Every December since 2009, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite Tampa Bay concerts of the year. And never has there been a clearer No. 1 than my top pick this year.
David Byrne’s Sept. 30 concert at the Mahaffey Theater was a transcendent experience, a conceptual stage spectacle combining live music, dance, performance art, marching band choreography, practical light effects and more. The presentation was minimal, almost like black-box theater, but all the more powerful for it, obliterating all notions of what an aging rock legend can and should be in concert.
It was the best concert I’ve ever covered, and one of the top three or four live music experiences of my life. And I’m not the only one who feels that way. Byrne, 66, borrowed the title of his new live EP from a rave tour review: “...The Best Live Show of All Time”—NME. Yes, that’s the actual title, and no, it might not be an exaggeration. I’d shell out good money to see this show again.
With Byrne ensconced at the top, here, in chronological order, are the rest of my Top 10 local concerts of the year.
Rufus Wainwright (Feb. 14, Capitol Theatre): Wainwright’s velveteen tenor came as a salve on one of Florida’s darkest days, the day of the Parkland school-shooting massacre. His takes on Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah and the a cappella Candles, dedicated to the victims, were gutting yet healing.
Gasparilla Music Festival (March 10-11, Curtis Hixon Park): Tampa Bay’s best festival often gets a nod here, but they earned it this year with a lineup that included the Roots, Spoon and Warpaint. My faves: the shaggy-dog stylings of Father John Misty; the rubbery funk-hop of Chali 2na and Naughty Professor; and the Brit-inspired alt-rock of Mondo Cozmo, who just happened to cover — and nail — my favorite song, the Verve’s Bitter Sweet Symphony.
Lorde (April 11, Amalie Arena): Lorde’s long-awaited Tampa Bay debut featured dynamic openers in Run the Jewels and Mitski (whose album Be the Cowboy has since been racking up year-end best-of accolades), and one of the year’s most frenetic late-set runs in SuperCut, Royals, Perfect Places and Green Light. The whole arena was shaking by the end.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (April 17, Ruth Eckerd Hall): I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve cried at a concert, but two of those fingers belong to Jason Isbell. The song that got me this time was If We Were Vampires, a show-closing rumination on love and death that stabbed me in an unexpectedly vulnerable bull’s-eye. Damn you, Jason, and all your heart-piercing lyrics. An outstanding opening set by legendary English picker Richard Thompson made the night unforgettable from start to finish.
Queens of the Stone Age (May 2, Mahaffey Theater): Four years after playing my favorite concert of 2014 at the Mahaffey Theater, Josh Homme’s noggin-knockin’ sludge-rockers were back, and seemingly having more fun than ever, grinning and grooving and plowing through 20 years worth of alt-metal favorites.
Sam Smith (July 13, Amalie Arena): New life goal: Persuade Sam Smith to make a party album. Despite the British crooner’s reputation for melancholy ballads, this gig showcased him at his beaming, pop-starriest best, showing 11,000 fans how happy he could make them if he tried. C’mon, Sammy, give us that LP of summer bangers!
Janelle Monae (July 27, Jannus Live): So much show on such a small stage. So much potency and personality in front of such a diverse and delirious crowd. So much love, both for and from Ms. Monae. Touring behind one of the year’s best albums in Dirty Computer, Monae made her first appearance in Tampa Bay an extravagant, attitudinal affair to remember.
Panic! at the Disco (Aug. 1, Amalie Arena): What does it say about my aging keister that I thoroughly enjoyed Panic! at the Disco way more than three-hour rocktaculars by the Foo Fighters and Smashing Pumpkins? Unclear, but it does say to me that Brendon Urie has evolved into one of the most engaging rock frontmen and vocalists in the world. Score this one for millennials.
Kesha and Macklemore (Aug. 5, MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre): Look, I’m as surprised as you. I didn’t expect Macklemore’s silver-tongued showmanship and high-stepping hot-footery to blow the roof off the shed. And I didn’t expect Kesha’s unrepentant wild-child stylings to feel so redemptive and necessary. But these are crazy times. And this proved to be just the duo for them.
Honorable mentions: Kelsea Ballerini (Feb. 16, Ruth Eckerd Hall), Fleet Foxes/Natalie Prass (March 1, Ritz Ybor), Foo Fighters (April 25, MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre), Kendrick Lamar (May 22, MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre), Collective Soul (July 11, Al Lang Stadium), Toto (Oct. 24, Ruth Eckerd Hall), Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats (Dec. 1, 97X Next Big Thing, MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre).
Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.