L.A.'s 20 Best Live Shows of 2016

Grace Jones at FYF
Grace Jones at FYF
Shane Lopes

For live music in Los Angeles, 2016 may be remembered as the Year of the "Secret" Show. All year long, big-ticket acts downsized into intimate venues such as the Fonda, Troubadour, Satellite and Whisky a Go-Go, warming up for larger-scale tours or keeping their chops up between festival gigs, while giving those few fans lucky enough to score tickets the thrill of a lifetime. Lady Gaga, Metallica, Prophets of Rage, Iggy Pop, Paul McCartney and Guns N' Roses all got in on the underplay action — though only three of them made our final picks for the year's 20 best shows (you'll have to read on to find out which three).

Elsewhere around the SoCal live music landscape, festivals continued to dominate. Eight of our top 20 shows were sets at such excellent events as FYF, Echo Park Rising, Camp Flog Gnaw, Desert Trip and the still-reigning champion of them all, Coachella. (Other worthy festivals, including Hard Summer and Desert Daze, didn't make the list but still delivered great experiences, even if no one performance at them stood out.)

So without further ado, here are our picks for the 20 best concerts of 2016. See you in the will-call line next year!

20. ELO, Hollywood Bowl, Sept. 9-11
It’s hard to say how exactly the Electric Light Orchestra went from being viewed as a basic prog-rock nostalgia act to an iconic, classic-rock hot ticket. But in September, Jeff Lynne’s current ELO lineup sold out three nights at the Bowl and proved that they are just that. Pretty much every show I saw at the Bowl this year was awesome, but ELO’s season-closing nights were a rousing climax that was hard to top. The immersive lights and backdrops were as compelling as the soundscapes themselves, perfectly complementing the ’70s vibes and varied moods of the music. From wistful ballads to giddy dance tracks, classical instrumentation to trippy sound effects, Lynne’s still-emotive vocals and timeless melodies made us fall in love with the Light all over again. —Lina Lecaro

DJ Harvey at AkbarEXPAND
DJ Harvey at Akbar
Eric Gross

19. DJ Harvey, Bears in Space at Akbar, July 3
Previous experience had my friends and me mentally and physically prepared for DJ Harvey’s annual Bears in Space appearance at Silver Lake’s highly enjoyable den of iniquity, Akbar. Converse, shorts, tank tops, cross-body purses and hair up, as it was guaranteed to be a smelly sweatbox. And it was, with the moodiness of the regulars heightening in correlation with the temperature. But with Harvey tucked away in an inaccessible DJ booth, on his own sound system and in the ultimate zone for the duration, none of that mattered. We lucky few wore out the four square feet of space we marked off for dancing, which never stopped. —Lily Moayeri

Jake Clemons, left, with Bruce Springsteen at the Sports Arena on March 19
Jake Clemons, left, with Bruce Springsteen at the Sports Arena on March 19
Hannah Verbeuren

18. Bruce Springsteen, Sports Arena, March 15-19 (review)
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band rocked the L.A. Sports Arena for one last set of shows before the "dump that jumps" or "the joint that don't disappoint" was demolished in September. For these marathon three-hour-plus sets, the Boss and company played the entire double LP The River (one of the weirder, darker, more tangled entries in his discography) from end to end, then played another dozen or so classics in between "Bruuuuce" chants echoing one last time in the old, intimate venue. With Clarence Clemons' son Jake now on the sax to fill the void his insanely talented father left, the band that's been touring consistently for decades played one of the best rock shows in L.A. this year. —Jonny Coleman

17. Bat for Lashes, Immanuel Presbyterian Church, April 20
Bat for Lashes’ latest album, The Bride, chronicles the death of an epic romance through a series of deeply sad yet convulsively cathartic ballads. Singer Natasha Khan emphasized the funereal bridal theme by booking her band’s tour in churches, and Immanuel Presbyterian was a fittingly imposing setting as her aching voice ascended airily and resounded off the grand building’s lofty ceiling. An unexpected cover of The Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun” only deepened the eerie feeling of loss, longing and shattered expectations. —Falling James

