OK, a few disclaimers: all lists are subjective, there’s something artificial in all the year-end “Best of” rankings, no one can see every show, some genres are inevitably neglected because of personal taste and happenstance, yada yada yada.
But when I read Paste Magazine’s 25 Best Live Acts of 2014, I realized that I’d seen a dozen of the picks in the last year or so. And it got me thinking about the best live performers that I saw in 2014 — and I saw a lot of of shows (although not as many as Larry Jack).
A number of my choices here overlap with Paste’s, including Those Darlins, Charles Bradley, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, The Replacements, Future Islands, and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. (I hope to see Paste’s #1 pick — Diarrhea Planet — at the 2015 Savannah Stopover.)
This list is just what it says: 30 great live acts of 2014. Most of them played Savannah (and some are from Savannah), although there were a few that I saw in Louisville at Forecastle Festival or at Headliners Music Hall. I caught a few of these bands in Macon at Bragg Jam too.
The photos here were previously published at hissing lawns; I took many of them, but there are also some by my fellow bloggers Tom Cartmel, Jon Waits, and Petee Worrell. Click for bigger versions. We have full galleries of nearly all these bands — you can find them by using the search box over in the right sidebar (and please take that split second to like hissing lawns on Facebook or follow us on Twitter).
I should note that I missed a lot of big shows in Savannah in 2014 — I’ve been out of town a combined three months this year.
Anyway, enough rationalizing and qualifying, and on with this idiosyncratic list, in more less alphabetical order, of 30 great live acts in 2014:
Like so many other bands that play Savannah venues regularly, The Accomplices are easy to take for granted. But I loved their new album A Truck, a Train, an Old Dump Pile and their live album recorded at Isis Music Hall. The Accomplices toured, played big shows in Savannah like the tribute to The Band and the Homegrown Holiday Hoedown, and lit up local venues throughout 2014.
Well there wasn’t even close to a full house at The Jinx on a weeknight for Agalloch — a dark metal band from Portland — but they put on one of the best shows that I saw in 2014. If I were ranking these entries, that gig would probably be in my top 5. A few nights after Agalloch played Savannah, they packed up a big venue in NYC and got a great review in the NYT.
Against Me!’s afternoon set on a surprisingly chilly day in July at Forecastle Festival in Louisville was another of the very top performances that I saw in 2014. The back story of lead singer Laura Jane Grace’s transition wouldn’t even be worth mentioning but her experience is at the center of the fabulous album Transgender Dysphoria Blues, which made “best of” lists at Rolling Stone, Noise, and other publications. Against Me! isn’t coming to Savannah anytime soon but will be bouncing around the Southeast in February — definitely worth a road trip.
The Black Cadillacs
The Black Cadillacs played a stellar set at Savannah Stopover, but I stupidly missed their return gig in Savannah, which was also booked by Stopover parent company MusicFile Productions. But I did see the band in the unbelievably hot and sweaty Hummingbird in Macon at Bragg Jam. So good. It seems only a matter of time before The Black Cadillacs’ fan base explodes.
The Black Cadillacs is certainly getting 2015 off to a good start — they’re opening for St. Paul & The Broken Bones at Marathon Music Works in Nashville for NYE.
Black Tusk’s 2014 will forever be defined by the recent death of Athon, but the band is honoring its plan to tour Europe in early 2015 with Black Label Society. Corey Barhorst will be filling in on bass. The music has so much tension and drive, but it’s the cathartic exuberance that you’ll remember from the live shows. Black Tusk has a new album already finished — I’m really excited for its 2015 release.
The great Charles Bradley in a small venue that holds way under 200 people? His show at The Jinx was everything one could have hoped for.
