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The well respected man: Ray Davies at the Egg.

Photo: Martin Benjamin

The Year In Review 2009

Best of 2009

Critic: Kirsten Ferguson

1. Ray Davies

The Egg, Nov. 23

At the area show most likely to end up on top of critics’ lists this year, former Kinks frontman Ray Davies demonstrated why he is still one of the most underrated songwriters in rock, with a deep canon of brilliant tunes performed with wit and energy, from the well-known hits (“All Day and All of the Night”) to lesser-known masterpieces (the elegiac “Days”).

2. The Feelies

Bearsville Theater, Sept. 12

A day after performing their classic, recently reissued Crazy Rhythms album in entirety at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in the Catskills, the reunited Feelies played crisp, blistering back-to-back sets in Woodstock. Three decades later, they still look more like preppy college nerds (professors now) than legendary underground rockers, but don’t sound like it.

3. The Hold Steady

Valentine’s, March 31

The spring set at Valentine’s by Brooklyn riff-rockers the Hold Steady may have been the most sweat-soaked show of the year, from the dark stain filling frontman Craig Finn’s shirt to the perspiration flying from the fist-pumping faithful after 45 minutes of spastic dancing and sing-along shouting.

4. Dean & Britta

MASS MoCA, March 28

For an installment in MASS MoCA’s Film With Live Music series, indie rockers Dean & Britta (featuring Dean Wareham of Galaxie 500 and Luna) composed original pop tunes to accompany 13 “screen test” film shorts by Andy Warhol, perfectly evoking the various moods of the screen-test subjects, from cocky actor Paul America to a sardonic, cola-chugging Lou Reed.

5. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Aug. 25

A highly charged Springsteen show with Bruce giving it his all for nearly three hours is pretty much a given more often than not, but the SPAC show this summer seemed to hit new heights even for the Boss and the E Street Band, from the gritty version of “Racing in the Streets” to the uplifting conclusion of “Rosalita.”

6. The Baseball Project

Valentine’s, Sept. 21

With a contagious camaraderie and a shared appreciation of each other’s musical pasts, four veterans of indie rock—Peter Buck (R.E.M.), Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate), Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows) and Linda Pitmon (Zuzu’s Petals)—teamed up for a joyous set of covers, jointly written songs about baseball and selections from their various past and present discographies.

7. Meat Puppets

Valentine’s, Nov. 20

Post Meat Puppets breakup, and post prison sentence for bassist Cris Kirkwood, the Kirkwood brothers were in the groove at Valentine’s, riffing out tunes baked in the Arizona sun and on who knows what else, playing with a ragged intuition perhaps singular to siblings with decades of practice.

8. The Fleshtones, Rocky Velvet

Positively 4th Street, Sept. 11

In the small confines of Positively 4th Street, all the floor was a stage for garage rock stalwarts the Fleshtones, whether they were showing off their impressive ability to play while taking turns doing push-ups or shaming the few seated crowd members into getting up to dance along with their hip-shaking tunes.

9. The Lustre Kings, Cindy Cashdollar

The Ale House, Nov. 28

Grammy winning Asleep at the Wheel steel guitar and dobro player Cindy Cashdollar, who’s played with everyone from Van Morrison to Ryan Adams, sat in with local roots-rock titans the Lustre Kings for a swinging post-Thanksgiving set at the Ale House.

10. The Figgs

Putnam Den, Dec. 12

Another year, another great Christmastime Figgs show, now a tradition for the Saratoga Springs-bred band. This was the second night of two great shows (the previous night held at Valentine’s) fueled by Kinks covers, holiday libations and sojourns into the Figgs’ more-than-two-decades-long past.

Best of 2009

Critic: David Greenberger

1. The Figgs

Valentine’s, Dec. 11

They let their nearly three hours of music find its own shape. If you didn’t stay until the end, you didn’t get the full, colorful picture.

2. Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women

Revolution Hall, July 17

Rollicking and earthy, soulful and resonant, what began as a one-off has become a first-rate ensemble.

3. Brave Combo

Shepard Park, Aug. 12

Denton, Texas’ finest on the banks of Lake George, winning over young and old with their friendly bearing, incredible playing, and nonstop dance rhythms.

4. Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet

The Linda, May 2

Essentially the latest version of NRBQ, they make you forget anything else ever existed.

