Best of 2013: Best concerts in NYC

Time Out New York writers single out their most memorable gigs of the year

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Well, that’s a wrap, folks—the year in live music has come and gone. And Time Out New York staffers were there to take in, if not all of it, a nice, wide swath of shows, from snazzy, big-room pop gigs to esoteric improv hangs and cutting-edge indie-pop blowouts. Here, in chronological order, are the ten gigs that moved us most—featuring Nina Nastasia, Paul Motian and Belle and Sebastian. Enjoy, and we’ll see you out there in 2014.

  • Photograph: Alan Nahigian

    A Tribute to Paul Motian

    Symphony Space; Mar 22

    Every mini set was a highlight at this round-robin convocation, which found master improvisers uniting to honor one of the true greats of NYC jazz. Billy Hart and Andrew Cyrille’s thunderous yet sensitive drum duo; the Bad Plus’s craggily exuberant team-up with Ravi Coltrane, Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell; and Masabumi Kikuchi’s specter of a piano solo all embodied Motian’s strange magnetism without mimicking his moves.—Hank Shteamer

  • Photograph: Tom Munro / RCA Records

    Justin Timberlake

    Roseland Ballroom; May 5

    Let’s be honest: J.T. isn’t so spontaneous or suave with the between-songs banter. And that’s the only criticism that could be leveled during what essentially amounted to an intimate tour warm-up show by the natty singer and his hard-swinging 11-piece crew, who rocked the house with a sexy, sweaty mix of big hits and new songs.—Steve Smith

  • Photograph: Anya Rozhdestvenskaya

    Nina Nastasia

    SubCulture, June 14

    Luminaries like Steve Albini and the late John Peel have talked about how great Nina Nastasia is, and the NYC singer-songwriter is often celebrated as a musician who articulates the darker emotions. But she’s also bloody funny. This intimate show in excellent new venue SubCulture found Nastasia playing with a group of longtime friends (including Aimee Mann producer Paul Bryan), who shared ridiculous anecdotes and cracked gags together—while managing to sneak in some terrifically sad songs.—Sophie Harris

  • Photograph: Arno Frugier

    The Walkmen

    McCarren Park; June 15

    This free outdoor gig was billed as the slick-dressed local indie-rock quintet’s last NYC show of 2013—and who knew it could be their last hometown performance ever? (Last month, the outfit shocked the blogosphere by announcing an “extreme hiatus.”) If this is indeed their Gotham swan song—members now also live in Philly and New Orleans—it was a great one, peppered with affecting deep cuts (“138th Street”), horn-enhanced mellowness (“Stranded”) and down-strokey foot-stompers (“In the New Year,” “The Rat”), all delivered with the refined wallop of a band at the top of its game.—Tim Lowery

  • Photograph: Reuben Cox

    Belle and Sebastian

    Celebrate Brooklyn! (at the Prospect Park Bandshell); July 11

    We can’t think of a more perfect setting to bliss out to Scotland’s premier indie-pop outfit than Prospect Park in high summer, complete with fireflies flitting over the crowd and an onstage dance party led by the ever-bouncy Stuart Murdoch.—Jenna Scherer

  • Photograph: Matias Corral

    Ted Leo

    Maxwell’s; July 21

    When the legendary Hoboken venue announced it would close at the end of July, Jersey musicians clamored to book one of the space’s final shows. Punk vet Leo played during the club’s final week, and his heartfelt solo show—full of sing-alongs, Rush covers and remembrances of Maxwell’s gigs past—felt more like a celebration than a eulogy.—Amy Plitt

  • Photograph: Shawn Brackbill

    Julianna Barwick

    Judson Memorial Church; Aug 20

    Back from Iceland with her richest, most beguiling album so far, Nepenthe, Brooklyn looper Barwick brought her electronically enhanced songs and soundscapes to vivid life in a Greenwich Village church, assisted by a fistful of talented friends and neighbors.—Steve Smith

  • Photograph: Scott Irvine

    John Zorn Birthday Celebration

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Sept 28

    As part of the composer-improviser’s year-long 60th-birthday celebration, the Met gave its galleries over to a more than a dozen performances spotlighting John Zorn’s varied output. Unforgettable sound-space pairings included a tender multilingual vocal suite set in a Spanish sculpture garden, a knotty string quartet housed in a re-created 18th-century parlor, and a fiery exchange between Zorn and drummer Milford Graves in the shadow of a towering Jackson Pollock.—Andrew Frisicano

  • Photograph: Stacey Mark

    Blood Orange

    285 Kent Ave; Nov 15

    At this teeny sold-out Brooklyn show, the visionary, multifaceted Devonté Hynes brought his deliciously lush Cupid Deluxe to life with a set list that spanned the entire record in order, complete with funky sax asides and cameos from album guests including Dirty Projectors’ Dave Longstreth, Friends frontwoman (and Hynes’s girlfriend) Samantha Urbani, Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek and Queens rapper Despot.—Marley Lynch

  • Photograph: Rossetti-Phocus

    Milford Graves and Joe Lovano

    The Stone; Dec 6

    Capping an extraordinary year that saw him surveying his five-decade career at the Vision Festival, and dueting with sax titans Evan Parker and John Zorn (see above), wizardly Queens percussionist Milford Graves summoned ecstatic joy and earthy mystery in a head-to-head improv set with passionate multi-reedman Joe Lovano.—Hank Shteamer

Photograph: Alan Nahigian

A Tribute to Paul Motian

Symphony Space; Mar 22

Every mini set was a highlight at this round-robin convocation, which found master improvisers uniting to honor one of the true greats of NYC jazz. Billy Hart and Andrew Cyrille’s thunderous yet sensitive drum duo; the Bad Plus’s craggily exuberant team-up with Ravi Coltrane, Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell; and Masabumi Kikuchi’s specter of a piano solo all embodied Motian’s strange magnetism without mimicking his moves.—Hank Shteamer



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