Friday, 4 January 2013

1st New York Anniversary

I moved to New York on the 4th of January 2012 (and made a post about it a few days later), it has been a memorable 12 months to say the least (some good, some bad). 

It's equally embarrassing and endearing to think about how nervous I was on first arriving (I had never even visited New York before), for the first week we would make sure we were back in the apartment not long after it got dark and had no idea where anything was or how to get around, a couple of lost lambs.

We have settled in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn and it feels like something I'm happy to call home. The area has a slightly suburban feel to it, probably because of the old victorian houses and tree-lined streets.

(we live in an apartment building a block or so down)
A view from our apartment window
The neighbourhood also features some utterly fantastic eateries and we are really spoiled for choice. The quality of food here in general has been a revelation. Our local favourites in particular include:

Ox Cart Tavern do the best burgers I have ever had. Cafe Tibet is our go-to takeaway option (well, equal with Ox Cart), the ginger chicken is always ordered... I have enjoyed The Farm on Adderly every time I've eaten there although my wife prefers Picket Fence where we have also had some very good meals (the prix-fix menus during the week have offered great value). I ordered food from AM Thai on new years eve and was suitably impressed, it will definite be getting future business from me.

We're about a ten minute walk away from Prospect Park, which is a lovely place for a weekend stroll. Overall it's just a truly nice neighbourhood in which to live. We don't really know anybody in the area yet, I'm a bit of a social leper and too shy to engage, maybe in the future! I did go to the local bar, Sycamore (which doubles-up as a florist), a couple of times during the European Championships in the summer. The local blog, Ditmas Park Corner, has also proved an invaluable source of information.

To cap things off, the journey into the city is quick and easy on the Q-line (I have to make a quick change to get to work in the financial district) which goes direct up to Union Square and beyond. One early moment that will stay with me was when I was heading back after work (when our office was near Union Square), the Q-train goes over the Manhattan bridge, the sun was just going down and produced a glorious skyline and Afghan Whigs' Blame, etc just shuffled onto my ipod. Perfect.

I now work just off Wall Street, so unfortunately don't get those views anymore.

Wall Street
I find fidi boring compared to Union Square, which is snugly in between Greenwich Village and the East Village, as well as having great subway access to the rest of the city. But some of the architecture is cool down here and it's just a short walk to the piers or battery park so it's a good spot for a lunchtime stroll (but I do miss being able to head down to Other Music on a break), so it's not all bad.

The surprising thing about the city is that you can really cover a lot of ground on foot, you think of NYC as this vast metropolis, but in the scheme of things, Manhattan is fairly small (2.3 miles wide at its widest point), it's the little things and places that usually come to mind when thinking about what to recommend here.

Of course, one huge benefit has been the access to concerts, highlighted by my recent post, I've mentioned some local treats but I can't talk about consumables without mentioning two places in the city:

The best coffee I've ever had is from Abraco, a little hole in the wall joint in the East Village. Get the drip-coffee. One thing that has definitely changed since my arrival here has been my coffee consumption, something I didn't really drink back home (I was a typically tea drinker).

Little Cupcake Bakeshop seem to produce cakes that are simply out of this world, every time we are in that part of town we have to go in. My wife always gets the pistachio cake, which is indeed very good, I seem to be doing my best to work my way through the extensive array of goodies.

Another benefit of living here is to see the city change with the seasons, seeing the trees and flowers bloom between Spring and Autumn is truly a joy, although the "aroma" of all the linden trees in the spring takes some getting used to... and the weather in general has been great, the sun is out almost every day, although the summer was brutally hot (and there was one cloudy day in September I found myself slightly nostalgic for grey skies).

The weather can't be mentioned without a couple of pictures of the neighbourhood in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy (which in fairness came out a lot better than many parts of New York).

The storm was pretty close to delaying my trip back to England in November (I was given the all-clear from work the afternoon before my flight), it was nice to be back for a few weeks and I also managed to squeeze in a spontaneous trip to Paris (I'd never been), which does have a certain grandness and eloquence that New York doesn't have (not that it suffers for it), put it down to age and history. Here I am on the second level of the Eiffel Tower.

