Critic: Josh Potter
1. Francis and the Lights
EMPAC, Oct. 29
Singer takes a 40-foot free fall into a hidden air cushion after performing a power ballad on a white Fender Rhodes perched on a ladder-accessed platform. ‘Nuff said.
2. Restoration Festival Day Two
St. Joseph’s Church, Aug. 28
With hurricane Irene raging outside, filling the venue with a foot of water in some places and forcing national acts to cancel, the B3nson clan rallied for one of the most inspired days of music in recent memory.
3. White Denim
Iron Horse Music Hall, June 23
Short set for a mostly empty room. Made me fall in love with rock & roll again.
Bearsville Theater, April 15
Funky Afrobeat workouts, bari saxophones, crowd-surfing trumpet solos, party songs about childbirth, the Esopus Creek . . . this show had it all.
5. Pillow Wand
Solid Sound Festival, MASS MoCA, June 25-26
It’s hard to figure full festivals into this list, but avant guitar super duo Pillow Wand (Thurston Moore and Nels Cline) were this year’s clear standouts.
6. Mountain Man and BOBBY
Club Helsinki, July 29
Female a cappella trio Mountain Man charmed the pants off of this cozy crowd, but dream-pop openers BOBBY were the big surprise.
7. Atlas Sound
Skidmore College, Nov. 19
With just his guitar, harmonica, voice—and extensive pedal board—Bradford Cox filled the Zankel Music Center with a choir’s worth of sound.
Flywheel Arts Collective, May 15
A great homecoming show in a humble converted church during the month her new record was blowing up the Internet.
9. Gogol Bordello
Northern Lights, April 1
The rafters of the over-packed room were dripping with condensation—and that was before the band’s three encores.
10. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
The Egg, Jan. 22
Seat assignments for this one were futile, as from the moment Jones hit the stage the crowd was on its feet—and occasionally onstage as well.
Critic: Kirsten Ferguson
1. The Feelies
MASS MoCA, Nov. 11
Whether playing songs from their great new album, Here Before, or reeling off one well-chosen cover after another—from the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog” to R.E.M.’s “Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)”—during three encores, the reunited Feelies were on fire.
2. Shonen Knife
Valentine’s, nov. 20
What a fun show, opened by Albany’s own the Last Conspirators and topped with a jubilant set by Japan’s Shonen Knife on their 30th anniversary tour of North America. This show had it all: short blasts of pop-punk tunes punctuated by thrashed hair, adorable smiles, hands raised in devil-horn salute and then closed with an encore of Ramones tunes.
3. Ray Davies
The Egg, Nov. 22
His previous show at the Egg may have been slightly better, but the Kinks founder and self-described elder statesman of rock & roll—opened by the excellent duo David Wax Musuem—still lands on the list for a charming and at times quite poignant performance that included gorgeous renditions of “Waterloo Sunset” and “Days.”
4. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
The Egg, Jan. 22
There’s no stopping soul-singer extraordinaire Sharon Jones, whose irrepressible dance moves are just as impressive as her vocal skills; backed by her cracking retro-soul revue the Dap-Kings, she thrilled the crowd by shaking, shimmying and boogalooing across the Hart Theatre stage—all in a pair of shaky-looking silver heels.
5. Green River Festival
Greenfield Community College, July 16
This community-run festival in western Massachussets had one of the best vibes—and one of the best lineups—of any festival around this year, with NRBQ, the Old 97s, Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, Rubblebucket and Toots & the Maytalls turning in espcially ripping sets on the festival’s opening day.
6. TV on the Radio
Skidmore College, Oct. 7
The show was in a cavernous college gym (thanks Skidmore SEC!), so the sound and ambience weren’t stellar, but America’s most acclaimed indie rockers ripped it up anyway during a blistering set that included a bonus Fugazi cover.
MASS MoCA, June 24
The weather gods were unkind on the opening night of the three-day Solid Sound Festival, drenching concertgoers with torrents of rain. Wilco went on during the deluge anyway, but eventually the rain seemed to add a certain beauty to the gorgeous melancholy of songs like “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” and “Via Chicago.”
