The 100-plus shows I saw this year spanned from the Cake Shop to Radio City Music Hall, from Williamsburg block parties to Michael Bolton’s house in Connecticut, the events that occurred therein all furtively documented on an iPhone notepad and sometimes captured via relentlessly amateurish photography. The best were a mix of usual suspects and total surprises, current hitmakers and reconstructed old-timers, all hitting whatever stage with some combination of joy, ferocity, indifference, disdain, and messianic grandeur. Here are the 10 that made my imminent hearing loss seem nonetheless somehow totally worth it.
Madison Square Garden
Wednesday, January 20
Given that nearly everything was sung in, you know, Spanish, I perhaps missed some of the nuance here, at the Bronx bachata group’s first of four packed MSG shows, but the main idea still got through: These guys are huge, and hugely entertaining, 10,000 or so screaming ladies thrilling to the grinning, lascivious exploits of one of the few men on earth called Romeo who deserve the name. Bonus points for an almost unbearably intense Marc Anthony cameo.
Monday, September 13
Speaking of intense cameos — Kanye! Nicki! Drake! Dr. Dre! Beyoncé! Chris Martin! (!!!?) This was as ludicrous and overblown and fantastic as you might’ve imagined, Eminem’s near-violent aggression contrasting nicely with Jay’s unflappable nonchalance — he pretty much started his set by bringing out Kanye (“Monster”! “Power”!), but refused to be upstaged. Such a poignant moment, too, to have the guy from Coldplay sing the hook to “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)” in the birthplace of hip-hop.
East River State Park
Sunday, September 19
Too much got written about them, they took forever to get here, they played too many shows elsewhere beforehand (which helped make tickets essentially useless for scalping purposes), and later in the week, when they moved over to Central Park, the weather did not always cooperate. And yet the joy was palpable all through Pavement Week, from the first strains of “Cut Your Hair” onward: The ultimate indie-goes-mainstream We Did It moment in a year full of ’em. Oh, and all hail Bob Nastanovich.
Public Image Ltd.
Music Hall of Williamsburg
Wednesday, May 19
“If you spit at me again, I will macerate your fucking face,” noted Johnny Rotten to an overzealous fan. “You are at the wrong gig at the wrong time, asshole!” Thus began a gold-medal stage-banter affair, Johnny weighing in on everything from the Pope (“To the question, ‘Is the Pope a Nazi?’ Answer: yes! The Pope was a Nazi!”) to the lighting situation (“Turn those fucking lights down, you idiot!”) to current events (“Do not be media manipulated, you daft donkey. Save it for Sarah Palinnnnnnn and the Tea Party chimpanzees.”) In between rants, PiL deigned to play some songs, featuring bass frequencies seemingly designed explicitly to kill you.
Brooklyn Masonic Temple
Friday, October 8
Michael Gira, by contrast, hardly said anything in his time onstage and was roughly 10,000 times more menacing: “Is this fun? I’m having fun” from his lips is like a death sentence. The best of a string of pulverizingly loud 2010 shows here in the Loudest Venue in NYC (no disrespect to Sleep or Boris, of course), Swans’ live resurrection was cathartic and brutal and bizarrely purifying, climaxing with the psychotic tumult of “Beautiful Child” — “THIS IS MY ONLY REGRET/THAT I EVER WAS BORN/THIS IS MMMYYYYYY SACRIFICE,” etc. I dare you to spit on that guy.
Thursday, May 20
The full-crowd shout-along euphoria that slowly escalated as “All My Friends” gathered momentum across 10 minutes or so was something to behold, a fitting climax to the coronation of New York City’s best live band (just forget the L.A. thing), the neurotic and self-lacerating jams off this year’s This Is Happening recast as stadium-worthy anthems, the urban loathing of “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” transformed into another shout-along tribute to the only city anyone here would ever want to live in. And then we sang along to a few bars of “Empire State of Mind,” for good measure. Let’s hear it for NEW YOOOORK, NEW YOOORK, NEW YOORRRRK.
Sunday, May 30
There was a glorious moment there, deep into Memorial Day Weekend, at the first Sunday Best party of the year, with a full crowd dancing amid summer foliage and beneath a glittering disco ball, little kids playing in the bocce ball court, cheerful dudes in LCD Soundsystem T-shirts cheerfully scarfing down tacos, and Michael Mayer blasting Caribou’s “Sun” over all our heads, when you realized it was going to be like this all summer, right at this spot every weekend along the lovely Gowanus Canal. And then, a few days later, the place got shut down. Sunday Best survived, and so did we, but still, damn.
Monday, August 2
And thus did the outdoor-show balance of power shift to Brooklyn’s Wingate Field, home to free, jam-packed Monday-night shows of a notably old-school bent, though Salt-N-Pepa looked vivacious as ever when the time came once again to “Push It.” Due to their evolving religious inclinations they’re not talking about sex quite so often these days, and yet, packaged with Slick Rick and Naughty by Nature (“My baby mama and ‘nem up next,” notes Treach, diplomatically), the ladies’ nostalgic powers were undeniable, their wisdom absolute. We were advised, during “Whatta Man,” to seek out sanitation workers for potential partners (“They get benefits, they get good checks”), and suddenly nothing could have been more logical. Marty Markowitz approves.
Faith No More
East River State Park
Monday, July 5
The first guy we tried to get to cover this refused, because he planned to mosh the whole time and didn’t want to actually have to remember anything. That was probably the right approach to take, but “Midlife Crisis” is still pretty hard to forget. Jesus.
Michael Bolton’s House
Wednesday, March 10
Though Michael did not technically perform, and instead just hosted a bunch of nosy journalists at his actual house in Connecticut — fed them some cheese, told a few old war stories, played a few jams from his new album, etc. — this evening remains very special to me.