The six best Orlando concerts of 2016

OW's photographers sound off on the best things they saw (and heard) all year

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Bleached Photo by Jen Cray

The concert documentation by our talented and dedicated photographers never ceases to amaze us; the ability to capture tiny details, gestures, unique facial expressions during a blur of movement and sound is a tricky dance. We've decided to turn the tables on the usual editorial-heavy "best shows" list and turn instead to the people who were out there, night after night, and see what really moved them.

Jen Cray

Beach Slang and Bleached – Backbooth – Oct. 14

The Beach Slang/Bleached tour was a double punch for me because both bands had been dominating my ear stream for the better part of a year. The intimacy of this show at Backbooth in mid-October was made more so by the unexpected lineup change as Beach Slang turned "their" set into a solo, but plugged-in, performance by headmaster James Alex. The heart punch of "Quiet Slang" was revelatory, but Bleached was just plain swoon-worthy. As if their sour-candy blend of surf pop and garage rock weren't enough to make us all weak in the knees, Bleached surprised with a bold confidence well beyond their years. Frontwoman Jennifer Clavin owned that risky road between sexy and sweet that few can master with such ease. She could dance around the stage, flinging her ponytail like a Go-Go, and then gyrate on the floor like a woman possessed. Beach Slang made our hearts swell, but Bleached made them race.

click to enlarge The Sh-Booms - Photo by Jim Leatherman
Photo by Jim Leatherman
The Sh-Booms

Jim Leatherman

The Sh-Booms – Fringe Festival – May 21

The Sh-Booms played the headlining slot of the evening as a part of the Swamp Sista La La event on the Free Fringe outdoor stage for the Orlando Fringe Festival at Loch Haven Park. It was a muggy, steamy Central Florida evening, and the Sh-Booms brought their funky, garage-soul party to a small but, very enthusiastic crowd.  Bassist Al Ruiz and the amazing drumming of Patrick O'Neal were in complete sync and simply cookin', while Mizz Bren had everyone up on their feet and in awe of her powerful voice; the rest of the band filled up the boilin' pot with a rich soul soup of horns, guitar and keyboards. The outdoor tent was on fire! 

click to enlarge Pawns - Photo by Jen Cray
Photo by Jen Cray

Matthew Moyer | music editor

>Pawns – Uncle Lou's – Aug. 9

A cold, forlorn wind swept into an otherwise humid, overheated Uncle Lou's as two of the standard-bearers of the burgeoning "goth-punk" movement hit town for the first time. Atlanta's Maudlin and New York's Pawns are young bands that seamlessly merge all the best parts of 4AD postpunk, goth with a capitol G (Sisters of Mercy, Siouxsie), and the darker end of peacepunk like Part 1 and Rubella Ballet. The sentiments are mordant and self-loathing, but the instrumental attack is wild and unrestrained. Pawns in particular went hard, coming off like "This Corrosion" filtered through a sieve of old Discharge singles. And a room packed full of punks, goths, metalheads and freaks in general ate it up. Dark days ahead? Bring it on.

click to enlarge Imagine Dragons - Photo by Ian Suarez
Photo by Ian Suarez
Imagine Dragons

Ian Suarez

Imagine Dragons – Hard Rock Live – June 22

It's always pretty amazing to see a band that can sell out arenas play an intimate venue. On June 22, Imagine Dragons & Nate Ruess played All for One: The Orlando Unity Concert at Hard Rock Live, where all proceeds went to the OneOrlando Fund benefiting Pulse victims and their families. Only 10 days after the events that occurred at Pulse, Imagine Dragons connected on a more personal level with a community that was ready to keep dancing. After a very strong start, the band took a moment to remember the victims while playing Alphaville's "Forever Young." 

click to enlarge Sleep - Photo by Sierra Reese
Photo by Sierra Reese

Sierra Reese

Sleep – The Beacham – July 26

Having a chance to photograph Sleep at the Beacham was a wonderful opportunity for me this past year. Although the band came to town under tragic circumstances, their gesture and willingness to help raise money for the Pulse victims was moving and inspiring. Orlando needed a chance to come together and heal through positivity and great music, which is what Sleep brought to us. The band even went so far as to set up a silent auction as a way to raise more money. Watching Sleep put on an amazing live performance, while standing in solidarity with my Orlando community, was something I'll never forget.

click to enlarge Voice Hoist - Photo by Liv Jonse
Photo by Liv Jonse
Voice Hoist

Liv Jonse

Voice Hoist – Gallery at Avalon Island – July 15

The Gallery at Avalon Island hosted countless experimental acts this year with the monthly installation of The In-Between Series on top of hosting shows by the Civic Minded Five. Due diligence is a necessity in seeing the international talents that stop by, but they say nothing good comes easily. This summer we gathered to see Silver Apples legend Simeon Coxe's new project Amphibian Lark. Opening was Sarasota's Voice Hoist, who performed to only a handful of people at 7 p.m. on a Friday. I consider us the lucky ones for witnessing an anthropomorphic set that blended the beautiful noises with colorful, improvised glitching visuals from Broken Machine Film's Joshua Rogers. Voice Hoist utilized a very minimal amount of instruments to create expansive soundscapes that looped into soft structures, the voice being but a whisper often used for ambient pieces of the puzzle. Occurring only a month after the Pulse tragedy, it was a radical display of softness, a gentle and unexpected set.

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