Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The 20 Best New York Area Concerts of 2010

This is the list we like best for so many reasons. When we founded this blog in 2007, live music was our raison d’etre, and after all that time it’s still the biggest part of the picture here. While along with just about everyone else, our 100 Best Albums of 2010 and 100 Best Songs of 2010 lists have strayed further and further from what the corporate media and their imitators consider the “mainstream,” this is still our most personal list. As the year blusters to a close, between all of us here, we’ve seen around 250 concerts – the equivalent of maybe 25% of the shows on a single night here in New York. And the ones we saw are vastly outnumbered by the ones we wanted to see but didn’t. The Undead Jazz Festival, where all the cheesy Bleecker Street clubs suddenly became home to a horde of jazz legends and legends-to-be? We were out of town. We also missed this year’s Gypsy Tabor Festival way out in Gerritsen Beach, choosing to spend that weekend a little closer to home covering punk rock on the Lower East, latin music at Lincoln Center and oldschool soul in Williamsburg. We worked hard to cast a wide net for all the amazing shows that happened this year. But there’s no way this list could be anything close to definitive. Instead, consider this a sounding, a snapshot of some of the year’s best moments in live music, if not all of them. Because it’s impossible to rank these shows in any kind of order, they’re listed chronologically:

The Disclaimers at Spike Hill, 1/2/10 – that such a potently good band, with two charismatic frontwomen and so many catchy, dynamic soul-rock songs, could be so ignored by the rest of the New York media and blogs speaks for itself. On one of the coldest nights of the year, they turned in one of the hottests sets.

Jenifer Jackson at Banjo Jim’s, 1/21/10 – on a welcome if temporary stay from her native Austin, the incomparably eclectic, warmly cerebral tunesmith assembled a killer trio band and ripped joyously through a diverse set of Beatlesque pop, Americana and soul songs from throughout her career.

Gyan Riley and Chicha Libre at Merkin Concert Hall, 2/4/10 – Terry Riley’s guitarist kid opened with ambient, sometimes macabre soundscapes, followed by the world’s most entertaining retro 70s Peruvian surf band synching up amusingly and plaintively with two Charlie Chaplin films. Silent movie music has never been so fun or so psychedelic.

The New York Scandia String Symphony at Victor Borge Hall, 2/11/10 – the Scandia’s mission is to expose American audiences to obscure classical music from Scandinavia, a cause which is right up our alley. On a bitter, raw winter evening, their chamber orchestra sold out the house and turned in a frenetically intense version of Anders Koppel’s new Concerto Piccolo featuring hotshot accordionist Bjarke Mogensen, a deviously entertaining version of Frank Foerster’s Suite for Scandinavian Folk Tunes, and more obscure but equally enlightening pieces.

Masters of Persian Music at the Skirball Center, 2/18/10 – Kayhan Kalhor, Hossein Alizadeh and their ensemble improvised their way through an often wrenchingly powerful, climactic show that went on for almost three hours.

The Greenwich Village Orchestra playing Prokofiev and Shostakovich, 2/21/10 – like the Scandia, this well-loved yet underexposed ensemble plays some of the best classical concerts in New York, year after year. This was typical: a playful obscurity by Rienhold Gliere, and subtle, intuitive, deeply felt versions of Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto along with Shostakovich’s dread-filled Fifth Symphony.

Charles Evans and Neil Shah at the Hudson View Lounge, 2/28/10 – February was a great month for us for some reason. Way uptown, baritone saxophonist Evans and pianist Shah turned in a relentlessly haunting, powerful duo performance of brooding, defly improvisational third-stream jazz.

AE at the Delancey, 3/8/10 – pronounced “ash,” Eva Salina Primack and Aurelia Shrenker’s innovative duo vocal project interpolates Balkan folk music with traditional Appalachian songs, creating all kinds of unexpectedly powerful connections between two seemingly disparate styles. They went in and found every bit of longing, intensity and exquisite joy hidden away in the songs’ austere harmonies and secret corners.

Electric Junkyard Gamelan at Barbes, 3/20/10 – most psychedelic show of the year, bar none. Terry Dame’s hypnotic group play homemade instruments made out of old dryer racks, rubber bands of all sizes, trash cans and more – in a marathon show that went almost two hours, they moved from gamelan trip-hop to rap to mesmerizing funk.

