Seconds into her industry showcase at The Box in lower Manhattan Wednesday night, Norwegian teen songstress Aurora grimaced then halted her first song, “Runaway.” No errant guitar note – nor pink stage light, as the audience learned before song No. 2 – would distract the petite 19-year-old blonde as she wove intricate tales of escape, belonging, and sanctuary with her at turns delicate and demonstrative voice backed by soft guitar and drums. Her frantic, oft times jerky hand and arm flourishes buffered her song’s theatrics, ping-ponging between the gestures of a coked-up orchestra conductor, a street dice player with an OCD pre-throw ritual, and an electric chair victim. OK, maybe that last example is hyperbole.
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.
“The night is alive, it’s loud and I’m drunk.”
As opening lines go, James Alex’s intro on “Noisy Heaven” is sublime – a blurry-eyed, present tense reverie whose veins run with 80 proof punk rock. The surging guitars that follow Alex’s opening salvo serve as tribute to the night’s total victory, any and all imperfections be damned. The sonic sum is like stage-diving into the waiting arms of the best night ever.
A week ago, at my roommate’s insistence, I sat through Terminator: Genysis, a film whose migraine-inducing, clustercuss of a time-traveling plot made zero sense to my bayou brain. If you told me Texas soul-singer Leon Bridges, whose live show I witnessed in Brooklyn two weeks ago, accessed the Terminator: Genysis teleportation chamber in order to travel between the 1960s and now I would believe you. At worst, this explanation of Bridges’ retro voice, stage mannerisms and fashion sense would make more sense than the movie.
As I wrote in my review of his Music Hall of Williamsburg concert, Leon Bridges is a green performer despite what his classic sound might suggest. His smooth voice offers a fine facsimile of R&B legends but his stage presence does not inspire the same awe. One would guess, when his time-traveling act returns to NYC in the fall, that many of the wrinkles in his show, much like those in his high-waisted pants and polo shirt, will be ironed out.
Two Saturdays ago, I found myself standing under a high, unrelenting afternoon sun in a glorified parking lot in Williamsburg, some lab-invented concoction called a Mountain Dew Kickstart Limeade in my hand, waiting for Florida punks Against Me! and Our Post-Sellout World to start. I mention Mountain Dew because its Green Label put on the free show at Northside Fest in Brooklyn, offering complimentary energy drinks, soft drinks and water to fans. Meanwhile, boozehounds had to pay for alcohol because this is America.
Listicles Week starts today with my Favorite Concerts 2015 Halftime Edition – a list comprised solely of NYC shows I’ve attended for free (the only kind of shows I’ve seen this year). I will drop my Favorite Songs and Albums of 2015 later this week.
In the meantime here are my 10 favorite concert performances of the year listed in alphabetical order according to the artist’s first name. Click the performer’s name to read my original review. Enjoy!
Three years since I left Portland for NYC, the former city’s late-night food truck excursions, karaoke make-out sessions and forever gray, forever drizzly winters seem remote like a hazy memory of an ex-lover’s touch. On Friday night inside Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Portland-based timeless pop/rock act Radiation City unlocked past glories/misadventures on Hoyt, Burnside, Belmont and many other streets and intersections whose names I forget. Of course these memories existed a continent away, if not a lifetime, but for the band’s half-hour set all of these ghosts felt present in one room.
Somewhere along my journey from the bayou to the Big Apple I failed Madames Naquin, Orillion and Benoit. The conversational French I learned under their tutelage over six years in middle school, high school and college gradually washed away like my native south Louisiana’s wetlands, leaving me a stereotypical monolingual American. In my limited encounters with French-speaking tourists in New York City I’ve tried to resurrect the faint heartbeat of my ancestral language, often to their puzzlement, amusement or both. Same goes for when girlfriends, noting my Cajun heritage, request I speak the language of amour, a request more seductive in theory than practice. After all, it’s hard to seduce someone when your language mastery sounds like Quasimodo looks. Il est pas beau, as the French say.
On Friday afternoon under a tent erected across the street from a ginormous strawberry shortcake Cleveland dystopian rock trio Cloud Nothings inspired one of the most delicious ironies I’ve witnessed in New York City. The small band of NYU students gathered in front of the impromptu stage – god bless ‘em and their overpriced educations – shouted along with Dylan Baldi lines like “I thought I would be more than this” and “No future, no past” with the gusto of true believers during the band’s Strawberry Festival headlining gig. I mean, if they identify this strong with Baldi’s words at 20 or 21, good luck when they find themselves struggling to stay afloat in the job market, while tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
But for one afternoon everything was cakey, noisey and sublime.
A song as painful as it is beautiful, “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross” finds the artist best known for portraits of other places and people turning his lens inward on his own grief following his mother’s death. For longtime Sufjan Stevens fans hearing the 39-year-old Michigan-born storyteller whisper-sing the words “Fuck me, I’m falling apart”, as he describes trying and failing to use vice to fill his void, will damn near rip your heart out. No one is spared grief in this life but few capture it in song in as haunting a manner as Stevens does here with just his shaky voice, finger-picked acoustic guitar and window a/c unit.