The 20 Best Live Shows of 2014

Ty Segall at the Echo (Night Two)
Ty Segall at the Echo (Night Two)
Photo by Leonard Drorian

L.A. continues to be a Mecca for live music. The city's artist-friendly climate steadily draws in acts looking to feed off the endless gigging opportunities, from DIY haunts like the Smell, to the historic Hollywood Bowl. 

In other words, we're a bit spoiled. In 2014 alone, the L.A. Weekly staff witnessed hundreds of shows, at Coachella, the Santa Monica Pier and everywhere in between. After crushing our brains over reviews dating back to January, we meticulously selected our 20 best concerts of the year. A few of which stray outside the geographic boundaries of L.A. proper, but we couldn't help it; L.A. is a stone's throw from every half-naked desert rave and weed-friendly festival around.

Did we mention we're spoiled? 

Kate Nash at the Smell
Kate Nash at the Smell
Photo by Sophia Muller

20. Kate Nash - The Smell - September 14, 2014
The "first public meeting" of Kate Nash's Girl Gang featured many of our favorite female-fronted rockers — La Sera, Peach Kelli Pop, the Aquadolls — but the highlight of the mini-festival was the "Foundations" crooner herself. In the running for most suffocatingly sweaty show of the year, Nash surfed through the claustrophobic crowd chanting the lyrics to "Girl Gang," her take on Fidlar's "Cocaine." It was a show so momentous, Nash's mother even traveled all the way from London to be there. — Artemis Thomas-Hansard

Action Bronson at the Echoplex
Action Bronson at the Echoplex
Photo by Max Bell

19. Action Bronson - Echoplex - February 6, 2014
Action Bronson isn’t interested in reality. Behind the mic, the laws of physics do not apply to his portly frame; roundhouse kicks and backflips are not only possible, they are standard practice. In February, he continued his myth-making at the Echoplex. Unlike many peers, he rapped over legitimate instrumentals, effortlessly performing the entirety of his Blue Chips 2 mixtape while dancing, squatting and throwing weed into the audience. Max Bell

Destruction UnitEXPAND
Destruction Unit
Photo by Leonard Drorian

18. Destruction Unit - Los Globos - August 15, 2014
Night one of Berserktown Fest included the first L.A. appearance by hardcore mutants, Dawn of Humans. But during the penultimate set by Arizona's Destruction Unit, three drummers, three guitar players, and one psychedelic wall of sound rattled Los Globos like sadomasochistic sex during full-scale war. In the process, a few journalist's went deaf and nobody seemed to give a shit about Chrome, who were almost boring following Destruction Unit's utter mayhem. — Art Tavana

Freddie Gibbs at Echoplex
Freddie Gibbs at Echoplex
Photo by Timothy Norris

17. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Echoplex - March 28, 2014
Freddie Gibbs and Madlib. Gary, Indiana’s answer to 2Pac and the psilocybin-fueled beat konducta. The pairing was improbable; the results were potent. The duo’s collaborative album, Piñata, remains one of the best rap records of 2014. Their Echoplex show confirmed their respective and collective prowess. Madlib’s opening DJ set reminded everyone that he knew about crate-digging long before The Lootpack, while Gibbs rapped over Madlib’s shapeshifting suites with ease. Max Bell

The Coathangers' Julia Kugel at Burger a-Go-Go
The Coathangers' Julia Kugel at Burger a-Go-Go
Photo by Leonard Drorian

16. The Coathangers - The Observatory - August 2, 2014
At the first-ever Burger a-Go-Go, Atlanta's Coathangers unleashed a caustic, wigged-out performance that had everyone at the Observatory losing their shit. Watching Stephanie Luke (aka Rusty Coathanger) smashing her kit while unleashing raspy growls — a la Kim Gordon meets Brody Dalle — was the most primal thing anyone saw all night. The Coathangers conquered the "punk rock Lilith Fair" as if they were starved wildlings unleashed into a crowd of entitled cheerleaders. The best part? Nobody saw it coming. Art Tavana

15. The Magician - Coachella - April 12, 2014
When The Magician stepped up to the decks inside the Yuma tent on the second night of Coachella, he more than validated his stage name. Playing the vibrant, pop-oriented house music made popular on his monthly mixtapes, the Belgian producer perfectly embodied house's 2014 takeover of electronic dance music. More importantly, it was just so much freaking fun out there on that dance floor. The enclosed tent was at capacity, and the crowd was really dancing, rather than just standing in front the stage taking shitty pictures of the DJ on their phones. That's some modern magic indeed. Katie Bain

