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Best of 2003

Critic: Bill Ketzer

1. Supersuckers
Valentine’s, Nov. 7

I got the bruises to prove it. Why these guys don’t have their own variety show is beyond me.

Photo: Joe Putrock

2. Kiss, Aerosmith
Pepsi Arena, Nov. 28

Shrewd, gratuitous swagger from elder rock statesmen. Gene spit blood on my forehead and I was better for it.

3. Anthrax
Northern Lights, Aug. 24

Every bit as good as they ever were, maybe even better with John Bush at the helm. No relation to George.

4. Ani DiFranco
Proctor’s Theatre, March 16

She makes me want to quit my day job.

5. Henry Rollins
The Egg, Feb. 2

He demands that I quit my day job.

6. Skinless, Shadows Fall
Saratoga Winners, Feb. 1

They put the final nail in the Nü Metal coffin once and for all. Thank god.

7. Jason Ringenberg
Valentine’s, Jan. 23

Played to 23 people in a blizzard as if he were at Giants Stadium.

8. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Queens of the Stone Age
Pepsi Arena, May 17

This ain’t your older brother’s Chili Peppers, but who cares? And Queens too? Fuggetaboutit.

9. Béla Fleck and the Flecktones
Palace Theatre, March 22

Insane, almost surreal talent. Unlike Billy Talent.

10. Ray Charles
Palace Theatre, June 6

Damn! Showing us how it’s done for over 40 years.

Critic: Kirsten Ferguson

1. Supersuckers
Valentine’s, Nov. 7

The Supersuckers bill themselves as the “greatest rock and roll band in the world” these days—and why should they be humble? Nobody who attended the Valentine’s show would argue with that designation. When the Seattle band tear up a stage, their middle fingers flashed at the crowd in between every explosive number, there’s no quibbling: The Supersuckers are the greatest rock & roll band in the world.

2. The Buzzcocks
Valentine’s, July 10

Seminal punk rock band the Buzzcocks—touring 28 years after their formation—showed no signs of age as they cranked up the decibels, blasting through punk classics like “Orgasm Addict” and “Ever Fallen in Love” at high speed. Frontman Pete Shelley could barely hide his glee as the mosh-pit-inclined crowd responded with breathless enthusiasm.

3. Queens of the Stone Age, Turbonegro
Northern Lights, March 27

Queens of the Stone Age riff-rocked their way through hits from their last two albums, and the appearance of ex-Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan, who provided guest vocals, was more than enough to make my night. Turbonegro’s hedonistic Alice Cooper-meets-Clockwork Orange-meets-gay sailor set was capped off by their telling of a nonsensical, must-be-Norwegian joke involving a badger (punch line: “Don’t call me a motherfucker, motherfucker”). I’m still scratching my head over that one.

4. Nancy Sinatra
Revolution Hall, May 14

Effortlessly balancing sexy self-assurance with softhearted graciousness, the charming and witty Sinatra elicited nonstop yelps and shout-outs from adoring fans in the audience, as she growled and purred her way through rock renditions of her biggest hits (most notably, her chart- topping collaborations with unconventional songwriter Lee Hazelwood).

5. Reverend Horton Heat, the Legendary Shack Shakers
Saratoga Winners, May 9

The Heat played nonstop for two hours, dipping into their extensive back catalog of irreverent psychobilly songs about booze, cars and tough women. Perhaps even more entertaining were the deranged Shack Shakers, who whipped the crowd into a near-riot with their redneck murder boogie and crowd-baiting antics.

6. Neil Young, Lucinda Williams
SPAC, July 4

Two quintessential American performers (oh right, Neil Young is Canadian) on the 4th of July—what could be better? Granted, his Greendale theatrical performance was a bit bizarre, but Young’s second set, featuring electrifying versions of “Sedan Delivery” and “Powderfinger,” was awesome. And Lucinda Williams, in a stars-and-stripes cowboy hat, had a crack band who added a barroom swagger to some of her quieter numbers.

7. Beck, the Black Keys
SPAC, June 8

From the jerky, robotic moves of his band to the futuristic keyboard effects and the monochromatic stage lights, Beck’s SPAC show was a highly enjoyable Devo-meets-Kraftwerk revival. The Black Keys barely took up any space on the SPAC stage with their minimalist setup, but the duo pounded out a fair bit of racket, equal parts Southern rock and traditionalist blues.

8. Badly Drawn Boy
The Egg, Nov. 4

Love it or hate it, Badly Drawn Boy’s set at the Egg was never boring: The rumpled British songwriter cracked jokes, rambled between songs and paid tribute to his hero Bruce Springsteen. But the guy has great songs, so it was worth sitting through all the distractions (which, personally, I found to be entertaining).

9. Jason Ringenberg
Valentine’s, Jan. 23

Somebody forget to tell Jason Ringenberg that it’s not a good idea to leave Nashville for upstate New York in the heart of January. Still, the former Jason & the Scorchers singer made the most of the night, as he whooped and hollered and generally kicked up a Tennessee storm in front of the small crowd.

