The Best Live Acts of 2019

In 2019, I traveled all over the North-East on live music adventures. I mostly saw garage rock shows, but there were a few other genres scattered around there. And somewhat unfortunately, this year didn’t feature a one-off classic rock show anywhere in the mix, but those tickets are account drainers.

Now, I thought about doing a fun superlative list for this, or coming up with a way to rank the acts that I saw. But in the end, we’re going alphabetical. Cut and dry. Here are the ten best bands I saw in 2019.

Amyl and the Sniffers – at Great Scott in Allston MA, 7.20.2019

Amy Taylor is wild. Amyl and the Sniffers have been one of the most celebrated live acts of the year, and for excellent reason. I’ve never been in a room so sweaty, or a part of a crowd this rowdy, and I wonder if I ever will again.

The best thing about this show was that they played a ton of songs. This is a benefit of the type of music that they play – fast, loud, and rarely going longer than three minutes. This meant that they didn’t have to leave off any of the hits, playing songs that ranged from their earliest EP’s to their 2019 debut album. But the one thing I will never forget was how wet my hair was from sweating so profusely – this show was one of the inspirations for my most recent haircut.

Frankie and the Witch Fingers – at the Bug Jar, Rochester NY, 8.23.2019; and Handlebar, Toronto ON, 11.1.2019

The first time I truly destroyed my neck from headbanging was when I saw Frankie and the Witch Fingers in Rochester, NY, at a grimey dive bar that probably fits 75 people total. It was a short set, but the band was high energy, immersive, and relentless. I genuinely don’t know if I’ve ever danced so hard in my entire life, and the musicianship of the members of this band is enough to make a complete dork out of any audience member. We’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to see the Witch Fingers in small venues right now — I can’t recommend their performances enough.

King Diamond — at Palladium, Worcester MA 11.8.2019

I’ll always have a special place in my heart for this show, since it was my first true Metal experience. But even if it was my hundredth, I think that this would have stood out as an amazing experience. King Diamond’s theatrical, over-the-top sound translates incredibly to a live concert experience, complete with a three-tiered stage, actresses acting out the stories of some songs, and a microphone stand made out of bones. There were too many highlights to name – the fact that every single person in the room knew every word to every song? The introduction of a very special guest in the audience, the surgeon who saved King Diamond’s life years ago? Or just hearing “Halloween” live? This show was everything I had hoped it would be and more.

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard — at REBEL, Toronto ON, 8.25.2019; Central Park SummerStage, NYC, 8.28.2019; and Franklin Music Hall, Philadelphia PA, 8.30.2019

There are almost too many highlights from seeing King Gizzard this summer. It was an experience I had been looking forward to all year, and that lived up to the hype so much. Watching Michael Cavanaugh drum. Hearing “Crumbling Castle,” and “Gamma Knife,” live. Having my glasses kicked off of my face by the boot of a crowdsurfer. Having an excuse to go to Philadelphia for the first time. The gifts that this tour gave me were countless.

There is an award that I want to give King Gizzard for the year: The Sorry Charlie. “Sorry Charlie” is a Ween song that I never cared for until I saw it live. The first time I saw it in person, not only did it change my mind about the song, but it really stole the rest of the show. This is one of my favorite phenomenons, and something that I think happens pretty often if you see a lot of live music. This year, it was “Work This Time,” at King Gizzard’s Toronto show. From their album Oddments!, “Work This Time” is a song I rarely reach for, but that I do enjoy when listening to the album all the way through.

When the band started playing the first few notes of the song, I was ready to take a moment, catch my breath, and wait the end of the song out. But it wasn’t long before I was dipped into the song, like a cookie into a glass of milk. It just sort of made its way into my being and really forcefully changed my mind. The kicker was Joey Walker’s guitar solo at the end of the song. It sounded so good it felt like it was peeling all of my skin off and very gently putting it back on again. My mind was totally changed– I may have even been brainwashed.

Khruangbin — State Theatre in Portland, ME, 6.21.2019

In 2019, I could rely on shows at the State Theatre for a chill good time, and the coolest live act that I saw this year was easily Khruangbin. They are the textbook definition of “a little bit goes a long way,” creating massive atmospheres with their three-piece arrangement. The incredible thing about seeing Khruangbin is that songs that sound so improvisational, so unstructured, are performed exactly how they sound on the record when you see them live. They are meticulous.