The Diamond Light at the Silver Lake Lounge
The Diamond Light at the Silver Lake Lounge
Photo by Ed Ziehm

14. The Diamond Light - The Silverlake Lounge - June 24, 2014
Have you ever been to a bar on a random Tuesday night and been totally blown away by the band performing? That's what happened when the Diamond Light performed at the Silverlake Lounge this June — though it wasn't just one person digging the show, it was the entire room. People stopped their conversations and drink orders to migrate to the stage as the group delivered some refreshingly dexterous shredding. — Artemis Thomas-Hansard

13. Billy Joel - The Hollywood Bowl - May 27, 2014
Forget The Sound of Music; the year's best sing-along at the Bowl was Billy Joel's triumphant return to L.A. for his first headlining shows since those played-out “Face to Face” runs with Elton John. No longer forced to duet on “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” Joel was free to delve further into his astonishingly sturdy catalog, reminding an enthusiastic crowd — hardly any of whom, it seemed, grew up less than 100 miles from New York City — that even deep cuts like “Zanzibar” and “All for Lenya” belong in the Great American Songbook alongside “Piano Man” and “Only the Good Die Young.” Andy Hermann

 

12. Municipal Waste - Echoplex - July 25, 2014
These Virginia punk-thrashers are well-known in metal circles for inspiring the wildest mosh-pitting around. But the added fuel of marked-down Pabst Blue Ribbon and a Friday night sense of abandon resulted in a wall-to-wall mass of sweaty, bruised, and bloody bodies everywhere, as the band ferociously barreled through odes to beer, partying and horror movies. Frontman Tony Foresta said it best when he remarked that “this is the wildest 21-and-over show we’ve ever played!” That was after the second song. — Jason Roche

11. YG - The House of Blues - May 23, 2014
With My Krazy Life, YG and DJ Mustard brought the sound of the West Coast to rap fans across the map for the first time in years. Their sold out House of Blues show was a fitting homecoming, a deserved outpouring of adulation for their ratchet diplomacy. As Mustard dropped his minimalistic, rubbery beats, YG swaggered across the stage, which featured an ersatz front porch of his former Compton home, displaying a level of grace usually ascribed only to veteran rappers.  — Max Bell

Warpaint at Echoplex
Warpaint at Echoplex
Photo Courtesy of Red Bull Sound Select

10. Warpaint - Red Bull's 30 Days in L.A. at The Echoplex - November 7, 2014
With the release of their highly acclaimed self-titled sophomore album and incessant international touring, Warpaint has had a very successful and busy year, which made their hometown performance — and their last show of the year in the U.S. — all the more rewarding. With great visuals (made even more astounding by 3D glasses given to the audience) and cameos by Kurt Vile and a string ensemble, the show was truly special for everyone in the room, Warpaint included. Artemis Thomas-Hansard

9. 'The Simpsons' Take the Hollywood Bowl - September 12-14, 2014
The joys of seeing Conan O’Brien singing “The Monorail Song” were to be expected. But it was the smaller moments of care that took this event beyond a mere fan service cash-in. A “virtual Springfield” experience throughout the entire grounds filled the air with a sense of immersive glee. In between songs, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra provided scores for classic Simpsons moments, and original animated gags poking fun at the venue’s stacked parking and the Hollywood Bowl Museum scored big. Jason Roche

Drake at the Hollywood Bowl
Drake at the Hollywood Bowl
Photo by Timothy Norris

8. Drake vs. Lil Wayne - The Hollywood Bowl - September 22, 2014
It was as much a cabaret show as it was a concert when Lil Wayne and Drake, the sage and the protege, went face to face at the Hollywood Bowl, taking turns performing their own material and making legitimately funny jokes about each other between songs. But the comedy was just a perk, as each man was in prime form, crushing both their biggest solo hits and their collaborative tracks. And while Drake won the battle (via fan votes), the real victor was every person in the attendance that night.Katie Bain

7. Earth - The Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever Cemetery - September 11, 2014
The Masonic Lodge’s cozy atmosphere provided a magnificent backdrop for the post-apocalyptic doom-metal soundscapes provided by Seattle’s Earth. Guitarist Dylan Carlson led a haunting torrent of thunderous riffage throughout a two-hour set that left the audience emotionally drained. The band has completely drifted away from the straightforward drone of their early years, but their live performances prove that their inclusion of dark Americana elements has only made their sound more powerful and cathartic. Jason Roche