Crazy Bag Lady
If you love old school punk, you’ll love Crazy Bag Lady and lead singer Josh Sterno’s increasingly manic stage presence. Crazy Bag Lady is one of the busiest young Savannah bands in 2014, and they’ll be releasing an album in 2015 via Retro Futurist. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
CUSSES has always known how to put on a show, but I think the band got even tighter in 2014. The new album Golden Rat is working its way into the world, and 2015 could be a huge year. CUSSES will be celebrating its 5th birthday with a big show on 1/30/15 at The Jinx — with Crazy Bag Lady also on the bill. The first shot here is from Bragg Jam — it’s odd to see CUSSES in daylight, but they command the house in any light.
Damon and the Shitkickers
I went to see Damon and the Shitkickers a couple of nights ago for their usual Saturday happy hour at The Jinx. They were sensational – and Damon wasn’t even there. Guitarist Anders Thomsen is a stellar frontman in his own right, and I’m sure the tourists in the crowd had no idea that Anders was lying when he introduced himself as Damon. The mashup of “Folsom Prison” and “Pinball Wizard” was even sharper than usual, Anders got most of the lyrics right when the band did the anti-love song “Shit (Or Get Off the Pot)”, Charlie took the lead for the anthem about PBR, and Tony/Whiskey Dick left the bar and joined the band for a song.
Damon and the Shitkickers is another one of those bands that’s way too easy to take for granted. In his year-end post hissing lawns contributor Andy Berger, who just finished his first year living in Savannah, said that the band “deserves national attention” — and I agree.
I’d somehow never managed to see Everymen on their regular stops at The Jinx, but I made up for it recently. The Florida folk punk band puts on one of the most entertaining shows out there — addictive fast-paced music mixed with sweat and mayhem.
Family and Friends
I first saw Family and Friends at Bragg Jam in Macon in a small and kind of awkward room, and then again at Revival Fest here in Savannah. The Athens-based band plays with an infectious energy and passion, and they’ll be coming back through Savannah at least twice in 2015 — at The Jinx on 1/16 for Savannah Stopover’s final announcement event and then at the festival itself in March. If you get a chance to catch Family and Friends live and up close in 2015, you better do it — they will likely be playing much larger venues a year from now.
Well, I don’t really “get” Future Islands, and I don’t play their music around the house. But, wow, ever seen these guys live? Samuel T. Herring had the packed house at Club One in the palm of his proverbial hands as one of the headliners of the 2014 Savannah Stopover.
20-year-old Brit Jake Bugg was probably the most talented performer that I saw in 2014. I first caught him in a quiet set in-store at Monster Music in Charleston and then later in a thrilling rock show at Headliners in Louisville. Bugg may not ever be as big a star here in the States as he is in Great Britain, but I’m betting that great singers will be covering his songs for decades. The work is rooted in a deep well of youthful emotion and in Bugg’s working class upbringing — so it will be interesting to see if Bugg can craft such work as he gets older and wealthier.
Jake Bugg has expressed interest in doing a country album at some point, but I’d love to see him collaborating with some bluegrass stars. What a talent.
I saw Jason Isbell and company at Forecastle, but the big chatty crowd for the daytime set made it hard to appreciate the subtlety and wonder of the lyrics. Fortunately, the Savannah Music Festival brought Isbell to town in 2014, and the Ships of the Sea proved a perfect venue. Lots of the live acts listed here put on great visual shows, but Isbell’s presence is quiet and penetrating — just like the music itself. I got no photos; I respect the SMF’s rather strict no-photo policy, but I’m hoping the festival will begin allowing some press photos for shows at the Ships of the Sea.
Kylesa brought their driving, genre-bending sound to Savannah Stopover in 2014. In addition to being a thrilling live act, the core members of Kylesa continue to develop their label Retro Futurist, which has already paid big dividends for the Savannah music scene.
In 2014, Lucero played The Jinx and SCAD’s New Alumni Concert in Forsyth Park. Given the choice, always take Lucero in a boozy barroom.
I didn’t know quite what to expect from Meklit Hadero’s show at Dollhouse Productions in early 2014, but I fell in love with the mix of the jazzy combination of roots styles. And I managed to get a true money shot — one photo that I took that night was used for the cover of Meklit’s fabulous new record We Are Alive.
