The 25 Best Live Acts of 2012

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The 25 Best Live Acts of 2012

Paste’s Best of 2012 series continues through Dec. 31 and is made possible by our friends at Tretorn.

2012 was a great year for live music, whether it was legacy acts brushing off the cobwebs and heading back out on the road or new groups proving their mettle on the big stage. We polled Paste staffers and writers about their favorite acts who toured or performed festival spots this year, and today we present the 25 Best Live Acts of 2012.

25. Wilco
Touring The Whole Love has allowed Wilco to play a strong batch of buy-this-album alongside fan favorites. Nels Cline remains almost comic in his virtuosity—and certainly induces chuckles of amazement—but his bandmates keep with him, hamming up the arena-rock potential, embracing groove under a brilliant light show, or taking surprisingly mellow detours. Those breaks don’t last (though we can hope for an end to “California Stars”), as the band’s exceptional explosiveness wins out in a show that blends experiment and precision with bombast and recklessness.—Justin Cober-Lake

24. Prince
After reigning for decades as one of the most popular recording and live artists in pop history, Prince could be forgiven if he chose to rest on his laurels at this point in his career. But, anyone who’s seen the Purple One live in the past few years knows that he’s taking no prisoners and playing better than he ever has before. Supported by one of the best bands he’s ever taken on the road—James Brown alumnus Maceo Parker on sax is only one of the incredible players who came out with him again last year—Prince has been crossing the world playing long sets of hit-heavy shows. Today’s Prince concerts, for all their cutting edge technology and pyrotechnics, recall nothing so much as the early Motown and Stax revues from the mid-’60s for sheer enthusiasm and entertainment value. Catch him while you can.—Douglas Heselgrave

23. Wild Flag
In a year when women demanded to be heard both politically and musically, Wild Flag was the loudest live act this side of Pussy Riot. After releasing their self-titled debut last year, Wild Flag’s 2012 tour served as a celebratory victory lap for the band. With every rebel yelp and raucous riff, nothing instills awe and inspiration quite like watching Brownstein, Weiss, Timony and Cole parlay a riot-grrl past into a fierce feminist future.—Jessica Gentile

22. Radiohead
Radiohead’s 2012 featured yet another amazing light-show—this time on a series of TV screens that gave each song it’s own color scheme and design. It featured a wide-range of songs from throughout the band’s catalog. And most importantly, it featured dancing Thom Yorke. The usually enigmatic frontman seems to be enjoying himself onstage more than ever, and his un-self-conscious gyrations are a wonder to behold. Thom Yorke is the King of Limbs.—Josh Jackson

21. D’Angelo
What is it about the pursuit of the groove that leads all-time greats like Sly Stone and D’Angelo into seclusion? Luckily there’s a light at the end of the wilderness, if D’Angelo’s incredible comeback performance at the BET awards (after over a decade away from the stage) was any indication, from jittery synth vamps to tricky piano solos, to his own increasingly rare falsetto. The fact that this national treasure, dangerous microphone-stand wielder (on the Voodoo tour he reportedly snapped them in half) and keeper-of-the-funk preaches to his choir while Chris Brown gets to creep out the diverse Grammy audience is hopefully a relic we can chalk up to the dark days before healthcare reform.—Dan Weiss