A live-show experience is a completely subjective thing. One of my favorite concerts this year was Sugarland at the Fox Theatre, but that had more to do with a personal connection to someone in the band, our seats in the front row and the company of my wife, who rarely joins me for live music (if she did, we’d go broke on babysitters).
But for The 20 Best Live Acts of 2010, we tried to bring some objectivity to the countless shows we collectively saw this year, choosing bands and solo performers who consistently left audiences with the feeling that they’d just experienced something special. We only considered acts that toured in 2010, but let us know what your Top 5 shows of the year were in the comments section below.
20. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings
This list is bookended by two women channeling James Brown. Jones and the Dap-Kings make the kind of music that moves them, and their feverish passion is contagious. Their shows are wild, sweaty dance parties where everyone is grooving hard, grinning and letting loose. The Dap-Kings unleash confetti explosions of funk and soul and Jones prowls the stage, ranting and raving like a possessed preacher. But instead of hellfire and brimstone, she’s calling down pure, unfettered joy and throwing it into the crowd like bolts of lighting—ready to burn everyone’s souls clean down to ash, so they could start anew. Steve LaBate
Robyn approaches her concerts like workouts: Dressed in skintight tracksuits, she comes to move and to sweat, occasionally doing some stretching exercises mid-song or eating a banana to avoid sore muscles. Sure, she’s making a show of how much she’s putting into her show, but she’s got the tunes and the soul to make it all work. Stephen M. Deusner
18. Michael Franti & Spearhead
Michael Franti didn’t really do anything all that different in 2010 than he and his band have been doing for most of the past decade, especially on the festival circuit. But it’s time we pointed out Franti’s role as the Apostle of the life-affirming rock party. His dreadlocked, kinda-hippie, soul-folk-rock outfit has a knack for spreading joy to the audience, even when those in the crowd aren’t necessarily familiar with his music. When he invited dozens of children from the crowd onto the stage for dancing during Alabama’s terrific Hangout Festival this year, he gave each of them and their parents a special memory—only topped by his 15-minute full-band, unplugged, post-show epilogue in the middle of the audience, taking the joy to eye level. Nick Purdy
Matthrew Houck makes a point not to rehearse his band; instead, they develop their chops in front of live audiences, which makes their shows a highwire act. Rather than play rotely memorized riffs night after night, they fly by the seat of their pants, reinvesting songs like “It’s Hard to Be Humble (When You’re from Alabama)” with new grit and “The Mermaid Parade” with fresh heartbreak every time. Stephen M. Deusner
16. The Roots
The Roots are the hardest working band in show business right now. After performing as the house band every night on Jimmy Fallon, touring and playing festival gigs, and practically living in the recording studio working with everyone under the sun, Black Thought, ?uestlove and company still look and sound like they’re leaving every last ounce of energy on the stage—every time. Josh Jackson