Best-albums-of-the-year lists are a dime a dozen. Most of 'em rattle off a bunch of music you've never heard of, with little or no context about what makes it great. If that's what you're looking for, we've got it—take a look at the sidebar where our writers list their faves. But usually the most important music-related things that happened to us aren't from tangible packages like albums or songs, they're experiences—moments in music that can't be held. Very often it's seeing a band live, or wandering through the grounds of a festival, or waking up one morning and realizing relatively late in life that goddamn, ABBA had some phenomenal deep cuts, didn't they?
As in years past, we asked Mercury music writers to recount their favorite "musical moment" of the year—the performance, the night, the fleeting sensation of ecstasy that stood head and shoulders above the rest of the calendar year. This is a tough thing to pinpoint, but our writers came through with some great musical moments that encapsulate the year. Here's a look back at what 2015 gave us.
For me, 2015 was packed with great musical moments: I stood six feet from Kamasi Washington as he cheered on his dad during a sax solo in a sweltering barn at Pickathon. I swayed along as Ryan Adams sang "Come Pick Me Up" on a starry night at Bend's Les Schwab Amphitheater. I felt chills as I watched (via YouTube) Black Lives Matter protesters chant Kendrick Lamar's "Alright" in Cleveland.
All those moments meant something. But for pure, unholy rock 'n' roll thrills, no night this year topped seeing Swedish doom-pop masters Ghost at the Roseland in October. For more than two enthralling hours, Papa Emeritus and his (wickedly skilled) Nameless Ghouls pumped out hooky hymns to the dark side of life, with nary a bathroom break in the bunch. The night's three-song apex—the stunningly gorgeous "He Is," bookended by two fist-pumping anthems, "Year Zero" and "Absolution"—is definitely the closest I'll ever come to joining a cult. BEN SALMON
This year, my two biggest the-band's-getting-back-together dreams came true: Sleater-Kinney and Luna both had reunion tours. Other arts coverage commitments kept me from both bands' Portland stops, but I celebrated remotely by listening to "Astronaut" too many times, book-clubbing Carrie Brownstein's memoir with my mom (srsly), and panicking acutely before I called Brownstein at her hotel in LA to interview her for the Mercury, because screaming, "Hey, The Hot Rock was a real touchstone for me during a devastating breakup my junior year!" is a beyond-inappropriate way to begin an interview. The best show I saw was Chastity Belt/Twin Peaks at Mississippi Studios, with Twin Peaks' crew of handsome young Chicago dudes sounding convincingly like a punk Jimmy Gilmer, and the crowd slurring earnestly along to Chastity Belt's bad-choices anthem "Cool Slut."
Also notable: Jenny Hval's August show, Ryan Adams' Taylor Swift covers, asking Kathleen Hanna about her favorite installation artists, and listening to Chvrches' Every Open Eye on all possible modes of transit during a solo trip through the Midwest in October. MEGAN BURBANK
It was during that time at the end of autumn and the beginning of winter when just about the entire city has a cold. Dan Byers of Little Star played a solo set in the basement of Portland house venue My Friend Ben Scott's House (also the home of local post-punk band Sioux Falls). Byers was first up that night and started off with a slowed-down cover of "Heart of Glass," and his densely packed guitar tones filled the room with a layer of warm fog, permeated by his delicate whispering vocals as if Debbie Harry were asleep in the next room and Byers didn't want to wake her. In fact, the entire set felt like a muted dream. Just a single red light bulb was lit behind him, and the entire crowd huddled together like they were being read bedtime stories. Byers went right into playing the song "For Goth Easter," from Little Star's EP The Romantic World of Little Star. Just about everybody in the room started to sing along, and for a second I thought even Debbie Harry woke up and joined too. CAMERON CROWELL
Finally getting to visit Iceland was enough of a dream come true, but to do it while one of the coolest music festivals in the world was happening made it even dreamier. This year's Iceland Airwaves felt like a more compact and less douchey version of SXSW, with "off-venue" performances in cafés, clothing stores, and bars around the city, and the regular shows at one of a dozen spaces scattered around Reykjavík. And as great as much of the music was that I saw over the five days of the event, nothing could beat seeing the 20-plus-member all-female hip-hop collective Reykjavíkurdætur, who tore up the stage inside the art museum with their sex-positive and fiercely feminist rhymes. Someone needs to book a tour of the States with these ladies co-headlining with M.I.A. and the Julie Ruin. ROBERT HAM
