headlining the Solid Sound Festival at MASS MoCA.
Year in Review 2010
Lights, Aug. 10
Enemy frontmen Chuck D and Flavor Flav, backed by a live band,
brought their A-game to Clifton Park for a revival of their
20-year-old classic, Fear of a Black Planet. The show
bristled with energy, thanks in part to Chuck D’s booming
voice and empowered lyrics, and to hype-man Flavor Flav’s
Sound Festival, MASS MoCA, Aug. 14
A dizzyingly masterful set by Jeff Tweedy and bandmates capped
off Wilco’s inaugural three-day Solid Sound festival, which
married lo-fi, sometimes raucous rock & roll with highbrow
art and refined accommodations in a way that meshed surprisingly
Bisco, Indian Lookout Country Club, July 15
The three-day Camp Bisco festival, which merges electronica
and dance with hippie jamband grooves, may have peaked too
early by placing LCD Soundsystem on the bill as the opening
night’s headliner: Nobody who followed had tunes as smart,
and grooves as hip, as James Murphy and crew.
Arrows at Valentine’s.
Although they’ve been playing together in bands since the
late ’80s, married couple Fred and Toody Cole, formerly of
garage-rock outfit Dead Moon, made their first trek to Valentine’s
from the Pacific Northwest in March. Things went well, because
they returned to Valentine’s for an equally spirited, well-attended,
sweat-soaked performance seven months later.
4th Street, March 27
We’re lucky that the Fleshtones come around here fairly frequently,
because they never fail to entertain with festive shows where
band members perform on the bar or lead the crowd in pushup
competitions. But something about this show—when they were
playing on the club’s last night—elicited an especially wild
performance from New York City’s garage-rock legends.
Visqueen, a pop punk band from Seattle in the vein of classic
Pacific Northwest power-pop groups like the Fastbacks and
the New Pornographers, had one of the best, if unheralded,
albums of last year with Message to Garcia. Buoyed
by powerhouse singer Rachel Flotard, who has toured and recorded
with Neko Case and shares the alt-country singer’s vocal and
songwriting prowess, Visqueen put on one of the most exuberant
and engaging shows of the year.
Lights, Sept. 7
At Northern Lights, Hank III, the grandson and spitting image
of country singer Hank Williams, made his likes (drinking,
swearing, hell-raising) and dislikes (pop-country music, the
Grand Ol’ Opry) pretty apparent. But he put on quite a show—more
than two hours of sped-up country-punk backed by a crack band—before
his set devolved into another hour of punk-metal thrash. Not
a big fan of the latter, but his country set was worth the
time and then some.
Lights, July 31
The first, synth-heavy portion of the show, which was attended
by throngs of Devo-tees in pyramid energy hats, was a tad
clunky, but after the members of Devo returned from a break
strapped with guitars, it all got better—the run-through of
early gems from their stellar debut album, including “Uncontrollable
Urge” and the jittery cover of the Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No)
Satisfaction,” was pretty amazing.
Plagued by sound problems at first, the masters of roots rock
muscled through, without founder Dave Alvin but with his co-founder
and brother Phil Alvin, who demonstrated what a formidable
performer he is on his own during two hours’ worth of timeless
originals and choice covers, from George Jones to James Brown.
Performing Arts Center, Aug. 17
It may be predictable, and marred by blatant corporatism,
but the Kiss live show never seems to get old, from the kabuki
makeup to the shooting fireworks to the hydraulic-fueled stage
set of elevating risers—one from which Paul Stanley sang “I
Was Made for Lovin’ You” after flying across the amphitheater.
For the fire-breathing, blood-spewing entertainment value,
a Kiss show still manages to be one of the best arena-rock
Joseph’s Church, Aug. 28-29
Hands-down the definitive local music event of the year, Rest
Fest piled 16 local bands into Albany’s cavernous St. Joseph’s
Church for two days’ worth of music, in an effort to benefit
the Historic Albany Foundation’s St. Joseph’s Restoration
Fund. The great room and friendly scene were host to some
of the year’s most inspired performances by Railbird, We Are
Jeneric, Matthew Carefully, Aficionado, Beware! The Other
Head of Science, Swamp Baby, Sgt. Dunbar . . .
Steve Reich, So Percussion, NEXUS
Concert Hall, Woodstock, July 31
It wasn’t just that event organizers had compiled some of
the world’s elite percussionists to perform Steve Reich’s
classic Drumming, Nagoya Marimbas and Music
for Pieces of Wood; a forest full of crickets showed up
to echo the ensemble’s dense polyrhythms back into the gorgeous
Solid Sound Festival
MoCA, North Adams, Mass., Aug. 13-15
Solid Sound seemed a perfect antidote to the contemporary
music-festival overkill. Festival curators Wilco picked only
their favorite accompanying acts, housed them in a stunning
gallery, and threw in a bunch of interactive installations.
Great sets from Mountain Man, the Nels Cline Singers, the
Books, Vetiver and Sir Richard Bishop.
Dan Deacon was no stranger to the area this year, performing
three times (once as a stand-up comic), but this solo set
was the shtick at its most manic and crowd- participatory.
