December 22, 2017

Shows of 2017

In a year of what felt like total chaos, live music felt like a mental escape from the madness of real life. These were the shows that helped me break away from polarizing political moments and be overtaken by the positivity of the masses joined together by songs.


Despite hailing from North Carolina, Ryan Adams claims New York City as his spiritual home and it's clear that people here feel the same way. Pulling out "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)" for the second song of the night was an indicator that this was bound to be something special, but as the night progressed it became more and more clear that he was ready to pull out all the bells and whistles for a truly remarkable show. The sound was so sharp and crisp that even in a large setting, the performance felt intimate. It really felt like a night of magic. One that lifted spirits, ignited passion, and left a sense of resounding joy in the air. A solo acoustic rendition of "My Winding Wheel" felt life affirming, like an awakening. "Magnolia Mountain" turned into an epic jam session. "When the Stars Go Blue" was resilient and peaceful, somehow conjuring up even more spiritual bliss than the night had already produced. Ending the show with "New York, New York" was cathartic beyond belief, inspiring and nostalgic, and a heartfelt tribute that really encapsulated the feeling and energy that resonated throughout the building. The encore of "Come Pick Me Up" was rather transcendent and saw the crowd rise to their feet for one last moment as this rock savior rose to the occasion and delivered everything the fans could have asked for and more. It was honest, pure, and exemplified everything that music can do to sooth the soul.

About two minutes into the show, the band left the stage so the crew could adjust some slight technical difficulties, but after a fast turn around, the band was back and slammed into their set with stunning force. In fact, the only downfall from the night was once the band returned, they dove straight into "Slowdive" and "Catch the Breeze" which set the bar so high so early, that it forced the band to keep their set laser focused and in proper fashion, they clearly delivered. They were firmly in control of every song and really allowed for the music to breathe while still keeping the reigns held tight. "Blue Skied an' Clear" sounded euphoric, like the trail of a comet shimmering through the sky and "When the Sun Hits" segued into "Alison" was a swirling dream of pure '90s sonic bliss. A cosmic shift where the sounds of the galaxy burst into a million rays of splendid pleasure. In the twenty plus years since "the scene that celebrates itself" ceased to exist, Slowdive and their contemporaries built their allure through the wonders of the internet and while it'd be easy to believe that perhaps the magic dust had settled, their new record proves that given their own accord, the band still have plenty to share with the world.

How do you react when one of the most beloved and treasured bands of the last decade finally makes a bad album? For years, Arcade Fire have captured the feelings of youth and have been a band that has more or less defined a generation. Like Pink Floyd, U2, and Radiohead before them, Arcade Fire have risen from humble beginnings to the status of legends over the course of albums that are innovative and transformative. Still, like those before them, Arcade Fire are in their finest element while on stage and their Infinite Content tour finds them in their brightest moment. Even the new tracks seemed to shine a little brighter on stage, but the band never hesitated to rely on their old hits to satisfy the crowd. In fact, as the night progressed, it became more and more impressive as to how many smash hits the group actually has in their repertoire. Of course, nothing can ever really compete with their now legendary closing number "Wake Up." Years later, it's hard to think of a bigger anthem that can surge through an arena and generate the kind of response this song has been receiving for the past decade. For anyone who ever had an emotional attachment to this band, there is nothing that competes with hearing this song live. It's quite unlike anything else I've ever seen and even after the house lights go on and the crowd starts to stagger home, the "whoa oh" chorus lingers on through the halls and into the streets creating a moment that seems to last forever.

Like she did at Panorama in July and with Dave Chappelle at Radio City last week, Solange presented her phenomenal show with power, confidence, and total domination. With the stage drenched in a bold, red light, she lead her band through stunning choreography and chemistry. The balance spread across the stage was cosmic and each member of the band channeled an energy that displayed their passion and motivation to allow this creative piece to come to life. Solange took the reigns with conviction. Her manner was calm and commanding. She graced the stage with her beauty and talent and held the crowd in the palm of her hands. Hits from last year's mesmerizing A Seat at the Table were met with resounding cheer and Solange really let loose, jumping into the crowd and clarifying that she was not the one holding up the show earlier in the night. "When this beat drops, I want this place to become a fucking disco" she announced before launching into "Losing You". She was ready to go.

Like many other indie all stars from the start of the millennium, Broken Social Scene returned in 2017 with a comeback record aimed to remind so many as why they were just so great almost two decades ago. Unlike some of their peers, they delivered with not just a great new record in their repertoire, but perhaps one of their strongest to date. Watching the group collect onstage and pour their hearts and souls into so many classic tracks was one of the most uplifting moments in live music I've seen all year (and I've seen quite a few). They ended the main set with an unbelievable rendition of "It's All Gonna Break" before reminding the crowd that they're "not a band, but a family" and that these are tough times where we're losing people and trying to make sense of the world, but this [live music] is what it's all about and that we're all in this together. It was a therapeutic moment, but a solid reminder of just how powerful the bond of music can be and how it can bring people together for peace and positivity. To close out the night, Kevin Drew got into the crowd and delivered "Lover's Spit" to unabashed applause that was somehow topped by the always timeless "Anthems for a Seventeen Year-Old Girl" which saw an unreal three-part harmony and some ultimate swagger that encapsulated the whole night within a single moment.

