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

30 December 2013

2013: Favorite Artist of the Year

Continuing through my year-end shenanigans, I'm continuing the fun-for-me tradition of the past few years and awarding an artist or band the "of the year" honors. Typically this goes to a musical act that's captured my attention over the course of the year more than any other (emphasis on my, your opinion my vary).

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

Again, there were some good candidates. Phish consistently blew me away and cemented their bestevah status in 2013, but that'd be a boring pick. Yo La Tengo is on the list, their album Fade was one of my favorites and the really impressed the two times I saw them at the start and end of the year. My runner up is Chris Thile who I was lucky to see play multiple superlative sets in different combinations, including a special, intimate set at Rockwood Music Hall and a high-level night of improvisation in duo form with the jazz pianist Brad Mehldau (reviewed here). I'll actually be seeing Thile's "regular" band, The Punch Brothers tonight. I also strongly urge you to check out Thile's album of solo Bach sonatas. It's better than you think it is. 

But even better than Thile in 2013 was Joe Russo. I bought my Joe Russo stock very early and have been happy to watch its value rise in the ensuing 14 or 15 years. I remember seeing him play at the old Wetlands when they'd have "superjams" that would stretch deep into the night with improvisation and dozens of musicians. These were "strut your stuff" sessions, many cooks, only one pot, tough to stand out. Sir Joe stood out and I made it a point to see him as much as I could, which lead several years later to my hanging out in a mostly-empty Tap Bar while Joe played crazy duets with his where-did-this-guy-come-from school friend, Marco Benevento. From there, the story is well known, with one thing over the past decade or so staying constant: Russo standing out for his excellence regardless of the situation or musicians playing in front of him... but not standing out too much.

All this came to a head in 2013. Freaks Ball. Joe Russo's Almost Dead. Is it strange to think that Joe Russo is now the flag bearer for the Grateful Dead song book? It is to me, but doesn't make it any less true. Between his playing in Further and Phil & Friends this year and the two JRAD gigs bookending the calendar, Joe is playing and invigorating the Dead equally as much as Phil Lesh. In addition to the Dead stuff, Joe was all over the place in 2013. Personally, I only saw a tiny sample of his output this year, but it was enough to bestow. The Bustle "plays other shit" show (i.e. The Bustle Quartet) at Brooklyn Bowl featured my favorite jam of the year when the band went from the Beatles to Michael Jackson to the Allman Brothers to the Grateful Dead in awe-inspiring fashion. The rest of the show was no slouch with Joe spearheading a full-album Black Sabbath cover set to start out the night... one of my favorite concerts of the year.

That thing about "sticking out" really made an impression for me this past fall when within a month I saw Russo play drums behind Todd Sickafoose and Cass McCombs within a month of each other. (he also contributed to tracks on McCombs' excellent new album this year). These were a free-wheeling "jazz" band and an alt-folkie indie band respectively and Joe's drumming was a major force in each instance. This wasn't showy, look-at-my-drum-solo stuff, this was elevating the music and transcending the genre with talent and graciousness. There wasn't any other musician who hit so many of my sweet spots in the last 12 months, not even close... and I probably missed most of his greatest moments, I mean, there's this for one:

So, there you have it, my personal favorite artist of 2013: Joe Russo.

Shows I saw with audio and review links. (Thanks as always to the tapers!):
  • Joe Russo's Almost Dead, Freaks Ball XIII, Brooklyn Bowl, 1/26
    • audio
    • fulls show video below
  • Phil Lesh & Friends, Capitol Theater, 7/22
  • The Bustle Quartet, Brooklyn Bowl, 8/31
  • Todd Sickafoose's Tiny Resistors, 55 Bar, 11/15
  • Cass McCombs, Bowery Ballroom, 12/13
  • Joe Russo's Almost Dead, Capitol Theater, 12/27

Joe Russo's Almost Dead:

26 December 2013

2013 Year End -- maximixes

It's been a while since I've posted anything, but going to be putting up my year-end stuff here and over at Tumblr.

