Bastille - Photo by Roman Gokhman

Introduction and special considerations

I doubt I’ll ever get to go to as many concerts as I did in 2013 again. My goal was see 50, and I saw 64. In judging what I enjoyed most, I decided to grade based on my favorites rather than the “best.” “Best” means being objective, which of course is very difficult, and everyone will have their own list. Picking “favorites” takes away the onus that “my list is more accurate than yours.”

Just like last year, I set a few rules for myself. Opening acts don’t count – though as you see below, some opening sets earned “special considerations.” Neither do non-headlining performances at festivals. In order for a concert to count on my favorites list, he, she or they need to perform for at least one hour or be a headliner (I made that distinction because Popscene headliners rarely play past 45 minutes because they don’t have more than one body of work to select from). And finally, if I saw a band more than once, I’m only counting the better of the two performances; no act was listed twice, even though in a couple of instances they could have been. I saw a handful of acts twice, but only one (Bastille) three times. It wasn’t planned.

Without further ado, the special considerations (IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER):

Muse at the Grammy Museum, Los Angeles – Feb. 8.

This was a short radio station performance. They’d played at the Oracle Arena a few days earlier and I found the visuals distracting and the performance lacking. At the Grammy Museum, they didn’t have the visuals to hide behind, which is just fine because the trio is very talented.

Phoenix at Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival – Aug. 10.

There is only one reason this is not one of my favorite concerts of the year: I left halfway through to catch the second half of Nine Inch Nails’ set. And I regret it. I also regret not catching them at the Independent or in Davis last spring. I remedied the situation by catching them up close at Not So Silent Night last weekend.

Little Green Cars at Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival. – Aug. 11.

They couldn’t quite replicate this performance when they returned to play the Great American Music Hall this fall, but their blustery outdoor performance in windswept Golden Gate Park flew me back to Ireland on this particular day.

HAIM, Treasure Island Music Festival – Oct. 20.

So, I really wanted to hate these three SoCal sisters. I wanted to hate them because I really liked them and their publicist just pulled a promised interview away from me without warning after months of saying I was locked-in. I’d been pursuing this interview before you knew who HAIM were. And, they still blew me away; and of course you know who they are now, because you’re seeing them twice at the Fillmore in 2014.

Kitten (opening for Charli XCX) at Slim’s – Nov. 10

I had never even heard of Kitten before going to this show; I went for Charli. And she put on a stellar performance. This just goes to show how well Kitten played. Band leader Chloe Chaidez is a fireball of sexual energy, and the rest of the band… well, I hope there’s no turnover. They add to the dynamic and make the band bigger than the sum of its parts. I wasn’t prepared to shoot video; sorry.

I call these next three shows the runner’s-up because I didn’t want to have a “Top 18.” That would mean that nearly one-fourth of the shows I attended for the year (I went to 64, as you’ve undoubtedly already read in Part 1) were my favorite. That’s too big of a number. Still, I really enjoyed these next three. Reminder: If the name is hyperlinked, that means I wrote about the act this year, and you can click through to the coverage.

Jessie Ware at the Fillmore – Nov. 18

I missed her set at Outside Lands because I was trapped at the front of the stage waiting for Paul McCartney. But I did have a chance to interview Jessie earlier that day and she came across as fun, smart and interesting. I decided then to catch her next local show, which she told me back then was coming up. And I’m glad I did because Ware is neither too pop nor too retro. She’s just right.

Walk the Moon at the Regency Ballroom – Oct. 17

I’ve seen these guys several times over the last couple of years, ever since my interview at Live 105’s BFD. I’ve appreciated how they have grown their stage presence, production and performance. Since then, I’ve interviewed others who look up to this Cincinnati band for guidance and inspiration. I’ve also noticed how their fans are getting younger, and the young crowd was out in full force at this show, whopping and hollering from the moment the band took the stage.

Depeche Mode at Shoreline Amphitheater – Sept. 26

This concert was pushed from my top 15 very recently. The band was at the top of their game throughout, and the crowd reacted fervently not only to the hits, but also the lesser-known ballads. If you were there, you know.

15. Bastille at Great American Music Hall – Sept. 19

This was the second of three Bay Area shows Bastille had in 2013. The first was at Popscene; their first tour show in America, and frontman Dan Smith was feeling very sick. His voice cracked at times and he hid as far away from the crowd as possible. It was not bad at all, yet Smith kept apologizing before the show was cut short. When the quartet returned, you could tell the difference in Smith’s health by his demeanor. He worked the stage, sang in higher registers and his bandmates did not seem as protective of his as the initial show. This band has the potential to reach Imagine Dragons’ commercial success in the U.S.

14. Zac Brown Band at BottleRock Napa Valley – May 12

I’d not seen ZBB at all before this show, figuring it wasn’t my style. But at BottleRock, they infused country with a dollop of pop and rock, throwing in covers such as the one below, and even Metallica. And it didn’t sound horrible; it was quite fun. There’s a lot happening on stage at a ZBB show, and none of it distracted from the whole.

13. Mumford & Sons at the Greek Theatre, Berkeley – May 30

A few days after this show, Mumford bassist Ted Dwayne had a blood clot on his brain that required emergency surgery and the postponement of the rest of the tour. No one knew that here, though. The English quartet was in an easygoing mood, cracking crass jokes and engaging a varied audience.

12. San Cisco at Rickshaw Stop (Popscene) – April 4

The young Australian quartet is very fun live. The energy they bring is communicated to their fan base, which is now in its infancy in the U.S. They are a band to watch for the next couple of years for me.

