5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Museum of Modern Art, May 25
The MOMA’s annual Party in the Garden gala was attended by the likes of Chuck Close and Hugh Jackman, but they weren’t there for the canapés. In the museum’s gorgeous sculpture garden, downtown’s own Art Stars graced a tiny stage and wisp of an audience for a lilting acoustic set of greatest hits. Singer Karen O was beaming as usual, swanning about in a sequined caftan and bare feet, while angular guitarist Nick Zinner fronted a small corner of string accompanists. Drummer Brian Chase was otherwise occupied on an Australian jazz sojourn, which Karen announced with a good-natured eye-roll, but the reconfigured trio’s set was seamless; the night’s renditions of “Zero” and “Y Control” were dark, delicate beauties, and the closer, “Maps,” rippled through the garden with soft poignancy.
4. Ryuichi Sakamoto, NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, October 18
The Japanese composer, a Renaissance man of music and film and a main proponent behind the “Neo Geo” classical/world fusion movement of the 1980s, made a rare stop across the Pacific this fall. He seemed spurred by urgency; his solo performance at NYU’s opulent Skirball Center concert hall supported out of noise, the latter half of his recently released two-CD set (with playing the piano, a compilation of piano reworkings of earlier compositions). out of noise was an evocative statement against climate change, inspired by his trip to Greenland with the Cape Farewell Project, and it infused his sparse, atmospheric piano performance: the found sounds of forebodingly dripping glacial ice and an angry Arctic Sea echoed throughout his set. Appropriately, for a man of such topical interests, his instrument of choice was a scientific experiment, too: he played on Yamaha's computerized Disklavier system, which synced previously recorded MIDI signals to his hand and feet movements, effectively allowing Sakamoto to duet with himself.
3. Phoenix and surprise guest Daft Punk, Madison Square Garden, October 20
The best-kept secret of the CMJ Music Marathon should’ve been out in a flash, but was somehow, miraculously contained—no small feat, because Daft Punk sharing Phoenix’s stage was arguably the year’s biggest event for New York music. Fortunately for all Frenchmen involved, the hush-hush cameo was tamped by the few over-caffeinated, over-stimulated CMJ Festival attendees privy to the information; I was one of them, and my eleventh-hour acquisition of the knowledge led me to haggle a nosebleed ticket from a very scary scalper outside Madison Square Garden (but who got it down $15? Yeah boi!).
Well worth it; after a lukewarm opening set from Wavves and a vibrant one from Dirty Projectors, Phoenix delivered a bombastic, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix-heavy set worthy of the huge arena. Then, for an encore, the stage lights flickered on two shadowy, hazy figures in helmets, and the ensuing shards of "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" and the big reveal caused a calamity in the audience I’ve never before witnessed, not by a long shot. Phoenix darted back onstage to churn thick, visceral guitar undertones to the DP single, somehow looking as stunned as the audience. (Daft Punk’s helmets, for the record, wore expressions of nonchalance.) After trading riffs from the Close Encounters of the Third Kind theme, the unlikely collaborators closed with an astonishing take on Phoenix’s “1901,” the band delivering the singalong hooks with newly torrential intensity and Daft Punk infusing scabrous beats and scratches. Normally restrained Phoenix singer Thomas Mars stage-dove into the crowd, returning onstage for the both groups’ delirious shared bow. And it doesn’t even seem real now, two months later.
2. Woody Allen & the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band, Cafè Carlyle, April 26
This year, I had the honor of interviewing Woody Allen about his love for traditional New Orleans jazz, which he has faithfully played on clarinet since he was a teen. Well, more accurately, I tenaciously scraped and scratched my way into having the honor of doing so—the iconic New York director really does loathe talking with the press. So it speaks greatly of his admiration of and passion for this niche strain of American music that he would discuss it at length.
Following the interview, I attended his weekly show at the Café Caryle at the Carlyle Hotel, and was astounded by the sweet, substantial musicianship he displayed; his accompanying ensemble, the Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band, was equally dexterous with all the nuances of their 1910-30s material. That evening was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for its fantastic conversations about the importance of jazz, the experience of interacting with Allen, and hearing his pure love for the music firsthand. And yes, the director may have slyly come on to me over the course of the night, which my newspaper will never let me live down, but you’ll just have to read the story for that information, won’t you?
1. Pavement, Central Park Summerstage, September 22
The ardent, year-long anticipation for this night proved too much for my feeble mind, and I started speaking in tongues. From the moment Ticketmaster gouged me to the afternoon I rode the subway to Central Park, I spent many conversations rolling around one phrase I’d coined: “I’m Pavementing.” (Look, I didn’t say it was a cool phrase.) These words became synonymous with, in turn, “I’m counting down to a life-affirming show,” “I’m wondering why the band suddenly added 235 gigs ahead of mine,” “I’m a little angry that my night doesn’t seem so special anymore,” “I’m seeing that my ticket has the Craigslist resale value of a week-old tuna sandwich,” and “I’m hyperventilating because screw it, today I’m going to see one of my favorite bands and I don’t even care if bludgeon each other to death onstage and/or don’t play ‘Blue Hawaiian.’”
Pavement played a string of New York dates that week, but the Wednesday night show I attended was special for a few reasons. The most obvious: it was absolutely, nonstop pissing rain on the outdoor arena, and the band had to halt midway due to a lightning scare. Upon the band’s return, singer/Greek statue Stephen Malkmus chided his bone-soaked masses for whimpering about the downpour, and the band continued their solid two-plus hours of catalogue greats. Slanted and Enchanted, Wowee Zowee, Brighten the Corners – they hit all the highlights with no missteps and no new embellishments, just like every ravenously received reunion should be done. Singer/tambourine player/spaz Bob Nastanovich howled through the refrain of “Conduit for Sale” like Pavement’s biggest fan, which he clearly still is, and the group even aired out “Here,” which apparently happens less often than Halley’s Comet.
The crowd may have been resembled wet rats, but they sang along joyously to every poetic word. Under the draped, jewel-toned stage lights, the band was a hazy image, their edges blurred into the raindrops. There were no corners; Pavement was no longer in our past, they were really there, right then. For us.