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Editors Picks: Best live acts of 2017

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Illustration by Cynthia Alfonso, see more of her work here and here

2017 is almost over—both a blessing and a curse (we all thought things couldn’t get worse than 2016 but here we are…). Our editors are going through moments of musical and cultural reflection and we’ll be rolling out a series of our favorite moments of 2017. Stay tuned for more. 


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Photo by Juan Camillo

Promiseland

Promiseland is voyeuristic, it’s confrontational and uncomfortable. Within the span of 20 minutes Johann Rashid manages to flip the audience performer relationship on it’s head and make you fearful both of what he’s capable of doing and what he’s capable of making you do (the pulsing backbeat to “Take Down The House” is the track I would use to soundtrack The Purge).

From the times I’ve seen Promiseland there is one moment that is permanently seared into my mind as the pinnacle of performance. Rashid on the floor, on his knees, confronted by a large man in his vague and disseminated entourage pours two beers over his face—and it feels pornographic. It feels like the money shot at the end of a video you watch in a private window.

It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever seen—you’ve paid to be there, you’ve paid to see a performance and even still Promiseland feels like you’re peeping into the underworld through a keyhole.

—Tamim Alnuweiri 

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Photo by Daggers For Eyes

Surfbort

Surfbort are pure unhinged and maniacal ecstasy. The band  convulses on stage jeering to a tune—not the one being played, not one you’ve ever heard but one of those low frequency sounds that can only be heard by the freaks and the gremlins who have drunk the koolaid. They are so infectious and having so much fun it’s hard not to feel some sort of foolish glee watching people being so good at what they do and so happy doing it.

—Tamim Alnuweiri 

Photo by Daggers For Eyes

Photo by Daggers For Eyes

Ice Balloons

Watching Ice Balloons feels like you’re floating on the surface of what could be a disastrous k-hole except you don’t fall in. You get close enough to the black hole to feel the enjoyable bits, the bumps and the waves, the drip down the back of your throat, though tinged with some unidentifiable pangs of gloom. But you’re fine and Sean is pounding away on the drums in his caveman way, Dani is smiling and looking way too fucking happy, and Sean is somewhere in between flitting around like a swatted fly.

—Tamim Alnuweiri 

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Nightspace

Nightspace, the jagged synth-pop project of Zah Bailey, has a lot in common with Crystal Castles. Their music shares a similar penchant for taking typical “dance” elements and merging them with a noisy aggressive approach, often with vocals buried in the mix. Live they bring a string of blinking lights and twirl in self-made garments that blur gender lines, punctuating their songs with screams and moans. Whether playing unreleased songs from their upcoming album or their excellent cover of Britney Spear’s “Gimmie More,” Nightspace can turn a room full of skeptics into believers. I saw them play a show I booked at The Bronze, at the basement punk venue Heck, and at a warm up to an all-night queer rave. Each time they went into a crowd that was seemingly uninterested, but the end of their set had the entire room dancing, a testament to their skill in a scene filled with permanently crossed-armed gig-goers. With new music on the way in 2018, hopefully they’ll be playing around plenty.

—Mo Wilson

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Terror Pigeon

The first time I saw Terror Pigeon, the one-man indie pop project of Neil Fridd, my friend had just gone through a bitter breakup.  The show was a distraction, an excuse to get her out of her apartment. Neither of us had any idea what was in store for us. Fridd spent a good 15 minutes setting up giant inflatable Snow Men and Halloween characters, the kind that normally populates the massive front lawns of suburban McMansions. They filled the tiny venue’s stage, but as soon as the music started, they took a back seat to Fridd’s performance. Terror Pigeon songs are not fussy or uptight. They’re filled with big shout-along choruses and earnest sentiments of love, friendship, and caring. Live, this translates into a wild dance party that at times feels like a church service or an aerobics class. Fridd tears down the 4th wall completely, running through the crowd while urging them to jump, dance, and scream whenever the songs don’t require him to sing. We did a venue-wide conga line and danced underneath a giant parachute most people would remember from elementary school gym class. My friend was crying tears of joy and release, and I had never sweat so much in my life. Fridd is literally always on tour, so if you’re reading this, keep your eye on his Facebook page and get to the gig!

—Mo Wilson

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Beach Fossils

I’ve loved Beach Fossils for years but every time they played near me, something always seemed to come up and I thought I was doomed to never actually see them live. But finally this year I did, twice, at House of Vans and Elsewhere. They were worth the wait a million times over. On the record, the band is mellow, dreamy, space-out music—but live, they’re imbued with a whole new energy. I expected them to be a band best fit to a smaller, intimate venue but their ebullient set, complete with beach balls bouncing around the crowd, works perfectly in the warehouse spaces.

