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Emerald Recommends: The best concerts of 2017

The Pacific Northwest had a great year for touring music. Both Portland and Eugene saw their fair share of up-and-coming and established artists come through venue doors. Live shows for bands such as The Shins and Brockhampton brought avid fans together to see some of their favorites, while legendary acts such as Radiohead made rare stops in Portland. Music still reigns as one of the best ways to bring people together, and 2017 was no short of concerts that did exactly that.

Here are the Emerald’s top concerts of 2017.

Sararosa Davies’ picks:

5. Naked Giants at the Boreal, March 5

Naked Giants may have opened for Car Seat Headrest at WOW Hall in October 2016. But the band’s return to Eugene — this time as a deserving headliner — showed that this spunky Seattle garage rock group is well on its way to the top. Tearing through songs off of the “RIP EP,” Naked Giants filled the now-defunct DIY-music venue, the Boreal, with fuzzy, distorted guitars and crashing drums.

4. The Shins at McDonald Theatre, Sept. 25

James Mercer sings and strums his guitar. The Shins perform at McDonald Theatre in Eugene, Ore. on Sept. 25, 2017. (Sarah Northrop/Emerald)

James Mercer may be the only consistent member of The Shins, but that doesn’t matter when it comes to the group’s live presence. Mercer is a rambunctious and vibrant frontman, and his voice has more power behind it live. With harmonica, string instruments and Mercer’s trickling guitar, compositions from across the band’s discography took on a new warmth. For a band that is so deeply loved by its fans, Mercer and his band gave it their all in Eugene. What a way to spend the first night of the school year. 

Read the Emerald’s review of this concert here.

3. The National at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, Nov. 28

The National, for a relatively quiet and brooding band, rocked a sold-out Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall as if they were arena-rockers, even after Thanksgiving. Touring in support of the dark 2017 album, “Sleep Well Beast,” the band filled the concert hall with rumbling guitars and vocalist Matt Berninger’s low, thrumming voice. Despite many side projects and other involvements, the group was as clear as ever. Ten years after The National’s seminal album, “Boxer,” its live show made it clear that its members aren’t slowing down anytime soon.

Read the Emerald’s review of the show here.

2. Radiohead at the Moda Center in Portland, April 9

Up until this April, Radiohead hadn’t visited Portland since 1996. Some UO students weren’t even born yet. The English band’s rare stop north of Eugene is enough to merit a number two spot. The seminal indie-rock band may have seemed like ants from high up at the Moda Center, but that didn’t matter. Thom Yorke’s warbling voice and material from the band’s trance-like newer music kept the audience in rapt attention (or maybe, it was the fact the actual Radiohead was playing). The band’s two-and-a-half hour set ended with “Pablo Honey’s” “Creep,” the first time Radiohead had played the song on this tour. The crowd screamed and sang along, hoping that the band won’t wait as long to return to Portland for its next visit.

Read the Emerald’s review of the show here.

Radiohead perform at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore. for the first time in 21 years on April 10, 2017. (Phillip Quinn/Emerald)

1. Craig Finn in Seattle, July 3

Something about Craig Finn’s solo songwriting, especially on his most recent album, “We All Want The Same Things,” deserves an intimate performance. And that’s what audiences got from The Hold Steady frontman this summer – as he played people’s living rooms across the country. Accompanied by just his guitar, Finn performed at fan’s house in Seattle, accompanying almost every song with a story. Despite an annoying Floridian shouting things from the back of the audience — which was literally only a few feet away from Finn — Finn remained unfazed. For the emotional, spoken-word track, “God in Chicago,” Finn just thumped his guitar with his hand. His voice rang clearly throughout the room, proving that the best shows sometimes aren’t the fanciest or the loudest — but instead the ones with the most heart.

Nic Castillon’s picks:

5. Ty Segall at Hi-Fi Music Hall, March 5

The prolific singer-songwriter and garage rocker, Ty Segall, brought a huge amount of energy to his stop in Eugene at Hi-Fi Music Hall. Segall and his touring band — The Freedom Band — ripped through a set of fast and loud songs, which included newer tracks such as “Break A Guitar” and older favorites such as “Finger.” Many people left the venue that night soaked in sweat thanks to a very enthusiastic, if not slightly aggressive, crowd.

Read the Emerald’s review of the show here.

4. Daniel Johnston with Built To Spill at Revolution Hall in Portland, Nov. 8

Daniel Johnston’s performance at Revolution Hall was a very special occasion. The fact that it was part of his “final tour” made the artist’s set of emotional songs much more affecting. The indie-rock band Built To Spill served as Johnston’s backing band for the night, and the live arrangements perfectly complemented Johnston’s heartfelt songwriting. The sold-out show ended in a much-deserved standing ovation after a wholehearted performance of “True Love Will Find You In The End.”

Read the Emerald’s review of the show here.