The Lemon Twigs — Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto ON, 1.22.2019

This is the only show that I went to this year that I didn’t write about — and honestly, seeing this show was a big inspiration for starting this blog. After I saw the Lemon Twigs, all I wanted to do was talk about it. All I wanted to do was think about it. All I wanted to do was see them again.

Brothers Brian and Michael D’Addario are almost competitive with one another on stage, trying to out-rockstar one another. This meant that seeing them live created one audacious moment after the other. There was an old school element of performance to their live show. I think that the fact that the D’Addario’s have both been theatre performers before shows. The Lemon Twigs are (and I hate to use a cliche, but) more than a band. I left this show with the feeling of having witnessed something, and been a part of something. And on top of this incredible tone that they are able to imbue their shows with, the Lemon Twigs are good musicians who write good songs.

This show was my benchmark for the rest of the year. I would ask myself, “was that better than The Lemon Twigs?”

Meatbodies — Great Scott, Allston MA, 9.29.2019

Meatbodies was possibly the most fun I had at a show all year. There was something about the fact that things kept going wrong – from Chad Ubovitch’s guitar string breaking to my glasses flying onto the stage – that made this show a lot of fun. This show, much like Frankie and the Witch Fingers, resulted in a notably sore neck. Meatbodies’ psychedelic-garage sound was slightly different live than I’ve come to expect from their recorded work, likely due to a change in the band’s lineup since their last album was released. But I loved everything that I heard.

Ohtis — Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland, OH, 4.21.2019

Ohtis was the opening performer for The Murlocs on the bulk of their US and Canada tour, and at first, I wasn’t sure they were a good fit. Sam Swinson came onto stage holding a cup of tea, dressed in baggy sweatpants and a forwards baseball cap – not quite the vibe that I was expecting. And then the group went on to perform some of the most beautiful, heartbreaking music I have ever heard. I wished that I had been in the quietest room in the country.

Ohtis is a three-piece Americana act, a lineup that includes a multi-instrumentalist drummer who at some points was playing as many instruments as he had limbs. They injected energy into the soft songs by sheer force of passion. I bought the vinyl after this show and enjoyed it on many slow summer mornings.

Oregon Space Trail of Doom — Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland, OH, 4.21.2019

Oregon Space Trail of the Doom was the find of the year. From the first bars that they played during their soundcheck, Cleveland’s witch-rock band holds up. I listen to their album often, and am still finding new things to love about it. I saw someone in a Oregon Space Trail t-shirt at the King Gizzard concert in Toronto and neither of us could believe the other had heard of them — they are already building a community of die-hard fans, and deservedly so. A young band to keep an eye on, especially since they’ve recently announced more and more shows outside of the Cleveland/Akron Ohio area. I especially love their song “Glass of Wine.”

Stonefield — at REBEL, Toronto ON, 8.25.2019; Central Park SummerStage, NYC, 8.28.2019; and Franklin Music Hall, Philadelphia PA, 8.30.2019

This all-sister’s psych metal band does not mess around. I was lucky enough to get to see them perform three times while I was following King Gizzard, and each time I looked more and more forward to seeing Stonefield win over the crowd. They reliably played the same setlist each night, and each night wow’d with the way that they create atmosphere during their performances. Each sister perfectly embodies the stereotype of the instrument that they play, in my opinion, especially guitarist Hannah Findlay, who can shred with the best of them. The band is a well oiled machine.

Very Honorable Mentions

It’s too hard to choose only 10 of the best acts that I saw this year without at least mentioning other incredible performers I saw this year. The Murlocs provided a fantastic show and I look forward to seeing them more upon their eventual return to the United States and Canada. Orb, another Flightless band, was full of surprises and got better each time I saw them open for King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. And Kikagaku Moyo, who opened for Khruangbin in what was likely the best lineup of the year, perform with so much joy and enthusiasm that their shows are a complete delight.

2019 was an incredible year of live music! My love to the friends I made waiting in line and standing at the rail.

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