Surviving in New York City is hard enough without a concert addiction and Ticketmaster fees bleeding you dry. In 2015, I caught over 50 shows in NYC, and more importantly did not go broke in the process. One day I will bore my grandchildren with the tale.
Below is my 2015 Favorite Concerts list, the fruit of many lengthy rides on the N/Q, G, L, and 7 trains. Special shout-out to Mixologi and Spectrum Culture for sending me to shows in 2015.
HM. Florence + The Machine @ Ramsey Playfield (June 24).
The sound and fury of Florence Welch’s just rolled outta bed pipes are enough to make me glassy-eyed at 8 in the morning, as I learned at her three-song Good Morning America taping.
HM. Leon Bridges @ Music Hall of Williamsburg (June 24).
The Texas crooner’s stage presence does not yet captivate the way his throwback soul standards do but the potential is there. (Original Review)
HM. Rev. Ken Anderson @ Union Pool (May 11).
Anderson is a Union Pool institution whose brass-backed spirituals create a euphoric revival in the hearts and minds of those who see him play Union Pool’s small stage.
15. Cloud Nothings @ NYU’s Strawberry Festival (May 8).
At street’s end on a makeshift stage surrounded by people there to eat a piece of a gigantic strawberry cake, the Cleveland trio ripped through a set that caused more than a few passer-by to cover their ears. (Original Review)
14. Sam Dew @ Afropunk Fest (Aug. 23).
The opening seconds of “Desperately” featuring Dew’s yearning falsetto shrouded in hazy electronics provided a moment of discovery and pleasure I did not expect as Afropunk’s final night closed. (Original Review)
13. Laura Marling @ Warsaw (March 23).
The Brit songstress has transformed from a precocious and sullen-visaged performer to a woman whose music captures a wide range of emotions, even joy and uplift. Hearing her live rendition of “I Was An Eagle” immersed me in a state of wonder.
12. Radiation City @ Music Hall of Williamsburg (May 5).
Only Radiation City, with its group harmonies and mix and match of melancholy and sunshine, could wrap me in all the Portland feels for an hour and leave me wanting more. (Original Review)
11. Suicidal Tendencies @ Afropunk Fest (Aug. 22).
The circle pit on-stage as Suicidal Tendencies played one of their shout-along barnburners could have gone awry but somehow the men and women throwing elbows and bucking like tased broncos didn’t knock over the performers. So yeah, life works out sometimes. (Original Review)
10. Titus Andronicus @ Shea Stadium (July 24).
The one and only time in 2015 I jumped on a sofa without shoes like it was a Big Freedia show in Portland circa 2011. The Jersey heroes’ set featured a heavy dose of its triple-album The Most Lamentable Tragedy but, for my $10, the glorious 14-minute rendition of “The Battle of Hampton Roads” best illustrated why Titus is one of today’s best live rock acts.
9. The War on Drugs @ Radio City Music Hall (Oct. 8).
I owe my filmmaker friend and stick driving instructor Will Zullo an apology. Lost in the Dream is a fantastic record and The War on Drugs are a great live band, even if you’re observing them as stick figures bobbing around from a football field away.
8. Against Me! @ Northside Festival (June 13).
My misgivings about Against Me! performing a show sponsored by Mountain Dew aside, Laura Jane Grace and Co. delivered a roaring set in the summer afternoon sun filled with gender acceptance messages, high kicks, and plenty of punk rock. Oh, and free cat piss, I mean Mountain Dew. (Original Review
7. Lucius @ Music Hall of Williamsburg (April 27).
The Siamese vocals, the all hands on deck percussion, the nerdy guitarist lost in his own world. I loved Lucius’ Steve Madden show at Music Hall LOTS, and then they did “Two of Us On The Run” in the crowd during their encore and my ginger heart melted a little. (Original Review)
6. Janelle Monae @ Best Buy Theater (March 26).
Janelle Monae is as electric a performer as exists in music today. And yet, she is so much more than a singer, dancer, and occasional rapper. Her support for racial and gender equality, even while performing a corporate event, impressed me most at this particular show. Many artists would sing and dance, take the nice paycheck, and walk off-stage content. Not Monae. Her voice – both as an instrument of entertainment and social change – is a beautiful thing. (Original Review)
5. Charles Bradley @ World’s Fair Anniversary Festival (June 7).
The sixty-something native New Yorker is a treasure. Performing with his band The Extraordinaires inside what resembled the interior of an 18-wheeler, Bradley screamed, pleaded, and thrust his way through a characteristically excellent show that almost didn’t happen because of a plane delay. His testimony about how others lifted him up when he thought he was a dead man six or seven years ago provided a powerful reminder you never know what greatness is lying within yourself or others. (Original Review)
4. Courtney Barnett @ Bowery Ballroom (May 19).
I fell hard for this Aussie lefty with the shaggy mop in 2015. Ironic since I didn’t even want to attend this show because I assumed her songs were too wordy, unfocused, and overhyped for my tastes. Uh, wrong, wrong, and wrong. Her guitar-playing walloped my senses and her witty storytelling takes on life’s mundane aspects enthralled me. Surprise, surprise. She is everything the cool kids say she is and so much more. (Original Review)
3. Ratking @ East River Park (Aug. 5).
For a certain segment of 18- to 21-year-old New York hip-hop heads Ratking is the only rap group that matters, to nick the Clash line. The phrase unrelenting hypeness comes to mind when I think of the crowd – and Ratking’s boys hanging backstage – going apeshit from the first song to the last at this Summerstage show. Watching Wiki and Hak rap and chant over Sporting Life’s beats is to feel the energy and grime of the city, past and present, pump through your veins. (Original Review)
2. Death Grips @ Afropunk Fest (Aug. 22).
At turns volatile, unyielding, and primal, Death Grips scorched Afropunk’s smaller stage amid MC Ride’s guttural shouts and Zach Hill’s rapid drumming. Did I understand much of what Ride shouted? No. Did it matter? No. You can make sense of a Death Grips show later – that is, if you don’t run away in the first five minutes. This set, pummeling as it was, left me in a weird state – a state of happiness – as I walked to Grace Jones’ headlining gig. (Original Review)
1. Raury @ Afropunk Fest (Aug. 23).
I’m not positive I’ll be telling people five or ten years from now about the time I witnessed the young legend in the making Raury perform at Afropunk but on the afternoon I watched the 19-year-old Indigo Child from Stone Mountain, Ga., dressed in loose-fitting gypsy attire and signature sunhat, enrapture the crowd with his rapping, singing, and acoustic guitar playing – not to mention his mid-set decisions to sign an autograph for a fan and pause to honor those lost to police killings – it certainly felt like I had seen the future. And the future was Raury. (Original Review)
All photos by Cajun Tomato.