We’ve still got a couple of months before it’s time to avoid Times Square like the plague while ringing in 2014, and yet we’ve already had a year’s worth of memorable musical moments (and then some). Ensemble tributes, controversial hip-hop sets that came up in conversations for weeks afterwards, exciting, hometown debuts and new world records were set all over the place–or, in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ case, atop the Empire State Building–as New York City embraced the good shows as they came over the course of 2013. In no particular order, here’s a glimpse at some of the moments that stood out to us as truly special happenings that could only happen here on the stages–big, small and not even legal, sometimes–of New York City.
Solange at Webster Hall
Before Solange enchanted every single festival crowd from Bonnaroo to Made in America this festival season, she headlined Webster Hall back in February with an intense two-night run that set the tone for a stellar year ahead. True, the EP that gave us “Losing You” and the soundtrack to dance parties forevermore, made a ton of year-end best-of lists when it came out just before the close of 2012. The tracks of True really took off once she hit the road behind it, and the Webster Hall shows were a flawless presentation of a budding anti-diva at work.
Danny Brown/Kitty at Irving Plaza
Not entirely sure how we feel about putting this under the “best moments” category, but what erupted at Irving Plaza when Danny Brown and Kitty Pryde swung through on tour in May kicked off a ton of important conversations about rape culture, boundaries, sexualizing celebrity and where it all went wrong on that particular stage. Shortly after Danny Brown received some, er, oral attention from a concertgoer in Minneapolis, Kitty wrote a piece calling out critics who portrayed Brown as anything but the victim in the situation. Shortly after that, she took to the Irving Plaza stage to riotous chants of “SUCK! HIS! DICK!” which made for an awkward, tense evening and a volley of verbal assaults that Kitty would later shrug off and Brown would ignore.
They Might Be Giants at Celebrate Brooklyn
New York will always be home for They Might Be Giants, given their familial roots there and the amount of time they spent cutting teeth in weird East Village apartments/performance spaces and trying to fit all their gear into a cab to head back to Brooklyn after a set. In August, They Might Be Giants played Celebrate Brooklyn, the outdoor series that’s brought big names to Prospect Park for 35 summers now. Of the acts who rolled through the park this summer, TMBG definitely had the strongest connection to the place, and that was further fortified by the song they’d written for the experience the last time they played it.
Beyoncé at the Barclays Center
Mrs. Carter’s World Tour was more or less a lesson in pop domination as Queen Bey traversed the globe and proved she’s a “Grown Woman” from São Paolo to Sydney and back again. Her three nights at the Barclays Center–which officially concluded the North American leg of the Mrs. Carter show–were sensational, with Beyoncé flying over the crowd with the greatest of ease at one point to land in the middle of it for an acoustic, heartfelt rendition of “Irreplaceable.” Jay-Z popped in for his verse on his beloved’s “Crazy in Love” for the grand finale of her Barclays residency, which is only fitting given the Carters’ connection to Brooklyn’s new landmark for pop culture cool.
Jim James on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon
It’s a bit of a stretch to include late night TV under the umbrella of New York music for our purposes, but The Roots and Fallon have completely revolutionized our expectations for performances on these shows–and hell, they go to work at Rockefeller Center, so there’s the geographic requirement filled. While promoting Regions of Light and Sound of God earlier this year, Jim James stopped by Studio 6B, where a mini orchestra had been assembled and arranged by Questlove to play “A New Life.” What followed was one of the most beautiful, timeless performances the show had ever seen, complete with marching band drums and more strings than we could count. It’s a travesty that it’s no longer available on Hulu, because we’d throw that video on repeat for the rest of our days. (On a related note: Questlove, do you record the Late Night performances? Because a compilation from this alone would be incredible.)
Lucius’ Coming Out Party at the Mercury Lounge
The divine doo-wop-gone-indie stylings of Lucius (winners of a Voice Best Of this year) coalesced into a beautiful, debut full-length record called Wildewoman that dropped this week, but the five-piece with a penchant for identical outfits have been building up this moment for over a year. It was the sold-out as all get-out show at the Mercury Lounge back in January that served as a dimly lit premonition for the band’s success, as it came merely weeks after the Tiny Desk session that jumpstarted their career started circulating like wildfire. They jumped into the crowd for an a capella closer, and with that, we knew it was only a matter of time before these Wildewomen (and men) would be on the national rise.
See also: The Wild Women of Lucius Remain Unique
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs Top the Empire State Building
Apparently, Karen O and Co. are cool with heights, as they climbed (via elevator, duh) up to the most recognizable point in the New York City skyline to shoot the video for “Despair” (video above). The setting was perfect for the homecoming kings and queen of New York indie, and in true, over-the-top YYY fashion, they set a new record with the video for Mosquito‘s second single as it was the first to be filmed atop the Empire State Building.
Yo La Tengo’s Last Stand at Maxwell’s
It’s always a bummer when a venue closes, but the scene was legitimately shocked upon receiving the news of Maxwell’s departure from the local music landscape. The Hoboken rock club was one of great personal significance for Yo La Tengo, who treated its stage as their official home and haunt for the duration of their career to date. Before the venue closed on July 31, Yo La Tengo played one last show at Maxwell’s. Whether or not they’ll continue with the popular Hanukkah shows that had taken place at the storied Hoboken spot remains to be seen, but it’s clear that the club’s legacy will continue to live on in the sentimental strains of the rock outfit.
Life Along the Borderline: John Cale’s Tribute to Nico
The Velvet Underground mastermind and constant collaborator tapped a number of insanely talented friends for a touching tribute to Nico at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in January. Kim Gordon, Sharon Van Etten, Yeasayer, the Magnetic Fields, and Peaches were just a few of the names attached to Life Along the Borderline, making it an intimate affair of epic proportions that beautifully celebrated the art and career of the late performer, muse and Warhol protege.
Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the music of Llewyn Davis
Even if Mumford and Sons gives you hives or if you think nü folk is on the way out, respect needs to be paid when a roomful of the most lauded and respected voices in the industry are all singing because they’re thrilled to be involved with a particular project. The Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, which follows the trials and tribulations encountered while navigating New York City’s folk scene in the ’60s, is scheduled for a December release. In September, a veritable roster of folk heavyweights (Joan Baez, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings) and their contemporary, genre-jumping counterparts (The Avett Brothers, Conor Oberst, and yes, Marcus Mumford) sang selections from the soundtrack, with Elvis Costello subbing in for the songs Justin Timberlake performed in the film.
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