December 19, 2014
The memory banks are crammed with live music recall from this year; here are 10 that remain at the forefront.
1. Janelle Monáe, Oct. 21 at the Vic
A flawless performer who doesn’t appear overly invested in being perfect, Monáe packed stadium-sized entertainment into the small confines of the Vic. Her nine-member band blasted a delectable mixture of hard funk and synth pop, plus hits from Michael Jackson and Prince. But the big thrills came from Monáe’s fluttering dance moves, winking humor, and a generous spirit she traded between her band and the audience.
2. Sinead O’Connor, Nov. 4 at City Winery
A singer with one of pop music’s powerful voices plus a special club setting equal the ingredients for a spectacular evening. Fronting a five-member band, O’Connor led the crowd to her church with a set of mostly originals where she wailed, whispered and blended into a three-part harmony — spiritual catharsis at its best.
3. Cat Power, Aug. 4 at Lollapalooza in Grant Park
Awkward-slash-irritating at a recent solo show at the Old Town School, Chan Marshall was an entirely different performer months earlier in Grant Park. The difference: a full band that dug into the hypnotic grooves of her excellent album “Sun.” The set’s most impressive instrument, however, was Marshall’s voice, which projected deep blues.
4. Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z, July 22 at Soldier Field
The two biggest names in rap and pop music together on one stage was sized accordingly: nearly three hours featuring nearly 40 songs, a 13-member band, a massive lighting and video spectacle, and an arsenal from two respective hit machines.
5. Savages, July 20 at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park
By now, most packaged outdoor bills feel routine, yet this British band was a fresh substitute. Despite the oppressive summer heat, the four women of this band played ominous vengeance songs with physicality.
6. Lucinda Williams, Jan. 30 at SPACE
The poet of country soul played in a duo with guitarist Doug Pettibone; the set spanned her entire career and previewed new originals. The close quarters gave the audience the rare opportunity to hear the songs breathe in ways that illuminated their essential truths.
7. Emmylou Harris and
Rodney Crowell with
Richard Thompson, March
20 at Symphony Center
Orchestral acoustics benefited this night of roots music, featuring a triple threat bill: Thompson performing in an electric rock trio and later joining Harris and Crowell as they marched through a history of prime country music songwriting and vocal harmony.
8. The Rolling Stones, June 3 at United Center
Another Stones show that gouges fans at the box office, but then again, look at the 22-song setlist: It’s difficult to think any band in their wake a generation from now will be able to deliver the same ratio of quality to quantity. This tour also had the caveat of former Stone and virtuoso guitarist Mick Taylor joining in; he forced the band to up their game, a thrill to hear.
9. Kanye West, Dec. 17 at United Center
Was this hometown reunion by the mega-star rapper-producer too long and did it lose steam during its third act when he proclaimed victimhood for 20 minutes? Yes and yes. However, the sky-high ambition, stunning theatrical vision and punishing emotive mix of industrial rock and rap also made it memorable. Kanye West is a star, but he’s a complex one who thankfully doesn’t make anything easy.
10. The Replacements,
Sept. 15 at Riot Fest
in Humboldt Park
No reunion was hyped more this year than this one, despite not being a true reunion at all. Instead, the Replacements playing Riot Fest’s final night was a rare opportunity to see band auteur Paul Westerberg and bassist Tommy Stinson get goofy while rolling out the classics. Was this a musical tour de force? No. Did it capture the unpredictable and unpretentious this band once defined? Sure thing.