Best Music of 2019 Day 5: Best Concerts I Saw This Year

Best Concerts I Saw In 2019

Today’s post will be little other than a list, as there’s not much to say in terms of reviewing the following artists’ performances. What I will say is that many of these shows were seen at Fuji Rock festival, which was hit by a typhoon on the second and third day, which resulted in some soaked clothing and the unfortunate death of my phone. Thankfully I survived and was able to catch some great music nonetheless (although some of these sets I was unable to see in their entirety because of how ridiculously cold and rainy I got at night.

10. Owen (23 July 2019, FEVER Live House, Tokyo)

Seeing Mike Kinsella live—equipped with only a stool, a guitar, and slurred complaints about domestic adulthood addressed to a befuddled but complaisantly quiet room of Japanese super-fans—is without a doubt a moving and unique experience. Perhaps I would have appreciated it more if I knew more Owen songs, but alas, I am more of an American Football, Cap’n Jazz, and Joan of Arc fan. That said I did get the chance to talk to Mike after the show (pictured below). He told me that despite being from Illinois he’s probably played in my hometown of Indianapolis (in the contiguous state of Indiana) a tenth as many times as he’s played in Tokyo—apparently because he likes the audiences in Japan more.

Isak and Mike Kinsella

9. Cake (27 July 2019, Fuji Rock Festival)

It was nice to see a childhood favorite of mine live after all these years. Cake is infamous for sometimes incorporating drawn-out political diatribes into their shows for better or worse, but when I saw them they basically just played their set and left (perhaps because most of the Japanese crowd couldn’t understand the English). John McCrea did a few annoying things, like emphasize the word “Japan” in opera singer, but it was still a nice performance.

8. Death Cab for Cutie (27 July 2019, Fuji Rock Festival)

Another favorite of mine in high school. It’s very weird to finally see them now as an adult. I felt like I am past a lot of the angst they’re known for in their more popular work, so seeing them live I found myself better appreciating the maturity of the Transatlanticism tracks, which I now think explore their perennial subjects, like fleeting romance and unrequited love, with a bit more psychologically level-handed inquiries than their later, whinier work.

7. American Football (27 July 2019, Fuji Rock Festival)

It took me a long time to come around to Americ anFootball but last winter I really warmed up to their second album and then fell in love with their third album when it was released. I was thusly excited to see them at Fuji Rock, but unfortunately I only caught the last few songs because of the horrible rain. Probably if I had seen more of the show they would be higher on this list.

6. Toe (28 July 2019, Fuji Rock Festival)

Toe (pronounced Toe-eh) is a really really excellent Japanese Post-Rock band, and that’s just about all I can say. I haven’t listened to any of their music outside of this spectacular show. They’re a bit more technical than their peers in MONO, but perhaps slightly less dynamic, with more focus on guitar work and very little in terms of electronics or strings. I’ve been meaning to get into them since this show but I keep forgetting…

5. Asian Kung-Fu Generation (27 July 2019, Fuji Rock Festival)

A Japanese Post Emo band I’ve enjoyed for a long time. It was fun to finally see them live and mosh with people who actually know all the words to their songs. They played some newer material that fewer fans recognized and with which I was not familiar, but those tracks demonstrated the band’s growth and maturity in surprising ways. I thoroughly enjoyed this show.

4. Geotic (9 January 2019, Elsewhere, Brooklyn)

Will Wiesenfeld is one of my favorite active artists, and I hadn’t seen him perform as Baths or Geotic prior to this show, so it was a real treat for me. Some of the performance was a bit rough around the edges (apparently he had just flown in from Brazil or something, so he was tired and kept forgetting some lyrics) but never so much that it disrupted the intimate joy of dancing with a few other queer fans to some really fun music.

3. Thom Yorke (26 July 2019, Fuji Rock Festival)

Yorke’s newest album is very very dystopian and grand in its scope but very intimate in its details and idiosyncrasies. Somehow he is able to translate this feeling into a festival setting, preserving the spectacle of his subject matter (environmental decay, political corruption) while still singing as a single small man, a victim of capitalism’s collateral damage or a pig in a cage. Hardly ever have I felt so lonely in a crowd of thousands.

2. The Chemical Brothers (26 July 2019, Fuji Rock Festival)

I saw The Brothers back in 2010 after Further came out, and at the time it was by far the best show I had seen in my short 14-year-long life. But that was quite a serious and romantic album, and recently they’ve returned to some of the slightly silly, slightly political themes of their middle period with slightly more grace and punch. Their new album is a wonderful return to form, and their new live show is appropriately impressive.

1. Chinese Football (23 July 2019, FEVER Live House, Tokyo)

Considering the sheer energy involved in their music, it was a given that this show would be exciting, but when such music combined with their emotional performance and the air of fraternity that wafted through the tightly packed room, I have to say the precipitate reaction was astounding, violently joyful, and exuberantly fun. It also helps that they invited me on stage to sing with them… in Chinese… even though I don’t know Chinese!! You can watch the video below:

By Isak McCune

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