We Ranked the 20 Absolute Best L.A. Concerts of 2015

St Vincent at Coachella
St Vincent at Coachella
Photo by Timothy Norris

A perk associated with being an unfairly maligned music critic is a tightly fitted wristband; it's the V.I.P. salve to help us carry on this wayward existence of sleepless nights — loaded on various stimulants — praying to Jesus that we don't go deaf by a speaker at the Fonda.

We also get to make lists! So, as gatekeepers of L.A. sound, we thought we'd gift you with the results of the latest numbered missive from the L.A. Weekly hive mind, conferenced over in heated deliberation, via emails and chirping tweets, in a noble attempt to pick (and somewhat arbitrarily rank) the best concerts (including specific sets at festivals) of 2015.

Our selection process was aided by iPhone photo galleries and our own reviews. Here's a spoiler: Jack White and Ty Segall are the only reappearing acts from 2014. Confused as to why we included gigs from unbelievably non-L.A. places like San Bernardino and Orange County? Our borders, our business. We even included a show from last year, just to confuse you. — Art Tavana

20. Pretty Lights - Nocturnal Wonderland, San Manuel Amphitheater - Sept. 5
When Colorado-bred bass producer Pretty Lights took the stage on the second night of Insomniac's three-day Nocturnal Wonderland, he lost some of the crowd within the first 15 minutes. Perhaps they had never before witnessed the dark glory of a Pretty Lights set, or maybe they were just intimidated by the ominous low end emanating from the speakers. Whatever the case, those who stayed were rewarded with the classic Pretty Lights treatment — layers of funked-out beats and deliciously dirty glitch-hop played with a mentality leaning more towards jam-band rock than the shiny, happy EDM happening on the next stage over. The set was a highlight of Nocturnal's 20th anniversary celebration, and an apt reminder that for all of the scene's plastic production, there's still true soul to be found. — Katie Bain

Jonwayne at the Echo
Jonwayne at the Echo
Photo by Jeff Weiss

19. Jonwayne - The Echo - Dec. 18, 2014
Do you know how good you have to be at rapping to pull off a Biggie cape on-stage? Especially when you’re a white former offensive lineman from La Habra? Maybe 10 people on earth could make it work. Jonwayne is one of the few. Full disclosure: I helped put on this show. Despite the inherent bias in that statement, you’re going to have to trust me when I say that Jonwayne unleashed a rapping clinic that they should show to unlearn Yung Lean fans, Ludovico method-style. It had enough dazzling technical ability for people who think rap peaked in ’97 and enough showmanship to explain why he could’ve gotten away with wearing a crown, too. Even B.I.G. would've bobbed his head. — Jeff Weiss

18. Perry Robinson - Open Gate Theatre - June 7
The legendary clarinet gypsy Perry Robinson appeared in SoCal a few times over the years, but always with Dave Brubeck’s band. This year, San Diego-based keyboardist Nobu Stowe brought Perry west, for recordings and appearances. Stowe was scheduled for the June bill at the Eagle Rock Fine Arts Center, but he graciously turned it over to Robinson, for the first local gig under his own name. The 76-year-old Robinson knew precisely when to add his voice to the din of G.E. Stinson’s guitar pedals and Alex Cline’s cymbals. Without a scrap of written music, the set was an object lesson in improvisational music, with the gorgeous harmonics of Peter Kuhn’s bass clarinet and Stowe’s piano embroidery — all underneath a gliding, lyrical clarinet in the hands of a Zen master. — Kirk Silsbee

17. Health - The Echo - July 22-24
Kids of the future will have to pump muriatic acid into their ear canals to demolish their tympanic membranes as perfectly as Health does. The acid, however, won't be half as delightful as the band's three-night stand at the Echo in July, where eardrums were fried away in conniptions of discordant glory. With dance beats just divergent enough to preclude proper dancing, and throbbing digital scrape-downs just incongruous enough to prevent the formal swirl of a pit, they toyed with their pumped-as-all-fuck fans in ways that fueled new kinds of frenzy. Even older, wiser and drunk on video game soundtrack dollars, they still felt as biting and as dynamic as any night they annihilated the Smell a decade ago. — Paul T. Bradley

