We live in the era of “peak content”. So many things are battling for your attention – and your dollars – and you only have limited time and resources, meaning you’re always likely to miss a TV show, a movie, an album, or live music. Fortunately plenty of bands and festivals are in the habit of recording their performances and putting them up on YouTube. This is partly for archival purposes, as well as for marketing, but either way it’s FREE to check out an artist’s abilities before you spend your hard earned money on going to see them. As a musician myself, I also find that seeing what other artists are doing is a great source of inspiration and entertainment, so over the last few years I’ve gotten in the habit of watching and listening to a lot of live sets. The following is a list of 10 Live Sets from the 2010s That Made Me Want to Make Music, in chronological order.
King Krule – Live at the Village on KCRW 2013
On Six Feet Beneath the Moon, Archy Marshall guides us through the frustration and melancholy of his teenage years. This live performance – a radio appearance to promote his first-ever tour on the West Coast of the United States – gave Americans their initial glimpse of the the baby-faced, gravel-voiced guitar slinger we’d get to know as King Krule.
Kanye – Live at the BRIT Awards 2015
Kanye, 30 goons, and flamethrowers. Whenever I need to get hyped the fuck up, I watch this clip of Ye surrounded by some of the leading lights of the UK’s grime scene – including Skepta and a then-unknown Stormzy – as they brought the house down at the BRIT Awards. Even Taylor Swift was vibing to it.
Porches – Live at the Horseshoe Tavern 2016
For a brief moment, Porches seemed to be the darling of the indie music world. Their light has faded a little bit over the past few years, but this performance at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto captures what made them such an intriguing artist and songwriter at a time where dream pop and post-punk where colliding into something beautiful.
Tame Impala – Melt Festival 2016
Tame Impala has been touring Currents for the better part of four and half years, but it took them a whole year to get it just right. I saw them at Merriweather Post Pavilion a few weeks before this performance at Melt Festival in Berlin, Germany, and it blew me away. As I said in my review back then, Tame Impala are “simply one of those bands you have to see perform in the flesh to get the full breadth of what they are capable of” – but this is a decent substitute until you do.
Jay Som – Live at KEXP Studios 2017
Melina Duterte had been making bedroom rock for a while before releasing Everybody Works at the beginning of 2017. But something about the hushed intimacy and DIY-aesthetic of the record transported me somewhere I’d been before. It feels warm, lived-in, and familiar by the end of the very first track, and I found myself questioning whether this album was released in 2017 or 1997 – for all the right reasons. This live session in-studio at KEXP Seattle captures all of that magic.
Frank Ocean – Live at Panorama NYC 2017
Frank Ocean’s live performances are rare occurrences, and as such should be cherished and held closely. I normally curse and yell at people who record entire shows on their cell phone, but I’ll make an exception and tearfully thank the fool who caught this in its entirety. I must have watched this end to end at least fifteen times.
Thundercat – Live at Northside Festival 2018
I’ve seen Thundercat perform live four times now, and I’m convinced he should be the next recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant. I particularly love this live set because it throws you into the deep end of one of his winding, knotty bass solos that eventually resolves into a deeply jazzy groove. Every time I listen to it I’m reminded that I should go practice scales again and again and again.
Saba – NPR Music Tiny Desk 2018
Care for Me was an album ripe with complex emotions, dealing with isolation, loss, newfound success, and imposter syndrome. It’s hard to try and distill its essence to just three songs, but Saba does it masterfully on this performance at NPR’s Tiny Desk. It never got as many clicks as T-Pain singing without autotune, but in my opinion it’s one of the most moving sets ever at Bob Boilen’s desk.
Bad Bunny – Live at Ruis Rock Finland 2019
We expect Latinx artists to be huge in the Spanish-speaking world, with the occasional crossover. But it’s wild to see a musician who does not sing in English at all getting such a rapturous reception in Finland of all places. I love everything about this set – Bad Bunny’s swagger and bombastic outfits, the crowd going nuts and singing along on each chorus, and the expression on his face when he realizes that yes, he’s truly and absolutely made it. Long live El Conejo Malo. This is a testament to the power of being yourself at every turn.
Weyes Blood – Live at KEXP Studios 2019
Natalie Mering’s voice is a wonder of the modern world. Each time she sings, she casts a spell over listeners and leaves us transfixed, unable to resist. Titanic Rising was her strongest work yet, surpassing even Front Row Seat to Earth and her collaborations with fellow Angeleno Drugdealer. That same haunting effect is evident during this 30 minute set on KEXP, bringing all of her songs to life in a way that leaves me gasping for air.