10. Hot Hot Heat, the Sun, the Erotics
Valentine’s, April 9

With tense pop hooks, agitated vocals and herky-jerky rhythms, Hot Hot Heat inspired the audience to handclap and dance along to their twitchy new-wave hits. The Sun were a pleasant surprise of ’60s garage and spastic punk rock, while the Erotics blasted out their entertaining anthems of sleaze.

Critic: David Greenberger

1. The Chandler Travis Philharmonic
Harry’s, Northampton, Mass., Nov. 8

Why oh why doesn’t everyone within sight of these words do themselves a favor and see this band? Bring the whole family.

2. Geoff Muldaur
Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, Mass., March 7

A stroll through one man’s love of varied American musics.

3. Michael Hurley
Club Helsinki, Great Barrington, Mass., April 24

America’s finest surrealist troubadour.

4. They Might Be Giants
The Egg, July 18

Even hearing the song again and again, it never fails to dazzle when everyone in the band jumps up and down to the opening strains of “Birdhouse in Your Soul.”

5. Loudon Wainwright III, Erin McKeown
The Egg, April 11

The old guard and the new, both captivating in their own personal ways.

6. Rosanne Cash
MASS MoCA, North Adams, Mass., May 25

A night made all the more memorable with the inclusion of the tribute to her then-recently-deceased stepmother, June Carter Cash.

Critic: Erik Hage

1. Lustre Kings, Eddie Angel, Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys
Captain J.P. Cruise Line, July 14

One of the main reasons I can’t tolerate complaints about the Capital Region music scene: We have one of the finest collectives of rock and roll players on the planet. The Lustre Kings. Graham Tichy. John Tichy. Johnny Rabb. Albany prodigal son Eddie Angel. The headliner (gearing up for Conan the next night) was California’s Big Sandy; my heart and ears were upstairs with the local boys.

2. The Pernice Brothers
Valentine’s, June 19

Joe Pernice’s songs almost sounded better than on his remarkable album during this, the opening night of the group’s national tour. It was a brilliant stroke to have the Pernices play downstairs in the Valentine’s multiplex. A packed house got a great show.

3. Jayhawks
Bearsville Theater, Woodstock, Oct. 4

A bright moon in October after the rains means the deer are on the move. But it was worth braving the windy Catskills roads for the ultimate roots-rock experience. And what a great venue.

4. Rosanne Cash
Empire State Plaza, Aug. 27

The plaza always finds a way to cap off the summer perfectly. Last year it was Cracker; this year it was the brainy and soulful Rosanne Cash, who delivered a crackin’ set with her top-notch roots-pop ensemble.

5. Brand New Opry #1
Valentine’s, Feb. 8

Here’s another reason why I can’t stomach complaints about our music scene. Jeff Burger debuted his outstanding, good-time music series on this night. It soon went from bimonthly to monthly (and is still going strong. . . . I’ll see you there). For the first show, he tapped into our finest local Americana talent. It was a treat to catch Hayseed, the Coal Palace Kings and knotworking under one roof, all turning in wonderful sets.

6. Cobra Verde
Valentine’s, May 20

Remarkably, the small crowd stood like Mount Rushmore as Cleveland’s finest garage punkers and a bespectacled J. Mascis tore the Stooges’ Fun House a new one. Then J piled his guitar and Euro-stylish female companion into his tiny Subaru and followed Verde to the next town.

7. Tired Skin: An Alejandro Escovedo Benefit
Valentine’s, Aug. 16

The outpouring of nationwide support for Escovedo, who is suffering from severe Hepatitis complications, has been amazing. Local troubadour Michael Eck put together our own fitting and proper benefit. A night of great music with everyone’s heart in the right place. (Even that potty-mouthed wunderkind Ed Hamell.)

8. Johnny Rabb and (some of) Rocky Velvet
McGeary’s, Nov. 20

The players in the Capital Region’s rockabilly/rock-and-roll collective play in so many incarnations that it’s hard to keep track. So imagine my amazement, when looking for a pint after the Skynyrd concert, I stumbled upon this spontaneous rock & roll experience. It was an archetypal Albany night on the block on which Melville once allegedly lived and wrote. Mayor Jerry even strolled in, pressed a few hands and took up residence at the bar while Graham Tichy pressed golden notes from the fretboard.

9. The delMars
Valentine’s, Oct. 25

One of the wonderful surprises of the year was this uncanny new local band, who kicked off the Brand New Opry #5 with a jaw-dropper of a set.

10. Journey, Styx, REO Speedwagon
Pepsi Arena, July 12

Fine. Whatever. Sue me. A good tune is a good tune is a good tune is a good tune. Call me unhip: I don’t care.

