The 22 Best Touring Concerts of 2014

Screaming at Strangers: Antemasque
Screaming at Strangers: Antemasque
Photo by Jack Gorman

Antemasque Fitzgerald's, August

Texas needs Antemasque. We need a band that can storm the country and remind everyone that we in the Lone Star State still know how to write great rock music and have the chops to deliver those songs live. We need to remind folks from coast to coast that we can write big hooks that sound even better when screamed with a bunch of strangers.

On top of that, it's really, really good to see Cedric and Omar back on the same page again. Would more At the Drive-In/Mars Volta be cool? Yeah, I guess, but I'm genuinely way more curious about the future of Antemasque than I am about their past success. CORY GARCIA

Quite a homecoming for Ms. B.
Quite a homecoming for Ms. B.
Photo courtesy of Parkwood Entertainment

Beyoncé & Jay Z "On the Run" Minute Maid Park, July

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Although I like her just as much as the next Houstonian, going into this show, I couldn't say that I was a Beyoncé fan. She is beyond gorgeous and reps hard for the city, but to me her music was catchy at best. But if she's good enough for Jay-Z, she's okay with me. And boy, did she ever win me over!

Not only was this one of the best shows of the year, it was one of the best I've ever seen. Queen Bey and Jay alternated tracks like a game of H.O.R.S.E. to see who could outdo the other and get the loudest applause. The passion and sexual energy they shared onstage was adorable and dirty, and absolutely trill. MARCO TORRES

Mighty big orchestra you've got there, Mr. Folds.
Mighty big orchestra you've got there, Mr. Folds.
Photo by Nicholas Zalud

Ben Folds Jones Hall, June

Folds's performance with the Houston Symphony Orchestra showcased top-tier musicianship in an informal atmosphere, filling the concert hall with a lot of young fans and bewildering the old-line season-ticket holders. Both hilarious and entertaining, Folds's performance was one for the books, both for concertgoers and a few symphony members who got to meet and hang out with him before the show. From a fan's perspective, even though I'm no Folds enthusiast, this was my favorite show of 2014. MATTHEW KEEVER

Hooks with attitude: Bring Me the Horizon
Hooks with attitude: Bring Me the Horizon
Photo by Jack Gorman

Bring Me the Horizon NRG Arena, October

Listen, this is not a knock on co-headliner A Day to Remember, but Bring Me the Horizon was the only show I saw this year that gave me chills. It's weird to be moved on a visceral level by such in-your-face music, but BMtH are a kind of perfect blend of modern post-hardcore aggressiveness and epic pop hooks.

I know that's a sentence that seems kind of dense with genre references and adjectives, so let me say it this way: Sometimes they're screaming and angry, and sometimes they're screaming and emotion, and the way they flip between the two is where the greatness is created. CORY GARCIA

Cash Cash raises the roof.
Cash Cash raises the roof.
Photo by Marco Torres

Cash Cash Something Wicked, October

Who would have thought a former post-pop-punk-emo boy band could become one of 2014's most exciting touring acts? Proving themselves to be more than "One to Watch," Cash Cash lit up the stage and won the hearts of EDM fans at Something Wicked. No one expected the New Jersey duo to be the highlight of the festival, but to many, they were just that.

Poppy enough to appeal to a mass audience but not as diluted as other radio-friendly acts, they put on a show that exceeded everyone's expectations and caused earthquakes of dancing throughout their set. Thank God for re-branding! SELENA DIERINGER

Counting Crows Bayou Music Center, July

Even the most diehard fans of Counting Crows couldn't have predicted how amazing their Bayou Music Center performance would be. What was most impressive is that the band did not rely in any way on '90s nostalgia, but harnessed the original qualities that made a generation adore them and blended their classics alongside several wonderful new songs, creating a feeling that was somehow totally contemporary. SELENA DIERINGER

Cro-Mags Walters Downtown, July

No show in Houston this year was crazier than the Cro-Mags. The New York crossover icons rarely play anywhere near here, so they had a big crowd waiting for them this summer -- some of whom you could just tell had been waiting for years to see these guys.

Before the band could even plug in, lunatics were already leaping offstage feet-first, and it only degenerated into more aggressively brainless mayhem from there. The ridiculously large mosh pit, driven by the Cro-Mags' whip-crack snare, was the sort of thing that can give you survivor's guilt. You shoulda been there, man. NATHAN SMITH

Story continues on the next page.

 

Disclosure is the un-EDM band.
Disclosure is the un-EDM band.
Photo by J. Tovar

Disclosure Warehouse Live, January

Unless a DJ is just outright horrible, EDM concerts are pretty hard to screw up; just throw on some music and mix it appropriately. However, many can be pretty forgettable for the exact same reason. Enter Disclosure, a band that amusingly does not like to be labeled as EDM yet shattered the scene in 2014 and even converted some beat-haters into full-fledged fans.

