her playing snippets of cover songs, which included a singalong of Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me” — what better way for the grungy Barnett to close her touring of the U.S. in 2016? It was especially great because it was my 10th time seeing Barnett live. FULL REVIEW

14. Flume at The Shrine, Aug. 11

Australian producer Flume had one of the biggest 2016s of anyone. I had only seen him at festivals, and his four-night sold-out run at The Shrine was proof of it. I didn’t buy tickets to this one but won them from FYF Fest by entering a contest. I e-mailed them a picture of me and a picture of Flume side-by-side, telling them that my roommates think I look like his doppelganger. His show was exuberant, and his production built upon what he had brought to Coachella earlier in the year. The theatrics of his show were top-notch. I made some quick friends around me and enjoyed jamming to “On Top,” “Say It” and his remix of Lorde’s “Tennis Court” the most. FULL REVIEW

13. Gary Clark Jr. and Shakey Graves at Greek Theatre, Oct. 1

Gary Clark Jr. is my favorite active guitarist now that John Frusciante has slipped into obscurity. Seeing him headline the Greek — one of my favorite venues in LA — he’s got the kind of sound that’s worthy of the beautiful outdoor space. He wasted no time, kicking off his set with favorite “Bright Lights.” Watching him deliver crushing solo after crushing solo, I had trouble locating my face at the end of the night because it had melted all of the way off. Shakey Graves as an opening act is a true steal as well.

Photo courtesy of Mark E. Ortega

12. Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Julia Jacklin at El Rey Theatre, Aug. 25

It’s not often you go to a show and see people crying due to the power of the music being performed. I was in the front row for this killer triple bill, and headliner Julien Baker had many around me bawling their eyes out with her affecting set. I first caught a glimpse of her live at SXSW in a church — perhaps the perfect way to see her show — but was blown away even moreso by how she had the El Rey in stunned silence. Baker was very moved by the crowd’s appreciation of her music, many of whom sang along with the heartwrenching lyrics. Phoebe Bridgers and Julia Jacklin served as perfect complements to Baker as opening acts with similar vibes. It was a show that reminded you what live music is capable of making you feel when it’s at its best. FULL REVIEW

11. The Kills at Apogee Studios, Apr. 20

In between Coachella dates, The Kills took to the tiny stage of Apogee Studios in Santa Monica for a memorable KCRW Morning Becomes Eclectic performance. I was still recovering from weekend 1 in the desert, and with another weekend at the Polo Grounds in my sights, the smart move would have been to stay home during the week. But when a band like The Kills plays a 150-cap invite-only show and you get that RSVP e-mail, you don’t sit on your ass. Seeing Alison Mosshart that up close was an awesome opportunity I would have been stupid to pass up. The duo of Mosshart and Jamie Hince also did an interview segment with Jason Bentley that was intriguing, giving insight into what went into recording 2016’s Ash & Ice — one of my 25 Favorite Albums of 2016. The album was still a month from being released, and they shared five songs from the record that were all pretty spectacular. FULL REVIEW

10. Miguel and HAELOS at Bardot, Jan. 25

While January can often be a ghost town when it comes to LA’s concert schedule, it also means random pop-up sets from the industry’s heavy hitters. This was a show that was part of Bardot’s free-with-RSVP series School Night, and for over a month they teased a surprise headliner. That ended up being alt-R&B favorite Miguel, who a week later would host some sort of art-motel. Though his set was brief, he kicked things off with a cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in memory of the late singer, before transitioning it into his own hit “waves.” The Bowie cover was one of those you-had-to-be-there moments that you can take for granted in LA because they happen more than anywhere else. I was very impressed by his interpretation of Bowie considering they’re from different genres — it was a moving tribute to a singer everybody was still grieving over the loss of. Rising act HAELOS (who had one of 2016’s best albums) served as a nice appetizer as well. Chance the Rapper and actress Chloe Grace Moretz took in the show from the front.  FULL REVIEW

