Best Concerts of 2007

I probably attended enough concerts in my teens to satisfy most people for a lifetime, so I don’t have any regrets at not going to so many gigs in 2007. I do miss the ability to just run out to Southpaw (and, had I stayed in Brooklyn, to Union Hall too) to see the latest “new” and “happening” band, but I find that the world turns just fine without me in attendance. Besides, the Bearsville Theater is the most beautiful venue I could ever hope to call “home” – albeit a ten mile drive through the mountains. Every show there is a treat, whether it’s a garage band in the bar or the original Woodstock generation in the theater. Which is why we shall open and close this review of reviews at the Bear…

The Mooney Suzuki: the Bearsville Theater bar, Woodstock
, Feb 24; the Detroit Cobras at Stray Bar, Hudson, June 29

Great contemporary garage bands playing in (and, in Mooney Suzuki’s case, on) local bars to small but fanatical audiences. We thought we’d made a long journey when we went to see the Cobras in Hudson, but a couple we met there had made a 250 mile round trip from New Jersey. That’s the sort of devotion these bands attract and when you see them with a couple of beers – or good Côtes du Rhône inside you – you quickly understand why.

Bar banned? Mooney Suzuki’s Graham Tyler gets up close and personal.

Simian Mobile Disco: Studio B, Brooklyn,
July 7
One of my only “buzz band” gigs of the year was a frightening case of déjà vu – and a reminder that I’m at an age where even the music of my adulthood is being “revived” by a new generation. Yet while I felt like I’d heard and seen Simian Mobile Disco back in the very early 90s, that didn’t stop me enjoying their show at Brooklyn’s Studio B like I was a rave(in’) virgin. The crowd helped, too. Who said Billyburgers don’t know how to dance? (Um, probably me.)

Underworld: Central Park, NYC, Sep 14

Of course, if you wanted to see this electronic dance music thing done properly – with pacing, intellect, poetry and one of the greatest front men of the last twenty years – then you needed to be in Central Park, where Underworld performed their typically long and elastic live set on one of the year’s shortest (dare we call it a?) comeback tours. Their new album may not have set the tills ringing but this show was sold sold sold out, and a crowd that ranged in age from the new wave of new ravers up those around Karl and Rick’s age (that is, pushing 50) experienced musical ecstasy for almost three hours solid. Still arguably the greatest live band in the world.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: Times-Union Center, Albany
, Nov 15
Then again, the Boss might have something to say about that accolade. If Bruce is slowing down at all as he pushes 60, it’s only compared to his own past glories: his current arena tour is still 145 minutes long with barely a two-minute break. It runs the gamet of his 35 years’ recording history, it’s political without being polemic, it changes every night, and yet it closes each time with “American Land” – which, in Albany, for personal reasons, offered one of the most poignant moments of my year. Here’s wishing Danny Federici a swift recovery – and hoping for General Admission tickets the show comes to town.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but this 30-second video truly captures the real feeling of seeing the New York Dolls in the heart of Coney Island. Enjoy.

New York Dolls and M.I.A. at the Siren Festival, Coney Island, July 21
Kudos to the Siren bookers for veering away from the usual hipster rock’n’roll fare and booking this year’s reigning queen of global hip-hop/urban/dance music, M.I.A., as part of the annual Coney Island musical bacchanalia. The fact that I could barely see her, and heard little but the bass, is surely beside the point: you don’t attend Siren expecting sightlines. Kudos too for Siren finally getting the band that makes most sense performing alongside the Cyclone, in the shadows of Nathan’s, and only a block or two from the new ball park that emphasizes positive urban development: The New York Dolls were feisty, ballsy, cheeky and completely on form. With just a little pushing through the crowd, I managed to both see and hear the Dolls perfectly. Maybe you can attend Siren for the sightlines after all. Here’s to the preservation of Coney Island.

By the light of the Magical Moon: The All-Star Cast gives it some “Hot Love” under the Central Park sky. The New York Dolls’ Sylvain Sylvain on the guitar.

20th Century Boy: Marc Bolan’s 60th Birthday Anniversary Celebration
, Sep 29

To celebrate and honor Marc Bolan’s 60th birthday (and, sadly, the 30th anniversary of his death), my good pal Joe Hurley put together a house band to die for and rounded it out with the All-Star Cast of the year: Patti Smith, Lloyd Cole, Richard Lloyd, Moby, Jake Shears, the aforementioned Dolls’ Sylvain Sylvain and even Bolan’s producer Tony Visconti – among many others – rendered this a musically magical night of memorable glam rock. To add to its majesty, a full moon kept us company throughout on a refreshingly warm late September night – and I went on to pull an all-nighter despite running a 20-minute 5k first thing in the morning!

Spearhead: Hunter Mountain,
June 2
We are not jam band hippies, and we had little interest in any of the other acts playing the third annual Hunter Mountain Jam, especially as, somewhat predictably, it rained through most of the Festival. We are, however, massive Michael Franti/Spearhead fans and it can be said with some certainty that the group delivered one of the most uplifting hour-plus sets of politically charhed reggae, funk, rock and just the occasional jam-band noodle we have witnessed. A show made all the more enjoyable for the fact that it took place on my home slope.

Michael Franti: were that there were more like him on this planet.

Odetta, Governor’s Island, July 7

I listened to a lot of old American folk music this year, and saw a few old American folkies perform it, too. There was something particularly beautiful about Odetta’s show out on Governor’s Island, part of a series of free Folks on the Island concerts held to celebrate the opening of the island to the wider New York public. Maybe it was Odetta’s regal persona, maybe the warm summer’s day, perhaps it was the mostly aged audience enjoying some well-earned nostalgia, and perhaps I was just tired and emotional – but when the 77-year old Odetta sang “Rock Island Line,” I got all choked up. Fortunately I was wearing sunglasses.

Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild Solstice Concert, the Bearsville Theater, Dec 14

We closed out our concert year with an introduction to a long-standing local tradition – the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild’s annual Winter Solstice concert, moved this year from the Kleinert Arts Center in Byrdcliffe to the Bearsville Theater. The line-up was simply staggering: Jimmie Dale Gilmore and his superb guitarist Robbie Gjersoe on one side of the stage; the phenomenally gifted mandolin/fiddle player (and veteran Dylan tour band member) Larry Campbell, his wife Teresa Williams, plus Amy Helm on the other; John Sebastian playing finger-picking bass up in the back alongside dobro/pedal steel perfectionist Cindy Cashdollar; and brothers Artie and Happy Traum leading the show up front. Highlights included Gilmore singing his own “Another Colorado” and Lucinda Williams’ “Howlin’ At Midnight,” Sebastian doing the Lovin’ Spoonful’s (i.e. his own) “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice,” and Happy and Jimmy singing Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.” The vocals were nice, but it was the musicianship that really made this a treat. Such was this line-up’s collectively individual abilities that they were able to bluff their way through the entire 2hr-plus show as if they’d been on tour together for a year, despite the fact that their intended one rehearsal the day before had been completely snowed out. Under these circumstances, and especially allowing for the beautiful acoustics of the Bearsville, where it felt like you could hear every individual guitar string on each of the six-to-nine guitars, we will excuse them the finale of “Goodnight Irene,” a song of which, apparently, the folk audience never tires. But nor, in each applicable case, does it tire of “Born To Run” or “Born Slippy.” When you deliver the goods to your audience, every song is a pleasure.

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