Today marks ten years since I became a resident of Brooklyn and even though this blog started when I moved to Manhattan in 2006, this still feels like a monumental time in my life. Sharing new music and talking about the live music scene in New York has been one of my favorite hobbies for over a decade and had brought me such a strong connection to my community. Writing about live music halted for me (and everyone else) in March and, I'll admit it, posting a list of my favorite shows feels a bit strange. However, as Lana Del Ray said, "I miss New York and I miss the music. Me and my friends, we miss rock and roll. I want shit to feel just like it used to." The disappearance of live music has been extremely tough for me over the past few months and thinking about a concert-less future can at times seem unbearably depressing. While I recognize that is very much a first world problem, the impacts on my mental health feel real. Nothing could turn around a bad day like seeing live music. The world is changing drastically, but I still hold on to these memories and will cherish them all forever. Here are ten shows from the past ten years that all happened in the borough I now call home.
It was extremely hard to choose just ten shows for this and I had to exclude incredible performances like FKA twigs' NYC debut at Glasslands, Slint at the Wick, Grouper at National Sawdust, Deafheaven at Warsaw, Fever Ray at Brooklyn Hanger, Wilco in Prospect Park, Björk at Kings Theatre, Shabazz Palaces at Elsewhere, Battles at St Vitus, Todd Terje at Verboten, Future Islands at Death by Audio, Twin Sister at Live with Animals, Iceage at Secret Project Robot, Bill Callahan at Murmrr Theatre, boygenius at Brooklyn Steel, Slowdive at House of Vans, The Clean at Rough Trade, TV on the Radio and Broken Social Scene at the Williamsburg Waterfront, Four Tet at the Knockdown Center, Dinosaur Jr at Brooklyn Bowl, Rough Trade, Music Hall of Williamsburg, and House of Vans, and Afro Punk in Commodore Barry Park, but the ones below were real highlights that left lasting impressions.
With Death by Audio filled to capacity, Japandroids took to the stage backed by a mountain of amps. In some ways this may have been the quintessential Japandroids show. The 250 person venue was packed like a sweatbox as clouds of cigarette smoke and beer sprayed through the air. These guys played loud rough noise rock and pummeled the crowd with waves of sound. The pulverizing drumming of David Prowse was matched by the screaming guitar of Brian King as they reminded the crowd not to hold anything back after each song. Their sound was massive and the crowd was fearless. At one point someone shouted "can it get any louder?" and Prowse simply answered "never."
It began with a stage shrouded in darkness. A small red glow and the flicker of the projectors ushered in the band members, one by one, as a slow rumbling began to pour out of the speakers. As the ensemble broke into their set, terrifying drones played underneath flashes of the word 'hope' and slowly these sprawling orchestrations erupted in monstrous form. These post-rock titans built towering swells of sound that would climax in ear splitting and body melting pinnacles before returning to calm yet gloomy arrangements. Without ever speaking a word, the band established a presence that commanded pure silence and devotion from everyone in attendance. Hiding themselves in shadows the band let the music speak for itself demanding not only attention during long exhilarating crescendos, but also demanding the endurance to withstand the pure intensity that came with each mountainous wave of sonic blasts concocted by the group. While listening to the band in an intimate private setting can prove to be a truly pleasurable experience, the raw impact of seeing this illustrious sound performed in front of a devoted crowd can only compare with few other live acts.
As always, the band was in top shape as they annihilated 285 Kent leaving heaps of sweat and fury in their trail. Behind the drum kit, Brian Chippendale is an absolute machine and his jackhammer style onslaught is unmatched by any other person in modern music. The sheer force and terror with which he plays is of a caliber all his own. Their live display has been likened to standing next to a demolition site or jumbo-jet at close range and three times during their set they blew a fuse leaving Chippendale to carry out frantic drum solos shrouded in blackness. You think you've seen some stellar pits until you're in the dark at a warehouse with that man pummeling away until Kingdom Come. Not to go unnoticed, Brian Gibson used his bass to spark the powder keg of pure energy unleashed by the band that ignited the audience into total chaos in just a matter of seconds. Without the slightest look of effort, Gibson's assault was pure distorted bedlam and the ear-splitting frequencies are nothing short of a jaw-dropping experience. The intensity of a live performance from these legends is an unparalleled experience that few will dare to replicate and while the magnitude and nature of their style is not for everyone, those who care to indulge will be converted to their brilliance. For over an hour, these two proved that they are true masters of their craft and are a sonic force to be reckoned with.
