Wayne Coyne doin’ Wayne Coyne stuff at Hudson Valley Project. Photo: Cajun Tomato
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.
Angel Olsen, she of the elusive smiles.
Full disclosure: This concert happened Feb. 20, which is almost a month ago. I might rename this site Cajun Tomato Monthly.
I entered Angel Olsen’s sold-out Le Poisson Rouge show with two misconceptions. One, her performance’s power would hinge almost entirely on her garage girl band gone old-timey country voice. The live clips I’d seen showed her gently strumming her guitar without a backing band. Two, like a sullen mime the St. Louis born alt-folk/alt-country/alt-heartbreak artist never broke her stone-faced glare while singing. In both areas a revelation awaited.
Thomas Arseneault (nee Mas Ysa) at Glasslands. Photo credit: Brooklyn Vegan
His stage name could conceivably be pronounced three or four ways. His backstory reads like a person playing hopscotch over the western hemisphere. His vocals on the Pitchfork-approved cut “Shame” recall Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu howling for help in vain as he tumbles down a sinkhole. And the song’s words, well they are anyone’s guess. Yes, Montreal via New York City via Brazil performer Thomas Arseneault (nee Mas Ysa pronounced maas ee-sa) has oodles of intrigue.
Janelle Monae doin’ the tightrope at Voodoo Music Experience in 2010.
Prior to Wednesday I considered skipping Governors Ball Music Festival this year despite three key components working in its favor – a) Outkast; b) I live within walking distance to Randall’s Island; and c) Outkast (both Andre 3000 and Big Boi are key components). Mother Nature conspired to ruin Governors Ball last year, and the memory of my boots sticking in the ground during Kanye West’s festival closing performance lingered. So did memories of lackluster food choices and poor visibility for many shows. (I’ve never attended a festival where I struggled to see the stage so often, and I am 6-foot-2 when not standing in swampy quicksand.)
Governors Ball’s lineup hints via social media in the weeks leading up the lineup release, while novel, failed to suggest how strong the final product would be. I skipped buying presale tickets Tuesday for that very reason – and in the process ended up spending $50 more. The festival’s full lineup release on Wednesday erased my skepticism and convinced me to buy tickets as soon as they went on-sale. As of this writing weekend passes are still available for Governors Ball, which runs from June 6-8.
Below are my 2014 Governors Ball Must-See Acts. My rankings are based on how much I like the performers’ music plus how many times I’ve seen live plus how much I enjoy their live show. My formula is weighted toward artists I’ve never seen before. That’s the point of going to festivals, right?
Big Freedia comin’ one more time!
Keeping in tradition of sports web sites who anoint next season’s favorite after the previous season wrapped the night before I am submitting to you, dear reader, my way too early Coachella 2015 wishlist. I limited my list to acts who did not play Coachella 2013 and are not scheduled to play Coachella 2014. Also, I took into consideration artists expected to drop new albums in 2014.
Big Boi circa 2010.
Wednesday night’s Coachella 2014 lineup announcement confirmed arguably the worst-kept secrets in the festival’s history – namely, reunited hip-hop icons Outkast and Grammy Award-winning art-rockers Arcade Fire would serve as headliners. The festival’s third headliner, Brit rock act Muse, had also been a name kicked around the blogosphere in recent days.
Who cares about surprises when the words “Outkast”, “Arcade Fire” and “confirmed headliners” are used in the same sentence? My mind launched into cartwheel mode upon seeing the official Coachella poster. And not just because Outkast and Arcade Fire adorned it. This lineup is hotter than the California desert in early April. Last I recall that’s 106 degrees and rising.
Below are my 10 Coachella 2014 Must-See Acts. I’ll be in Indio, Calif., for the festival’s first weekend April 11-13. These are the performers whose sets take precedent over any time conflicts with other performers (and there will be plenty of these) or my never ceasing desire to wait in line for dungeness crab fries – my death row meal. Also, I focused on acts I haven’t seen live.
Titus Andronicus at Brooklyn Bowl
Here’s a partial list of places I witnessed amazing live music in 2013: a bowling alley; a glorified parking lot; a swamp-like island decimated by a tropical rainstorm; a record store with a capacity of 60; a legendary baseball stadium that seats 50,000+; and a courthouse square. None of these locales represent traditional concert forums. Perhaps that’s why they produced some of my most indelible live music memories this year. The element of surprise matched with the uniqueness of venue, whether indoors or outdoors, and, of course, the talent of the musicians involved resulted in moments of joy in which time froze.
The view from the cheap seats
This post is dedicated to my dad. Also: Thanks to Matt W. for editing.
On the midsummer night I witnessed Jay Z and Justin Timberlake electrify Yankee Stadium, more than 50,000 city residents slept on the streets, in the subways, or elsewhere without a home. I know this because in recent weeks and months media outlets like The New Yorker and The New York Times shined a light on the city’s shameful homeless record. I met one such man – a self-described Iraq vet suffering from PTSD – on my walk from the working-class Dominican community of Washington Heights to Yankee Stadium under a full moon on July 20. Ironically, four months after our brief encounter, I still think about the man – and what he represents – more so than I do the concert of the year.