I don’t hate him, I promise. I just hate this album.
I guess this is what you’d call a good problem, but going to live shows can get pretty boring sometimes when it’s your job. 2006 is the first full calendar year I’ve spent doing Status Ain’t Hood, and I’ve seen hundreds of bands, dealt with shitty door guys at tons of clubs, and blown off more than a few shows just because I didn’t feel like going that night. I’ve gone to see the Secret Machines and Mates of State, bands I like, at the Virgin Megastore because that’s less of a time-commitment than going to see them at clubs. Interesting trainwrecks, like the time M.O.P. let all their friends take over the S.O.B.’s stage, are just fine, since I know I’ll have fun writing about them. But shows like Stereolab’s snoozy Town Hall show are just the worst; they aren’t good or bad enough to be interesting at all. Reviewing shows can start to feel like a job when it actually is your job, and so I’m especially grateful for the few shows that really snap me out of my stupor and make me feel lucky to be there. Here are my ten favorite shows from this year:
1. Jay-Z at Radio City Music Hall, 6/26/16. Nobody knew quite what to expect from this Reasonable Doubt tenth anniversary show. Jay had said that he’d be doing the entire album and that ?uestlove would be the musical director, but that was it. So there was an audible gasp at Radio City when the curtain came up on a fifty-piece orchestra sitting in neat rows on the stage’s polished floor. Jay came out in a white 1996 Lexus and did the the album backwards, starting with “Regrets” and building to a triumphant “Can’t Knock the Hustle” with Beyonce subbing in for Mary J. Blige and somehow outsinging her. Every second of the show was painstakingly planned-out, of course; when the crowd filed into the room, every seat had a gift bag sitting on it. But Jay still maintained a certain level of suspense; no one knew, for example, that he’d be premiering “44 Fours.” The whole night, he controlled the entire stage with a sort of old-school Hollywood elan that I’ve never seen any performer come close to equalling. The music on Reasonable Doubt is perfect for that sort of schmaltzed-up setting, too; the album’s cinematic glimmer practically demands strings and horns. If DMX manages to do the same thing to It’s Dark and Hell is Hot in two years, I’ll die happy. (He won’t, but whatever.)
2. Sleater-Kinney at Webster Hall, 8/2/06. I’ve seen Sleater-Kinney maybe six or seven times, and every show has been spectacularly visceral. Even headlining festivals, they always felt like a punk band, with all the rushing immediacy and anti-star charisma that that term implies. But they also didn’t sound out of their depth covering “White Rabbit” or “More Than a Feeling” or Danzig’s “Mother.” Corin Tucker would yowl like she had a throat full of blood, Carrie Brownstein would gallop around the stage like Pete Townshend, and Janet Weiss would stay unflappable the whole time. Every show was climactic, and that effect was almost unbearable jacked up at this show because everyone in the room knew it would be the last time they’d be seeing Sleater-Kinney, who only played a couple more shows before going on indefinite hiatus. It was hot inside Webster Hall that night, hot enough that the floor was slick with sweat. And we all danced harder because that sweat just meant that we were all irrefutably there. I wish Sleater-Kinney wasn’t going away, but they definitely went out on the highest of notes.
3. T.I. at the Apollo Theatre, 6/1/06. T.I. premiered the posse-cut remix of “Top Back” a couple of months ago at the BET Hip-Hop Awards, and it was fun watching all the Grand Hustle dudes run out and seize their quick spotlight moments. But T.I. started the song himself, descending a staircase and holding a huge stage by himself, pacing back and forth and snarling like a demon for one verse before his backup guys started crowding up the stage. T.I. can do that. King sounds bigger than any album of the year; those megaton bass-churns and regal synth crescendos would swallow up almost any other rapper, but T.I. made them his own because he sounded like he belonged on top of them. Hearing those songs blasted over an enormous sound system in a threatre full of screaming teenagers was one of the purest, deepest musical thrills I felt all year. At Summer Jam a couple of days later, the soundman cut T.I.’s mic just as “What You Know” was starting, and the crowd chanted the chorus as one anyway. Here, we didn’t need to; nobody was ever going to cut him off.
