Show Reviews Year End Lists

The 10 Best Performances I Saw in 2019

Did you think the blog posts were done for the year? Ha! Not yet! Below is a list of the 10 best performances I saw this year. I’ve wanted to get to 100 sets for the past three years and I finally got to it. I saw a total of 102 this year. Last year I saw 98 and in 2017, I saw 95.

I hope reading this post inspires you to buy a ticket to a show or even listen to any of these artists that you may not be familiar with. Enjoy.

In chronological order:

Robyn performing at Chicago's Aragon Ballroom on March 6, 2019
Photo Credit

Robyn

Date – March 6
Venue – Aragon Ballroom

This was a HUGE BUCKET LIST MOMENT FOR ME!!!!!! After Robyn announced an 11-date tour in the US (eventually adding more dates down the line), I jumped at the chance to see her at The Riviera. Unfortunately, trying to get tickets was literally like the hunger games, and the show sold out almost instantly. Fortunately, this store has a happy ending! The show ended up getting moved to the Aragon Ballroom, and I was able to snag myself a ticket.

I had been dreaming of seeing Robyn live, and the show was everything I hoped for and more. Though I attended alone, the 5,000, sold-out audience was like a huge dance party for long lost friends coming together for a reunion. Robyn has some sort of other-worldly presence to her performance, and you can tell that she’s been doing this for as long as I’ve been alive. She’s a pro at captivating the audience and dances like nobody is watching. It’s definitely obvious why I’m so attracted to her music, as it balances sadness with upbeat dance production. Every time I listen to her music, I just want to move.

My favorite moments were hearing her song “Hang With Me,” which is actually a cover (though it’s probably my favorite Robyn song), “Dancing On My Own” (of course), and “Indestructible.” She was so incredible, I bought a ticket to see her at Pitchfork just a few months later.

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Better Oblivion Community Center

Date – March 23
Venue – Lincoln Hall

Another band whose 2019 release landed on my best-of list. Comprised of solo artists Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes), BOCC’s “community center meetings” (how their tour was being marketed) hit my favorite venue in Chicago for two sold-out shows based in support of their album about a “dystopian wellness facility.”

BOCC’s “meeting” at Lincoln Hall created an impressively large crowd, one that sold so fast that the band immediately added a second show the following evening. There wasn’t much room for banter in between songs: BOCC slammed through 17 songs in just about 80 minutes, including covering each other’s songs.

This performance was one of my favorites of the year not only because of how much I loved the album but because of how fascinating the album’s concept was beautifully translated into a live performance. I love that the album and set went hand in hand with each other to speak on a shared theme, from the stage design to the way it was promoted.

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Photo Credit

The 1975

Date – May 8
Venue – United Center

Ahh, how bittersweet. It was only in 2013 where I got to see The 1975 play in the basement of Milwaukee’s Rave/Eagles Club (I believe it’s called The Rave Bar), to about 250 people (or less?) and where I snuck into a meet and greet with the band afterward. While you can see I’m clearly reminiscing, the point I’m trying to make is how insane it is to see how The 1975 has skyrocketed into fame like they have in just about 5 years. While I can admit with no problem it wasn’t easy for me to accept buying a ticket to see them perform in an ARENA, I was also happy that they have gotten to the level that they have. I definitely was skeptical about them being able to sell out UC, but it happened.

I saw this show from the 300 level seats, and despite the band looking like ANTS from my section, I think they did a pretty incredible job of making sure the show’s energy radiated all the way to the very last seat in the venue. I think a band could have trouble with that in a big space compared to a solo artist, but they did it. The visuals as well as some cool stage effects like a built-in treadmill, as well as back-up dancers (The 1975 with back-up dancers? Who would have thought?) really pushed the performance to the next level.

My favorite moment was seeing “Love It If We Made It” live, paired with the really jarring, hard to watch visuals projected onto the screen. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you through it into the YouTube search engine.

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Local Natives

Date – May 24
Venue – Thalia Hall

Not only was this the first time seeing Local Natives since 2017, but it was my first time EVER getting to take photos in the photo pit. It was a major milestone for this blog and that automatically made this show even better. However, I wouldn’t include Local Natives just because of that!

