1. The Mooney Suzuki, Sahara Hotnights, the 1234’s
Chances are the best rock & roll show of the year was
also the sweatiest. New York City garage rockers the Mooney
Suzuki ripped through a high-spirited set of head-bopping,
hand-clapping rock & roll. The sweat flew. As good as
they were, the headliners were nearly upstaged by Sahara Hotnights,
four hard-rocking, attitudinal chicks from Sweden whose snarling
glam-rock sounded even better live than on their infectious
Jennie Bomb album.
his dirty laundry: Andrew W.K. at Northern Lights.
Photo by Martin Benjamin
Lights, April 16
Still largely unknown around here when he made his first area
appearance, Andrew W.K. cast off the naysayers (yes his songs
are simpleminded; yes the blood-soaked cover of his album
is gross) by demonstrating that he cares about two things:
big, loud rock & roll and his fans. As a frontman, the
perpetually flailing Andrew W.K. was impossible to look away
On the second night of their two-show stand in Albany just
before Christmas, the Figgs—who always bring an arsenal of
great pop songs to their high-energy live shows—somehow managed
to raise the bar, conjuring up a blistering show that even
die-hard fans were calling one of the Figgs’ best ever.
Arena, Feb. 17
They were once indie-rock underdogs. Who would have thought
that the geeksters in Weezer would ever be filling stadiums?
Fortunately, they get the irony. At the Pepsi, they pulled
off the ultimate arena-rock parody: belching smoke machines,
seizure-inducing strobe lights, cascading confetti. It wasn’t
all a joke: The band had the chops and the setlist to back
Jimmie Dale Gilmore
Lena, March 1
Jimmie Dale Gilmore can be a flake, but he’s an adorable and
entertaining flake. Seeing him perform in the tight confines
of Caffé Lena was a pleasure. When Gilmore interrupted his
congenial chatter to actually play some songs, he demonstrated
why he’s one of the most electric, and poignant, voices in
Bear Picnic: Tom Petty triumphant at SPAC. Photo
by Martin Benjamin
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Brian Setzer
Performing Arts Center, July 5
Tom Petty recapped his 25-year career in an exuberant show
that provided a heady dose of nostalgia for his legions of
fans. The baby-faced Brian Setzer was a rockabilly tour de
force, drawing multiple standing ovations for his opening
set of flaming-hot guitar leads and cool-cat style.
Mike Watt and the Secondmen, Cobra Verde
Former Minuteman Mike Watt brought a level of intensity to
this show that he hasn’t exhibited in ages (he’s been recovering
from a near-fatal illness the past few years). He looked possessed
even as he channeled the darkest moments of his illness, flailed
at his bass from behind his head and blew out speakers. Cobra
Verde, purveyors of art-damaged punk from Cleveland, preceded
Watt with a great set of guitar-heavy, misanthropic gutter-rock.
College, April 27
The increasingly introspective and experimental Wilco may
not be as much fun to see live as the old Wilco, who had a
bit more rock & roll in their repertoire. Still, seeing
Jeff Tweedy and his band up close and personal at the Union
College chapel was a rare and much-appreciated treat.
The Forty-Fives, Johnny Rabb and the Jailhouse Rockers
Lansingburgh Station, Dec. 7
Some of the best rock shows by lesser-known performers took
place this year at Artie’s Lansingburgh Station, a hedonistic
way station for good-times rockabilly and garage rock. Atlanta’s
the Forty-Fives were among the best of the out-of-town rockers
to shake and rattle the Artie’s stage; the raucous four-piece
sweated out an intense set (in front of almost no one) of
greasy party tunes and crisp R&B.
As a tightly packed crowd egged him on, the influential troubadour
shimmied like a Latin playboy, cracked corny jokes, flashed
his goofy grin and won over nearly everyone in the audience
with his irresistible mix of wide-eyed juvenilia and worldly
Critic: Shawn Stone
1. Rosie Flores
Texas swing and rockabilly never sounded sweeter than when
Flores turned Valentine’s into a real honky-tonk joint one
miserable, late night in March. She may have been sufferring
from a cold, but this was easily overcome with the help of
her crack three-piece band, the support of her loyal following
and a couple of glasses of whiskey.