4. Cat Power at Town Hall, 6/10/06. I’ve suffered through a couple of stereotypical Cat Power shows, the ones where Chan Marshall mumbles into nowhere and hides behind her hair and generally gives the impression that she’s about to melt down completely. It’s not a fun experience, and I certainly never wanted to repeat it. So it was deeply gratifying to see Marshall finally enjoying herself onstage, smiling and dancing and bantering with her band like she’d never run crying out of one of her own shows. Her voice sounded incredible, warm and heavy and damp, and her band did sweltering Memphis soul a lot better than it did on her too-polished new album. But the real joy here was in seeing learn to stop worrying and love the stage, a rare story of triumph.
5. Boredoms at Webster Hall, 7/2/06. The Boredoms only really played one song onstage that night before coming back for encores, but that one towering drum-symphony contained multitudes. At this stage, the band is just Eye Yamataka and three drummers, and the noise they make is a roiling, sustained peak that slithers in and out of phrases and motifs and genres, sometimes locking into a mutant-disco pulse for a few minutes or devolving into a berserk cascade of noise. When it gets going, that noise feels like it could swallow you whole.
6. TV on the Radio at Prospect Park Bandshell, 6/30/06. TVOTR reaches for transcendence the same way the Boredoms do, but they do it without ever stepping too far out of a trad-rock context, their scratchy, gurgling riffs sound like the ghosts of old-school arena-rock going all out for revenge. This free outdoor Brooklyn show felt like a victory celebration: thousands of people showing up to get drunk and see old friends and pay tribute to the one band in the city that feels like it’s about to tear music apart and then rebuild it.
7. Rancid at BB King Blues Club, 8/25/06. So Zach Baron and I have a little mini-tradition going where we get drunk and mosh up anytime a punk band we loved in high school comes to town. We did it when Avail came to town. We did it when NOFX came to town. Zach was on vacation when Pennywise came to town (and plus he hates them), so I did it by myself. All of those shows (except Pennywise) were a lot of fun, but none of them was better than Rancid, the band that pretty much saved my life in 9th grade. They’re somehow still alive and well after going through drama that would’ve broken up any other band ten times over, and every one of their songs is a singalong anthem built for the kind of packed-tight club that BB King’s was that night. And they did Operation Ivy songs, something I’d always wanted to see them do.
8. Gogol Bordello at Warsaw, 4/12/06. I guess this happens at every Gogol Bordello show, but I’d never seen it before. The band has this one girl who plays a marching-band bass-drum, and late in the set, she threw it out into the crowd. The crowd held up up, so she leapt out onto it, straddling this drum and banging on it while a sea of hands held her up. And then Eugene Hutz, the band’s frontman, jumped out to join her on the drum. Both Hutz and this girl were basically risking their necks for this grand visual, and it was totally worth it; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone in a band pull off such a breathtaking stunt. But here’s the thing: Gogol Bordello’s set of spazzed-up catholic gypsy-core would’ve made this list even if they hadn’t tried it. This band does supercharged revelry so well that I don’t even remember what their music sounded like except that it sounded pretty good.
9. Clipse at the Knitting Factory, 3/3/06. I don’t know what Malice and Pusha T were expecting going into this show, the first time anyone had booked them to step out on a stage in a couple of years. But judging by their reactions, they weren’t expecting to see a dangerously packed club full of people who knew every word to their mixtape freestyles. Maybe that’s what inspired them to put on one of the most fervent, energetic rap shows I’ve seen in years. Or maybe they would’ve done that anyway.
10. Hot Chip at Webster Hall, 11/2/06. I pretty much only went to this show because it was CMJ and other people were covering all the more interesting shows that night. I’d listened to Hot Chip’s album a couple of times, and it sounded like thin and bloodless synthpop poisoned by its smirky irony. But onstage, the band is a full-blooded riot, all ugly clothes and flailing percussion and heartbroken falsetto. I can’t believe I ever thought they were joking. Since then, The Warning has stayed in heavy rotation. It’s funny how these things work out sometimes.
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