BEST OF 2016: Fred Rudofsky’s Favorite Live Music Events
By Fred Rudofsky
Photograph by Michael Hochanadel
Yes, it’s that time of year once again – best of the year list-time, that is. We’re gathering together Best of 2016 from various media outlets, our own contributors and our readers, too.
Here’s Fred Rudofsky’s round-up of his Favorite Live Music Events of the Year:
I’ll admit, there were many great shows that I missed in 2016 because of work, illness or family crisis. I usually see over 80 gigs in a year. It was not my year by a long shot.
Still, I managed to see some memorable live music events.
Here are my top picks:
25. Sonny Landreth & Cindy Cashdollar @ The Egg (February 13): Two of the finest guitarists in the land teamed up for some riveting blues, country-soul and more.
24. Dr. John & the Nite Trippers with Jocamo @ Alive at 5 at Tricentennial Park (June 9): It was unseasonably cool and very windy (which affected the microphones at times) but Dr. John had his mojo working, playing some deep blues and having a ball. Jocamo covered all the funk bases, reminding those who hadn’t seen them in awhile why they remain one of the best bands in the area.
23. Joanne Shaw Taylor (opening for Glenn Hughes) @ The Upper Room (August 19): Taylor made the most of her 40-minute allotment, delivering robust, smokey vocals and a masterclass in blues-rock guitar that left jaws agape.
22. Joe Krown Trio @ the Parish Public House (July 9): Three of the best musicians in NOLA – Joe Krown (B-3); Walter “Wolfman” Washington (guitar and vocals); and Russell Batiste (drums) – brought the funky blues. Man, they brought it for nearly 90 minutes. You should have been there, my friends.
21. Elizabeth Cook with Derek Hoke at Club Helsinki (October 28): One of the great singer-songwriters of the last 15 years, Cook debuted several songs from her recent Exodus of Venus, a dark yet cathartic song cycle about loss and redemption, and several from her acclaimed Welder. Hoke opened with some fine East Nashville electric blues originals.
20. Sarah Borges & the Broken Singles with Eric “Roscoe” Ambel at Club Helsinki (February 26): A favorite dating back to the original venue’s days in Great Barrington, Sarah Borges reunited part of her beloved band and rocked out, with a little help from guitar great Ambel, who also offered a mind-bending take on Swamp Dogg’s “Total Destruction to Your Mind” during his excellent opening set.
19. Dale Watson & His Lone Stars and Celine Lee with Marti Brom & the Lustre Kings @ the Hangar on the Hudson (September 23): The Hangar became a Texas roadhouse with a chicken shit bingo game, giant inflatable Lone Star Beer can, and the righteous and rollicking Ameripolitan sounds of Dale Watson and his road-tested band, with Lee adding some extra flavor to the evening during a few saucy duets with Watson. Brom opened with a short but sharp set backed by our home-town heroes, the Lustre Kings.
18. The Fleshtones with Off the Record @ the Hangar on the Hudson (October 15): Forty years and counting, the resilient NYC band turned the amps up to “11” and rocked out in ultimate garage band style. Off the Record opened with a slew of familiar ’60s covers and some deep B-sided nuggets, too. All together, a really cool afternoon in Troy.
17. J.D. McPherson @ the Hangar on the Hudson (September 24): Early in the set, McPherson motioned for the crowd to take a first steps forward. They all did. It was that kind of show – powerful, mesmerizing and fun – roots rock by one of the best bands in the land.
16. Robert Cray Band with Shemekia Copeland @ The Egg (September 2): It’s easy to take Robert Cray for granted -he’s just been recording and performing high quality blues and soul since 1980, and I swear he has not aged a day, given his commanding voice and impeccable guitar playing. He had to deliver this night, especially, because Shemekia Copleand’s opening set was as good as it gets – she ought to headline her own show next time she is in town.
15. The Exiles and Tommy Love @ the Bethlehem Spring Festival (June 18): An outdoor live music event, attended by over 300, in the heart of Delmar? I couldn’t believe it myself, but I have to give major props to my hometown for booking this inspired band for a night of Rolling Stones covers (and not just the hits – they nailed a sweet take of “Moonlight Mile” just as the moon crept over the tree-lined houses off the Four Corners). Love was in great voice, capturing the spirit and sound of Jagger without parody. Rockin’ music, fine food and all sorts of things to drink – it felt like spring party weekend at college.
14. Greg Townson @ the Beer Belly (March 31): Known for his work with the Hi-Risers and Los Straitjackets, Townson accompanied himself on electric guitar all evening and played selections from his two excellent solo albums.
13. Neko Case @ the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall (March 5): The opening act, whose name I don’t recall, was a snooze, but Neko Case sure had the crowd’s attention with songs as bold and evocative as her voice (and what a voice, especially in this hallowed venue).
12. Peter Wolf & the Midnight Travelers with Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams at The Egg (May 13): Wolf loves playing The Egg, and the audience on this particular night was ready for what he does best: everything. Blues, deep soul, beer-soaked country torch songs – even a bluegrass take on “Love Stinks” – he delivered the goods, making full use of the stage, even venturing out into the audience. His stories were so good I was hoping he’d publish a memoir (and the good news is that soon he will). As for Campbell & Williams, they played an incredible opening set, the best I saw all year by any band.
11. Carrie Rodriguez & Luke Jacobs @ Club Helsinki (April 30): A fiddle (and sometimes mandocello), a guitar and trove of songs that examined love, cultural identity, and restlessness with tenderness and humor. Rodriguez sang as brilliantly as she played, and her mate, Jacobs, matched her note for note.
