Looking through a 2022 glass brightly

Looking through a 2022 glass brightly

At the start of the year, masks and/or proof of vaccination were the norm when attending a concert. Then, just like that, everything seemed to channel former president Warren G. Harding and return to normalcy. But the abrupt switch from COVID-related precautions moving from mandatory and venue-enforced to optional and on the part of the concertgoer wasn’t the only interesting story in 2022. Here’s a musical trip through the year.

A topic of discussion during the height of the pandemic was whether or not concert audiences would return. The answer to that was resoundingly in the affirmative. Whether it was a packed Palace Theatre in February for the Wood Brothers, a sold-out Coheed and Cambria show at Empire Live in March or back-to-back capacity crowds for Luke Combs at MVP Arena, folks indeed turned out in force. But it wasn’t just major national acts at larger venues that drew audiences. Last month, Eastbound Jesus filled Putnam Place for a two-set show and No Fun in Troy hosted a slew of well-attended live events. But just as important as the attendance is the enthusiasm. This year featured some of the most consistently engaged and energetic crowds and performers I’ve ever seen. 

Merch sells…and everyone is buying.

One of my favorite things to do at concerts is scope out the merch table. You can tell a lot about a show. For instance, hard rockers Soraia opened for Joan Jett back in April and it was apparent that set went over well, as folks were buying albums and stopping for pics with the singer ZouZou Mansour for close to an hour after the band’s set ended. Some bands’ merch stands (Dead and Company and Slipknot spring to mind)  seemed engineered to sell plenty of T-shirts or event-specific posters. This year, merch prices were higher than I’ve ever seen before. But whereas it seemed like people used to grumble over artists price-gouging for swag, this year $30 single-LP albums, $40 T-shirts and $50 12×18 concert posters were being snatched up without hesitation. Whether it was Greta Van Fleet at MVP Arena, Robert Plant and Alison Kraus at SPAC, ZZ Top at the Palace or beabadoobee at Empire Live, merch lines were long and stayed that way through most of their respective evenings. Even the dude selling bootleg Judas Priest shirts had a crowd around him for a long time after the metal gods came to town in October. At $20 a pop, his “50 Heavy Metal Years” shirt was one of the best bargains of the year and fits great.

There were some hip-hop shows again.

Good news, bad news here for hip-hop heads. First, the good: after last year’s lack of rap shows, there were several that took place in 2022. Alive at Five and the Empire Plaza hosted Talib Kweli and Melle Mel and Sugarhill Gang, respectively. SPAC’s wasn’t the best (Logic), but it was the first hip-hop show to take place there since 2019. Both Putnam Place and No Fun booked multiple rap shows featuring killer local MCs like Sime Gezus, Rhakim Ali, Mic Lanny and Clear Mind. These shows provided needed outlets and opportunities for talents in one of the most creatively fertile genres in our music scene. Now the bad: Albany venues need to step it up. Aside from Freedom Stratton and B. Chaps’ Tulip Fest slot and Ohzhe’s spot in support of Kweli, there weren’t really any opportunities to experience area rappers to practice their craft in the capital city. Going forward, let’s hope that changes, as there is more than enough talent and audience interest for Albany-based rap shows.

The Best of the Best

It wouldn’t be an end-of-the-year column without an arbitrary best-of list. That being said, here are my top 3 popular music concerts from 2022: 
1. Aretha Franklin tribute show at Troy Music Hall, Feb. 20 – Organized and conducted by Franklin’s former piano and organ player Damien Sneed and featuring legendary songwriter and vocalist Valerie Simpson amid a roster of truly exceptional singers, the two-hour performance was a glorious, life-affirming tribute to the Queen of Soul. 
2. Boulevards at the Hangar on the Hudson, June 19 – If you weren’t one of the dozen or so people to see singer Boulevards at the Hangar, you missed out on a charismatic entertainer and his super-tight band throw down a funk workout of monstrous proportions. 
3. Valerie June at Universal Preservation Hall, November 12 – An enchanting set from one of roots music’s most unique voices and personalities.

Looking ahead 

The 2023 concert season is slowly developing. As of right now, these are a few of the shows that have my curiosity piqued: 
Lurrie Bell at the Linda, January 28 – The son of Muddy Waters’ mouth harp player, Bell is a Chicago blues guitar legend who’s overcome a spate of personal difficulties to record a new album and get back out on tour. He’s still a helluva guitarist and this is a chance to witness one of the blues’ unsung heroes in action. 
Sunny War at Caffe Lena, March 4 – Folk-punk artist Sunny War offers up a mesmerizing amalgam of the American musical tradition. If her Tiny Desk concert from a couple years ago is any indicator, a performance at an intimate venue like Caffe Lena has the potential for a memorable evening. 
Anvil at Empire Underground, April 6 – The Canadian metal act never made it big, but inspired Metallica and a host of other legendary thrash bands. The highly entertaining 2008 doc “The Story of Anvil” helped bring the band out of the depths of obscurity and enabled them to make a good living as musicians. This should be a blast.