The odds were against Rigby being able to put on a good show.
The boorish chuckleheads that were the opening act’s fans
hung around the front of the stage, loudly ignoring her. So
she went into the crowd with her guitar and drove them away.
Then, for the dozen of us left, she sang one great song after
This two-night festival of music offered a bewildering, rewarding,
and defiantly eclectic array of bands together in an atmosphere
redolent of a party at Don Ho’s house, or that big luau at
the end of the Brady clan’s trip to Hawaii. I mean, who would
think putting Bone Oil, Connie Acher & Blind Drunk John,
Kitty Little and a dozen other bands together would turn out
Theatre, Northampton, Mass., July 26
Brother Ray played his iconic hits—“America the Beautiful,”
“Georgia on My Mind”—but it was his jazz approach to everything
from Rodgers and Hammerstein to his own prodigious songbook
that was truly energizing and rewarding. He still has a hell
of a big band.
Brilliant Mistakes: A Tribute to Elvis Costello
Kudos to John Brodeur for putting together this complex and
extremely rocking show. A stellar lineup of out-of-town-stars
(like Trouble Dolls, Julia Brown, and Wendy Ip) and local
faves (including Rob Skane, Mitch Elrod and Jason Martin)
performed hours of superb music written by the other Elvis.
Theatre, Northampton, Mass., Oct. 2
A truly haunting evening of music. Mann featured the songs
of alienation and addiction from her latest, Lost in Space;
assorted favorites from her earlier solo albums (like “Choice
in the Matter”); and, to everyone’s surprise, an impromptu
version of “Voices Carry.”
Mary Prankster, Bible Study
This show should have sucked. Mary Prankster was performing
her second gig with an all-new lineup, but they sounded better
than her longtime combo—which had played Valentine’s a few
months before. Prankster’s smarts and anger complemented the
eclectic intelligence of the other band on the bill, Bible
Philip Glass Ensemble
Egg, Oct. 30
Performing live with a sound film—in this case, Tod Browning’s
Dracula with Bela Lugosi—is a tricky proposition. The
Glass Ensemble pulled it off with style and precision. Glass
originally recorded this score with the Kronos Quartet, but
in the hands of his own group, the music sounded warmer and
more complementary with the film.
MoCA, North Adams, Mass., Nov. 9
Accompanied only by her longtime bassist, Mike Visceglia,
Vega sang, read from her book of short stories, and talked
about her life and work. Vega turned the 500-seat main theater
at MASS MoCA into an intimate club. Highlights included a
stirring “In Liverpool,” the seductive “Caramel,” and, of
course, “Tom’s Diner”—with the audience supplying the beats.
Critic: David Greenberger
1. Richard Thompson
Egg, Nov. 3
One man, one guitar, exquisite taste, deep and broad songwriting.
Take at least once a year to remain in good health.
They Might Be Giants
MoCA, North Adams, Mass., May 11
It happens every time, and every time it slays me: a roomful
of people jumping up and down with loopy gusto to the opening
strains of “Birdhouse in Your Soul.”
Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady: Acoustic Hot Tuna
Egg, Dec. 8
Spotlight on Mr. Bass y’all!
David Lindley and Wally Ingram
Van Dyke, Oct. 12
Plus they had some great moonshine with them—thanks for the
swig, it’s still heating me this winter.
With his shattered leg held together with some sort of exterior
scaffolding, Lovett casually gave resonance to the phrase
“the show must go on.”
Lights, Nov. 20
The wrong room, the wrong crowd, but this seasoned professional
persevered. It was like watching someone roll a log up a steep
hill, for no prize except having accomplished the feat without
of the World Festival, Westfield, Mass., Aug. 24
It rained, but who cares?
Helsinki, Great Barrington, Mass., Jan. 12
Nobody spoke and I fell into a dream.
