Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The 20 Best Concerts in New York in 2009

Of all our year-end best-of lists (the 100 Best Songs of 2009 and 50 Best Albums of 2009 included), this is our favorite, because it’s the most individual (everybody has a different list) and it’s closest to our raison d’etre, live music in New York. Last year’s was difficult enough to narrow down to twenty; this year’s is criminally short. We could have put up a top 100 concerts list and it would be five times as good. 

This was the year of the Beast – Small Beast at the Delancey, New York’s most exciting weekly rock event. We caught onto this slowly – the concert series ran for about a month before we discovered it – but when we did we were there almost every week. Occasionally someone will ask, since you have a music blog, why don’t you start booking shows? With Small Beast, there’s no need: it’s your weekly chance to discover the edgiest, smartest rock-ish talent from Gotham and across the globe. You’ll see a lot of those shows on this list.

Yet 2009 was a weird year for us – running a New York live music blog and not being in town much of the time made it problematic, to say the least. Week after week, we watched from a distance, enviously as half the city got to see stuff we never did. In August, the Brooklyn What did a killer triple bill with Palmyra Delran’s garage band and amazing latin ska-punk-gypsy rockers Escarioka at Trash Bar, but we weren’t there. The second night of the Gypsy Tabor Festival just a few weeks later looked like a great time, but we missed that one too. As the year winds down and we finally (hopefully!) start to reap the rewards of a whole lot of hard work, it appears, pending some absolutely transcendent show exploding onto the radar, that this is it for our Best Shows of 09 list. Needless to say, we can’t wait for 2010.

Since any attempt to rank these shows in any kind of order would be an exercise in futility, we just listed them as they happened:

The Brooklyn What at Fat Baby, 1/15/09 – since we’d just reviewed a couple of their shows in the fall of 08, we didn’t even review this one, fearing overkill. But on what was the coldest night of the winter up to that point, they packed the club and burned through a characteristically fun, ferocious set, maybe fueled by the knowledge that one of their idols, Ron Asheton, had left us.

Kerry Kennedy at Rose Bar, 1/21/09 – the noir chanteuse was at the absolute top of her game as quietly resilient siren and southwestern gothic bandleader.

Paul Wallfisch and Larkin Grimm at Small Beast at the Delancey, 4/9/09 – the Botanica frontman (who books Small Beast) turned in a typically fiery set, followed by the avant-chanteuse who battled and finally lashed out at a crowd of clueless yuppie puppies who just didn’t get what the show was all about.

Kotorino at Pete’s Candy Store, 4/13/09 – the quietly multistylistic, gypsyish band filled the place on a Monday night and kept the crowd riveted as they all switched instruments, beats and genres over and over.

The New Collisions at Arlene’s, 4/23/09 – Boston’s best new band blazed through an early 80s inflected set of edgy powerpop.

Paul Wallfisch, the Ulrich-Ziegler Duo and McGinty and White at Small Beast at the Delancey, 4/23/09 – after Wallfisch had set the tone for the night, Big Lazy’s Steve Ulrich and Pink Noise’s Itamar Ziegler played hypnotic, macabre guitar soundscapes followed by the ferociously lyrical retro 60s chamber pop of Joe McGinty and Ward White.

The American String Quartet playing Irving Fine and Robert Sirota’s Triptych at Bargemusic, 4/26/09 – a sinister ride through works by one of the leading lights of the 1950s avant garde followed by a haunting, intense performance of contemporary composer Sirota’s 9/11 suite.

Paul Wallfisch, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble, Spottiswoode and Steve Wynn at Small Beast at the Delancey, 4/30/09 – after Wallfisch got the night started, Beren roared and scorched her way through a pummeling, macabre set. Then Spottiswoode impressed with a subtle set of nocturnes, setting the stage for Wynn, playing together with his friend and ex-lead guitarist Chris Brokaw for the first time in several years, a feast of swirling, otherworldly guitar overtones.