Peter Pierce, Erica Smith, Rebecca Turner, Paula Carino, the Larch, Solar Punch, Brute Force, Tom Warnick & the World’s Fair, the John Sharples Band, the Nopar King and Out of Order at the Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, NY, 4/10/10 – this one’s the ringer on the list. We actually listed a total of 21 concerts on this page because even though this one was outside of New York City, it’s as good a choice as any for best show of the year, anywhere. In order of appearance: janglerock; haunting solo acoustic Americana; country soul; more janglerock; lyrical retro new wave; jamband music; a theatrical 60s survivor and writer of novelty songs; a catchy, charismatic noir rocker; a band that specializes in obscure rock covers; soul/funk, and an amazing all-female noiserock/punk trio to wind up twelve hours of music. And that was just one night of the festival.

Rev. Billy & the Life After Shopping Gospel Choir at Highline Ballroom, 4/18/10 – an ecstatic, socially conscious 25-piece choir, soul band and a hilarious frontman who puts his life on the line every time out protesting attacks on our liberty. This time out the cause was to preserve mountaintop ecosystems, and the people around them, in the wake of ecologically dangerous stripmining.

The Big Small Beast: Spottiswoode, Barbez, Little Annie and Paul Wallfisch, Bee & Flower and Botanica at the Orensanz Center, 5/21/10 – this was Small Beast taken to its logical extreme. In the weeks before he abandoned this town for Dortmund, Germany, Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch – creator of the Monday night Small Beast dark rock night at the Delancey – assembled the best dark rock night of the year with a mini-set from lyrical rocker Spottiswoode, followed by amazingly intricate gypsy-tinged instrumentals, Little Annie’s hilarious poignancy, and smoldering, intense sets from Bee & Flower and his own band.

The Grneta Duo+ at Bechstein Hall, 5/27/10 – Balkan clarinet titans Vasko Dukovski and Ismail Lumanovski joined with adrenalinista pianist Alexandra Joan for a gripping, fascinating performance of Bartok, Sarasate, Mohammed Fairouz and a clarinet duel that stunned the crowd.

The Brooklyn What at Trash, 5/28/10 – New York’s most charismatically entertaining rock band, whose monthly Saturday show here is a must-see, roared through a characteristically snarling, snidely funny set of mostly new material – followed by Tri-State Conspiracy, the popular, noirish ska band whose first few minutes were amazing. Too bad we had to leave and take a drunk person home at that point.

The New Collisions at Arlene’s, 7/1/10 – Boston’s best rock band unveiled a darker, more powerpop side, segueing into one killer song after another just a couple of months prior to releasing their stupendously good second album, The Optimist.

Martin Bisi, Humanwine and Marissa Nadler at Union Pool, 7/2/10 – darkly psychedelic bandleader Bisi spun a swirling, hypnotic, roaring set, followed by Humanwine’s savagely tuneful attack on post-9/11 paranoia and then Nadler’s pensively captivating solo acoustic atmospherics.

Maynard & the Musties, Me Before You, the Dixons and the Newton Gang at Urban Meadow in Red Hook, 7/10/10 – the one Brooklyn County Fair show we managed to catch this year was outdoors, the sky over the waterfront a venomous black. We lasted through a spirited attempt by the opening band to overcome some technical difficulties, followed by rousing bluegrass from Me Before You, the twangy, period-perfect 1964 Bakersfield songwriting and playing of the Dixons and the ferocious paisley underground Americana rock of the Newton Gang before the rains hit and everybody who stayed had to go indoors to the Jalopy to see Alana Amram & the Rough Gems and others.

The Universal Thump at Barbes, 7/16/10 – amazingly eclectic pianist Greta Gertler and her new chamber pop band, accompanied by a string quartet, played a lushly gorgeous set of unpredictable, richly tuneful art-rock.

Etran Finatawa, los Straitjackets and the Asylum Street Spankers at Lincoln Center, 8/1/10 – bad segues, great show, a perfect way to slowly return to reality from the previous night’s overindulgence. Niger’s premier desert blues band, the world’s most popular second-generation surf rockers and then the incomparably funny, oldtimey Spankers – playing what everybody thought would be their final New York concert – made it a Sunday to remember.

