Story and photographs by Kirsten Ferguson. See some of Kirsten’s concert photos from 2012 here.
BEST SHOWS THAT I DIDN’T EXPECT WOULD BE GREAT
Los Angeles ska-funk band Fishbone hadn’t lost any of the manic energy of their heyday during a red-hot set at Putnam Den in July that carried on until the early hours of the morning. John Lydon and the gnarly band of veteran punk rockers in his current iteration of Public Image Limited played a show at Upstate Concert Hall in October that was as dark and uncompromising as PiL fans could hope for. And the surviving founding members of the Beach Boys set aside their long-running acrimony – briefly – for a glorious 30th anniversary retrospective at SPAC in June.
BEST SHOWS, EXPECTED
Americana singer-songwriter Gillian Welch and her longtime musical partner David Rawlings were spellbinding at The Egg in July, and British pub rocker Nick Lowe was charming, witty and poignant during his Egg show in September. No surprises there. And during day two of Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Fest in July, two performers that jazz fans were anticipating – New Orleans bandleader Trombone Shorty and Japanese pianist Hiromi – didn’t disappoint, Shorty in particular bringing the house down during a rousing, festival-ending performance.
BEST CONSEQUENCES OF THE SONIC YOUTH SPLIT
Unfortunate in every other way, the breakup (or indefinite hiatus) of Sonic Youth led to some enjoyable side projects featuring SY band members. Thurston Moore brought his excellent 2011 solo album Demolished Thoughts to Club Helsinki at the end of January; Steve Shelley manned the drums for Chicago art-rock band Disappears during their edgy show at Valentine’s in April; and guitarist Lee Renaldo released a stellar 2012 album, Between the Times and the Tide (and nearly played on the Disappears bill but had to cancel).
BEST RETURN OF OLD SCHOOL HIP-HOP
Original human beat-box Biz Markie performed his 1989 hit “Just a Friend” during a short but super sweet set at the Saratoga Racino’s Vapor Niteclub in January; Humpty Hump and Digital Underground busted out their 1990 comedic classic “The Humpty Dance” at the same club some months later; and pioneering hip-hop trio De La Soul brought a blissfully old school feel to their Upstate Concert Hall gig in November.
BIGGEST BLASTS FROM THE PAST
A wine-chugging (and wine-sharing) Perry Farrell vamped all over the Palace Theatre stage in March during a solid return to form for ‘90s rockers Jane’s Addiction; the Psychedelic Furs revisited ‘80s classics like “Love My Way” and “Heartbreak Beat” during a half-attended but highly enjoyable Egg show in June; and Bootsy Collins brought the spirit of ‘70s funk alive during his rhinestone-studded Alive at Five show at the start of the summer.
BEST INEBRIATED PERFORMANCE
Tommy Stinson’s wife no longer bothered to stand by the show’s end, choosing to plop down on the stage and shake a tambourine from there, as the former Replacement closed out his Haiti benefit at Club Helsinki in April with a surprisingly coherent and rocking set, given the long, whiskey-soaked night. Worst inebriated performance? Hands-down: former Lemonhead Evan Dando’s glassy-eyed, rambling show at Northern Lights in January. More painful than a marathon of “Intervention” episodes on A&E.
HIGHLIGHTS IN GARAGE ROCK
Legendary Queens garage band the Fleshtones built a human pyramid and fired off push-ups on a table covered in puddles of beer during their March show at Bat Shea’s in Troy. Local garage outfit Knyghts of Fuzz released a great single, “Fleshtones Saved My Life,” and presented it to Fleshtones frontman Peter Zaremba at that same show. And Nashville’s destined-to-be-bigger Useless Eaters ripped through a wailing after-hours set in the dining room of Saratoga’s Pennell’s restaurant in August.
BEST LOCAL MUSIC HAPPENINGS
Indie music – much of it local – homemade food and gorgeous architecture made the Restoration Festival at St. Joseph’s Church a must-attend event for three days in September, with standout sets by Albany’s reunited Kamikaze Hearts on Friday night and Brooklyn songstress Sharon Van Etten on Saturday. WCDB-FM staged a killer party for their 34th Anniversary at Valentine’s in March; Throwing Muse Kristin Hersh read from her funny and revealing “Rat Girl” memoir at the Saratoga Arts Center during Saratoga Arts Fest in June; and the Figgs celebrated their 25th anniversary at two high-spirited local shows in August and another pair in December, joined for-old-times-sake by guitarist and former bandmate Guy Lyons.
BEST TRIUMPH OVER ADVERSITY
Bruce Springsteen properly eulogized sax-man Clarence Clemons and shook off the yoke of the 2008 recession at a life-affirming Times Union Center show in April, and two New York City bands – Jon Spencer Blues Explosion with Daddy Long Legs – bitterly cursed the hurricane they had just left behind during an explosive Club Helsinki show in November.
BEST ROAD TRIP
Alabama Shakes singer Brittany Howard lived up to all the hype during her soul-baring performance at Burlington’s Higher Ground in April, opened in rollicking fashion by fellow Alabamians Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires. And at a Sebadoh reunion at Pearl Street in Northampton in August, Lou Barlow told witty tales about former bandmates, and the band busted out rough but rocking versions of classic hits like “Rebound,” “Magnet’s Coil” and “Brand New Love.” Bass player Jason Loewenstein was wearing a t-shirt from one of the Capital Region’s finest former bands – Empire State Troopers.
Alabama Shakes, “Boys & Girls”
Disappears, “Pre Language”
Dr. John, “Locked Down”
Father John Misty, “Fear Fun”
The Figgs, “The Day Gravity Stopped”
Gentlemen Jesse, “Leaving Atlanta”
The Golden Boys, “Dirty Fingernails”
Japandroids, “Celebration Rock”
John Wesley Coleman, “The Last Donkey Show”
King Tuff, “King Tuff”
Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires, “There Is a Bomb in Gilead”
Lee Ranaldo, “Between the Times and the Tide”
Nada Surf, “The Stars Are Indifferent to Anatomy”
Ray Wylie Hubbard, “The Grifter’s Hymnal”
Sharon Van Etten, “Tramp”
MORE OF NIPPERTOWN’S BEST OF 2012 LISTS
Fred Rudofsky, Part II
J Hunter, Part II
Various: Other Voices Round-up
Fred Rudofsky, Part III
Timothy Reidy, Part II
Steve Nover, Part II