5. The Fiery Furnaces

Revolution Hall, Nov. 6

Dramatic, poetic, spare and mysterious, the Fiery Furnaces overlap with a range of styles and genres but are their own country.

6. Session Americana

Caffe Lena, June 13

A band of singer-songwriter sessionaires from the Boston area, with a sitting-around-the-kitchen-table stage arrangement that allowed their very real camaraderie to be an essential part of the proceedings.

7. David Lindley

The Van Dyck, July 23

Lindley’s arsenal of strummed and plucked stringed instruments from around the globe, combined with his songs, made for a master class of cool.

8. Rickie Lee Jones

Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Oct. 30

Thirty years ago, Jones’ bohemian stance sat on her like a hipster beret. Now she is her own true beatnik boho self, making even simple turns of phrase take eloquent flight.

9. Geoff Muldaur

Caffe Lena, May 22

This night was remarkable because Muldaur was nursing a cold, which allowed the audience to witness him transpose songs on the fly to fit his lowered singing register. The man’s got enough skills to heat the entire Capital Region.

10. Los Lobos

The Egg, April 15

It was their first night playing after some time off, and it was great to see this fine and shiny machine crank back up into gear, sometimes in fits and starts, but energizing to behold.

Best of 2009

Critic: Mike Hotter

1. MASS MoCA Fest

MASS MoCA, Aug. 15

A compendium of some of the finest young singer-songwriters in the country (Ritter, Kweller, and Elvis Perkins), this inaugural celebration of music and art made one swoon at the talent assembled, and thrill at how the brilliant minds over in North Adams will attempt to match this lineup next year.

2. Faust, Holland Hopson, Century Plants

GE Theatre at Proctors, Sept. 30

Seminal German art-rockers Faust showed why they have been championed by avant-garde musicians for more than 30 years, while hometown openers Holland Hopson and Century Plants performed amazing outré music of their own. Hopson, in particular, is a must-see performer, a musical treasure hiding right under our noses.

3. Meat Puppets

Valentine’s, Nov. 20

In terms of alt-rock legends just going for broke, this one had echoes of that great Frank Black and the Catholics show at Valentine’s back in early 2001. Great to hear the Kirkwood brothers sounding so rocked-up and vital again. Curt was playing not so much lead guitar as lead flamethrower.

4. Eddie Vedder

Palace Theatre, June 9

An intimate visit from everybody’s favorite grand-uncle of alternative rock. His selections from Into the Wild and his looped vocal extravaganza “Arc” were more than worth the Springsteen-esque price of admission.

5. The Felice Brothers

Valentine’s, April 10

Their mixture of hell-raising Americana and Upper Hudson Valley poetics makes for a rocking good time, every time.

6. Brian Wilson

The Egg, Nov. 10

Elevated from a desultory oldies show by Wilson’s brilliant backing band, those golden-tinged summer classics were simply resplendent in the environs of the Egg, Albany’s best-sounding live music venue.

Best of 2009

Critic: Josh Potter

1. The Boredoms

EMPAC, Sept. 11

The premise alone—nine drummers, one seven-neck guitar, and a rare American performance by a visionary Japanese band on a custom-built round stage—conjured plenty of buzz. More exciting, though, was the way the Boredoms turned EMPAC’s concert hall into a stargate for freaky interstellar rapture.

2. Phish

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Aug. 16

The hardcore tourheads will tell you that the show of the summer came two nights earlier in Hartford, Conn., but this one, the band’s triumphant tour-closing return to the town where guitarist Trey Anastasio served out his drug probation, did more than symbolize the band’s storybook recovery: It treated a capacity crowd of rain-drenched faithfuls to two inspired sets of classic compositions and quirky surprises.

3. Terry Riley

Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Bard College, Oct. 10

Forty-five years after In C, the piece that jump-started American minimalism, the seminal composer paid a rare visit to the area for a two-night run of ragas, improvised jazz, and strobing minimalism with a small ensemble including his classical guitarist son Gyan.

4. Akron/Family

Jason’s Upstairs Bar, Sept. 14

It’s a small wonder these guys haven’t yet generated a Dead-scale wagon train of followers. Theirs is one of the most generous, participatory live shows in music—even on a Monday night in Hudson.

5. Joshua Redman Double Trio

The Egg, Jan. 23

It was really more of a quintet, but the double trio, one of sax great Joshua Redman’s more adventurous configurations, treated the Swyer Theater to a dynamic set of improvised music with some of jazz’s most creative sidemen.

