[Photo by Geoffrey Dicker for According 2 G]
There is always more live music going on in New York than any one person (or four people) can see at one time, let alone record and share. Add to that the tradition of the summer road-trip (or flight to North Carolina) and we had a ton of shows to see, share and discuss. When you record this many shows, it’s pretty easy for your memory of individual ones to get hazy. Some you forget (or maybe want to forget) altogether. This list is not intended as a definitive “best of”, necessarily, but out of the hundreds of bands we saw take the stage, the moments represented here were the ones that not only stuck in our minds, but that we kept turning back to and listening to again and again. This was another tough year for New York and for this country in general, but that didn’t stop people from making great music, and we are thankful to have been there to witness it as often as we were. We hope that if you listened to any of our recordings this year that they brought you happiness, and wish you all the best for 2013.
In no particular order….
We were lucky enough to catch two of the Biophilia: Live shows by Björk, an original and rare talent whose bizarre science-meets-music vision brought to life on a 360-degree stage was as electric as the giant Tesla coil onstage. The singer’s voice is without match, and the Icelandic choir that joined her made the material even better. These were some of the most popular recordings on the site this year, even if the sound alone could not quite do these staggeringly entertaining performances justice.
Other than that he isn’t in a major media market, is on a tiny, mostly reissue-based label, and has a challenging full-time day job, I can’t figure out why MC Taylor, who performs as Hiss Golden Messenger, isn’t more popular outside of North Carolina. I suppose those three are good reasons, but as this year’s Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh, NC reminded us, North Carolina is very much a musical hotbed right now. Taylor’s music is an approachable blend of rock, country, gospel and folk, with a timeless appeal that can span generations and earn Grammy awards. At these two shows – first the Three Lobed Recordings/’WXDU Day Show in a stripped-down setup, and then at night in a larger auditorium with a full band, Taylor performed songs that were flat-out heartbreakingly beautiful and just as equally memorable. The man’s performances are instant classics. If he comes to your town, drop what you’re going and go see what he’s about.
Akron/Family – January 21, 2012 at 285 Kent
Akron/Family almost always put on a memorable show, but the freewheeling atmosphere of 285 Kent combined with A/F almost guaranteed one for this night. This manic, lengthy celebratory, show featured full crowd participation (audience drummers!) and an intense performance.
Dinosaur Jr. – December 1, 2012 Terminal 5
Johnny Fried Chicken Boy and I had already nominated this show as one of the best of the year before we had even hit the post-show pavement. Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the album You’re Living All Over Me, the original lineup played that record and a slew of other favorites with special guests including Frank Black, Lee Ranaldo, Kim Gordon, Don Fleming, Johnny Marr, Tommy Stinson and NYC’s current favorite journeyman artist Fred Armisen. For me, the rendition of “Don’t” with Gordon on vocals was the night’s absolute barnburner.
[Wilco at Brewery Ommegang]
Wilco – July 28, 2012 Brewery Ommegang
Thanks to the location and its signature product, I’m not sure how clearly most of us, er, actually remember this show. But the entire NYCTaper crew taking a roadtrip to one of New York’s best breweries to see one of our favorite bands had to mark a high point of the year for us. Wilco played an excellent set in at-times-torrential rain that included some rare numbers like “Laminated Cat” as well as a trio of Being There classics as part of the encore. At least, I think that’s what happened….
Ty Segall/Thee Oh Sees – September 24, 2012 Death By Audio
I didn’t have a better time at any other show this year. Two big acts (one of whom we were writing about back in 2009) in small clubs playing their butts off is always a good combination.
Patterson Hood – July 23, 2012 Bell House
It’s easy to be cynical about a lead singer of a still-thriving band doing a solo album (this one his second). But Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers showed himself to be a musical force in his own right. Laughing and telling stories to the crowd in between numbers, this show gave us a window into the man’s soul in a way that you can’t get at the Truckers’ more big-time performances.
Dean & Britta – July 21, 2012 Mulcahy’s, Wantagh
An amazing story of how the original members of Luna decided to reunite with Sean Eden for a charity and play songs we’re not likely to ever hear again live in this configuration. And our pals The War on Drugs were there to play a set (and dedicate a song to us) as well!
DIIV – June 8, 2012 285 Kent
As is so often the case, promoter ToddP got a crack at this band as a headliner before the hype machine had quite hit full steam. Sure, 285 Kent isn’t Music Hall of Williamsburg size-wise, but there were more than enough in-the-know people to slam-pack this venue to its sweatiest capacity, as DIIV showed themselves to be one of this year’s best new bands (as many other sites would later acknowledge). Oh, and they covered an unreleased Nirvana b-side, too.
