[The Beat, 1/4/02] Top 10 Concerts of 2001
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., January 4, 2002) – To save myself and loyal readers from boredom ensuing from the inevitable -- and to give other deserving artists a fair chance at the top prize -- I’m disqualifying Bob Dylan from the running for the top concerts of the past year, even though his November 24 show at the Fleet Center in Boston was one of his best ever. Let’s justify the omission by limiting those eligible for this year’s list to those who performed in the greater Berkshire region.

1. Everton Sylvester and Searching for Banjo (Mass MoCA, January 16): Spoken-word artist Everton Sylvester buries so much rhythm and evocative sound in his witty, inventive poems that they need no conventional melodies to exist as songs. Besides, he has the burnished voice of a jazz singer anyway. His woodwind-bass-drum trio’s blend of hip-noir jazz is the perfect compliment to Sylvester’s snapshots of life in New York and Jamaica. His show a year ago at Mass MoCA left this listener questioning all conventional notions of pop music performance, which is what any and every great performance should but few ever achieve.

2. Jess Klein (Club Helsinki, March 22): Jess Klein’s show fronting her three-piece folk-rock band at Club Helsinki last March was frightening in its intensity, one of those shows where after the end of each song audience members look at each other dazed as if to say, “Am I only dreaming, or am I really experiencing what I think I am?,” which in this case meant the birth of nothing less than the next Sheryl Crow (or Aretha Franklin, Chrissie Hynde, Dusty Springfield or Stevie Nicks, take your pick). Klein has the focus, the presence and the talent – the only question remaining is if those working with her are able to take her to the next level in a business that only knows how to churn out pop stars, not develop artists.

3. Pete Seeger/The Mammals/Jay Ungar and Molly Mason (Mahaiwe Theatre, June 12): It was great to see the Mahaiwe packed to the gills once again with a crowd enjoying music of the people, and who better to pack them in than Pete Seeger, who proved he’s as much a vital performer to this day as a folk legend. Ungar and Mason proved that folk could be elegant, too, in a show that was as much about passing the torch, in this case to the Mammals, featuring the spawn of Seeger and Ungar among others, who proved that the tradition will live on in excellent hands.

4. Erin McKeown (Club Helsinki, July 26): At only about a third of his age, Erin McKeown seems to have absorbed as much of American roots music as Bob Dylan, and it all came out in a show that had her playing swing-jazz guitar like John Pizzarelli, playing folk-funk like Ani DiFranco, boogieing like John Lee Hooker, but mostly tying it all together into a fascinating whole new style of her own incredibly talented invention.

5. Fred Eaglesmith (Club Helsinki, March 30): The Canadian Jimmy Buffett, with an incredibly loyal fan base of “FredHeads,” played rollicking, ironic portraits of life on the other side of town.

6. Larry Coryell (Rave Review, Searles Castle, May 12): There’s nothing like a musician at the peak of his game, and Larry Coryell seemingly breezed his way through a set of standards ranging from Ellington to George Harrison that had little to do with guitar or melody as we know it and everything to do with pure musical improvisation.

7. Andy Statman (Spencertown Academy, Spencertown, N.Y., Nov. 17): One of the greatest living klezmer clarinetists and bluegrass mandolinists drew on both genres in a concert that used Hasidic prayer melodies as departure points for ecstatic, soulful transcendence.

8. Living Daylights (Club Helsinki, April 19): The trio played pan-global jazz with one foot in the 1960s, referencing John Coltrane, and the other in the 21st century, with state-of-the-art electrobeats.

9. Lucy Kaplansky (Club Helsinki, January 4): This one-time psychologist doesn’t get angry, she gets even, in pop-influenced folk songs that don’t mince words and with a sultry sneer that cuts to the marrow.

10. John Scofield (Club Helsinki, June 27): As one of the pioneers of the sort of jazz-rock fusion that gave birth to the whole jam-band phenomenon, guitarist John Scofield has a lot to answer for. And he did, backed by a trio of young players making groove-based funk full of rare wit, personality and surprise.

Also worthy of mention were concerts by Arlo Guthrie, RIG (Tao Rodriguez-Seeger, Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion), Klezamir and Northern Lights at the Guthrie Center in Housatonic, David Krakauer’s Klezmer Madness at Hevreh, Deb Pasternak, Gary Lucas, J Bender, Hamiet Bluiett, Olu Dara, Pharaoh’s Daughter, Graham Parker, Steve Forbert and Tom Tom Club at Club Helsinki, James Taylor, Ahmad Jamal and Sonny Rollins at Tanglewood, and Bill Morrissey at the Pittsfield FolkFest at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield.
Oh yeah, and Bob Dylan at the Fleet Center in Boston.

Concert Watch

The first weekend of the new year kicks off tonight at Club Helsinki with the return of Boston guitarist Johnny A, who formerly backed Peter Wolf of J Geils Band fame. Tomorrow night, Helsinki features a rare local appearance by long-time Berkshire favorites Xavier.

Locals also will take the stage at Helsinki next Thursday, when the all-star collective of new Berkshire talent called M.O.B. (Musicians of the Berkshires), featuring Meg Hutchinson, Robby Baier, Adam Michael Rothberg and new duo Eric (Underwood) and Eladia – most of whom have new CDs about to be released – holds forth.

Local blues-rockers Catfish Blue also have a new album out, and the group will be playing songs from the excellent “Carrera Targa” tonight at the West Main Restaurant in Lakeville, Conn., and tomorrow night at LaCocina in Pittsfield.

Newgrass banjo pioneer Tony Trischka is at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., tonight, and at the Colony Café in Woodstock, N.Y., tomorrow night.

Over in Northampton, Livingston Taylor begins a two-night stand tonight at the Iron Horse, with Norah Jones opening both shows. Husband-and-wife country-rock duo Buddy and Julie Miller follow James’s younger brother at the Horse on Sunday night. Eastern Mass.-based folk-rocker Lori McKenna will warm up the crowd for the Millers.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on Jan. 4, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

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