Pickathon's spirit of exploration, freedom, and community creates a vibe that reverberates into the artists that fill its bill. At this year's festival, Kamasi Washington's performance in the Galaxy Barn shattered my list and set the standard as the best show of my life. Warming up with a stellar set on the outdoor Mountain Stage, the all-star group entered a sweaty room filled with diehards and leftovers from Meatbodies' memorable performance. Playing a set from Washington's recently released triple album, The Epic, they had only performed live together twice before (including the Mountain Stage set). From the first unison hit of the double drummers, Washington invoked a spell over the entire room, the crowd throbbing together as we weaved through a flow, from frenetic pulsating horns to the spell of Patrice Quinn's vocals. Washington's set was more than a show. It was a religious experience. JENI WREN STOTTRUP
Home is where the heart is, and with Carrie and Lowell, Sufjan Stevens shot me right through both. You see, I grew up in Eugene. And so did Stevens, at least for a few fleeting summers. As a child he would come to visit his mother, whom he would see precious little as he got older. Carrie and Lowell deals with her death, and much of it takes place in Oregon, either in remembrance of those visits or with a grownup Stevens seeking solace in the state's nature. The connective proximities were palpable when Stevens played Portland's Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall this spring. The performance, which went from whispered and sparse to swirling, otherworldly crescendo, was both sentimental and transcendently present. I wept at both the limitless sorrow and ecstatic beauty. In addition to an already longstanding and staggeringly profound relationship with Stevens' songs, Carrie and Lowell unearthed something I'd have never imagined: roots in a shared soil. ANDREW R TONRY
I'm disqualifying my favorite musical moment (the 2015 Olympia Hardcore Fest) because it happened outside of Portland (I'm incredibly provincial). The low-key festival brought acts from across the globe and the Northwest: Mexico City's Cadenaxo turned in an electrifying set that drew upon obscure sects of '80s American hardcore. The minutes before Olympia's G.L.O.S.S. launched into their set, with kids sneaking into the Obsidian through open windows and a stream of non-white, non-dude attendees rushing to the front of the crowd, count among my favorite in music.
My favorite Portland moment, however, has to be watching Dragging an Ox Through Water from a distance of all of three feet at Mother Foucault's Bookshop. Many of my favorite shows of 2015 happened in Mother Foucault's—sets from Pile, Robot Boy, and Golden Hour all come to mind. Dragging an Ox's tales of living under the twisted specter of capitalism came alive in that short half-hour, cushioned between rows of books and the bodies watching, breathing. MAC POGUE
It's a good sign for the Portland hip-hop community that my favorite musical moment is getting harder to pinpoint every year. When I moved to Portland from Saint Paul, Minnesota, 15 years ago, there was a dearth of hip-hop shows around town. Since then, a burgeoning scene of talented young artists has begun to blossom, and 2015 has been the best year by far. The annual local summer festival PDX Pop Now! had more hip-hop artists than any other year in its storied history, and the monthly showcase the Thesis helped unite disparate factions around town. But my favorite musical moment happened on May 6, when rapper/social activist Glenn Waco decided to bypass booking agents and promoters and put on an event at Holocene all by himself. The result was a packed house of a growing community that included Damian Lillard, who shared a snippet of Mic Capes' performance on his Instagram account, as well as the Portland chapter of the Black Panthers. It was a reminder of hip-hop's past, unadulterated entertainment direct from the streets, bypassing cultural gatekeepers, and a hopeful harbinger of things to come in Portland's hip-hop future. RYAN FEIGH
This year we witnessed the arrival of a phenomenal new soul singer, and the return of a legendary one. On August 1, Pickathon's Galaxy Barn was packed beyond all reasonable capacity for Leon Bridges, and the inside of the barn was hotter than Deebo's pigeon coop. Everyone was drenched in sweat and charged up before Bridges even stepped onstage. A thoughtful concertgoer mercifully shared her spray bottle, which was like manna from heaven. When Bridges and his band came out—all of them dressed to the nines, despite the sweltering heat—they transformed that tiny barn into the sexiest, sweatiest soul revue this side of the Apollo Theater.
Just over a week later, on August 9, D'Angelo descended upon the Crystal Ballroom. I couldn't stop thinking how it was a miracle that this concert was happening at all, considering how the man had been living in self-imposed exile for 15 years. But he returned from the desert like a mad prophet, and put on one of the greatest shows I've ever seen. It was as though the energy he'd been bottling up for a decade and a half had to be released all at once, before the devil found him and dragged him back to the fiery furnace.