16. Atom™ and Tobias - Lot 613 - Oct. 30
During its inaugural year, Prototype at Lot 613 established itself as the premiere club night in Los Angeles for forward-thinking dance music. The no-frills venue (no bottle service, tables or couches; just a topflight Funktion-One sound system and ample room to dance) featured many of the hottest acts in house and techno throughout 2015. But its most prodigious night of the year came on a Friday over Halloween weekend. German techno demigods Atom™ and Tobias delivered a formidable, masterfully improvised and relentlessly percussive live analog/digital hybrid set using vintage Roland TR-808 drum machines and Ableton Live-equipped laptops, plus a cache of secret weapons. It was a defining moment for L.A.’s diehard techno community. — Matt Miner

15. Ho99o9 - The Church of Fun  - Jan. 31
Within minutes of punk-rap duo Ho99o9 (pronounced “Horror”) taking the stage at Church of Fun, an underground warehouse space in East Hollywood, a seething cauldron of a mosh pit erupted the likes of which I haven’t seen in years. Rickety oldster that I am, I tried to stay to one side, but the beer can in my hand was crushed by the surging crowd almost immediately. Clad in leather and white tribal warpaint, Eaddy and theOGM build their chaotic sound from the same hip-hop-meets-noise template as clipping. and Death Grips, but inject their live sets with the kind of throwback, skater-punk energy that leaves everyone in the pit grinning deliriously, even as they’re throwing elbows. See them in a sweaty underground warehouse while you still can. – Andy Hermann 

14. Laura Jane Grace - Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever - May 22
In 2015, Laura Jane Grace frequently rocked a black jersey branded "Gender Is Over!" That same watershed year, Miley Cyrus joined Against Me!'s punk-poet in a duet of "True Trans Soul Rebel," which went viral and altered public perception of both artists. Dressed in all black, with Hitchcockian bird tattoos covering her arms, a brooding Grace arrived at the Masonic Lodge with an acoustic guitar and journal entries documenting her transition and punk-rock journey. In a VH1 "Storytellers"-esque experience dubbed "Killing Me Loudly," which was both harrowing and humorous, Grace proceeded to bare her soul, with unplugged protest songs from the bottom of a bruised heart. She's a rebel sent here to destroy gender with her powerful stories. Mission accomplished, if you were there. — Art Tavana

13. Gesaffelstein - Coachella, Empire Polo Club - April 19
When the lights came up in the Mojave Tent and revealed the face of 30-year-old techno producer Mike Lévy, aka Gesaffelstein, the crowd pulsed with cheers, hoots, hollers and jumping. He was already well into the first track of his two-hour set, which was billed as his last live one. For the year? Forever? That wasn’t specified. Dark and dirty, Gesaffelstein's set featured a slew of his own tracks, layered just quickly enough to keep a bunch of raging festival-goers happy while maintaining techno's signature slow and gradual builds. The lights accentuated the beat of the drums, and hardly ever lit up the producer. The effect was like watching a black-and-white movie, where the view wasn't nearly as important as what there was to hear. — Sarah Purkrabek

12. Royal Trux - Berserktown II, The Observatory - Aug. 16
Overhyped reunion shows are a dime a dozen these days, but this legendary duo made theirs worthwhile precisely because of how little they gave a fuck. Appearing onstage together for the first time since their breakup in 2001, Jennifer Herrema and Neil Hagerty (joined by a backing band) barely looked like they could keep it together. Oh, but they did, teetering and prowling and see-sawing through classics like "Ice Cream" and "Junkie Nurse," conjuring a spectacle of rock & roll abandon that can only come from people who've been to the gutter and back. — Peter Holslin

11. Porter Robinson and Anamanaguchi - Anime Expo, M - July 3
It's not common for festival-headlining EDM producers to play anime conventions, but Porter Robinson isn't typical of new-school dance music-makers. His strongest track, "Sad Machine," is a duet with a computer (he used Vocaloid software for the female voice) and is more ballad than banger. Robinson's futuristic-sounding pop works incredibly well inside a seated venue like Microsoft Theater filled with anime convention attendees who have been hip to Vocaloid for years. The 23-year-old producer was playing for his Japanese pop culture-obsessed peers, a surprise guest at a show sponsored by video streaming service Crunchyroll, and was joined by electronic rock band (and gamer favorites) Anamanaguchi. The vibe in the room was one of kinship rather than pop idolatry, with scores of people sharing common, nerdy interests. It just so happened that a few of those people were on stage performing. — Liz Ohanesian



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