There are lots of great rock records out there, albums that have changed lives for the better in countless ways. But we’ve all had the subsequent letdown of an experience: Going to see the artist live, and coming away underwhelmed. Being a great frontperson in a rock and roll band is a very different matter than being a great rock musician; the skillsets often overlap, but as anyone who has seen Bob Dylan on an off-night can attest, there’s plenty of room for divergence.
Consider the following, then, a list of great frontpeople. When putting together this roster of artists, the primary consideration wasn’t necessarily our favorite musicians, or whose music we love the most. It was about identifying the performers with that indefinable quality of charismatic showmanship—people who go above and beyond playing the songs as best they can, with as much heart as they can muster, to provide something more. It’s about celebrating the musicians who consider a live show a show, first and foremost. They want to deliver a night you’ll never forget, whether it’s via theatrics, bombastic energy, or simply a degree of personal magnetism that makes it impossible to look away; those are the qualities of a great rock and roll frontperson.
In order to keep this focused on the modern era (and retain a manageable size for this feature), we’ve made the admittedly arbitrary choice to include only bands and musicians who began releasing albums in the past 20 years. In others words: Yes, Mick Jagger is still a great frontman, but he doesn’t need our endorsement. Similarly, artists that we consider tremendous frontpeople, but who began their work before the cutoff date, were summarily disqualified. (Sorry, John Dwyer of The Osees; we all agreed you would dominate any other list.) Also, this is a list of American rock, as should be self-explanatory. And lastly, artists were granted exemptions if they began a wholly new project in the previous two decades: Thus, the presence of Jenny Lewis as a solo act and Craig Finn as the singer of The Hold Steady, despite their former bands Rilo Kiley and Lifter Puller.
Given that this is an obviously authoritative list, and not at all simply the votes of a handful of music critics who couldn’t possibly have seen every frontperson that’s blown you away in recent years, we encourage everyone to make their own nominations in the comments. And if you’re especially annoyed someone didn’t make the cut, rest assured, they were right there at number 21.