Three months of undocumented concert mania

I guess the comment in my last post about having an unsustainable lifestyle was pretty spot on. I’ve seen 57 concerts since the last one I reviewed. Between general lack of time, lack of sleep, and all-too-frequent illness I just can’t keep up with it. Plus I’ve been having bad writer’s block lately (I’ve been trying to write one concert review for over a week now and finally gave up to write this instead.) But I hate-hate-hate to just give up on these years of work, so I’m trying to come up with ideas for a slightly less intense blog that I could actually do without having to be institutionalized. Maybe a weekly or biweekly post with briefer reviews and highlights instead of the really in-depth stuff I’ve been doing. I don’t know. Ideas are welcome!

Anyway, I can at least give you some of the highlights of my winter concert schedule.

Dave Douglas & Uri Caine at Subculture: Whenever I go to this venue I wish they had more music I liked, because it’s a great space and in a great location. I’ve only been there a few times, but I really like it. And this particular concert was so nice – I don’t listen to a ton of music that I consider relaxing, but this was a rare gig that I found both engaging and de-stressing. Couldn’t have come at a better time as it was in the midst of a hectic holiday season and on my monthly work deadline. I bought their new album, “Present Joys,” after the show, and I listened to it quite a bit over the holiday season.

Winter Jazzfest: I only managed to see eight bands this year at WJF (compared to last year’s 12) but I had a really good time seeing shows with a group of friends (I won a couple of extra passes at the last minute so I got to bring extra concert buddies!). Highlights included a sort of reprise in miniature of the John Lurie tribute show that I saw at Town Hall last year, this time with Marc Ribot stepping in as a guest for a couple of pieces; Henry, Hampton & Low; Wooley & Vandermark; and the Young Philadelphians, who played a mostly-disco set which was difficult to take seriously, but a lot of fun if you pretended you weren’t at a jazz festival.

Jazz & Colors Festival: Hosted in the Metropolitan Museum, this was a great chance to get a quick taste of some bands I’d been wanting to hear. There were something like a dozen bands playing simultaneously, so you had to skip around from room to room to see them. My favorite was Jenny Scheinman’s ensemble (we ended up seeing about 2/3 of her set and spending the other 1/3 checking out other bands) but I also really enjoyed Amir ElSaffar’s group as well as Cellar and Point.

Jason Isbell at the Beacon: This show went on sale when I was still in Boston, and it was on sale so far in advance I wasn’t even paying attention to NYC shows. So I didn’t have tickets (so sad!). But… I never give up on concerts entirely, so I patiently checked Ticketmaster a few times a day for a few weeks until, hey look! Front row center, on sale the day before the show. (So happy!) I am so grateful for this bit of luck, because it was one of the best rock shows I’ve seen in ages. Isbell’s a great songwriter and a fantastic singer, and it was easily the best show I’ve seen him do. The quality on this isn’t super (someone else’s video from a few rows back in the orchestra) but the strength of the performance comes through, especially the powerful vocals:

The energy in the room during that song was almost tactile, growing steadily throughout the song and earthing itself in occasional audience outbursts, until it erupted into a several-minute-long standing ovation at the end of the song (in the middle of the set – not trying for an encore, just showing appreciation). I walked out of that show feeling better than I had in probably two months. (more…)

She’s not dead, she’s… pining for the fjords?

(Pardon the Monty Python reference, I couldn’t help myself.)

I just wanted to write a quick post saying that, yes, I know I haven’t written anything in ages, and no, I haven’t abandoned the blog. In April I got hit with a perfect storm of simultaneous health issues, job crises, and housing/home problems, among other things. That stuff is all calming down now, but the result is that I’m moving out of state, so now I am absorbed in all of the packing, apartment hunting, travel and so forth involved with the move. I had to give up trying to blog for a while – I just haven’t had the time or energy, and I didn’t want the blog to turn into some kind of unpleasant obligation that I would start to hate doing.

The good news is that the out-of-state move is going to end up with me living in the live music capital of the world, New York City! I’m really excited about it. I hope my blog readers will be patient enough to wait for me to settle down and start writing more regularly. In the meantime I’m trying to figure out which neighborhood is the perfect balance between a short commute to my new office and a short commute to the Stone…

Memorable concert moments of 2013

As I’ve discussed before, I’m incapable of ranking things like favorite or best concerts… but I do like to think back and remember all the most amazing, bizarre, and important live music moments of the year. A lot of them are more personal than musical, but I think they generally speak to the power of a live music performance anyway. So… in no particular order, some of the most memorable concert and concert-related moments of the year:

• Matana Roberts at the Issue Project Room, using the audience vocals as a third instrument along with her voice and her saxophone; combined with the acoustics in the room it was beautiful bordering on sacred.