3. Ween at Les Schwab Theater in Bend, July 1

Ween decided to open its nearly three-hour live set in Bend with a surprise: a performance of the band’s 1997 album, “The Mollusk,” in its entirety. The band’s cult-like fans sang along to every song, including “Waving My Dick in the Wind” and “Ocean Man.” The concert then continued with an impressive, career-spanning second set. The group could only play up until the venue’s enforced noise curfew of 10 p.m.— but surely Ween had it in them to go longer.

2. Sun Kil Moon at Aladdin Theater in Portland, Oct. 13

Mark Kozelek’s latest album under the Sun Kil Moon moniker — “Common as Light and Love Are Red Valleys of Blood” — is incredibly long-winded. His performance at the Aladdin Theater brought a similar length and verbosity to the stage. The show lasted around two and a half hours; however, at no point did it become monotonous. Kozelek kept the crowd entertained throughout with his beautiful, extended musical compositions and vocals that bordered on spoken word poetry. In between songs, Kozelek took the time to share stories about Elliott Smith and greet a small child sitting in the front row with his parents.

1. Mount Eerie at WOW Hall, April 4

Songwriter Phil Elverum, who records under the name Mount Eerie, gave one of the most intimate performances possible at WOW Hall earlier this year; however, it was far from cheerful. The setlist consisted of songs from his most recent album “A Crow Looked At Me,” which centers around the tragic passing of his wife, Geneviève Castrée, to pancreatic cancer in 2016. Elverum performed alone on stage — with just an acoustic guitar — to a seated and silent crowd, and it was about as vulnerable as an artist could get. In no way did the lyrics convey that Elverum had come to terms with the death. Rather, the performance was rooted in Elverum’s own immediate and deeply personal grieving process. It was so personal, in fact, that it felt strange for an audience to even be there. It might have been difficult to watch, yet Elverum’s performance made for the most memorable and affecting concert of the year.

Zach Price’s picks:

3. Isaiah Rashad at WOW Hall, March 20

Though Isaiah Rashad may be known for making chill songs that are meant to be listened to while relaxing with friends, his concert in Eugene was anything but chill and relaxed. The Tennessee native was able to transform many of his mellow tunes into upbeat, energetic bangers. His DJ set the tone for the night with an opening set filled with hits from the likes of Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar and Desiigner. By the time Rashad came onstage, the crowd was anxious and sweaty. His performances of “Wat’s Wrong,” “4r Da Squaw” and “Shot You Down” sent the crowd into a bumping mosh pit. The energy Rashad performed with was surprising and unforgettable.

2. BROCKHAMPTON at WOW Hall, September 29

Those who attended Brockhampton’s sold-out show at WOW Hall — a venue with a max capacity of 600 people — witnessed a once in a lifetime performance. The self-proclaimed boy band/rap collective is currently reaching its peak in mainstream popularity, making their Eugene performance a rare event. Lead by frontman Kevin Abstract, Brockhampton took the audience on an emotional rollercoaster with performances of a variety of songs from the group’s first three albums. 

Kevin Abstract of Brockhampton performs his verse in the song HEAT. Brockhampton sell out the WOW Hall in Eugene, Ore. on Sept. 29, 2017. (Phillip Quinn / Emerald)

While the night was mostly filled with cheeky sarcasm and lighthearted humor, there were moments of genuine emotion. One of these moments came when Abstract discussed his sexuality on the track, “JUNKY.” Abstract sings: “Why you always rap about bein’ gay?’ Cause not enough niggas rap and be gay.” After the group had finished playing, they took a bow and promptly left the stage. Leaving many fans silent, shocked by the impressive performance.

Read the Emerald’s review of the show here.

1. Travis Scott with Khalid at Cuthbert Amphitheater, June 2

It’s hard to imagine a better way to end the 2016-17 school year than watching one of the most popular artists of the year perform his hits at the outdoor Cuthbert Amphitheater on a beautiful June night in Eugene. Not to mention that the 19-year-old breakout R&B singer Khalid opened the show as the sun set behind an array of purple and pink clouds. Scott appeared on stage shortly after sunset, performing “Way Back,” “Butterfly Effect” and “Uber Everyone” right off the bat. If the crowd was hyped enough after that, he teased his top hit, “Goosebumps,” before quickly going into another song.

While some concerts are best when an artist brings the audience on a journey of ups and downs, Scott is not one of those artists. From the moments he got on stage, Scott kept building the energy until it seemed as if the venue were going to explode. And then he kept going. The concert reached its climax when Scott rode his giant mechanical bird, Jack, and he finally gave the audience what they had been waiting for with a full performance of “Goosebumps.”

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Sararosa Davies

Sararosa Davies

Sararosa Davies is the senior A&C editor at the Emerald. A former editor at the youth-run music blog Garage Music News, her written work has been featured in City Pages in Minneapolis, Eugene Weekly and Sirius XM's music blog. She's one of many Minnesotan transplants in Oregon.

Send her tips and questions at [email protected] or check out her work at