Story and photographs by Kirsten Ferguson
1.) Paul McCartney @ the Times Union Center, Albany (July 5)
Best concert of the decade, maybe longer. I watched the entire concert again on YouTube several days later and cried when Paul sang “The Long and Winding Road” – and I don’t even like that song!
2.) Wussy with Bloodshot Bill @ the Low Beat, Albany (July 24)
The “best band in America” tag had started to stick by the time Wussy pulled into town from Cincinnati, hours late because a cop pulled them over along the way and confiscated their stash. Despite it all, they fired it up and even though I knew only a few of their songs, I loved every one, and I can’t disagree with the “best band” award at all.
3.) Neutral Milk Hotel with Brian Dewan @ Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown (September 6)
I’d never seen them live and didn’t expect such a ragtag exuberance – joyousness even – that more than made up for the brewery’s lack of wine.
4.) Split Squad with Knyghts of Fuzz @ the River St. Pub, Troy (August 3)
Spending a pleasant August afternoon inside a dark Troy bar – it’s way better than it sounds. Especially when a band featuring members of the Fleshtones and Blondie is playing – warmed up by our own Knyghts of Fuzz. And we were home before the sun went down! Loved it.
5.) Nas @ the Palace Theatre, Albany (October 3)
It’s true what they say: it sounds pretty bad from up in that balcony. Nas performed his 1994 debut album Illmatic in entirety, after a showing of the recent “Time Is Illmatic” documentary. Sound issues aside, this was a festive crowd, filled with people who knew every word to every song, and relished in repeating the most classic lines – lines of dire bravado like “I never sleep, ‘cause sleep is the cousin of death.” Powerful.
6.) The Jayhawks with Trapper Schoepp & the Shades @ the Egg, Albany (October 30)
I wasn’t expecting much going in, with Mark Olson absent and the setlist focusing on the latest batch of reissues, starting with 1997’s Sound of Lies. But this was the rare show that makes you feel truly uplifted, during and after.
7.) Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band @ the Times Union Center, Albany (May 13)
I know some long-time Springsteen fans who haaated this show. Too many fan requests, weird song choices, and that Morello guy. Maybe it was the lady next to me who drove up from Jersey and was having herself a blast – so much fun it was infectious. I enjoyed this from beginning to end.
8.) The Hold Steady with Cheap Girls @ the Hollow Bar + Kitchen, Albany (April 11)
Another “best band in America” came to town, and more than once I found myself saying to myself “yeah, I get why people say that.” Anthems and choruses and sweeping hand gestures – it all came together.
9.) Nick Lowe’s Quality Holiday Revue with Los Straitjackets and the Cactus Blossoms @ the Egg, Albany (December 19)
It’s always great to see Nick Lowe, and Los Straitjackets are masters at what they do. They may seem like an unlikely pairing but then again they don’t – it’s one of those “two great things go great together” type deals.
10.) The Figgs with Blockhouses @ the Putnam Den, Saratoga Springs (December 20)
The Figgs brought it way back to 1994, playing every song in order from their Low-Fi at Society High album on the second of two nights in the Capitol Region, with former Figg Guy Lyons joining the fun and opening with his rockin’ new group Blockhouses.
11.) The Restoration Funstival @ CAC Woodside, Troy (August 15 and 16)
Still one of the best curated local festivals around. I walked in and this band Maybird from Rochester was wailing away in a psychedelic melodic swirl of sound, and I couldn’t believe I had never heard them before. It’s like that every year – so much local (or quasi-local) talent there for the taking.
12.) Jon Batiste & Stay Human @ Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs (June 28)
So many acts worthy of mentioning from the two-day Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival, but I was pretty blown away by Louisiana native and Julliard-grad John Batiste, and the way he and his virtuoso crew owned the SPAC ampitheatre.
13.) Beck with the Ghost of the Saber Tooth Tiger @ MASS MoCA, North Adams (June 23)
I love party Beck but I’m not a huge fan of sad Beck, so I was a little afraid this show would be all about the sad guy who dominates Beck’s most recent album Morning Phase. Fortunately we got some of both – the Beck who can shake it like a party ringleader and the Beck who can follow with a heart-rending ballad.
14.) Chris Isaak @ the Egg, Albany (September 16)
This guy has it all: he’s funny, he’s handsome, he’s sexy, he’s humble and he can sing – oh, can he sing.
15.) Vintage Trouble @ the Hollow Bar + Kitchen, Albany (September 28)
I was a little put off by how calculated their act seemed at times – they are a bunch of LA players. But their ability to rock is no act – and singer Ty Taylor can wail, shimmy and strut with the best.
READ OTHER “BEST OF 2014” LISTS:
Greg Haymes’ Top Concerts & Albums
Fred Rudofsky’s Top 21 Albums
Steve Nover’s Top 51 Concerts
Larry Murray & Gail M. Burns’ 10 Indelible Moments of Berkshire Theater
Richard Brody’s Top 11 Concerts
Michael Eck’s Top 10 Albums
Fred Rudofsky’s Top 21 Live Music Events
Albert Brooks’ Top 11 Albums
Gene Sennes’ Top Concerts & Albums
J Hunter’s Best Jazz Albums, Part II
The Capital Land Crate Digger’s Cultural Top 10
J Hunter’s Best Jazz Albums, Part I
Stanley Johnson’s Favorite Things
Rudy Lu’s Top 10 Concerts
J Hunter’s Top 10 Concerts (And More)
Tim Livingston’s Top 10 Albums