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 Brooklyn What at Trash Bar, Brooklyn NY 5/28/10

An hour of power after power hour Friday night. Actually, the power started during power hour (at Trash Bar, they have free drinks in the back for an hour starting at 8 PM – with a deal like that, who needs to pregame). Play It Faster sound like the Subhumans, but if that band listened to Social Distortion instead of reggae – interesting song structures, smart politics, loud, roaring vocals and guitars. And a Rickenbacker for some unexpectedly sweet guitar textures. Memo to the Rick player: if you’re going to keep taking solos, you need at least a cheap Boss pedal so they can cut through every time.

“I can’t remember when we played a set this early,” Brooklyn What frontman Jamie Frey told the crowd (they hit the stage a little after nine this time; showtime for these guys is usually around midnight on a Saturday). There are louder bands in New York than the Brooklyn What – a few anyway – but there are none better. Their new songs are so strong that they don’t have to fall back on last year’s hits, or the ones from the year before. It’s amazing how much this band has grown – people don’t realize how young they still are. Lead guitarist Evan O’Donnell just graduated college. “He’s ours all the time now,” Frey grinned. Gibson SG player John-Severin Napolillo – who also leads first-rate powerpop band John-Severin and the Quiet 1s – joined O’Donnell in locking into a murkily beautiful, melodic, punk-inflected roar, reminding of nothing less than the Dead Boys, but without the drugs. Frey knows that hits are simple; this set was one after another and they all packed a wallop. And they did it without I Don’t Wanna Go to Williamsburg, or We Are the Only Ones, or Planet’s So Lonely. Like the Clash, the Brooklyn What leap from one genre to another with gusto yet without ever losing sight of the social awareness that defines them. How ironic that they’d play this show in what has become the neighborhood most antithetical to everything they stand for.

They opened with a characteristically cynical, scorching version of Gentrification Rock, title track to their most recent ep, bringing it down to Doug Carey’s growling bass for a couple of measures at the end. “I don’t mind if you put a hole right through me,” Frey sang sarcastically on the snarling midtempo rocker they followed with. This is a guy who obviously loves oldschool soul music, and he’s developed into someone who can deliver it and make it his own without sounding derivative or fake. There was a lot of longing in those vocals all night. Their best song was another new one, Punk Rock Loneliness, a bitter and angry memory of Bowery and Bleecker before CBGB became just another overpriced clothing boutique for tourists: “You wanna be a dead boy?” Frey taunted. As charismatic as Frey is, he’s generous with his bandmates, giving Napolillo a turn on lead vocals on a handful of cuts including a new one with a swaying Guns of Brixton flavor. The first of the encores was a delirious crowd-pleaser, I Want You on a Saturday Night, more doo-wop than anything the Ramones ever did (that these guys, like the Ramones, know what doo-wop was, speaks volumes).

And now comes the sad part of the evening, at least for us. Tri-State Conspiracy were next. Ten years ago they were a killer ska band, just busting out of the small club circuit. These days they still play ska, but they’re way more diverse than that, and even more gleefully noir than they were in 2000. One of their early songs sounded like the Yardbirds. Their trumpet player sang; their two guitarists traded licks better than any jam band in recent memory. So it hurt to walk out on what was obviously going to be a killer set – and hurt equally to miss the Highway Gimps, whose snarling post-Gun Club glampunk songs sound like they’d be even better live than what’s on their myspace. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

May 30, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: LJ Murphy, Ninth House and Others at Galapagos, Brooklyn NY 7/5-7/07

The probability of two good things happening at Galapagos in the span of a week is about as high as Bono retracting his support for the privatization of third world nations’ water supplies and police forces in exchange for debt forgiveness. But this week it happened (the shows, not Bono coming to his senses and telling the Jeffrey Sachs crowd to fuck off). While both performances were excellent, the lesser-attended of the two was the greater success.

Thursday night LJ Murphy did a rare solo show in the club’s front room, hot on the heels of his scorching performance at the Knitting Factory last month, and it was no surprise to see him come out swinging. The sound was good and LOUD, just the way it ought to be at rock shows. Like Stephane Wrembel, Murphy knows that the guitar is a percussion instrument: how he manages to avoid breaking strings all the time is a mystery. He wailed through an all-too-short set of his more upbeat material, including a furious version of the Weimar blues Mad Within Reason (the title track to his latest album) and a commanding take of the careening Blue Silence (which was anything but silent tonight). But nobody – nobody – was listening. Maybe it was because the evening was billed as an old-school English variety show: you know, music, random entertainers and of course strippers. And of course, at these events, it’s obvious what the crowd comes out for. Now people should be able to see strippers whenever they want, but does every venue in town have to turn into a strip club? Isn’t this Brave New World all over again? And the funniest thing is how they try to make it all gentrified and upscale and call it “burlesque.” I defy you to identify any substantial difference between the Bada Bing Club just off Exit 11 of the Jersey Turnpike, and Le Choque du Monde at Chez Madame in the East Village.

In his excellent book The Making of American Audiences, Richard Butsch chronicled the shifting tides of communal meeting places. In the early 1800s, in urban areas, the public hangout of choice was the music hall, where crowds of drunks would holler at each other over the orchestra (in that sense, Galapagos got their history right Thursday night). Fifty years later, it was the vaudeville hall. And let’s not forget the “bowling ground” that B.B. King immortalized in Three O’Clock Blues. While it’s hardly obligatory for an audience to pay attention to whatever’s put in front of them, you’d think that somebody – SOMEBODY – would have been interested in what Murphy was doing up onstage. The guy fucking wailed. Toward the end of the set, he launched into a swinging, upbeat new one, then abruptly changed his mind, worked his way down the scale and segued into a punked-out take of his song Parking Lot Ball. “Taught you how to genuflect, taught you how to bow!” he roared, and not a soul in the crowd got it. The excellent ska band Tri-State Conspiracy was scheduled to play after him, but the long delay between acts proved too much to wait through.

Then last night Ninth House headlined in the back room, playing the cd release show for their new one Realize and It’s Gone (see our review of the album), and while it was a good night it wasn’t in the same league as Murphy’s absolutely riveting set. Yet it was a considerable success. The Whores opened, just guitar and drums, playing a bunch of generic mid-80s hardcore. Then they invited Ninth House’s new keyboardist up onstage to play bass, and finished the second half of the set with some decently melodic punk rock. The highlight was a halfspeed cover of We’re Desperate by X, where the guitarist and the female drummer traded off on the John Doe/Exene parts and to their credit it was actually better than the original.

The quartet Abraham Van were next. All that needs to be said about them is that they really want a major label deal but they aren’t goodlooking enough to get it. Forget about the music: the corporations these days have no interest in that. Or whether the band wants to be Matchbox 20 or the Goo Goo Dolls (hard to tell), or whether or not the rhythm section can keep time (they can’t).

Ninth House finally took the stage around 1 AM, after an hourlong delay while the evening’s projectionist struggled to get his gear working. This could have been a real long night for them, since their old keyboardist Zach has now switched to guitar, and this was his first show wielding an axe (a beautiful Epiphone ES355 copy). There were moments where they stumbled like a wounded beast, but this beast was always dangerous, from the opening crash of the new single Long Stray Whim through the blistering cover of Ghost Riders in the Sky that the audience begged for, that closed the show. It was heartwarming to see a good crowd turn out, enthusiastic about real rock music at a place that’s pretty much Trendoid Central (if you really have to know, there was a stripper, but she wasn’t the evening’s main attraction). Ninth House frontman/bassist Mark Sinnis is moving toward a pretty traditional, Nashville gothic sound these days, but tonight’s show proved that this band is still viable if he wants to keep it going. They’re also playing Hank’s Saloon on July 14 at 10.

July 8, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment