Attending concerts is one of my favorite musical experiences. For me, concerts offer a chance to see an artist up close, to see something that the recorded body of work could not totally convey. But, before going to the concert I have somewhat of have a ritual. First, I listen to the album, then watch any music videos that may have been done, and listen to interviews. This is all done to better understand the artist, who they are as a person, and to understand inspiration for the body of art.
In a lot of ways, the recording industry has been turned on its head - artists are making even less than they did before on record sales, shifting much of the finiancial opportunity to tickets sales, selling merchandise, and being able to perform live. For some, these shifts are a good thing. For others, performing live only exposes many of the blemishes the studio covered.
The best artists use the studio and recorded material as a launching pad for their live performances. The ability to perform and captivate an audience is something that separates artists, those that are here for the moment and those that will leave a lasting impression.
Over the course of the year I have had a chance to see some of my favorite artists. From Derrick Hodge to Thundercat, John Mayer to Kendrick Lamar, I ranked my favorite shows.
15. Derrick Hodge
Derrick Hodge is one of the more recent bassists to come in a long line of great bass players from Philadelphia. Having worked with the likes of Maxwell, Spike Lee, Robert Glasper, and others, Hodge’s musical dexterity has made him one of the most sought after bassists and composers in the music industry. On a cold January night, Hodge played a concert in support of his new album The Second, an exploration of Hodge’s roots in Gospel and Jazz.
14. Jidenna - Long Live The Chief Tour
In 2015, When Jidenna released his single, Classic Man, no one expected it to be as big as it was — Grammy Nominated, selling more 400,000 units. In all likelihood, Classic Man was bigger than Jidenna himself could've imagined. And with a single as big as Classic Man, there comes anticipation and expectations from fans. Earlier this year, Jidenna released his first full length album - The Chief, and on July 23rd he brought his Long Live the Chief Tour to Philadelphia's Foundry at The Fillmore. Aided by a 3-piece band and a DJ, Jidenna's live show was engaging, lively, and fun.
13. St. Beauty - 3 Nights In Philly
On the last night of Red Bull Sound Select's 3 Nights In Philly concert series, Atlanta based band, and Wondaland Arts Society members, St. Beauty led off the concert. Though they've yet to release a full length project, their music has been placed on the HBO show, Insecure, and they've toured alongside Jhene Aiko, The Internet, and Janelle Monae. On this particular night, St. Beauty were the ostensible openers, for Ravyn Lanae and Syd from the Internet, but, without a doubt, they were the best acts that night.
12. Ro James - XIX Tour
After releasing a series of EP's, Ro James released his debut LP, Eldorado in 2016. At the top of the year, James set out on the XIX Tour in support of his new album. Known for his raspy, yet smooth voice, James performed in front of a packed audience at Philadelphia's Foundry at The Fillmore. James' set was as much sensual as it was revealing about his personal life and his upbringing.
11. Michael Kiwanuka - 10th Annual Roots Picnic
Coming in to The Roots Picnic (or any festival), I typically organize who I want to see in this order: "MUST SEE!"; "They sound interesting, I'll try them out"; and "I'll get there when I get there." For me, Michael Kiwanuka, fell in the they-sound-interesting-I'll-try-them-out category. Having known only a couple of his songs going in, I was completely blown away by the end of his set. The songwriting, vocals, and musicianship were all incredible.
10. Nick Hakim - Free at Noon (World Cafe Live)
The idea of going to a concert in the middle of the day, on a weekday, seemed foreign to me until I heard about World Cafe Live's Free at Noon concert series. After releasing his album, Green Twins, earlier this year, Nick Hakim was invited to perform for the concert series. Often coming off as a whisper, Hakim's voice was the perfect vehicle for the music, and his bandmates were locked in step with each other.
9. Smino - Swanita Tour
Growing up in St. Louis, Smino spent much of his early musical experiences playing the drums in church. Coupling Smino's time spent in church with the influence of Nelly, Murphy Lee, the St. Lunatics, and other St. Louis artists, Smino's vocal style and songwriting tendencies make a lot of sense. After releasing his debut album Blkswn, Smino's been landing on the radar of more listeners, and gaining new fans. Performing on a sprained ankle (he even put Air Force One's on his crutches), on May 5th, Smino brought his Swanita Tour to Philadelphia's Coda.
8. Pharrell and The Roots - 10th Annual Roots Picnic
For me, The Roots Picnic is always a special day — a musical holiday of sorts. The headlining act is usually someone that’s established themselves as a “legend” in some regards, and this year it was Pharrell. Typically, what makes the headlining act at the Roots Picnic so interesting is The Roots’ ability to reinterpret old songs in new ways. Peformfing music from his N.E.R.D. and Neptune’s days, as well as his solo material, Pharrell showed exactly why he’s one of the best music producers ever.
