Playlist: The 5 Best Live Acts
by Liz Colville
The concert is one musical phenomenon that remains unharmed by technology. There is just no substitute for hearing your favorite band play live. Musicians lose money to free MP3s, but continue to earn money for touring around the country and the world. A handful of fresh acts stand out on stage. After a taste of their work via online video, you’ll soon be hungry for the real thing.
A troubled, quixotic lead singer can make for an impressive listening experience, but Kevin Barnes, founding member of Of Montreal, leaves most of the melodrama on the cutting room floor. The band has been together in various forms for more than 10 years, and the live listening experience is a circus act of colorful costumes and stages bedecked with animation and Yellow Submarine-like décor. Barnes is the focal point, wide-ranging and deeply thoughtful, but seldom brooding. His songs are complex and textured, heavily electronic, intensely private and reliably fun. They are perfectly complemented by the elaborate productions Barnes creates for his performances.
Watch Barnes and his band perform the song “Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse,” the first single from their critically acclaimed 2007 album, “Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?” for one of the best displays of Barnes’ artistic antics.
Andrew Bird is a pop violinist, combining guitars, drums, and a soothing voice—The New York Times’s Jon Pareles calls it a “a mild, wistful tenor”—with skillful violin compositions that often combine regular playing with pizzicato plucks. Bird has released several full-length albums, and he is particularly known for his stunning live shows.
Cat Power came out of obscurity about two years ago, though she has long been revered in indie circles. Not initially known for her live performances, Chan Marshall, the force behind Cat Power, battled alcoholism for many years and routinely bowed out of her live shows early or canceled them ahead of time. But after going clean and releasing the stunning “The Greatest” in 2006, Marshall took the stage to promote the album, with equally riveting effects.
Marshall recently released her second covers album, “Jukebox,” a sultry, highly original mix of Frank Sinatra, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and others. She recently performed Sinatra’s “New York” on the British late-night music show “Later with Jools Holland.”