Tampa Bay's best concerts of 2015, Part 2: The Who, Sarah McLachlan, Ghost and more
(Through the end of the year on Soundcheck, our contributors are looking back at the best local concerts of 2015. Today: Times Pop Music/Culture Critic Jay Cridlin.)
Maroon 5 (Feb. 25, Amalie Arena): There was a brief window this fall when it looked like Maroon 5 would headline this year’s Super Bowl halftime show. Didn’t happen, but I’m proud to say I saw that speculation coming. Adam Levine and company opened their concert at Amalie Arena by blitzing the crowd with a relentless, electrifying 25-minute run of hits (Animals, One More Night, Stereo Hearts, Harder to Breathe, Lucky Strike and Wake Up Call) that felt like an audition for the NFL’s premiere gig. Haters may keep on hating ‘em, but that unbroken stretch proved to me that Maroon 5 are firmly in pop-rock’s uppermost echelon.
Gasparilla Music Festival (March 7-8, Curtis Hixon Park): A perennial entry on this list, this year’s fourth annual Gasparilla Music Fest was as good as ever, continuing its grand run of brilliant weather and even more brilliant vibes. Pick your highlights – Modest Mouse, the Gaslight Anthem, Mutemath – but mine were the riotous fest-closing gypsy punk of Gogol Bordello; the glorious sun-kissed country funk of Hiss Golden Messenger; and wildly entertaining, audience-interactive sets by locals UNRB and Dynasty.
Sarah McLachlan (March 29, Ruth Eckerd Hall): As a performer long at the top of my concert bucket list, Sarah McLachlan had a high bar to clear, and she did so in every conceivable way, playing two sets of hits from her extensive and influential career in her warm, beatific style. Her operatic performance of Fear was one of my musical highlights of 2015.
The Who (April 15, Amalie Arena): Kicking off what might be their final big U.S. tour, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend thrilled Amalie Arena with a set filled with iconic classic rock hits (Baba O’Riley, Magic Bus) and rarities (Slip Kid, A Quick One (While He’s Away)) delivered in raging, ageless fashion. And Daltrey’s yowl at the end of a show-closing Won’t Get Fooled Again … holy hell. What a way to go out.
Big Guava Music Festival (May 8-9, Florida State Fairgrounds): The small guys of the Gasparilla Music Festival put on a great festival, but so do the big shots at Live Nation with the Big Guava Music Festival. This year’s edition brought a jaw-dropping lineup of acts who’ve rarely, if ever, played Tampa Bay (the Strokes, the Pixies, Pretty Lights, Hozier), and some of them turned in the sets of the year. Ryan Adams, absent from these parts for the better part of two decades, played a spirited and career-spanning set, and guested with pal Jenny Lewis on She’s Not Me. Killer Mike and El-P blasted Expo Hall with an epic set from their Run the Jewels project. And acclaimed indie-electro producer James Blake captivated with a set that ranged from minimalist ambience to full-on club jams. Such an assemblage of talent may never again be seen at the Fairgrounds.
Jose Gonzalez (Sept. 29, State Theatre): This warm and enchanting set from Swedish folk singer Gonzalez made this list before the night was even over. The singer’s delicate melodies were fleshed out in almost imperceptible, but certainly feel-able, ways by a four-piece backing band. His epic, dreamlike closer Cycling Trivialities was one of those performances you hope never ends.
Ghost (Oct. 11, Ritz Ybor): The best way to enjoy a Ghost concert is to buy in fully to their elaborate, borderline satirical mythology and costumes. If you do – and I did – it’s some of the most fun you’ll have at a hard rock show. But even if all that faux-Satanism makes you roll your eyes, the music should win you over, whether it’s fist-pumping originals like He Is or Cirice, or their unexpectedly Springsteenian cover of Roky Erickson’s If You Have Ghosts. It was the perfect combination of theatrical metal and arena-sized ambition, all in a nice small venue.
Honorable mention: The Both/Grace Potter (Sunshine Music and Blues Festival, Jan. 17, Vinoy Park), Elvis Costello (March 16, Ruth Eckerd Hall), John Mellencamp (March 19, Ruth Eckerd Hall), Fetty Wap (Sept. 4, MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre), Lady Antebellum/Hunter Hayes/Sam Hunt (Sept. 5, MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre), Zedd (Oct. 17, USF Sun Dome), Taylor Swift (Oct. 31, Raymond James Stadium), Chance the Rapper (Nov. 5, Jannus Live), Mary J. Blige (Nov. 8, USF Sun Dome), Allison Weiss (Nov. 14, New World Brewery), 97X Next Big Thing (Dec. 5, MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre).
-- Jay Cridlin