Best of Music 2017: 25 Favorite Concerts of 2017


I realize that Pass The Aux is often basically just a reflection of one person’s favorites — mine — and so I hit up a lot of different people I’m friends with about what their favorite shows that they saw were in 2017. Included is a list of people that work in music, or people I met at shows that digest as many concerts as I do. Check out what their favorites were below!

Linkin Park and Friends at Hollywood Bowl
Kelsee Becker, contributing photographer to Pass The Aux

Choosing a favorite show of 2017 is difficult – especially since, by the time you read this, I’ll will have gone to 80 shows this year (not including days at Outside Lands and Lost Lake Festival). In choosing a “favorite” show, going to shows so often made me consider not just the performance, but also the people I’m with and who I am at that point in my life. With that said, I’d have to say my favorite show of 2017 was Linkin Park & Friends Celebrate Life In Honor Of Chester Bennington @ the Hollywood Bowl. No words can do justice of how special that night was.

To give context, the first show I EVER went to with my older brother alongside with my older sister was Projekt Revolution 2004 at Cricket Pavilion (Phoenix, AZ) – KoRn opened for Linkin Park back then. That show was the first show that not only took me out of my comfort zone, but exposed to a whole new level of live music that I truly think led me to the show-obsessed person I am today.

Fast forward to the Hollywood Bowl show, and I was at a concert with both my brother and sister for the first time in years (my sister and I even had to fly in from AZ). The energy of the crowd had deeper meaning that night, emphasizing how important music is on our self-identity and how it also has a strong impact on our relationships. Coincidentally, KoRn’s Jonathan Davis even did leads for Linkin Park at one point, in honor of Chester (although I do have to say Jeremy McKinnon of A Day To Remember doing leads for “A Place For My Head” was absolutely perfect). It was an incredible celebration of life and the power of music. A night of full circles, I’d say.

You can watch the entire show here.

Lisa Hannigan at the Teragram Ballroom (February 15)
Sam Cowan, Pass The Aux contributor

I’ve loved Lisa Hannigan ever since I since I heard her sighing voice break through the end of Damien Rice’s “The Blower’s Daughter” on tiny CD player speakers in my childhood bedroom. About 14 years later, I finally got to see her live. And I was not disappointed.
Hannigan kept an LA audience completely silent—a testament to her truly breathtaking vocals—as she performed songs from her latest album At Swim. While Hannigan’s albums are perfectly enjoyable, they’re lacking compared to her live performance. On the album, “We, the Drowned” is a pretty tune, hazy with layered instrumentals and backing vocals but somehow feels unsatisfying.  But live, the song is almost overwhelmingly emotional and raw, as Hannigan’s voice crescendoes into a gritty belt for lyrics “like this, like this.” Never have those two words carried so much feeling as when sung live by Hannigan.

Black Pistol Fire at the Troubadour (November 18)
Tim Aarons, photographer for Pass The Aux

My favorite show was one of the shows I wasn’t sure I was photographing until pretty close to it. I saw Black Pistol Fire show up on the Troubadour calendar and had a show-schedule-conflict, but figured I should go. I’d heard a lot about them this year and thought that if they’re from both Toronto and Austin they’d probably be just my kind of band.

I got my photo-pass from Mark and took the camera to the Troubadour and couldn’t believe what I saw. From the second they hit the stage to the second they left the stage it was an explosion of energy and flailing arms and hair and over-the-top drumming by Eric Owen and massive guitar riffs and crazy solos and kicks and high jumps off the kick drum by Kevin McKeown. I don’t know how 2 guys can make so much noise. I’ve seen a lot of blues-oriented hard rock-ish bands play over the years and they go crazy for a bit then get super-boring for long stretches of time. But Black Pistol Fire didn’t do that! They just kicked ass all the way through.

It’s pretty much everything I want in a show and only a few bands are capable of it, like METZ and Lightning Bolt and, apparently, Black Pistol Fire. Also, from a photographer standpoint, this band is a dream come true. McKeown is always doing something interesting to photograph throughout the show. I was kind of off to the side of the front of the stage and didn’t know if I’d get anything good but it turned out to be a perfect spot to catch some of the craziness, especially when he came over to my area in the middle of one song and leaned down against me and he kept playing and I just kept shooting and got that super close up shot. Favorite photo of the year, at my favorite show of the year. And yes, that guy was really really sweaty, haha. BLACK PISTOL FIRE RULES!

