Of course we weren’t at every concert in 2017. But between the members of the Uproxx staff, we were at a lot of them and saw a good portion of the acts we regularly cover. From the massive festivals like Coachella and Lollapalooza to tour launches everywhere from California to Maine, we were out there experiencing music at its loudest and most visceral. As the way we consume music shifts on yearly basis, concerts remain a constant, whether you are going just a couple times a year or many times a week. Below you’ll find a rundown of performances that stood out from the pack. Some might have felt important to music as a whole, while others just felt important to the people present. But they were all special reminders of why we love music in the first place.
There’s a sweet space between legacy and contemporary acts where the likes of Ben Folds, Elvis Costello, and many others exist when they tour the country. They’re still pumping out new music but they’re not blind to the reality that a big segment of the audience is there to hear the hits, a few deep cuts, and a couple of quick stories. The whole thing runs the risk of becoming formulaic, leading to a disconnect between an understandably bored musician and an understandably enthusiastic paying crowd. But Folds long ago found a way to keep things fresh, adding a little controlled chaos to the proceedings.
In November 2005, I saw Folds play the legendary Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan. The set was energetic and fun with Folds making up for a past cancellation (or maybe he was making up for a shorter than anticipated show from another time? My memory is fuzzy) by playing until he near-literally got pulled off the stage as curfew neared.
Cut to 12 years later and I was sat in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania at the mid-size and nice (but not legendary) Sherman Theater watching Folds bring a similar level of energy and charm to another paying crowd. But this time, there was a little more interaction. I’m not sure when that transition happened (sometime after 2005), but at some point in his long life as a touring musician, Folds began asking his crowd to fold up pieces of paper with requests on them and hurl them toward the stage as paper airplanes. I jotted down “The Luckiest” because it’s a song that has an emotional connection for me and my wife. I’m sure 1/6th of the airplanes had the same request with the same reasoning, but it wasn’t important that Folds play the song I wanted. What was important was that, as Folds marched across the stage picking up and tossing requests he didn’t want to play and unfurling and doing his best to recall the ones that he was down to try, we all occupied another sweet space between being mere observers of his talent and participants in his show. And it all made for the kind of near-intimate experience you hope to have when seeing a live act who you’ve carried with you for awhile.–Jason Tabrys
Fleet Foxes and Beach House
I’m enough of a Fleet Foxes obsessive, that I actually made Spotify playlist of the setlist they played for their September debut at the Hollywood Bowl. You can listen along here if you missed that incredible doubleheader, when Beach House opened for the Pacific Northwest folkies… which made me remember they were formerly label mates on Sub Pop for quite some time. Damn does that label not get nearly enough credit.
Anyway, while I already wrote about the show quite extensively, and you can read about my relationship with the band here, this night was one of those concerts that feels like an event, whether you’re a diehard fan, a tag-along friend, or the artist themselves. Time and again, while onstage that night, the group’s frontman Robin Pecknold expressed his appreciation that his band can fill a historic venue like the Bowl, and their performance was technically precise, passionately rendered, and full of the kind of awe that only a band playing one of their dream venues can muster.
It’s not just the Hollywood Bowl itself that made the show special, but also the fact that Fleet Foxes took a whopping six years off between records. Perhaps not a significant number in the past, but in the new era of double albums, surprise releases, and filler EPs, over half a decade felt like a very long time to go without. And fans began to wonder: Was Fleet Foxes over? Nothing could’ve been a stronger rebuttal to that fear than their Los Angeles show, which incorporated not just new songs, but tender, imperial moments from each of their records.
In fact, the Hollywood Bowl show found the meeting points between songs on different albums and wove the entire discography of the band into a story that could be performed in glowing four and five-part harmonies. That night, the narrative of the band felt complete, like something had come full circle. But, like a circle, it also felt like there might be infinitely more loops that could be added. It was a coup for a band who won’t call it a comeback, but will call it a crack-up. If this is them losing it, then I hope they keep taking themselves apart, and putting the band back together, ad infinitum.–Caitlin White
By the time Frank Ocean got to New York’s Panorama Festival, he’d already canceled the bulk of what was to be his triumphant return to touring. While the set sadly didn’t feature an appearance from Brad Pitt, it was nonetheless utterly breathtaking, showcasing across the massive screens the unique and perfect combination of Spike Jonze’s incredible visuals and Ocean’s music. There is something about this pairing that allowed the performance for almost 100,000 people seem like it was an intimate affair, somehow giving fans a glimpse into Ocean’s beautiful and insular world.