This past year the two British brothers redefined the genre, bringing back a much-missed UK house vibe and layering in some amazing vocal work by artists such as Mary J. Blige and Sam Smith. January's incredibly engaging live show made it clear why Disclosure is a must-see. SELENA DIERINGER

Drake's "Houston Appreciation Weekend" was a full-blown media event.
Drake's "Houston Appreciation Weekend" was a full-blown media event.
Photo by Marco Torres

Drake Warehouse Live, June

When you let Drake run completely through a gauntlet of career-spanning tracks, you know you're in for a treat. The kickoff to his Houston Appreciation Weekend focused squarely on the start; his now-mythical So Far Gone concert in 2009; and finished in the present, with three albums and millions of dollars in the bank and the artist a kingmaker in his own right. Two hours later, after numerous guests (Tinashe, Wiz Khalif, Big Sean) and a swan song of "November 18th," this had been the ultimate Drake show. BRANDO

Dwight Yoakam Arena Theatre, November

Thirty years since his inauspicious debut opening for the Blasters at Rockefeller's, Dwight Yoakam still has one of the unique sounds in the business. Part of that is his stellar voice, honed in the Kentucky hills by bluegrass's precision harmonies and seasoned with the salt of rock-and-rollers like Elvis Presley. But the rest of his charm lies in Yoakam's rock-solid songs and a stellar band that generates as much excitement as anyone working today.

At his most recent Arena performance, Yoakam's bunch plowed through 25 songs over two-plus hours, wasting very little showtime on patter as sideman Brian Whelan provided whatever instrument the songs called for. With his still-golden pipes, their leader can sing a ballad with anyone, but Yoakam is at his most fun when turning his inner cowpunk loose the way he usually does when he comes back to where it all started for him. WILLIAM MICHAEL SMITH

Oh yeah -- did we mention the top hat?
Oh yeah -- did we mention the top hat?
Photo by Francisco Montes

Erasure Bayou Music Center, October

I saw more exciting shows this year than Erasure, but can't think of one more satisfying, simply by virtue of the fact that everyone in the nearly-full venue seemed almost beside themselves with happiness. My neighbors in the balcony invited me to come out dancing with them before the show was even half over

Meanwhile, onstage Vince Clarke, Andy Bell and their pair of Amazonian backup singer/dancers seemed to be having an equal amount of fun cruising through "Chorus," "Oh L'Amour," "Victim of Love" and all the other synth-pop gems the crowd came to hear -- and sing along to, and stand waving their arms over their heads all night long in a collective group hug. CHRIS GRAY

The Foreign Exchange Fitzgerald's, June

The Foreign Exchange are one of music's great gems. Phonte & Nicolay contain ounces of cool that you can't replicate. Only these two, combined with their backing band, could honor Houston's historic June 27 rap holiday by playing funky renditions of DJ DMD's "25 Lighters" and Lil Troy's "Wanna Be a Baller" as a form of gospel.

Fitzgerald's doesn't usually turn into a jukebox of sweat, sways and moans, but on this warm summer night, it did. "We cannot monopolize the turn up!," Phonte said to the mostly older crowd, those old enough to remember their first house party. Looking for a show complete with comedy, dirty jokes and a heightened sense that you might get laid afterwards? This was it. BRANDO

"The fire exit is that way!"
"The fire exit is that way!"
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

Gogol Bordello Warehouse Live, Halloween

Gogol Bordello earned the highest marks I could give for showmanship and musicianship this year. Did they play a got-my-money's-worth length of time? Yes, two-plus hours. Did they dust off the hits? Everything but "American Wedding" and "Through the Roof Underground." Did they connect with their Houston fans? Did they ever.

Afterward, front man Eugene Hutz finished his band duties, threw on a dry shirt and then crowded with fans onto Warehouse's Studio stage for a raucous DJ set. Add an enthusiastic Halloween-night crowd energized into nonstop dancing by the life-affirming music, and it was even better. Plus everyone from "Prince" to a sexy cowgirl to an oversize scrotum showed up; how many other concerts this year could say that? JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

All of Me: John Legend made a solid case for Date Night of the Year.
All of Me: John Legend made a solid case for Date Night of the Year.
Photo by Marco Torres

John Legend Cullen Performance Hall, May

With his album Love In the Future, pianist/composer/pop star John Legend had a most successful year. During his "All of Me" tour, he transformed UH's 1,600-seat venue into a Manhattan piano bar, singing to and joking with his entranced audience, who followed him through hits from "Used to Love You" to "Ordinary People" and beyond. In the spaces between songs, Legend filled in stories about his family and his rise to stardom, even singing covers of Springsteen's "Dancing In ihe Dark" and Paul Simon's pop-soul standard "Bridge Over Troubled Water." MARCO TORRES

"I can't hear you over there..."
"I can't hear you over there..."
Photo by Greg Noire

Justin Timberlake Toyota Center, December

This Justin Timberlake character is almost perfect. He can dance, sing and make even the most macho dude fall in love with him (or so I've heard). Anyway, there are shows, and then there are performances. JT at Toyota Center was a superior spectacle of a performance. From a stage larger than the arena floor it was grounded to, Justin and his band literally flew over the crowd and gave one of the most inspirational and entertaining shows of the year. MARCO TORRES

Story continues on the next page.