2015 marked the baptism of the new golden child, and the triumphant return of the prodigal son. SANTI ELIJAH HOLLEY
Discovering Yuna, who I almost immediately dubbed "Malaysian Feist, but better," was such a treat. An even greater treat was getting to see her live at the Doug Fir, to be in her presence, and to be a part of a thoroughly captivated audience swaying to her pure, rich tone. Yuna is Muslim, and attracted the largest number of Muslims at a show I've ever seen in Portland. Many entranced women mouthed the words to her songs, smiling and dancing in full hijab, in a public place, at a time when the fear of Muslims is culturally prevalent.
When Yuna took a break in between songs to remind the audience that now more than ever, we need to respect each other and live peacefully, I was so elated that a voice of reason was sounding off somewhere in this country. This show reminded me that although America, at its worst, can be an incredibly uneducated, hate-spawning fireball, at its best, it can find room for Yuna's music, give her an audience, and let her sing. ROSE FINN
As I look over my lengthy, alphabetized list of favorite shows and albums from the past year, it's exciting to see just how many of these moments were tied into Portland's resurgent all-ages scene and the venues that made strides to keep it alive. Places like the intimate St. Johns community space, Anarres Infoshop, who brought in Columbus punk outfit All Dogs, which featured singer Maryn Jones delivering some of the year's most unflinching and heart-wrenching lyrics on songs like "Sunday Morning" and "That Kind of Girl," as well as the Providence-hailing, bilingual, saxophone-fueled sounds of Downtown Boys, whose frontwoman Victoria Ruiz made it clear that politically driven punk can still be exhilarating and vital in 2015.
Elsewhere, the Foster-Powell community space SMART Collective hosted a set from Massachusetts guitar rockers California X, who brought another level of shredding to the skate shop. And then there's the Analog Café and Theater, one of the few small clubs in town to champion the all-ages scene, bringing in big-hearted rock acts like Philadelphia's Cayetana and Beach Slang, and two shows from Eskimeaux, AKA singer/songwriter Gabrielle Smith, whose intimate, bedroom-pop album O.K. might pack my absolute favorite musical moment of the year within the explosive and cathartic final moments of the stand-out track "I Admit I'm Scared." CHIPP TERWILLIGER
This is the time of year I need to retrace my steps, scrape the crud out of my gray matter, and try to reassess my year in music. It was another stellar year, and I have to say the thrill of discovery is just as—okay, almost as—thrilling as it was when I was a teenager. I stuck mostly with metal this year (just like when I was a teenager), and found tons of exciting new music. But my favorite musical memory had to do with a band I knew well as an MTV-obsessed kid but never fully appreciated until about seven years ago.
I saw Rush, for the third time in as many years, at the Moda Center in July as they put on a phenomenally theatric 40th anniversary set. I also got to meet Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, and just recently interviewed Geddy (yes, he speaks like an ordinary guy). Even if Rush isn't your thing, they're a band whose body of work and work ethic should be admired. For me it just feels good to be the same age as the band, and to still have the capacity to get star-struck. It doesn't happen as much as it used to, but I hope that feeling never goes away. MARK LORE
There were a ton of highlights this year. There always are. Neil Young reignited my deep love for his chunky, shambling folk-rock during a breathtaking, earsplitting performance inside the University of Portland's basketball arena. The original Zombies lineup reunited at Revolution Hall to perform the entirety of Odessey and Oracle, and gave me goose bumps when bassist Chris White's quavering vocal took on the ghostly "Butcher's Tale." King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard turned my brain into juice at Mississippi Studios during a nonstop psychedelic assault that eventually revealed itself to be a 90-minute, through-composed tone poem, complete with repeated leitmotifs and idées fixe.
But my favorite thing that happened this entire year—music-related or otherwise—was when UK band Wolf People showed up at Pickathon after a lengthy visa ordeal that nearly prevented them from crossing the Atlantic at all. As a longtime lover of their mossy, dueling-guitars-on-the-English-moors prog rock, I got enough of a thrill just seeing them play in the flesh. But it became a genuine, life-affirming delight to meet the guys and discover they were humble, cordial, genuinely terrific people who didn't let the agony of their journey affect their moods or their performances.
I watched Wolf People play three times that weekend, and witnessed them win over a lot of new fans who'd never heard of them before. It was primarily an experience of getting to hear and see the band's wonderful music be performed, to be sure, but it was just as important to be reminded that great music comes from actual humans, and that, if you're lucky, those humans can sometimes be as great as the songs they play. NED LANNAMANN