Elvis Costello at the Greene Space, 11/1/10 – as far as NYC shows went, this was the best one we saw, no question – along with maybe 150-200 other people, max. Backed by his most recent band the Sugarcanes, Costello fielded questions from interviewer Leonard Lopate with a gleeful defiance and played a ferociously lyrical, assaultively catchy set of songs from his latest classic album, National Ransom

Zikrayat, Raquy & the Cavemen and Copal at Drom, 11/4/10 – slinky, plaintive Levantine anthems and Mohammed Abdel Wahab classics from Egyptian film music revivalists Zikrayat, amazingly original, potent Turkish-flavored rock and percussion music from Raquy & the Cavemen and then Copal’s trance-inducing string band dancefloor grooves.

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December 27, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, country music, folk music, gospel music, gypsy music, latin music, lists, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Disclaimers at Spikehill, Brooklyn NY 1/2/10

Half past midnight Saturday night, Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg, coldest night of the year. Even Anna Maria Pizza is practically empty. It’s an omen. This is our decade and this is part of the soundtrack. The Disclaimers are waiting onstage for the sound guy, who looks like he really knows what he’s doing, to finish checking all the mics. The hi-hat clutch has disappeared from the drum kit, then miraculously reappears. And they’re off.

It’s like being in college, seeing a favorite band for the first time. All the hits. The audience is pumped, old friends in the crowd materialize out of nowhere. Happy New Year, long time no see! The band starts with Stay out of My Nightmares which is in a way self-explanatory; no big violin buildup on the intro or outro like they usually do but that’s ok.

Under the Belly of the 7 Train is a behemoth, a careening surreal Syd Barrett style chromatic art-rock monstrosity alive with danger swirling around in the shadows beneath the ironwork.

An apprehensive backbeat-driven country anthem is a dead ringer for the Walkabouts. It’s relatively new. Kate Thomason does her best understated avenging angel impression on the mic, “Stranger in this stranger’s land.”

Lead guitarist Dan Sullivan sings Damage, all organ and jangly Dylan guitar and soul girl harmonies, cynical vintage r&b flavor, “Not even the damage gets done.”

Absolution has a casual sexy soulfulness on the verse, Naa Koshie Mills’ trombone leading into the anguish of the chorus, Kate’s wounded vocal – “Rips me apart!!”

Next is a big riff-rocker that sounds like X with blues harp – down to Andy Nelson’s growly bass groove, and then a cold ending.

“She’s going for sultry,” says drummer Phil McDonald who seems to be the band spokesman tonight. Naa Koshie nails a new song, an artsy, resigned, beautifully Beatlesque ballad. And another new one, an anthem, Tell Me What You Want, sweet major/minor changes.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind is an old garage rocker of theirs – “not again not again not again not again” – Dan sings this one.

Strat player Dylan Keeler sings Just Desserts. It sways along on Dan’s organ riffs -“If you’re gonna write a suicide note you should at least spell all the words right.”

Phil: “Love in the back seat.” Kate:”And ice cream.” The big soul ballad’s not quite as much a showstopper as it was the last time out but it’s still impossible to turn away from: “How can you give up something so sweet?” Kate won’t let it go without a fight.

Tiptoe is ferocious when it gets to Dan’s unhinged Leslie speaker solo – he breaks a string but keeps going. Actually he’s not using a Leslie, just a wah turned wide open for a chorus box effect.

They’ve got a theme song now! “We’re the Disclaimers!” Long build to a cold ending. Up front where the drums and the guitar hit you in the chest, the sound is intoxicating, this is why people come out in the cold in the wee hours. This is why we live here instead of somewhere else. Saturday night, ground zero in Williamsburg, and there’s not a single trendoid or tourist to be seen anywhere.

January 4, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Somebodies’ Christmas Show 12/16/09

You know a band has to be good if they can keep a smart crowd entertained with a bunch of Christmas songs. Let’s face it – Christmas music sucks, bigtime. Almost as much as Nickelback or Lady Gag. In fact, the only holiday music that’s any good is the non-Western stuff: Diwali, Passover, Ramadan. And of course Halloween. But the Somebodies – with a lot of help from some good friends – had obviously really worked hard on putting together a theme night that in a lesser group’s hands would have been pure schlock.

The band’s sound is concretized sometime in the 80s: their faster stuff has a scurrying new wave beat; the anthems look back to a time before grunge, before hair metal, in fact, when you were supposed to sing them casually, unaffectedly, without any cliches. But they didn’t play any of those. Usually the bass carries the melody, as Graham Maby used to do on Joe Jackson’s early albums. Their three originals in their set list at Lakeside on the sixteenth included a brisk, punchy pop number that would have made a good b-side to What I Like About You, another with a propulsive, melodic reggae bassline that went doublespeed on the chorus, and the last song of the night, where bassist Luke Mitchell got  to go deep into his bag of chops for some slinky slides, hammer-ons and fat, boomy chords. And these were all well-received, but it was the holiday stuff that made smiles out of winces.

