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

CD Review: The Brooklyn What – Gentrification Rock

The second release by New York’s most exciting band right now has all the fun, fury and intelligence of the Brooklyn What’s debut The Brooklyn What for Borough President (which remains at the top of our list for best album of 2009). Frontman Jamie Frey is possibly even more charismatically and ferociously amusing than ever here, and the band careens along behind him, flailing at everything in their way. When these guys have the three electric guitars going, live, the resulting pandemonium is completely out-of-control, giving their catchy punk songs a crazy, noisy, occasionally no-wave edge. This is a concept album of sorts, proceeds being donated to the esteemed grassroots organization Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn who continue to lead the community resistance to the well-documented Atlantic Yards luxury condo/basketball arena scam. Remember the days when Brooklyn musicians fought against the destruction of New York by suburban invasion rather than being part of it? The Brooklyn What do, even though most of them weren’t even born yet when New Jersey developers began tearing down perfectly good brick brownstones and replacing them with cheap plastic-and-sheetrock future crackhouses back in the 80s. This is a powerful contribution to that battle.

This ep has two versions of the title track, in the studio and live, one as intense as the other, the band’s caustic dismissal of the suburbanites who “wanna make the world one big mistake.” Another new recording, Movin to Philly has more of an over-the-edge anthemic feel than the countryish way they usually play it live. This one’s not an anti-trendoid diatribe but the anguished tale of a guy who’s been priced out of the city where he grew up and dreads every minute of the move and what lies ahead after that. “All my dreams are over there…take one last walk through Tompkins Square,” he muses. There’s also a characteristically snarling, defiant live version of the Kinks’ classic I’m Not Like Everybody Else and another original, I Want You on a Saturday Night, a self-explanatory, Ramones-ish punked out doo-wop tune. Get the album and contribute what you can if you can (DDDB’s funds are perennially in short supply, unsurprising since they’re not bankrolled by developers), and count this among the year’s best albums along with the Brooklyn What’s first one. The Brooklyn What play Trash Bar this Friday August 7 on what might be the best straight-up rock bill of the year with the Warm Hats, Palmyra Delran and Escarioka: the Brooklyn What hit the stage at 11.

August 4, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 8/3/09

We do this every Tuesday. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Every link here except for #1 will take you to each individual song.

1. The Ulrich/Ziegler Duo – Since Cincinnati

This is the alchemical guitar instrumental project of Steve Ulrich of Big Lazy plus Itamar Ziegler from Pink Noise. Unreleased – you’ll have to see this southwestern gothic masterpiece live.

2. Don Chambers & Goat – Open up the Gates

Dark garage rock with a banjo. They’re at Spikehill on 9/6.

3. Quixote – Hubris

Lo-fi noir cabaret with ornate flourishes from these edgy rockers. They’re at Trash on 8/11 at 8.

4. Mrs. Danvers – Wicked One

Slinky lesbian dance-rock with a trumpet, lots of fun. They’re at Trash on 8/11 at 10.

5. Bacchus King – Sub Prime

Math rock with a social awareness. They’re at Trash on 8/8 at 8.

6. The Warm Hats – Underground

Catchy swaying smartly defiant rock. At Trash on 8/7 at 8 withPalmyra Delran, the amazing Brooklyn What and the equally amazing Escarioka.

7. The Grendel Babies – Penelope

Eerie gothic art-rock with piano and violin. They’re at Fontana’s at 9 on 8/4.

8. The Fox Hunt – Suits Me Fine

Minor key original bluegrass – good stuff. At Caffe Vivaldi, 8 PM on 8/25, also at Arlene’s on 8/26 at 10 and at the National Underground on 8/27 at 9.

9. Glasspipe – Hands

Garage punk. They’re at Trash on 8/4.

10. Verismo – The Lorax

Dr. Seuss thrash metal. Priceless.

August 4, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 7/27/09

We do this every Tuesday. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere.  Every link here except for #1 will take you to each individual song.

1. Livia Hoffman – Friday

This is one of those great “finally the weekend’s here” numbers that manages not to be trite. Watch this space for upcoming live dates – this one’s unreleased.

2. Curtis Eller – Sugar in My Coffin

One of the great NYC rockers of this era – it just happens that the banjo is his axe. “The drinks are getting weaker with every round they serve.” He’s at Banjo Jim’s on 7/30 at 10

3. The French Exit – Bones & Matches

Typically haunting, wrenching, eventually explosive lament from NYC’s best noir rock crew. They’re at Local 269, 269 E Houston at 9 on 7/29

4. The Brooklyn What – For the Best

Characteristically snarling, smart punkish song from their first album (their new ep Gentrification Rock is killer too).  They’re at Don Pedro’s on 8/7 on an amazing bill with Escarioka, Palmyra Delran and others.