8. Andrew Bird
Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Oct. 13
Indie-rock singer-songwriter Andrew Bird has to be seen live to truly appreciate his musical genius. Surrounded by his array of musical equipment and quirky props, he looped snippets of violin, guitar and whistling into stunningly complex musical soundscapes before closing with a trio of sparse, straight-up bluegrass tunes.
Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Aug. 2
Opening for Def Leppard on a night rife with ’80s nostalgia, Heart pulled off perhaps the opening set of the year, with singer Ann Wilson owning the stage with her magnetic presence and megawatt voice, while her sister Nancy Wilson shredded on guitar and just generally lived up to her standing as one of the coolest women in rock.
Flywheel Arts Collective, Oct. 1
Props to the Flywheel Arts Collective in Easthampton, Mass., for bringing the elusive Texas folk musician to their burgeoning venue to be backed by (mostly) local players. Not sure I could tell you exactly what happened at the improvised, country-tinged show, but seeing the man of myth up close was definitely cool.
Critic: Raurri Jennings
1. White Denim
Iron Horse Music Hall, July
White Denim brought all their rock artillery to the Iron Horse and left the crowd doused in July sweat, proving it’s possible to make anyone dance in 7/4. They topped it off with a signature rendition of “I Start to Run” and had the crowd doing the running man after the final cymbal crash.
Bearsville Theater, May
Complete with dance militia horns, squiggly synthesizers, and Stop Making Sense choreography, Rubblebucket brought the funk to Bearsville and concluded with “Came Out of a Lady,” which saw trumpet player Alex Toth being carried through the audience like the groom at a Jewish wedding.
3. The Parlor (formerly We Are Jeneric)
Restoration Festival, St. Joseph’s Church, August
The Parlor brought another stellar set to Rest Fest this year, debuting new material from their forthcoming album, Our Day In the Sun. “To the Wind Like a Sail,” played in the cavernous St. Joseph’s Church with its gradual build and piercing harmonies, was nothing short of a revelation. Amen!
4. Jamie Lidell
Solid Sound Festival, MASS MoCA, July
Solid Sound 2011 was a struggle to stay dry with thunderstorms pounding MASS MoCA into a muddy pulp, but Jamie Lidell coaxed the crowd into the courtyard despite the rain. Lidell and keyboardist Mr. Jimmy made it rain purple and encored with a version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” right out of Sunday service.
5. The Disposable Rocket Band
Swordpaw HQ, October
One of the first few shows at SwordPaw HQ in Troy set a precedent for stamping feet and wiggling hips. The Disposable Rocket Band welcomed two extraterrestrial dancers to complement Captain Kane’s inimitable sidekick Razaksat and had the audience dancing like a combination of a Power Ranger and a backup singer for Parliament.
Critic: David Greenberger
(In chronological order)
1. Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt
The Egg, Jan. 25
2. Joe Boyd and Robyn Hitchcock: Chinese White Bicycles
Mass MoCA, March 12
3. Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet
The Linda, April 3
4. Dave Alvin and The Guilty Ones, Los Straitjackets
Club Helsinki, June 19
5. The Chandler Travis Philharmonette
Zaika Island Bar & Grill, July 7
6. The Chandler Travis Philharmonic, Holly & Evan
Riverlink Park, Amsterdam, July 9
7. Chandler Travis Three-O
Caffe Lena, Aug. 26
8. Andrew Bird, Dosh
Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Oct. 13
9. Matthew Carefully and the Bonesteel Memorial Concern, Balliwick
Caffe Lena, Dec. 4
10. The Catbirds
Valentine’s, Dec. 29
Critic: Taylor Morris
1. The Smokers Club Tour with Method Man, Curren$y and Big K.R.I.T.
Northern Lights, Oct. 19
2. Wu-Tang Clan
Northern Lights, Dec. 17
Iron Horse Music Hall, June 13
4. Elton John
Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Sept. 4
5. TV on the Radio
Skidmore College, Oct. 7