1. Future Islands @ FYF Fest

With the early evening sun casting a warm orange glow on the smallest FYF stage, I had a feeling we were in for something special from Future Islands. Little did I know that Future Islands would steal the festival, easily surpassing every other show I saw that weekend, and reaffirm (at least for myself) the reasons why I even go to live shows in the first place. In other words, Future Islands were fucking brilliant.

As a vocalist, Sam Herring is free to pace about the stage and give the band’s emotional lyrics his full attention. Jumping from Morrissey-esque bellows to throat-ripping screams of passion, Herring literally bounced around the stage, whipping his arms towards the audience, laughing in anguished glee, and rousing the crowd with his fevered body language.

I looked around numerous times during the performance to gauge the audience’s reaction and you could see the connection in people’s eyes and in the rushed exclamations of “holy shit” between songs. This was beyond showmanship — this was a reaffirmation of why it’s good to be alive despite all that pain, why music can bring us a new sense of our relationships and ourselves. Anything that can make us feel an overwhelming bond to everyone, a shared moment of passion, anger, and beauty is a song worth listening to. Future Islands, in that sense, were blisteringly alive.

2. Death Grips @ Slim’s

“If anything, seeing Death Grips in the flesh on Monday night proved, at least temporarily, that experience is more than pixels on a screen. I can’t guarantee it, but I’d bet at least a few audience members were inspired to blog/post/tweet “I’VE SEEN DEATH GRIPS” after the show. Even when we see the “real,” we’re still pounding it right back into cyberspace. Which is fine — there’s nothing inherently real about music, chopped and layered as it is, or, arguably, our individual experience of life. Death Grips push, shove, and fuck with this dynamic, guiding the audience to yell, jump, scream, strut, and feel MC Ride’s anxiety, giving a tangible voice to the digital unease that lurks all around us.” — Full Review Here.

3. Deftones @ Warfield

“Born and raised in Sacramento, Deftones are an important reminder of how 99% of this country feels — the apathy, the unemployment, the boredom, the overly emotional posts on Tumblr, the depressing status updates on Facebook, the ability to even get in your car and just drive towards some distant horizon. It’s why the band ended the show with three cuts from Adrenaline, including the suburban anthem “Bored,” where Chino simply belts out “I get bored” at the top of his lungs. There’s beauty in Middle America’s desperation and the Deftones have always been a band driven by the hidden inspiration lurking behind closed, ordinary doors.” —Full Review Here.

Future of the Left

4. Future of the Left @ Slim’s

“For their last song, the band covered the oddball comedian Andy Kaufman’s “I Trusted You,” extending the outro for an extra five minutes, pulling audience members onstage to share the microphone and take their turn screaming in anguish, “I trusted you / I trusted you.” As the mass of audience members onstage continued to expand, the collective fuck you that FOTL expose in their songwriting came into clear view, a vitriolic celebration of pop culture found only here in this dark, sweaty venue. I trusted you, they seemed to say, even if I never should have.” —Full Review Here.

5. Converge @ Slim’s

Hardcore veterans Converge remain vicious and uncompromising. Vocalist Jacob Bannon spent a significant amount of time tossing punk kids off the stage by the back of the neck as the foursome tore through a career-spanning setlist, highlighted by 2012’s All We Love We Leave Behind.

6. Pulp @ Coachella

Waiting for their set the first night of Coachella, I had no idea Jarvis Cocker would be the most entertaining performer I’d see all year. The man exudes energy, enthusiasm, and scorn in equal doses — reminding everyone that music can be meaningful, funny, and really fucking good. Take notes.

7. The Walkmen @ Outside Lands

I couldn’t help but tear up a bit when Hamilton Leithauser started really leaning into his lyrics, his voice strained but beautiful as he sang from the The Walkmen’s 2012 LP Heaven’s title track, “Don’t leave me now / Oh you’re my best friend / All of my life / You’ve always been.” This might not have been heaven realized, but damn if I didn’t feel good surrounded by thousands of music fans in Golden Gate Park, watching a seasoned band reminiscence about life, good and bad.

8. Grandaddy @ Outside Lands

9. Stevie Wonder @ Outside Lands

Stevie can come across at times like the world’s best cover band. Unapologetically crowd pleasing, the band touched on hits by The Beatles (“She Loves You”), The Temptations (“My Girl”), and Michael Jackson (“The Way You Make Me Feel”). Fans were dancing on tables, joints were passed, and we all left with that ear-to-ear smile that comes only once in a long while, typically as the lights dim on a legend.

10. Divine Fits @ Treasure Island

In the forgotten era of indie rock (see: post-2009), Divine Fits are perfect — no dubstep gimmicks, no flashy lightshows, no fucking laptops, just three men on stage, pouring their emotions out with rock ‘n roll gusto. Even if the songs aren’t exactly collaborative — the musical confines of their past projects are closely followed — these guys need each other, if not for a backing band, then for moral support. Indie rock is tough. Shred that throat, that guitar, but not that reputation for clear, catchy rock music. This is a thing called Divine Fits.

11. Flaming Lips @ Bridge School Benefit
12. Xiu Xiu @ Bottom of the Hill
13. Wallpaper @ Coachella
14. Jeff Mangum @ Fox Theater

A long-awaited return that was perhaps not as glorious as some would have liked, but you could still feel Mangum’s emotional release from across the room, the weight of living in fear of your own songs for 14 years, vanquished.

15. John Maus @ FYF Fest

Alone on stage with just a microphone and a laptop placed humbly on the floor, John Maus proved to be the perfect introduction to FYF Fest on Saturday afternoon. What he lacked in glitz and light effects, Maus made up for tenfold in passion as he sang over the top of his own recordings — punching himself in the head, ripping at his chest, audibly screaming at the audience with no microphone, constantly jumping until sweat stains were visible through his blue jeans. A formidable dance pit formed to keep pace with his post-punk via electro-pop machinations, and you could see surprised audience members watching open-mouthed as Maus made a violent case for the superiority of low-budget passion over big-stage theatrics — a theme that would repeat itself throughout the festival.

16. Japandroids @ Independent

“And then Japandroids launched into “Younger Us,” a smoldering anthem for the memories of youth from their newest LP, Celebration Rock, that the kids absolutely ate up, their bobbing heads, jumping feet, pumping fists all drawn to the stage as if by youthful osmosis. The lyrics, which read, “remember that night you were already in bed / said fuck it / got up and drank with me instead” could just as easily, at that moment, be about San Francisco. Remember that time we were feeling old and stressed, said fuck it (and the NYT), and got wild instead?” —Full Review Here.

17. Cloud Nothings @ Bottom of the Hill
18. Andrew WK @ Regency Ballroom
19. EMA @ Rickshaw Stop

“Despite lyrics that seem to walk dangerously close to abusive relationship territory (album highlight “Marked” includes the chorus “I wish that every time he touched me left a mark”), it’s strangely empowering to watch Anderson sing with the slightest hint of a smirk on her face. It was there throughout the show, a smile here, a laugh there, little touches that remind us Anderson isn’t a woman consumed by misery, but rather an artist exploring misery. The two are very much not the same thing.” —Full Review Here.

20. Dr Dre & Snoop Dogg @ Coachella

There really isn’t much more to say about this show: Holograms, blockbuster cameos (50 Cent, Eminem, Wiz Khalifa), fireworks, gin & juice, and neon backdrops; a football team’s worth of chest-thumping masculine ego and some of the best West Coast hip-hop ever recorded. Too bad those new Dre songs suck so badly.