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Best of 2002
Critic: Kirsten Ferguson

1. The Mooney Suzuki, Sahara Hotnights, the 1234’s
Valentine’s, Oct. 13

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.

Airing his dirty laundry: Andrew W.K. at Northern Lights. Photo by Martin Benjamin

2. Andrew W.K.
Northern 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 from.

3. The Figgs
Valentine’s, Dec. 14

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.

4. Weezer
Pepsi 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 it up.

5. Jimmie Dale Gilmore
Caffé 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 country music.

Petty Bear Picnic: Tom Petty triumphant at SPAC. Photo by Martin Benjamin

6. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Brian Setzer
Saratoga 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.

7. Mike Watt and the Secondmen, Cobra Verde
Valentine’s, April 14

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.

8. Wilco
Union 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.

9. The Forty-Fives, Johnny Rabb and the Jailhouse Rockers
Artie’s 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.

10. Jonathan Richman
Valentine’s, June 24

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 sophistication.

Best of 2002
Critic: Shawn Stone

1. Rosie Flores
Valentine’s, March 21

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.

2. Amy Rigby
Valentine’s, June 13

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 another.

3. Hawaiian Rawkfest
Valentine’s, June 28-29

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 so swell?

4. Ray Charles
Calvin 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.

5. Brilliant Mistakes: A Tribute to Elvis Costello
Valentine’s, Aug. 10

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.

6. Aimee Mann
Calvin 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.”

7. Mary Prankster, Bible Study
Valentine’s, Oct. 10

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 Study.

8. Philip Glass Ensemble
The 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.

9. Suzanne Vega
MASS 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.

Best of 2002
Critic: David Greenberger

1. Richard Thompson
The Egg, Nov. 3

One man, one guitar, exquisite taste, deep and broad songwriting. Take at least once a year to remain in good health.

2. They Might Be Giants
MASS 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.”

3. Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady: Acoustic Hot Tuna
The Egg, Dec. 8

Spotlight on Mr. Bass y’all!

4. David Lindley and Wally Ingram
The Van Dyke, Oct. 12

Plus they had some great moonshine with them—thanks for the swig, it’s still heating me this winter.

5. Lyle Lovett
SPAC, Aug. 4

With his shattered leg held together with some sort of exterior scaffolding, Lovett casually gave resonance to the phrase “the show must go on.”

6. Peter Wolf
Northern 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 complaining.

7. NRBQ
Taste of the World Festival, Westfield, Mass., Aug. 24

It rained, but who cares?

8. Marc Ribot
Club Helsinki, Great Barrington, Mass., Jan. 12

Nobody spoke and I fell into a dream.

9. The Figgs
Valentine’s, Dec. 14

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.

10. Erin McKeown
Skidmore College, Nov. 17

Mark my words: She’ll be back in a better room with a bigger crowd. Be there then.

Best of 2002
Critic: J. Eric Smith

1. Clutch, Scissorfight
Saratoga 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.

2. Mindless Self Indulgence
Valentine’s, March 9

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.

3. Living Colour, Black Inc
Northern 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.

4. The Damned
Valentine’s, Oct. 8

Forget nostalgia: The Damned are a killer band with new material that more than holds its own with the classics.

5. Small Axe
Fuze 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.

6. Collider
Sounding 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 on eBay.

7. Ian Anderson
Troy 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.

8. The Apex Theory
Northern 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.

9. The Lo Faber Band
Valentine’s, Jan. 19

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.

10. Wetwerks
Valentine’s, Jan. 4

An awesome display of musical muscle, well staged and fully stoked by a deeply appreciative audience.

Best of 2002
Critic: John Rodat

1. Mark Mulcahy
Valentine’s, Jan. 11

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.

2. Paul Westerberg
Pearl 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 double record.

3. Recover
Northern 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 . . .

4. Richard Buckner
Wamc 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.

5. Hawksley Workman
The 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.

6. Cal Hopkins’ Amish Armada
Valentine’s, March 19

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.

7. The Erotics
Artie’s 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.

8. Greg Brown, Jeff Lang
The 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 Cray.)

Wine, Rufus and song: Rufus Wainwright at the Egg. Photo by Martin Benjamin

9. Brent Gorton with Mike Keegan and Gaven Richard
The 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.

10. Rufus Wainwright
The 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.)

Best of 2002
Critic: Erik Hage

1. Cracker
Empire State Plaza, Aug. 7

Even without bassist-vocalist Brandy Norwood, they lit up a clear summer night with an exuberant set.

2. Doc Watson
Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Oct. 26

Even legends consider him a legend. Troy discovered why.

3. Coal Palace Kings
Valentine’s, May 11

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.

4. Neil Diamond
Pepsi 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.

5. The Gentlemen
Valentine’s, April 20

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.

Best of 2002
Critic: Bill Ketzer

1. Down
Northern Lights, July 30

Brutal Hessian warfare. I was deaf for days and days.

2. Thin Lizzy
Northern Lights, Oct. 24

A stunning, tasteful, over-the-top tribute to Phil Lynott. National anthem after national anthem.

3. Judas Priest
Northern Lights, July 27

C’mon. “They played Exciter.” What more can you ask for?

4. B.B. King Blues Festival
SPAC, Aug. 30

The man still gots it. Also a slammin’ set by the all-too-easily underated Fab T-Birds.

5. Chris Robinson and New Earth Mud
Northern Lights, Dec. 15

Oh, I tried. I tried not to like it. But I liked it.


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