A Tribe Called Quest dazzled the borough for the first of their last two shows ever! Bewitching the audience with their classic rhymes, the trio ignited the crowd with their on point dance moves, verses and killer style. An immediate flashback to the golden age of hip hop, A Tribe were far from the caliber one would expect from an opener and instead acted as if they were headlining the night. And in a small way they did just that. For many raised on hip hop, there is no greater group that A Tribe Called Quest. Their fusion of jazz and alternative hip hop forever left a mark on the community and without a doubt, laid the path for many of today's superstars. The highlight of their opening slot came with the back-to-back-to-back combination of "Scenario" (complete with a cameo from Busta Rhymes!!), "Can I Kick It?" and "Check The Rhyme" which many will argue is the greatest trifecta in their illustrious career. To catch them for one of the last times was truly a privilege.
Not to be outdone, Kanye put on what was perhaps the spectacle of the year. Backed by what can only be compared to the Super Mega Aggro Crag from Nickelodeon's Global Guts, Yeezus himself rose to the occasion to deliver one of the most spellbinding and hypnotizing displays of showmanship one could possibly imagine. Ego aside, there are not many other people on the planet that can deliver on this level. Kanye wants to be the celebrity and stops at nothing to achieve it. After welcoming an ensemble of extras to act as his followers, Ye spit through the majority of his recent Yeezus along with other smash singles "Clique", "Mercy" and "Cold" before annihilating the crowd through the power of his pageant. A mountain beast with glowing eyes, a snow storm, and a real-life Jesus were all no match for the power and magnitude that Kanye was able to display. A career spanning setlist only helped to remind the crowd that there is no other entertainer on the planet, let alone hip hop star, that is able to contain the excitement level and sheer genius capabilities of this man. The forever brilliant "Runaway" saw a much anticipated rant, in which he confirmed his love for Bey's "Single Ladies", his distaste for the fashion industry, and how Drake was the most deserved of this year's VMAs, and he pulled out all of the stops by busting through some of his most cherished hits. "Stronger", "Through the Wire", "Jesus Walks", and "Flashing Lights" saw the audience rise to new levels of admiration, and that was after a terrorizing rendition of "Blood on the Leaves", which he insisted no one even wanted to hear. Show, performance, extravaganza, what ever it is you want to call the Yeezus tour of 2013, one thing is for sure, you're not likely to see something on this level of entertainment and celebration any time soon. There are times when Kanye may be the most hated person on the planet, but his ability to put on a show has never been in question. If anything, this show challenges people to find someone even close to taking his crown.
Jeff Mangum entered a barren stage as he began "Two Headed Boy Pt. 1" to thundering applause from the crowd. The spell binding moment was all too real as the song came to life. As the band took to the stage and gorgeously flowed into "Fool", a presence filled the room. This was a real moment, this was actually happening. Everything swelled with such motion and growth that by the time "Holland, 1945" rang out, the crowd was in rapture. Acting in time with Jeff, everyone sang directly along with each song creating a unity unlike anything I've ever seen or heard. Hundreds of people singing along to songs that thought they'd never hear in a live setting was suddenly happening in full force. When Jeff Mangum first inched back into the spotlight a few years back on his solo tour, the audience was treated to an intimate evening of Jeff sitting alone with his guitars showcasing these songs in such a beautiful way that it seemed a full blown reunion was not necessary. Watching the group perform together transported these songs to a state one would never believe possible. Everything from an incredibly haunting performance of "Oh Comely" to the hysteric breakdown of "King of Carrot Flowers, Parts 2 & 3" were not only monumental, but life affirming as well. Songs from On Avery Island especially were played with such energy and intensity that the floor boards began to shake and the raw tendencies were brought to new heights. Unsurprisingly it was "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" and the encore of the back half of the record of the same name that garnered an electric response. The mesmerizing magical moments of Jeff bouncing and bopping alongside Julian's dazzling accordion and saw skills, while Scott Spillane chanted along with every word, and Jeremy Barns kept impeccable time, made for such meaningful memories that will be cherished for quite some time. For many, these songs can have such a nostalgic value and recollect key moments in life that hearing them in the flesh can be tremendously overwhelming. But in the best possible way. After being convinced for years that seeing this band live would never be an option, being able to witness these songs be played at levels that exceed the records is a time and place I wish I could wait in for the rest of my life.