Critic: John Brodeur

1. Eels
Northern Lights, Nov. 1

Only about 200 smart concertgoers came out to see E and company do their thing in November. The rest of you deserve a big ol’ kick in the ass because not only was this the best show of the year, but odds are we won’t get another shot at seeing this band around here anytime soon. You people should really start reading your memos.

2. Buzzcocks
Valentine’s, July 10

After more than 25 years as Buzzcocks, Steve Diggle and Pete Shelley showed no signs of slowing down with age in their Valentine’s performance, a 75-minute barrage of ’cocks classics, old and new. “Harmony in My Head”? Check. “Orgasm Addict”? Of course. “Noise Annoys”? Hell, yeah. All that, plus about 20 more.

3. Nada Surf
Valentine’s, June 6

A long tour can often drain a band to where their performance becomes rote and uninspired, but Brooklyn’s Nada Surf were positively electric after two months on the road, referencing both the Smiths and New Order and dropping jaws with songs from the excellent Let Go.

4. Pat DiNizio
Artie’s All Sports Pub, Oct. 10

It might not have been as intoxicating for anyone other than Smithereens devotees, but the handful of fans that showed up knew every word, and for them, DiNizio’s performance was a classroom lesson on power-pop songwriting, with examples from the books of Lennon/McCartney and Osbourne/Iommi to boot.

5. Rufus Wainwright
The Egg, Nov. 23

Wainwright’s voice wasn’t fully on his side, but to hear every wonderful, gigantic song from Want One brought to life was stirring. So powerful was the performance that when all eight members of the band opened their mouths to sing together, you could almost hear the cracking of the Egg’s shell.

6. Belle & Sebastian
Calvin Theater, Nov. 12

The weepy Scottish ensemble returned to the States for a series of shows in support of their strongest release in years (Dear Catastrophe Waitress), sounding confident, rehearsed and better than ever. They also brought along the best lightshow of the year, non-arena division.

7. Pernice Brothers
Valentine’s, June 19

Early into their latest tour, you could still hear the band sharpening the edges of their live performance, but that didn’t subtract a bit from the jaw-dropping power of those perfect, beautiful, heartbreaking songs. Joe Pernice is the best songwriter of his generation; guitarist Peyton Pinkerton makes an excellent Johnny Marr.

8. Matthew Loiacono, Bryan Thomas
Changing Spaces, Feb. 21

Loiacono stepped out with a hushed and captivating set at the release party for his proper solo debut, A Book About the Rest. BT warmed it way up, splicing some stirring spoken-word pieces in with his unique mixture of rock, funk and soul—although on this night, it almost felt like gospel.

9. The Figgs
Valentine’s, Dec. 12

Despite a few lackluster local performances earlier in the year, the skinny boys from ’toga came to play for their annual holiday show, and play they did. A healthy dose of oldies (due in part to the rerelease of Ready, Steady, Stoned) mingled with newer fare, proving that, after 16 years, the Figgs are still at the top of their game.

10. Hot Hot Heat
Valentine’s, April 9

Their December show at Northern Lights was a disappointment, but that’s mostly because their Valentine’s show was such a hoot. Steve Bays pranced around like a combination of Mick Jagger and a superball, and the band’s quirky, danceable indie rock turned the place into an alternate-universe disco, at least for 45 minutes.

Critic: Shawn Stone

1. Cassandra Wilson
The Egg, Nov. 22

Wilson and her five-piece band (featuring Terri Lynn Carrington on drums) blended jazz, blues, rock and Afropop into something amazing. What once seemed merely eclectic is now much more—her own genre? While Wilson’s phrasing has become more precise and spare, her stage presence has grown more relaxed and warm.

2. Randy Newman
Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Oct. 1

America’s best-known misanthrope took a break from hauling in Disney soundtrack cash to tour. This solo evening showcased the amazing breadth of his songbook, as well as Newman’s own obvious, and mildly surprising, pleasure in performing.

3. Nile Rodgers and Chic
Riverfront Park at the Corning Preserve, Aug. 9

God knows that Nile Rodgers isn’t touring because he needs the money. This ultra-funky, big-band edition of Chic—two percussionists, two singers, two keyboardists, a bassist and Rodgers on guitar—must be a labor of love. They kept people dancing through a downpour at the Corning Preserve, as brightly lit boats cruised the Hudson behind them. Ah, summer.

4. Aimee Mann
The Egg, Feb. 8

Maybe it was because Mann and her band had been up since 5 AM, or because it was near the end of the tour, but they weren’t holding anything back. When a chucklehead called out for “Freebird,” Mann brought him onstage and had him sing backup on a great cover of “Sweet Home Alabama.” Rock & roll, baby.

5. Tony Bennett
Palace Theatre, May 1

The Palace Theatre looked great for its grand reopening, but Tony Bennett was pretty suave himself. Mixing his hits with pop standards, Bennett and his band were true musical elegance. And when he wasn’t singing, he was listening to the musicians—Bennett never left the stage during the 90-minute set. That’s cool.

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