Is it hard to overstate how fucking awesome it is to have one of our favorite bands playing one of our favorite sets of theirs ever at a show thrown to celebrate five years of this site’s existence? Why, yes it is.
Yo La Tengo – all of the 2012 Hanukkah shows at Maxwell’s, but particularly December 9, 2012, December 10, 2012 and December 14, 2012
At points this December it felt like the site should be called “YoLaTengoTaper” given the amount of time we were spending at Maxwell’s to see this year’s Yo La Tengo Hanukkah shows. Our obsession with these shows is well-justified; the storyline is irresistible. A legendary local band, playing eight shows in a row from their tiny homebase venue to benefit Hurricane Sandy recovery, with special guests like the Sun Ra Arkestra, The Feelies, Devendra Banhart, Andrew Bird, Kid Millions of Oneida, and more is kind of the ultimate holiday gift from a band to its fans, no?
Sharon Van Etten – February 26, 2012 Bowery Ballroom
We have followed Sharon Van Etten for years and our respect for her is well-documented, but this homecoming show at Bowery Ballroom represented the full realization of Van Etten as a bona fide full band. The Tramp material in particular here was performed flawlessly, with the grace and intensity we’ve come to expect from her.
Lower Dens – May 2, 2012 Glasslands
I usually find it hard to narrow down the number of “favorite” shows I see at Glasslands, but this year, this Lower Dens show was a huge standout. With the Baltimore band touring behind their expansive new LP, Nootropics, they showed up in front of a maxed-out crowd and proved that their meditative, texture-heavy songs could also kill it live.
Kevin Devine – December 1, 2012 Webster Hall
December 1st must have been one of the best days for music all year. Two of our favorite shows – Dinosaur Jr. at Terminal 5 and this sprawling Kevin Devine show – happened on this date, and we missed at least two others that would have been must-sees on any other night. We’re not sure any contemporary artist has ever played three full albums on one date, but Kevin did it, and with exceptional grace. A night to remember.
Alabama Shakes – April 11, 2012 Bowery Ballroom
When you see a band on the night that they discover they’ve “made it” in New York, you usually see them at their best. After that moment, things will never be the same for them, internally or externally. From 2009 until this moment, Alabama Shakes was an at-best regionally known band from Athens, Alabama that had been gaining some post-CMJ buzz from 2011. After this Bowery Ballroom show, as I said to Johnny Fried Chicken Boy during the show, they were headed straight for a Grammy, which they now have a pretty good shot at earning. They were obviously humbled and amazed by what they saw in front of them – a slew of industry people and eager fans looking at the “next big thing”. And they played that way.
Hurray For the Riff Raff – June 15, 2012 Mercury Lounge
Among several shows of theirs we saw this year (including our own CMJ show), this was the perfect example of a band finding its voice in the live setting at the same time as they released a fantastic album – in this case, the largely unheralded but outstanding Look Out Mama.
Woods – November 3, 2012 Music Hall of Williamsburg
As many of us were just emerging from Hurricane Sandy hell (and many were still stuck in it), Woods gave Brooklynites a reason to leave the house for this outstanding show at Music Hall. Woods may be of the more recent vintage of Brooklyn bands, but their ability to stretch, bend and reshape a song is of another era. Their appropriately titled new record, Bend Beyond, is only a guidepost for what you get at one of their incredible live shows.
Olivia Tremor Control – June 16, 2012 Music Hall of Williamsburg
When I was at this show, I thought it heralded a comeback for the Athens, GA-based psychedelic wizards. Instead, this was the last time I would ever see Olivia Tremor Control. Founding member Bill Doss passed away scarcely a month later, and with him, this cherished cornerstone of the Elephant 6 collective. Rest in peace, Bill, and may your music live forever.
The Mountain Goats – October 13, 2012 Music Hall of Williamsburg
Those in the know called this Mountain Goats show the best of the latest tour. We’re here to give you the audio evidence that they’re right.
Gov’t Mule (w/ the Levon Helm Band) – June, 2012 Mountain Jam, Hunter, NY
Set against a backdrop of the Catskill Mountains, Gov’t Mule and the Levon Helm Band paid one hell of a tribute to one of music’s most dearly departed this year, Levon Helm. As if the idea that music has the power to transcend even death needed affirming, these guys did it with this performance.
Special thanks to all of the artists, management, labels, photographers and other music sites that have supported NYCTaper this year and in the past five years. And of course, a huge thank you to our readers, who we hope to continue to provide with high-quality, artist-sanctioned recordings, reviews and photos throughout 2013 and beyond. Happy New Year!