New York City always has been a breeding ground for music communities. Some 50 years ago, a music community developed in Greenwich Village which birthed and sustained the nascent careers of Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Phil Ochs, Joan Baez, the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Blues Magoos and even Jimi Hendrix. A far more colorful scene developed in the 1970s, primarily in the East Village, that launched the New York Dolls, Kiss, Blondie, the Ramones, Talking Heads, and Patti Smith. Parallel to that scene, the Bronx saw Sugarhill Gang, Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, Slick Rick, Notorious B.I.G. and countless others launch the rap revolution. By the turn of the century, a music scene developed in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where a slew of venues built stages for Vampire Weekend, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, LCD Soundsystem, the Strokes, Grizzly Bear, and the burgeoning indie rock movement.
Manhattan’s current music scene, largely rooted in straight and loud rock ‘n’ roll and attracting an older audience, has been gravitating to or near Avenue A, from the old staple Mercury Lounge up the avenue to Berlin, the Treehouse at 2A, dröm, Sidewalk, Niagara, Coney Island Baby, the 11th Street Bar and Otto’s Shrunken Head, although more westward clubs like the Bowery Electric and the Bitter End remain mighty contenders. In recent years, Brooklyn’s music scene has expanded from its Williamsburg core north to Greenpoint, east to Bushwick and south to Sunset Park, and that indie scene continues to draw a comparatively younger audience. Queens may become the next center for live music, as music clubs have opened in Long Island City, Ridgewood and Rockaway.
This writer began this annual list of Top NYC Bands to Catch Live for The Aquarian Weekly in the late 1970s. The criteria for this list has always been that the artists had to be based in New York City, perform original compositions, and work the local club circuit diligently throughout the year. Many of the bands listed in bygone years grew far beyond the club circuit, many more quietly disappeared, and some are still performing outstanding concerts on the local circuit.
Before we look at the new picks, let us repost the top picks from the past five years. Many of these artists are still the local circuit and their performances are still very much recommended. The artists are listed in alphabetical order.
The Top 10 NYC Acts to Catch Live in 2014
- The Brain Cloud
- Danny’s Devil’s Blues
- The Dirty Pearls
- Harmonica Lewinskis
- The Hipp Pipps
- Joe Taino
- Living Colour
- Rebecca Haviland & Whiskey Heart
- The So So Glos
- The Waldos
The Top 10 NYC Acts to Catch Live in 2015
- Burlap to Cashmere
- Har Mar Superstar
- Jesse Malin
- The Lone Bellow
- Popa Chubby
- Reagan Youth
- 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 Cynz
- Dina Regine
- Ian Mellencamp
- The Love Pirates
- New York Junk
- Oz Noy
- Red Baraat
- Ricky Byrd & Deuces Wild
The Top 10 NYC Acts to Catch Live in 2017
- The Black Cats NYC
- The Bloodshots
- Edward Rogers
- The Hot Sardines
- Jon Paris
- The Liza Colby Sound
- The Lone Bellow
- Red Gretchen
- Steve Conte NYC
- The TarantinosNYC
The Top 10 NYC Acts to Catch Live in 2018
- City of the Sun
- Daddy Long Legs
- Hazmat Modine
- Miss Velvet & the Blue Wolf
- The Rousers
- The Skins
In closing, here is this writer’s top recommendations for New York bands to catch live in 2019. This list features some of the very best live music coming out of New York City clubs these days.
The Top 10 NYC Acts to Catch Live in 2019
The Cody Melville Band
Cody Melville is a Brooklyn-born singer/songwriter who assembles a killer band to rock his songs. The band usually performs at the Bowery Electric, but Melville sometimes can be persuaded to perform a few songs solo at the Treehouse at 2A.
Originally from San Francisco and now based in Brooklyn, Deerhoof is an experimental noise rock band, indie to the core with jazz leanings. The band usually performs at le Poisson Rouge but also performs at Elsewhere and other Brooklyn clubs.
The Emily Duff Band
Emily Duff is a country rocker who wears a Ramones t-shirt and a leather jacket. She performs a nearly three-hour set monthly at Cowgirl, and also performs at City Winery and Rockwood Music Hall.
Fawn looks like a pin-up girl from World War II but her original songs balance new pop with a dash of old-timey jazz. With her band, the New Old Fashions, Fawn performs monthly at the Bitter End and sporadically at the Algonquin Hotel.
British-born and now a New Yorker, James Maddock is a singer/songwriter with a coarse voice and a soft heart. He performs at City Winery and the 11th St. Bar.
From the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Panzie plays rip-your-face-off darkwave and hard rock in a show that includes costumes, props and all sort of wildness. The band performs at dröm and Arlene’s Grocery.
Formerly in Television, Richard Lloyd has made several comebacks over the years, but maybe this time he will stick around and continue playing his guitar-based indie rock more often. He performs at the Bowery Electric and the Loft at City Winery.
Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co.
Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co., often abbreviated as SIT & Die Co., dresses western and plays country swing like the band is at a 1950s rodeo. The band performs monthly at Otto’s Shrunken Head.
Tom Clark & the High Action Boys
Tom Clark specializes in country songs but his soul is all rock ‘n’ roll. He performs most Sundays at the Treehouse at 2A, sometimes with his band and sometimes with whatever musicians happen to be in the club at the moment.
Willie Nile has been rocking New York clubs since the 1980s, but now it looks like he is back to playing the local clubs more regularly. His lyrics are often a poetic vision of the gritty side of New York and his music is highly charged rock ‘n’ roll. He has been performing regularly at City Winery.
Under the Radar: 21 More Must-See NYC Acts in 2019
- Alan Merrill Trio (pop)
- Bakersfield Breakers (surf/rockabilly)
- Beechwood (rock)
- Bikini Carwash (power punk)
- Bill Popp & the Tapes (pop)
- Blak Emoji (rock)
- Crazy Mary (rock)
- DonBlackCat & Friends (rock ‘n’ roll)
- The David Kolker Band (blues/rock)
- Exit 99 (rock and roll)
- Hollis Brown (classic rock)
- Johnny & the Bootlegs (blues/rock)
- Mora Tau (stoner metal)
- Of Clocks and Clouds (jam band)
- The Phil Gammage Quartet (country blues)
- The Planets (classic rock)
- Puma Perl & Friends (experimental/poetry)
- Screamin’ Rebel Angels (rockabilly)
- SoulCake (indie)
- The Sweet Things (glam rock)
- Western Caravan (country swing)