9. HAIM at the Fonda Theatre, Nov. 15

I saw HAIM three times in four weeks on my music festival trip this spring/summer, but seeing them headline their own show from right near the front was special. This was part of Red Bull’s #30DaysInLA and was probably the most sought-after show, selling out in minutes. They only ended up playing 10 songs, but it was clear they relished playing in front of a hometown crowd — with Este mentioning how she remembered all the shows they used to see at the venue, including a Rilo Kiley show where she realized Jenny Lewis is a goddess (she is). Their cover of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” was excellent, and the two new songs they’ve been playing, particularly “Nothing’s Wrong,” sounded fantastic. With a new album finally coming in 2017, it was a nice chance to see them before the setlist gets an overhaul. FULL REVIEW

8. CHVRCHES and Best Coast at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Oct. 3

The Hollywood Cemetery grounds is one of the best places you can take in a show in LA. Getting to see CHVRCHES and Best Coast there was a rare treat, and CHVRCHES’ show in particular lent itself to the venue. It was my 10th time seeing CHVRCHES overall, and seventh in 2016 alone, and it was the best of the bunch. Their production has really stepped up a notch touring behind their second full-length album Every Open Eye — and Lauren Mayberry has grown as a performer with every show. It can be difficult for a synthpop band’s sound to match their growing venues, but CHVRCHES is a well-traveled festival act that has tuned their sound to large outdoor venues. By the time they played the cemetery, they’d hit the festival circuit hard in 2016 and were on point. Their 18-song marathon set was one of the best top-to-bottom I saw in 2016.  FULL REVIEW

7. Warpaint at the Fonda Theatre, Oct. 13

This frenetic female four-piece is one of my favorite live acts around. With their third full-length album Heads Up in tow, and having just witnessed their first show since the release at Music Tastes Good in Long Beach — I had very high expectations from the LA act. What I love most about the band is how they transform songs from how they appear on their records to how they sound live. I’m sure the way song of the songs from their new record will sound different when they hit the festival circuit hard in 2017, so having this reference point so early in the album’s life was awesome. They played all my favorites from the new record, “Heads Up,” “Whiteout,” “The Stall,” “New Song” and “So Good” — leaving tons of room for old favorites like “Elephants” and “Love is to Die” as well. This would’ve snuck into my top five if it weren’t for a fight that broke out in the crowd that messed with the vibe a bit. I am praying for sunset sets at all the festivals from them this year — the pairing is just too perfect.

Photo courtesy of Mark E. Ortega

6. Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals with the LA Philharmonic at Hollywood Bowl, Aug. 19

I had never shot photos at a concert in my life, and this blog was barely a few weeks old when Ben Harper performed with the LA Philharmonic at the Bowl. Luckily I had a great relationship with the PR person handling the show, who passed along this long-form piece I wrote on Harper’s iconic Live at the Hollywood Bowl show from 2003 to Ben’s team, who liked it enough to add me to their list. It was an awesome opportunity to get another perspective on a live show, shooting the first few songs from the soundboard before grabbing a seat for the rest. Seeing Ben with the LA Phil was also a special treat. The inclusion of the orchestra setup took some of Ben’s best songs to even greater heights. Favorites of mine like “Amen Omen” and “When She Believes” sounded transcendent. I’ve had a ton of Ben Harper related moments that I’ll hold dear, and this one will be hard to top as well. FULL REVIEW

5. Anderson Paak at the Hollywood Palladium, Dec. 10

Few had as meteoric of a rise in 2016 as SoCal kid Anderson Paak.  From his second album Malibu dropping in January to Coachella appearances that featured drop-ins from Dr. Dre, Kendrick Lamar, T.I. and Gary Clark Jr. — Paak made fans everywhere he went. What better way to close out his banner year than with a sold-out show at the Palladium, which was a major step-up in terms of size of any show he’d previously played near his home base. Paak didn’t want to trot out the same show he did months earlier at the Theatre at the Ace (which was also epic). He brought a new stage setup that featured a motel front — complete with a guy that sat on the top level reading a newspaper during the nearly two-hour set. Paak took a risk in kicking things off with his mega hit “Come Down,” which featured a drop-in from T.I. again. Later in the night, he brought out Busta Rhymes, which had the two performing the old classic “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” and later, Stevie Wonder stopping in to say hello. Paak is one of hip-hop and soul’s brightest young talents and seeing him bring everything full circle was pretty incredible. The energy of the show was as good as any I saw all year.

