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

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

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

10. The Replacements - Hollywood Palladium - April 16
Replacements fans are notoriously demanding and hard to please; when singer Paul Westerberg fell sick and canceled reunion shows in Pittsburgh and Columbus this year, scores of outraged ticketholders flooded the band’s Facebook page and newspaper message boards with profane threats and hilariously bitter insults. But even the most cynical follower had to be surprised by the exhilaratingly raw power of the ’Mats’ concerts at the Palladium. Even without original drummer Chris Mars and late, great lead-guitar whiz Bob Stinson, Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson thundered onstage with all the hard punk sarcasm of their Let It Be/Tim heyday instead of the polite, muted approach of the band's late-’80s lineups. The brand-new anti-yuppie rant “Whole Food Blues” somehow fit right in with the dreamily hazy “Sixteen Blue.” — Falling James

Donita Sparks of L7 points to someone in the crowd
Donita Sparks of L7 points to someone in the crowd
Photo by Timothy Norris

9. L7 - The Echo - May 28
Though L7’s best-known performance became rather absurdly about a tampon, thanks to a VH1 countdown show, their big reunion this year proved they never needed a menstrual moment to draw blood on stage. While that move was evocative of their impulsive and unbridled punk moxie, the ladies’ legacy should have always been about their tremendously brutal yet mischievous chemistry onstage. When the band’s most popular line-up reunited for the first time in 18 years at the Echo, it was loud (real, real loud) and clear that Donita Sparks, Jennifer Finch, Suzi Gardner and Dee Plakas not only still had the chops to recreate the raucous rebellion of their heaviest outsider anthems — they still had the magnetism and fervor to make it all slay, even after years of estrangement. The intimate hometown gig kicked off a major year for the band, which we hope will keep this lineup alive and well for years to come. These badass lasses pretended they were dead for far, far too long. — Lina Lecaro 

8. Faith No More - The Troubadour - Sept. 3
Just hours after performing on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Faith No More took the stage at the Troubadour at midnight. Tickets had just gone on-sale that morning, so the crowd consisted of pure die-hard FNM fans, and Mike Patton and company fed off that enthusiasm by having the most fun they’ve had in a live setting in years. The highlight of the night was when Patton became one with the audience, crowd-surfing from the stage to the back of the room, where he proceeded to hold court for a stirring rendition of “Ashes to Ashes,” standing atop the back bar. At no point did they perform MTV/radio hit “Epic,” and no one had a bad time because of it. — Jason Roche 

7. Blur - The Hollywood Bowl - Oct. 20 
For the American Gen X-er, Blur never really connected; Damon Albarn was too British and too upper-class with songs like "Parklife," which were as foreign as Oasis labeling Blur phonies because they never worked construction in Manchester. Nearly 20 years after "Song 2" and its woo-hoos broke MTV, Blur made their first historic appearance at the Hollywood Bowl with an electric ice-cream cone backdrop, full horn section, soulful backup singers, and a special appearance by comedian Fred Armisen for an L.A.-tinged version of "Parklife." The Bowl wasn't quite sold out, but with a crowd of drunken Brits and Angelenos singing along to classics like "Girls and Boys," Blur sold us on Britpop's life-affirming message — and a reality check that they are, and will always be, British rock's best thing going. — Art Tavana

6. Savages - FYF Fest 2015, L.A. Sports Arena & Exposition Park - Aug. 22
Of all the performances at this year’s FYF, Savages was the most captivating and provocative. Blinding white lights soaked the stage until the four-piece appeared as leather-clad silhouettes, a brutal visual tailored for their post-punk barrage. After commanding the audience to dance — and by command, I mean threaten to stop playing if a pit didn’t open up within the next few seconds — frontwoman Jehnny Beth climbed atop the crowd, walking on hands as if they were stepping stones. “Hit me baby!” she shrieked before leaping into the sea of arms rushing to hold her. Beth charged into a hypnotic, furious chant as their set drew to a close: “Don’t let the fuckers get you down, don’t let the fuckers get you down …” And in that moment, the energy surrounding the Trees stage was unstoppable. — Artemis Thomas-Hansard