Ten years after their last record, Sleater-Kinney came rushing back with a new record and subsequent tours. To wind down the year, they're playing a run of five sold out shows across the city. What a year it's been for this band! They reissued their entire discography, added to that a stellar come-back record and threw down the gauntlet as one of the best live bands in existence. The three piece picked up just where they left off ten years ago with explosive riffs, catchy choruses and a no-fucks-given attitude. It's a rare case where if the band played only new songs on this tour, people wouldn't be that mad. On first listen it was legit to question whether No Cities to Love was perhaps their best work yet. It's probably not and that's not to discredit this record or anything from the past, the band is just that consistent and great overall. Corin's epic wail, Carrie's brilliant energy, and Janet's steadfast beats are unparalleled. The trio is still an unruly force that commands dire attention. Their urgency is delivered with such sincerity that the crowd awaits each note with baited breath. The vocal range of Corin really cannot be emphasized enough and as the night progressed her voice only enhanced. Not a single blemish or missed mark derailed her talent. Behind the drums, Janet fucking Weiss kept the band locked together and on track. A loyal devotion of fans behind her, a cry of "Janet for President" was met with a similar reaction as their plethora of hits. Corin Tucker really carries out lead vocals, but during the bands hiatus, it was Carrie Brownstein that rose the pop culture ladder with her co-star status in Portlandia and supporting role in (the everybody should be watching this) Transparent. On stage, the band is in perfect balance, tandem vocals never outshining their phenomenal musicianship. As the night carried on, the electricity intensified. Brownstein's high kicks and windmill guitar strokes adding high performance value, Tucker's vocals speaking words of truth and, again, Weiss slamming down daunting fills executed with ease. For "Entertain", Brownstein ascended to the top of the drum kit leading the crowd in a resounding singalong for a true highlight of the night. The encore saw Fred Armisen join the band for an eccentric and spot on cover of the B-53's Classic "Rock Lobster", complete with plenty of cowbell. "2016, the year of wigs" proclaimed Tucker as she donned one in neon pink. "Well then this song is for you" announced Carrie as the band launched into a perfect "Modern Girl". Hearing a room full of people cry out "my whole life is like a picture of a sunny day" with Weiss on harmonica sent shivers done spines. The night was capped off with the holy "Dig Me Out", the audience echoing along in grand fashion cementing their renaissance and status in rock.
Pet Sounds has been celebrated as one of the greatest achievements in the history of recorded pop music. The stunning arrangements and pristine harmonies are unparalleled in modern music and all together, the songs comprise a major accomplishment in songwriting. To hear these tracks performed live by their original composer is an absolutely momentous occasion. Just a few years back, Pet Sounds resurged as the rubric for bands such as Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear, their vocals and complex structures a direct draw from the luminary record and further establishing its importance on the current soundscape. These days, Brian Wilson isn't hitting the notes like he did back in 1966, but his charisma is ever present and brings forth elation that drives a killer show. His joyous manner was a sight to see and made many other classics like "Surfer Girl", "Barbara Ann", and "I Get Around" the most buoyant and exhilarating tracks that got everyone shaking their hips and singing along. "Don't Worry Baby" was played in mesmerizing form, the melodies and guitar riffs eliciting perfect rhythm and showcasing, in my opinion, the best composition they ever committed to tape. Of course, it was "God Only Knows" that felt like the most surreal moment of the evening. One of the greatest songs ever written and despite its age, it still hits hard and sends chills all around. To bear witness to its live performance was unforgettable. Songs of this magnitude aren't easily translated live, but the band assembled for this tour has really hit their stride and they make each song come to life, giving them the shine and love they deserve. Each detail pushes forward as each song glides along and Wilson's quirky comments only lightened the mood. To hear the sensational pop of the Beach Boys from one of the ultimate musical geniuses is not something that comes around that often (imagine Paul McCartney tours Revolver?), and while this was by no means seeing a premier artist at the top of their game, it was still something one won't forget. A master of talent leading a crowd through his labyrinth of chords and key changes and more than anything, it felt like a real privilege to be able to be apart of such a great experience.
