well respected man: Ray Davies at the Egg.
Year In Review 2009
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”).
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
The Hold Steady
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.
Dean & Britta
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.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
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.”
The Baseball Project
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
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.
The Fleshtones, Rocky Velvet
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
The Lustre Kings, Cindy Cashdollar
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
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.
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,
Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women
Hall, July 17
Rollicking and earthy, soulful and resonant, what began as
a one-off has become a first-rate ensemble.
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.
Terry Adams Rock & Roll Quartet
Linda, May 2
Essentially the latest version of NRBQ, they make you forget
anything else ever existed.
The Fiery Furnaces
Hall, Nov. 6
Dramatic, poetic, spare and mysterious, the Fiery Furnaces
overlap with a range of styles and genres but are their own
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.
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.
Rickie Lee Jones
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.
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.
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
MASS MoCA Fest
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.
Faust, Holland Hopson, Century Plants
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
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.
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.
The Felice Brothers
Their mixture of hell-raising Americana and Upper Hudson Valley
poetics makes for a rocking good time, every time.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Joshua Redman Double Trio
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.
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.
Grizzly Bear, Gang Gang Dance
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.
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.
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
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.
The Low Anthem
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.
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
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Lights, Aug. 1
Karen O was having the time of her life in the hottest show
of the year, in both temperature and intensity.
Theatre, June 8
The Pearl Jam frontman was loose and unguarded—and plenty
good—in this ranging tour-kickoff performance.
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.
Local 518 Concert
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.
Def Leppard, Poison, Cheap Trick
Performing Arts Center, July 3
So many hits. No shame.
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?
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.
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
Willie Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel
Theatre, Feb. 15
God save Western Swing, and all those who honor it. An amazing
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.
Herb Alpert and Lani Hall
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.)
The Musical Box
Yes, I liked this proggy, Genesis re-creation show more than
Bruce Springsteen at the Times Union Center. Sue me.