New York rock fans in 2017 mourned the loss of every closed rock club, from the large Webster Hall to the small HiFi Bar. Real estate hikes, neighbor complaints and competition continue to threaten music clubs in 2018, but the scene cannot be crushed that easily. More clubs open and the bands keep performing. National touring bands perform at large, established venues including Terminal 5, Irving Plaza, the Gramercy Theatre, the Bowery Ballroom, City Winery and B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, but Manhattan still has many venues where local, undiscovered bands can work out their chops and generate a following.
Undoubtedly, the thriving Brooklyn indie scene made and continues to make large waves in the local music current. The Manhattan music circuit is less noticed but equally viable. Singer/songwriters perform at the Bitter End, the Rockwood Music Halls and Sidewalk. Traditional rock bands play at the Bowery Electric, Pianos and Arlene’s Grocery. Indie bands find a stage at Mercury Lounge and Berlin. World music bands headline at Dröm and S.O.B.’s. Blues bands perform at Lucille’s Grill and Terra Blues. Jazz bands perform at many clubs dedicated to that genre.
In recent times, two scenes in particular have birthed new communities of musicians, and their numbers are swelling. One community is centered around hard rock bands like Ten Ton Mojo, Killcode, Stone Canyon, Thornes, the Blackfires and similar bands who were regulars at Arlene’s Grocery and are making their way to larger venues like Irving Plaza and the Gramercy Theatre. Another scene features older musicians playing straight rock ‘n’ roll, with the Hipp Pipps, Love Pirates, the Cynz, the Black Cats NYC, and the Rousers playing at Otto’s Shrunken Head, Sidewalk, the Parkside Lounge and the Map Room at the Bowery Electric. While these newer communities are not drawing the numbers that punk did in the 1970s and 1980s, they do prove that a night of New York rock is still way more fun than a night of Netflix.
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? This annual list is a guide to the better bands generating a following in Manhattan clubs. Old guard rockers like Patti Smith, Television, Garland Jeffreys, Joseph Arthur, Matisyahu, Willie Nile, Antigone Rising and the Cro-Mags are still performing in clubs once or twice a year, but these and similar artists are not on these lists because they are not diligently working the local club circuit per se.
Before we look at the new picks, here are the top picks from recent years. Most are still performing outstanding concerts on the local circuit and are still very much recommended.
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
The Top 10 NYC Acts to Catch Live in 2017
The Black Cats NYC
The Hot Sardines
The Liza Colby Sound
The Lone Bellow
Steve Conte NYC
Finally, here are the recommendations for 2018. 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.
The Top 10 NYC Acts to Catch Live in 2018
City of the Sun
Formed on the Upper East Side of New York City in 2011, City of the Sun played original indie/flamenco/gypsy music on sidewalks and subway stations before performing indoors at the Rockwood Music Hall, Mercury Lounge, the Gramercy Theatre, and the Bowery Ballroom.
Daddy Long Legs
Formerly from St. Louis, Mo. now based in Brooklyn, Daddy Long Legs is a trio that plays stripped-down blues simply on harmonica, guitar, a minimal drum kit and a muffled old-fashioned microphone. The band has recently performed at le Poisson Rouge and Hill Country Barbeque Market.
Led by singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Wade Schuman, Hazmat Modine is rooted in blues, folk, jazz and world music, and often features unusual combinations of harmonica, tuba, trumpet, saxophone, guitars, bass and percussion. The band most frequently performs at Terra Blues.
Led by ace guitarist/vocalist Andrew Janda, Metalfier is old school metal. The band periodically opens for national metal acts at Irving Plaza and the Gramercy Theatre, but is also known to headline smaller rock clubs.
Miss Velvet & the Blue Wolf
Miss Velvet & the Blue Wolf is an eight-piece rock and funk band driven by a powerful blues vocalist and a blaring horn section. The band performs irregularly at Rockwood Music Hall.
Hardcore punk is not dead in New York. Born in Harlem and raised in Queens, NY, Creature has led a hip-hop infused hardcore punk band Rebelmatic since 2008. The band performs at Arlene’s Grocery and Mercury Lounge.
In 1977, Bill Dickson and Tom Millmore formed the Rousers, which became a popular rock and roll band on the local punk circuit until the club scene burned out in the 1980s. Recently reunited, the band plays at the Parkside Lounge and the Bowery Electric’s Map Room among other local clubs.
Ahmed Abdullahi Gallab, better known by his stage name, Sinkane, was born in London, but was raised in part in Omdurman, Sudan. He now leads a band called Sinkane that combines psychedelic jam band and world music at the Bowery Ballroom and the Brooklyn Bowl.
The Brooklyn-based funk rock band the Skins have been playing together since they were teens at the School of Rock. The band now plays the Bowery Electric and the Afropunk festival.
Glam rock is basically rock and roll with lots of hair and make-up, and no New York band has played it better since 2006 than Wildstreet. The band has been rocking the Bowery Electric and Irving Plaza.
Under the Radar: 20 More Must-See NYC Acts in 2018