You know this is what I do for a living. I love recording – recording is perfecting a moment. But performing, that’s what I love to do – that’s creating a moment and being in a moment with my band. We don’t have rehearsal, cuz we like to just do that shit off the cuff. – Erykah Badu
There’s a special energy that comes from live performances. Each instrument in conversation with one another, each band member in sync. A pop of the snare can signal something to the guitar, a pulsating kick drum can signal something to the bass, or a smash on the crash cymbal can awake something in the lead singer that makes them want to belt out a note. This is a part of the non-verbal conversation that takes place during live performances. And like Erykah Badu said, while recording offers a chance for perfection, performing allows for the beauty of jagged edges. Improvisation is the language spoken, and it may not appear legible at first, but that’s a part of the linguistic process of live performance, and the essence of creating a moment.
Over the course of the year, I had a chance to see some of my favorite artists in concert, some newer artists that I was curious about, and some artists for a second time. Each artist had their own way of creating moments and thriving on imperfection. Here’s a list of some of my favorite shows from the year:
16. Exmag — Opening for SunSquabi — The Foundry
Based out of Pittsburgh, PA, Exmag is a collection of producers that are equally inspired by Herbie Hancock as they are by Electronic and House music. That said, they wear their influences on their sleeve, as they sit at the intersection of Jazz, Hip-Hop, House, and Rock, and their live show proves just that.
15. Summer Walker — East Atlanta Love Letter Tour — The Fillmore
Earlier this year, Summer Walker released her much anticipated EP, Last Day of Summer. Following its release, Summer Walker set out on the East Atlanta Love Letter Tour supporting 6lack as one of his opening acts. As a performer, Summer Walker showed many of the qualities of we all like to see in a live setting: engagement with the audience, a repertoire of songs people you can sing along to, and the ability to make a big room feel intimate.
14. Killiam Shakespeare featuring Bilal and Kiefer — A Town Called Elsewhere Album Release Show — Johnny Brenda’s
Following the release of their album, A Town Called Elsewhere, Philadelphia-based collective, Killiam Shakespeare played a sold out show at Johnny Brenda’s. Accompanied by Bilal, Killiam’s sound is rooted in a particular brand of soul music that sprung out of Philadelphia in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Their live show put on display their versatility as musicians and performers.
13. Ro James and BJ The Chicago Kid — The R&B Tour — Underground Arts
There’s been a lot of debate about the “King of R&B” over the past few weeks. It’ll [probably] never be settled, and that’s fine. While some debate on the merits of what constitutes R&B, there were two artists that actually had an entire tour named “The R&B Tour” in Ro James and BJ The Chicago Kid. Both artists are steeped in the tradition of R&B music, encompassing the soul and passion of the genre, as well as the voices to carry such a mantle. Their live show displayed their influences and the great lineage of rhythm and blues music.
12. Goldlink — Roots Picnic — Festival Pier
Going into a festival there’s always a group of artists that you highlight as can’t miss acts. For this year’s Roots Picnic D.C. native Goldlink was one of those artists. Goldlink’s energy could be felt with every word coming from his microphone, and the audience responded accordingly. A super high energy set that made the heat feel bearable for a moment.
11. Chris Dave and the Drumhedz — Johnny Brenda’s
Chris Dave has spent the better part of the past 20 years supporting other artists, contributing to a wide range albums and tours. This year, Chris Dave released his much anticipated debut album. In October, Chris Dave and his band, The Drumhedz, paid a visit to Philadelphia’s Johnny Brenda’s putting on full display his virtuosity as a drummer and bandleader.
10. 6lack — East Atlanta Love Letter Tour — The Fillmore
Ironically, I got to see 6lack twice this year — once at The Roots Picnic and again for his East Atlanta Love Letter Tour at The Fillmore, and I can say with confidence that 6lack is one of the best live performers in music. 6lack’s not quite a singer or rapper, which can seem odd sometimes, but in a live setting, his vocal flexibility allows his shows to go a range of places. On this particular night 6lack was actually sick, but he still showed great energy. And with a growing catalog, 6lack is able to keep an audience engaged and move in a bunch of directions, musically.