• Not one, but two concerts where I was the only audience member to show up. Awkward…

• Sean Rowe & co. covering “That Feel” at Cafe 939, coming down into the audience and doing a perfectly imperfect acoustic three-way harmony of guitars and vocals.

• Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys’ incredible cover of “I Put A Spell On You” in the Spiegeltent at the Outside the Box Festival – it didn’t just make my day, it made my whole week.

• If it hadn’t been the Year of Zorn, it would have been the Year of Ceramic Dog – I saw them five times and every one was a memorable, unique show. My second most popular Youtube video of the year was from the second Ceramic Dog show I saw:

• Every time I convinced someone to see a show and they loved it. I convinced a surprising number of people to travel out of state or even to a different country for bands they’d never seen and/or heard before. (What can I say – I’m contagious.)

• Seeing the ever-intense Woven Hand at max volume from point-blank range at a little club in Boston when I felt devastated inside, but figured it was better than (more…)

Those ubiquitous end-of-year “best of” lists…

I was trying to think of something to write about this week since I’ve been sick and had to cancel some planned concert attendance. The obvious choice was one of those end-of-year best-of lists that all the music writers in the world seem to do sometime in early December. But… I just can’t bring myself to write one! There are a lot of great reasons to make best-of lists, I get that. You want to get the word out about great stuff people might have missed. And people write them in early December so “Santa” can get some ideas for Christmas gifts for music lovers. (Chanukah’s already over, so that’s a moot point for me.) But even when I sit down and seriously try to come up with a list of the year’s best concerts, I can’t do it. Plus, the more compulsive aspects of my personality refuse to let me do a “year end” list when the year hasn’t ended yet. And last, but not least: Art is not a competition! Music is not a game you can win (not even if you’re playing game pieces!). It’s a collaborative effort by everyone involved. That’s kind of nice, isn’t it? Let’s not ruin it by picking winners and losers.

However, for the last few years I’ve written up “concert year in review” posts, with a full list of concerts seen and various commentary/statistics. I’ve also done some “concert moments of the year” posts. I didn’t have a blog to post them on back then, so unless you’re friends with me you probably haven’t seen them. I’ll post the 2013 year in review here in January, when the year is actually over. (You’ve heard the saying “it ain’t over till the fat lady sings,” well… my motto is “the year ain’t over till Spiritual Unity plays Bells at midnight.”)

Now, all that being said… as I mentioned above, one of the reasons people post these things in early December is to give gift ideas to readers. And I have no problem giving a little extra promotional space to support good music, so here are some Concert Manic gift suggestions for the music lovers in your life. Completely useless to all of my fellow Jews, but we are all distracted by our latke-induced box grater injuries anyway. (…just me?)

I’ll start with a trio of recent John Zorn releases:
In Lambeth: Visions from the Walled Garden of William Blake – This one was released a few days ago, so your favorite Zorn fan probably doesn’t have it yet. It’s also a great place to start for a Zorn neophyte, as it is very accessible. Beautiful, gentle, but still interesting music featuring Kenny Wollesen (vibes), electric guitar (Bill Frisell), and harp (Carol Emanuel).
The Concealed – This one is about a year old, but it’s my favorite Zorn album in quite a while. It reminds me of a cross between the Dreamers and Bar Kokhba, but without the guitar. I love it, check out the samples and see what you think. Also, the artwork on the Amazon page I linked to isn’t accurate – the package is very cool and uses transparent/reflective inks. It would make a neat gift. Here’s a video I shot of this band in April, to give you an idea what they sound like:

If you want to really wow someone with amazing packaging, check out (more…)

Not a Concert Review: John Lurie at the Coolidge Corner Theatre (5/13/2013)

First, some music to listen to while you read:

A little background: I’ve never seen John Lurie performing live music, and I probably never will (sadly). When I heard he was coming to the Coolidge Corner movie theater to present some episodes of his television show, “Fishing with John,” I figured it was the closest I would ever get, and bought a ticket. “Fishing with John” was actually my first exposure to Lurie’s work. I watched the first episode at my brother’s house in 1999 or so, and later rented the rest of the episodes from the local video store (remember those?) and watched them with a friend. We loved it, and when I got a DVD player, I bought the DVDs with director’s commentary. I also saw him in a couple of films, and someone gave me a copy of his “Marvin Pontiac” album a year or two later.

Amazingly, at that point I had still never heard the Lounge Lizards – I didn’t get into jazz until a few years later. I have a few of their albums now, but I am by no means an expert on their work – I tend to be so focused on live music that I kind of forget about people who aren’t actively touring and making music (feel free to excoriate me in the comments!). But every time I hear them I think “DAMN, why don’t I have more of their albums – this is fantastic!”

Anyway, I showed up to the Coolidge Corner Theatre not really knowing what to expect. For the last ten years there have been a lot of odd things going on with (more…)