BEST OF 2018: Michael Eck’s Eastern Liberal Elite Best of the Year
By Michael Eck
Amtrak loves me.
I went to New York City a lot this year, maybe more than ever — maybe more than when I used to play the East Village every few weeks in the ’90s.
I saw a lot of shows, hit a lot of museums (including the Grant Wood, Tennessee Williams, David Bowie and Velvet Underground exhibits) and ate a lot of good food.
And seeing “Phantom Thread” for the first time, in New York, felt special, too.
But, I’ll limit this list to live music and theater.
Here (chronologically) are my 12 favorites from 12 months of 2018 in the Big Apple:
How to Be a Rock Critic, January 14, Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street. It’s not a
secret that I love rock critic Lester Bangs, warts and all. This one-man play (starring Erik Jensen) was a respectful romp, using Astral Weeks as a MacGuffin. Not exactly a work for the ages, but I’m damn glad I saw it. Did I enjoy some Romilar before the show? I did not. But I did have a brief chat with Robert Christgau on the way out of the theater.
The Band’s Visit, February 18, Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th Street. As How to Be a Rock Critic was my son’s first off-Broadway play, The Band’s Visit was his first Broadway musical. I’m jealous that he snagged such a sweet introduction — a remarkable performance of a remarkable work. A theatrical haiku.
Come From Away, February 18, Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street. Seen on the same day as The Band’s Visit and, at heart, the same show. Stories of aliens, strangers, outsiders, finding open arms. The gift of humanity. I work in the theater, and I wrote about it for two decades before that. This is why.
John Prine, April 13, Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Sixth Avenue. Even Prine was awed by the surroundings, telling a poignant tale about his dream of one day playing the legendary room. It’s sweet to see him reaching a wider audience than ever, and this visit (with guest spots from Brandi Carlile and opener Sturgill Simpson), seemed like a confirmation of his place in the pantheon.
Pharoah Sanders, April 19, Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker Street. I would see him again in December — a lackluster set at Birdland — but this night at the former Village Gate was a full concert. Sanders, now 78, only blew for about half the show, letting his ace band handle the rest, but hearing “The Creator Has a Master Plan” from the mouth of the man was a privilege not soon forgotten.
Three Tall Women, April 21, Golden Theatre, 252 W 45th Street. Edward Albee’s work was the lure that brought me into theater, and this production, starring Glenda Jackson, Laurie Metcalf and Alison Pill, was simply a wonder. Albee was born with shark’s teeth.
Springsteen on Broadway, August 25, Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th Street. All of the hype was true. If you didn’t laugh, you weren’t awake. If you didn’t cry, you were dead. Music as church.
Patti Smith, September 23, Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane. Saint Patti’s take on Springsteen on Broadway, recorded for an Audible Original, Words and Music. Much looser than Bruce’s show, and even she admitted she was not on top of her game this night. Still, transcendent in many moments (Rilke!), and still Patti Smith.
The True, October 13, Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street. Albany politics onstage in Manhattan — who knew? And with a mighty cast, including Edie Falco, Michael McKean and Peter Scolari. Worth the trip? You betcha. This is a show that needs to be seen, talked about and argued over, here, in the capital, where it was born.
Soft Machine, October 13, Iridium, 1650 Broadway. I dig deep. It’s true. This hour of the Softs’ first stateside sojourn since 1974 was plagued by technical glitches and loudmouth fans, but things still clicked often enough. And “Tale of Taliesen” (is it painfully obvious that this is British prog at its pretentious best?) was the equal of King Crimson onstage, and that’s saying something.
Chris Thile, November 28, Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall, 881 Seventh Avenue. One of three Thile shows I saw in New York this year (actually four if you consider I went to 6:30 and 9:30 performances on this evening). The modern master, solo, with no mics, in a perfect room. Mandolin nirvana? Sure, but so much more than that. Music at its purest level. Did I enjoy a Negroni between shows? Damn straight I did.
Network, December 8, Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street. I’m still out to jury on director Ivo Van Hove. I think in his rush to be contemporary he leaves things untied. But the kinetic energy of the production here is impressive, and Bryan Cranston’s (and Tony Goldwyn’s) acting is ferocious. ‘Twould be nice if one of our current news puppets would go all Howard Beale on our ass.