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.
13. The Lone Bellow
Their debut album is one of our favorites this year, but their live show is another thing entirely. All three members of this Brooklyn trio can belt, and that’s exactly what they do, tearing into some of the best harmonies you’ll hear, but still aware of the perfect moments to dial it back. They know how to keep things light, too, tossing in a surprisingly great cover of Mariah Carey’s Always Be My Baby every once in a while. Here they are performing for Paste.
12. King Tuff
Used to be, the man with a penchant for glammed-out, lo-fi pop perfection played his should-be hits for a select few; now, Kyle Thomas has a legit producer and a much-bigger set of songs to show for his efforts. The results, especially when they give equal time to his natural charm and knob-twiddler Bobby Harlow’s clearly natural talent (“Keep On Movin’”), are nothing short of spectacular.—Austin L. Ray
11. Yeah Yeah Yeahs
From frontwoman Karen O’s manic, unpredictable stage persona to Nick Zinner’s brilliantly precise guitar noodling to drummer Brian Chase’s equally dexterous percussion, Yeah Yeah Yeahs stand as three different powerhouse musicians who just happen to all play in the same band. Whether you are headbanging to the likes of “Zero” or swaying along to the introspective “Maps,” a Yeah Yeah Yeahs concert is an experience you’re likely to treasure for the rest of your days.—Mark Rozeman
10. Charles Bradley
Bradley is an old-school showman of the highest ilk, whom Daptone head Gabriel Roth discovered only a few years ago when he was doing James Brown covers in a small New York nightclub. At ACL Live, Bradley worked the crowd with a number of impressive, totally unique dance moves—including some kind of funky version of the robot and a maneuver where he lets the mic stand fall to the ground only to yank it back up into his hand by the cord before it hits—as he and the Menehan Street Band rocked through some favorites from his 2011 debut album No Time For Dreaming. The real “holy shit” moments of seeing Bradley live, though, were the sustained James Brown-style wails he regularly emits. Even if you’ve already seen him once, even if you’ve already seen him a thousand times, when the Screamin’ Eagle rears his head back and lets one fly it’s as if you’re hearing it for the first time. Goosebumps are a common occurrence.—Ryan Bort
9. Nine Inch Nails
Live, Nine Inch Nails is still a force as much as ever, with super-respected bassist Pino Palladino providing low-end (and also tackling “March of the Pigs” on bass, the first time I’ve seen the instrument in the place of the heart-rattling low-synth heard on The Downward Spiral in NIN’s live set.) And there’s always something reassuring about seeing Downward Spiral-era guitarist Robin Finck manning the six-strings, kicking down mic stands and acting as a recent staple for the band’s live act. You can’t argue with the band’s tremendous stage show. When NIN tours, they do it up big, and the initial Hesitation Marks offering didn’t disappoint. Low-hanging, glitchy lights, amazing visuals and smoke defined a night of hard-hitting tunes, and the 20-song set ended with a single-heavy stretch that started with “The Hand that Feeds” and ended with the lighter-mandatory singalong that is “Hurt.”—Tyler Kane
8. Flaming Lips
It seems like every year we make this list, the Flaming Lips wind up snagging a spot—deservedly so. 2013 is no different, and at this year’s SXSW, the band took home the inaugural Grulke Prize, awarded to “an established artist who appeared at SXSW 2013 to reinvent themselves or launch an important new project.” That new project was The Terror, performed in its entirety at Auditorium Shores in front of a record crowd. But the night before, the band played an equally impressive, scaled-down show at the Belmont, one so great, Paste’s Ryan Bort didn’t even care about some drunk guy’s drink spilling all over him: “About an hour later the set was almost over and, by some small miracle, not a drop of my neighbor’s drink had been spilled on me, despite it having hung precariously in his limp-wristed hand through repeated stumblings. Coyne had made a promise that even though they didn’t have enough time to get through all of Yoshimi, they wouldn’t leave the stage without playing “Do You Realize??” The time to play it had come, and as the song’s famous opening countdown began, my wasted friend thrust his fist in the air triumphantly, the same fist that was holding his drink, and a nearly full vodka/something found its way all over me, in its entirety. I only laughed, because how can you be even remotely upset about anything while The Flaming Lips are playing “Do You Realize??” a few feet in front of you?”