The shots showed graffiti on the stage that resembled a childhood bedroom, and allowed concertgoers standing more than a football field away to feel like they were in the front row as Ocean knelt over a small keyboard resting on the stage floor. The performance was beautiful on a level that is hard to capture with words, and because Ocean only performed a handful of times, not many will share the experience. But maybe that’s how Ocean wants it, forever grappling with success on his own terms, quietly delivering a concert unlike any other, as if it was as natural as breathing.–Zac Gelfand
There is a special time to catch an artist on tour — live and in-person — that you can’t quite ever duplicate. It’s an aligning of the stars when the act is large enough to headline a tour, to fill a room with adoring fans, and still ecstatic enough about their career that they pour everything into their performance. The artist is also in their infancy, still new, still a ways away from headlining arenas or even large theaters, so that the room is small enough to feel intimate without the contrived intimacy of specialty shows. You’re close enough to touch the artist, and the artist is humble enough to reach out and touch you first. Or, in the case of Isaiah Rashad back in March, humble enough to wander the crowd discreetly to get a feel of the room and the adulation before ever taking the stage.
On the Lil Sunny Tour, Isaiah was, as he put it, “Really grateful for everything that’s happened to me,” and it showed on stage. He was rambunctious, but also personable, talking to individuals in the crowd and even taking song requests on a whim. He soaked in all of the energy of the crowd, and instantly spit it right back at them with his impassioned renditions of his records. At times he felt on the verge of painful tears, at other times tears of joy, but never did the energy or passion of the performance let up. As his star continues to rise, he’ll likely never return to a room in town as small as that, or a stage as tiny, but for that lightning in a bottle night, the gratitude was reciprocated from artist to fan and right back at him.–Eddie Gonzalez
Every year, I see a lot of shows — in bars, clubs, theaters, arenas and even stadiums. Most of the time, I’m watching bands that are trying to create the biggest sound possible, often with the assistance of lights, video, and occasionally smoke machines. But in the case of Julien Baker, there was only one person, one guitar, and one spotlight. And yet nothing I witnessed in 2017 came close to matching the power that Baker commanded with that Spartan setup. Previewing songs from her excellent sophomore effort, Turn Out The Lights, about a week before the album was released this fall, Baker bantered softly with the audience between songs, like an old friend on a late-night phone call, encouraging everyone to love themselves a little more than they probably do. (Why else would we be listening to Julien Baker?) Then, she would step to the mic and sing a song like “Appointments,” building from a heartfelt murmur to a room-quaking wail. Some of us would quietly sing along, but most of the audience sat transfixed, as Baker managed to successfully make the biggest sound possible while communicating directly with each and every single one of us.–Steven Hyden
Concerts are something of a specialty of mine, and I saw a whole helluva lot of them in 2017. But for all the fierce, intimate gigs in cramped clubs or spectacular football stadium blowouts I caught this year, nothing blew me away with more than Kendrick Lamar and his DAMN tour. K Dot set the tempo off right from the jump, sharing the stage with ScHoolboy Q, Travis Scott and Future at Coachella in April, just days after dropping his latest album. He then upped the ante across the rest of the country with a show that brought Yeezus tour levels of thematic cohesion and energy. There were ninjas, pyro, lasers, an obscured live band, a LED-lit second stage placed at the middle of the Arena, and a massive, slanted projection screen that flashed scenes from a Kung Fu-inspired short film. At the first show I witnessed in Chicago, Chance The Rapper even made an appearance and blew the crowd away with a rousing rendition of “No Problems.” That’s not even mentioning Travis’ opening set, which he delivered on top of a mechanical, floating eagle. For over 90-minutes, Kendrick forced you to keep your head on a swivel, putting you constantly on edge, unaware of what was about to happen next, all the while rapping his ass off over the greatest collected canon of the 21st Century.–Corbin Reiff
Lorde’s year in live music started before she even played a show, when her name showed up in large, bold font near the top of the Coachella lineup. And though she graced nearby Pappy & Harriet’s with an intimate warm-up show, Coachella acted a bit like a coming out party for Lorde 2.0, as she debuted the incredible stage show that she’s tour festivals throughout the year. At that point, no one had heard Melodrama, and few had any idea that it would wind up being the best album of the year.
But maybe we should have known based on the focus that the young songwriter brought to her live set, demonstrating incredible vision by performing in front of a transparent shipping container that featured interpretive dance performers. Over the course of the year, I’d see her play in the pouring rain at Lollapalooza, headline a rock radio festival at the KROQ Weenie Roast, and give a more stripped-back version of her festival self at Outside Lands. But at Coachella, the launch pad for everything that would come this year, Lorde seemed fully aware of the storm of goodwill that was about to shower upon her. It was her year for the taking, and she wasn’t going to squander the moment.–Philip Cosores
Sammus, Milo, And Open Mike Eagle
Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory was as packed as I’d ever seen for the triumvirate of Sammus, Milo and Open Mike Eagle. Granted, I’d only been like three times before, but the place was packed to the brim which quickly illustrated the following that the three creative, prolific artists carry. Sammus began the show with an electric set of tracks from her cathartic Pieces In Space album. Her high energy set matched the intensity of the studio recordings of songs like “Headliner.”