Murder By Death
Another one of my top 5 live acts of 2014. I saw Murder By Death at Headliners in Louisville and at The Jinx. The darkness and intricacy of the songs seemed an especially good fit for my mood(s) this year, but I can’t imagine ever tiring of their last couple of albums or of experiencing them in person. I’m not the only one: Murder By Death’s recent Kickstarter raised over $278,000.
The noise/punk band Perfect Pussy played a short set at Hang Fire early in 2014 — it was just long enough to let us all know that Meredith Graves and company are living up to the hype.
I didn’t know what to expect from The Replacements’ set at Forecastle, but I rarely have high hopes when bands have been around for so long. But The Replacements didn’t just go through the motions — every moment felt fresh and spontaneous. Billy Joe Armstrong from Green Day even showed up. Great stuff.
St. Paul & the Broken Bones
It was a breakout year for St. Paul & the Broken Bones, so count yourself lucky if you were there for the Savannah Stopover opening night performance at the Knights of Columbus. Paul Janeway’s big voice works for southern gospel, soulful rock, and apparently any other style he wants to explore. The stellar band behind him sure doesn’t hurt.
Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings
The inspirational R&B singer Sharon Jones began 2014 by beating her cancer into remission and launching an extended tour. She and the Dap-Tones finished the year by picking up their first Grammy nomination — for Give The People What They Want on Daptone Records. I caught Jones and the band at Forecastle.
Those Darlins played Stopover 2014, Bragg Jam, and another Savannah show at Dollhouse. Their provocative album Blur the Line is a work of wonder, and on stage the band would be hypnotic even without Jessi Zazu’s staredowns.
The Train Wrecks
If you thought The Train Wrecks were satisfied to be one of Savannah’s most popular and hardest gigging bar bands, think again. The band has just released a new album — We Roll On — and is hitting the road again in early 2015 with dates in Texas and Florida.
2014 was a big year for Triathalon, who have transitioned from a rollicking surf rock sound to something a little more soulful, a little more distinct and idiosyncratic. Lead singer Adam Intrator has developed a more charismatic stage presence that’s especially well-suited to small venues like Hang Fire, where listeners are literally a few feet away. The new album Lo-Tide, a live session at Audiotree, extensive touring – Triathalon just had a really good year, one that might set the stage for bigger things.
Quieter shows in small venues? Check. A performance with a symphony? Check. A stellar set at Revival Fest? Check. An album release party in a church? Check. A date at SXSW in 2015? Check.
Walter Parks played guitar for years with Richie Havens, but he’s now on center stage — right where he belongs. In his recent performance in the Trinity Sanctuary Concerts series, Parks weaved stories between his songs and kept the audience enthralled. At A-Town Get Down earlier in the year, Parks was joined by his Swamp Cabbage bandmate Jagoda on drums for an equally powerful set grounded in the roots music of the Southeast coast. Parks will be performing again at A-Town Get Down on 2/21/15 — if you’re in Savannah, don’t miss it.
I love many things about The Weeks — the onstage abandon, the imagery of the lyrics, the way the momentum builds in their songs and in their sets — and I feel fortunate that I saw them three times in 2014. The Weeks headlined Savannah Stopover’s community concert in Ellis Square and played an electrifying afternoon set at Forecastle in Louisville. As much as I enjoyed those shows and as much as I love listening to The Weeks around the house, I really want to see them at a bar in their native Mississippi. I’ll have to work that into a trip at some point soon. (Not an easy band to photograph, by the way, because of their sudden and unpredictable movements, but a fun challenge for sure.)
Triathalon guitarist Hunter Jayne started his project Wet Socks a couple of years ago, but the band solidified as a duo with drummer John Zimmerman in January 2013. Now they’ve released the fast, fuzzy album Drips on Retro Futurist, have played gig after gig after gig around town, and are headed out on an East Coast tour in early January. We’ll have a fresh post about Wet Socks soon.
The Woggles were founded in the late 1980s, and they’re still going strong. I had high hopes for this show, but my expectations were way too low.