PRINT December 2003

Music: Best of 2003

Ben Ratliff


1. Sonic Youth (Irving Plaza, New York, Nov. 29, 2002) PS to last year’s list: Succinct and complex, with all the iconic poses, sounds, and gestures in top form and gooniness at a minimum. A great rock band—then and forever.

2. Nancy Wilson (Alice Tully Hall, New York, Jan. 13) A real warrior of pop, or jazz, or whatever. One minute she’s delivering middlebrow standards, the next she drowns you in radical subdivisions of a single vowel.

3. Johnny Paycheck tribute (Elbo Room, San Francisco, Mar. 19) You can go through life without noticing the cult of Paycheck, and then . . .

4. Allman Brothers (Beacon Theater, New York, Mar. 22) Derek Trucks’s clawlike picking was close to perfect.

5. White Stripes/Loretta Lynn (Hammerstein Ballroom, New York, Apr. 19) Loretta walked through a short set; the Stripes played piercing, high-concept miniatures brimming with a sense of occasion.

6. Bill McHenry Group (Village Vanguard, New York, June 26) The young jazz saxophonist whooped it up, valorizing and demolishing standards at once.

7. Neil Young (Bonnaroo Music Festival, Manchester, TN, June 13) When you’re among 80,000 people on a farm under a full moon and Neil is beaming thirty years’ worth of gnarled, dense, expensively amped craftsmanship in your face, you start thinking seriously about who might be at his level among American artists of any kind.

8. Café Tacuba (Bowery Ballroom, New York, Aug. 5) Mexico’s best mix of satiric perversity and happy pop pleasure.

9. Pelican (Knitting Factory, New York, Aug. 22) The new college heavy metal: Swans plus Black Sabbath plus Glenn Branca plus Hüsker Dü.

10. Pharoah Sanders and Kenny Garrett Quintet (Blue Note, New York, Sept. 9) Every once in a while, a famous older jazz musician reminds you why people made a fuss of him in the first place. So it was when Sanders played the very hollering, gutbucket, free jazz, Turner-sunset music that made Coltrane a believer.