They’re like a train that’s about to go out of control but
never does. They make every little moment and move believable
and essential, just like a great rock & roll band should.
College, Nov. 17
Mark my words: She’ll be back in a better room with a bigger
crowd. Be there then.
Critic: J. Eric Smith
Winners, Nov. 16
This explosive show from two of the hardest playing bands
in America left me feeling pistol-whipped, yet pleased. Thinking
man’s masochism of the most brutal variety.
Mindless Self Indulgence
Another punishing show, but of a different, more disgusting
variety, with shock horror tactics taking the Jimmy-forgot-to-take-his-Ritalin-again
music in all sorts of fetid, fervent directions.
Living Colour, Black Inc
Lights, June 17
A triumphant reunion show for Living Colour, with some of
the most audacious technical chops imaginable on display,
set up well by the debut performance of Black Inc.
Forget nostalgia: The Damned are a killer band with new material
that more than holds its own with the classics.
Box, July 26
It wasn’t the last show by the powerful Miller-Hall-Burton
lineup, but it was the last one I saw, and it upheld the high
standards I always expect from an Axe onslaught.
Board Studio, June 2
Why aren’t these guys the biggest thing since sliced toast
and canned cheese? I dunno . . . but when they are, copies
of this Sounding Board show are gonna go for a mint
Savings Bank Music Hall, Oct. 15
A loopy music and talking performance, which would have been
a train wreck in lesser hands, but worked wonderfully well,
given that Ian Anderson is almost as interesting a speaker
as he is a performer.
The Apex Theory
Lights, Feb. 19
One of those great moments that happen when you get to the
show in time to catch the opening act, and are stunned and
surprised by the quality of what you encounter there.
The Lo Faber Band
The tightest jam show in the history of the universe, with
great songs getting a huge ensemble treatment, and no one
getting distracted by their own technical prowess.
An awesome display of musical muscle, well staged and fully
stoked by a deeply appreciative audience.
Critic: John Rodat
Not only the best show I’ve seen this year, but one of the
best I’m likely to see in the upcoming years. Mulcahy, the
former frontman of cult heroes Miracle Legion, has perfectly
matched craft and gift on two of the most woefully undercelebrated
discs of the past decade, and his performance at Valentine’s
proved that he could bring that power and poetry to the stage
as easily as he could to the studio. Simply the best pop music
singer I’ve ever seen.
Street, Northampton, Mass., Aug. 24
Unbeknowst to me, I had been waiting for Paul’s permission
to grow old; he gave me permission to do it gracefully with
his set of intense Replacement gems and equally focused—but
richer, wiser—new tracks from his brilliant Stereo/Mono
Lights, July 20
I went to see Jimmy Eat World (who bored me) looking forward
to seeing opening act Desaparecidos (who let me down just
a little), and went home electrified by a third band I hadn’t
even known were on the bill. The Austin band Recover rocked
like animals. Like heroes. Like Satan was cruising up the
Northway to collect an outstanding debt from them; like they
hated everyone in the room; like Lemmy, Bruce Dickinson and
Josh Homme fighting in a bag. Like . . .
Performing Arts Studio, Oct. 19
Buckner’s show was as much philosophical conundrum as concert:
What, exactly, is the artist’s responsibility to his audience?
When does artist become employee? While some irate folks found
Buckner’s performance a bit ramshackle (read: way-too-fuckin’
ramshackle, you ham-handed, talentless asshole), I found the
easy, comfortable—admittedly flawed and sprawling—set to be
personable and inviting. In a word, human. My copy of Buckner’s
brilliant debut disc, Bloomed, sounds the same every
single time I play it, after all, and sometimes you just get
a hankering for flawed and sprawling.
Larkin Lounge, April 8
Affected and theatrical as all get-out, Canadian Hawksley
Workman would be typified “song-stylist” by the cynical if
not for his skill. His blend of Van Morrison meets Jeff Buckley
meets They Might Be Giants would have been grating if heard
through the pipes of a less accomplished presenter—and his
faux-poetic, rambling non sequiturs might just have gotten
him a parking-lot thrashing. But Workman held it all together
like a born showman: He seemed to know instinctually when
to reign it in and when to camp it up. Someone should let
both Ryan Adams and Axl Rose that the new Elton John finally
has been found—so they can knock it off.