The Friggs and the Chrome Cranks at Santos Party House, 5/8/09 – a triumphant return for the popular 90s garage girl rockers followed by the equally triumphant, reinvigorated, snarling sonic attack of another one of NYC’s best bands of the 90s.

The French Exit at Local 269, 5/13/09 – NYC’s best new dark rockers playing one of their first shows as a four-piece, rich with reverb, tersely incisive piano, haunting vocals and defiant lyricism.

Chicha Libre on the Rocks Off Concert Cruise Boat, 5/15/09 – definitely the best party of the year that we were party to, a swaying excursion through psychedelic, surfy cumbia music, past and present.

Paul Wallfisch, Darren Gaines & the Key Party and Alice Texas at Small Beast at the Delancey, 6/4/09 – Wallfisch kicked it off, Gaines and a stripped-down trio impressed with gutter-poet, Lou Reed/Tom Waits style rock and then Alice Texas turned in a swirling, incandescent, gently assaultive show that reminded how much we miss Tonic, the club where she used to play before it was torn down t0 put up plastic luxury condos.

Paul Wallfisch, Marni Rice and the Snow at Small Beast at the Delancey, 6/22/09 – another Wallfisch night, this one featuring the great LES accordionist/chanteuse/cabaret scholar and then Pierre de Gaillande’s clever, haunting art-r0ck crew.

Ian Hunter at Rockefeller Park, 6/24/09 – the former Mott the Hoople frontman, at age 70, has simply never written, played, or sung better. This show was a real revelation.

Daniel Bernstein at Sidewalk, 7/9/09 – the underground songwriter/lyricist/tunesmith casually burned through one haunting, haunted, ridiculously catchy tune after another.

Randi Russo and the Oxygen Ponies at the Saltmines, 7/10/09 – another haunting show opened with the absolute master of the outsider anthem, who did double duty playing in Paul Megna’s equally dark, intense, lyrical indie band.

The Main Squeeze Accordion Festival: Musette Explosion, Suspenso del Norte, Hector Del Curto’s Eternal Tango Quintet, the Main Squeeze Orchestra, Roberto Cassan and John Munatore, Liony Parra y la Mega Mafia Tipica and Peter Stan at Pier One, 7/11/09 – squeezebox heaven.

Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers Ensemble and the Dave Brubeck Quartet at Damrosch Park, 8/5/09 – cutting-edge Middle Eastern-inflected jazz followed by one of the great ones, undiminished and still inventive at 89.

Jenifer Jackson at Rockwood Music Hall, 11/19/09 – the panstylistic rock goddess played several good New York shows this past year, but this one with Matt Kanelos on piano and glockenspiel and Billy Doughty on drums and melodica was pure transcendence.

Carol Lipnik, Bonfire Madigan, Rachelle Garniez, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble and McGinty and White at Small Beast at the Delancey, 11/23/09 – what seems at this point to be the single best show of the year (if only because it’s the most recent one on the list) matched Lipnik’s phantasmagoria to Madigan’s equally artful chamber pop, Garniez’ irresistible charisma and ferocity, Beren’s contralto classical punk assault and then Ward White took over where the sirens had been and sang what could have been his best show ever.

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December 3, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Friggs and the Chrome Cranks at Santos Party House, NYC 5/8/09

Two very different bands with a long history together delivering the same good news, twice: they’re back. Well-loved, all-female garage rock revivalists the Friggs are the kind of band that always seemed up for a reunion show, and word on the street is they’ll be around for the occasional doublebill like this in the coming months even while lead player Palmyra Delran continues her excellent solo career. The Chrome Cranks? Same deal, a prospect that seemed something beyond impossible when the LES legends imploded in the mid-90s. More about them later.

