I figured I’d start my first real blog post with a look back at the year that just ended: 2012. It was a pretty epic year for concerts! Here are a few of my highlights.
The first concert of the year was in a small venue in my neighborhood, Lilypad. John Medeski played a solo piano concert (and I think everyone involved is probably still wondering why he picked such a small venue – it only seats about 60 people). I had an amazing seat – right next to Medeski, with a perfect view of every key he pressed. It’s really special to see a real virtuoso from that vantagepoint. You can actually watch and listen to the entire concert here – the person sitting next to me at the show combined both of our video footage with another friend’s audio recording to come up with a complete concert film.
Later in January, I saw Joe Henry for the first time – two nights in a row at City Winery in New York City. I lucked out and he asked my favorite guitarist, Marc Ribot, to join him for those two nights. Ribot also performed a short opening set. The undeniable highlight was a performance of “Tomorrow Is October” from Henry’s latest album, Reverie, in a stripped-down arrangement for voice and two guitars – Henry on acoustic and Ribot on electric. Much more beautiful and striking than the studio version, as much as I like the original.
In the spring I had the good fortune to catch the Underscore Orkestra, who describe themselves as “playing a blend of Balkan, Klezmer, Gypsy Jazz and Swing.” That was one of the most fun shows I saw all year, and I’d never heard of them before so it was a great surprise. They are currently on tour in Australia/New Zealand and will be on a lengthy U.S. tour later in the spring. Keep your eye on their tour page to see if they come your way – highly recommended!
Another surprise for me was the Touré-Raichel Collective. I had bought the ticket on a whim when buying tickets for the season from World Music/CRASHarts, a local promoter of world music and dance. The concert was really magical – the sound quality at the Somerville Theatre was perfect, and the band had an amazing groove that seemed completely effortless. After the concert, I immediately bought the album (which you can listen to here) and looked up some more information about the band. Apparently it all came about after a chance meeting in an airport!
The first classical concert highlight of the year was a free performance at the library in Concord, Massachusetts. It was a duet of Mark Feldman (violin) and Sylvie Courvoisier (piano). I spent something like four hours on public transportation and two hours killing time in Concord due to the infrequent train schedule, but it was worth it! It was a beautiful, intimate setting, and the music was stunning. They performed some original compositions as well as the entire Malphas album, which happens to be a favorite of mine. (Click here for a sample from Malphas.)
The weekend spanning the end of June and the beginning of July was what I’d consider to be the pivotal moment of the year for concerts. The Marc Ribot Trio was playing a week at the Village Vanguard, and Jon Madof’s Zion80 were starting their residency at the Stone. On Saturday and Sunday I went to four of the Ribot sets at the Vanguard, which were a very special experience. Partly because it’s THE VANGUARD, and partly because the music was so intense, and partly because – for some reason – every time I go to a Marc Ribot Trio show I end up meeting some great new Ribot-fanatic friends. On Monday I went to the Stone to see Zion80, and decided that they were my favorite new band discovery for quite some time. Madof has come up with some kind of bizarre amalgamation of Afrobeat, Jewish music, and big-band jazz, and somehow makes that crazy concept work unbelievably well. He’s had some incredible musicians playing in the band, and their live sets (I’ve seen them four times now) are tons of fun every time. Do not pass up a chance to see this band play, seriously.
At the end of July, I was lucky enough to find myself with tickets to a very-very-sold-out Amanda F. Palmer show at the Middle East Downstairs. (To give you an idea of how sold out it was – later in the year, she sold out three nights at another Boston-area venue which is almost twice as big.) I managed to get up to about the 8th row in the GA floor section – close enough to take a bouquet of flowers to the face when she flung them from the stage. (I was finding petals in my clothes for hours…) It was really a fun show, she had us dancing and singing and having a great time. I can’t say that she’s anywhere near one of my favorite songwriters, but I really have a hard time coming up with another performer who can put on a show like she does. There are a lot of talented performers in the world, but she has a unique penchant for making the audience feel like they are a part of it and not just watching.
In August I saw two New Orleans jazz bands – Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Tuba Skinny. PHJB is very well-known, of course, and they put on a hell of a party at Brooklyn Bowl. You couldn’t have more fun if you tried! Tuba Skinny was another surprise success for me – I’d never heard them before, and they were GREAT! One of those magic little moments you stumble across sometimes when you see unknown bands. I took my boss and her husband to the show and they both loved it, too. Everyone did! I really hope they come back to the Boston area soon. (You can see their touring schedule on their blog.)
In September, we were treated to a Marc Ribot solo set at the Boston ICA, which is arguably the most beautiful venue in the city. This might have been the most intimate concert I’ve ever seen. He played as though he didn’t know anyone else was in the room, wrapped around the guitar, face pressed against the instrument, playing with with so much delicacy and nuance. It was the kind of show that reminds me why I’m such a big fan of his concerts. See a short clip from the concert here.
In December, I saw a bunch of outstanding shows in Manhattan. The first of them was the John Zorn Masada mini-marathon at Nublu. I found it strangely different to see Zorn’s bands in a bar atmosphere rather than the Stone or another seated venue. People seemed to feel more free to show appreciation in loud and enthusiastic ways, which added a lot to the energy and vibe in the room. I particularly enjoyed Erik Friedlander‘s Volac set and Mycale‘s set which included a lot of new music from their upcoming sophomore album.
After Christmas, I spent four nights in Manhattan for concerts and New Years. The second night of concerts, on December 29th, was one of the best I had all year – two sets of improvisation at the Stone with a huge list of talented musicians, and then over to Le Poisson Rouge for a post-midnight dance party with Cyro Baptista’s Beat the Donkey and a post-post-midnight chill-out session with Eyal Maoz’s Edom. I was attending concerts from 8PM to 3:30AM! It’s hard to even sum up a night like that, except to say that everyone involved managed to fully realize their potential. Beat the Donkey was absurdist and surreal and danceable, the improv sets at the Stone were mind-bending and avant garde and amazing, and Edom – well, they managed to be the exact band I wanted to see after being at concerts for six and a half hours… and that’s not easy!
New Year’s Eve was spent, for the third year in a row, with Marc Ribot’s Spiritual Unity. When I say things like “music is my religion,” these Spiritual Unity New Year’s Eve sets are the church services. Ritual, reverence, and moments of ecstasy… awaiting the divine sparks of inspiration to pass through the band and into the audience. The standout moment this year was something I hope they will continue as a New Year’s tradition; a sort of “2012 Blues” number, with trumpeter Roy Campbell doing a surprisingly great job on vocals and Marc Ribot spinning out some astonishing blues-guitar solos. It was a very cathartic way to cast aside the dregs of 2012. I’m already looking forward to doing it again next year!
Did you have any outstanding concert moments in 2012? Share them in the comments!