From rock and pop to metal and dance - the artists that impressed us the most
Andrew Trendell
17:45 19th December 2014

Here at Gigwise, we live for live music - from the beer and sweat-soaked walls of the nation's best venues to the green, green fields of summer festivals around the world, we've spent the majority of nights catching the best artists on the road and every day dreaming of the next show. 

Between us, we've seen hundreds upon hundreds of shows in the last 12 months - making 2014 one of the best years of our lives. To celebrate what an incredible year it's been for gigs, here are our 20 best live acts of 2014.

Compiled by Andy Morris, Andrew Trendell, Ed Keeble, Alexandra Pollard and Elliot Mitchell.  

20. Beck

Photo: iTunes Festival London, 2014

Anyone who's seen Beck live this year will struggle to forget the encore at the end of a mindmelting carnival of song. As the entire band find themselves in a fight to the death during the melt-down at the end of 'E-Pro', Beck cordons off the stage with police tape. "What kind of laws do you wanna defy?" they ask before returning for the encore's first track of genre-defying, hedonism anthem 'Sexx Laws'.

Good question. Beck follows no rules, nor do his fans. The crooned request to "step inside my Hyundai" should not attract such a salacious response and the reaction that greeted 'Where It's At' was more explosive than we have ever witnessed at an iTunes show. Beck, in short, displayed real class. (AT

19. Massive Attack

Photo: WENN

From Glastonbury to OnBlackHeath and beyond, the Bristol collective brought their all to amaze, fusing live remixes and stunning, politically charged visuals with all the necessary hits (‘Inertia Creeps’, ‘Safe From Harm’, ‘Teardrop’) to create an ethereal, immersive atmosphere. (EM

18. Chvrches

Photos: Gigwise/Andy Sidders

We've lost count of the amount of times we've seen Chvrches live in the last two years, and the truth is we doubt we will ever tire of doing so.

Stepping up to sell out venues the size of Brixton Academy, they've evolved from those nervous ones to watch we remember from 2012, into a band with arena-ready potential.

Shimmering gems from their flawless 2013 debut The Bones Of What You Believe sound as fresh as when we first fell in love with them, while new track 'Get Away' from the controversial BBC Drive re-scoring marks an adventurous leap into the future. With an absolute eyegasm of a sci-fi laser and light show, they have the songs, charisma and presence to match. (AT

17. First Aid Kit

Photo: Gigwise/Richard Gray

As much as their infectiously energetic presence is reason enough to watch First Aid Kit live, it is the tightness of their harmonies which impresses most. The two have performed together from such a young age that their voices seem to have grown as one. No matter how much Klara’s vocals swoop and soar around the melody, Johanna stays with her, just above or just below, adding a rich depth to their live sound which more than justifies this year's booking at the Royal Albert Hall - and much bigger gigs to come. (AP

16. Kurupt FM

Photo: Press

MC. Grindah, Beats, Chabudz, Steves and Decoy we sees ya. On a real though, these chaps are responsible for one hell of a garage revival. Their Champagne Steamrooms club nights and showcases have displayed one of the greatest live acts garage and grime has to offer. Allow Dj Funky and Dubstep. (EK)

15. Metronomy

Photo: Gigwise/Ben Jablonski

There were, of course, doubts about some of Metronomy's bigger gigs this year. Were there ready to headline Field Day? Is Ally Pally too big for them? These doubts were shattered on all occasions as soon as Joe Mount and co took to the stage. Mount has more than enough charisma to easily endear himself to a field or arena, and alongside unforgettable classics such as 'The Bay' and 'She Wants' from their career-making The English Riviera, new tracks such as 'I'm Aquarius', 'Reservoir' and most notably 'Love Letters' exploded to life on the larger stages. This was the year that Metronomy took an irreversible leap forwards. (EM)

