The 13 Best Concerts of 2023 (That Weren’t Taylor Swift or Beyoncé)

Featuring live shows from SZA, Lana Del Rey, Yaeji, Shygirl, Rauw Alejandro, Feist, and more
Clockwise from left: SZA, Yaeji, Shygirl, Rauw Alejandro, Feist, and Lana Del Rey (photos via Getty Images). Image by Chris Panicker.

Let’s get this out of the way first: You will not find Taylor Swift or Beyoncé on this list. Yes, many members of the Pitchfork staff attended the Eras Tour and the Renaissance Tour and had incredible, even life-changing, experiences there. But we covered those world-conquering phenomena extensively enough already this year. So for our final staff list of 2023, we thought we’d turn our attention to some other favorite concerts. Here, you’ll find everything from Sweeping Promises in a tiny venue in Minneapolis to SZA at Madison Square Garden, Water From Your Eyes on a boat to Floating Points and Shabaka Hutchings at the Hollywood Bowl. Let the FOMO begin…

Check out all of Pitchfork’s 2023 wrap-up coverage here.

Charlotte Adigéry & Bolis Pupul

Pitchfork Music Festival, Union Park; Chicago, IL
July 22

“Let’s just ignore the rain! It’s just water, fuck it!” With the sun setting in Chicago, the precipitation sparkled like icicles each time the lights strobed out through Union Park. But Charlotte Adigéry, Bolis Pupul, and the crowd watching them at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival merely shrugged off getting rained on. We were all too tuned into every lyric, scream, and laugh to care. Equipped with two microphones, a couple of synthesizers, a bass, and some percussion, the Belgian duo performed a set composed of tracks from their breakout album Topical Dancer, including a particularly wild version of “It Hit Me” and a polished, funky “Ceci n’est pas un cliché.” I lost my shit on the final drop of “Mantra,” and all too poetically removed my makeshift poncho, taking the bridge’s words to heart: “What’s left is a clean slate so what’s next/Thank yourself, praise your body/celebrate and dance.” –Jaeden Pinder


Brooklyn Steel; Brooklyn, NY
May 14

Feist started her Multitudes show with a reassuring smile as she filmed the audience while walking among them; she ended it with her eyes closed, caught in a reverie, her silhouette repeated to dreamy infinity on a curtain behind her. In between, she reminded us why she remains one of the most arresting performers of the 2000s indie boom. It was part solo high-wire act, as she stood alone on a stage in the middle of the crowd, mixing her bittersweet acoustic songs with charming banter that made you feel like you were catching up with an old friend. It was part clattering rock show, as she led a full band and the audience through communal catharsis. It was part DIY multimedia experiment, adorned with abstract visuals that were created in-the-moment. There was some sleight-of-hand in the form of a mysterious journal filled with casually profound poetry. There were yelps for songs that soundtracked past lives. There were tears at this Mother’s Day show, too, when Feist talked about her young daughter and the ever-upward branches of family. The whole thing allowed onlookers to live in a limbo between raw emotion and premeditated performance for a couple of hours, a magical suspension of belief. –Ryan Dombal

Floating Points, Shabaka Hutchings, and Friends

Hollywood Bowl; Los Angeles, CA
September 20

A confluence of jazz heads, electronic heads, jam band heads, philharmonic heads, and crickets descended upon the Hollywood Bowl this September for a performance of Promises, the 2021 cosmic jazz concerto by Floating Points and the late Pharoah Sanders. Some called the event an hour-long prayer, or a communion with a higher power, and all I have to say is yeah that makes sense. On Instagram, Sam Shepherd (aka Floating Points) said that they probably wouldn’t do this show again, and that there would never be an official recording of it. Does that make this performance more special? I can’t lie and say that I wasn’t thinking about the one-night-only angle as I sat in my seat and watched Miguel Atwood-Ferguson conduct the final sounds Sanders put on record before he met his creator the following year. Shabaka Hutchings, in what he said was his final performance as a saxophonist, channeled the spirit of Pharoah without attempting to replicate the unreplicable. On stage alongside Shepherd pawing at various vintage keyboards, analog synths, and tape echo machines were Dan Snaith (aka Caribou), Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet), Kara-Lis Coverdale, Hinako Omori, and more, offering a final eulogy to the saxophone colossus. I held my breath for long portions of the performance. I didn’t hear a single word the entire show—a nearly sold-out Bowl, around 15,000 people, let all the silence in Promises hang over the amphitheater in the September breeze. In that silence all you could hear were the crickets, and all you could feel was Pharoah. –Jeremy D. Larson

