Here are my favorite shows from 2013:
1. Savages at South by Southwest Music Conference, March 16: The U.K. quartet previews its forthcoming debut album, "Silence Yourself" (Matador), with a show like a knockout punch. Singer Jhenny Beth's fists and voice slice through the band's mighty roar, a riot of staccato slash-and-shiver from guitarist Gemma Thompson, Ayse Hassan's monster bass and Fay Milton's bruising drums. The band's recordings are quite good, but on stage the music hits another level.
2. Killer Mike at Pitchfork Music Festival, July 21: The Atlanta MC makes it personal. If there is any doubt about what a lifeline music can be, Michael Render makes it explicit, as he weaves stories about his life into and around his songs. He connects his art and the musical celebration at this sold-out festival to the streets outside in a Chicago summer plagued by gun violence. "This is what a church is supposed to look like," he announces, finding salvation in rhymes and rhythm. Later, he returns to the stage to join El-P for a service of a different sort, a brisk run-through of the battle rhymes in their slamming "Run the Jewels" collaboration.
3. Janelle Monae at the Vic, Oct. 21: The singer compresses a thespian's flair for drama and a dancer's gift for movement, a voice that roars and whispers, and music that touches on cabaret, hard rock, old-school soul and hip-hop into a breathless set packed with the best songs on her first two albums. All this and a cover of "Let's Go Crazy" by one of her hardcore fans, Prince.
4. Neko Case at the Hideout Block Party and A.V. Fest, Sept. 6 If there is a more unlikely and unpromising moment to perform a haunting a cappella song than at an outdoor festival on a balmy late-summer evening, I'm not sure what it would be. But Case pulls it off, investing "Nearly Midnight, Honolulu" with a rare mixture of fragility and anger, as if throwing a long-distance message of hope to the song's subject: an unloved child at a bus stop. It's symbolic of a show where emotional transparency rules, a virtue enhanced by Case's excellent band, including vocalist extraordinaire Kelly Hogan.
5. Shuggie Otis at Lincoln Hall, April 17: A rare sighting of the '70s teen one-man-band, author of the psychedelic-soul classic "Strawberry Letter 23." He resurfaces with his first album of new material in nearly 40 years, and a show that focuses on his acid-blues virtuosity as a guitarist, and his dexterity as a band leader, singer and composer. On the closing "Ice Cold Daydream," he makes the future sound even funkier than his past.
6. Chance the Rapper at the Riviera, Nov. 27: The first of two sold-out homecoming concerts puts emphatic punctuation on a year in which Chancellor Bennett goes from promising 19-year-old Chicago rapper to 20-year-old national breakout star. After a loose, celebratory set at Lollapalooza in August, Chance ups the ante with an eight-member band and a concert that flows like one of his dense, winding verses. Then he brings two generations of local hip-hop artists – Twista and Vic Mensa – on stage to share the moment with him.
7. The Weeknd at the Chicago Theatre, Oct. 13: Mystery shrouded Abel Tesfaye when he released three mix tapes in 2011, and a 2012 Lincoln Hall show was greeted by a curious audience in an event that had all the awkwardness of a first date. But the first of two sold-out Chicago Theatre shows confirms that the Toronto-born singer has arrived as a major force in R&B. Sinister yet seductive, needy yet domineering, lustful yet self-loathing, the conflicted narrators in Tesfaye's murky midnight confessions set off so many sparks that the audience reaction suggests one long, sustained scream.
8. Tame Impala at the Vic, March 6: Sound maestro Kevin Parker leads his Australian band on a journey defined by a handful of chords and the myriad ways they can be distorted and twisted. An undulating fluorescent string serves as a video backdrop, as if to mirror the way the music morphs into a series of cool shapes and colors. "I've got a body that my mind can leave," a blissed-out Parker sings while tap dancing barefoot on his guitar foot pedals.
9. Nick Cave at the Chicago Theatre, April 1: The black-haired hell-raiser is one of the great live performers of the last 30 years. What's thrilling is how he takes his latest material and makes it part of his canon of classics. This time, it's "Jubilee Street," a slow-build incantation that finds Cave swinging his arms and exulting, "Look at me, I'm transforming, I'm vibrating, I'm glowing, I'm flying," as the Bad Seeds bring the music crashing down around him.
10. Rhye at Schubas, April 11: An announcement requesting that patrons refrain from "speaking loudly" precedes Rhye's entrance. Precious? Perhaps. But the music makes the case, with subtle variations on quiet-storm R&B sung with gentle fervor by Mike Milosh. It's hardly a staid affair, thanks to a horn section and the supple dance rhythms. But the finest moments are inevitably the subtlest, when the songs telescope down to finger snaps or five voices wordlessly harmonizing.
Greg Kot co-hosts "Sound Opinions" at 8 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday on WBEZ (FM 91.5).