2023: Leif Zurmuhlen’s Year in Photos

The year 2023: Octogenarian rockers the Rolling Stones are still battling it out on the charts against a cyborg version of he Beatles while 2024 looms with the dreaded promise of a presidential rematch between 81-year-old Joe Biden and 78 year-old-Donald Trump. Sometimes it feels like we’re living in the past, but we’re never too old to rock ‘n’ roll!

I’m just a wee bit younger than these cats who are clogging up our creaky, calcified culture, and I was lucky enough to get out and cover a cornucopia of curious concerts with artists both old and new this past year at various fabulous local venues.  

Oh the sights I have seen!

Drummers dressed only in briefs or electrical tape; a taxidermied ram’s head onstage acting as a band’s spirit animal; a work-gloved percussionist armed with hammers banging out a beat on an empty automobile gas tank and springs; and groups hailing from locations from Toronto to Tokyo and points in between. Plus an eye-popping, ear-pleasing assortment of talented local acts … thankfully, I took a few photos.

2023 kicked off just right with a bang and a clang, and the clatter of crazed junkyard blues, when Jon Spencer and the Hitmakers spat hellfire and brought a glorious noise onto the stage at the lovely Lark Hall in Albany. Opener Bloodshot Bill was a ferocious one-man band who was rarely without a beer in his hand.

Get Zep! (the powerhouse combo of Troy’s Super 400 plus golden-throated vocalist Sean Matthew Whiteford) thundered through Zeppelin II while a slippery snowstorm swirled outside the Spanish castle magic of Colony Woodstock.

Saratoga’s cozy Caffe Lena played host to the sensational songstress Sunny War, a former busking troubadour gifted with a nimble finger-style guitar technique and potent poetry.

Troy’s trusty roadhouse the Hangar on the Hudson got twitchy with Ichi Bons, a twangy triad from Toronto. Lively locals the Everly Hillbillies shook, rattled and rolled. The John Doe Folk Trio proved that folk can be punk with driving versions of X songs along with bracing selections from Doe’s fine solo catalog. 

Lifelong rockers Tommy Stinson (solo) and Jesse Malin (with band) brought solid sound to Albany’s Empire Underground in a rocking show with a punky heart in March. (Less than two months after this dynamic performance, Jesse Malin suffered a devastating rare spinal stroke that has left him paralyzed from the waist down. Malin has said, “I try hard to keep my sense of humor, community and always find a way to dance through the flames”. You can contribute to a fund for Jesse’s recovery at  https://www.sweetrelief.org/jessemalinfund.html.)

Also at Empire Underground, local bluesy hard rockers the Hard Luck Souls opened strong with heavy riffs for a glitzy night featuring sinister dark romantic sounds from The Haunt and spooky, sexy glam rock from Starbenders.

When she wasn’t rocking out as a member of local favorites Candy Ambulance, Barbie Barker was captivating audiences with her arresting solo performances. Producer Ned Danison and I collaborated on a music video for her song “C.”  Watch the video here:

No Fun in Troy just keeps booking great, diverse acts. Woodstock’s The Bobby Lees were bruising, brutal and beautiful. Pennsylvania’s Ma’am crowded the stage with their “country junk/trashicana/punk rock-meets-country mixed with rock ‘n’ roll mixed with all the American good stuff.” Kingston’s Dogboy (Jordan Roque) delivered a polished and promising first live show.

No Fun also brought Ichi Bons back to the area, this time with St. Petersburg, Russia’s Messer Chups serving up a smorgasbord of surf, rockabilly, twang and rock ‘n’ roll with pin-up style.  Albany’s own Jagaloons got the joint jigglin’ and janglin’.

No Fun again! Local surprise the Abysmals got groovy followed by NYC rockers Sit and Spin and the delightfully rocking from Japan.