5. Rescue Bird – Montauk

Catchy, artsy country tune with an autoharp and glockenspiel! They’re at Spikehill on 7/30 at 8.

6. Carrie Clark – Josephine

Smartly soaring, Rachelle Garniez-esque oldtimey cabaret song. She’s at Spikehill on 7/30 at 9

7. Andrea Wittgens – Everything Is Relative to You

Clever, catchy, Greta Gertler-ish artsy piano pop tune. She’s at Spikehill on 7/30 at 11

8. Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens – What Have You Done

Killer minor-key oldschool gospel tune. They’re at Prospect Park Bandshell on 7/30 at 7:30 opening for Burning Spear

9. Rev. Vince Anderson – Don’t Think Jesus

Country music as liberation theology dating from the waning days of the Bush regime. He’s at at 55 Bar on 7/31 at 10.

10. Ansambl Mastika – Gde si Bre

Characteristicaly wild horn-diven Balkan dance. They’re at Mehanata on 7/30 at 9.

July 28, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., music, concert, New York City | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Palmyra Delran at Arlene’s, NYC 3/26/09

This is the kind of band you see in a bar and suddenly an hour has elapsed and you’re still there watching them. More specifically, this is what happens when you give very simple songs to very intelligent people. What Palmyra Delran plays in this band and with the newly reformed (and reportedly reinvigorated) Friggs is your basic nuts-and-bolts, riff-driven garage rock. Barre chords on the guitar, rhythm four on the floor, verse/chorus/verse/chorus/solo/verse, maybe an intro or an outro if you’re lucky. Amazing how they made it sound so fresh. One of the not-so-secret secrets of this band is how much everybody listens to each other, Delran passing the baton along to her lead guitarist, then to the bassist and back again while everybody added a part that meshed like a Turbo Hydramatic (that’s vintage rockspeak for automatic transmission). For music with orchestration this good, you usually have to go to a place like Carnegie Hall.

 

They opened with a hotrod instrumental driven by Delran’s Fender Jazzmaster. There’s bite, growl and sinew in her playing, dirty enough to keep you guessing but always there to grab the song if it needs grabbing. The night’s first vocal number was a noir 60s flavored rocker possibly titled Drag You Down: “Learn to crave what will hurt you, you wanna know what’s on the other side…she digs the ride,” Delran sang with not a little sarcasm. The fast backbeat number Shy Boy swung along over a gorgeous four-chord hook, Delran pogoing and driving the band along: “Nobody can get close to you, even if you want them to.”

 

The lead player – on a beautiful black Gibson SG – rattled off a ferociously good, chord-fueled solo on a simple but potently anthemic number that sounded like something Stiv Bators probably would have wished he’d written. Then the whole band went up in flames together on the solo on another ridiculously catchy garage-pop song. Then it was the bass player’s turn to feed the inferno as Delran sardonically reminisced how “one more heart goes down the drain.” They wrapped up the set with a blazing version of the surf-inflected Love Has Gone Away from Delran’s new cd, drummer Nancy Polstein aggressive but counterintuitive with those Mel Taylor beats like she’d been doing all night. It was SG guy’s birthday, so the crowd converged in two directions, on him and Delran, the minute the show was over. What a fun way to keep the night going. Watch this space for future shows by Delran and her band; on an auspicious note, she plays with the Friggs on what promises to be one of the great doublebills of the year, May 8 at Santos Party House at 7 PM, opening for the recently regrouped Chrome Cranks.

 

A stop into the Delancey earlier in the evening provided not only shelter from the nasty drizzle but also a sneak preview of some new Botanica songs. As usual, Paul Wallfisch, host of the weekly Small Beast series here, opened the night solo on piano. He stripped down the big audience hit Someone Else Again to a skeletal yet elegant swing, ran through a couple of brand-new songs – one darkly anthemic and Nick Cave-ish, another, possibly titled New Girlfriend, with a noir cabaret tinge – as well as a PJ Harvey cover, a French waltz and a couple of trips into the vault – or crypt, if you will – for some older material. Because this guy’s there every week, the temptation is to take him for granted. Don’t. While it lasts, carpe noctem.   

April 2, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment