10. GAYNGS, Music Hall of Williamsburg, October 4
For a roving army of slow-jammers, GAYNGS tempered their numbers with some sweet sincerity at MHOW. Minneapolis mastermind Ryan Olson’s soft-rock/r&b project was a true spectacle, with no fewer than ten members hulking onstage in weird assemblages (soda-jerk sweaters, red Ray Bans, Mexican wrestling masks). Their sound was devoid of such ironic accoutrements, though—as members interplayed giddily, revolving around singer Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) and, it seemed, transferring handfuls of surely questionable substances between keyboardists, GAYNGS perfectly revisited the swooning late-‘80s pop of their debut Relayted. The surprisingly swooning cover of Sade's "By Your Side" was an unexpected treat – as were the constant sax solos, as bountiful and inexplicable as the entire evening.
9. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, Prospect Park, August 7
Elizabeth already covered this one neatly, so you’re already suitably nostalgic—or just envious, if you weren’t one of the 20,000 delirious soul fans in attendance. But as someone who had never experience Sharon and her razor-sharp band before, I’ll add one more endorsement to the evening: she commanded the night like a true legend. She took the oxygen from our lungs, leaving us dizzy and breathless, and she whipped it back at us in astounding wails. Good thing there was only sky above her; it was hard to imagine any roof containing that.
8. Chuck Berry, B.B. King’s Blues Club, June 25
He’s 84 and he’ll wear sequins, dammit. One of the most important pioneers of American rock and roll – one of our most important guitarists to ever live, let alone duck-walk – brought his own winking brand of nostalgia to Times Square for a rare, hour-long set. He didn’t play every firebrand note of “Johnny B. Goode” or “Carol,” but he sang with conviction and cracked wise: "That's called titillating," he purred to the front row after one deft run on his frets. When he wasn’t smirking through the hits, he fronted a genuinely weird onstage dance party, a seemingly pre-arranged Bandstand bop of nine teenage and middle-age lasses. Many of them were clearly tourists; all of them were inarguably thrilled. And so were we, dancing in our seats and basking in history, the kind that never gets old.
7. This one.
6. Gil Scott-Heron, S.O.B.’s, January 17
It was one of those spontaneous New York evenings, the kind that progresses as such: meander through a few courses of Thai, check the newspaper calendar for events (maybe the Village Voice, cough), and discover that a vital progenitor of hip-hop is performing just down the block. That was how Gil Scott-Heron, singer/songwriter and iconic poet (“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”), brought me to tears in an intensely emotional, effortlessly virtuosic set of hip-hop meets acid-jazz. From recounting the night John Lennon died to sweeping with elegiac grace through “We Almost Lost Detroit,” Scott-Heron was invigorating, silencing, alarming. The concert preceded the release of I’m New Here, his excellent, electronica-laced LP, and it would lead me to interview him for a profile; our discussion was emotional, contentious, and, frankly, a tumultuous experience…but, like, Scott-Heron, ultimately inspiring.