Shout out Hattie Lindert, whom you may know from her Finals blogging or from her work at Pitchfork, for coming through with a buzzer-beater EOY list. Personally I'll say her list gives me something I've been missing in my life: the feeling of being out in NY, experiencing music. Thank you Hattie for bringing me into these moments!
I saw a lot of shows this year, and I saw a lot of them in New York. Some of them were awesome, some of them were mid, and some of them I had to bring my laptop to (my apologies to Matt Ox). Here are my favorites: not necessarily the best, but the ones that will stand out the most for whatever reason when I’m old and gray and still debating Drake eras. Let me prostheletize for a moment and say that this is more interesting!
Drake and 21 Savage @ Barclays Center
Anyone who has spent some time with me eventually finds out that I love Drake, and so Finals Blog readers must know it too! I love Drake, dog mask, questionable airplane conduct, and all. The freedom of getting my license at 16 and a novice obsession with beats are inextricable for me from listening to If You’re Reading This Its Too Late, so it was odd taking the subway to see Drake for the first time at Barclays this summer. But now I was 24, living in New York, and approaching Cancer season with all the stoic moodiness of the Scorpion cover: I had to hit this show! To a wildly green arena show attendee, It’s All A Blur Tour had everything: a random teen girl wondering if I knew where the link was after, a nine-year old from Sweden sitting next to me whose parents excitedly chirped it was his first concert ever (he knocked out before 21 even took the stage), crying adult men, AI Aubrey. It might’ve been a master class in a career-spanning set list if he managed to make it more than halfway through any of his songs. But a minute of “Marvin’s Room” did the trick, and when a giant illuminated sperm floated around the audience it almost felt like a weird dream conjured in the blossoming brain of the European child fast asleep by my side with a soda on his lap. What a setting to feel utterly at home in: turns out I’m as linked to Peter Pan as Drake.
Babyxsosa @ Babys All Right
A Babyxsosa performance in the flesh is a rare occasion, and despite mixed feelings on this venue I popped out and wasn’t disappointed. Veering away from the spare, spiraling demos on her self-titled EP, Sosa sourced audience requests and kept the stream of bangers steady from her favored perch, hunched over a laptop at the back of the stage. Wearing a handmade halter mini strung from holiday baubles, a regular Miami Martha May Whoovier, she rustled when she moved, sometimes even when she laughed. She threw in some Nettspend, which was glorious; at one point, she played a SoundCloud ad. My highlight that night was the squadron of radiant women who hung back with Sosa in their own silent play, kekeing and perfecting little dance moves to spread through the audience. When Sosa opened up their scene to the whole crowd—“I want my fucking girls up here!”— the stage became a whirlwind of pretty, leather on skin, loose waves and tight braids, glinting lip-gloss and piercings and tooth gems and grins and gracefully unbothered hot girl shit that simmered in me, making every errant boyfriend look prime for shipping off.
Mannequin Pussy @ Saint Vitus
I ended the year on a big MP kick, and it turned out to be perfect timing for an end of year show that still eked its way onto the list. This venue smelled terrible, “Drunk II” was better live than I ever could’ve hoped, we all screamed in unison at one point, I was kind of overdressed and not a soul cared. Watching lead singer Missy, I remarked to a coworker that it’s moments like these I realize I’m not built to perform off the page: what happens when you’re tired, or annoyed, or feeling a movie instead, or the song really hurts that day? What if your voice breaks, and you don’t want to go on stage? What if you don’t wanna be strong? I’m not very good at mitigating that stuff—I like to power through or wallow, usually alone— and I think that’s why I love the audience of a show like this in the first place: the beer is cheap and the controlled catharsis, ephemeral and flailing, is priceless. Nobody wants to wake up every day and do every single thing that they have to, and that’s why it’s so dope to scream as crowd surfers rise and fall out of view. Given the atrocities that have been carried out under the guise of religious freedom this winter, it also felt pretty satisfying to holler in unison: “What if Jesus himself ate my fucking snatch?”
Swami Sound/Dazegxd/Gum.mp3 @ Elsewhere Rooftop
Elsewhere’s rooftop is a great place to spend too much money on a really good frozen drink in a sheer top, and an even better one to get your best girls from college down with Swami. The 2023 Eldia Summit was the perfect convergence of daytime bored energy, late afternoon sun, and sliced-up garage and two-step mixes untamed enough to evoke the sensation of being showered with ocean spray (turns out the music is just as effective when you’re bathed in sunbeams in the open air as it is when you’re choking on fog as the train rattles past at Market Hotel). Waving cartoonish weapons to punctuate splices of exhiliratingly recognizable Crazy Frog and Sigur Ros, the Eldia trio delivered on an ideal late-spring afternoon, in part because they were having just as much giddy fun as we were.
