The rock club circuit was at its heights in the late 1970s and early 1980s during the glam and punk days. Those were the days when people went to music clubs not only to see but to be seen. New and larger clubs opened in Manhattan, drawing larger crowds that allowed the New York Dolls, Kiss, the Ramones, the Talking Heads, Blondie, and Patti Smith to survive long before the rest of the world caught on to them. The Asbury Park scene nurtured Southside Johnny and Beaver Brown, a North Jersey and Long Island circuit rocked to Twisted Sister and TT Quick, a Greenwich Village scene supported budding acts like Willie Nile, Steve Forbert and Shawn Colvin, a hip-hop community embraced Run-DMC, LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys, and a hardcore punk community gave birth to the Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front, Sick Of It All and Reagan Youth. For about 10 years, a generation of local young adults arranged its nightlife calendars by looking through the club advertisements in the Aquarian Weekly.
By the mid 1980s, however, upscale neighborhood gentrification closed many clubs by radically escalating rents, decreasing record sales and increasing travel costs slowed the bands’ travels, and music lovers gravitated to larger television screens and the internet for their entertainment. Today, perhaps a majority of music lovers prefer streaming services at home or work or satellite radio in their vehicles, allowing someone somewhere to determine what music is cool. Yet, little vestiges of the past are still bubbling under the radar. Manhattan has a small but bonded rock scene at clubs like Arlene’s Grocery, The Bitter End, The Bowery Electric, Otto’s Shrunken Head and Sidewalk, where live music is playing nightly to small crowds. Brooklyn has seen many closures, but there are still many small clubs from Williamsburg to Bushwick where creative young bands are playing amazing music live. Music clubs in the suburbs are further apart, but musicians are writing and performing original metal, punk, garage, rockabilly, surf and experimental music; you just now have to know where to go.
In a year where the rock community lost so many of its icons, it was comforting to see old-time local rockers like Bush Tetras, Dictators NYC, Garland Jeffreys, Joseph Arthur, the Lenny Kaye Connection, Living Colour, Matisyahu, Patti Smith, Vanilla Fudge, Willie Nile and others sporadically perform at smaller venues in 2016. Older punk bands like Candiria, the Cro-Mags, and Sheer Terror also brought back at least some of their older members to play a few gigs. Sometimes it seems that every band that ever existed in history has reformed in some manner; in the past, these bands survived on record sales, but now they try to survive on merchandise sales.
The beginning of a new year is a time to reflect on the past year. What artists stood out among the rest in the Manhattan club circuit? The criteria for this list was that the artists had to be based in the New York area, perform original compositions, and work the local club circuit regularly throughout the year. The artists are listed in alphabetical order.
But first, let us review the musicians that have helped revive the Manhattan club scene in recent years. All of these artists are still very much worth experiencing live.
The Top 10 NYC Acts To Catch Live In 2014
The Brain Cloud
Danny’s Devil’s Blues
The Dirty Pearls
The Hipp Pipps
Rebecca Haviland & Whiskey Heart
The So So Glos
The Top 10 NYC Acts To Catch Live In 2015
Burlap To Cashmere
Har Mar Superstar
The Lone Bellow
Reserved For Rondee
Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds
Ten Ton Mojo
The Top 10 NYC Acts to Catch Live in 2016
Autre Ne Veut
The Love Pirates
New York Junk
Ricky Byrd & Deuces Wild
And now, finally, here is a window that looks to the best music the clubs will offer in 2017.
The Top 10 NYC Acts To Catch Live In 2017
The Black Cats NYC
The Black Cats NYC play good old-fashioned rock and roll with a saxophone and backup singers offering additional bounce to the grooving pop songs. The Black Cats NYC often play at Sidewalk, Otto’s Shrunken Head and The Bowery Electric.
The Bloodshots is a pure rockabilly without hyphens. The trio performs at Hill Country Barbecue + Market and Otto’s Shrunken Head.
Edwards Rogers was born in England but has lived in New York City since his youthful days as a drummer. He is now a prolific writer of poignant lyrics and sings with a rock and roll heart. Edward Rogers performs at the Hi-Fi Bar and City Winery.
The Hot Sardines
This is a hot jazz revival with swing, featuring new compositions and injecting a lively twist to standards. The Hot Sardines often can be found at Joe’s Pub or Shanghai Mermaid.
Once the bassist for Johnny Winter, Jon Paris plays a mean guitar and harmonica and invites anyone with an instrument to join him on stage for a blues jam. Find Jon Paris at Lucille’s Grill every Monday night.
The Liza Colby Sound
Imagine Tina Turner fronting The Who. The Liza Colby Sound had a setback with the untimely death of guitarist Adam Roth, but the band is back to headlining at The Bowery Electric and Berlin.
The Lone Bellow
Starting in 2011, the Brooklyn-based Lone Bellow began performing at the Rockwood Music Hall. The Americana pop band ended 2016 with three sold-out nights at the Bowery Ballroom. The Lone Bellow should be graduating to larger theaters very soon.
Red Gretchen is an experimental trio that plays early psychedelic-sounding, off-kilter garage rock. The band plays regularly at Sidewalk and Otto’s Shrunken Head.
Steve Conte NYC
Once the lead guitarist of the second generation New York Dolls, Steve Conte is a super guitarist with a flair for classic rock and 1960s-style guitar pop rock. He performs at The Bowery Electric with his own band and recently also teamed with Jim Jones.
The TarantinosNYC play surf, spaghetti-western and spy movie soundtracks plus original songs that should have been in Quentin Tarantino films. The instrumental quartet performs frequently at Otto’s Shrunken Head and occasionally at Lucille’s Grill.