Lana Del Rey

PNC Music Pavilion; Charlotte, NC
September 29

In support of her self-mythologizing album Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, Lana Del Rey went on a tour eschewing the coastal cities she’s often sung about for less ogled-over corners of America. That included Charlotte, where I took five types of transportation from New York City to stand under a full moon in a sea of fans with ribbons in their hair, gathered to see Elizabeth Grant perform. When she did, floating in a collared white gown on a stage set that felt part dusky jazz lounge and part Puccini opera, she rode on a series of swells: of her backup singers’ crashing outros, of her dancers’ circling movements, of the crowd wailing along to the Born to Die classics. A hush held for every crisp, stuttered “t” of “Bartender”—which Lana sang seated solo at a vanity mirror—as well as during that manifesto of wayward spirits, the opening “Ride” speech. The whole show felt choreographed to overwhelm even its star, and when Lana left the stage for the final time, she was carried off, swaddled in a white sheet. In the Uber after, I regretted not hanging around the venue parking lot, smoking and gazing at the highway. When the root of the urge dawned on me, it made me laugh: it was so Lana-coded. –Hattie Lindert

Rauw Alejandro

Barclays Center; Brooklyn, NY
March 24

Rauw Alejandro’s 2022 LP Saturno was a high-concept tour de force built on galactic aesthetics, touches of Miami bass, and addictive ’90s freestyle samples. I had high expectations for the show, which I hoped would match the album’s retrofuturist visual world. At the Brooklyn stop in March, Alejandro didn’t disappoint, pulling out all the production flourishes. El Zorro has always been an athletic dancer, but this time the choreography was even more intricate (tellingly, the moves on this tour left him with temporary groin and shoulder injuries). As Alejandro and his crew of backup dancers popped and locked, an LED screen, which doubled as the stage, radiated color-changing neon lights beneath them. During “Lejos del Cielo,” a wire harness lifted him into the air; suspended and spotlit, he sang caramel falsettos. Mid-concert, Alejandro brought out the Jabbawockeez for a nostalgic dance number that warmed every cold millennial heart in the room. It was an impressive display of showmanship that confirmed the Puerto Rican pretty boy’s status as one of the most prescient creative minds in pop-reggaeton. –Isabelia Herrera


The Wiltern; Los Angeles, CA
March 24

In late March, I joined an army of “shluts” to bask in the glow of our provocative princess: Shygirl. The UK singer transformed the historic Wiltern theater into a pounding West Hollywood nightclub with her twinkly pop confections. Stunning visuals bounced off the tilted mirror hanging above Shygirl, immersing her in a psychedelic world that paired perfectly with her glitchy sound. Early on in the show, she brought out Tinashe for the “Heaven” remix to mass queer euphoria–a brief glimpse of the tour that could’ve been. But the show didn’t lose steam after Tinashe’s swift departure. Two dancers joined onstage, flipping and spinning down free standing poles as Shygirl let out playful moans and gasps. It was a night of unabashed horniness, especially for my friend, who made several Grindr matches throughout the night. As for me, “anytime that coochie calls, I'll be on my way.” –Maria Eberhart

Sudan Archives

80/35 Music Festival; Des Moines, IA
July 7

Violinist, singer, songwriter, and producer Brittney Parks came through town once before, in 2021, so her ridiculously high-energy set as Sudan Archives wasn’t a surprise. But this summer she arrived with the extra firepower of Natural Brown Prom Queen, her tour de force of house, R&B, hip-hop, and pop released in 2022. Alone on stage, in a mini-skirt and heels, Parks shimmied, belted, and sawed away virtuosically at her violin, winning over an early-evening audience awaiting guitar-heavy headliners the War on Drugs. For celebratory finale “Selfish Soul,” Parks was joined by what she called her first-ever backup dancers, students of a free ballet and dance program for Black and brown youth offered through a local nonprofit. Embedded in the movements of both Parks and the dancers was a feeling of spontaneity and promise that stood as a counterargument to so much of the top-down, blockbuster-dominated pop culture of 2023: If she can do it, so can they, so can you. –Marc Hogan

Sweeping Promises

7th St Entry; Minneapolis, MN
August 20

After a stellar and bittersweet last-ever set from local punks Green/Blue, Sweeping Promises’ show at 7th St Entry, the tiny venue attached to the historic First Avenue club, began inconspicuously. Lira Mondal quietly sang the opening lines of “Eraser,” the first track of their latest album, Good Living Is Coming for You, before belting at full volume. Good Living is an album with built-in lo-fi muffle, but with no distance at all between audience and band, everything became infinitely more powerful: the bass grooves, Caulfield Schnug’s guitar solos, and more than anything, Mondal’s extremely powerful voice. The show happened days after the mass shooting at the Minneapolis DIY venue Nudieland, and the band, which came up through a similar network of DIY scenes and punk house shows, paid a solemn tribute between songs. It was a great performance for a community that needed to experience loud, excellent music together in a small room. –Evan Minsker


Madison Square Garden; New York, NY
March 4

When SZA took the stage at Madison Square Garden, it was the rare opportunity to watch an artist ascend to arena goddess status in real time. SOS had been firmly ensconced at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 for several weeks, its songs equally inescapable in the grocery store and in your TikTok feed; in order to maintain that momentum, SZA needed to prove herself as a can’t-miss live performer at one of music’s most storied venues. She pulled out all the stops, musically and visually: There was a jaw-dropping stage set featuring a giant boat, an even bigger anchor, and an airborne life raft that flew the singer around the arena as she tossed flower petals down to the crowd. There was a staggering display of range, from the in-your-face raps of “Smoking on My Ex Pack” to the lovesick balladeering of “Nobody Gets Me” to the pure pop of “Kiss Me More.” There were even guest appearances by Phoebe Bridgers and Cardi B. The show both started and ended with SZA perched on a diving board, mirroring the SOS cover. At the beginning, it was an image of loneliness and introspection, a woman surrounded by nothing more than her thoughts and the waves below. By the end, it was an image of triumph, as she looked out upon her vast and powerful kingdom. –Amy Phillips


Bowery Ballroom; New York, NY
May 18

The Bowery Ballroom turned into a 2008 middle school dance when TisaKorean came to town for his Silly Tour. In the crowd you could spot baggy outfits that would have had mid-aughts Atlanta on smash and snap dances that haven’t been done in New York since the last Yankees World Series win. On stage, TisaKorean was the human Energizer Bunny, as he churned through joints from 2017 to this year’s Let Me Update My Status. Along with his hypeman Mighty Bay, both dressed like NBA Street Vol. 2 characters, they passed out props like Solo cups to make it feel like one big house party and t-shirts so people could spin them in the air for “HeLiCoPtEr sWaG Pt4.Mp3,” naturally. At one point, Tisa and Mighty Bay changed into hot dog and taco costumes, and the crowd reacted like they had been waiting all their lives for that moment. –Alphonse Pierre


Thalia Hall; Chicago, IL
March 7

Unwound reuniting felt like a dream, even when their physical presence onstage at Chicago’s Thalia Hall proved otherwise. Red and purple lights brought a backdrop of arching tree silhouettes to life while the post-hardcore band dove through its catalog like 21 years had never passed. Unwound structured the set much like their albums, with some sections focused on quiet reflections and others on abrasive, emotional breakdowns designed to lure you into a place of introspection and then snap you out of it. Reunion shows aren’t obligated to be good; plenty of bands have made that obvious by now. But the care with which singer-guitarist Justin Trosper and drummer Sara Lund approached the project following bassist Vern Rumsey’s death was the most affecting part of it all. Watching Karp’s Jared Warren up there in Rumsey’s place, tearing through those unmistakable basslines with a taut aggressiveness that honored, but never outshined, Rumsey’s originals, was deeply entrancing. In a year of countless memorable shows, Unwound was the one that’s impossible to forget, just like the best dreams are. –Nina Corcoran

Water From Your Eyes

Boat Cruise Around Manhattan
August 24

The boat looked like a 1940s barbershop had been reincarnated as a middlebrow maritime entertainment vessel. Old-timey and white, with tacky curlicue adornments and two peppermint poles in the front, the four-story Liberty Belle carried concertgoers along a scenic route from Manhattan’s Pier 36 around the Statue of Liberty. (A gaggle of drunken girls admired Lady Liberty like she was a gay-famous diva, shrieking “you’re so cunt!!!”) This was the Water From Your Eyes Everyone’s Crushed record release boat show, a four-hour choose-your-own-adventure as bonkers and funny as the experimental rock duo themselves. On board, you could load up a paper plate of baked ziti and empanadas in a carpeted area that screamed “bar mitzvah,” have an awkward run-in with a Tinder date who ghosted you a year ago (I survived), and thrash around as cool-kid bands of New York City, including Frost Children, blasted through hits in a dank purple chamber. Rachel Brown looked effortlessly cool, as they always do, singing “Barley” in a leather jacket and sunglasses. At some point, my friend’s weed fell out of their joint right as they were about to smoke it, which was just perfect. –Cat Zhang


The Novo; Los Angeles, CA
April 20

Leave it to Yaeji to find new possibilities in the humble rolling office chair. Backed by dancers Madison Wada and Iliana Penichet-Ramírez, she spun and wheeled her way through the With a Hammer tour, with a scene-stealing appearance by the big hammer itself. The clever choreography (by Monica Mirabile) brilliantly visualized the album’s playful, start-where-you-are creative ethos, and a rapturous reception from the crowd in Los Angeles went a long way toward warming up a corporate-feeling downtown venue. In Yaeji’s house, it’s all about recognizing everything we can do with the tools we’ve already got. –Anna Gaca