I think I'll always be a tad bitter towards LCD Soundsystem for their short hiatus that they billed as a break-up. For the five years they were gone, I sincerely missed them and was saddened by the fact I'd never see the band play live again or hear new material. Their set at last year's inaugural Panorama Festival not only eliminated any grudge I thought I would hold on the band, but confirmed their brilliance by putting on not just the best show of 2016, but one of my actual all-time favorites. 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. There was a minimum number of phones in the air for the show and it was actually quite refreshing. "We're gonna play a bunch of songs you do know and then we're gonna play some songs you don't know" James told the room as the band whipped out the hits from across their three full-lengths. Earlier tracks like "Tribulations" and "Yeah" got the crowd to jive together in euphoric unison. On stage, the band is an army of what seemed like ten deep and their dynamic is unshakable. Weaving together thick textures of synths, guitars, percussion, and Murphy's dry lyrics, the band is remarkable at reviving the sound of the mid-aughts while still standing the test of time. I'm not sure the Rapture's "House of Jealous Lovers" still packs the same punch as "Daft Punk is Playing at My House." Their disco-punk anthems are perfectly intertwined with blissed-out art-rock sensations like "You Wanted a Hit" and "Home" and create the ultimate experience in modern nostalgia. For a band that embraced the stylized glimmer of the 70s and 80s, the group seemed to waste no time in regathering and are now set to release a new record later this year. Still, while it's easy to focus on the gains the band has made by reuniting, seeing the band live rekindles the memories of just why you loved the band so much in the first place. 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. For the encore, the band unveiled the new tracks in front of an eager and respectful crowd. Phones were down, the audience was hushed and it became a thrilling moment as we heard the new cuts. "Tonight" sounds like a classic LCD number with a thumping synth line and hard beats, but it was "American Dream," another powerful ballad-esque song that really felt like it had a lot of heart. 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. To end the night, Murphy dedicated the final song to Glenn O'Brien. 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.
For what must've been the most intense show to ever grace the Kings Theatre stage, Nine Inch Nails and The Jesus and Mary Chain brought the Cold and Black and Infinite tour to Brooklyn for night three of four New York City shows. In the early nineties, The Jesus and Mary Chain brought rising act Nine Inch Nails out on tour in support of their album Automatic. Now, nearly thirty years later, the bands have reversed rolls for one of the best tour of the year. When the opening act starts their set with "Just Like Honey," it's clear that the night is going to be something to remember. Taking the classic drum beat behind many of Phil Spector's wall of sound, pop songs for the ages and clashing it with brilliant arrays of catastrophic noise, The Jesus and Mary Chain set the scene for so many groups and would pioneer a sound that many would attempt to recreate, but never quite replicate. Brash, bold guitars wailed out over steady rhythms as Jim Reid clutched his mic stand with a firm grasp, arching his band and recoiling almost to his knees as he led the band through an electric charge of noise-pop wonder. Known for their rather disastrous performances during their 80s hey-day, the Reid brothers have aged gracefully without damaging their reputation and actually have enhanced their live shows into raucous, yet well executed productions. Lights dazzled as blasts of surging riffs echoed throughout the theatre, displaying the band's ability to wrangle up some noise, but without ever losing control. "Head On" and "Some Candy Talking" both radiated in a blistering fashion and were two bold highlights from their set. Like running Man Ray's The Gift featuring Velvet Underground style feedback over Beach Boys charm, the band picked up where Echo and the Bunnymen left off and are still delivering on their message and reputation of pioneers over the College and Alt-Rock bands that would rule the 90s.