14. Action Bronson

Photo: Splash

Watching a room full of rowdy hip-hop heads try to process the fact that their 21 stone ubermensch wants to walk on stage to the Pet Shop Boys is only part of the fun. The anthems are enormous (even the one that sounds like the Little Mermaid) and Bronson's banter with the crowd is genuinely hilarious - at the Forum he called out one fan for being on Tinder while on the front row. His album Mr Wonderful cannot come soon enough. (AM

13. SOHN

Photo: Press

Hair-raising and profound: this is undeniably poignant and refreshing music that begs to be experienced live. (EK

12. BABYMETAL

Photo: Press

No metal band has made quite the same impression as Babymetal in living memory. Forming as teenage schoolgirls, the Japanese trio were introduced to the world of hard rock, mixing it with Japanese idol culture to add a menacing, unsettling edge to an otherwise sickly sweet and manufactured world.

Famed for their striking image and synapse-melting live shows, Babymetal have found fans in lovers of heavy metal, J-pop and anime, with everyone from Metallica and Slayer to Lady Gaga pledging their allegiance. With this, they aim to begin a new genre of metal and they more than succeed - and all without falling into the trap of becoming a novelty act. (EK

11. Queens Of The Stone Age

Photo: Gigwise/Justine Trickett

It was a pretty historic moment - and one that's been one hell of a long time in the making. From the thunderous opening notes of hedonistic anthem 'Feel Good Hit Of The Summer' as he drawled "tonight is going to be the night", Reading & Leeds 2014 was obviously the festival that QOTSA were born to headline.

"When we first played Reading, we played at 1pm," snarled Josh Homme, looking every bit the icon. "So we're a whole nine hours better than we've ever been. It should be plain sailing from here," enthused frontman Josh Homme, before a fit of lasers and lights lit up the sky. A consistently classic-packed explosion of hard rock and bravado is what QOTSA gave fans throughout 2014. They've always been at the top of their game, now they're on top of the world. (AT

10. Arcade Fire

Photo: Primavera Sound/Dani Canto

From one of Glastonbury's most historic headline sets to Earl's Court, Hyde Park and beyond, it was almost impossible to escape the Arcade Fire touring machine in 2014. With each show, Win Butler and co charged through a true carnival of colour and sound, in a confetti-laden sing-along, and true celebration of a band in their prime and reaching true greatness. Come back soon please. (AT

9. Interpol

Photo: Gigwise/Justine Trickett

Having seen Interpol countless times over the past decade, trust us when we say that they're at the peak of their powers and on the finest form of their career. Not only do new tracks from new album El Pintor mark the most promising and dynamic material that they've written in years, but the passion, musicianship and sense of energy that they bring to older tracks has come along leaps and bounds. All of this is helped of course by tailoring the most fan-friendly setlist you can imagine. What Interpol are now is a masterclass in majesty and sheer class. (AT

8. The National

Photo: Gigwise/Emma Viola Lilja

The National showed Barcelona what it is that makes them the best American band of their generation: a thick web of sound, a seminal and consistent back catalogue, amazing musicianship and one of the most arresting and unhinged frontmen on the planet.

There's a heartwarming openness that makes this band feel so special. There's a humanity that envelopes all that The National do - there's so much to cling to. This becomes quite literal when Berninger charges through the crowd - scaling every corner of wherever he's playing and running straight into our arms. That's the beauty of The National - to us, they feel like home. (AT

7. The War On Drugs

Photo: Gigwise/Lucy Bridger

The near flawless Americana-tinged haze-rock of Lost In The Dream is given the space in needs to breathe live on stage, and the warming embrace of 'Red Eyes' married all present in song - a fittingly unforgettable celebration of one of the true success stories of 2014. (AT

6. Run The Jewels

Photo: Press

No image sums up the anarchic appeal of RTJ live than watching El-P do a reverse running man through an imaginary field of dicks on stage at Koko during 'Oh My Darling Don't Cry'. In the notoriously hit-or-miss world of live hip-hop the boundless charisma of the unlikely pair shines through. Funny, filthy and occasionally furious, they'll go down a storm at Reading. (AM