I’ve seen Local Natives seven times now (I think), and I think night one of their two sold-out shows at Thalia Hall was the best I’ve seen them. This tour was in support of their most recent album, Violet Street (out earlier this year, landing at #3 for my top albums), and I definitely think that this is their best work yet.

The band also seemed to be back with a newfound source of energy after taking a bit of time for a break before returning to the studio and touring again. It’s really cool to be able to see an artist multiple times and not get tired of their sound or stage presence. which I think is extra complicated when it’s a band—having to perform in sync with each other—compared to a solo artist being able to roam around the stage and command the spotlight on just them. I’ve always been a huge fan of their harmonies as singers and they sounded the best they ever have at Thalia Hall, a beautifully perfect venue for their music.

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Vampire Weekend

Date – June 16
Venue – Huntington
Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island

How do you get me excited to see an OUTDOOR show in 45 degrees and on-and-off rain in the middle of JUNE?? Be Vampire Weekend.

While I don’t think I would ever opt out to going to a show because of the bad weather, I definitely wouldn’t be all that amped to deal with it. However, I stuck it out to see Vampire Weekend’s first non-festival show back in Chicago in FIVE YEARS (June 2014 at UIC Pavilion, yes, I was there)—as well as their first show back to support their fourth album, Father Of The Bride. 

This was the band’s first album release without the original band member, Rostam, on the band’s lineup. Although he did help with a bit of production the album, any Vampire Weekend fan can hear where his influence was lacking, for better or for worse. With a couple new faces on stage, the band, led by Ezra Koenig, looked and sounded as great as they ever had, with a new sense of energy that made the vibe feel like a new sense of excitement that I hadn’t seen the band perform in before. Perhaps it’s because they had released their first album in five years just a couple months earlier, or maybe they really like Chicago. Regardless of the reason why, I think the 31-set long performance was a perfect balance of old and new: featuring about 6 songs from each previous album, and 11 from FOTB.

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Photo Credit

Hozier

Date – August 1
Venue – Grant Park (Lollapalooza)

If you have read or kept up with my blog in any way, shape, or form, you know that me getting to see Hozier perform was LONG OVERDUE!!!!!! I have been waiting YEARS to see this set, and he didn’t disappoint.

Seeing Hozier was like an out of body experience and was as close to seeing or believing in a real-life Jesus that I will ever have and I am being dramatic but I MEAN IT. The second he walked onstage, it was like a presence I had never experienced: his vocals never wavered, not once.

He sounds better than he does recorded, which is a sentence I’ve said about less than five people ever, I think. He absolutely exceeded my expectations in every way possible and it was even more amazing when Maggie Rogers joined him onstage to sing “Work Song.”

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Janelle Monáe

Date – August 2
Venue – Lollapalooza (Grant Park)

Think about every performance you’ve ever seen that you’ve walked away from saying “that was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen in your life.” Now, delete that thought. I guarantee if you haven’t seen the magic that is Janelle Monáe onstage, you haven’t seen the best performance of your lifetime. Now that’s a big thing to say, but she’s easily, if not THE best, one of the best performers I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Everything that you need to be a good performer, Janelle has. The vocals, the look, the stage presence, the musicianship, the dancing. It’s all there, and it’s incredibly well-executed.

I think it’s really difficult to master your craft and excel in a live setting while also making it look spontaneous and in-the-moment. But Janelle can do all of that, and she does it perfectly.

I know she had been touring her Dirty Computer album for quite some time up until this point, but every note and dance move was like it was her first show of the tour. It’s really special to see someone put that much energy in their craft, and you could tell that the crowd was just completely eating it up. The hour-long set went by SO fast and it left me wishing I could see her perform for another hour. She easily could have been the headliner with that performance, and I hope she can get to that point in the next couple of years.

