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Best Of 2004: Live Shows

1. R.E.M. at Madison Square Garden, November 4
2. ELTON JOHN at Radio City Music Hall, July 14
3. MORRISSEY and THE SHINS at The Apollo Theater, May 7
4. DONOVAN at DeBaun Auditorium, Stevens Institute Of Technology, May 2
5. HAMELL ON TRIAL at Fez, August 10
6. THE ALUMINUM GROUP at The Knitting Factory, March 20
7. TRIS MCCALL at Uncle Joe's, March 26
8. LOSER'S LOUNGE TRIBUTE TO DAVID BOWIE at Fez, October 2
9. RYE COALITION and SASHA ALCOTT & THE POSSIBILITIES at Uncle Joe's, April 2
10. CRAYON ROSARY at The Goldhawk, October 17

11. PRINCE at Madison Square Garden, July 13
12. THE ELECTRIC SIX and THE FEVER at Maxwell's, July 16
13. DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE and BEN KWELLER at Irving Plaza, April 7
14. THE HIVES and SAHARA HOTNIGHTS at Irving Plaza, July 21
15. PATTI SMITH at the Hoboken Arts & Music Festival, May 16
16. THE BLUE VAN at Mercury Lounge, September 29
17. TRASHCAN SINATRAS at Maxwell's, December 6
18. CARDINAL WOOLSEY, JOSHUA TYLER and EDWARD ROGERS & GEORGE USHER
at Fez, April 21
19. VELVET REVOLVER at Roseland, May 26
20. THE KILLERS at Bowery Ballroom, August 16

About 32 hours after John Kerry's concession speech, R.E.M. took the stage at the Garden to restore at least a little bit of my faith in humanity. It was my first R.E.M. show since Brendan Byrne in September 1989, a full 15 years, and while Sasha Frere-Jones is right that they did play a bunch of "shitty new songs" that night, the old ones were so good, and the effect of hearing them nailed perfectly so entrancing—combined with the fact that the world felt like it was collapsing into itself in the wake of the election—that it was quite possibly the most religious concertgoing experience of my entire life.

Which is saying a lot, because it's hard to believe anything topped Elton John's symphony orchestra and 88-voice chorus show of mostly old, obscure material (would you believe six songs from 1970's self-titled album, and only three songs from post-1976?) and my first in-person pilgrimage to see the Moz, whose show might have been #1 if he'd played longer than an hour and a half and/or played more than three Smiths tunes.

Lots of old favorites here. Donovan's career retrospective show in Hoboken was so good it should be packaged as a DVD. Punk-folker Hamell On Trial is still the best live one-man show in rock & roll by a lot, The Aluminum Group's voices and charm still enthrall, Jersey rock crusader Tris McCall is one of the indie world's true originals (and he does a mean version of "Working On The Highway"), and the Loser's Lounge is still the coolest cover band on the planet. And then there's Prince, who still is funky, but does too many medleys, and Patti Smith, who is more cornball than punk these days, but still sings her songs with great passion and abandon. Woolsey, Tyler, and Rogers/Usher, from the NYC/Fez/Loser's Lounge mafia, could all go into business as a songwriter's school.

Jersey's own Rye Coalition and Crayon Rosary rock from different ends of the spectrum, and do so equally impressively. Sasha Alcott, The Fever, and BK represent for planet Brooklyn, The Hives and Hotnights for Sweden, and The Blue Van for Denmark. The Killers manage to be band of the year despite a fuck-you-very-much-too-short 45-minute headlining slot at The Bowery. Electric Six, Death Cab, and even Guns N' Pilots show you can still rock in America. Until they outlaw that, anyway.

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