Of all the year-end lists here at New York Music Daily, this one is the most fun to put together since it’s the most unique. Everybody has a different one: this is an attempt to be REALLY different and stay as faraway as possible from duplicating the other blogs. That’s why Sharon Jones, or the Brooklyn What, or Gogol Bordello aren’t on this list. Everybody else went to those shows – and had a good time, and more power to you if you were one of those people.
Considering how many incredible live performers play around town, and pass through over the span of a year, choosing the year’s best New York concert is usually like shooting fish in a barrel. But in 2011, there was one show that stood out over all the others, and that was one by a familiar presence, someone who’s been a force in the downtown scene for a long time, who gets more and more vital as the years go by. Laurie Anderson’s concert at Lincoln Center Out of Doors on August 11 brought an air-conditioned highrise chill, a calmly matter-of-fact indictment of post-9/11 paranoia and gentrifier cluelessness, laced with deadpan wit and set to hypnotic, pensive, icily ambient atmospherics. Though much of the concert was a requiem for an edgy New York that’s been bulldozed out of existence, it offered some hope that new version can rise again from the ashes of the old one.
In any other year, Marc Ribot’s April 3 performance of classic noir film music along with his own equally dark matter at the New School would be a no-brainer for best concert of the year; the same could be said for Either/Orchestra’s November 9 marathon two and a half-hour concert there featuring bandleader Russ Gershon’s new suite of moody Ethopian jazz as well as new arrangements of rare Ethiopiques, never before performed outside Ethiopia and probably not since the 1960s.
As far as the rest of the year is concerned, that it was impossible to whittle this list down to any fewer than 26 shows speaks for itself:
Sanda Weigl, Razia and Very Be Careful at the 92YTribeca, January 8 – Shoko Nagai was the star of this one, playing creepy, surreal, crashingly and virtuosically intense piano and accordion in the gypsy singer’s band. The Malagasy chanteuse and LA cumbia party band who followed weren’t bad either.
The Dixie Bee-Liners at the Jalopy, February 13 – since relocating from New York to the hills of Virginia, Buddy Woodward and Brandi Hart’s cutting-edge bluegrass band have made a living on the road with their Bible Belt noir. Pretty impressive in these hard times.
Miramar at Barbes, March 5 – new and classic Puerto Rican boleros, haunting and psychedelic, fueled by Marlysse Simmons’ creepy funeral organ.
Svetlana Berezhnaya at St. Thomas Church (5th Ave.), March 27 – the Russian organist played her own even more macabre arrangement of Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.
Caithlin De Marrais, the Oxygen Ponies and Randi Russo at the Mercury, April 17 – the former Rainer Maria chanteuse/bassist followed by two of New York’s darkest, most literate rock bands, those two groups both using two drummers.
Ward White at Bowery Electric, April 19 – the literate rock tunesmith was under the weather but still delivered a soaring, understatedly snarling cd release show for his latest one, Done with the Talking Cure , backed by keyboard maven Joe McGinty and a killer band.
Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans tribute at the Jazz Standard, April 22 – the composer/arranger is a major Evans scholar, and assembled an A-list big band to recreate the legendary 1961 Out of the Cool album plus a couple of surprises.
Dark & Stormy at the Tank, April 28 – the duo of Adrian Morejon and Rebekah Heller played pretty much the entire known repertoire for two bassoons, as lively and entertaining as it was sonically luscious.
Barbez at the Austrian Cultural Center, May 12 – playing mostly material from their most recent album Force of Light, a Paul Celan homage, they mixed brooding, klezmer-fueled instrumentals with spoken-word passages featuring work by the late Holocaust poet.
The JD Allen Trio at le Poisson Rouge, May 18 – the tenor saxophonist and his longtime collaborators, bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston, hit dark and forcefully again and again, airing out three-minute “jukebox jazz” songs from their darkly triumphant new album, VICTORY!
Those Darlins and Black Joe Lewis at Madison Square Park, June 12 – swirling jangly psychedelia with a little country from the 3/4 female rockers, followed by a marathon performance by the charismatic punk/funk guitarslinger and his purist, bluesy band.
Brooklyn Rider at Pace University, July 12 – a characteristically eclectic set by one of the world’s most adventurous string quartets, with works by Philip Glass and Kojiro Umezaki along with a bluegrass romp by Colin Jacobsen and several scorching gypsy tunes.
Pierre de Gaillande at Barbes, July 14 – the Snow’s frontman played a bunch of brand-new English translations of classic,smutty, wickedly literate Georges Brassens songs.
The Universal Thump at Barbes, July 16 – keyboardist Greta Gertler’s lush art-rock band brought along a string quartet for this exhilarating, majestic show featuring new songs from their brand-new First Spout album.
The New York Arabic Orchestra at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, August 5 – a rich mix of Egyptian and Lebanese classics as well as intriguing, cinematic works by bandleader/multi-instrumentalist Bassam Saba
Rachelle Garniez, Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble and Thomas Simon at Small Beast at the Delancey, August 15 – the weekly dark rock event, which has been running on fumes lately, had a rare good night since charismatic chanteuse Beren – who booked the bands this time around – brought along both the equally charismatic and even more inscrutable Garniez as well as swirling soundtrack crafter Simon.
The Chiara String Quartet at Trinity Church, September 8 – the ensemble revisited Robert Sirota’s anguished, chilling 9/11-themed Triptych where they’d premiered it less than a year later after the attacks. Seconds after they finished, sirens echoed outside just a couple of blocks away: eerie coincidence!
And the Wiremen and the Reid Paley Trio at Small Beast at the Delancey, September 19 – this time out Lynn Wright of southwestern gothic mavens And the Wiremen booked the night, bringing along charismatic retro rocker Paley, who was not amused by the chatty bar crowd and delivered what might have been the most deliciously assaultive show of the year
Chicha Libre at Barbes, October 3 – the surfy, psychedelic cumbia band plays pretty much every Monday here on their home turf – this time they went deep, deep into dub with a swirling, deliriously fun mix of classics and a lot of new original material.
Amour Obscur and Copal at R Bar, October 5 – blazing gypsy punk and noir cabaret, followed by gorgeously slinky violin-and-cello dance grooves from Hannah Thiem, Isabel Castellvi and their hypnotic rhythm section.
Drina Seay at Lakeside, October 7 – she came out of nowhere – a year ago she was singing backup vocals with a bunch of country bands – to lead one of New York’s most versatile, smartest Americana groups. Watching her soaring through a mix of torchy, intense ballads and more upbeat songs reminded a lot of seeing Neko Case right before she got popular.
The American Composers Orchestra at the World Financial Center, October 22 – closing night of this year’s SONIC Festival featured intense, majestic new works by Paul Yeon Lee, Ruby Fulton, Ryan Gallagher, Suzanne Farrin, Andrew Norman, and an unexpectedly thoughtful, pensive one by the National’s Bryce Dessner.
Walter Ego at Otto’s, November 19 – switching from guitar to piano and back again, the literate rock tunesmith was at the top of his wryly amusing game.