This is the second in a three-part series. Read the introduction to learn how I’m scoring my list and find out about my “special consideration” in PART 1.
11 – CATHEDRALS at the Mezzanine – June 8
Vocalist Brodie Jenkins and guitarist Johnny Hwin spent much of the last couple of years writing new songs, many of which got their official debut at this show. Performing with a full band, Hwin and Jenkins opened with arguably their best dance track, “OOO AAA.” On the ensuing dance pop track, initially called “Speed Demon,” the duo traded singing duties on verses. After “In the Dark,” they were off to the races with new material, which included “Don’t Act Like a Stranger” (which should be a really big hit) as well as “Try To Fight,” the band’s most overt synth pop song and showed the new route is open should Cathedrals decide to pursue it.
10 – JESSIE WARE at the Fillmore – Nov. 1
The English singer-songwriter powered through a 70-minute set of fan favorites and songs off her new album, Glasshouse. Throughout the show, she acknowledges her Bay Area fan base, much of which was unable to move—it was that packed. For a performer who’s headlined The Fillmore and sold out the Chapel, the smaller Independent was an intimate setting, bringing her even closer to her adoring, but very respectful, fans. She chatted with the crowd, pointed out specific fans, evening signing a record for one of them, and brought another fan onto the stage to sing a cover of Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do for Love.”
After opening with “Thinking About You,” “Running” and “Your Domino,” all new tracks, she transitioned to “Want Your Feeling,” off 2014’s “Tough Love,” as well as that album’s title track. Another new track, “Alone,” followed. The set, was heavy on the new material and showed Jessie Ware completely in her element, even when she turned into a 1940s lounge singer on “Selfish Love.” The end of the set consisted of her older fan favorites like 2012 breakout “If You’re Never Gonna Move” and “Wildest Moments.”
9 – NICOLE ATKINS at Cafe du Nord – Dec. 8
Why did I set an odd, awkward number for my best-of list? Believe it or not this list was supposed to be a nice, round 10, and this story was completed. Do you know how people like me write about a huge artist making a stadium feel like an intimate gig? This was the exact opposite. Atkins made this tiny club feel like the Fillmore. I’m not sure whether there were even 200 people inside, but they were packed tight and sang along to nearly every song. Her songbook is pretty varied at this point, with the older material leaning heavy toward indie rock and her new album, Goodnight Rhonda Lee, pure crooner, soul pop. What bridges that divide is her voice, which made each track, including a cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes,” stand out.
8 – ARCADE FIRE at Oracle Arena – Oct. 21
Arcade Fire didn’t disappoint on grandiosity. Win Butler, Régine Chassagne and co. performed on a stage situated as a boxing stage in the middle of the room, with ropes and all. The band members played the role of prize-winning boxers, with a blaring voice declaring them as the “undefeated, uncontested champions of the world.”
The group was also out to prove it was still of the people, often by parading right though and among fans, but this was primarily a spectacle, with a rotating stage and a light fixture, equal in size to the stage, with a bunch of moving doodads, including mirrors that bounced light off each other and two massive mirrorballs that covered the rest of the massive room, in speckles of light. There were lights everywhere else: on the floor, on the ceiling, on the stage. When they were on at the same time, it was truly a sight to behold.
Though Everything Now got the large share of the two-hour-long setlist, Arcade Fire’s other albums were equally represented. New track “Put Your Money On Me” raised the stakes for the rest of the show. While the band raised the energy and volume, the production went into overdrive, like a scene out of Mr. Robot, with numbers, computer code and dollar bills flashing on four giant screens above the stage. “The world needs Oakland and San Francisco to be the counterculture … for the sake of all of us,” Win Butler said afterward. “Keep shit weird and keep fighting.”
7 – BLEACHERS at the Fox Theater – Sept. 30
As Jack Antonoff told the story, the show almost didn’t happen at all. The band’s bus had broken down on the freeway between Los Angeles and Oakland. Instead of cancelling the Oakland show, the crew was able to find a truck to haul the trailer full of gear and called in favors to get the band and crew, about 10 people in all, to the Bay Area. The band barely made it, with no time for a sound check, and barely enough time to set up the production. Antonoff would later find crew members sleeping on the floor after the exhausting day.
Rather than phoning it in and blaming exhaustion, Bleachers had the crowd eating out of their hands by the crescendo of the second tune, “Goodmorning.” Then a non-stop energy surge carried over through to the conclusion of the show. Antonoff was at his theatrical best, seemingly making eye contact with every individual person from the front row and all the way to the back. The set included tracks of the4 band’s debut as well as the new album. But there was yet another highlight: Antonoff, after wishing a happy Yom Kippur to fasting Jews, forced his tour manager onto the stage. He led the crowd in a happy birthday sing-along to one of his bandmates, passed a cake out to the first few rows, and had the manager stage dive for the first time in his life.
6 – JOJO at the Regency Ballroom – Feb. 19
I was looking forward to this show, but for all the wrong reasons. I expected to have my nostalgia itch scratched. I loved “Leave (Get Out)” and simply wanted to hear that track live. But then the JoJo that reappeared following a decade-long legal dispute with her label was a defiant, independent and take-no-prisoners performer ready to make an all new name and reputation for herself.
The singer-songwriter consistently showed off her biggest strength: an R&B-suited voice that absolutely kills on mid-tempo grooves and ballads like 2015 single “Say Love.” Taking the stage in a sheer catsuit, high heels and strategically placed adhesives and backed by a full band, JoJo performed primarily new tracks like “Fuck Apologies,” “Mad Love,” “Music” and “FAB.” The latter stands for fake-ass bitches, if you’re wondering. JoJo has no shortage of tell-off songs these days.
CONCLUSION (COMING SOON)