As someone who watches hundreds of bands each year, this list might be closest to heart for me. Stripped down and raw, a live performance separates the men from the boys, and shows what a band is really made of. Done right, and it can last as a precious memory in someone's life forever.
I'm fortunate enough to have experienced many of those in my life. Here are 16 great ones from this year, many of which were posted on my Instagram.
16.Iron Maiden at Madison Square Garden
I have been watching Iron Maiden perform live for over 20 years of my life, and they’re still blowing my mind to this day! Fire, props, elaborate stage set ups, video installations, costumes, lights, you name it and Iorn Maiden has already figured out a way to excel at it. The show is larger than life, and so is each member's performance. With all of them pushing 60 or older, they still manage to contain the energy of a twenty something soccer team, and perform a precision set for 2 hours with a smile on their face the entire time. It's incredible! Although this is easily one of the best live tours this year, the set list was less than perfect, with 6 songs coming off the newest album. Fortunately, the rest was made up of some of the best metal anthems ever written!
15.Graveyard at Bowery Ballroom
Many people I know will tell you the biggest blow of 2016 was losing Bowie, Prince, Michael, etc. but to me, it was Graveyard calling it quits. Easily one of my favorite throwback style rock bands of the past decade, the band released nothing but amazing songs and backed it with jaw dropping performances. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I watched Graveyard perform their last show ever in NYC and I had chills for half the set. This adds Graveyard to my list, along with At The Gates, Carcass, Carnivore, Death and many others, as bands I’ve watched perform their last shows ever in NYC. So my only hope is the members stay safe, so we can see a reunion in 2026!
14. The Black Queen at Gramercy Theater
It’s safe to say my biggest genre, outside of metal, has always been Darkwave music, and The Black Queen is a prime example of where the sub-genre stands in 2016. Their debut album is one of my favorites this year, and knew this only-area performance would follow. Unlike his wild front-man performance with The Dillinger Escape Plan, The Black Queen sees Greg Puciato take a more solemn and heartfelt role as a singer in a way I have never seen him do. Watching him settle in, and own this new endeavor in his life, gave me the chills. The whole band was spot on, backed by a fittingly terrific light show and one of the best nights of sound I’ve ever heard at The Gramercy Theater. It almost reminded me of watching Depeche Mode back in the 90’s, on a much smaller stage. The most surprising thing of the night, was learning how relatively unknown The Black Queen still is in the metal world. Most DEP fans I know barely know about them, and did not attend the show. Perhaps that is for the best? I love the idea of Greg being able to make it in completely different genres, with crowds that barely intertwine. That says a lot!
13.O’Brother at Rough Trade
O’Brother is one of my favorite bands out there. They’re not entirely metal, but I’d argue their non-metal parts are extremely dark and moody beyond most metal bands I know. This really shines through live when you can feel and see the power of their dynamics. I’ve been watching them perform for 5 years now, and their headliner set is by far my favorite way to watch them. There might be less people in the room than watching them open for the likes of Russian Circles or DEP, but the connection in their live performance allows the audience to go deep and not be taken out by fans of a different kind. I can honestly say there is no other band like them, and that’s part of what makes O’Brother natural born headliners.
12.Leprous at Webster Hall Marlin Room
Known as the backing band for Emperor frontman, Ihsahn, Leprous has made a name for themselves as one of the strongest prog bands today. Having seen their first performance ever in NYC, I was super excited to see them back this year, only to be completely blown away how much the performance has grown in just a couple years. Impeccable sound, precision tight playing, a unique light show and a perfect set list had me wrapped around their finger wanting more. I could have gone hours watching this set, and wish they toured here on the regular.
11.The Dillinger Escape Plan at Webster Hall
In the 20 years I’ve been watching them, I could say there is no such thing as a bad Dillinger Escape Plan show. Even on their way out the band continues to perform with the angst and energy they had in the late 90’s, so the only thing that changes is the crowd participation, and if you’re a NY DEP fan, you already know the drill! I was fortunate enough to see DEP several times this year, but watching hundreds of people bum rush the stage at Webster Hall, to end one of the last performances from one of the greatest live bands in history was a true moment of history. Yes, that photo above is the stage.
10. John Carpenter at Playstation Theater
As a big fan of John Carpenter’s film and score work, I have been mega stoked about his latest endeavor as a solo artist. This year he finally announced a tour that would see a mix of his solo work and score brought to life on stage, and I made sure I was 2 feet from the front to capture the magic. At 68 years old, Carpenter bellows hit after hit in a moving career-spanning performance that feels entirely too short, despite its 17 song setlist.