Saturday of Panorama concluded with Tame Impala playing to their largest ever U.S. crowd (Kevin Parker's words, not mine) and taking another step forward in their role as one of the biggest bands in indie rock. The band was on fire, pushing their tunes to the max and executing with pristine precision. Their sound was huge and carried across the open field with true passion and pleasure. The crowd ate up everything sent their way and each visual somehow seemed to top the one prior. Tame Impala are a psych-rock band and have owned that style from day 1. As they move to festival headliner status, they go for broke with their stage performance and really own what they do. Their set was heavy into Currents, but the Lonerism tracks have held up just as well. When the band rocked into "Elephant" a frenzy of lasers beamed across the crowd for an emotional peak that would never come down. It was an electric set and really showcased the band and their talent at recreating cosmic, vintage psych music. "Mind Mischief" echoed some of Cream's best drum rills and "Let It Happen" felt like deep, heady trance that embraced the night in a warm fashion. For the encore, they sparked-up "Feels Like We Only Go Backwards" and "New Person, Same Old Mistakes" for one final kaleidoscopic journey.

Igniting the night with "DNA.", Kendrick grabbed hold of the crowd and kept the momentum at full speed for the entirety of the show. He was in control of the audience from the second the lights went dark and for an hour and a half, he never once stepped off the gas. In such a short time, Kendrick has risen to the rank of the number one rapper in the world. His releases are untouchable and everything he puts up becomes a sensation. Closing his set with the triumphant run of "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe," "Alright," and "HUMBLE." was one for the ages as the arena erupted in a craze, somehow heightening the call and response reaction that had already been set to monolithic levels. After "HUMBLE." began, Kenny paused to let the audience take over the full verse in perfect unison to unleash what was truly an unforgettable moment. After a quick smile for a larger-than-life moment, he then launched right back into the song from the beginning, kicking it up for a final blow-out showing. He returned for an encore of "GOD." which was a sweet and stellar sendoff from the best hip-hop show of the year.

Since releasing their critically acclaimed Sunbather in 2013, Deafheaven have gained an uncanny following and seen their names rise towards the top of festival posters around the world and none of their praise has been overrated. Their brilliant intensity is on par with the best and their capability to elegantly slide into etherial soundscapes from blast-beats is practically unmatched. On stage, the band operates with total force and purpose never relinquishing their power over the crowd. Front man George Clark is an incredible frontman taking to the stage like a predator stalking his prey. His calculated hand movements, stage dives, and hair flips accelerate the vibes of the show leaving the crowd hanging on his every move as guitars blaze behind him with absolute fury. Years after the release of Sunbather, the opening track still sends shivers down my spine and hearing it live will never get old. The stunning guitar work and absolutely monstrous drumming create the ultimate sensation of euphoria and sense of wonder. However, the spotlight went to the album's self-titled track and as "Sunbather" poured out of the speakers, an already intense crowd pushed things over the edge. It was a beautiful night of heavy, intense, and blissful music that carefully balanced between total chaos and ultimate serenity. Deafheaven's music has the unique capability of drawing inspiration from so many avenues that the culminating sound results in pure nirvana.

Panorama was Frank Ocean's first New York show in half a decade. In what was perhaps the most anticipated set of the weekend, Frank unleashed powerful, raw, and stirring emotions and confirmed that he could match his hype. In the middle of the crowd, he built a DIY set-up that felt intimate and inviting. It was clear that despite its raw appearance, there was a method to Frank's ways. He popped in a cassette and donned giant headphones over his aqua-marine hair. He invited us all into the inner workings of his world and broke down his process for the world to see. He paced the stage followed around by a Spike Jonez directed camera and gave the masses a glimpse into his magic. Playing almost exclusively new material, he had everyone awaiting his every move with baited breathe. A sparse "Solo" put the show into gear and experiencing such a large group of people echo "there's a bull and a matador dueling in the sky" was surreal. Ocean's music feels most at home in the confines of your bedroom or at the very least your own headphones, but live took everything to a new level. When he did his lone Channel Orange track of the night, "Thinkin' Bout You," it was a cathartic moment to remember. Not once was the song-a-long ever overpowering as everyone let Frank go to work. When his band came onstage, it was another peak into his elusive creativity. Sitting amongst musicians he acted as one of the group and displayed a true sense of artistry. It was clear that Frank still doesn't feel at home on a stage, but he bared his soul and allowed his fans to welcome him with open arms.

To be there for the band to help celebrate the opening of a new venue in the neighborhood they helped put on the map felt special and it was clear that this was a night of and for the fans. After kicking things off with a blown-out "Us v Them", which featured a propelling chant of "the time has come!!" to stupendous ovation, Murphy asked the crowd to restrain from filming or photographing the show. To a wondrous degree, the crowd obliged and the show somehow felt that more alive. The pulsating hums of "Someone Great" still send chills down the spine and "New York, I Love You..." will forever feel like an another anthem for this electric city and seeing people hold-up actual lighters instead of phones for this number was truly special. The evening commenced with an impeccable one-two punch. "Dance Yrself Clean" will always revitalize the crowd late into the evening and you can be sure that when the beat drops, everyone jumps as one and lights are sure to go into a frenzy. As the keys to "All My Friends" began to ring out, the building seemed to spiral into a state of nirvana. A defining song of a decade, the track immediately releases endorphins amongst a crowd and on a Friday nigh in early April, as the weather begins to transform from winter to spring, and the temperature rises, it can reignite a love-affair with New York City like nothing else. Like it's happening for the very first time and sending the crowd off like a salesforce into the night. Experiencing the song live in Williamsburg, over a decade after the founding of DFA and the band itself, felt like a brand new sensation and watching a capacity crowd collectively lose their mind is certainly not something one will soon forget.

No comments: