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Top 10 Atlanta concerts of 2015

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Billy Joel - still getting it done. Robb D. Cohen/www.RobbsPhotos.com

BY MELISSA RUGGIERI

Mega-pop stars, soul legends and an Irish bluesman with the coolest hair this side of Odell Beckham Jr. landed on the list of my Top 10 concerts of 2015.

It’s always an exercise in frustration trying to winnow 10 (or so) performances from the 100-plus I experienced this year, and I assure you that much consideration, procrastination and number-shuffling accompanied this lineup.

The size of the venue and the popularity of the performer aren’t key determinants, but Atlanta welcomed a substantial number of big names playing big places this year — and some of those shows linger in my musical memory months later.

So do a few of the intimate ones.

Here is my Top 10. Let the arguments begin!

Hozier gave off a humble vibe during the show. Photo: Robb D. Cohen/www.RobbsPhotos.com.

Hozier. Photo: Robb D. Cohen.

10. Hozier, March 10 at Variety Playhouse

By the time Hozier’s tour started, pretty much everyone was ready to throttle any radio program director who kept “Take Me to Church” in heavy rotation. But the musical stew that Hozier unveiled onstage — blues, folk, rock, soul — proved that he deserves to be more than a one-hit wonder.

Imagine DragonsPhoto: JONATHAN PHILLIPS / SPECIAL

Imagine DragonsPhoto: JONATHAN PHILLIPS / SPECIAL

9. Imagine Dragons, Feb. 25 at Terminal West

The Las Vegas band so quickly escalated from festival act to arena sellouts that the opportunity to witness them perform in a tiny space again was something to cherish. Frontman Dan Reynolds has learned to project in front of massive crowds, but his ease and comfort in this cozy room lent a new layer of introspection to the band’s songs.

8. Harry Connick Jr., Feb. 16 at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre

He improvises, he scats, he tells jokes with the timing of a Laugh Factory pro and he moonlights as an “American Idol” judge. What’s not to continue to love about Connick?

The mighty Dave Grohl. Photo: Robb D. Cohen.

The mighty Dave Grohl. Photo: Robb D. Cohen.

7. Foo Fighters, Oct. 4 at Centennial Olympic Park

Even if you aren’t a fan of the hard rockers, you have to give frontman Dave Grohl a few Iron Man points. A stage spill over the summer kept him in a lower leg cast for months, but his junkyard-space-throne contraption allowed him a place to sit on the stage — though he was never still. And no one cared about the steady rain that drenched the park. It only added to the intensity of the Foo’s face-melting rawk.

Still rockin'. Photo: Robb D. Cohen

Still rockin’. Photo:
Robb D. Cohen

6. The Rolling Stones, June 9 at Bobby Dodd Stadium

Was it a perfect concert? Nah, I’ve seen the Stones much better and in more comfortable environs. But even as they gray, the band still oozes vibrancy. Mick Jagger’s insane aerobic capabilities — and his fiery wailing with backup singer Lisa Fischer — compensated for some wonky musical moments, and the appearance of Georgia’s Chuck Leavell stationed at his bank of keyboards injected an air of specialness into the show.

5. Mavis Staples and Joan Osborne, Nov. 18 at the Ferst Center

An intense Osborne and a freewheeling Staples paired for a couple of hours of potent soul-rock in the intimate venue. Most only know Osborne from her long-ago hit, “One of Us.” She’s much more than that. And Staples, well, never miss an opportunity to catch her type of greatness live.

Chris Stapleton played Atlanta's Parklife festival in October. Photo: BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL

Chris Stapleton played Atlanta’s Parklife festival in October. Photo: BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL

4. Chris Stapleton, Oct. 18 at Parklife Music Festival

What a pleasure to witness the ascension of a country music journeyman — a longtime songwriter for luminaries such as Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw — who finally stepped into the spotlight. Stapleton’s warm, soulful performance arrived a few weeks before the rest of the world would learn about him after he and Justin Timberlake stole the CMA Awards. If you missed Stapleton in October, you have two chances to repent next week when he performs Jan. 7-8 at the Tabernacle.

Still one of the best. Photo: Robb D. Cohen

Still one of the best. Photo: Robb D. Cohen

3. Billy Joel, Feb. 28 at Philips Arena

Speaking of veterans … Joel’s February concert marked his first solo Atlanta appearance in seven years, and he whisked fans back a couple of decades for more than two hours with a potent, 20-song set that emphasized his vivid storytelling and perfectly molded choruses. As well, the audience wisely voted to hear the melodic alchemist’s prettiest song, “Summer, Highland Falls.” Nicely done, folks.

EWF's Verdine White. Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC.

EWF’s Verdine White. Photo: Melissa Ruggieri/AJC.

2. Earth, Wind & Fire/Chicago, Aug. 4 at Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood

Even the heartiest classic rock fans have to sigh at some of the wilted touring packages shuffled onto the road every summer. This pairing of EWF’s piercing soul-funk and Chicago’s jazz-pop fusion would have risen above those anemic offerings on the strength of their respective catalogs. But by sharing the stage for several songs to bookend their concerts, EWF and Chicago offered a master class in showmanship rooted in musicianship.

High-five for Taylor! Photo: Robb D. Cohen

High-five for Taylor! Photo: Robb D. Cohen

1. Taylor Swift, Oct. 24 at Georgia Dome

It’s one thing to wield the power to make Apple execs cower. It’s another to command a gargantuan stage and earn the attention of 55,000 people. Sure, they’re 55,000 adoring, worshipful people, but the Internet is a cruel mistress and any misstep is forever preserved in the annals of YouTube. This is why Swift is so impressive. She’s an ace songwriter, a savvy businesswoman, a student of her musical forebears and a worthy role model. Those at her sold-out Georgia Dome show witnessed a young superstar who isn’t even yet at the peak of her powers. And that’s a little scary.

Mr. Cool. Photo: Akili-Casundria Ramsess/Special to the AJC.

Mr. Cool. Photo: Akili-Casundria Ramsess/Special to the AJC.

Honorable mentions:

The Chieftains, Feb. 27 at Atlanta Symphony HallRyan Adams, May 10 at Shaky Knees Music Festival; the Band Perry, May 17 at Shaky Boots Music Festival; Idina Menzel, July 24 at Chastain Park Amphitheatre; Air Supply, Aug. 22 at Chastain; Lenny Kravitz, X Ambassadors, Elle King and Alice in Chains, Sept. 18-19 at Music Midtown; Don Henley, Oct. 17 at Cobb Energy Centre; Ricky Martin, Oct. 22 at Philips Arena.

What were your favorite concerts of the year? Sound off in the comments section. Also, as always, thanks for your readership in 2015!

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