They started with the Eric Carmen weepie (and Rachmaninoff ripoff) All By Myself, just Mitchell and drummer Phil McDonald who gave it the most deviously deadpan vocal you could want. Then frontman/guitarist Pete Derba joined them for Feliz Navidad, which in his hands was basically the same lyric over and over again. That was mercifully over fast. Dylan Keeler of the Disclaimers took a reluctantly amusing turn as Elvis impersonator on Santa’s Back in Town; later, Derba did Blue Christmas back into deadpan territory with some help from a ringer chorus on backup vocals. Kate Thomason and Naa Koshie Mills – the duo who give the Disclaimers their signature soul sound – did a lighthearted rap number, and later a Christmas soul song from the 60s. For her absolutely sultry cover of Eartha Kitt’s Santa Baby, Mills peeled off her shiny fake fur coat to reveal an equally shiny 60s cocktail dress and then brought down the house.

Keeler and his fellow Disclaimers guitarist Dan Sullivan gave Santa Claus Is Coming to Town a sublimely ridiculous Blues Brothers vibe, Sullivan doing most of the jumping and kicking around in front of the stage: “He knows when you forget the lyrics,” he deadpanned. But the most affecting moment of the night was when Jerome and Susan O’Brien of the Dog Show led the crowd in an acoustic singalong of So This Is Christmas. “War is over, if you want it…” If only this year’s Nobel winner could have been there, he undoubedly would have a good time, notwithstanding this timely reminder of how little has actually changed since that auspicious day in November of last year.

December 23, 2009 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Maynard and the Musties – So Many Funerals

Nouveau outlaw country songwriter and Nashville expat Joe Maynard does double duty as a rare book dealer, hence the tongue-in-cheek band name. On this cd – his first with this particular crew – he comes across as sort of a hybrid of Townes Van Zandt, Tom Waits and David Allan Coe. Maynard built a reputation for gut-bustingly funny songs with his previous bands, the upbeat Illbillies and then the more traditionally oriented Millerite Redeemers. On this cd, he’s as surreal as always but considerably more somber, and the jokes are darker as well. Musically, it rocks pretty hard in places: Ryan Adams’ production is terse and imaginative on both the upbeat stuff and the quieter numbers. The album’s best song, Elvis Museum is a prime example, Adams’ piano quiet and determined over a swaying backbeat, and it’s a genuine classic. It’s quintessential Maynard: the museum in question turns out to be a pretty pathetic excuse for one, the King’s portrait between “a sinkful of dishes and a toilet stall,” but this offhandedly savage satire of celebrity worship still manages to be sympathetic. Likewise, the opening track, Pine Box, a body in a coffin taking a sarcastic view of the preacher and the pageantry outside. After a gentle, rustic beginning lit up with some vivid violin from Naa Koshie Mills (also of the Disclaimers, and the musical star of the album), lead guitarist Mo Botton rips out a nasty garage rock solo.

Maynard hails from Brooklyn these days and uses that milieu for several of the songs, including the surreal Cowboys of St. Bartholomew – about a gay street couple – and the deadpan, reverb-drenched Rocky and Bessie, an ominously bizarre tale of a couple of stray dogs in Fort Greene. He also sets the poem Shallow Water Warning – a drowning recalled by the victim – by legendary outsider poet Helen Adam to a swaying Tex-Mex-inflected tune. Otherwise, the titular redneck girl of the big bluesy raveup isn’t exactly what she seems, the drugs bid a fond farewell to the body they ravaged in the lullaby Dear Addict, and the rest of the world hides and surfs the web while the world burns – literally – on the Velvets-esque apocalypse anthem It’s Been a Great Life, Botton adding some aptly furious Sterling Morrison chord-chopping on the outro. The cd closes with a heartfelt tribute to Maynard’s lapsteel player and flatmate, the late, great Drew Glackin (also of Tandy, the Jack Grace Band, Silos and numerous other A-list Americana bands). The whole thing is a richly lyrical, fearlessly good time, darkness notwithstanding. The band is also impressively good live. Maynard and the Musties play Sidewalk on Dec 4 at 8 PM.

