31 December 2014

2014 Year End -- Favorite Shows

It's been another long and glorious year of live music. So much so, that I'm forgoing a NYE show this year which allows me to rest up for an already chock-full 2015 calendar with the side-benefit of being able to get my year's-best list done a day early.

The raw numbers:
175 different bands seen (78 totally new bands seen for the first time in 2014)
107 shows (here one show = one "ticket"... I've become aware that most people count differently, so consider this a conservative number)
220 "sets" of music (this is my liberal number of shows, either way, not too shabby for an old man)
83 nights/days out
41 different venues (in 10 different cities)

Tough to whittle it down, but here's my attempt at a list of my favorite 10 or so live music shows in 2014... with a little cheating, of course.

1. Phish, MGM Grand Arena Las Vegas, NV 10/31-11/2 (plus SPAC 7/4-5, Mann Music Center 7/8-9)
Phish is dead, long live Phish. Was it an off year for the band? Not from where I was sitting. Saw 4 spectacular shows this summer (@ SPAC & Mann (you can include these up here at spot #1 if you'll allow me to have 7 #1 shows in 2014)), but nothing topped the Halloween weekend in Vegas, quite possibly my favorite weekend of PH ever. The Halloween set was a masterpiece for the ages, the other 6 sets merely magnificent, highlights too many to name. Throw in a perfect venue and an amazingly fun weekend, and there you have it... best of 2014.

2. Newport Folk Festival, Ft. Adams State Park, Newport, RI, 7/25-27
Again, hard to call this one "show" when it was really dozens of tremendous stretching-the-boundaries-of-folk concerts all rolled into one. I've been to this festival numerous times, I think this topped all other years. A partial list of the bands that I saw kill it at the Fort this year: Ryan Adams, Band of Horses, Jenny Lewis, Sun Kil Moon, The Devil Makes Three, Lake Street Dive, Reignwolf,
Jack White, Nickel Creek, Kurt Vile, Deer Tick, Shovels & Rope, The Milk Carton Kids, Pokey Lafarge, Puss N Boots, Houndmouth, J Roddy Walston & the Business, The Oh Hellos, Willie Watson, Benjamin Booker, Jeff Tweedy, Dawes, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Lucero, Gregory Alan Isakov, Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, Valerie June, Caitlin Rose, Ages and Ages, Leif Vollebekk. Damn!

3. The Bad Plus (play Ornette Coleman's Science Fiction), Skirball Center, 10/23 (plus Village Vanguard 1/1, Jazz Standard 4/23 & 4/27)
It's always exciting to see your favorite bands tackle new challenges... and then kill it. For the PH fans, consider this to be akin to the "Halloween show" for The Bad Plus. They covered Ornette Coleman (with 3 A-list horn players) and they made it their own and used it as a vehicle to elevate their already lofty standards. On top of all this, they were playing as part of the Joshua Light Show festival, which meant that the superlative music was in front of the best damn visuals you could imagine. Utterly sublime. (I saw 5 TBP sets in total in 2014, the other 4 were also tremendous and should be squeezed in here at #3 as well... (sensing a trend?)).

4. Woods, Skirball Center, 10/24 (plus Bowery Ballroom 5/16)
While we're talking Joshua Light Show, I caught one other show that week which was a late set from folk-psych masters, Woods. As previous posted, Woods were my "artist of the year" in 2014, hitting all the right spots for me and this show was a big reason why. The balance of killer songs and blast-off jams was perfect and perfectly matched by the JLS visuals. This one pretty much blew me away. The show at the Bowery in the spring was almost equally as awe-inspiring and featured a fantastic opening set from Quilt. That show is reviewed here.

5. Sarah Jarosz/The Milk Carton Kids, The Allen Room, Lincoln Center, 2/12
When you see a lot of great live music, it often takes something special to elevate a particular show above the rest. This night of folk & bluegrass took place in one of the more beautiful rooms in the city. Instead of the liquid-trip-out displays from the Joshua Light Show, though, the Allen Room is lit up by Manhattan itself: the Park, the lights, the traffic are its backdrop. In front of this, we were treated to three of the best sets of acoustic music I've ever seen. Jarosz proved herself to be a legend in the making, a pure talent and soul, and the Milk Carton Kids may very well be the most entertaining thing in folk music... Welch/Rawlings when they're playing, Steve Martin with the hilarious, deadpan between-song banter. The 3rd set was a combination of the two bands and was knock-your-socks-off good. What a night!

6. Jonathan Wilson, Music Hall of Williamsburg, 2/14
One thing that's been clear the past couple years is that the jam is back and better than ever. It's just that it's hiding in so-called indie rock. On this night in Williamsburg, the hipster den was transformed into a latter-day Wetlands, with Wilson leading his band through more extended jams than the room knew what to do with. A typical night at MHOW is an opener and an hour set from the headliner. I think Wilson doubled that, and each song was a spectacle of full-band exploration; not self-indulgent, not noodling... just expert, killer jamming out of expert, killer songs. By the end, everyone with a Valentine date had left and the room was sparsely filled with slack-jawed dudes either dancing or looking on in awe. If Wilson is not on your radar, fix that.

7. John Zorn Masada Marathon, Town Hall, 3/19
Twenty different songs. Played for the first time ever by twenty different bands. Sounds a little like a recipe for disaster, but that's the precipice upon which John Zorn has made a career. There was little doubt this was going to be a live music extravaganza worthy of neddyo acclaim. The evening did not disappoint, with styles ranging from a cappella to death metal with pretty much an entire planet's worth of genres in between. This was the kind of night that made you love music even more, a life's-love-affirming show... and Zorn'll probably top it with something even more absurd in 2015. Can't wait.

8. Umphrey's McGee, UMBOWLV, Capitol Theater, Port Chester, NY, 5/3
I was initially on the fence about hitting this local incarnation of Umphrey's annual throwdown. What a mistake it would have been to miss this one! The show is split into 4 "quarters," different sets with different themes: from fan-curated setllists to recreating and re-envisioning highlight jams from the band's history to a "choose your own adventure" style set that had the audience tweeting their choices as to where the band should go next. This was much more than a concert, it was an immersive, one-of-a-kind experience that put the live-action into live music in ways I've never witnessed before. Of course, that's nothing if the music isn't great and it was, oh, it was. Throw in a tremendous vibe and the best damn rock light show out there, and you have one helluva night.

9. Wayne Krantz/Keith Carlock/Nate Wood, 55 Bar 3/27 & 6/12
Wayne Krantz (+ Keith Carlock & Tim Lefebvre) at the 55 Bar on Thursdays used to be a neddyo institution. I found myself looking for my brain on the floor of 55 Christopher on many a Thursday back in the day. After a break in that action, I found myself back at the old place twice this year and rediscovering the true meaning of "mind blown." Nate Wood has proven himself to be more than willing and able to fill the bass player slot in the classic trio and, frankly, Krantz has never sounded better. To me there is nothing that's as quintessentially live-music-in-NYC as this show in this room and thankfully I was able to savor it a couple times in 2014. Unfortunately, it doesn't happen all that often any more, but when it does, do your best to get there!

10. Tame Impala, Beacon Theater, 11/10
While October rightly gets all the attention as the month for live music in NYC, my November was nearly equally as great with shows like this one at the Beacon. Tame Impala stands atop an entire genre of music right now, the kings of the neo-psych revolution with an extra dose of cross-over appeal. Of course, that could mean the product might start to suffer, but after seeing them destroy the Beacon like few can, I have little fear of that. It turns out, this music and this band was made for a theater like the Beacon with their orchestral-prog excursions and nerd-chic light show. Tame Impala has been quite good these last few years, but this was easily the best I've ever seen them. Here's my review of the show.

Honorable Mention (I'd honestly say that 90 of the shows I saw were "great" or better this year, but I'll keep the list at 25)

(links to reviews)

6/18 Goat @ Webster Hall
1/17 Bill Frisell, Buddy Miller, Carrie Rodriguez @ The Allen Room
3/1 Mike Gordon @ Webster Hall
4/11 Phil Lesh & Friends @ The Capitol Theater/12/29/2014 PhilRAD @ Capitol Theater

8/17 Trey Anastasio @ Brooklyn Bowl
9/16 Portugal. The Man and Grouplove @ Summerstage
9/11 White Denim @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
12/3 Yo La Tengo @ Town Hall
10/18 Sam Amidon @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
3/18 Bill Frisell's Beautiful Dreamers @ Village Vanguard
4/28 Kevin Drew @ Bowery Ballroom
6/15 Thee Oh Sees @ Death By Audio/11/17/2014 Thee Oh Sees @ Bowery Ballroom
10/9 Robert Plant & the Sensational Shape Shifters @ Brooklyn Bowl
10/12 Steve Gunn @ Rough Trade
4/21 Dustin Wong @ Bowery Ballroom

29 December 2014

2014 Year End -- Favorite Albums of the Year

Well, it's always a tough task, but this year felt especially tough. Thanks to the magic of streaming, I listened to nearly 1000 2014 albums over the past 12 months and a lot of the music was superb... a lot of it was crap, too, but worth the digging to find the hidden treasures, that's for sure.

This listing may change tomorrow, but here's today's version of my favorite albums of 2014. Emphasis as always on my and favorite.

As is my custom, I'm cheating a bit and I'm grouping these together, but I think you get the idea.

(Here's a Spotify playlist with most of these albums: Neddy's 2014 faves)

My top 10 (in alphabetical order):

Sam Amidon -- Lily-O
My favorite "folk" album of the year was really a contemplative genre-bender as Amidon brought in essentially a top-flight jazz band to back his already enchanting sound. Bill Frisell and Shahzad Ismaily joined Sam in making a record that is pure magic.

Nicole Atkins -- Slow Phaser
This album came out early in the year, caught hold of me, and surprisingly, never let go. The title and the album art give off the feeling of something science fiction (not to mention, her origins in Neptune, NJ), and indeed, there are little hints of synth and such that give this indie rock album something a little otherworldly. But really, it's Atkins' voice and awesome songs that make this worth repeated listens.

Causa Sui -- Live at Freak Valley/Pewt’r Sessions Vol. 3
I usually don't include live albums in my lists, but with this one, I couldn't resist. Easily, the album I listened to the most in 2014 was the live album from these Danish jammers. Each time through revealed new secrets, but mostly, I just can't get enough of these sick instrumental jams. Then, later in the year, they came out with the 3rd in a series of EP's of pure studio improv. As anyone that follows me on Twitter or really comes within earshot of me knows, I am totally in this band's thrall. Join me.

Fly Golden Eagle -- Quartz
My favorite discovery of 2014 was Fly Golden Eagle who take frontman Ben Trimble's Detroit and Nashville roots and combine them into something that is quintessentially American. This is the rare double album debut that needed to be a double album: sprawling and epic in scope, it covers Motown soul, midwest rock, Brit-glam and just about everything else, impressive and habit-forming. If you're a fan of My Morning Jacket, J Roddy Walston or Dr. Dog, this is what's next.

Steve Gunn -- Way Out Weather
Gunn's 2013 release, Time Off was a revelation of guitar and hinted at greater things to come, but this one was still a bit of a surprise in its completeness. It's folk and it's rock and it's psych, and yet it's none of those things. A beautiful, hypnotic masterpiece.

Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks -- Wig Out At Jagbags
Possibly sacrilege to say so, but for me, at some point several years ago, in my estimation, Malkmus' Jicks material surpassed Pavement. Maybe it's just my personal aesthetic. His newest paradoxically moves away from the longer jams of the last couple while serving as a fairly explicit paean to the Grateful Dead. This is Malkmus at his best: literate, funny, melodic, weird, easy to love and yet plenty of depth.

Mark McGuire -- Along the Way/Noctilucence
Sublime, stunning, gorgeous, moving... I need to get my thesaurus out to describe the music Mark McGuire made in 2014. His LP came out of nowhere to knock around in my headspace for a while and I don't think I've been the same since. On one level, this is just solo guitar-meets-ambient-electronica, but there is an emotional openness to the music that would be almost cheesy and embarrassing if it wasn't so beautiful and penetrating.

Papir -- IIII
What's going on in Denmark? Papir is a Copenhagen three-piece on the same label as Causa Sui and if you like one, you'll probably dig the other. This is brain-drilling instrumental studio jams of the highest order; long exploratory movements that suck you in and have their way with you. It's hard to tell where composition ends and improvisation begins and I don't know which I'm more impressed with. Music so good, they don't even name the tracks.

Ty Segall -- Manipulator
I have to admit, I tried my best not to like this album, and the fact that it's not streaming on Spotify helped me avoid it for a while. But in the end, I failed miserably. This is a tour de force of psych-rock, although it's much more than that. This is powerful stuff, the music of a master at the top of his game. Although, scary to think, maybe not even close to the top quite yet.

Woods -- With Light and With Love
Every year there's an album that I just can't get enough of that I can't imagine other people not loving as much as I do... and then at the end of the year it's not on a single year-end list. This year the unloved award goes to Woods' With Light and With Love, which, as far as my taste's go, is 2014 perfection. Looking over the rest of my top 10, this one is the perfect balance of folk, psychedelic, songwriting, jamming. I love this album.

I also loved... (the rest of my top 25 in alphabetical order)
Beck -- Morning Phase
Stone Jack Jones -- Ancestor
Jungle By Night -- The Hunt
Damien Jurado -- Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Son
Little Barrie -- Shadow
Natural Child -- Dancin’ With Wolves
Prince Rupert’s Drops -- Climbing Light
The Soundcarriers -- Entropicalia
Jenny Scheinman -- The Littlest Prisoner
Spanish Gold -- South of Nowhere
Spoon -- They Want My Soul
Sun Kil Moon -- Benji
Thee Oh Sees -- Drop
The War on Drugs -- Lost in the Dream
Woodsman -- Woodsman/Teleseparation EP

Good shit (26-50 in alphabetical order)
The Budos Band -- Burnt Offering
D’Angelo -- The Black Messiah
Toumani Diabate/Sidiki Diabate -- Toumani & Sidiki
Robert Ellis -- The Lights from the Chemical Plant
Eno/Hyde -- High Life
Get the Blessing -- Lope and Antilope
Goat -- Commune
Jesca Hoop -- Undress
Hurray For the Riff Raff -- Small Town Heroes
Dawn Landes -- Bluebird
Jenny Lewis -- The Voyager
Mehliana -- Taming the Dragon
Kikagaku Moyo -- Forest of Lost Children
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard -- Oddments
New Electric Ride -- Balloon Age
Quilt -- Held in Splendor
Abram Shook -- Sun Marquee
Sturgill Simpson -- Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Tinariwen -- Emmaar
Doug Tuttle -- Doug Tuttle
Tycho -- Awake
William Tyler -- Lost Colony/Blue Ash Montgomery
Stein Urheim -- Stein Urheim
Willie Watson -- Folk Singer Vol. 1
Jack White -- Lazaretto

Honorable Mention (51-100 in alphabetical order)
Axxa/Abraxas -- Axxa/Abraxas
The Bad Plus -- Inevitable Western
Big Boss Man -- Last Man on Earth
Black Market Karma -- Upside out Inside Down
Benjamin Booker -- Benjamin Booker
Brace/Choir -- Turning On Your Double
Pieta Brown -- Paradise Outlaw
Nels Cline Singers -- Macroscope
Neil Cowley Trio -- Touch and Flee
Steve Dawson -- Rattlesnake Cage
Kevin Drew -- Darlings
Fever the Ghost -- Crab in Honey (EP)
First Aid Kit -- Stay Gold
Erik Friedlander -- Nothing On Earth Soundtrack
Arch Garrison -- I Will Be A Pilgrim
The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger -- Midnight Sun + Long Gone
Hiss Golden Messenger -- Lateness of Dancers
Hospitality -- Trouble
Lia Ices -- Ices
Jeffertitti’s Nile -- The Electric Hour
Joan As Police Woman -- The Classic
Fletcher C Johnson -- It Rained Something Wicked
Jouis -- Dojo
Wayne Krantz -- Good Piranha/Bad Piranha
Julian Lage/Chris Eldridge -- Avalon
Landlady -- Upright Behavior
Lapland -- Lapland
The Mattson 2 -- Agar (EP)
Mogwai -- Rave Tapes
Motorpsycho -- Behind the Sun
Phantom Family Halo -- Raven Town Witch
Real Estate -- Atlas
St. Paul & the Broken Bones -- Half the City
St. Vincent -- St. Vincent
Schnauser -- Protein for Everyone
Jakob Skott -- Amor Fati/Taurus Rising
Swans -- To Be Kind
Temples -- Sun Structures
Todd Terje -- It’s Album Time
Chris Thile/Edgar Meyer -- Bass & Mandolin
Toure-Raichel Collective -- The Paris Session
Tune-Yards -- nikki nack
Tweedy -- Sukierae
Sharon Van Etten -- Are We There
Juan Wauters -- North American Poetry
Dustin Wong/Takako Minekawa -- Savage Imagination
Xylouris White -- Goats
Zeus -- Classic Zeus

I'll stop there before I list my top 200 and lose you completely.

28 December 2014

2014 Year End -- Artist of the Year

For the past few years I've annointed a @neddyo "artist of the year" -- the band or musician who defined my year or impressed me the most or made the best music or just struck my fancy, usually after removing Phish from consideration since they'd probably be my choice every year if I was being honest.

Past recipients::
2000's decade run-down
2008 = Apollo Sunshine
2009 = Portugal. The Man
2010 = Jim James
2011 = Medeski, Martin & Wood
2012 = Tame Impala/Kevin Parker
2013 = Joe Russo

This year was another tough decision. Lots of great music with few people standing out from a crowded field of excellence. My runner-up would have to be Steve Gunn who I saw three times in three different settings, each equally excellent not to mention he released a new album which will be near the top of my faves-of-2014 list.

But when it comes down to it, no band excited me both live and in the studio like Woods did in 2014. I only saw them twice, but these were easily two of the best shows I saw all year. They were events, with trippy visuals, excellent playing and sweet extended jams. The first at the Bowery Ballroom featured Drippy Eye Productions on the visuals and was an improv-filled extra-planetary adventure. My review of the show is here. Thankfully, NYCTaper recorded the show, so you can hear it here. As good as that night was, the second time I saw them was even better. This time, they played as part of the Joshua Light Show festival at NYU. Taking place in the middle of CMJ week in October and in the late slot, the room was little more than half full and discount tickets were available right up until showtime. Too bad for those that missed it.... with the superlative JLS setting the scene with their awe-inspiring visuals, Woods were as good as I've seen them, perfectly balancing their songsmanship with long, elegant, powerhouse jamming. The show opened with a lengthy improv and just went from there, easily one of my favorite shows of the year. This was the 2014 equivalent of seeing Jefferson Airplane or the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore East.

Woods' 2014 album, With Light and With Love is a thing of folk-psych beauty, hitting the neddyo sweet spot with excellent tracks and inspired playing, with no weak links or moments to skip. The title track is a 9 minute masterpiece and "Move to the Left" is one of my favorite songs of the year. Of course, in the annual tradition, it is criminally missing from almost every year-end best-of-2014 list I've seen. No matter, it's near the top of the only list that matters (to me).

Looking forward to more greatness from Woods in years to come. Their live shows this year show that there's much more bubbling beneath the surface and we should all be so lucky to see them reach their full potential.

Here is some video of the NYU Joshua Light Show gig... more to be found on YouTube

26 December 2014

2014 Year End - Playlists

Here are links to all of my 2014 Spotify playlists in one place for easy keeping. Follow me on Spotify or Twitter to keep up with the regular torrent of playlists and mixes.

My 4 year-end playlists had a States of Matter theme.

My favorite albums of 2014 are all together in one 1000-track playlist that should keep you busy for a while with some excellent releases.

Almost every week this year I wrote a column for JamBase with new music picks that might have been under your radar. In the end, I had about 100 RecommNeds which I urge you to check out. They are all here in this playlist.

I have a weekly minimix -- 6 tracks on a rotating weekly theme. These playlists are the 4 playlists for each theme stitched together in one 24-track maxi-minimix. Something for everyone:


24 December 2014

2014 Year End -- maxi-mixes

This blog seems to mostly serve as a repository for my year end lists and musings... which is fine, I suppose.

Here are my annual 4 year-end mixes. I typically do some theme. (If you're interested, here are the mixes from 20132012, and 2011.). This year's dorky theme is the "states of matter." 

Not necessarily my favorite songs of the year, although some certainly are... just 4 curated playlists of songs you may or may not have heard this year.


Year End Playlist #1: Gas -- ambient, light, floating

Year End Playlist #2: Liquid -- movement, flow, moist

Year End Playlist #3 Solid - weight, volume, structure

Year End Playlist #4 Plasma - dissociated, charged, reactive