Ever since discovering the Grateful Dead as an awestruck 15 year old, and the subsequent and thankfully temporary detour I took towards jam bands, I’ve been a big believer in the power of live music. My tastes have since widely diverged and expanded (yes, beyond just Phish), and I’ve always gone out of my way to see bands and artists I’m interested in or have heard something good about. Moving to New York presented opportunities to see an amazing array of concerts, from aging arena headliners to the latest Pitchfork-approved scrappy upstart. I had a good group of concert going friends with similar tastes, and don’t think I ever went more than 3 weeks without a show lined up.
The ten best shows I saw this past year:
10. Built to Spill, Irving Plaza. One of my favorite bands plays a virtually flawless setlist at a great venue. Yeah, I loved it.
9. Phish, Madison Square Garden. I’ll never not love seeing Phish live. Even though I don’t scour the internet for Phish analysis and discussion as I used to (yes, these websites exist), epic Phish jams still actually sound epic to me. This show was an old fashioned Phish barn burner in a legendary venue.
8. Nine Inch Nails, Barclays Center. NIN kills live. That simple.
7. Japandroids, Webster Hall. I wasn’t really aware of all the hype the album was getting, and had only given it a cursory listen or two pre-show, so I was in the right mindset for getting blown away. I kept being surprised there were only two of them up there, it was just so big sounding.
6. Wilco, Hoboken Pier A. This was the first time seeing maybe my second favorite band of all time, and it was a gorgeous summer night with the Manhattan skyline framing a setting sun in the background. They sounded crisp, played a great setlist with fun covers and guests, and looked happy to be there. Never underestimate a band having fun in front of an adoring audience.
5. Flying Lotus, Terminal 5. This was my second time seeing FlyLo, and after his ridiculous late night Bonnaroo set, I had big expectations. His 3D stage set up was literally dizzying, and the balance between huge hip hop beats and his trademarked space-jazz-techno was masterful. He is simply one of the most creative people making music today, and his live show is worthy of his already classic recent albums.
4. Fuzz, Mercury Lounge. I’ve seen Ty Segall 5 times in 2 years, and this may have been the best. The place is tiny, the crowd was raucous, and the music was ear splittingly loud. Woke up with several (not so) mysterious bruises the next day. Meeting and chatting with Ty over beer beforehand made it all even cooler.
3. The National, Barclays Center. A triumphant hometown show by the easiest to root for band in indie rock on the heels of their excellent new album. Awesome.
2. Four Tet, Webster Hall. I actually saw FlyLo just a few nights before this show, and was totally prepared for Four Tet to be unable to live up to that mindfuck of a show. Not as dynamic a sound or as animated on stage, but he was locked in the entire time, playing an uninterrupted set weaving familiar melodies in and out for the spellbound crowd. $5 tickets to boot.
1. Yo la Tengo, Maxwells. They’ve been playing 8 Hanukkah shows at Maxwells each year since the late 90’s, and little did anyone know 2012 would be their last run. In light of a gentrifying Hoboken with sinking interest for sleepy indie rockers, Maxwells closed its doors this past summer. Even though in hindsight this made it an even more special night, the show still more than held its own.
I made the last minute decision to buy a ticket through Craigslist and make the trek solo to catch what was probably my most treasured recent band discovery. What I saw was the best possible YLT show I could have wished for- Crazy Horse-esque long jammy abrasive guitar pieces sandwiching shorter, concise, buoyant pop. The crowd was a whopping 200, and I was right up front (and not even a little bit squished). This experience cemented my love for this quirky band, and I now celebrate their entire discography (especially in the dreary winter months). I’ll never forget this concert.
(Note- I’ve posted my top albums of the year each year since 2006 here).
In 2013, it seemed I always had a favorite band’s new album to look forward to, and I was constantly discovering great new listens. This was my favorite year since 2010, and I have no choice but to expand my list to 25 this year.
25. Atoms for Peace– Amok
24. Sigur Ros– Kveikur
23. Washed Out– Paracosm
22. Fuzz– Fuzz
21. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds– Push the Sky Away
20. Thee Oh Sees– Floating Coffin
19. Ducktails– The Flower Lane
18. Yo La Tengo– Fade
17. James Blake– Overgrown
16. Parquet Coruts– Light up Gold
15. Bill Callahan– Dream River
14. Four Tet– Beautiful Rewind
13. Disclosure– Settle
12. Phosphorescent– Muchacho
11. Kurt Vile– Wakin on a Pretty Daze
10. The Men– New Moon. Rock and roll for the rest of us. A pretty big departure from their earlier hardcore punk towards something not too many degrees removed from John Fogerty. Great, no frills album start to finish.
9. My Bloody Valentine– mbv. I make no claims to be a true My Bloody Valentine fan (I had tried and failed to “get” Loveless for years.) Yet the internet hype was impossible to ignore, and I slowly found myself enthralled by this music. It was hard to listen to anything else for a while after getting into this one.
8. Arcade Fire– Reflektor. The biggest band in the indie-verse, with everybody watching, teams up with captain DFA and just flat out delivers. The James Murphy-ization was actually less dramatic than I had expected, and is really no more of a sonic leap from its predecessor than The Suburbs was from Neon Bible.
7. Boards of Canada– Tomorrow’s Harvest. In a year of super hyped comeback albums, this was perhaps the most underrated and probably the most triumphant. Somehow even subtler than their previous offerings not exactly known for their sonic dynamism, this is a back-loaded, meticulously paced, hypnotic darkhorse.
6. Kanye– Yeezus. Abrasive, barbed wire rap. Not sure we saw anybody execute a specific vision so flawlessly in 2013.
5. Haim– Days are Gone. Almost impossible to believe this is a debut album, these tightly wound, infectious songs are so catchy and fully realized this could easily pass as a greatest hits album. I can’t imagine any fun loving person not enjoying this music.
4. Vampire Weekend– Modern Vampires of the Weekend. For some reason, I had chosen to ignore this band up until now, so I went in to this album with an unfair advantage. It is lively and fun throughout, and to my ears sounds more mature than their earlier output.
3. Jon Hopkins– Immunity. I’ve accepted that I’m especially horrible at describing electronic music, but here you go- I’m tempted to call this working/studying/reading music, but anytime I tried to get something done with this on headphones, I ended up having to put down whatever I was doing, stare at the wall, and contemplate the mystery of life. This almost sounds like the soundtrack to an IMAX feature on the millennia of human evolution (I’m picturing epic Neanderthal tribal battles over fertile hunting grounds to “Open Eye Signal”).
2. The National– Trouble Will Find Me. An album of great National songs start to finish from perhaps the most deserving band in rock. (Mostly) gone are the uneasy, dread filled atmospherics of their last two, and more of a content, warm, and even celebratory (relatively speaking of course) collection of songs.
1. Danny Brown– Old. This album is a manic masterpiece. Technical, rowdy, hedonistic, and underneath it all, kind of touching. For a double album this long and covering so much territory, it is compulsively listenable throughout with not a single weak track. I didn’t even have to think too hard- this is my favorite album of 2013, and you need to listen to it immediately (just be prepared to feel the strange urge to run to your nearest weight room, therapist, or drug dealer afterwards.)