2014 Year in Review: Concert Highlights

The holidays got the best of me and I didn’t manage to write any reviews for the last … (counts on fingers) eight concerts I saw. My concert attendance is an unsustainable lifestyle, what can I say?

Anyway, it’s January 1, and for those of us with a smidge too much OCD to write year-end blog posts before the actual end of the actual year, that means it’s time to write a year-end blog post!

I saw lots of shows this year, including many kinds of music – bluegrass, metal, rock, folk, soul, experimental/avant-garde, country, classical, lots of flavors of jazz, and occasionally something truly indescribable. I always find it beyond impossible to pick the best concert, I can’t even begin to compare such different kinds of music – who can decide which is “better” between a marching band and a free improv jazz set? They’re worlds apart and I enjoy them in almost unrelated ways.

What I’ve been doing for the past few years is coming up with a year-end list of memorable concert moments – the best, the weirdest, the craziest and most amazing things that happened in 2014. So… here goes!

• The highlight of the early part of the year was undoubtedly the Marc Ribot residency week at the Stone at the end of January/beginning of February. Several friends and I went to every single set, twelve of them in six days, and we just about froze our toes off waiting in line every night to get the best seats. It was a real bonding experience! And the music was amazing – most of the sets were excellent, but the set featuring the Marc Ribot Trio with guest Cooper-Moore was one of the best things I saw all year. The encore especially will stay with me for a long time, with Henry Grimes heartbreaking violin solo and Ribot’s bluesy guitar. Also worth a mention were the gorgeous solo acoustic interludes in the 8mm film set, and the “Songs” night where he debuted a bunch of songs that I am absolutely dying to hear on a studio record. Maybe some of the best songs he’s ever written, what a pleasure it was to hear them live for the first time. E.g.:

It’s funny, watching the video back I can almost taste it, I remember where I was sitting and who was sitting next to me and how the place smelled and how cold we were and every little detail… memory is such a strange phenomenon.

• I saw Chris Eldridge & Julian Lage do two full sets together, one at Passim’s in Cambridge and once at the Stone in NYC. I will probably never be able to explain what it is I like so much about their work as a duo, but there is a purity and naiveté to their music, playing, and singing that just makes me feel really good. I’m not sure that musicians expect their concerts to have any kind of serious emotional impact on their listeners, but these two shows helped me so much this year when I needed it very badly. Two of the most peaceful and calm hours I had all year.

• Della Mae’s incredible cover of “Sixteen Tons” at the Middle East in June. I was really beat and went to go sit in the back towards the end of the concert, but for that awesome encore I ended up standing on the bench instead of sitting on it.

• The entire week of Zorn at the Vanguard was really special, but the two stand-out moments for me were Brian Marsella’s beautiful extended piano solo during Zion80’s set and getting to sit perilously close to the Masada String Trio and be able to watch Zorn conducting almost as though I were a part of the band.

• Seeing John Lurie play and sing some of his own music for the first time in my life at the tribute show at Town Hall in September. I’m so happy I got a chance to see him perform, but at the same time that little taste made me even sadder that his music career was cut short by illness. Especially heartbreaking since his brief performance involved him yelling “SAVE ME! SAVE ME!” over and over into the mic. We wish we could, John…

• Two very opposite experiences two days in a row from the same musicians – marching through Greenwich Village following Kenny Wollesen’s marching band on Sunday and experiencing their “Sonic Massage” at a house concert on Monday. One was an absolute blast with crowds of people watching and cheering us on, the other was probably the most introverted live music experience I ever had, experienced intensely inside my own head. Both amazing.

• I went to the Stone for 13 sets in November and almost every one of those sets was top-notch. It’s hard to narrow down to highlights but… Jeremiah Cymerman’s solo set was mind-bending and one of the most intense things I heard all year. And the Banquet of the Spirits set with John Lee and Peter Apfelbaum was one of those shows where the music was so good and fun that I just had a smile on my face the whole time. Really wish I had a recording of that one so I could listen again and again!

• The Masada Marathon at Nublu in December was another memorable night, for all kinds of reasons: most notably Erik Friedlander’s absolutely stunningly beautiful solo set, and Abraxas’ late-night set which featured both a great performance and a really weird heckler. (Not every memorable concert moment is one you’d wish to repeat…) Abraxas is performing at Nublu again in a few weeks, I think I might bring a Taser just in case we need to take someone out. 😉

It was a fantastic year for concerts, and there’s many more highlights I could come up with if I wanted to write all day (Cobra, Ches Smith’s week at the Stone, Winter Jazzfest, Hikashu, Joe Henry, HONK! festival, Jon Madof’s week at the Stone, PHJB, SC3…). I am looking forward to more of the same, with another Zorn week at the Vanguard coming up, Winter Jazzfest on the horizon, and shows from Marc Ribot, Ches Smith, Abraxas, Sylvie Courvoisier, etc. etc. on the calendar coming up.

Aside from music it was a pretty tough year (as was the year before) so I am hoping for a slightly easier 2015, which might even allow me to do a bit more writing in the ol’ blog. Or see twice as many concerts. One of those. 😉

Now it’s your turn: What were the best concert moments of 2014 for you?

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One Response to 2014 Year in Review: Concert Highlights

  1. stefan says:

    Steve Reich’s composition for 18 musicians performed in Brussels by ICTUS ensemble. We didn’t simply see or hear it, we experienced it. that was exciting, impressive, brilliant…. Other great ones : Joe Henry, Gary Burton Quartet, Jef Neve & Pascal Schumacher, sons of Kemet, Avishai Cohen…..

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