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St. Vincent at Paramount Picture Studios (October 7)
Frank Mojica, contributor to Pass The Aux and other outlets

“Hell is a St. Vincent concert that never starts.” The anticipation for the debut of St. Vincent’s “Fear the Future” tour grew to unbearable levels as fans desperately waited over 40 minutes past the advertised start time for an appearance by Annie Clark. And what a hell of an entrance it was, with Clark seemingly stepping off the silver screen as a long-lost screen icon turned superhero.

Following a ten-track run through reinvented St. Vincent classics, Clark performed the entirety of her new album MASSEDUCTION from start to finish. Not only was it the first time the album was performed publicly, but it also had not been released or leaked online yet. And through it all, Clark controversially rocked the stage without a backing band, shredding our hearts and souls solo like a true icon.


Bruno Major at The Echo (November 3)
Steven Roston, Pass The Aux contributor

Since August of 2016 I have loved Bruno Major. For the next year, his music lifted me up in times of need and refreshed my perspective on issues from friendship to love. When he announced, he was playing a show in LA last November, I jumped at the chance to see him. I told everyone I could and was able to corral several friends there. At the concert, we all put our hands around each other shoulders and swayed to Bruno’s rhythm. Boy, does he have some chops, especially when he surprised us with his cover of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”. I enjoyed his set so much I attended School Night! the next Monday to see him perform and have already bought tickets to his show in February at the Masonic Lodge.

Sylvan Esso at the Hollywood Palladium (August 25)
– Conor Hogan, Debuts of Note, Pass The Aux contributor

“…All you’ll hear is sound and all you’ll feel is sound and all you’ll be is sound…”

Those are some of the first few lines in Sylvan Esso’s sophomore album’s opening track “Sound”. They were also some of the first few lines at Sylvan Esso’s Palladium concert. And from the moment Amelia Meath (vocals, lyrics) and Nick Sanborn (instrumental, production) opened with “Sound”, drifted into “Hey Mami” and then flitted into “Kick Jump Twist”, you knew one thing for certain: these fuckers weren’t just a band, they were equally a two-person transcendental sonic movement. Their lighting show was simple, elegant and on point. Amelia was just a lovely burst of energy and Nick knew exactly when to take center stage. And then “Just Dancing”? Holy shit. Best dance song of the year, best live song I saw all year. Hands down a classic dance track that handily delivers live like I never would have imagined – that bass live with those subwoofers on the Palladium’s sound system?! Phew.

The truly special thing about that concert in retrospect was who accompanied me. He was my first love. I got to see my first Sylvan Esso concert with the first person I’ve ever truly loved. And that, my friends, is why Sylvan Esso at the Palladium was my favorite show of the year. It made me feel like a teenager again… and it let me experience something I never got to openly express at a concert back then out of fear: Love.

PS – I tend to write down notes during concerts, but I didn’t for much of this one (I was a bit preoccupied with the aforementioned company and, uh, also dancing my fucking ass off.) I only have one note from that show: ‘“Slack Jaw” was the first song in (the) encore – the feeling was perfect’. I remember the hell outta that moment. If I’m lucky, I’ll remember the hell outta that moment for the rest of eternity. Praise be to you, Amelia and Nick. Praise be to you, Sylvan Esso.

Cactus Blossoms at The Echo (October 21)
Soraya Sebghati, lead singer of Night Talks

Out of all the live music I saw in 2017, the show that immediately jumps out to me is the night I saw the Cactus Blossoms at the Echo. Everything about that show felt purely serendipitous.  I found out about the band from watching the return of my favorite TV show of all time, Twin Peaks. I immediately bought their album and started following them on Instagram. When they announced their show at The Echo, I immediately snapped up my tickets.

Usually when I go to shows I tend to go with only one other person. This time around, it was a nice amalgam of about 7 people I know in one way or another. We formed an odd and dynamic friend group for the night. And of course, the music was exactly what I expected and more. My friend Greta of Springtime Carnivore was the surprise opener. When the Cactus Blossoms finally took the stage, you could feel the entire room falling in love with them. Their voices (and of course harmonies) were PERFECT. Their entire band was so in-sync, and you could tell everyone on stage was having the time of their lives. They played their entire debut album, along with some covers and some new songs.  And I’m proud to say that I was making and receiving some great eye contact from the front row with one of the Cactus Blossoms.  The whole night was quite literally watching the spiritual successors to the Everly Brothers play their hearts out to a packed and intimate room. I’m so lucky to have been there.