4. Chance the Rapper and Francis and the Lights at Greek Theatre, Sept. 17

Chance the Rapper had a massive 2016. It culminated in his Magnificent Coloring World Tour in support of his GRAMMY nominated mixtape. What a weird but awesome show it was. He’s got one of the best live bands in hip-hop, and brought some weird puppets onto stage with him. The crowd was hyped right from the start, and one highlight was the live debut of my favorite track from his latest release, “Same Drugs” — which featured one of the puppets sitting near him on the piano as he played. He’s got so many epic features on other people’s tracks, like Action Bronson’s “Baby Blue” and Kanye’s “Ultralight Beam” and it was great to see him give such a big platform to tourmate Francis and the Lights — who he brought out to do Francis’ song “Friends” at the end. Francis’ own set was fun as he played his album Farewell, Starlite! front to back. Both Chance and Francis’ records made my 25 Favorite Albums of 2016 list, so it was clearly a special show seeing them both on the same bill.

3. Red Hot Chili Peppers at Theatre at Ace Hotel, Feb. 5

Before 2016, I had never seen the Red Hot Chili Peppers live — one of my favorite bands of all-time. Somehow, I came upon the link to tickets to this Feel the Bern benefit a few minutes before everybody else and was able to snag eight tickets for $40 a pop. Instead of re-selling them at massive profits and accruing bad ticket karma, I sold them to my roommates and various friends at face value. This included two people who drove down from the Bay Area. We had a massive crew out for the show and it was an awesome hour-long set that featured songs from eight different albums as well as a cover of David Bowie’s “Cracked Actor.” It was well worth the constant badgering my e-mail inbox would receive from Bernie Sanders for the next several months to see the band in such a small venue, and their first show of 2016. I can’t wait until the Bonnaroo headline set that is sure to come this year.

2. Jenny Lewis with The Watson Twins at Cathedral Sanctuary at Immanuel Presbyterian Church, Jan. 28

There’s no question that I am one of Jenny Lewis’ biggest fans. I’ve seen her perform in some capacity almost two dozen times. When she announced a 10th anniversary tour in support of her first solo record Rabbit Fur Coat, it quickly became circled on my calendar as something I had to see. The show couldn’t have found a better venue to host it — the church in Koreatown I once saw Damien Rice perform. There was a gallery of photos taken of Lewis around the time of the album and a playbill that made the event feel extra special. M. Ward opened up the show and would later lend his guitar to some of the songs from the album. Jenny and The Watson Twins played the record front-to-back, and songs that once weren’t my favorites attained special meaning under the stained glass. Take “Born Secular” for instance — I never fully digested the song as someone without a faith, but in that venue I felt much differently. Lewis and Co. followed the album up with a set break before performing songs from her back catalog, including a handful of songs she rarely has played like Rilo Kiley favorite “I Never” and Acid Tongue cut “See Fernando.” FULL REVIEW

1. LCD Soundsystem at Fox Theater Pomona, Apr. 11

I won’t pretend I was some sort of LCD Soundsystem superfan before they broke up five years ago. I wasn’t very familiar but had heard incredible things about their live show from people who were hardcore about them. That’s why when a warm-up gig before their two Coachella performances was announced in Pomona at the Fox Theater, I waited outside Amoeba Records in Hollywood from around 7 AM to get two tickets. It was a rare opportunity to see a famed band in a small space. I went with a roommate and a friend and quickly realized why this group was so sorely missed. An overhead shot of the stage graced the screen to show you just how much is happening with this large band. It only took two songs to jump into their hit “Daft Punk is Playing at My House,” followed by the sentimental “I Can Change.” They had me hook, line and sinker from that point on. I felt all of the feels when they played “Someone Great,” a feeling that would soon be eclipsed by “Dance Yrself Clean” and the set-closing “All My Friends.” I ended up seeing LCD Soundsystem six times in 2016 thanks to their exposure at festivals, but I’ll always hold this show dearest to my heart. FULL REVIEW

2016, you set the bar high. Let’s see if I can match some of these memories in 2017.