Few can tackle stage production like Trent Reznor and tour after tour the man continues to raise the bar, making each of his treks one of the most exhilarating of the year. Whether he's playing arenas, headlining festivals, or obliterating theaters across the country, there is nothing like seeing Nine Inch Nails and immersing yourself in all that Trent can unload. Packing the stage with as many lights as it seemed possible, the quintet jammed themselves onstage and proceeded to annihilate the crowd with a visceral and dominating show that made the band feel larger than life. The guitars were revved-up with an ultra-menacing tension that was matched by Ilan Rubin's frenetic drumming. The night started off in high velocity by driving straight into "Terrible Lie," "Mr. Self Destruct," and "March of the Pigs" all of which came together in rapid succession and raised the intensity of the night to a strong eleven. The industrial icons were in absolutely stellar form, their best in years, and the total power they unveiled onstage was unfathomable. Not once did the group falter, each song transitioning from one to the next with utter perfection while a magnificent spectacle unfolded behind them. In a specific moment, beams of light boxed in the band onstage, somehow making the theater feel even more intimate and continued to prove the legacy of the band's mind bending performances. New tracks like "Shit Mirror" and the excellent "God Break Down the Door" were a great balance to the otherwise rather classic set list of which almost half was comprised from Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral. (After dominating Sunday's show at Radio City, nothing from The Fragile made the cut.) Somehow making its live debut just a few weeks ago, "The Perfect Drug" was enthralling and set-up the rest of the set to close out the night with brazen fury. "Wish" and "Head Like a Hole" saw the lighting exceed to a whole new level as walls of blinding strobe overtook the room. As one could've expected, the night was ended with "Hurt," a predictable, but forever powerful number that capped off an incredible night. The rarity of a Nine Inch Nails is nowhere near the level of their past, but the allure of seeing the band live remains. Time and time again, Trent has brought his talents in both owning the crowd as a frontman, but also from a creative direction in terms of design and engineering. The extravagance is unmatched and with each passing tour, Reznor continues to be one of the most innovative artists in live music. Reznor reviving his project after only a handful of years into retirement felt a bit contrived at the time, but all is forgiven when he takes the stage and continuously carries out the performance of the year.
Jammed into the intimate setting, the Raconteurs resurrected their rock and roll status, continuously revving up their sound and taking advantage of such a small crowd through impressive solos and absolutely righteous, dueling guitar melodies that centered the band. Brendon Benson and Jack White are impeccable frontmen who drive the show, each one riffing off the other and providing such a harmonious balance that it's hard to believe they've stayed apart for so long. The band felt impressively tight, as if they've been playing together every day for the past decade, their grooves are understood and their rhythms are sharp, ready to be put on display. While Jack is the obvious star of the group, Benson was the true leader of the evening. His songs took hold and really drove home the night, their messages perfect and their craftsmanship stunning. Newer tracks "Bored and Razed," "Help Me Stranger," and "Sunday Driver" all sounded so much larger in-person and the live setting only heightened the overall feelings of each number. The guitars were attacking and ready to raise some hell, their bluesy nature begging for epic solos and fire-power riffs. Blown apart and with a massive push behind them, it felt like the only proper way to experience the new material. No matter how great your home set-up may be, nothing is able to top White on stage and watching him and his band unleash such a raw power was incredible. Older jams like "Many Shades of Black" and "Steady as She Goes" were absent from the set list, but once the band came back for the encore and ripped into "Salute Your Solutions," the crowd went off the walls. Hands were in the air and it was easily the most rocking portion of the show. Rock and roll may have fallen out of fashion in the decade since the band's last album, but that only fueled their fire to return and prove that rock still has a place in the musical landscape. While the new record won't ignite the same spark as many bands did in the early aughts (White's music included), it surely helps suggest that there is still a hunger for live music played with guitars, drums, and bass and the Raconteurs are ready to fill any void.