Sure, most of the tunes involved him pressing “play” on an
iPod, but they also involved mass interpretive dance and a
human tunnel that snaked out into the EMPAC lobby.
Lights, Oct. 14
The formula was simple: A bassist and a drummer, set up in
the middle of the crowd, making your ears bleed.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
Lights, July 27
The Magnetic Zeros roll nine deep, but you know what they
carry in the trailer behind their big hippy tour bus? Bicycles.
The family band and their charismatic leader were at their
most playful this night.
The set lasted only long enough for the duo to play all 11
songs from their debut album—every song they know—but those
were 40 minutes of total strobe-lit, Marshall-stack-blaring,
Eighth Step, 440 Upstairs at Proctors, Oct. 23
Chamber pop is a genre that tends to flaunt musicianship,
but Cuddle Magic made their large ensemble arrangements sound
effortless and understated when they packed the room for this
Indie 8th Step event.
Horse Music Hall, Northampton, Mass., July 30
It was a sort of homecoming for Smith grad Merrill Garbus,
who needed only a bassist to complete her live-looped ukulele-and-drums
one-woman band. With tribal face paint and a voice that can
alternately sooth children and shout down villainy, she brought
a righteous DIY dance party.
James Blackshaw, Mountains
Street Gallery, Nov. 11
A small crowd and a tight room made this one of the most listener-friendly
shows of the year, with fingerpick-style guitarist James Blackshaw
proving why he’s considered his generation’s answer to John
Fahey and Robbie Basho, and Mountains bathing the room in
sweet analog synthesizer bliss.
I made the trip back from my week off and it was worth it.
Riggs chilled my soul to the bone with his bayou Goth, then
ripped my heart out and put it back in again. The best performance
by Louisiana’s finest that I’ve ever seen.
The Flaming Lips
Park, Holyoke, Mass., July 24
Balloons, nudity, confetti, more balloons, more nudity, and
a psychedelic freak-out that felt like the summer’s best party.
And then “Do You Realize” made me cry.
Matt and Kim
Lights, Oct. 31
A marathon Halloween dance party delivered by the happiest
couple in the world.
Public Image Ltd.
Street Nightclub, Northampton, Mass., May 16
I never figured I would see Johnny Rotten perform live before
he croaked, and I certainly never thought I’d see him heading
up PiL in this area. But, my god, I did, and his defiant holler
and the band’s shrieking prog blew my mind.
Between the Buried and Me
Lights, Jan. 29
Always a sure bet to deliver the most epic of prog-metal performances,
the band showed up with newfound maturity and held the crowd
through death-metal destruction, experimental interludes,
and surprising ballads.
Sleigh Bells, Around the World and Back
A big, dumb, sexy, sweaty dance party packed to the rafters,
with a great, local opening act.
Lights, Aug. 6
The band haven’t released a decent album in a few years, but
even their new material came off as swaggering and grand.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
Lights, Jan. 29
Psychedelic-glam-folk delivered by a gigantic posse. What
These punk, Springsteen-worshiping history buffs dropped their
earnestness and got angry in spectacular fashion.
Deerhoof, Xiu Xiu
Street, Oct. 11
Deerhoof dropped every song in their book on the crowd and
then got together with the opening acts to cover Joy Divison.
Wolf at the Egg.
Egg, May 21
Though it’s been more than a couple of decades since he’s
been celebrated in the marketplace, Peter Wolf is at his artistic
Van Dyke Parks, Clare and the Reasons
Horse Music Hall, Northampton, Mass., Oct. 1
Nearing 70, Van Dyke Parks embarked on the first tour he’s
ever done, at the behest of Clare and the Reasons, who both
opened and served as his band.
Chandler Travis Philharmonic
Linda, Nov. 20
Albany needs to have the CTP in our midst on a weekly basis.
No two shows alike; bring the whole family.
Wilco, Mavis Staples
Sound Festival, Mass MoCA, Aug. 14
The sun was setting as Mavis Staples and her band took to
the large, outdoor stage for their Solid Sound festival performance.
The warm night had settled in by the time Wilco brought the
second night of the event they curated to a close.
A world-class band, they are three regular-sized humans who
become giants when their music rolls forth.
Egg, May 6
Over the course of his nearly 50 years in music, Taj Mahal
has gone from being a musical seeker, fan, and interpreter
of blues and other idioms, to being the bona fide real deal.
Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women
Horse Music Hall, Northampton, Mass, Sept. 4
Alvin wisely chose to open the show with one of his most well-known
numbers, “Fourth of July”—his way of saying, “Yes, you know
the song, and this was one of the most kick-ass performances
of it you’ve ever heard, so don’t even think that my having
an all-woman band is a novelty, they are simply a ferocious
combo.” On with the show.
Richard Thompson Band
Egg, Oct. 30
With the addition of a violinist, Thompson’s quintet had the
carousing urgency of Full House-era Fairport Convention.
The Incredible Casuals
Beautiful melodies harnessed to a locomotive careening across
the heartland of America.
Phil Alvin’s crazy grin never quits, and neither do the Blasters.
They’re not reinventing the wheel, just showing what a fine
wheel it is, every night they play.