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Blog // Thoughts
October 17, 2014

5 Of The Best From This Year’s iTunes Festival

The iTunes Festival has become an annual ritual in my home. 30 nights of great live music, pop, rock, country, jazz and classical, broadcast live from London and available (for a limited time) to stream, either via iTunes or Apple TV. Run through a home theatre system, it’s the perfect background music for autumn. It’s […]

The iTunes Festival has become an annual ritual in my home. 30 nights of great live music, pop, rock, country, jazz and classical, broadcast live from London and available (for a limited time) to stream, either via iTunes or Apple TV. Run through a home theatre system, it’s the perfect background music for autumn.

It’s hard to choose the best performances, because there are so many stars, so many great rising artists and so many different styles of music to choose from. But, here’s my picks for the most memorable shows this year (all links will open in iTunes).

5. Elbow

Elbow-iTunes-Festival
I’ll admit only having a passing familiarity with Elbow before watching their iTunes Festival set, which is my mistake, because this much loved UK band are purveyors of some wonderfully engaging, emotive music. This is a band that’s firing on all cylinders, from songwriting, to arrangements, to performance. Remarkable.

4. Jessie Ware

Jessie-Ware-iTunes-Festival
There are hints of early 90s electro-pop all through Jessie Ware’s music, but very crisp, almost effortless vocal delivery and the timbre of her song’s arrangements keep things sounding fresh and lively. This set doesn’t try to overwhelm or blow the listener away, instead there is a kind of warm invitation to a collection of very listenable songs. Perhaps the coolest of all the iTunes performances this year.

3. Ryan Adams

Ryan-Adams-iTunes-Festival
I’m far from the only one to say Ryan Adams is the greatest songwriter of his generation. In recent years Adams has started to move away from his Alt Country roots and his latest album, songs from which feature heavily in this performance, has more than a passing connection to 70s classic rock. Not that any of this holds Adams back. Despite some concerns about his voice, he gives us a deep, sensitive and vulnerable performance here, creating a simple, yet rich sonic world for his acutely observed lyrics.

2. Mary J. Blige

Mary-J-Blige-iTunes-Festival
A true superstar in every way, Mary J. Blige managed to be both tough and vulnerable in this sharp, tightly arranged set. Blige’s voice is not just powerful, it manages to evoke two or more emotions at the same time as she moves through a range of her best known material. Blige manages to be fresh and old school at the same time and very stage presence is as magnetic as ever. This is electrifying, “can’t take your eyes off it” stuff.

1. Gregory Porter

Gregory-Porter-iTunes-Festival
It’s fair to say Gregory Porter’s rise in the jazz world has been spectacular. Releasing his first solo album at age 39, you could say Porter was a late bloomer. But, he benefits from being both a fresh face in the music scene and also an artist who has a real command and maturity to his voice. And, what a voice that is. Porter is our generation’s Nat King Cole and Marvin Gaye, rolled into one, with an effortless ability to cross from jazz to soul music and some remarkable, socially aware original compositions to showcase his range and marvellous timbre of his voice. An extraordinary artist who gives us here, a truly memorable performance.

Bonus – First Aid Kit

First-Aid-Kit-iTunes-Festival
Every year there is at least one break out performance from a support act that really shines and hints at better things to come from that artist. In Previous years Jessie J and The Lumineers filled this slot and this year there were a few contenders, including Kiesza, Nick Mulvey, Jenny Lewis, Foy Vance, Wolf Alice and Foxes. But, it was First Aid Kit, an Alt Country duo of sisters from Sweden that really won me over. Apparently they toured Japan during the summer, while I was travelling and I can only hope they come back here soon!

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