November 13, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Maynard & the Musties and the Disclaimers Live at Red Star, Brooklyn NY 1/9/08

This place has to be the most unlikely venue in the entire New York area: a split-level, midtown-style sports bar/restaurant, complete with several flat screen tv’s downstairs and a long, spacious music room upstairs – in the middle of nowhere, in Greenpoint. It’s also midtown expensive, as one might expect from such unexpectedly plush surroundings. If their intention is to make a profit from door and bar receipts, they might actually have a chance, a scary thought: book enough popular trendoid bands, a few people who call themselves celebrity dj’s and pay Tara Reid a few grand to show up and drink for free, and they might be able to make a go of it in this former loft gallery space down the block from the Pencil Factory. Such is the state of Greenpoint, 2008.

Maynard & the Musties were playing their first show since the tragic death of their lapsteel player Drew Glackin. To their immense credit, not only did they pull themselves together, they played an exuberant, passionately twanging show. Hot on the heels of their Lakeside show last month (which we reviewed, and was marvelous), they proved that a throwback outlaw country singer backed by a bunch of indie rockers who may be game, but don’t really know their country music, can still kick ass. It was pretty much the same set list as at the Lakeside show. Maynard is an unapologetic advocate for the underdog and the down-and-out, and the band tore through his chronicle of a couple of derelicts in the wilds of a different part of Brooklyn as well as his only slightly tongue-in-cheek love song about a guy with his eyes on a woman and her Volkswagen (which seems in his eyes to be the ideal place to spend the night – with her, naturally). Maynard would probably cringe to hear this, but at their best the band sounded like the Grateful Dead: rockers jamming their way through some Americana with deliciously unpredictable results. In his band introductions, Maynard included the conspicuously absent Glackin, who received a massive round of applause. They closed with a subtly edgy new song, possibly titled It’s Been a Good Life, a chronicle of disengagement while the world goes to hell, set to a deceptively catchy, vintage Velvets-style melody, jamming it out at the end to a fiery crescendo.

Considering the bizarre location, Maynard and his crew brought a good crowd, most of whom stuck around for the Disclaimers. About three years ago, they were one of the best live bands in New York, until their bass player left the band. Since then, they’ve played only infrequently. Battling the club’s horrible sound (the sound guy tried gamely to make it work, to no avail), they reclaimed their status as one of the most exciting acts in town. Steeped in vintage 60s garage and soul, they dazzled with a set of mostly new material, proving that while they may have been absent from the live circuit, they haven’t exactly been idle. The band has the good fortune to have not one but two first-class songwriters, frontman/guitarist Dylan Keeler and keyboardist/lead guitarist Dan Sullivan. Generally speaking, Keeler has more of a classic 60s pop sensibility hitched to a fiery Radio Birdman-style garage-punk vibe while Sullivan is more of a hard-rocking garage traditionalist (and a spectacular lead player, as he proved again tonight). Because of problems with the sound system, Sullivan was reduced to playing only guitar on several of the songs, meaning that he had to come up with lead parts on the spot for the numbers he usually plays on organ, but he was up to the task.

One of their best new numbers, a supremely catchy oldschool garage tune, was sung by drummer Phil McDonald (one of the most sought-after players in town), with everyone in the band joining in on a bizarre doo-wop vocal breakdown between the second chorus and the next verse. Another new number put violinist/trombonist Naa Koshie Mills (who was doing double duty tonight, also providing incisive and ambient textures for Maynard & the Musties) out in front of the unit, a vivid reminder of how effortlessly charismatic a frontwoman she can be. The song was called Leslie Garwick: Sullivan told the crowd that it was a cross between Leslie Gore and Dionne Warwick, therefore, the title. One can only wonder how many Brooklyn bands know who Leslie Gore is, or who Dionne Warwick was before she did infomercials for a notorious psychic hotline scam. But that’s a story, or a rant, for another day.

They closed with their best song, Stay Out of My Nightmares, whose furious, staccato, violin-driven hook on the intro tantalizingly doesn’t recur until after the last verse. Because of trouble with the PA, Mills didn’t get the chance to do it the second time around, but no matter: the crowd, or what was left of it, was completely rapt. This band is the perfect choice to headline the next Cavestomp – or open for whatever 60s relic the promoters have dragged out of the woodwork. The audience will love them. Half Ajar, featuring some of the Disclaimers, was next on the bill, but we had places to go (home) and things to do (catch the train before the last one left the Greenpoint Ave. station).

January 10, 2008 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment