Tampa Bay's best concerts of 2015, Part 3: Chance the Rapper, Against Me!, the Mountain Goats and more
(Through the end of the year on Soundcheck, our contributors are looking back at the best local concerts of 2015. Today: Times staff writer and frequent soundcheck contributor Jimmy Geurts.)
Ex Hex (Jan. 16, Crowbar): Sub Pop-signed rock ‘n’ rollers King Tuff was already a solid show booking, but their opening act Ex Hex, featuring former Wild Flag and Helium member Mary Timony, was an even bigger coup. The sort of hook-laden garage rock the group specializes in certainly isn’t in short supply, but as they ripped through highlights like How You Got That Girl off their album, er, Rips, they demonstrated that few do it better.
Against Me! (Feb. 18, Ritz Ybor): It may seem too easy to pick the same band two years in a row, but Against Me! are just that good, and they offered some pleasant surprises this time around, like playing the powerful title track off their latest album Transgender Dysphoria Blues after skipping it last year. And though the group has always picked solid openers, this show’s lineup ranked among their best, with shoegazers Creepoid and pop-punkers Worriers.
Ratking (Feb. 25, Orpheum): 2015 was the year of the great opener, which would certainly have to include New York hip-hop group Ratking, who performed on a welcomingly diverse bill with hardcore act Trash Talk and electronic musician Lee Bannon. Running through highlights of their album So It Goes like Canal and Snow Beach, their set offered a corrective to those who complain about the state of modern New York hip-hop.
Swans (April 1, State Theatre): The loudest concert I’ve ever been to remains the Melvins at a festival set right next to an amp — hey, why is nobody standing near the front? — but Swans’ pulverizing set at State Theatre would have to rank second. Yet it was hardly noise for noise’s sake, but rather a well-orchestrated run through their acclaimed album To Be Kind as well as some new songs that could appear on their next and (apparently final) record. Make sure to catch them while you still can. Just don’t stand next to the amp.
Ceremony (Jun. 22, Epic Problem): Ceremony has switched up genres on nearly every album they’ve made — powerviolence to ’80s-era hardcore, proto-punk to post-punk — and their show at their old stomping grounds of Epic Problem (formerly Transitions Art Gallery) was like shuffling through several decades of music history. It’s no surprise that their earlier hardcore songs went over well, but those off their newest, Joy Division-influenced record The L-Shaped Man were also surprisingly strong.
The Mountain Goats (Oct. 10, Orpheum): It’d been three years since the Mountain Goats played Tampa Bay twice in 2012, and fans eagerly anticipating their return were rewarded with a wide-ranging, freewheeling show. The group’s is a long ways from John Darnielle’s lo-fi solo days, with the touring lineup expanded to include multi-instrumentalist Matt Douglas and Darnielle joining opening act Blank Range for a cover of Steely Dan’s Dirty Work, as a reminder to get there in time for the openers.
Beach Slang (Big Pre-Fest in Little Ybor, Oct. 29, Tequila’s): Now in its third year, Big Pre-Fest in Little Ybor has slowly but surely grown in stature, and fuzzed-out rockers Beach Slang’s set was arguably the closest it’s gotten to Fest’s brand of frenzy. Their debut full-length The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us came out the following day, but their setlist was heavier on songs on fan favorites from their earlier EPs, capped off with a cover of the Replacements’ Bastards of Young.
Chance the Rapper (Nov. 5, Jannus Live): Giving a capable rapper a backing band only makes for a better live act, as Ghostface Killah’s 2013 show at the Orpheum demonstrated, and Chance the Rapper’s show with the Social Experiment proved that once again. They only played a few songs off their new record Surf, including the joyous Sunday Candy, but that only meant more glorious full-band versions of tracks off his great 2013 album Acid Rap, such as Cocoa Butter Kisses and the two-part Pusha Man.
-- Jimmy Geurts