Milo followed up and showcased why he’s also grown a large cult following. The prolific artist/producer performed some of his well-known tracks as well as a series of songs he had recorded over the past couple days. The Ruby Yacht founder’s set was a winding experience, with live beat machine experimentation transitioning into full songs. Milo was true to the master of ceremony term all night, telling hilarious anecdotes about his time in the Big Apple and showcasing the quick wit of a comedian while occasionally holding court with fans.
Open Mike Eagle closed the show, with a visual installation behind him and the crowd on tilt. He explained that his current Brick Body Kids’ Still Daydream album was about Chicago’s Robert Taylor homes before heading into his set. He sang as well as he rhymed, outdoing the lot of genre-bending artists who don’t sound as great live. Eagle brought Sammus back out and also invited a special guest, as Hannibal Burress’ made the crowd explode with his hilarious verse from “Doug Stamper (Advice Raps).” Lines like, “you ain’t a thug, stop acting like you’ve been through s*it/stop paying for them p*rn site memberships” would’ve had crowd members doubled over—if it wasn’t standing room only.
All three artists came together and fed off of a rabid crowd who were ready to see the talented independent acts do their thing. It was definitely a show to remember.–Andre Gee
Since June, I had listened to SZA’s debut album Ctrl enough times to say I knew the sequencing and the minor interludes down pat. I knew that I was essentially preparing myself to hear about an album for the rest of the year and that eventually, I would have to see the creator of said album, live.
In Houston, the dynamics for a female artist to take over one of the five biggest performance venues in the city involves a bit of magic. SZA is magic. Never in the history of Warehouse Live had I seen the ballroom area anticipating a woman speaking her truth in quite the same way. When she emerged on stage, that neon Ctrl logo sitting behind her, it felt like a preacher meeting his congregation after a necessary week of stress and tribulation.
That night, it rained in Houston and brought back minor memoirs of Hurricane Harvey. For a while, people affected by the storm could block everything out and belt out songs like “Supermodel” and “Broken Clocks” and “Doves In The Wind.” Even Travis Scott made an appearance for “Love Galore,” giving his hometown a rather intimate and personal moment.
I thought aloud why this album and this tour brought out so many women who shared their own struggles with love, happiness, and regret. I understood it as a need for fellowship, for not feeling like an outsider amongst the same people you consider friends. SZA cherished her imperfections and channeled it through her music. Every person in that sold out venue took her message to heart.
Hours after the show had ended, some 60 people still remained, part of a meet and greet package TDE announced for the tour. Also sticking around was The Hive Society, a nonprofit organization that SZA had partnered with to collect donations for those affected by Harvey throughout her tour, eager to shake hands and exchange hugs. SZA became an honorary Houstonian solely by her charity and grace and by the end of the night, she had announced that all the money from the show would be going to the nonprofit. A SZA show benefits everyone. A SZA show in Houston after the storm? Well, that might have healed more than anything else.–Brandon Caldwell
Syd’s “first” solo show at The Resident near downtown LA sold out in minutes, so quickly that a second show was added after the first. The tiny courtyard of the equally tiny venue packed itself to the gills with expectant fans so anxiously awaiting the doors opening that there was a tangle of bodies stuck at the entrance trying to shove their way through. The crowd wasn’t made up of the typical LA cool kids; this show was for the misfits, the outcasts, and the weirdoes. Syd has become their advocate, their icon, their savior. She didn’t so much prove that she could carry a packed house without the aid of her backing band — she’d already done that throughout The Internet’s 6-year stint as Odd Future’s one true band. Instead, she solidified and justified these people’s love for her music and her personality. She was theirs, yes, always had been and always would be, but they were also hers — her people, her friends, her family, and her reason.–Aaron Williams
The War On Drugs
The War On Drugs had perhaps the best rock album of 2017, and the way more than a few people see it, the “rock” qualifier isn’t necessary. A Deeper Understanding is filled with epic Americana tracks that are both nostalgic and progressive in a way that so many bands write about in their press materials, but in a way that’s not actually pulled off that often. “Oh man, these songs are going to sound awesome live,” thought everybody when those booming drums kick in about 70 seconds into “Up All Night.”
Right from the start of their tour supporting the album, from the second they stepped on stage at the opening night in Portland, Maine, Adam Granduciel and company had it completely figured out. “My” Portland is often confused in the Uproxx Music Slack room for the more populated and famous one on the west coast, but the night of that show, it felt like the most important place in the world.
Why? Even though I haven’t seen every touring band live in 2017, I have a hard time saying that The War On Drugs aren’t the best of them by a mile, and it all began in “the other” Portland. It was their first time out and they absolutely blew the roof off the place… which is actually no good, because Maine winters get pretty damn cold.–Derrick Rossignol