5. The Zeros and The Muffs
Though the Zeros and the Muffs began their careers at the start of the punk era and in the middle of grunge, respectively, their billing this summer was inspired. Both play the kind of punk -- catchy pop hooks over wham-bam, cranked-up chords -- that, while not necessarily trendy now, will never go out of style.
Our venerable critic Falling James praised the Muffs' new songs as well as lead singer Kim Shattuck's moxie and "simple Creedence Clearwater-style arpeggio." The Zeros rollicked and rolled, and proved again how exceptional and musically talented the Escovedo family is.
Far from being a night of nostalgia, the "immediacy and drive of most of these songs remain fresh, especially since many of these virtual classics have never been heard by the mainstream rock world."
4. My Morning Jacket
The Louisville, KY-based My Morning Jacket is no simple "southern rock" band. They've transcended that critical distinction and become one of the best touring live acts in an age where bands are, unfortunately, relying less and less on building a rep based on their live shows. They hit the Wiltern for a three-night stand that put some of the control into their devoted fan base's hands, letting them Tweet what songs they wanted for the opener and encore.
Wednesday night's show seemed especially to be geared toward the fans, the band playing songs from as far back as their 1999 debut. At first, they jammed, but then slowed the pace down, frontman Jim James' falsetto bringing on several moving moments. With few bells or whistles, MMJ pretty much guarantee both an incredibly hard-rocking and emotionally raw show. As Aaron Frank noted, "The sense of utter joy that lights up people's faces is one of the reasons I keep coming back to see this band."
3. FYF Fest
Yes, it gets really hot in L.A., right around the time the rest of the country is cooling down. Labor Day Weekend, we eschewed leisurely picnics in the park for baking in the sun and choking on dust clouds at FYF Fest -- and we couldn't have been happier.
Day One, the Vaselines perked up the afternoon with witty reparte and Angeleno quartet Warpaint delivered a truly mind-blowing set, and that's no hyperbole. By night, Refused "exploded with the ferocity of a prison escapee on a rampage," said Paul T. Bradley.
The next day, we went back for more of the "Best Weekend of the Summer," a claim FYF lived up to. Plenty of terrific up-and-comers played the afternoon (notably the Allah-Las), but it was Dinosaur Jr. and J Mascis who melted the faces not already burned off by the heat. Everybody headed for The Faint to close out the party, and no one was sad. Keyboardist Jacob Thiele "manipulated electricity with the brilliance of a sentient sound robot."
When we heard D'Angelo was returning to the stage after an almost 12-year hiatus, we were equal parts excited and tremulous. Of course we have missed the R&B singer whose honeyed voice, intoxicating mix of funk, jazz and soul, and status as a sex symbol defined the soul scene of late '90s. But fame -- especially that of his Greek-god statue of a body almost eclipsing his talent -- had crippled and sent him down a self-destructive path. Could he handle a comeback? More secretly, we wondered: did he still have it?
By the second hour of his Fourth of July show, fireworks were going off. Starting off soft and husky, he eventually let loose and did Marvin Gaye or Prince -- the two crowns he seemed most likely to inherit -- proud. Welcome back. We missed you.
1. Fiona Apple
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It was the summer of comebacks, it seems. Fiona Apple, the singer whose gravelly, gut-wrenching voice belies her waif-like appearance, embarked on her first major tour in seven years and made two stops in L.A.
At her first, a case of stage fright kept her antsy fans waiting, but at her second date, she was as giddy and carefree as a schoolgirl -- a pleasant shock for Apple devotees. Her 1996 debut, Tidal, established her not only as a teenage phenomenon, but also the kind of artist who throws open the door to her soul in her music. There always seems to be a romantic war raging inside Apple, its ravages manifesting themselves in a voice beautifully ragged with emotion and eyes flashing with wrath and anguish.
That was all present in her shows, but as critic Falling James said about the Greek appearance, "The singer appeared so happy on 'Machine' that she kept literally kicking up her red heels with joy." Seeing an almost scarily talented artist like Apple alive and kicking after almost a decade is enough, but seeing her go through the entire range of human emotion under a sky dappled with stars in the middle of the mountains? Perfect.