 

Barely There: Lorde, pop's reigning will-o'-the-wisp
Barely There: Lorde, pop's reigning will-o'-the-wisp
Photo by Jack Gorman

Lorde Bayou Music Center, March

Lorde should be the pop star we all root for, even while the pop world has trouble reconciling her as such. I mean, Billboard is going to stop placing her on the rock charts at some point, right? She performs like someone who is still young yet old at the same time, wise in that way that we all think we are when we're 16.

But these songs of hers, the ones that have been all over the radio, they're way better than what most of us were doing at that age, way better than what most of her older contemporaries are doing. That she puts on a great performance now should give us hope for the future, or at least something to root for. CORY GARCIA

Robert Delong Free Press Summer Fest, June

Even now I struggle to find the words to properly describe how exhilarating it was to watch Robert Delong perform. I don't want to describe it as magic, because that sounds silly, but in a way it was. I had no idea exactly what he was doing or how he was making his beats come to life, just that I wanted more of them in my life. I wanted to re-experience the set immediately, about the highest praise I can give a performance. CORY GARCIA

Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Fest Woodlands Pavilion, August

This year's handful of touring metal festivals all had some amazing bands, but none stood out more than Mayhem Fest. Emmure, Suicide Silence and Veil of Maya are some of my generation's biggest metal stars, and throwbacks Body Count (who skipped the Houston date) and Cannibal Corpse are legends.

Plus, Korn, Avenged Sevenfold, Trivium and Asking Alexandria probably sold more tickets than any other year in Mayhem's history, even though they aren't my bag. This had a little something for everyone who listens to metal, something no other festival this year could say. COREY DEITERMAN

At the show, El-P (right) said Houston was Run the Jewels' favorite tour stop to date.
At the show, El-P (right) said Houston was Run the Jewels' favorite tour stop to date.
Photo by Derrek Barlow

Run the Jewels Fitzgerald's, November

Run the Jewels arrived at Fitzgerald's with about as much hype behind them as it's possible to have these days, and they still delivered beyond expectations. In a room packed to the rafters with rowdy rap lovers, Killer Mike and El-P had the balcony creaking right from the start. Their fans arrived well past ready to go nuts in there, and the electricity flowed beautifully between performers and audience all night. Effortlessly, everyone in the club ended up on the same ecstatic wavelength.

"This shit feels very special," El-P said in the middle of their set. "I'm glad to be a part of it." Hard to say it any better than that. NATHAN SMITH

Carlos Santana: ¡Con el corazon, se hace todos los milagros!
Carlos Santana: ¡Con el corazon, se hace todos los milagros!
Photo by Marco Torres

Santana Bayou Music Center, October

There is something absolutely entrancing about Carlos Santana. His story, his demeanor, and his music are all, quite simply, far out, man! The dude played at Woodstock...on LSD! As a kid, I must have listened to my Santana's Greatest Hits cassette until it popped, which is why his show at Bayou Music Center was one of the highlights of my year.

As a concert photographer, I found myself in a mid-year slump, but with Santana in my lens and ears, I received the jump start that I needed to finish out strong. Newest album Corazón finds Carlos returning to peak form, and he rocked out in Houston with flair, love and illumination for an absolutely fantastic performance. MARCO TORRES

Metamodern Sounds In Country Music: You're lookin' at 'em.
Metamodern Sounds In Country Music: You're lookin' at 'em.
Photo by Jason Wolter

Sturgill Simpson Fitzgerald's, November

Moved upstairs at the last minute, this show could have turned ugly real easily. Fitz was not only packed, but packed with the kind of hard-drinking audience that in Houston usually leads to nonstop conversation throughout the performance and more than one shoving match at the bar. But Simpson and his three-man band shut all that down with a whip-smart guided tour through country music's back pages -- one that was so intense it never let the crowd get out of hand, but left plenty of room for them to holler "woo-hoo!" between songs. CHRIS GRAY

Yelle Fitzgerald's, November 6

Yelle brought what felt like a stadium-size show into Fitzgerald's, one I believe was fit for their then-upcoming Fun Fun Fun Fest set and other, even larger shows around the world. Whether audience attendees could understand the French words the lead singer was singing and shouting or not, people were just enjoying the show.

The band's spectacular light show had everyone dancing, even those who claim they never dance. I witnessed you all dancing. I wasn't even particularly a large Yelle fan before seeing them perform, only knowing two or so songs, but I was effectively impressed. ALEXA CRENSHAW

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