10. Alejandro Escovedo @ the Cohoes Music Hall (May 11): I had a front row seat for this one, and what a night it was. Escovedo and his two bandmates sat for the evening but the music was poetic, intense and hypnotic. Escovedo is one of the best songwriters on the scene, and his stories of life’s travails between songs were revealing, too. At the end of the evening, the audience was invited to sing along to Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes” in memory of David Bowie. Amazing.
9. Tedeschi Trucks Band with Los Lobos and the North Mississippi All Stars @ Saratoga Performing Arts Center (July 13): For over three hours, three of my favorite bands transformed the selfie-taking arcade atmosphere of SPAC into what I imagine the Fillmore East must have felt like back in the day. Not only were the bands in top form, but the chance to see various musicians sit in with each other for a song or three was an unexpected treat.
8. The Lawn Sausages @ Dinosaur Bar-B-Que (April 1): What a night for raucous, bawdy, downright awesome rock and roll; the band rattled the glasses, glowered and grinned and created fault lines in the floorboards. The crowd – a mix of long-time fans and neophytes – responded in kind, roaring for more. Arguably this is the best gig this venue has ever hosted, and one of the finest these merry pranksters have performed.
7. Amy Helm & the Handsome Strangers and Carolyn Wonderland, Shelley King with Connor Kennedy & Minstrel @ the Cohoes Music Hall (April 22): A magic night of music: Amy Helm’s got the voice, musicianship (love that mandolin playing) and songs, all with a band that was telepathic, daring and boisterous on the rockers and understated on the ballads. Wonderland and King singing some old school a cappella gospel at one mic with Helm was enthralling. And watch out for Kennedy, whose band made old-school grooves sound newly born.
6. Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds at The Egg (October 28): Led by vivacious singer Arleigh Kincheloe, this rootsy soul band, which has built a strong Greater Nippertown club following, made their debut at The Egg and tore the roof off the sucker. As a fan since I saw them several years at Jillian’s, I couldn’t be more proud. Too bad there was no dance floor, though, at The Egg.
5. Super 400’s 20th Anniversary @ the Hangar on the Hudson (June 4): Chronologically arranged, the over two-hour set by the greatest rock trio in the state was spectacular and often quite moving. The crowd response said it all: this is a beloved band. I cannot wait to see what Lori, Kenny and Joe do next.
4. Hamell on Trial @ the Low Beat (May 4): 2016 had to be one of the most cracked, vile, blood-soaked years in human history, but the chord is mightier than the sword, as this intrepid songwriting warrior made clear on this and many other stops to one of the most intimate rooms for music in Greater Nippertown. Armed with a vintage acoustic guitar and tall amp, Hamell on Trial squeegeed the third eye of the audience with songs of innocence, experience and satire that Voltaire and Bill Hicks would applaud. He’s a global treasure in my book.
3. Chandler Travis Philharmonic @ the Hangar on the Hudson (June 10): Every time I see Chandler Travis – it doesn’t matter what permutation of his band of brothers he brings along – I feel like I have entered a different dimension. Who else would show up in pajamas and a robe, play over two dozen songs that span every genre known to mankind and then some, and then have his whole band walk out into the audience for an unplugged session? Genius, thy name is Chandler Travis.
2. Dave and Phil Alvin & the Guilty Ones with Sarah Borges @ Club Helsinki (September 3): The reunion of the once quarreling brothers of the Blasters continued to flourish, with generous offerings from their band’s glory days and their recent two albums – which are both must-have, trust me – that pay tribute to their blues heroes. The band was in killer form; several times Dave Alvin traded solos with Chris Miller like it was a guitar cutting-contest at the legendary Ashgrove. Phil Alvin, who nearly died a few years ago in Spain, was in strong voice all evening. Plus, Sarah Borges was at her acoustic solo best, beguiling the audience with songs about hard knocks, chasing love and finding light in the darkness.
1B. My Darling Clementine @ the Low Beat (April 3): At Greg Townshend’s gig at the Beer Belly, I struck up a conversation with an affable British musician. “Come to our gig in a few days – my wife and I are playing at the Low Beat.” I’d vaguely heard of My Darling Clementine, probably through a short review in Uncut or Mojo, but I had never heard their work. I was floored by their songs, harmonies and easy rapport with the small but enthusiastic audience. This was stone-cold country music that ran full spectrum: some songs wrung my heart to tears; others made me laugh at their often caustic wit, especially the murder ballads. I cannot say enough about Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish – they were a sonic epiphany.
1A. Buck-Stock @ the Hangar on the Hudson (December 18): The entire day celebrated the life of Buck Malen, whose influence on musicians in the area perhaps has no rival – just consider his resume. The spirit of the room was upbeat, just like Buck would’ve wanted, and the array of bands was extraordinary. Kudos to Scotty Mac and Joe Mele for making this event happen.
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Entertainment Weekly’s Top 15 Entertainers
Richard Brody’s Top 13 Concerts
Fred Rudofsky’s Top 27 Albums
Ed Conway’s Top However Many Shows
American Songwriter’s Top 10 Songs
J Hunter’s Top Jazz Albums (Part Deux)
Newsweek’s Top 11 Documentary Films
Don Wilcock’s Top 10 Blues Albums
The Chicago Tribune’s Top Four Poetry Books
Pitchfork’s Top 25 Music Videos
Stanley A. Johnson’s Top 10 Favorite Musical Places
Time Magazine’s Top 10 Nonfiction Books
TV Guide’s Top Television Shows
J Hunter’s Top Jazz Albums (Part 1)
Esquire’s Top 25 Movies (So Far)