Chappell Roan @ Brooklyn Steel
Can a twenty-four year old girl in this day still be an active awaiter of Carti leaks (by some accounts, lowkey over) and also know Chappell Roans “Hot to Go” dance (by other accounts, even more over)? Yes! Like Bob Dylan, I contain multitudes of “over” qualities, and Chappell’s chameleonic alto—not to mention her championship of all things gauche, garish, and glittery—led me to her Brooklyn Steel show dressed for a slumber party, the last strains of the redacted Glee Cast song I had pregamed to ringing in my ears. At each tour stop Chappell recruited local drag queens as openers, and watching them swivel through splits to the tune of an especially horny Kim Petras song in front of a crowd dressed for a sleepover. The confetti may have exploded over the crowd during closing hit “Pink Pony Club” but it really belonged at the end of her rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” a home run from a true paws-up disciple.
Grateful Dead @ Citi Field
Bucket lister of epic proportions for a second-generation Deadhead with a kink for above-ground trains: first Citi Field show, first Dead & Co., and on the last day of my first full-time journalism job. Kismet! Slightly shrooms-addled and completely uninitiated on Drums in Space, I walked into Shakedown Street with one favorite Dead song and left certain I had no idea what a Grateful Dead “song” even was. So my mom (as she reminded me) used to see the Dead with Jerry regularly for free at small outdoor venues. So what! I saw them in a giant concrete baseball stadium that smelled like hot dogs and patchouli and I’ll remember it—especially Bob Weir’s quavery aging vocal on “All Along the Watchtower” and a victory lap “Eyes of the World" — as starry-eyed as she does. Maybe that’s the one blessing of being too young and online to have actually twirled barefoot through those halcyon days: the lemonade out of lemons ended up tasting pretty sweet even when there’s a Gen Xer in your ear telling you it’s piss, comparatively speaking.
PC Music Boat Yeah @ Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises
Esteemed Finals Blog contributor Kieran Press-Reynolds joined me for this one: shoutout KPRblog which you should definitely read. Anyway, it’s not everyday you see Arca, potato salad, and the Statue of Liberty all in one space. But the day came, and both the weather and soundtrack from A.G. Cook (as DJ Warlord), Doss, Umru, and crew were appropriately volatile and chopped. Waterlogged with rain and still a little bit confused about what sigilkore was even after a thorough rundown, I felt really old and twelve all at the same time, yearning for the respective heydays of hearing “Hey QT” in high school and being dry and warm a few hours ago. I should’ve been doing scene journalism, but the black water and sharp, wet air made wandering around our strange little hyperpop boat like the ghosts of a shipwreck feel much more appropriate. The dystopian cruiseship/walled city on water that lumbered past us—the waterslide could have been a rollercoaster—just put a bow on things. The perfect sendoff to the strange chaos that was the collective: I’m sure they’ll all reconnect at Charli XCX’s wedding.
Tim Bernardes @ Le Poisson Rouge
Tim Bernardes was one of my favorite discoveries this year, in large part because I walked into his packed Le Poisson Rouge show not knowing a single song, or even what his voice sounded like. Turns out it's like silt, weighty and soft, enveloping you in a cloud without drowning out the multi-instrumentalists lilting compositions. My date and I sat at a candlelit table next to two other pairs, and if the environment hadn’t felt so peacefully still, I might’ve recalled a scene from Goodfellas. Things amped up a little bit once Bernardes shyly smiled through the announcement that he’d have to finish up soon, and mesmerized fans realized they only had so many moments left to hear their favorite. Having entered without one, I left taken with the 2022 cut “A Balada de Tim Bernardes,” a ballad of time passing that grows into a definitive ode to singing: in the shower, on the subway, for plenty of lovers and presumably some lonely hearts on Bleecker Street. Although Bernardes says he have to leave, he’d fit right in with the rest of us. When he slides up to a higher register in the chorus, you can almost see him swinging on a streetlight like Gene Kelly.
Veeze @ Gramercy Theater
This was the sold-out opener of Veeze’s first national tour off a debut that had been bubbling for years, and you couldn’t dampen the buzzing vibe if you tried. Veeze is Michigan to the core but this show still took on qualities of a big homecoming in a small town, bustling but locked in; the raised auditorium seating even looked a bit like bleachers. But this wasn’t some high school D-III game, this was the real thing, and from the line around the block to the perfect lyric recitations from the crowd, having a good time didn’t mean not taking the moment serious. Hearing “Safe 2,” one of my favorite rap songs of the year, live in stereo surrounded by a healthy mix of critics and fans– and for one of the first times, feeling somewhere in between the two–felt like my own milestone, one I was more than happy to celebrate with an artist whose 2023 was laden with them.