There are plenty of perks that come with working for a music company. And while free records are great, perhaps the best perk is catching as much live music as we do each year. 2013 was another incredible year to see some of our favorite artists hit the stage, whether in front of thousands at a giant festival or a select few inside a dark club. We polled our writers and editors, with the parameters that artists needed to tour or perform festival dates in 2013 to qualify for this list, and this is what we came up with: the 25 best live acts of the year.
25. Killer Mike and El P
The duo brought their excellent Run The Jewels material to life with a joint tour this year, and as Tyler Kane writes, “Killer Mike hit hard immediately with an amped up sprint through “Big Beast,” setting the tone and welcoming the crowd to his own turf. But what defined the set—and what wasn’t present almost a year ago at the same venue—was his clear dedication as a family man, an artist of integrity and role model. “Big Beast’”s “hardcore G shit” and “dealers and the strippers and the clubs” are kinda half the story here as many casual fans would learn—Mr. Michael Render is a Southern-raised sweetheart. Although the emotion is nothing new for the rapper—anyone who’s seen him in the last year can attest that this guy gets dewy-eyed, even at big fests like Sasquatch—it’s refreshing to see someone so open on the subjects, not afraid to shed a tear in front of his kids, or bring pressing issues of his own to the forefront.” Check out footage from that emotional Atlanta homecoming show below.
24. David Byrne and St. Vincent
The combination of David Byrne and Annie Clark is exciting on the duo’s release Love This Giant, but live, they’re transcendent. Backed by a full brass band, not only do Byrne and Clark play off each other well, both masters with their guitars, but they each get their own chance to shine in the spotlight. From classic Talking Heads songs to the frenzied shredding of “Actor Out of Work”, even if this tour is a one-time thing, it’s rock’s best answer to Watch the Throne, an event that is too fascinating and great to ignore.—Ross Bonaime
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
22. Black Joe Lewis
With lyrics that will make you grin and grooves that will get your toes a-tappin’, the Austin soulman and his band are your best bet for dancing, wherever you happen to catch them.
21. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
Along with the great stage show established by the band on its debut album’s tours, the addition of fourth member and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Visger brings new energy on plenty of cuts, including the cover of Gil Scott-Heron’s “We Almost Lost Detroit” and a recently unearthed live cover of The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.” But many of the star tracks of the tour come from the band’s newest full-player, The Speed of Things. I’m a huge fan of many of the tracks—“Run” hasn’t received nearly enough attention this year, and “Dancefloor” was marked as one of our favorites of the summer, but live these are sparked with new energy that you might not catch on the album.—Tyler Kane
20. Fiona Apple
Forget that Portland heckling incident. Forget the canceled dates. All you really need to know about Fiona Apple’s live shows with Blake Mills this year is that they featured the same stunning performer we all know and love. Sure, she can be something of a raw nerve onstage, but that’s part of what makes her shows so great: that emotional honesty is incredible, sucking you in from the first notes.