First up are my year end "maxi" mixes which are always fun to do. Every year I do 4 mixes and try to come up with some theme to tie them together. Last year the theme was morning, afternoon, night and after-hours, in 2011 the theme was fall folk, winter women, psych spring, and sunburn summer.

This year's theme is local, national, international and intergalactic. I'm posting all 4 mixes at once since I'm a bit behind. Enjoy!

2013 Year End Mix #1: Local (musicians from the NYC area)

01 Charles Bradley – Strictly Reserved for You
02 Vampire Weekend – Diane Young
03 Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – Regarding Ascending the Stairs
04 Marnie Stern – You Don't Turn Down
05 Eleanor Friedberger – You'll Never Know Me
06 Widowspeak – Smoke and Mirrors
07 Christopher Paul Stelling – Homesick Tributaries
08 Glenn Jones – My Garden State
09 Yellowbirds – Stop Tonight
10 The Black Hollies – Lunatic Influenza Pt Ii: Take Me as I Am
11 Akron/Family – Until the Morning
12 Parquet Courts – He's Seeing Paths
13 Ducktails – Jazz
14 Alex Bleeker & The Freaks – Don't Look Down
15 Yo La Tengo – Ohm (live)

2013 Year End Mix #2: National (music from the rest of the USA)

01 Kurt Vile (Philadelphia) – Wakin On A Pretty Day
02 White Denim (Austin) – At Night in Dreams
03 J Roddy Walston And The Business (Baltimore) – Take It As It Comes
04 Thee Oh Sees (San Francisco) – Toe Cutter - Thumb Buster
05 Portugal. The Man (Portland) – Modern Jesus
06 Unknown Mortal Orchestra (Portland) – Swim and Sleep [Like a Shark]
07 Blitzen Trapper (Portland) – Shine On
08 Rose Windows (Seattle) – Native Dreams
09 Neko Case (Chicago) – Night Still Comes
10 Valerie June (Memphis) – Wanna Be On Your Mind
11 Kingsley Flood (Boston) – Waiting On the River to Rise
12 Frontier Ruckus (Detroit) – Dealerships
13 Jonathan Wilson (Los Angeles) – Dear Friend
14 The Shouting Matches (Eau Claire) – Gallup, NM
15 The Growlers (California) – One Million Lovers

2013 Year End Mix #3: International (music from the rest of the world)

01 Juana Molina (Argentina) – Eras
02 Jagwar Ma (Australia) – Come Save Me
03 Junip (Sweden) – Line of Fire
04 Brendan Canning (Canada) – However Long
05 The Limiñanas (France) – My Black Sabbath
06 Moodoid (France) – Je sais ce que tu es
07 Bombino (Niger) – Amidinine
08 Bassekou Kouyate + Ngoni ba (Mali) – Ne Me Fatigue Pas
09 Vieux Farka Touré (Mali) – Doni Doni
10 Jacco Gardner (Netherlands) – Chameleon
11 Cate le Bon (Wales) – Wild
12 Courtney Barnett (Australia) – History Eraser
13 Pond (Australia) – Giant Tortoise
14 Schnauser (England) – Pigeons
15 Neils Children (England) – The Way the Web Was Woven

2013 Year End Mix #4: Intergalactic (music to help you leave the planet)

01 Dawn of Midi – lo
02 Date Palms – Yuba Source Part I
03 Lumerians – Dogon Genesis
04 Kiki Pau – Astronauttija
05 Our Solar System – Merkurius
06 Holydrug Couple – Out of Sight
07 Causa Sui – Homage
08 Hookworms – Away / Towards
09 Plankton Wat – Toward the Golden City
10 Mountains – Circular C
11 Dustin Wong – (A) shows (B) his analysis and (C) looked over
12 Earthless – Equus October
13 Föllakzoid – 99
14 Montibus Communitas – Hanan Pacha
15 Earthling Society – The Elevator Does Not Stop at This Floor