31 December 2013

2013: Favorite Shows of the Year

In my decades of seeing live music, no calendar year matches the quality and quantity of shows I saw in 2013. I think the correct term for the amount of music I saw is "shit ton" and nearly every one of them was fantastic.

The stats:
144 different bands seen (74 for the first time)
113 shows total (after tonight's NYE show)
97 nights out
46 different venues (in 11 different cities, 2 different countries)

Here were my favorite 10+ shows in 2013:

1.a Phish (various nights and locations)
21 years of Phish and in 2013 they blew me away more than ever. This band is operating at an incredibly high level right now. Saw them 9 times this year and all were consistently great if not better than great (well, excluding that lackluster rainy first set we endured at Jones Beach before leaving). If I had to choose, 11/1 and 12/29 were my favorites, but every night had something to love... and one more show before the calendar turns! 

1.b Joe Russo's Almost Dead, 1/26 Brooklyn Bowl + 12/27 Capitol Theater//The Bustle Quartet 8/31 Brooklyn Bowl
Almost as much as I loved Phish this year, I f'in loved seeing Joe Russo (@neddyo fave artists of the year), Scott Metzger, Dave Dreiwitz, Tom Hamilton and Marco Benevento own the Grateful Dead this year as JRAD. The Freaks Ball in January was easily my favorite of them all between the mind-blowing music, who was on stage making it and who was around me on the floor. Amazingly, the Cap show (reviewed here) was nearly quite as good. Perfect bookends to a perfect year of live music. The Bustle-plays-other-shit show right before Labor Day was kind of a sneaky little gem. There weren't a ton of people there, but those in attendance got their brains rearranged when Russo stormed the quartet through a set of Sabbath like few can. The second set was a goldmine of jams that can best be described as "sick!" If you haven't heard the Beatles>Michael Jackson>Allmans>Grateful Dead stretch, please do yourself a favor. One of my favorite things. My review

2. Portugal. The Man, 5/20 Irving Plaza + 9/27 Terminal 5
Hey, I love these guys! They killed it both times, elevating their live show and the production. The new songs/album is amazing. Seeing them play in a hotel lobby on 9/27 was pretty special as well. May every year have opportunities to see PtM. Terminal 5 review here.

3. Masada Marathon, 9/15, Skirball Center
John Zorn turned 60 this year and although I only caught one of his celebration shows, I made it count. Over the course of this long night I saw the most beautiful, the loudest, the quietest, the most awe-inspiring and, honestly, the best music you could ever imagine.Over 12 bands playing at the highest level possible.

4. The Bad Plus, 1/3, Village Vanguard (early/late)
Sensing a theme here? Another one of my favorite groups at the top of their game. I saw TBP a couple times this year, but this one stands out. I have an annual tradition of seeing these guys as my first show of the year -- a great way to clear the slate and get things started right. Looking forward to the next one.

5. Goat, 4/23, Music Hall of Williamsburg
Goat's album "World Music" was a late-year discovery for me in 2012, so I jumped at the chance to see them when they were in town. Their live show was an intense psychedelic masterpiece, a non-stop onslaught of brain-trip music. This was one of those shows that made you go "whoa!" My review

6. Yo La Tengo, 2/16 Town Hall + 12/15 The Bell House
Another band I caught multiple times at opposite ends of the calendar was Yo La Tengo who were out and about touting their new album. The shows were a split affair, one set nominally acoustic, the other electric. I prefer to call them the "quiet set" and the "loud set." The amazing thing is how expert these live vets are at doing both. The quiet sets were as perfect and gorgeous as you could imagine and the second sets were bombastic, jammed-out shredders. With a full year of touring between the shows, the December gig was definitely the better of the two, but they were both awesome.

7. Jim James, 2/19, Music Hall of Williamsburg
Before Jim James went out touring his solo album proper, he made a special appearance at the MHOW, and special it was. I don't know what it was, but something in the air this night really brought out some deep dark energy from James and his band and the crowd there to see them. The set proper was excellent and exploratory, but the encore of My Morning Jacket songs pushed the night over the top. When James returned in April, the show was plenty good, but nothing like this one. My review

8. Follakzoid & Holydrug Couple, 3/21, Mercury Lounge
Did you know that two of the sweetest psych-rock bands on the planet are from Chile? This double bill packed a double wallop of psychedelica with long, drony jams and a sweet old school liquid light show. The Merc is my favorite room in the city and this show was perfectly fit for the room. My review.

9. Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau, 4/9, Bowery Ballroom
It's not obvious that pairing together two top-flight musical geniuses is going to produce something worth listening to, but in this case... wow! Next level two-man interplay and improvisation on mandolin and piano. I think my IQ went up about 10 points during this set, but supremely beautiful and moving all the same. My review.

10. The Heartless Bastards, 7/10, Music Hall of Williamsburg
One of my favorite rock and roll bands just rocked and f'in rolled in Brooklyn this night. Just a perfect hair-raising set of music. I also note this show as one of my favorite pre-show meal/show pairings, as The Big Squeeze and I dined at Delaney's Briskettown beforehand. A scrumptious night all around.

Honorable Mention:
6/11 Marc Ribot/Nels Cline/Bill Frisell @ Le Poisson Rouge
1/20 Umphrey's McGee @ Brooklyn Bowl
7/26 My Morning Jacket, Wilco, Bob Dylan @ Pier A, Hoboken
10/16 White Denim et al @ Mercury Lounge + 9/10 @ Bowery Ballroom + 6/22 Brooklyn Bowl (Houndmouth opening)
7/22 Phil Lesh & Friends @ Capitol Theater, Port Chester
12/14 Anders Osborne @ Brooklyn Bowl
6/13 Junip @ Highline Ballroom
9/23 Chris Thile solo @ Rockwood Music Hall 2
11/17 Widespread Panic @ Theater at MSG
10/12 My Morning Jacket in Times Square
11/15 Todd Sickafoose's Tiny Resistors @ 55 Bar
2/28 Unknown Mortal Orchestra/Foxygen @ Bowery Ballrom; 10/11 UMO @ MHOW
5/8 Bill Frisell's Beautiful Dreamers @ Village Vanguard
1/23 Trey Anastasio @ Capitol Theater, Port Chester
9/11 Mountains, Date Palms, Plankton Wat @ Union Pool
3/7 Django Django @ MHOW
4/27 Oneida @ Mercury Lounge
5/13 Matthew E. White @ Bowery Ballroom
5/19 Milk Carton Kids @ Bowery Ballroom
9/3 Dawn of Midi @ Le Poisson Rouge

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