1. Danny Brown, Action Bronson
Skidmore College, Oct. 4
Hip-hop shows are too often a cursory run through the hits for artists whose true medium is the studio. Not so for Danny Brown, who brought anarchic energy to Skidmore’s gym the week Old dropped. The whole thing was a proper banger thanks to rafter-rattling beats from producer Skywlkr and fightin’ words from opener Action Bronson.
Upstate Concert Hall, Dec. 7
This massively sold-out homecoming show offered fans a glimpse of Phantogram 2.0, the big-stage band with the crazy light show and the growing arsenal of hits. Next stop, the TU Center?
3. Basilica Soundscape
Basilica Hudson, Sept. 13-14
An ecclectically curated festival, spread over two days at the region’s coolest venue, Basilica Soundscape was adventurous enough to miss the mark with a couple acts. But it was all worth the amazing and regionally rare performaces from Evian Christ, Teengirl Fantasy and Julianna Barwick.
4. Pretty Lights
Times Union Center, Oct. 31
EDM with a live backing band in an arena—on Halloween. The occasion was almost coincidental, as a show like this is going to draw the costumed crazies anyway. The band, dressed as Sesame Street characters, performing Ernie’s “I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon” was a nice touch though.
5. Joey Bada$$ and Pro Era
Upstate Concert Hall, June 22
Prodigy hip-hop crew Pro Era passed the mic between a dozen and a half members in front of only slightly more audience members, but the mostly underage rappers performed with the kind of dexterity and energy that New York rap was built on. No wonder they’re carrying the torch.
Solid Sound Festival, June 22
Surpassing their emerging-artist blog hype, Foxygen brought the only truly inspired and inspiring set to this year’s snoozy Solid Sound—only to get publicly mocked by the organizers and assaulted by a bouncer onstage. Wonder why there aren’t as many rock bands on year-end lists this year? Few perform with Foxygen’s reckless abandon.
7. Youth Lagoon
Pearl Street Nightclub, May 7
Wondrous Bughouse just missed the cut for my top 10 this year, and I rocked that psychedelic gem on my car tape player (yup) all summer. It’s just as well, since the Boise band are just as much a live act, pairing tender Syd Barrett moments with searching midwestern psych a la the Flaming Lips. Extra props to Trevor Powers for a well-worn paisley blouse.
8. Dirty Projectors
Skidmore College, April 13
Truth be told, the performance felt a bit uninspired, performed in the Skidmore gym to a crowd drunkenly groping one another, but David Longstreth’s songs are so good that it didn’t really matter. A chamber orchestra masquerading as a rock band, the Dirty Projectors were as tight and well-rehearsed as you’d expect, sparing the crowd any bluster of fancy lights and stage theatrics.
9. Kendrick Lamar
Washington Avenue Armory, May 30
I went a skeptic and left a Kendrick Lamar fan. He’s probably garnered a disproportionate amount of the hype surrounding this new generation of rap talent, but he’s defintely carrying the West Coast torch. It was good to see him here with his Black Hippy compadres Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul too.
Valentine’s, June 15
If twee and rap ever belong in the same sentence, it’s in regard to Why? Yoni Wolf and his twee-rap Roots backing band made me feel all my feelings and even move a little bit.