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Mitski

Date – August 4
Venue – Grant Park (Lollapalooza)

Mitski’s 2018 album, Be The Cowboy, was my favorite album of the year, and her set at The Vic last October was one of my favorites of the year as well. So naturally, you can understand how excited I was to see her perform at Lollapalooza this year, especially after the fact that she announced earlier this year that she would be taking a long break from the spotlight, touring, etc. for her mental health. Her 45-minute set at Lollapalooza was one of her last sets of the year, and I knew she was going to deliver.

Seeing an artist at a festival AFTER seeing their headlining show is interesting, as I feel that it tends to be the other way around for me. To me, it felt like she was more so performing to an audience that may not have been as familiar with all of her music as I am, and it was interesting to see how other audience members took to her performance as casual fans or those who were just walking by. Mitski’s very calculated, “interpretive dance” (not sure if that’s what she calls it, but that is what it looks like) was as captivating as I remember it being from her show last year, and with the addition of a table as a prop, prompted even more of “wtf is she doing?” from me, and left me wanting to analyze every single onstage movement.

“Geyser” into “Townie” into “Nobody” was a trio of songs placed so perfectly in a row that it was everything I never knew I needed. Though she’s definitely going to be on a break for a bit longer, and quite possibly all of 2020, I certainly can’t wait to see what she has up her sleeve for the next album and tours.

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Red Hearse

Date – September 11
Venue – Schubas

It would be crazy if I gave Red Hearse the title for my album of the year and not include their live show on my list, which is probably my favorite show I saw all year. It was so unbelievable to see the magic between Jack Antonoff, Sounwave and Sam Dew come to life in a live setting after falling in love with their debut album, which was released just about a month prior to seeing this set.

Red Hearse only did three shows in support of this album: one in each of the member’s hometowns (Brooklyn, Chicago, Los Angeles). I felt incredibly lucky that I was able to get one in Chicago (Sounwave’s hometown), and even luckier to see it in such a tiny venue, as I think they could have sold out a bigger room.

This album wasn’t my favorite in September, but it ended up being so (obviously) towards the end of the year, and I think seeing the songs live made that push happen. The band has said in interviews that they wanted the shows to be exactly like how they create the music: sitting around a table and just brainstorming. It was fascinating to see how their creative process transitions to hearing it live. I loved every second of it.

Lucy Dacus

Date – October 10
Venue – Park West

Being able to attend and cover this show was able to come together at the very last second and I’m so happy it ended up working out! I initially became a fan of Lucy’s after boygenius’ debut EP and tour happened last year, which led me to explore more of Lucy’s solo discography. Seeing her perform with boygenius compared to her solo set is really different and I loved being able to see her step into the limelight.

Lucy did an incredible job of maintaining the audience’s interest without having any sort of theatrics or much of any sort of stage design, which I think is really difficult in a venue as big as Park West (1,000 capacity). Her vocals and down-to-earth persona (rolling up onstage in a faded band t-shirt, black trousers, and vans made it feel like a super intimate performance in her living room.

Lucy released an EP in November, titled 2019, featuring seven covers inspired by national holidays (including one in honor of Bruce Springsteen’s birthday). She did three of these covers during her 13-song set, which really was a treat. I could continue going on and on about how wonderful the evening was, but I wanted to comment on the energy of the room during “Night Shift,” the last song before the encore. You could feel the anticipation in the air as Lucy strummed the opening of the chords of the track, one that was named one of the best of the decade. I’ve heard a lot of lyrics echoed by a crowded venue word for word, but nothing was as magical as hearing an entire audience sing along to this song specifically, and it’s a moment I’ll never get over as a music fan.

Here’s the spreadsheet I keep (yes, I do this) of every show I saw this year, including supporting acts. You can see that I count the number of sets, not the number of shows. The sole amount of shows would be a bit smaller of a number, but not by far.

Each one with an asterisk (*) means I was able to cover the show for the blog.

