Future Islands at the High Noon Saloon
In 2014, Madison continued its transformation from a skip-over city between Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis to one of the Midwest's premier live music destinations. These are our favorite sets from some of our favorite touring artists of the past year, the shows that tugged at our hearts and beckoned our bodies to move.
Caroline Smith, Lizzo
High Noon Saloon, Jan. 16
Last year's FRZN Fest opened with a lineup full of powerful female performances, as these co-headliners rang in 2014 with encouraging, celebratory sets bolstered by Smith's stunning pipes and Lizzo's fearless individuality.
The Frequency, Jan. 30
Tucked within the venue's black walls, a sold-out crowd stood in awe of this prolific singer/songwriter. Jurado seemed like an old friend, speaking and singing to the crowd behind one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking indie-folk catalogs of recent years.
Barrymore Theatre, Feb. 7
This former Drive-By Trucker knows how to play a guitar and sing, but it wasn't just his musical talent that elevated this show. The aching Southern soulfulness that Isbell channeled into his newest songs reflected his emotional journey to sobriety and new love.
Neutral Milk Hotel
Orpheum Theater, Feb. 8
Few shows this year were as highly anticipated, as Jeff Magnum and cohorts returned to the stage after a 15-year break. Opening with "Two-Headed Boy," the years slipped away quickly, and the audience was treated to a fine-tuned jaunt down memory lane.
Orpheum Theater, Feb. 13
Everything about this Colorado-based livetronica band is gigantic, from their name to the festival stages they're used to packing. They brought beats, samples and live saxophone and drums to the Orpheum, concentrating their massive energy into a tight, crowd-pleasing show.
High Noon Saloon, March 27
Future Islands rode in on a colossal wave of buzz thanks to performances on Letterman and at SXSW in Austin, Texas. The trio gave the sold-out crowd a set full of elevated, theatrical synth pop and singer Samuel T. Herring's don't-try-this-at-home dance moves.
Majestic Theatre, April 3
Bolstered by a phenomenal 2014 release, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, this band took the stage with a newfound sense of purpose. Led by frontwoman Laura Jane Grace, they laid down an anthemic, inspiring rock performance of old and new favorites alike.
Majestic Theatre, April 12
Phantogram took the stage at their sold out Majestic show and did not stop. There was no banter between songs, no moments of rest -- just one incredible electro-rock rush from the top of the set list to the bottom.
Majestic Theatre, April 25
This was Danny Brown's second show in Madison in as many springs, but it didn't stop him from delivering one of the year's wackiest rap parties. His set consisted of crowd favorites, crowd favorites and, of course, crowd favorites, because those are the only kinds of songs Brown makes.
Waka Flocka Flame
Revelry Music and Arts Festival, May 3
Revelry came into its own in 2014, as a move to Langdon Street and a slew of big-draw artists further forced the Mifflin Street Block Party out of the public eye. Rapper Waka Flocka Flame was arguably the most notable act, his crowd-connecting set satisfying the bros and alumni alike.
Murder By Death
High Noon Saloon, May 4
This Indiana-based indie rock band was handpicked to headline a daylong commemoration of High Noon's 10th anniversary. Their set spanned five albums of material and included a memorable cover of INXS's "Never Tear Us Apart."
Sharon Van Etten
Memorial Union Terrace, July 17
There are few things in life better than a Sharon Van Etten set, and a free Sharon Van Etten set is one of them. Luckily, this mid-summer Madison sundown show happened to be both.
Live on King Street, July 18
Merrill Garbus' powerhouse vocals bellowed over downtown when her worldbeat indie-pop project packed the Live on King season opener. Her performance was a socially conscious dance party sprinkled with a sort of zealous fairy-dust only Garbus can provide and which Madison loved.
High Noon Saloon, Aug. 7-8
PHOX returned home with a pair of sold-out shows at the conclusion a two-month headlining U.S. tour that took them east, west and south. Their live presence had somehow become even more mesmerizing, proof that the time on the road was well spent.
Majestic Theatre, Sept. 4
This show made an unprecedented move from the Frequency to Majestic after it quickly sold out the former. It then sold out the latter. The duo had the whole crowd singing and dancing for the entirety of a fun and energetic electronic set.
Orpheum Theater, Sept. 18
As eight excellent albums attest, Britt Daniel can craft an infectious rock song in his sleep. Luckily, his group wasn't napping during this catalog-spanning set, proving that practice does indeed make perfect -- especially when it comes to Daniel's effortless guitar work and addictive voice.
The Head and the Heart
Live on King Street, Sept. 19
They say that if you love something you should set it free, and this Seattle band proved the adage when they unleashed their lush tunes downtown. Their folk-driven sound was matched in size by an audience large enough to require a move to Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
The War on Drugs
Majestic Theatre, Sept. 20
This Philadelphia band released Lost in the Dream to critical acclaim, and concertgoers came in with high expectations. The sell-out crowd left in high spirits, as the group backed up the hype with heartfelt heartland rock.
The Frequency, Sept. 26
Twin Peaks brought a basement party to the Frequency, and in no way was that a bad thing. Thanks to the Chicago crew's high energy and catchy tunes, the kids in the crowd bumped into and onto one another the only way you can to youthful rock 'n' roll: with grins.
The Whigs, Field Report, Water Liars
The Frequency, Oct. 15
Though their styles are distant relatives at best, these bands made up Madison's greatest triple bill in 2014. Whether you preferred Field Report's subdued set or Water Liars' Southern songs is irrelevant; each band more than held their own when they had the stage.
Freakfest, Nov. 1
It was only fitting that attendees waited hours in the cold for Atmosphere. The only thing the set didn't deliver was a warmer temperature, as the Minneapolis duo (trio, if you count the added second DJ) performed old hits and newer favorites for the attentive, costumed crowd.
Run the Jewels
Majestic Theatre, Nov. 21
It would look completely egotistical for most artists to come on stage to Queen's "We are the Champions," but it felt right at this show. Run the Jewels was 2014's biggest rap duo, and this performance showed why, delivering hard-hitting raps with ease.