Slowdive Wiltern 2017
Slowdive at The Wiltern / Danielle Gornbein

Andrew Ledford, of Oakland band The Tet Holiday:

Four shows stand out as the best of the year…Jason Isbell at the Fox, Slowdive at the Fox, Pixies at the Fox, and The Jesus Lizard at the Independent. Jason Isbell has a crack band, great songs, and knows how to put on a show. Southern rock at its best. Slowdive was a perfect combo of beautiful songs, production, and venue — plus, I missed them the first time around after they reunited. Pixies may not have Kim Deal anymore, but Paz Lenchantin is awesome, and they ripped through 30+ amazing songs with hardly a word to the audience (and they played “Rock Music”!) The Jesus Lizard were absolutely insane — David Yow was in the audience from the first note of the first song. Fun, heavy, energetic, and rock solid. Who knows if they play together again, but to see them in a packed 500 cap room was a treat.

LCD Soundsystem at Hollywood Palladium (November 18)
Lee Bedrouni, Pass The Aux contributor

While I might not have been totally head-over-heels in love with American Dream, there was no way I was going to miss out on seeing the LCD Soundsystem live return to Los Angeles. I knew it was going to be good, as the band had been treating audiences to a considerable amount of classic songs, but I never could have imagined just how good the setlist would be. It’s not often a live show can inspire multiple spiritual experiences, but between the infectious thud of LCD’s rhythm section, James Murphy and co.’s understated vocal performance and the brilliant mosaic of keyboards and guitars, LCD that night was a downright holy dancefloor revival. The thrash and pull of joyous, dancing, singing bodies all over the dancefloor under that ubiquitous disco ball? Nothing else felt like it this year.

Sevdaliza at the Echoplex (June 19)
Jackie Jacoby, OWSLA office manager

Sevdaliza was by far my favorite discovery of 2017. A former member of the Iranian Women’s National basketball team turned feminist icon, she tweets things like, “till death do us art.” Her Los Angeles show (one of only two in the US) topped my list as the best of the year, not just for her haunting vibrato, but for her ability to make existentialism sexy again: “I am flesh, bones / I am skin, soul / I am human / Nothing more than human.”

You get the sense that she’s the smartest person in the room, a feline stalking her own audience.  A standout for me (with a crazy good music video to match!) was “That Other Girl,” a track with a guttural drop at 1:43.  Sevdaliza has HUGE secret plans for 2018, and I’m beyond excited to see what she does with these collaborators.

Bon Iver at Coachella (April 22)
– Matt Kirchhoefer, concert & festival enthusiast I met at Governors Ball

I’ll admit, this set had a lot going against it. The previous night I had felt too exhausted by the long day of standing in the heat to fully enjoy one of my favorite bands, Radiohead. On top of that Bon Iver’s time slot was sandwiched between Future and Lady Gaga. Seeing as there is very little crossover between those fanbases, I was worried that I would be surrounded by a lot of people who just don’t care about Bon Iver that would be disrespectful. The previous week, they performed a setlist that was a bit light on the hits, or for that matter, any hits that weren’t on their recent masterpiece, 22 A Million. But it’s safe to say that the critical darling transcended past those obstacles. Justin Vernon not only brought the hits, he also, in a very Coachella fashion, brought the guests. This set started out with a pitched down spoken word bit about the power of music followed by Justin’s best friend playing the trumpet with some effect put on it that fuzzed it out so much, he may as well have been playing a synthesizer.

The band then came out and played highlights from 22 A Million along with an incredibly passionate performance of the beloved hit, Skinny Love. But that wasn’t the only surprise. Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath came out to help perform a full band rendition of Flume, NAO came out to perform a revamped Michicant, Bruce Hornsby and Jenny Lewis came out and covered the Don Henley classic The End of the Innocence, and to close it out Francis and the Lights came out to perform their song, Friends, which even included a choreographed dance from Francis and Justin. It was a beautiful moment to see such a serious musician ease up and dance with his friend for the whole festival to watch. The only complaints I have with this show are that they did not play 29 #Strafford APTS, which has Bon Iver’s most beautiful live arrangement yet and some Lady Gaga fans would not stop talking during the quiet moments of the show. All of that aside, this performance was immaculate and beautiful and is therefore, my favorite show of the year.

Best of Music 2017: 100 Favorite Songs of 2017