Thankfully, this weird year of 2020 is almost over. What better way to commemorate all the things that brought some joy into our lives than with the first ever Concert Archives’ End of the Year Awards!?
Best Live Album: Deafheaven – Ten Years Gone
If there’s one live album that stands out from this year, it’s Deafheaven’s Ten Years Gone. Instead of playing the ten year anniversary tour for their first album as planned, the band recorded this live album in their studio. It may not be a traditional live album where you hear the roar of the crowd in the background, but instead you get to hear what the band would sound like if they were playing live for you in a small club. Basically, it sounds like they’re playing just for you. It’s difficult to describe all the intricacies of the band’s sound, so whether you’re a longtime Deafheaven fan or just now hearing about them, it’s best if you give it a listen yourself.
Best Emotional Support Album: Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
It wouldn’t be a good crying session without some Phoebe Bridgers, and luckily 2020 has given us a new album to cry to: Punisher. This new album (her second), builds on her unique talent for creating approachable and relatable songs that cut straight to your heart. Pitchfork gave it an 8.7 out of 10, making it one of their most highly rated albums of 2020 (it ranked #4 on their year-end list).
Honorable Mentions: Home Remedy by Sundressed, Petals for Armor by Hayley Williams
Best “Forget Your Problems” Album: Bearings – Hello, It’s You
One of my most listened albums of this year is Bearing’s Hello, It’s You, and it only came out a month ago! Ever since I heard the first single, “Sway,” I’d been looking forward to this album’s release. Hello, It’s You brings together a few different sounds, but still flows together beautifully. It’s got so many sing or scream along moments, from the upbeat chorus of “Sway” with “Said she loves California, but she hates LA” to “Lovely Lovely”‘s chill singalong vibes and everything else. This is the perfect album to drive around listening to, or to dance around your bedroom.
Honorable Mentions: bug by Pictures of Vernon, Wake Up, Sunshine by All Time Low, Pink Elephant by Stand Atlantic
2020 “Album We Can’t Wait to Hear Live” Award: The Flaming Lips – American Head
It’s rare for a band that’s been around for almost 4 decades to be putting out music as noteworthy as their peak works, but The Flaming Lips have made it happen. The band released American Head on September 11, and it’s a return to the high water mark of some of their best like Yoshimi, Soft Bulletin, and Mystics. Not to take away their more recent and experimental albums of late, but it’s refreshing to hear the Lips in traditional pop song structure again (of course it’s all relative, their “straight forward” songs are more experimental than most artists “experimental” songs). The Flaming Lips’s experimental and psychedelic vibes are brilliantly translated into an epic live show that might be one of the most joyous places on earth. They have already announced tour dates for August/September next year (postponed from this year) and we absolutely can’t wait to see it.
Honorable Mentions: Petals for Armor by Hayley Williams, Green Room by Radkey, you’ll be fine by Hot Mulligan
Live Event Awards
Remember those? This category is specifically for (COVID-safe) in person events, either “normal” concerts earlier this year, or new COVID-era concerts such as drive-in concerts.
Best Overall Concert: Motion City Soundtrack with Mat Kerekes and Save Face
When Motion City Soundtrack announced their “Don’t Call it a Comeback” tour, I was beyond stoked! The band had The Sidekicks as their direct support for half the tour, and Mat Kerekes (Citizen) for the second half. Each date had a different opening act.
For the concert in DC (well, Silver Spring, MD), the band brought on New Jersey-based band Save Face. Of the 17 shows I’ve been to this year, three of them were MCS shows, and this one was by far the best one-night-only show.
Best COVID-Safe Event: The Riot Fest Halloween Show
Of all the drive-in shows that took place, the most creative one that made me almost consider going was Riot Fest’s 2020 Halloween event. For the two-day event, Riot Fest combined the new drive-in concert idea with the traditional drive-in movie experience. On night one, New Found Glory performed before a showing of Beetlejuice. On Halloween, Hot Mulligan and Knuckle Puck performed before The Exorcist.
Honorable Mention: Andrew McMahon’s Everything in Transit Drive-In shows
Best Venue: The Rebel Lounge
It hasn’t been easy for independent venues this year. With it being next-to-impossible to have safe indoor shows since COVID struck, venues have had to get creative with how they bring in revenue. The Rebel Lounge in Phoenix is one example of how you can bring revenue to your venue without putting on traditional shows. Since closing in March, the venue has reopened as a bar and coffee shop. And instead of having fans come to shows, The Rebel Lounge has brought shows to the fans by opening up their venue to artists to perform livestreams.
Check out one of the live sets filmed at the venue above.
Best Opening Act: Sincere Engineer
Of all the opening acts I saw this year, Sincere Engineer was the best discovery. Sincere Engineer was the first band to play on the absolutely stacked Circus Tour with Prince Daddy & The Hyena, Just Friends, and Oso Oso. While only a few dates of this tour went on as planned (thanks COVID), the addition of Sincere Engineer made these already stacked shows even better than I could’ve imagined.
