1. The Jesus and Mary Chain (August 16, Brooklyn Bowl) The closest thing I’ve seen to perfection all year, utilizing sound and space as only masters can.
2. D’Angelo (August 21, the Chelsea) If Prince and The Roots had a baby—and that baby took the audience on an emotional and spiritual musical journey—he would be named D’Angelo.
3. Erykah Badu (September 25, Las Vegas Jazz Festival) Her voice is a weapon, and the dirty grooves she creates match it perfectly.
4. Mark Knopfler (September 16, the Colosseum) The guitar virtuoso somehow flies under the radar, but here both his solo work and Dire Straits songs dazzled a delighted crowd.
5. Peaches (November 11, Brooklyn Bowl) Sexually explicit dance hits with performance art to match—everything worked, and everyone felt it.
1. Father John Misty (October 15, Boulevard Pool) I went for opener Mikal Cronin, then experienced something like an epiphany, equal parts magnetic personality and crack musicianship. Amen for the spot-on sound mix, too.
2. Tim Hecker (May 2, Further Future) Absorbing Hecker’s body-quaking drone creations as the sun rose behind him felt as un-Vegas as any set I’ve witnessed, yet it happened right here … well, 40 minutes north.
3. Modest Mouse (August 20, Brooklyn Bowl) A focused Isaac Brock made the Mouse’s return to town count, complete with “Doin’ the Cockroach” wish granter.
4. Murder City Devils (May 24, Punk Rock Bowling) A lightning storm briefly forced the Seattleites from the stage, but it couldn’t steal their thunder, a dark and gripping power that upstaged bigger bands at the Downtown fest.
5. Neil Young (October 11, the Chelsea) That massive “Cowgirl in the Sand” was all we really needed, and we got two-plus-hours more.
1. Kamasi Washington (September 16, Reynolds Hall) He and his nine-piece band were only onstage for an hour as part of Lula Washington Dance Theatre’s program, but their superhuman, Afrocentric fantasia floated the audience out of the Smith Center, whose relevance, frankly, depends on booking more acts like this LA breakout.
2. My Morning Jacket (October 10, Brooklyn Bowl) The Louisville chuggers projected full rock ’n’ roll glory from start to finish during their delayed Vegas debut.
3. Modest Mouse (August 20, Brooklyn Bowl) When frontman Isaac Brock throws himself into a show, his band soars, and on that Thursday night, he was as flung—and enraptured—as Vegas has ever seen him.
4. Mew (September 19, the Sayers Club) If the Danish indie prog act crowdfunded a future Vegas show, I have no doubt the Sayers audience alone would cover the donation minimum, based on its reaction to Mew’s passionate set.
5. A Place to Bury Strangers (March 12, Beauty Bar) The ardent noise-rockers filled the Downtown air with a beautiful cacophony.
1. Yo La Tengo (November 11, the Sayers Club) Seeing YLT perform a mostly acoustic set inside a casino felt like stumbling upon a rare gem, and hearing The Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love” and Daniel Johnston’s “Speeding Motorcycle” made it even more memorable.
2. Father John Misty (October 15, Boulevard Pool) I wasn’t a fan of J. Tillman’s music until I saw this near-perfect performance, and I left the venue floored. I Love You, Honeybear has been in heavy rotation ever since.
3. Same Sex Mary (July 25, Fremont Country Club) The local favorites enlisted Vegas playwright Ernie Curcio to write and direct scenes to accompany this CD release show, which unfolded more like a rock-opera and ended with frontman James Adams getting his hair cut onstage by a fire-and-brimstone preacher.
4. Taylor Swift (May 15, Rock in Rio) I never thought T. Swift would land on my year-end list, but when the 1989 princess danced just feet above my head, I knew I’d never forget this one. Pop perfection.
5. St. Vincent (April 10, Boulevard Pool) Avant-garde musician Annie Clark’s set was everything I’d hoped for, and resolidified my love for her self-titled album from the previous year.
“Do you guys ever wonder if heaven is like this—just one long music festival?"
"I can’t believe Foster the People didn’t play ‘Pumped-Up Kicks.'"
A few tips: Bring a water bottle and keep it filled, wear earplugs and be ready to deviate from your itinerary.
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