The Who at Desert Trip
The Who at Desert Trip
Shane Lopes

16. The Who, Desert Trip, Oct. 9 (review)
While all six artists on the first annual Desert Trip festival's surreally stacked lineup rose to the occasion with brilliant sets (yes, even Bob Dylan — don't listen to the haters), The Who's twilight performance on Sunday night stood out as the first weekend's fiercest. Galloping through their massive catalog of classics with the aid of a razor-sharp backing band (anchored by the controlled but still Keith Moon–like drumming of Ringo Starr's kid, Zak Starkey), Who survivors Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey put any "hope I die before get old" wisecracks to rest once and for all, raising their middle fingers to old age and breathing new life into even their most overplayed hits, especially a climactic "Won't Get Fooled Again" that, in the era of Trump, took on a new sense of bitter urgency. —Andy Hermann

15. Thee Commons, Echo Park Rising, Aug. 19
My colleague Chris Kissel recently posited that East L.A.'s Thee Common might be the best live band in Los Angeles, and after seeing them blow everybody else off the outdoor mainstage on Friday night at Echo Park Rising, I'm inclined to agree with him. Thee Commons' music is a distinctive tangle of punk rock, psychedelia and cumbia, which they serve up with raw, loose-limbed energy, especially when joined by sometime fourth member Jesus Salas on sax. At EPR, their performance grew more unhinged with each song, especially when they donned animal masks and were joined onstage by a dancing pink gorilla. —Andy Hermann

Dillinger Escape Plan's Greg Puciato
Dillinger Escape Plan's Greg Puciato
Hannah Verbeuren

14. Dillinger Escape Plan, The Regent Theater, Oct. 30
If the Dillinger Escape Plan are truly taking a long hiatus after their remaining live shows, they lived up to their notorious reputation for riotous performances to the bitter end. Vocalist Greg Puciato immediately dove from the stage into the crowd upon screaming his first lyrics. Guitarist Ben Weinman soon followed, with guitar in tow. The band’s career-spanning set list accompanied nonstop moshing, Puciato's 15-foot balcony jump into the crowd and an invite to get as many fans moshing onstage with the band as humanly possible. The grand finale was Puciato standing above the crowd and blowing a huge fireball above their heads as the band finished off the closing bars to “43% Burnt.” –Jason Roche

Anderson .Paak at Camp Flog GnawEXPAND
Anderson .Paak at Camp Flog Gnaw
Mathew Tucciarone

13. Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, Camp Flog Gnaw, Nov. 13
Anderson .Paak wasn’t a complete unknown entering 2016, but this year has done wonders for his career, including two critically acclaimed albums (his own Malibu and NxWorries' Yes Lawd!) and a Best New Artist Grammy nomination. He played just about every major music festival with his band, The Free Nationals, but it wasn’t until November at Camp Flog Gnaw that his live identity completely came into focus. Whether it was leaping around the stage as a bandleader, sharing the spotlight with surprise guest Mac Miller or impressing with his drum skills, Paak was no longer performing with anything to prove. He’s a fully formed rock star whose potential can only be limited by his own imagination. —Philip Cosores

Bleached at Echo Park Rising
Bleached at Echo Park Rising
Hannah Verbeuren

12. Bleached, Echo Park Rising, Aug. 20
This year’s four-day Echo Park Rising festival was a literal walking tour through the lives and sounds of hundreds of this town’s most promising musicians (Chicano Batman, The Regrettes, Emily Gold, The Bomb, Laura Jean Anderson) mixed with occasional visits from old-school sages (The Weirdos) in various clubs and shops along Sunset Boulevard. But the most thrilling set might have been Bleached’s triumphant appearance on the outdoor Liberty Stage behind Taix. Lead singer Jennifer Clavin belted out catchy pop-punk anthems from the band's latest album, Welcome the Worms, with charismatic assurance while her sister Jessica played the role of guitar hero to perfection. —Falling James

11. Vince Staples, Coachella, April 16
If the Sahara Tent once housed Coachella’s 72-hour dance floor, no one told Vince Staples. Apart from the elaborate lighting design, his weekend one set bore a kind of intimacy that hits too close to home while suspended in the vast Coachella void. Tyler, the Creator and A$AP Rocky may have been milling around the front of the stage, but Staples will never fall into the cliché of “your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper.” He might, however, be your favorite rapper’s favorite writer. Breakout single “Blue Suede” closed the show with visions of early, ill-fated deaths and premature headstones obscured by bouquets, and flower crowns in the crowd took on a higher degree of absurdity than ever before. —Cory Lomberg

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