Alive at Five’s Rock Night was sponsored by Nippertown, with Moriah Formica and Plush heating up an already sweltering day at Albany’s Jennings Landing, preceded by Troy rockers Super 400 who kept it cool with fine originals such as “Honey + Coffee.” Nipper was there, guarding the drum kit and listening in. Watch the live performance video of that song here: (Nippertown photographer Dakota Gilbert joins the band for a minute at 3:10).

Jazz warrior goddess Connie Han and band transformed Saratoga’s Universal Preservation Hall into a sonic temple for her killer style and kinetic control of the keyboard. Local powerhouse Margo Macero rocked the crowd, who then rolled with laughter at the stand-up comedy of Paul Reiser.

Family Tree took a family trip to perform an outdoor show at Troy’s Ryan’s Wake for Wake Up Wednesday, showcasing a bounty of local talented guest stars. (Family Tree performs for free every Monday from 7-9 p.m. at Putnam Place in Saratoga.)

Historic Mabee Farm in  Rotterdam Junction hosted the heavenly harmonies of the Hold on Honeys as part of its Howlin’ at the Moon summer concert series. Everest Rising handily held down the opening slot for each of the season’s shows.

Saugerties’ sculptural spectacle Opus 40 was the setting for an impassioned performance by cellist Helen Gillet followed by the dark carnival magic conjured up by Dust Bowl Faeries.

Albany’s Empire Live was the place to be for a show overstuffed with heaping helpings of heavy rock: Starcrawler shocked and awed, The Record Company kept the room bouncing, and Rival Sons tore the place up with stinging guitar and titanic vocals.

Ned Danison and I got together again in the late summer to create a music video with Super 400 (with special guest star Nippertown contributing writer Ellie Everywhere) for their song  “You are my Light.” Watch the video here

The second annual Nipperfest claimed a perfect summer day in Schenectady’s Central Park to celebrate music of the 518 all day and into the evening, with 17 local acts alternating between the Music Haven stage and the Pines Stage, plus an arts pavilion and food trucks galore.  Performances by Sofia Corts, Deb Cavanaugh, Rhoseway, Jimi W, Lucas Garrett, Barbie Barker, Camtron5000, Carolyn Shapiro, Angelina Valente, Hold on Honeys, Margo Macero, The E-Block, Short Wave Radio Band, The Sugar Hold, The Brule County Bad Boys, Precious Metals, and Jocelyn and Chris kept the park popping into the night.

The Egg in Albany served as an ovoid time machine bringing back the ‘80s with a doubleheader of Psychedelic Furs and Squeeze, a blast from the past of hit after hit from two bands that still serve it up fresh. (Mars Williams, so splendid on the sax with the Furs at this September show, sadly passed away after a yearlong battle with cancer in November.)  And autumn brought ex-Police guitar-man Andy Summers freely soloing while a presentation of his life’s work in photography was projected on the screen behind him. Esteemed Nippertown reviewer Mark Hudson toasted the new policy at The Egg that now allows you to bring your drink to your seat.

Day one of 2023’s Fresh Grass Festival at MASS MoCA brought the bluegrass and much more: Becky Buller Band satisfied my banjo ones; sibling-led The Wildmans mixed in country, rock and bluegrass; rising star Allison Russell (whose song “Eve Was Black” was just voted a song of the year by the New York Times) delivered gorgeous music with a strong message; force of nature Sierra Ferrell held the crowd in the palm of her hand; and The Devil Makes Three sent everyone dancing home happily.

The historic Troy Savings Bank Music Hall played host to the clever pairing of Lyle Lovett and Chris Isaak – two seasoned songwriting stylists who served up an evening of swapping songs and stories that swung from sweet to silly to sincere. A charming evening.

Be it old or new, live music can be a tonic for the weary soul. Visit these and other fine venues in our area and catch some shows in the new year. Many young bands coming up are having difficulty supporting themselves and/or touring. Streaming certainly doesn’t pay the bills and some are finding touring to be unsustainable. Support new music. Support live music. Support local music. Visit the merch table. Go see a band you’ve never heard of. You might be happily surprised — I constantly am.

Happy New Year!

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