Best of 2012
Critic: Kirsten Ferguson
1. Bruce Springsteen
Times Union Center, April 16
Despite the recession-themed material of his latest Wrecking Ball album—and the Clarence Clemons eulogy this tour demanded—the Boss turned a wake for both economic justice and the Big Man’s passing into a life-affirming celebration, as only he can.
2. Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings
The Egg, July 13
It’s a bit hard to choose among all the great sets at the Egg this year—Nick Lowe’s, for instance—but Gillian Welch and her long-time musical partner Dave Rawlings just made it all seem so effortless as they spun through one beautiful, sparse, hypnotic song after another.
Putnam Den, July 5
Didn’t want to expect too much from the ska-punk legends, who’ve lost several founding members over the years. But this show—launched with a cover of Parliament’s “Goose” and not ending until “Party at Ground Zero” at nearly 2:30 in the morning—was a sweaty, sing-along, funked-up blast.
4. Bootsy Collins
Alive at Five, June 14
The area saw its share of fun free shows this year, but there was no beating bassist Bootsy Collins’ rhinestone-studded, “funkin’ in the sunshine” Riverfront Park appearance for joyous booty-shaking and eye-popping costume changes.
5. Restoration Festival
St. Joseph’s Church, Sept. 7-9
“Is this the coolest place in Albany?” asked songwriter Sharon Van Etten when she headlined the Restoration Fest at St. Joe’s Church in the historic Ten Broeck Triangle. The answer was, yes—not only a testament to the church’s magnificent, imperiled setting, but also to the volunteers who make the well-run three-day festival into a celebration of all good things indie and local.
6. The Beach Boys
Saratoga Performing Arts Center, June 23
It was so good it wasn’t meant to last, given the Beach Boys’ acrimonious history. Not long after Brian Wilson and Mike Love reunited onstage with other original members for a remarkable 46-song retrospective in celebration of the group’s 30th anniversary, Love was already killing the buzz by announcing plans to go it alone under the Beach Boys moniker—again.
7. Mike Watt & the Missingmen
Valentine’s, Oct. 18
The show got off to a bit of a rough start, with Watt starting over his “Hyphenated-Man” rock opera three times after broken strings and blown clams. But on the third try, the Missingmen trio were locked into a fierce groove—one that kept the packed Valentine’s crowd mesmerized for a blast through 30 songs in 50 minutes.
8. Public Image Limited
Upstate Concert Hall, Oct. 12
He may be a punk-rock cartoon in some ways these days—blustering around the stage and spitting invective at the crowd—but frontman John Lydon was not phoning in any aspect of PiL’s gripping Clifton Park performance, especially not the free-form bass-fueled exorcism of the rib-rattling “Religion.”
9. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Club Helsinki, Nov. 2
Fired up by the downstate devastation of Hurricane Sandy that they had just escaped, JSBX blew off steam in the close quarters of Club Helsinki—in possibly the loudest, most explosive show of the year.
10. Jane’s Addiction
Palace Theatre, March 2
The Palace had some well-booked shows this year—from the Avett Brothers and Morrissey to Fiona Apple—in a venue big enough to draw popular acts but small enough to offer an appealingly intimate, low-key setting. Even though frontman Perry Farrell’s voice was a tad shot, this show was as visually weird and musically hedonistic as you’d expect from the “nothing’s shocking” rockers.
Critic: Josh Potter
1. Camp Bisco
Indian Lookout Country Club, July 12-14
There are concerts, and then there are three-day outdoor dance parties. I’ll take the latter anytime Amon Tobin, Bonobo, Blockhead, Crystal Castles, Yacht, Tycho, Dillon Francis and Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire are invited.
Northern Lights, May 12
The term “diva” should be used sparingly, but Santigold is probably the best dancehall variety this generation has. Her stage show was as good as her club hits, complete with silver pom-poms and Flintstone jewellery.
3. Gang Gang Dance, Prince Rama
Basilica Hudson, Aug. 11
Day two of the inaugural Pitchfork-sponsored Basilica Music Festival featured a “now-age” exorcism courtesy of Prince Rama and a late-night electro-dance rapture by the likes of Gang Gang Dance.
4. Pretty Lights
Times Union Center, Nov. 3
As big a spectacle as the EDM empire can presently boast, Pretty Lights’ multimedia show rocked an arena-sized audience with walls of lazer, a cityscape of LED screens and a soundsystem callibrated to the Richter scale.
Basilica Hudson, Sept. 25
The Basilica is consistently drawing artists to this region from the highest rung of international touring and this show was probably their biggest coup of the year. The Hudson Valley is now officially the outermost borough.
6. Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Basilica Hudson, Sept. 20
Their first show back in years, heralding a new record and reclaiming their throne in the eerie nether-genre between post-rock, industrial noise and doom metal, GY!BE made this night feel, huge, zeitgeisty and important.
7. Medeski, Martin and Wood
Massry Center, College of Saint Rose, Oct. 6
“Acoustic” is a relative term for three of the world’s greatest improvisers on the so-billed tour stop. I could listen to these guys perform on car parts and garden tools, though.
8. Restoration Festival
St. Joseph’s Church, Sept. 7-9
An annual affirmation of the vibrancy of the Capital Region music scene, this year’s Rest Fest scored some of its biggest national headliners yet—including the swoon-worthy Sharon van Etten—and went off without a hitch or a hurricane.
9. Lower Dens
Valentine’s, March 4
Downstairs at Valentine’s has never been treated to so much digital delay. Jana Hunter’s new full-band record isn’t topping very many year-end lists, but that might because they’re actually a powerhouse stage act just coming out of their shell.
Upstate Concert Hall
These guys have consistently crafted grade-A indie rock (in the Afro-synth space-disco tradition) but they were absolutely technicians on-stage. The stage show was concise, beautifully imagined and flawlessly executed.
Critic: David Greenberger
1. Session Americana
Caffe Lena, Jan. 14
When their bass player couldn’t make the weekend tour, Ry Cavanaugh set aside his guitar and took over the role, still singing his own songs, the whole band emboldened by this seat-of-the pants happenstance.
2. Chandler Travis Three-O
The Ale House, Jan. 21
Stepping away from the mics for much of their set, this quartet (Three-0 does not mean trio) made the place feel like your living room on a snowy day when school is canceled and you can stay home and do whatever you want.
3. Peter Wolf & The Midnight Travelers
The Egg, Feb 11
The master at work, an artist at the peak of his powers.
4. Los Lobos
MASS MoCA, April 5
First time in the area with their new drummer, who positively dazzled with exuberant playing and his I’m-so-happy-to-be-a-part-of-this grin.
5. Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby
Valentine’s, April 28
Two names, two people, but really they’re a full-on rock band.
6. Rosary Beard, Winterpills
Steamer No. 10 Theatre, May 4
An evening of duos, with the rich songs and singing of Northampton’s Winterpills contrasting nicely with the undulating landscapes of Rosary Beard’s two-guitar instrumentals.
7. Chandler Travis Philharmonic
Shepard Park, July 11
The circus came to town.
8. Brave Combo
Shepard Park, Aug. 22
Dance rhythms from aorund the globe, all springing to life on the shores of Lake George.
9. Peter Mulvey
Caffe Lena, Nov. 11
One man, one guitar, but his playing, voice, and writing is so wide and so deep that he doesn’t land squarely in any one genre.
10. Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby
Hurricane House Concert, Catskill, Nov. 17
A house transformed into an intimate concert setting, which then turned back into a room in a house the next day, making it seem like it all may have been a dream.