And just for good measure, a picture of me in my natural habitat:
It was fantastic to see friends and family again, they are just about the only thing I have truly missed since moving away, there might be a couple of other things but nothing ever seems to spring to mind when I have to think about it.

Other highlights of the last 12 months include getting tickets to see both The Colbert Report and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (see if you can spot me!).

This city does, however, seem to pull you in all directions emotionally, the hustle and bustle busy subway commutes (which admittedly are not as bad as I was expecting), the self-inflicted pressure of keeping up with and trying to get to various events takes a bit of a toll eventually, the cost of living, the crazy healthcare and of course the sheer number of people. They are, however, all part of the experience, and while the perception of NYC from the outside seems to suggest that the residents are rude and unfriendly, I have not really experienced that at all.

A final anecdote on which to end, at a meet-up with friends from a music message board I frequent, one of the visitors to the city remarked that I wasn't a New Yorker (which, I don't really feel like, everything still feels very new to me), at which point, before I even had a chance to agree or disagree, the locals jumped in and defended me, maybe I do belong here.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Favourite gigs of 2012

2012 was most certainly a year for concert-going, I managed to get to 58 shows, where I usually go to around 20-25 a year. One of the biggest benefits about moving to New York has been the easy access to concerts, not to mention the quality of acts that obviously come through, or are from the city. It took me a little while to get going, the second half of the year in particular saw a surge of gigs (51 between May and December). It's a time for lists, and I'm working on my list of favourite albums from the year (as well as my next compilation), but for now, here are my favourite shows I managed to get to (all pictures are mine):

1) Grizzly Bear -  Radio City Music Hall - 24th September: I swooned over this gig in a previous blog entry and so I can't really add anything other than the re-emphasise that this was the best concert I have ever been to.

2) Nada Surf - Webster Hall (7th of April) + Bowery Ballroom (14th/15th of December): A bit of a cheat, putting up 3 shows as one, but there you go. If I were being picky then maybe the Webster Hall show was the pick of the bunch in terms of a performance although the Bowery Ballroom shows felt more special, perhaps because they were the last two shows of the tour and they played a huge setlist which included songs from every album. I've been a fan of the band since their debut album and been seeing them live for over 10 years, but I never thought I'd get to hear something like Deeper Well so it was a genuine thrill when they broke that one out (of which I took a video which can be viewed here). Nada Surf are a hugely special band for me and they always deliver. 

3) Chromatics - New Museum - 5th of September: This was a free gig (sponsored by pitchfork if I recall correctly), which included an afterparty on the roof. Chromatics put on an incredible performance and to cap the evening sipping free wine looking over Manhattan at night whilst enjoying a DJ set by Oneohtrix Point Never is probably something I will remember for many years to come.

4) Bitch Magnet - La Poisson Rouge - 25th October: Possibly the greatest surprise this year was not only the 3-CD re-issue of Bitch Magnet's complete recorded output, but the band reuniting to play some shows! They played an incendiary set and really surpassed expectation.

5) Diiv - Music Hall Williamsburg - 18th of October: This was a Captured Tracks CMJ showcase event, which also included Dignan Porch, Thieves Like Us and Mac DeMarco (who was good, but was better when we saw him headline a show at Death By Audio in August). I'd also seen Diiv earlier in the summer at an outdoor gig which was very good, but their performance here was almost brutal. The only downside was the amount of douchebags who crowdsurf, I don't really understand it, shows aren't about individuals in the audience yet some people seem to think they are... anyway, it was a spectacular performance.

6) Bob Mould - Williamsburg Park 7th of September: Another show I have already reviewed, Bob was really on form!

7) TV On the Radio - Commodore Barry Park - 25th of August: TVotR are one of my favourite bands, and I've had the pleasure of seeing them a couple of times in London over the years, but both times have had a few issues with the sound. Not only did this show have a triumphant home-gig feel to it, but the sound was also spot on and the the band ripped through an extraordinary set.