Cal Hopkins’ Amish Armada
In these dire times, when America is faced with constant threat
from outsiders bent on destroying our way of life, it is a
great comfort to me to know that at least one fake-Amish rockabilly
band are dedicated to the complete eradication of the English
and their false god, TechnoloJesus. It calms my red blood
that Cal Hopkins’ Amish Armada have devoted themselves to
destroying the Brits’ Hot Rod Hell Pods, their lines of communications
(the nefarious Underground Midget Messengers), and their insidious
advertising techniques, which make me want to buy feminine-hygiene
products and frequent particular grocery-store chains. Do
Gwar do this for you? Noooo. Do the Insane Clown Posse have
the patriotic impetus to join the fray? Not bloody likely
. . . I mean, fat chance.
Lansingburgh Station, July 26
How did Helen Keller burn her ear? She answered the iron.
How did she burn her other ear? They called back. If this
is not in the slightest bit funny to you, then there is no
point in me saying another word.
Greg Brown, Jeff Lang
Eighth Step at Cohoes Music Hall, April 27
Greg Brown is rural America’s answer to Leonard Cohen (if
Leonard Cohen is a question, that is). And Jeff Lang is Australia’s
answer to America’s Chris Whitley. (Chris Whitley is himself
the acerbic response to the question that is Sonny Landreth,
for those of you keeping track, and Sonny Landreth is the
ingratiating invitation to the limp handshake that is Robert
Rufus and song: Rufus Wainwright at the Egg. Photo
by Martin Benjamin
Brent Gorton with Mike Keegan and Gaven Richard
Fuze Box, Oct. 4
With Lincoln Money Shot’s Mike Keegan on electric guitar and
the Kamikaze Hearts’ Gaven Richard on drums, the Stars of
Rock’s Brent Gorton tricked up his compositions with a woozy,
shambolic vibe that made it seem later, and me feel drunker,
than was true.
Egg, Feb. 9
Wainwright’s self-indulgent and fey neo-Romanticism is something
I would enjoy even if I didn’t have ready appeals to the shades
of Aubrey Beardsley, Oscar Wilde, Walter Pater and the full
roster of turn-of-the-century decadents. Yes, he was underrehearsed;
yes, he was girlishly silly at times. But talent needn’t always
be earnest, nor always striving. I got almost as much of a
kick out of his onstage cabernet as he did. (Oh, and by the
way, he’s got not just a few drop-dead gorgeous songs. Goooorrrgeous.)
Critic: Erik Hage
State Plaza, Aug. 7
Even without bassist-vocalist Brandy Norwood, they lit up
a clear summer night with an exuberant set.
Savings Bank Music Hall, Oct. 26
Even legends consider him a legend. Troy discovered why.
Coal Palace Kings
Albany’s premiere mudflappers could do no wrong the night
of their record release. Since then, I’ve come to associate
the red Gibson SG with Larry Winchester as much as Angus Young.
Arena, Sept. 21
This man dwells in a twilight state where “cool” merges with
“uncool.” And let’s face it: All coolness aside, the man puts
on a show.
Figg man Mike Gent’s other band are a force of nature. Subsequently,
they went on to pummel the competition at Boston’s WBCN Rumble.
Critic: Bill Ketzer
Lights, July 30
Brutal Hessian warfare. I was deaf for days and days.
Lights, Oct. 24
A stunning, tasteful, over-the-top tribute to Phil Lynott.
National anthem after national anthem.
Lights, July 27
C’mon. “They played Exciter.” What more can you ask for?
B.B. King Blues Festival
The man still gots it. Also a slammin’ set by the all-too-easily
underated Fab T-Birds.
Chris Robinson and New Earth Mud
Lights, Dec. 15
Oh, I tried. I tried not to like it. But I liked it.