Honorable Mentions: Save Face, Ultra Deluxe, Swither
Best Tour that Kinda-Sorta-Almost-Happened: Circus Tour
This award is specifically for the tours that took place in Mid-March, and had to shut down partway through. Given that the aforementioned Circus Tour (with Prince Daddy & The Hyena, Just Friends, Oso Oso, and more) only got two dates in before needing to cancel, this one has to go to them. Philly and DC folks were lucky enough to be the first two shows, and hopefully the rest of the country will be able to have theirs at some point in the future.
Honorable Mentions: Tool; Anti-Flag with Grade 2 and Doll Skin; Knuckle Puck/Heart Attack Man; The Wonder Years with Free Throw, Spanish Love Songs, and Pool Kids; Dashboard Confessional with The Get Up Kids and Piebald
Best Postponed or Cancelled Tour: you’ll be fine tour
One of the tours in 2020 I was most looking forward to was the Hot Mulligan, Heart Attack Man, and Super American tour. All of these bands I’ve seen a few times, and to see them all in one night would be beyond amazing. Luckily, the tour is now tentatively scheduled to take place May-June 2021, and everyone’s new favorite Meet Me @ The Altar has been added! Let us all hope and pray that COVID goes away so we can all experience this iconic lineup.
Honorable Mentions: Doobie Brothers 50th Anniversary Tour; Deftones, Gojira, and Poppy; Bad Religion and Alkaline Trio with War on Women; Anti-Flag with Bad Cop/Bad Cop and Grumpster; AJJ, Xiu Xiu, and Emporer X
Live Stream Awards
None of us were ever hoping or expecting that this would be such a prolonged part of our 2020, but here we are. Naturally, all the great virtual live events this year deserve some awards too!
Best Live Stream: All of Them
There’s been tons and tons of live streams over the past 9 months, from casual insta-lives to planned-ahead full productions, and so it’s an impossible task to choose the best. This one goes out to any artist who got in front of a camera and played to an empty room (or maybe their cat). Thank you for reminding us what it means to love live music, and for creating a way for us music-lovers to come together in these weird and often-lonely times.
Best Live Stream Festival: #SOSFest
The Save Our Stages Festival, put on by NIVA and YouTube, aimed to raise money for the NIVA Emergency Relief Fund. The event took place over 3 days (October 16-18) on YouTube, and featured live sets from 35 different artists at 35 different independent venues. More information about the festival and links to the performances are available on Save Our Stages website.
Most Creative Live Stream Event: Minechella
One of the events I was most looking forward to this year was the Summit Shack’s annual Fauxchella (this year would have been the 4th, or Fourchella). This year’s event was set to take place on April 17+18 in Bowling Green, OH, but was unfortunately unable to happen as planned due to COVID 🙁
Instead of outright cancelling the event, the Summit Shack and Loon Base Studios crew moved the event to Minecraft. Each band had their own stage in the server, customized for their ‘performance.’ Some bands did video or audio performances, others did AMAs or shared demos.
During Origami Angels’ set, the server went down. And thus a new event was planned just for them, and the iconic “Origami Angel Broke Minecraft” 12″ was born.
Best Live Stream Merch: Thursday
If anyone made livestream merch worth paying shipping for, it was Thursday. The band hosted a livestream back in August, and their next one is December 29. The band has the standard merch options such as T-Shirts and Hoodies, but they’re also offering hand-drawn setlists and Christmas cards from the band. If that wasn’t rad enough, the band also set aside some of each merch option to go for free for those who are experiencing financial hardships due to COVID. How cool!
Honorable Mentions: Ben Gibbard’s live from home silkscreen posters,
Best Live Stream Platform: Zoom
While many new livestream platforms have popped up (or least gained recognition) this year, Zoom is the new classic, even when it comes to shows. While other platforms used for livestreams are only one-way, or only allow the audience to converse via text chat, some savvy show-throwers have been using Zoom to better replicate the feeling of a live show.
Undertow shows and various emo nights are among those who have taken to using Zoom for their live events. Zoom gives event organizers the ability to mute and unmute event attendees, so that no one can talk over the artist while they’re playing, but everyone can still chat during Q&A’s or between songs.
Most Dedicated Live Streamer or Organizer: Ben Gibbard
From March through May, Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie, The Postal Service) livestreamed over 20 times for 40-60 minutes each time! Each stream doubled as a fundraiser for various organizations in the Seattle area or national organizations like MusiCares. Beyond just playing songs from his various musical projects, Gibbard also answered questions, played covers, and shared some thoughts. All of the streams and their causes are still viewable on YouTube.
Though these are our picks for the Best of 2020, we all owe a huge thanks to all the artists and their teams for all the creative and innovative ways they brought safe live music into our lives.