8) Dan Deacon / John Maus / Roomrunner - Hudson River Rocks - 12th of July: This was a free outdoor event, I'm mentioning all three acts because they were all fantastic for different reasons. Despite being dogged by technical issues throughout, Roomrunner pummelled the crowd with their abrasive grunge-influenced sound. John Maus performs with a passion and spirit that is perhaps unrivaled, what should be little more than glorified karaoke turns into some kind of fantastically demented pop sermon. Finally, Dan Deacon takes audience participation to new levels, creating dance-offs and all sorts of games in the crowd (of course, as an uptight Englishman who internalises everything, I moved off to the side to enjoy from a distance!), backed by two drummers who disappear into a blur of activity, Deacon's music is equally as enchanting as his earnest between-song banter.

9) Ty Segall - The Well - 22nd of September: A joint headline show with Thee Oh Sees, who were also highly enjoyable, but Ty Segall's set certainly stole the show. The crowd again was a little bit annoying for my liking (I did wince when someone crowd surfed over the barrier (where there were no guards) and landed head first onto concrete - "medic!"), but Segall's fat guitar licks was a sonic assault in its own right.

10) Rush - Barclays Center - 22nd of October: Personal bias may find them sneaking into 10th place, or perhaps I have tried to counter that and they really should be higher... regardless, Rush put on a great show in support of their latest album, Clockwork Angels (which I reviewed earlier in the year), with a setlist that seemed more fresh than recent tours and backed by a string section on many songs gave a different dynamic to the show.

Complete list in date order (UK date format! And yes, I keep a spreadsheet...):

Dum Dum Girls
Music Hall of Williamsburg
Vivian Girls
Gansevoort Plaza
Barry Adamson
Other Music
Lee Ranaldo
Other Music
Nada Surf
Webster Hall
Radio City Music Hall
Terry Malts
Mercury Lounge
Mark Lanegan Band
Webster Hall
(le) poisson rouge
The Adicts
Best Buy Theater
La Sera
Cameo Gallery
The Clean
(le) poisson rouge
Rain Machine
Union Pool
Laura Marling
Prospect Park
Kurt Vile
Central Park
Veronica Falls
South Street Seaport
Guided by Voices, TPoBPAH, Cloud Nothings, War on Drugs
Central Park
Dan Deacon / John Maus / Roomrunner
Hudson River Park - Pier 84
Carina Round
Knitting Factory
Wild Flag / Misson Of Burma / Ted Leo
Prospect Park
Diiv, Wild Nothing & Grimes
Hudson River Park - Pier 84
Little Dragon
Prospect Park
Eternal Summers
Fulton Stall Market
Nude Beach
Other Music
The Drums
Brooklyn Bowl
TV On the Radio
Commodore Barry Park
Mac DeMarco
Death By Audio
New Museum
La Sera
Helmut Lang
Bob Mould
Williamsburg Park
Jesus and Mary Chain
Irving Plaza
Jesus and Mary Chain
Irving Plaza
Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti
Union Transfer, Philadelphia
Thee Oh Sees / Ty Segall
The Well
Grizzly Bear
Radio City Music Hall
Brooklyn Bowl
Neil Young and Crazy Horse / Foo Fighters / Black Keys
Central Park
Dum Dum Girls
Other Music
Afghan Whigs
Terminal 5
Adam Ant
Best Buy Theater
Fletcher C. Johnson
Pianos (upstairs)
Diiv, Thieves Like Us, Mac DeMarco, Dignan Porch
Music Hall of Williamsburg
Gap Dream
Big Snow Buffalo Lodge
Barclays Center
Louis CK
NY City Center
Bitch Magnet
(le) poisson rouge
Molly Nilsson
Public Assembly
The Fresh and Onlys
Music Hall of Williamsburg
Animal Collective
Terminal 5
The Grand Victory
Of Montreal
Webster Hall
Nada Surf
Bowery Ballroom
Nada Surf
Bowery Ballroom
Blood Orange
Sony Store
Generation Records