11. Arcade Fire at Not So Silent Night (Oracle Arena) – Dec. 7

The highly anticipated return of one of the world’s biggest bands. Arcade Fire will return to the Bay Area next summer, but this was a good chance to see them from up close without cashing in your college fund for fan club seats. After some stellar openers, such as Bastille, Phoenix and Lorde, Win Butler and Co. had a lot to live up to on this night, and they did it by focusing on the new music rather than the hits. This is a band that still hasn’t peaked.

10. The Kin at Wente Vineyards, Livermore (Front Porch Music Festival) – Aug. 31

This show was supposed to be headlined by the Lone Bellow. When they cancelled, I was bummed. I liked the Stone Foxes, who also put forth a great set, but I had no idea who the Kin were, nor was I impressed by what I heard on Spotify. These guys kick serious ass. That is my professional opinion as a journalist. They are unique, and they put that on display by blending prog-rock, pop and tribal, world flourishes. Plus, I promise they’ve got one of the most unique drummers for a rock band. They opened a bunch of shows for Pink recently, and they should be returning with some shows of their own in 2014.

9. The Garifuna Collective with Danny Michel at Brick & Mortar – Aug. 7

Chances are my readers would never consider seeing the Garifuna Collective. That’s a shame, because they could learn something about the culture of the diminishing Garifuna race and the extremely popular (in Central America) punta rock and how it has infiltrated other genres thanks to the late Andy Palacio. This time around, they were touring with Canadian singer-songwriter Danny Michel, with whom the collective had recorded an English-language album. This show was about cultural transcendence.

8. The Call with Robert Levon Been at Slim’s – April 18

Robert’s father was Michael Been, the bassist and bandleader of this seminal ’80s band, that had a chance to be an American U2 but never quite caught on like some predicted. They had broken up years ago, and this very special show was one of only two — so far — reunion gigs they played this year. Robert told me more are possible while his full-time band, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, are on hiatus.

7. Paul McCartney at Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival – Aug. 9

I teared up during “Let It Be.” The passion this man has toward music — old and new alike — is immeasurable. I’m guessing this performance was No. 1 for many isn the Bay Area. Were you there? Let me know what you thought in the comments.

6. Franz Ferdinand at the Vacation “Basement” in San Francisco – April 11

This deserves an asterisk. Franz played two sets totalling about 55 minutes. I went to both, which is why I list this “show” in my list. The Scottish quartet are their own animal. They grow and morph their sound at their own pace. They do what they like, and they’re still great at what they do. Playing to two crowds of about 200 people each in a sweaty room with no windows and only one door to escape, Franz did everything but light the room on fire. I did not come prepared with a camera, so here’s a link by a to video by my friend lairygirl.

Before I get my five favorite shows, here are some of the concerts I attended that didn’t make my Top 15 nor the runners-up: Muse at Oracle Arena, Carrie Underwood, Leonard Cohen, the Joy Formidable (which was one of my favorite shows in 2012), the Killers, Kings of Leon at BottleRock Napa Valley, LL Cool J, Beyonce (July), Gary Clark, Jr., and Pearl Jam. I list those to show that there was a lot of competition, and I didn’t treat the “all-stars” better than other acts. And it took more than a fancy production to make my list.

5. Marina and the Diamonds at the Warfield – May 6

Marina is a multi-skilled musician. She can play the piano, she’s got a strong grrrl-powered voice, and she is a natural performer. And her touring band is also top-notch. At this show, she worked the crowd into a tizzy with a mix of uptempo songs and ballads alike. Like Walk the Moon, who I mentioned earlier, her fans are getting younger. They are influenceable. And she’s got a strong uplifting message for them.

4. Royal Teeth, the Colourist and Feral Fauna at Bottom of the Hill – June 29

I said in the introduction to this list that I was not counting opening acts, except for in the “special considerations.” That applies to all shows but this one. I knew the Royal Teeth would put on a great performance, but I was not aware of the other two acts. The Colourist really surprised me, prompting my later interviews with them. Locals Feral Fauna also provided a strong, unique sound, that made this show stand out above the many other smaller acts I saw in 2013. Both RT and and TC are candy-coated pop, to be sure, but there are deeper meanings to the lyrics that make them stand out from the crowd. And being in the audience at this show was a real pleasure.

3. The Vaccines at the Fillmore – Feb. 15

I saw the Vaccines first when they played Outside Lands a couple of years ago. Then singer Justin Young suffered some vocal cord problems that required surgery, and their next U.S. tour was cancelled. After he recovered the band was playing overseas but had yet to return to the States. And because of that, they’d gone from a buzz band to a work horse back home, and not yet picked up a tone of traction over here. The Vaccines I saw at the Fillmore were not the young, sheepish musicians I first saw in 2011. They were a confident rock band with a mission to put on a great show. They didn’t disappoint.

2. Green Day at the Greek Theatre, Berkeley – April 16

The difference between the front row at a Green Day show and the second row is the waves upon waves of people crashing into you. I had literally zero control of my body for the majority of the night. The video of the ballad below was possible only because the crowd calmed down enough for me to be able to reach for my pocket. This sort of symbiotic relationship between the band and their fans made this a special show. What raised it to an even higher level were the circumstances. This was the first homecoming show for the East Bay Band since singer Billy Joe Armstrong’s meltdown at a Vegas festival and subsequent drug treatment. The boys were glad to be home.

1. Imagine Dragons at the Warfield – March 16

I’ve seen Imagine Dragons a handful of times now and have come out impressed in every one of them. But this show in March of this year was by far the most impressive, and surpassed the excitement I felt at any other 2013 concert. The band’s charisma seeps of early U2, which, if you follow my writing, is a big deal to me. There’s rafter climbing, risk-taking that (likely) makes the record label reps anxious, and just the tight amount of preaching to give this band’s fans a clear message to be better people.

Follow writer Roman Gokhman at and