6. SAW Fest

Salem Art Works, July 25

This annual music festival held in an idyllic sculpture park offered a great opportunity to see some of the region’s best local bands (Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned, Railbird, Beware! The Other Head of Science, the Mathematicians) packed onto a flatbed truck.

7. Grizzly Bear, Gang Gang Dance

Skidmore College, Sept. 25

The pairing was strange enough for the bill to come off as two separate shows, but Gang Gang Dance’s ecstatic tribalism and Grizzly Bear’s ethereal pop helped put Skidmore’s indie cred through the roof.

8. The Books

MASS MoCA, March 7

Arts residencies are the perfect sort of inspiration for glitch-folk bands like the Books, who came out of hiding to perform a new set of stunning audio-visual collage work they’d developed while in residence.

9. Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey

Red Square, Oct. 15

The history of jazz has been forged in small smoky rooms, behind bus stations, before thin crowds at late hours of the night. A sleepy Thursday night found this progressive Tulsa, Okla.-based quartet keeping with tradition.

10. The Low Anthem

The Egg, April 6

The only reason this show ranks at the bottom of my list is that the set was an opening slot for Ray LaMontagne. The young band’s pristine, heart-wrenching harmonies and deft instrument swapping came as a paralyzing surprise.

Best of 2009

Critic: John Brodeur

1. Ray Davies

The Egg, Nov. 23

While the big cities got the choral tour, I’d wager that Albany got the better end of the deal as just the Kinks man and his small band turned in a masterful, surprising, personal, unwavering performance.

2. Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Northern Lights, Aug. 1

Karen O was having the time of her life in the hottest show of the year, in both temperature and intensity.

3. Eddie Vedder

Palace Theatre, June 8

The Pearl Jam frontman was loose and unguarded—and plenty good—in this ranging tour-kickoff performance.

4. The Church

The Egg, July 10

Having gone in with minimal knowledge of their catalog, I came out a bona fide fan of the great Australian alt-pop act. These guys are truly in it for the love of the music.

5. Local 518 Concert

Exit Dome (WMHT Studios), Jan. 30

An array of great local talent took part in this benefit concert for radio station WEXT. Particularly notable were Railbird, who on this night and dozens more this year earned the title we gave them in July: Best Band.

6. Def Leppard, Poison, Cheap Trick

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, July 3

So many hits. No shame.

7. AC/DC

Times Union Center, Aug. 2

From the giant inflatable woman to the firing of the cannons, they haven’t changed up the schtick in at least 20 years. And why should they?

8. Paul McCartney

Citi Field, New York City, July 17

Here’s where I veer off-script. Technically I’d put this in a tie with Davies for the top spot on my list, but we’re trying to keep these things local. Still, I saw most of my music downstate this year, and Macca’s opening-night gig at the Mets’ new stadium warrants mention because . . . well, because it was fucking awesome. On that note, I would have included Dinosaur Jr., Lyle Lovett, and the Baseball Project on this list had I seen them in Albany instead of Manhattan. A few others that would have easily made the cut had they taken place 150 miles further north: Once stars the Swell Season trying out songs from their new album in an intimate duo arrangement this September; a ragged but pleasing set from power-pop architects Big Star in Brooklyn this November; Tinted Windows and Them Crooked Vultures presenting two very different definitions of the word “supergroup”; and a private four-song set by ’90s post-punk act Jawbox on the Late Night With Jimmy Fallon set earlier this month—the one and only performance of their reunion.

Best of 2009

Critic: Shawn Stone

1. No Doubt

Turning Stone Event Center, June 22

It was like they never left. These 30-somethings had more energy than your average teenage group. And Gwen Stefani totally rules.

2. Willie Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel

Palace Theatre, Feb. 15

God save Western Swing, and all those who honor it. An amazing night.

3. Cassandra Wilson

The Egg, March 22

This genre-dissolving diva creates something wonderful on stage that comes through only sometimes on her albums. I can’t explain it, but it’s real. Really real.

4. Herb Alpert and Lani Hall

Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Nov. 1

Two old pros making great music for the pure love of it. (God knows they don’t need the money.)

5. The Musical Box

Proctors, May 8

Yes, I liked this proggy, Genesis re-creation show more than Bruce Springsteen at the Times Union Center. Sue me.

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