5. Ty Segall - The Smell - May 7 
While catching a Ty Segall show isn’t exactly a rare experience in itself — he’s constantly performing solo shows and as a member in a handful of bands — catching an acoustic Ty Segall show in a space as stripped down and intimate as the Smell definitely is. Seeing Segall standing in that steamy, tattered, dimly lit room with just a guitar, it was easy to forget that he's the kind of performer who can sell out a four-night residency at the Echoplex. As he comfortably navigated through acoustic arrangements of new songs and old favorites, seamlessly blended in classical violin with the help of opening band Feels’ Laena Geronimo, and playfully tossed around a few covers that got everyone in the venue singing along, it was obvious why Segall is inarguably one of the last standing rock stars of the modern age. — Artemis Thomas-Hansard

4. St. Vincent - Coachella, Empire Polo Club - April 14 
One of the great myths of rock & roll is that it’s at its best when it’s sloppy and spontaneous, as if only bar bands or arena rock acts pretending to be bar bands can capture it in all its ragged glory. That works great if your name is Jack White, but most aspiring rock stars would be better off taking their cues from the finely tuned stagecraft of St. Vincent, which at Coachella was thrilling precisely because it was so precise. Wielding her green guitar like an instrument of sweet torture, Annie Clark and her stripped-down, three-piece band took total control of the stage, mixing chrome-clean art-rock with quirky choreographed dance moves and repeated bursts of Clark’s fractured guitar leads. St. Vincent transforms rock & roll from blunt object to scalpel, and leaves you longing to go back under the knife. – Andy Hermann

Rolling Stones - The Fonda
Rolling Stones - The Fonda
Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

3. Rolling Stones - The Fonda - May 20
Critics love to point out how the mechanics have aged, but The Rolling Stones are the ultimate well-oiled machine in concert and no one can deny it. So what happens when you strip ‘em of the voluminous venues and tongue-flashing Jumbotrons? In the case of the iconic band’s surprise Fonda Theatre show back in May, it was surreal, blues-drenched bliss. OK, I might be a biased Stones super-fan, but the warm-up gig for the group’s Zip Code Tour also marked the first time Mick, Keith and co. ever played Sticky Fingers in its entirety. And Sticky isn’t just a record, it’s a journey. Rather than rely on beloved upbeat choruses or the Jagger swagger, recreating this jazzy, twangy, druggy masterpiece called for nuance and some slack on tempos, something we don’t usually see from the Glimmer Twins. Hearing “Sway,” “Moonlight Mile,” and “Wild Horses,” in procession highlighted not only the band’s past songwriting genius, but their still-potent vocal and instrumental gifts. This one will stick with those of us lucky enough to see it — a legendary gig not only for 2015, but for all time. — Lina Lecaro 

Grimes at the Mayne for Red Bull Sound Select's 30 Days in L.A.
Grimes at the Mayne for Red Bull Sound Select's 30 Days in L.A.
Photo by Marv Watson/Red Bull

 2. Grimes - The Mayan - Nov. 2
With jungle camo draped over her synths, Grimes' pre-Art Angels warm-up gig looked like animated warfare pummeling Tokyo's Shibuya district. Set inside a faux-Mayan temple for Red Bull's 30 Days in L.A. concert series, the Montreal-born electronic composer jolted through an anxious performance that, despite missed cues and a robot-like aircast on her leg, was clearly the proto-development phase of a future pop star; a neon angel whose wings are still being upgraded. For those who complained that Grimes' floating falsetto was being pummeled by nauseating amounts of bass, or irked that she didn't play "Flesh Without Blood," I say bravo. You were there to see the mistranslated particles of a digital pop star in the flesh — uncontrollable and fantastically imperfect. — Art Tavana

1. Jack White - Coachella, Empire Polo Club - April 18
In which Jack White — antiquarian ghost, tortured curmudgeon, irrational genius — turned his guitar into a guillotine and the Polo Field into a portal. “Music is sacred,” White screamed, his self-righteousness overshadowed by brilliance, his lightning-flash epiphanies untranslatable to digital reproduction. 

Music remains inviolate because of moments like these. Occasionally, you can still witness an intermediary to the Holy Spirit. You can watch the hounds of hell chase a man. You can bear testament to time stopping and all the loose energy in the universe abruptly slanting onto your skull.

The set was mostly long-mourned White Stripes songs, re-invented as though Bob Dylan was his natural father, and Son House, Robert Plant and Iggy Pop the uncles. If this happened in 1933 Clarksdale, someone would’ve have accused White of midnight crossroads deceptions.

At his request, the crowd shook hands like Catholic mass. He asked the women if anyone wanted to marry him, and the ex-Stripe could’ve walked out with more wives than Fela. This was fire burning slow blue — one of those fragmentary moments of infinity that we’re permanently seeking, summoned in a place you’d least expect it. — Jeff Weiss 


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