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Best of 2014 Live

To close out my Best of 2014 series (feel free to read the Songs Part 1, Songs Part 2 and Albums lists), here’s a reflection on my favorite moments from live shows. 2014 was my biggest concert year ever at 12 shows. That’s hardly a world-shaking number, but it does represent the huge ramp-up from just 3 or 4 years ago.

3 of the 5 events here are at (fairly) big venues. One of my new year’s resolutions? Make it to smaller places and see smaller artists. Columbus secretly has a tremendous music scene beyond the Promowest venues, and I hope to check that pulse in 2015. Now for the list!

05. “Is This How You Feel” by The Preatures, 6/17 at The Basement, Columbus – The incredible confidence of The Preatures’ recorded work made a powerful translation to stage. The small-yet-enthusiastic crowd bought in immediately as Isabella Manfredi augmented her excellent live singing with true frontwoman intensity. She strutted, danced, and stared down the audience, turning the massive refrain of “Is This How You Feel” into a cathartic moment for everyone in the venue.

04. “Hornets Hornets” by The Hold Steady, 2/3 at A&R Music Bar, Columbus – “Hornets” wasn’t specifically the best song of the night (the Boys and Girls in America stuff was incredible). It does steal the show as the most important, the opener of The Hold Steady set. In particular, the very start of the song established the tone of the 22 picks to follow. The delayed intro (stretching the pauses as far as possible), the playful (drunken) attitude of Craig Finn, and then the explosion of guitar sound. The Hold Steady knows exactly what they’re doing.

03. “Wake Up” by Arcade Fire, 4/29 at Schottenstein Center, Columbus – I’d heard the stories, I knew the reputation: “Wake Up” was supposed to be this life-affirming experience. Whatever. I came in hoping for a “Power Out” into “Rebellion (Lies)” thing. I was shocked as that happened just 3 songs in. I’d forgotten all about the finale to come while confetti, and disco lights, and dancing bananas (really) flooded my mind.

And then the closing song happened. And somehow, every voice in the giant basketball arena knew every word and shouted the lyrics back at the band. I couldn’t imagine one song living up to the hype, but here it was. Arcade Fire are nothing if not masters of dramatic public performance.

02. “Jonathan Fisk” by Spoon, 9/12 at Egyptian Room, Indianapolis – Spoon is my favorite band, and that Friday in Indy was my first time seeing them live. Reflective of their music, Spoon doesn’t go for the flashy excess or unnecessary innovation in their show. Instead, they delivered great rock song after great rock song with passion and authority. In the process, they blazed through some of the greatest songs in their legendary catalog.

“Jonathan Fisk” was the final song of a second encore that didn’t seem like it was supposed to happen (but did anyway). It was like a gift we (the audience) were given for no real reason. I can only speak for myself: I cherished it. Every note was a victory lap, the true cherry atop the best live show of 2014.

01. “3rd Planet” by Modest Mouse, 7/12 at LC Pavilion, Columbus – It’s not often you get to hear the best song off the best album of the past 15 years played live. And that’s why this moment tops the list for 2014. Modest Mouse did much of the heavy lifting just delivering the song in the first place, recording it all those years ago.

Luckily for me, they also decided to put in the work in Columbus. Modest Mouse does not just play a song live. They re-imagine, cranking the gears, the guts of their compositions. Isaac Brock shouts, grunts, throws his body into the performance. And when the loud part kicks in? Jeremiah Green summons the noise from nothingness, leading the guitars with his perfect drumming.

This was my third time seeing Modest Mouse and the first time I’d heard “3rd Planet” in person. I hope to hear it again soon, and I hope it has the same magic it did in July.