I can’t say I expected a mosh pit at a Beach Fossils show, but it happened, and you know what, it was amazing. I feel like it’s rare I go to a show that actually has the crowd fully engaged and more than a handful of people dancing and moving—it’s mostly sated hipsters with the aloof and perfunctory head nods (of which I myself am guilty), but Beach Fossils brings everyone together. I would take any opportunity to see them in the future. (And “Sugar” is a total banger live.)

—Nikki Barnhart

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Yaasss

YAASSS is a shit show well orchestrated, as I used to say they’re a bad joke that’s turned serious. If you go to a YAASSS show sober you definitively won’t leave that way.

The falafel rock band’s first show was at Alphaville and since then the band has only confirmed their talent and performance with or without sex doll on stage. It’s a glamorous butchery, it screams as much as it sings, the set glitters and spits in essence. Offensive, aggressive, fun with a sort of desperate energy, the band seems to use their shows as an act of catharsis.

The only comparison that you can drawn to Yaasss was The Fat White Family at the beginning. You never know how they’re going finish the show—or if they even can. It’s exciting to watch a band spiral (almost) out of control—it’s like a caravan circus driving off a cliff road.

—Julie Anna George

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Photo by Sacha Lecca

Mystery Lights

I saw the Mystery Lights live for the first time at Brooklyn Bazaar last May, after my first beach day. The magic mushrooms and the beach have nothing to do with their inclusion here frankly, but the Mystery Lights fit perfectly within this picture of my memory.

There’s something about them that feels like a combination of the Kinks and the Black Lips. They are just psychedelic enough, garage just right and deliciously retro.

They knows what they are doing and they drive the show perfectly which says a lot—I really like Blacks Angels and Allah Las but their shows are pretty disappointing and almost boring for me, something that made think that psychedelic rock in not good on stage. The Mystery Lights however, lead the audience on a good trip, the only downside of which it’s always way too short.

—Julie Anna George

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Tall Juan

Aaand a special mention for Tall Juan. I saw the Argentinean musician at Baby’s All Right last winter and I was immediately impressed by the freedom and the energy that he gives on stage. Especially because he is alone! A punk orchestra man who drives the show with pleasure and without ego.

—Julie Anna George

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Solange

Solange outdid herself amidst her sold out set of performances at Radio City Music Hall this fall. My sister and I had nosebleeds but it felt like we were on stage moving and grooving with her, the band and her dancers who appeared to be fresh out of an Opening Ceremony catalog. She captivated every body in that venue from the top of the show to the soulful subway ride after.

—Danielle O’Neill  

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photo by Sacha Lecca

PILL

Closing out my year of live music, was Brooklyn’s funk punk band, PILL. The constant Trump bashing and undeniable stage presence spawned from the rowdy female led group was the cure we all needed to finishing a less than perfect year.

—Danielle O’Neill

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Mitski

Mitski has had one hell of a year. Weeks after Brooklyn Steel opened its doors, the singer graced us all by performing hits from this years, Puberty 2 and Bury Me at Makeout Creek. During the second half of the show she dismissed her band and performed with her guitar and a purple spotlight. Every word was felt.

—Danielle O’Neill

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Masego

I was so excited to see GoldLink at Brooklyn Steel a few months back, but a coworker swore up and down that I couldn’t miss the opener, Masego. From what I could tell listening to his Spotify tracks, he made some jazzy, sax-heavy R&B tracks that crackle and pop. No recorded track could’ve prepared me for the set I walked into: equally happy and rambunctious, part virtuoso and part magician, Masego stood solitary on his stage under purple light, miming whatever trill keys were on the track, his huge smile gleaming with his head cocked back. He put on the show of 2017. He shared a mix of his own work, full of personal feelings always coated with a sense of humor, as well as a run through of classics of 90s hip-hop, 80s pop, and even some 2010s top 40, mostly just to toy with the crowd’s emotions by leading up to the chorus and then deserting. It was slathered with saxophone solos and Masego’s infectious good mood. He couldn’t stop smiling during the set, nor could any one else in the crowd.

—Will Collins

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Tim Darcy

Tim Darcy released his first solo record this year, full of poppy little numbers often blending Roy Orbison with his particular brand of existential poeticism we’ve come to adore through his primary band, Ought. Alt Citizen had the chance to talk with Tim about the album earlier this year, and I was able to catch his first NYC performance as a solo act shortly thereafter. The show was more serene than an Ought show; the music lends itself to less anxious feelings of conflicted little love songs and some silvery, contemplative instrumentals. Tim’s personality creates an inseparability from all his work, but the solo record in particular allowed for his personal opinions, humor, and thoughtfulness to show through during the set. Backed by some friends that helped him record the album, Tim Darcy ‘solo’ provided some necessary warmth and comfort in this cold and ugly year.

—Will Collins



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