9. Big KRIT, CyHi the Prynce, and Childish Major — Heavy is the Crown Tour — Union Transfer
In 2017, Big KRIT released one of the best albums of the year — 4 Eva is a Mighty Long Time, a telling double album that spoke to both his personal struggles and his hopes as an artist. In early 2018, Big KRIT set out on his Heavy is the Crown Tour (HITC) accompanied by CyHi the Prynce and Childish Major. While the HITC tour was largely in support of Big KRIT’s album, it was also an ode to Southern Hip-Hop, as each of the artists were born and raised in the south, and displayed a different element of Southern Hip-Hop. Big KRIT, the headliner, was equally storyteller as he was performer this night, as he showed the many facets of his album and musical lineage.
8. Saba — Care For Me Tour — The Foundry
Following the untimely death of his cousin, Walter, Saba went reeling suffering from loneliness and depression. While much of the pain Saba felt was crippling, the artist channeled that pain into music, putting together an incredible body of work. Saba’s sophomore album, Care For Me, tells the story of depression and reminisces on his cousin’s life, and also begs that people not feel sorry for him. Earlier this year, Saba set out on tour, sharing with audiences his story, using the stage as a form of therapy. Saba’s show was an excellent display of artistry, cathartic performance, and Hip-Hop.
7. Nick Hakim — Heineken Flex — World Cafe Live
On July 17th, Nick Hakim was invited back to World Cafe Live for a performance sponsored by Heineken (which means it was free, and free is good in this case). As a performer, Nick Hakim is both a talented vocalist and guitarist. Hakim’s band is consistently tight, and his music is composed in a way to highlight the talented musicians playing behind him.
6. TDE — Champions Tour — BB&T Pavillion
In years since Top Dawg started Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE), he and his team have grown the label from a small, locally based group of artists into a label that rosters some of the best artists in music. This year, in particular, came with a special set of victories — a long awaited album from Jay Rock, which has become both critically acclaimed and commercially successful, a strong debut and critically acclaimed album from SiR, and shaping the soundtrack to one of year’s biggest movies, Black Panther. In many ways, it feels like the once fledgling label has won a championship, and this tour was nothing short of a victory lap.
5. Snarky Puppy — The Fillmore
Snarky Puppy is a rarity, in that they don’t tour with a lead singer. The band doubles down on who they are, and they don’t shy away from challenging listeners. For some, this can mean sectioning off a group of fans and becoming a niche group. But, Snarky Puppy has actually grown their fan base, while unapologetically playing the music they love. On this night, Snarky Puppy played music from previous albums, as well as music from their forthcoming album due in 2019.
4. Jordan Rakei — The Foundry
By the mid-2000s, the neo-soul movement had all but vanished from mainstream R&B music. But, with each movement, there are seeds planted for the next generation. One of those seeds, in particular, is Australian-native, Jordan Rakei. A gifted multi-instrumentalist and singer, Rakei played music from his recently released album, Wallflower. Rakei’s performance was an exploration of soul music and a display of talented young musician that has spent years honing his craft.
3. The Internet — Hive Mind Tour — The Fillmore
I remember the first time I heard about The Internet. One of my friends told me that there was this group they thought I would like, and their name was “The Internet.” I thought he was joking or something, and asked him to repeat hisself. Roughly six years later after hearing about the group, I feel personally obligated to spread The Internet gospel. Since Purple Naked Ladies, the group has grown in every way imaginable. As a group of young, black musicians, I couldn’t be happier for their success, and how people are drawn to their brand of Black American music.
2. Tom Misch — Geography Tour — Union Transfer
At the relatively young age of 23, London native, Tom Misch has evoked a style of music that precedes his birth. Misch’s music is steeped in the tradition of Dilla, George Benson, and D’Angelo, though Misch has advanced his own style within their respective framework’s. On this night, Misch played a variety of guitar solos, and genres, displaying his virtuosity as a musician and composer, and had the audience engaged the entire performance. Misch was also accompanied by saxophonist, Braxton Cook, a talented artist in his own right.
1. Kamasi Washington — Heaven and Earth Tour — Franklin Music Hall
On November 9th, Kamasi Washington paid a visit to Philadelphia’s Franklin Music Hall in support of his album, Heaven and Earth, a sprawling double album that shows the artist venture into depths of the tumultuous moment we live in, and the hope for tomorrow. Accompanied by his band, affectionately known as The West Coast Get Down, Washington weaved in and out the canon of Black American music, paying tribute to Gospel, Blues, and of course, Jazz. Washington concluded the night with Fists of Fury — a song that challenges oppression and champions freedom.