In this abbreviated year of concerts, we asked our photographers to provide some of their favorite photos from what they did attend. Some of them made it to just one show. Others were less fortunate. Others feel lucky to have made it to a drive-in show, even if that show’s performers were tribute bands.
Think about it: The concert calendar basically consisted of January, February, and 11 days in March. March 12 was when the Bay Area completely shut down. Some of our photographers something to say about their shots. In no particular order, here are the RIFF photo staff’s favorite concert photos of 2020
— Daniel J. Willis
Olivia O’Brien at the Regency Ballroom – Feb. 28
Olivia O’Brien’s concert allowed me to work in a larger venue, and also let me see an artist I was excited about since the release of her latest album. Oh, and it was just the third night of the tour! She began by walking down a silhouetted stage of lights and projected retro-styled projections with “Sad Songs in the Summer,” from 2019’s Was It Even Real? — Onome Uyovbievbo.
The Struts at the Warfield – March 3
My absolute favorite show in 2020 was the Struts. The opener, Starcrawler was everything you’d want in an an opening act. I’ve been a fan of the band since its first EP and seeing them for the first time blew me away. I wasn’t able to experience hard rock back in the ’70s. I imagine this was what it was like. The Struts brought their bigger-than-life stadium rock to the Warfield. Frontman Luke Spiller knew how to make fan—and photographers—feel special. — Onome Uyovbievbo.
I only really shot one show this year, a Noise Pop show all the way back in February. I wasn’t told anything about the bands other than that Fast Times are from San Francisco. The show was sold out and there was a good crowd of pretty positive people that danced and sang along to Jungle Giants. Little Image came out dressed in black suits with white symbols painted on them and looked very punk, but their sound was unexpectedly mellow for their “image.” — Derek Tobias
Tove Lo at The Masonic – Feb. 28
I only attended 10 shows this year, but that’s more than most on staff. The photos from this concert, which included Broods and Alma, are some of my favorites of the year. With Tove Lo in a boot due to a sprained ankle, she was easy to track and didn’t move much around as much on stage, giving me tons of time to really frame and focus the shot I wanted.
Broods were also really fun to take photos of and watch after I left the pit. Georgia Nott is so physically expressive and interactive with the crowd. I took some extra editing liberties during this show by trying a few photos in black and white, and I would say they turned out to be some of my favorites. Click above to see the rest. — Adam Pardee
Thrice at The Novo in Los Angeles – Feb. 29
About two weeks before lockdown, I had the opportunity to shoot one of my favorite bands of all time, Thrice. I’ve been to hundreds of concerts and festivals in my life, but I’ve never experienced a show that conjured up so much energy from an audience before. The beginning riff to Thrice’s opening song, “Image of the Invisible,” had the crowd jumping so much that it felt like I was taking photos on a trampoline! I particularly loved this shot I took of Thrice guitarist Teppei Teranishi, as I felt the backlighting perfectly represented the shift into the band’s new darker, ominous tone. — Aaron Marquez
Holy Fawn at The Novo in Los Angeles – Feb. 29
OK, so this was the same show. There weren’t a lot of shows to choose from. This image of Holy Fawn bassist Alexander Rieth was another favorite of mine because this band brought back the showmanship and drama that I feel has been missing from rock performances for the last several years. Most rock artists today have abandoned the on-stage theatrics popularized by ‘80s hair metal groups, but I firmly believe a strong stage presence is still half of the reason why people buy tickets to a show. Holy Fawn did an excellent job of keeping its crowd visually entertained and I can’t wait to see what it does next. — Aaron Marquez
KISS at Oakland Arena – March 7
With COVID on the horizon and only a few months into the new year, my favorite show was definitely a band from the ’70s who still kept the fans on their feet for most of the night. And yes, even in their 60s, they didn’t miss a beat! KISS, with their rock and roll sound and pyrotechnics, was my favorite show to photograph. To keep time with Gene, Paul, Tommy and Eric, and not melt from the heat of their flamethrowers and explosions, you’ve really got to think two steps a head to get “the shot.” I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I did photographing them. — Gary Chancer
My favorite shot from 2020 is of George Clinton with a massive joint. That joint was larger than a Costco hotdog and the 79-year-old Godfather of Funk took a hit and passed it on. I’ve been a huge fan of Parliament for many years, but have not had the chance to see the group perform live. The Cornerstone in Berkeley is a newer venue and despite the small size, it has a pretty good lighting and sound situation. This show was such a great experience because I was able to photograph a music legend in such close proximity. — Karen Goldman
Poppy at the Great American Music Hall – Jan. 22
One of my favorite shots of 2020 was this one of Poppy. She’s got an incredibly animated stage presence to match the chaos of her music, but I love how this seems to capture a moment of stillness.
I usually try to go for action shots, but sometimes those moments in between can be just as compelling! This show was overall a tough shoot due to limited room in the photo pit. All of the photogs were stuck in the same vantage point, which doesn’t allow for all sorts of angles and perspectives. But I think the up-close-and-personal feel worked out OK, and it was a lot of fun to witness Poppy perform literally right before my eyes. — Chloe Catajan
Check out the best of the rest below.