 

6. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings - The Wiltern - March 25, 2014
Sharon Jones has long been one of the most exciting performers on the retro soul circuit. But since bouncing back from cancer, she has been positively incandescent. At the Wiltern, her hair still cropped close from recent chemotherapy treatments, anyone in the balcony not already standing leapt to their feet as she testified, "I told cancer — I said, 'Get up and get out!'" At 58 and cancer-free, she's become a pint-sized James Brown in heels, a soul shouter so electrifying you never want the show to end. Andy Hermann

Jack White at the Fonda
Jack White at the Fonda
Photo by Timothy Norris

5. Jack White - The Fonda - June 10, 2014
It was the perfect storm: Jack White, playing a venue he could have filled five times over, on the release day for his second solo LP, Lazaretto. The concert was streamed live on NPR, but no technology could transmit the kinetic feeling in that room as White tore through music spanning the breadth of his career. His tremendously tight band expanded on old material in ways that often sounded heavier and more fully realized than the originals. The encore — "Ball and Biscuit," "Icky Thump," "Love Interruption," "You've Got Her in Your Pocket," "Little Bird" and the forever ass-kicking "Seven Nation Army" — was more than any hardcore fan had dared hope for, and we cheered, sang and head-banged in gratitude, leaving the venue sweaty and satisfied. Katie Bain

Vivian Girls at the Church on YorkEXPAND
Vivian Girls at the Church on York
Photo by Leonard Drorian

4. Vivian Girls - The Church on York - February 14, 2014
At what was billed as the final Vivian Girls show in L.A., the Brooklyn trio tore through 17 songs on what would turn out to be the last Valentine's Day at the Church on York. Without taking a break, lead singer Cassie Ramone played her guitar with dead-eye purpose as C86-obsessed teens rushed the stage, clutching her flannel shirt in one final embrace. No security guards; no douchebags; the pit covered with crushed rose petals, and after a short encore that included a Wipers cover, the punk romance was over. On Valentine's Day, the Vivian Girls turned that short-lived DIY space into Carrie's prom meets 285 Kent — a fitting SoCal farewell to a band that never got the respect it deserved. Art Tavana

3. Darkside - The Fonda - January 25, 2014
Darkside, producer Nicolas Jaar and guitarist Dave Harrington, had played L.A. before (a secret show at the Roxy in November), but this Fonda set was their true local debut. Any doubts that they might not live up to the recorded sound captured on their sprawling, hypnotic debut Psychic were quelled within the first few minutes, as the duo conjured expanded versions of their material while a giant circular mirror sent tunnels of light over the audience. It was electronic music, it was rock music, it was as close to a religious experience as one can have at a concert. Katie Bain

Nick Cave at the Shrine
Nick Cave at the Shrine
Photo by Timothy Norris

2. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Shrine Auditorium - July 11, 2014
We spend our whole lives trying to be so many things. But on this night, everyone walked away with the realization that time could be so much better spent simply trying to be Nick Cave. With a never-ending supply of swagger, Cave mesmerized the audience, with a set list spanning his entire run with the Bad Seeds and covering all emotions, from intense highs to equally powerful lows. Not content to simply banter with the crowd, the gothic icon put himself amongst the audience during several songs, allowing all around to bask in his essence. He's like Mick Jagger with double the sex appeal and ten times as much class. Jason Roche

Ty Segall at the Echo (Night Four)
Ty Segall at the Echo (Night Four)
Photo by Leonard Drorian

1. Ty Segall - The Echo - August 28-31
During his four night residency at the Echo, Ty Segall proved he's at the height of his thunderous reign. Along with his Manipulator band, Segall would test the limits of his audience, torching his garage roots for rock 'n' roll excess. On each night, Segall delivered Marc Bolan pomp with searing Jack White guitar work, burning through a few shiny guitars in the process. On night two, everyone, including bassist Mikal Cronin, thought he lost his marbles when he broke out into a Bad Company cover — while standing atop his adoring fans. Segall played so hard that by the third night, he looked like a Walking Dead character. During four brutal encounters at the Echo, Segall's glowing axe, held in his Micky Mantle-like grip, manipulated his audience into slavish adoration — what the Echo's Talent Buyer Liz Garo called stuff of "legend." And perhaps one day, he'll be just that. Art Tavana


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