7. Robert Glasper Trio
Over the past 5 years, Robert Glasper has become known for his genre-bending brand of music - part R&B, part jazz, part rock. His dexterity and perceived lack of commitment to anyone genre, namely jazz, has caused some Jazz purists to get a headache. But, before Glasper started doing much of the music that’s gained him widespread notoriety, he was doing what most would consider “straight ahead jazz” with his trio (Vicente Archer on bass, Damion Reid on drums) for years. Showing his musical dexterity, in mid-December of 2017, Glasper brought his trio to Ardmore Music Hall.
6. Oddisee & Good Company - Beneath The Surface Tour
Traditionally, rappers are accompanied by a DJ for live performances. There’s a history of connecting DJ’s and MCs/rappers, so that makes sense. But, for the DC born rapper Oddisee, he’s taken his live performance to another level incorporating a 5-piece band - Good Company. After releasing his 11th studio album, The Iceberg in January, Oddisee & Good Company set out on the Beneath The Surface Tour which took them across the United States and Europe. On April 19th, Oddisee & Good Company played Philadelphia’s Theatre of the Living Arts (TLA).
5. JOHN MAYER - THE SEARCH FOR EVERYTHING TOUR
After spending the past few years in relative obscurity, John Mayer has taken 2017 to reintroduce himself to many. Following the release of his 7th studio album The Search For Everything, Mayer set out on a world tour spanning North and South America, as well as Europe. While Mayer's albums don't garner the attention they once did, his live shows still attract thousands of people on a nightly basis, in large part to his elite and ever-growing guitar virtuosity.
4. THUNDERCAT - DRUNK TOUR
Thundercat spent the early part of his career touring with Erykah Badu and Suicidal Tendencies, gaining recognition for his lightening speed playing and unorthodox approach to playing the bass. But, in recent years Thundercat has grown as a vocalist, which has helped to expand his musical capabilities. With the release of his 3rd studio album, Drunk it seems as if Thundercat's sound has come full circle. On March 4th, Thundercat played Philadelphia's Union Transfer in support of his new album, fusing the improvisation common in jazz, with vocals reminiscent of 80's R&B.
3. Solange - 10th Annual Roots Picnic
Following the release of A Seat At The Table, Solange has experienced an incredible two year run. Billed as one of the headliners for the 10th annual Roots Picnic, Solange delivered a powerfully, and aesthetically satisfying set. Complimented with a 10-piece band, Solange's live show is equally powerful as it is gentle, offering a tonal quality that is a pleasure to hear. But, what sets Solange apart from other artists is her eye for stage design and making a full concert experience.
2. Moses Sumney - Aromanticism Tour
On October 12th, Moses Sumney and his band played in front of a packed room in the basement of Philadelphia's First Unitarian Church. While Sumney doesn't consider himself a Gospel artist in the traditional sense, one can see the spiritual, and introspective elements in his music. Performing in a dark room sparingly illuminated by a few light posts, Sumney appeared only as a silhouette. Sumney's approach to the live show is anything but typical, accompanied by a guitarist and bassist, who also doubled as a saxophonist, and using a combination of vocal and instrumental loopers, Sumney often "built" songs on stage, meticulously composing harmonies, and stacking synth and guitar parts. As a performer, what makes Sumney stand out is his ability to convey the emotion and passion of his music, lyrically, but also through musical dynamics, creating an atmosphere that feels almost palpable.
1. Kendrick Lamar - The DAMN. Tour
After releasing his 4th studio album in April, Kendrick Lamar set out on The DAMN. Tour. Lamar has evolved with each album, seemingly becoming stronger and more adept at performing. In 2012, Lamar spent time on tour opening for Kanye West's Yeezus Tour in support of good kid, m.A.A.d. city. In 2015, Lamar made his first headlining tour, Kunta's Groove Sessions, which was dedicated to small, intimate music venues. This year, Lamar's DAMN. Tour was committed to a more intricate and extravagant show. Much of the show played like a movie, as Lamar assumed the character of Kung Fu Kenny - his alter ego, a rapping, Kung Fu legend. Backed by a 3-piece band positioned off stage, many of the songs were rearranged for the live show, as drum hits were punctuated with fire works and rotating lights. Positioned over the stage were two large screens playing clips from his music videos and adding extra lighting effects. Lamar's tour was more than just him playing songs from the album - it was an assertion of his place in Hip-Hop, music, and history.