9.Tribulation at Webster Hall
In the past two years I’ve managed to rack up about a dozen experiences watching Tribulation perform live, and there’s a reason I’ll move plans just to make it. Not only are these some of the Swedish (read: sweetest) dudes under the sun, their performance brings the band’s aesthetic to life in way’s most other bands can’t compete with. A perfect set through and through, in one of the best sounding rooms NYC has to offer, with a theater-like stage show that captivates you, what more can one ask for!?
8. Black Sabbath at Madison Square Garden
I’m not sure this really needs much of an explanation. Ozzy Osbourne, Geezer Butler, and Tony Iommi performing the Black Sabbath classics at Madison Square Garden for the last time ever! I’ve seen Sabbath so many times, with nearly every vocalist and line up they’ve had, including the reunion tour with all 4 original members in ’99 a couple times, but there is something so moving about saying goodbye to the band that started it all, in my own city. THE GODS WERE HERE!!
7. Meshuggah at Playstation Theater
I’ve been watching Meshuggah perform since their first US shows ever, and this already amazing band, continues to get better with age. With a heavyweight new album under their belt, they pulled out all the stops to incorporate all the best tracks in the set, with their amazing light show and larger than life sound. Even from the comfort of the VIP balcony I managed to rock out hard enough to spill everyones drink and not give a fuck. Ya' know, shit gets a little crazy when your ‘shuggah jam comes on!
6.Megadeth at Saint Vitus Bar
When huge bands play Saint Vitus Bar, a 200+ cap room, it’s a big deal. When one of the biggest icons in metal history plays Saint Vitus Bar, that’s un-fucking-real. Although a short set, Megadeth ripped through a selection of fan favorites, and did it cleaner, faster and better than most I’ve ever seen perform at my home away from home. Everything about this was mind-blowing, and as they churned out hit after hit, the crowd ate it up in all its glory, for all the right reasons. This ruled.
5.Gojira at Saint Vitus Bar
Gojira is one of the best live bands on the planet, and you are guaranteed an amazing show anywhere they play. However, their set at Vitus was on a whole other level, and that’s coming from someone who has seen the band play small to large shows about 30 times now. With immense sweat dripping from the walls, the crowd continued to ravage, and the band retaliated with copious energy despite the sweltering heat and club size stage. It was one for the books!
4.Fear Factory at Gramercy Theater
Fear Factory put their hand in the throwback pile this year, by performing their seminal album Demanufacture in its entirety. An album I’ve watched FF perform back in the mid-90’s countless times. This however, wasn’t your average wham-bam money maker throwback tour. Watching a band so close to my heart absolutely crush the songs 20 years later, with such passion and vigor as they did in 1996 was the component that made this experience over the top. Fear Factory was on fire, and my only regret was not attending more shows on this tour.
3.Taake at Saint Vitus Bar
Arguably the smallest band on this list, Taake has been a band I’ve considered flying to Europe for many times. So when they announced they were playing 2 shows in one day at my favorite venue, you bet your ass I went, twice! In fact, I had so much sweaty fun being front and center for the first set, that I ran home to shower and change, just to head back to the venue and do it all over again. Needless to say, they did not disappoint and lived up to be one of the greatest black metal bands of our time. Coming face to face with black metal giants from Norway I never thought I’d see in America, felt like the times I watched Emperor in NY back in the 90's.
2.Guns N Roses at MetLife Stadium
The first show I ever attended in my life was Guns N Roses’s Use Your Illusion tour in 1991, and the magnitude of the experience is what lead me to want to pursue music in the first place. However, the band was bat shit crazy drunk back then. So the fact we are watching one of the biggest bands in the world reunite and perform sober, is HUGE and something most don’t mention. We’re actually watching the key members perform under controlled conditions for the first time in our lives, and the first time in their career. I dropped everything and flew to Vegas just to watch the very first show of the “Not In This Lifetime” tour, and it was worth every penny. Although an amazing experience, it was their performance at the MetLife Stadium months later that truly sparked the magic, and allowed me to relive my experience as a young kid watching heroes, 5 feet from my face! With Axl out of the chair, every member was firing on all cylinders and using the stage to perform as the rockstars they are. Hearing the roar of 80,000 people was equally amazing as the show itself.
1.Metallica at Webster Hall
This has certainly been the year of METALLICA! The metal giants took the main stage of Webster Hall for one of the most humble performances of their career, and every second of it absolutely ruled! I have seen Metallica live so many times before, but this was a perfect night, with the perfect set from a band that inspired most others on this list. Their sound was spot on, and the straight forward performance was a testament to why they are the biggest band in the world. Needless to say, the energy in the room was incredible everywhere you stood, but I preferred the pit, getting crushed and sweaty with metal brothers and sisters like we're 15 all over again!