Date Headliner Support Venue
January 17 Snail Mail* LaLa LaLa Metro
January 18 King Princess Metro
February 22 Kelly Clarkson Kelsey Ballerini Allstate arena
February 23 Miya Folick* Barrie Schubas
March 2 Lily & Madeleine* Schubas
March 6 Robyn Aragon Ballroom
March 9 The Aces* Lincoln Hall
March 23
Better Oblivion Community Center*
Lincoln Hall
March 26 Sasha Sloan* Lauren Aquilina Schubas
April 3 Foreign Air* Schubas
April 11 From Indian Lakes Bottom Lounge
April 27 Bad Suns* Carlie Hanson House of Blues
April 29 Leon* Morgan Saint House of Blues
May 5 Aly & AJ Armors House of Blues
May 6 Matt Maeson Betcha Lincoln Hall
May 8 The 1975 Pale Waves United Center
May 14 Imogen Heap
May 15 Wallows* Metro
May 24 Local Natives WKQX Studios
May 24 Local Natives* Middle Kids Thalia Hall
June 8 Billie Eilish United Center
June 13 Mt. Joy Millennium Park
June 15 Charly Bliss Lincoln Hall
June 16 Vampire Weekend Chicano Batman Northerly Island
July 9 Carly Rae Jepsen Chicago Theater
July 21 Ibeyi
July 21 Clairo Pitchfork
July 21 Whitney Pitchfork
July 21 Charli XCX Pitchfork
July 21 Robyn Pitchfork
August 1 Lennon Stella Lollapalooza
August 1 Harry Hudson Lollapalooza
August 1 Hayley Kiyoko Lollapalooza
August 1 Hozier Lollapalooza
August 1 King Princess Lollapalooza
August 1 The Strokes Lollapalooza
August 1 The Chainsmokers Lollapalooza
August 1 H.E.R. Lollapalooza
August 2 Tierra Whack Lollapalooza
August 2 Conan Grey Lollapalooza
August 2 Boy Pablo Lollapalooza
August 2 Janelle Monae Lollapalooza
August 2 Childish Gambino Lollapalooza
August 2 Maggie Rogers Lollapalooza
August 3 Sam Fender Lollapalooza
August 3 Bea Miller Lollapalooza
August 3 Bad Suns Lollapalooza
August 3 Chelsea Cutler Lollapalooza
August 3 Jade Bird Lollapalooza
August 3 Role Model Lollapalooza
August 3 Lil Wayne Lollapalooza
August 3 Judah & The Lion Lollapalooza
August 3 Twenty One Pilots Lollapalooza
August 4 Mitski Lollapalooza
August 4 Kacey Musgraves Lollapalooza
August 4 Ariana Grande Lollapalooza
August 4 Masego Lollapalooza
August 4 Shaq Lollapalooza
August 4 Louis The Child Lollapalooza
August 4 Sharon Van Etten Lollapalooza
August 10 Lizzo Stephen Puth Gallagher Way
September 11 Red Hearse Schubas
September 14 Local Natives The Gloomies
Marathon Music Works
September 16 Girl In Red Lincoln Hall
September 20 Jonas Brothers United Center
September 21 OSTON Millennium Park
September 21 Joseph* Deep Sea Diver The Vic Theater
September 28 Clairo* Metro
October 1 Flor* Bottom Lounge
October 2 Bastille* Chicago Theater
October 10 Lucy Dacus* Liza Anne Park West
October 12 Half Alive* Sure Sure Metro
October 17 Muna Chelsea Jade Logan Square Auditorium
October 23 scarypoolparty* The Vic Theater
October 25 Above & Beyond Aragon Ballroom
November 3 Hozier* Angie MacMahon Chicago Theater
November 12 From Indian Lakes Queen Of Jeans Beat Kitchen
November 15 FKA Twigs Riviera Theater
November 18 Claud* Jackie Hayes Schubas
December 4 Cat Clyde* Schubas
December 13 The 1975 Bob Moses Aragon Ballroom
December 20 All Time Low House of Blues

 Total – 103 performances

Breakdown by venue below. Note – this is every SET, not every show. So if I saw two sets at one show, that counts as two. Ya get it?

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Thanks for reading! What was your favorite performance you saw in 2019?

Check out my favorites from 2018 here.

  • Kristin

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