As much as I hate agonizing over my own best-shows list every year, I love reading those that make others pull out their hair.
Hate it? Yes, and nothing less. Choosing the best shows of any year is an embarrassment-of-riches hell of tough decisions and second-guessing. Was THAT show really better than THIS one? And how can I leave out that OTHER one? I had to leave Willie Nile and NRBQ off this year’s main combined list on Dec. 24; a list I shared with Gazette colleagues Dave Singer, Kirsten Ferguson and our Ticket editor Jeffrey Haff. Both are so consistently good they jump on my list every year unless I stop them.
This time, I hedged my bets by contributing three choices to the Dec. 24 list and jamming 10 into Jukebox on Dec. 21. And I’m deferring my best-albums list until after my mountain music gathering in mid-February. Meantime, let me suggest you check out Barack Obama’s (yes, THAT Barack Obama) list of favorite songs of 2017. It shows the man has admirably wide tastes and curiosity. And unlike when Alejandro Escovedo stopped playing “Castanets” live after hearing George W. Bush liked it, I suspect Obama’s list may open ears and inspire some pride.
While album lists direct us to dig up new-to-us things to hear, I hate one aspect of reading other writers’ top-shows lists: They always remind me of shows I missed, sometimes because I went to another show that same night. But that may in fact be the only reason to hate them.
My fellow list-makers made me regret missing way too many promising shows: the Chandler Travis Philharmonic at the Hangar — though I did catch his Three-O (a quartet!) at Caffe Lena — Rhiannon Giddens at The Egg (maybe the most-listed show all year), David Rawlings and Gillian Welch at The Egg, the Selwyn Birchwood Band (best performer name here all year!) at the Pearl Street Pub, the Suitcase Junket at WAMC’s the Linda, John Prine and Margo Price at the Palace, Los Straitjackets at the Hangar, Rickie Lee Jones at the Cohoes Music Hall, Marcia Ball at the Upper Room, Ana Popovic at the Cohoes Music Hall, Garland Jeffries at The Linda, the Funky Meters at Alive at Five, Alabama Shakes at the Palace, Spoon at the Upstate Concert Hall, Drive-By Truckers at The Egg, Bob Dylan and Mavis Staples at the Palace, John McLaughlin and Jimmy Herring at The Egg, the Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival (especially Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah), the Stick Men at the Van Dyck, ZZ Top at Proctors, the Adrian Belew Power Trio at The Egg, the Fleshtones at the Hangar — I could go on, and I think I have, as loquacious guitarist Leo Kottke says when he knows he’s rattled on for too long.
Knowing how tough narrowing choices into a short list is, I admire that ability/angst greatly in others. Our most list-rich publication environment hereabouts is www.nippertown.com, where Tim Reidy and Michael Eck (10 each), Rudy Lu, Ed Conway, Stanley A. Johnson (12 each, more or less) showed admirable restraint, while Steve Nover (50!), Richard Brody (22) and Greg Haymes (17) went as wild as I like to do. I count these fans as validators: Seeing them, and a few others who didn’t wander into this column because they don’t make lists, always feels promising to me. They raise my expectations just by showing up and indicate we’re all in for a good one.
I also admire those whose lists showed a willingness to hit the road — as if we didn’t have enough cool shows here …
Area list/taste-makers roamed to Northampton, Kingston, Brooklyn, North Adams, Oak Hill, Lake George, Marlboro Woodstock, Bearsville, Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, Manhattan — even the wilds of Averill Park. Ed Conway’s Baker’s Dozen Best Concerts list cited shows by Bloodshot Bill in various venues, which can mean almost anywhere: I ran into him and fellow super-fan wife Cathy last year in Nashville at a show by the Martian Denny Orchestra, whose onstage guests included our own Mark Gamsjager plus JD McPherson. Ed also stretched his list to honor shows by McPherson at both the Iron Horse in Northampton and the Hangar in Troy.
Otherwise, agreeing or disagreeing with other lists can be big fun, and so is letting them guide me in making “must” lists for acts to see this year.
Even a list compiled by someone whose taste is vastly different from mine almost always includes a gem I favored, too. A writer who, like me, enjoyed E Street Band bassist Garry Tallent’s Nashville all-stars’ show at the Hangar otherwise chose shows I might only have attended under duress or open-bar conditions.
On the other hand, I found myself agreeing most closely with the lists of Michael Eck and Greg Haymes — longtime and deeply respected compadres of the notebook on the knee, the flashlight, the laptop and the review deadline. And I don’t see our common choices as indicating a shortage of cool shows. On the contrary, this confirms for me the unarguable excellence of Alejandro Escovedo, Bryan Ferry, and Amadou and Mariam, who made both Eck’s and my lists. Ferry and Amadou and Mariam made Haymes’ list as well, and we both chose Hudson and Blind Boy Paxton as jazz picks.
Maybe best of all, some of our top choices are back on the calendar for 2018, including the Wood Brothers (one of Brody’s Top 22) at The Egg Jan. 30; Robbie Fulks (in my Jukebox column top 10), playing WAMC’s The Linda March 1; and Shawn Colvin (Eck’s Best 10) with Lyle Lovett March 8 at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.
See you there.
Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at hochana[email protected].