5. Evian Christ

Photo: Press

The Triangle Records legend displayed exactly why he is becoming such a sought after producer. His sound is part gothic, part house, part techno, part dubstep, part trap - and on stage he is absolutely in your face. Watch out for 'Fuck It None Of Y'all Don't Rap' live; it's disgracefully hectic. (EK

4. Manic Street Preachers

Photo: Gigwise/Emma Viola Lilja

The Manics still would have ranked highly on this list before their Holy Bible anniversary shows. The wide-eyed, howling delivery and guitar prowess of James Dean Bradfield, the looming prescence of pogoing bassist Nicky Wire and the man-machine drumming insanity of Sean Moore, showed the Manics doing everything possible to ensure that the Bible's genius endures. But before that, the shows around Futurology showed trio adventuring bravely into the horizon.

Of the 20 and counting times this writer has seen the band live, they have never been on as fine a form as this. They've never performed with this much power or conviction - as they celebrate the past, but show that they still have a bright future.

The last 20 years have sent the Manics on a journey like no other. They may be one man down but their DNA remains the same: fearless, relentless, monumental and essential. (AT

3. St Vincent

Photos: Gigwise/Chris MacDonald

Not only was this the year that Annie Clark produced the best album, but also when she evolved into one of the finest live acts on the planet.

"A very special warm welcome to all of the freaks and others," smiled Clark, as part of regular stage spiel as her silhouette cut an ominous but assured presence. Indeed, there is something that unites us all tonight - that spark of curiosity that lies deep within what St Vincent calls our 'fucking lizard brain'.

In an astonishing 90 minutes, she pulls off one hell of an audio-visual extravaganza. Clutching onto her soon to be iconic purple pyramid as she rolls down to the stage floor, this is less a rock show and more an immersive art show that attacks you with light and sound.

There is no character like her. One could call her 'The Thin White Duchess' at this stage, but the truth is there is no one else on this Earth who is doing the magnificent spectacle that St Vincent brought to the stage this evening.

True, she is the closest thing this generation has to Bowie, but only in the sense that she's a freak, an other, living in a world of her own - and what a wonderful world it is. (AT

2. Future Islands

Photo: Gigwise/Lucy Bridger

Also ranking highly as true champions of the year across the whole board, we have Future Islands. With a sound that falls somewhere between the synth-pop perfection of early The Killers but pumped up by the open highway energy of Gaslight Anthem or Springsteen and performed by a maniacal madmen who moves a little like a drunk Henry Rollins at a wedding, their live show is one worthy of a festival headliner.

The memories of everyone ecstatically losing their minds to 'Seasons' on many an occasion will stay with us for a long, long time. (AT

1. Kate Bush

Photo: Rex

A winged Kate Bush is being carried off stage by masked pallbearers, passing by fans with mouth agape - struggling to comprehend that not only is one of the most visionary minds in music before of them, but inches away. The entire spectacle defies everything: expectations, convention and belief.

Everything you've read about Kate Bush's Before The Dawn London residency has been true. It's an an utterly mind-melting extravaganza that stands up as a triumph of theatre as well as music. It's been weeks since we first witnessed it, and we're still reeling from its full impact.

As she returns for an encore of 'Among Angels', and while it's hackneyed to say, witnessing Bush at the peak of her powers is a true vision of heaven.

"I still dream," she pines on the epic ending of 'Cloudbusting' as fans flock to the front of the stage to decorate it with flowers and gifts. Judging by the shameless fits of love and undying devotion between tracks, Before The Dawn is all of our dreams made manifest. She may not always be visible, but sleep comfortably in the knowledge that Kate Bush can't be toppled from her throne. You can hardly grumble about the 35 year wait when it's the show of a lifetime. (AT)


Photo: Lucy Bridger