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.
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.
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.
My 2014 concert-going adventures matched my age, or came damn close. I witnessed around 30 live performances this year, a number that suggests maybe I am slowing down as my vintage increases or slowing down as my New York City rent obligations grow.
The news isn’t all bad though. 2014 provided me the opportunity to check off several artists from my bucket list and witness many others who I had loved in previous years. It even provided me a chance to see Jennifer Lopez lip-sync for 90 minutes in the Bronx, and live to tell the tale (which I haven’t).
You will notice this list skews heavily toward festival performances. That is because I am poor – to maintain an active concert-going existence in NYC means buying tickets bloated with Ticketmaster and Live Nation fees four or five months in advance – and the club shows featuring up-and-coming acts I witnessed were mostly misses, with one key exception.
Here is my favorite concerts 2014 edition list:
Merchandise frontman Carson Cox stepped onto the Music Hall of Williamsburg stage Tuesday night right out of central casting, it would appear, for a remake of a Brando or Dean flick celebrating men of a different era blessed with a certain je ne sais quoi. His sandy blond hair shaded his sculpted jaw, his T-shirt rolled above his bicep like some neo-greaser, his voice toed an androgynous line both sensual and aggressive. An overhead green stage light highlighted his mysterious, effervescent cool.
He screamed without screaming: “I am here. Watch me.”
Hailing from Tampa, Fla., a bay city not renowned for its effervescent cool, the quintet Merchandise plays lush rock-n-roll that lingers in the air, searching, yearning, driving toward something unknown. They started out playing DIY shows in the Sunshine state, and have since evolved to a sound classicists would not label punk. They’ve released three solid records, the most recent of which, After the End, dropped earlier this year on 4AD. Oh, and there are the Morrissey comparisons vis a vis the aching, feminine air to Cox’s croon.
Among the retired jerseys of Kidd, Williams, and Petrovic I took my seat above the snow line inside Barclays Center in Brooklyn to watch Montreal art-rock ensemble Arcade Fire wrap up their three-night residency two weekends ago. I purchased the ticket at a discount on Groupon the week before as a means of (hopefully) closing a nine-year-old wound incurred when I skipped an Arcade Fire show, for which I had tickets, because I did not want to drive alone to New Orleans. Just typing that sentence makes me shake my head.
Seeing Arcade Fire four albums and 10 years into their career at the Brooklyn Nets basketball arena, as opposed to on the floor performing their first album at the House of Blues in New Orleans, would need to suffice on this August night. Alas, when I arrived at my section, seated parallel to the left of the stage, I couldn’t help but feel a wee bit of regret. There were seats, for one. And they were a football field from the stage. I held a $5 cup of Coke in one hand and a $7 bucket of cheese popcorn in the other. The two combined accounted for the price of one beer, enough to make any concert a sober experience.
Credit Arcade Fire and their tremendous songbook for erasing my outrage at beer prices and disappointment at my seat location. They are an arena band now. Connecting with the back row is, in many ways, as important as connecting with the front. And from where I was standing – closer to the heavens than ever before at a concert – I’d say Win Butler and Co. did a damn good job, leaving me enthused about the Arcade Fire “experience” even if the conditions I experienced them in were less than my ideal. Dare I say next time Arcade Fire comes to town I would spring for $80 floor tickets? Yes, yes I would.