A Brief Look Back at 2011

January 2nd, 2012

My Top Five Favorite Shows of the Year

1. Jeff Mangum, Town Hall, October 29
I never imagined I’d get to see Jeff Mangum in concert. Neutral Milk Hotel, his iconic pysch-folk band, shut it down years ago and he disappeared with them. But this year, Mangum performed a few shows across the country and his Town Hall date was my favorite show of 2011. From the boisterous sing-along of “The King of Carrot Flowers” to the reverent silence that followed each song, it was both memorable and chilling.

2. Sharon Van Etten, Music Hall of Williamsburg, April 16
It was a rainy April night and I had little motivation to trek to Williamsburg. Luckily, I sucked it up and went. Sharon Van Etten stunned me like few other performers have this year. Her melancholy love songs, devastatingly beautiful, permanently impacted the audience. Or, at least this humble observer.

3. Deerhoof, Music Hall of Williamsburg, September 20
Deerhoof left me speechless. I struggled to write my review, because, hours afterward, adrenaline still coursed through my veins. Greg Saunier, the band’s drummer and founder, is a show within a show. His dynamic logic-defying drum play is easily worth the price of admission. I’m still trying to twist my mind around this concert.

4. Flying Lotus, The Bowery Ballroom, June 20
This year I was most excited to see Brainfeeder’s showcase at the Bowery Ballroom. The label, started by innovative producer Flying Lotus, houses some of my favorite artists, including Teebs, Thundercat and Flying Lotus himself. For his set, Flying Lotus was accompanied by Thundercat, the bass phenom whose 2011 album, The Golden Age of Apocalypse, is one not to sleep on, and jazz-keyboard prodigy Austin Peralta. The whole night was a pleasure and I look forward to Brainfeeder’s output in 2012.

5. Levon Helm Band, SummerStage, July 18
In the pouring rain, I sang “The Weight” with Levon Helm. How can you top that? —Jared Levy

My Top Five Shows When the Crowd Really Clicked with the Band

Every once in a while an audience seems to be especially dialed in a little bit extra, elevating the show.
Middle Brothers/Dawes/Deer Tick/Matt Vasquez, The Bowery Ballroom, March 6
2. LCD Soundsystem, Madison Square Garden, April 2
3. John Vanderslice, Mercury Lounge, May 12
4. Black Taxi and Bright Light Social Hour, Mercury Lounge, October 1
5. J. Roddy Walston and the Business, Mercury Lounge, December 1 —A. Stein

My Top Five Shows of the Year

1. Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble with Dawes and Jimmy Vivino, December 3
With a great cast of characters onstage and in the audience, this has got to be the No. 1 night of the 365—from Dawes and Jackson Browne’s version of “Take It Easy” to Jimmy Vivino and Garth Hudson leading a Band set to Donald Fagen and Danny Louis spearheading the funkiest “Shakedown Street” I’ve ever heard. Plus, Levon Helm!

2. Middle Brother/Deer Tick/ Dawes/Matt Vasquez, Music Hall, March 5
Understandably, the frontmen from three bands don’t often team up to put out an album, but still, why don’t more bands tour like this? It couldn’t possibly have been more fun.

3. My Morning Jacket, VH1 Storytellers Taping, February 24
My friend and I had just said how happy we were to be safely seated in the second row, away from the cameras, when two women from production bounced two guys in the front row and put us in their spot, three feet from Jim James. While it was amazing to see MMJ in such an intimate space, at one point when I opened my eyes to find a camera pointed right at my face, just inches away, I became totally self-conscience, like Jack Donaghy trying to figure out how to hold a coffee cup. But eventually everything faded away, and on the beautiful “Wonderful (How I Feel)” all I could hear was James’s foot softly keeping the beat.

4. Portugal. The Man, Terminal 5, October 20
I first saw these guys play a tent at Bonnaroo several years ago, and each time since, they seem to have gained something, whether it’s an improved stage presence or another fantastic album. But it all came together during this packed CMJ show, complete with spacey jams and stellar covers.

5. Rosehill Drive, Mercury Lounge, April 23
I love loud guitar rock, so I was pretty disappointed when power-rock trio Rosehill Drive just disappeared. I hadn’t seen them in nearly two years when they just as suddenly reappeared, this time as a four-piece, but no less ready to rock. —R. Zizmor

My Top Five Favorite Bands I Saw for the First Time This Year

1. Gary Clark Jr., Mercury Lounge, December 13
2. Alabama Shakes, The Bowery Ballroom, October 20
3. The Head and the Heart, Mercury Lounge, May 17
4. Punch Brothers, The Bowery Ballroom, January 15
5. Young the Giant, IFC Crossroads House, March 17 —R.Z.