With two Fender Jaguars and a Mustang bass, Delran, Jezebel, drummer Kitten LaChaCha and bassist Ruby Garnett – a distant relative of the Boston Celtics superstar who moonlights as a very compelling keyboardist/chanteuse under the name Rachelle Garniez – drew the crowd in. “Come up here, motherfuckers!” Delran cajoled, and nobody could resist. Over the course of a too-brief twelve-song set and a lone encore, the Friggs gave a clinic in good chord changes and good fun. The charm of the Friggs – beyond the obvious – is their raw edge: the band has just enough looseness to give their catchy, upbeat, jangly riff-rock a little bit of unease. The women smile and pogo and scooch across the stage, but mess with them and you’re liable to get hurt. They opened with Shake, sounding like the Go Go’s doing Link Wray (wouldn’t he have loved that), the fast, funny rockabilly-inflected Mama Blew a Hoody, the stomping, Cramps-ish I Cringe, which Delran prefaced with “This is not a love song, feels like one, but it’s not.” The surfy Friggs Theme had both guitarists playing harmonies on the central hook, almost a Hotel California spoof; after a Kinks-ish riff-rocker, the gorgeously clanging, tongue-in-cheek Kill Yourself and a guest vocalist roaring through a cover of Sam the Sham’s Deputy Dog, they closed with the defiant Bad Word for a Good Thing, Delran – who’d been unabashedly and gleefully showboating all night – straddling the monitors as she delivered yet another offhandedly savage, blissful solo.

Of all the Lower East Side bands of the early to mid 1990s, noisy bluespunks the Chrome Cranks were the best, an underground legend in the making, and maybe they knew it all along. Uncompromisingly abrasive, ferociously intense, caustic yet charismatic, they were an amazing live act whether they were on top of their game or the show was a complete trainwreck. Which was always a crapshoot. Now back together for the first time in twelve years with all the original members – guitarist/frontman Peter Aaron, lead player William G. Weber, bassist Jerry Teel (now doing his own noir rock thing leading the excellent New York City Stompers) and former Sonic Youth drummer Bob Bert – they’re better than ever, a scenario that hardly seems possible, especially considering that their blistering, assaultive show was fueled by nothing stronger than water. With songs like Slow Crash, Desperate Friend and Lost Time Blues (the latter two which they played), their inspiration was no secret. The Chrome Cranks’ music, both on album and onstage was seemingly created for the early morning hours, for a condition where sanity and madness have become one and the same, where everything is so impossibly faraway that’s too close for comfort. A cynic could say that they sound an awful lot like the Stooges, but for them it’s the Fun House era Stooges, 1970.

By the time the band was ready to go, the dj’s music was still playing over the PA. Aaron stepped over the monitors, fixing a glare on his target. “CHECK,” he spat. And then spat on the stage and with that, feedback screaming from his battered Strat, they launched into one pummeling stomp after another. As one of the cognoscenti in the crowd said afterward, it was like being in a movie. Desperate Friend gave Weber a chance to go off into savage Ron Asheton territory for a few bars. Teel stood impassive, stage left, cooly providing an eardrum-blasting low end, occasionally with chords. About eight songs into the set, Aaron finally peeled off his coat, soaked in sweat. On a few songs, notably an absolutely hypnotic version of Eight Track Mind, he hit his vintage repeater pedal, adding an even darker edge to the songs’ careening menace. Although Aaron was roaring at full voice, it would get lost in the maelstrom of guitars. Fragments of lyrics emerged: “You’ll fall down..I don’t wanna know you…I just want you dead.” At the end of the set, he and Teel both stuck their guitars in front of their amps, leaving the PA howling with feedback until Weber made his way over to the middle of the stage and gingerly clicked off Aaron’s Fender Twin. The crowd was stunned, both the young in front who’d obviously never seen the band before, and the oldsters in the back who had. Nobody had the energy to scream for an encore until the band had already played them.

With a new compilation, The Murder of Time (1993-1996) due out on Bang! Records, one can only hope for a tour in the wake of a series of New York area shows. For those kicking themselves because they missed this one, they’ll be at Glasslands on May 15, probably around 10 with a bunch of other bands on the bill.

May 9, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment