Goods & ServicesFood & DrinkArts & EntertainmentPeople & PlacesMediaYou Said...

Best Cinema

Spectrum 8 Theatres
290 Delaware Ave., Albany

What more can we say about the Spectrum? The diverse movie programming, the tasty almost-gourmet treats at the snack bar, the comfy seats and excellent sight lines in the cinemas remain terrific. Well, it turns out there is more to say. The Spectrum has renovated the lobby and expanded the box office, the better to herd through the ever-increasing crowds that line up down the block on weekends. And it’s added iced coffee to its summer snack bar menu, too.

The grandeur of the movies: Proctor’s Theatre.
Photo by: Leif Zurmuhlen

Best Second-Run Cinema (Macro)

Proctor’s Theatre
432 State St., Schenectady

Another venue that can’t be beat, Proctor’s is the last theater in the area—and one of only a few in the country, actually—where you can get a taste of what the golden age of moviegoing must have been like. It’s an elegant place where you can see both art films and box-office favorites. This year it’s been innovative in its programming, too: It hosted a one-day festival of Hong Kong action classics, and coming soon is a marathon screening of all three Lord of the Rings films. And the top ticket price is still only a couple of bucks.

Best Second-Run Cinema (Micro)

Saratoga Film Forum
320 Broadway, Saratoga Springs

Saratoga Film Forum really came into its own this year. This little film society that could continued to program the current art-house favorites but also hosted a number of notable local premieres. Let’s face it—there are some foreign and/or independent films that are too unusual for any local commercial cinema to screen, and Saratoga Film Forum has filled this niche admirably.

Best Museum (Gravitas)

Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute
225 South St., Williamstown, Mass.

The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute exudes authority. The museum’s collection of 19th-century American and European paintings, particularly its extensive collection of French impressionists (which for some people is pretty much where fine art begins and ends), is justly world-renowned. Statesiders include Homer, Inness, Sargent, Cassatt and Remington; among the Europeans you’ll find Renoir, Monet, Pissarro, Gauguin, Bonnard, Manet, Degas and old masters such as Fragonard, Lorrain and Gainsborough—and all in a beyond-stately facility on 140 acres of idyllic Berkshire greenery (Clark had originally planned the museum for his townhouse in New York City before developing a fear of nuclear attack on America’s cities around 1946, but he and his politics are a whole ‘nother story). Major traveling exhibitions touch down with regularity to keep things fresh, and owing to its parallel life as a research facility, there’s an unmistakable air of scholarship to the place (though suede elbow patches, we’re assured, are purely optional).

Best Museum (Je Ne Sais Quoi)

MASS MoCA
1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, Mass.

Whether it’s a series of underwater dance portraits or a song cycle based on the speeches of Donald Rumsfeld and the poems inscribed on Zippo lighters by soldiers serving in Vietnam, MASS MoCA consistently presents artwork and performances of genre-defying ambition, scale and scope. The curatorial approach is inclusive and innovative, ranging from modernist-classic (Robert Rauschenberg) to confoundingly complex (Matthew Ritchie). MASS MoCA can be viewed as a temple of both “Aha!” and “Huh?” and, for us, that makes for a mighty fine museum.

Best Marathon Art Drive

Albany-Cooperstown-Williamstown-Glens Falls

There are four mega-art shows in the area this summer, so gas up the jalopy and hit the road. The New York State Museum is hosting French Painters of Nature: The Barbizon School, on loan from the Met. After digging on 19th-century nature, grab a sandwich and head south to Cooperstown: The Fenimore Art Museum is offering Winslow Homer: Masterworks from the Adirondacks, a major retrospective of this American icon’s work. Next, head northeast to the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, where Bonjour Monsieur Courbet collects rarely seen works by Gustave Courbet. Finally, if you’re not sated, return to New York and turn right at the Northway: The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls has Masterworks: Selections From the New Britain Museum of American Art. (It’s like the Reader’s Digest Condensed History of Art.) If you complete this itinerary, congratulations: You have officially earned the title “art groupie.”

Best Local Artist

Victoria Palermo

Being based in the Adirondacks hasn’t prevented this sculptor from making strong and steady progress toward the big time. Winning major grants, mounting shows at top local venues like the Arts Center of the Capital Region and doing installations at Albany International Airport along the way, Palermo continues her smart, sassy legacy of original forms and neon colors in her current solo exhibition, titled Flo-mation, at the Williams College Museum of Art.

Best Art Gallery (Industrial)

A.D.D. Gallery
22 Park Place, Hudson

It has the smoothest concrete floor, the slickest angle-iron fixtures and some of the coolest art, all coordinated under the watchful eye of owner/curator/designer/artist Jefferson Snider.

Art just below Lark: Firlefanz Gallery. Photo by: Teri Currie

Best Art Gallery (Carnival)

Firlefanz
292 Lark St., Albany

The sunflower-yellow walls and tiny back sculpture garden make it super-friendly, while the always challenging (yet inclusive) curating makes it top-notch. One only hopes that enough collectors will somehow find this daring gem to keep it going.

Best Art Gallery (Co-op)

Fulton Street Gallery
408 Fulton St., Troy

Nothing is less likely to succeed than a collection of (broke, distracted, self-involved) artists trying to make a go at a business venture—i.e., your typical co-op gallery. Fulton Street has defied the odds and is still going strong after 12 years of everything from grassroots free-for-alls to national juried shows to strong solos to weeklong “Blink” exhibitions. It may still be broke, but it’s focused and community-centered, and we love that.

Best Art Gallery (Retail store)

Gallery 100
445 Broadway, Saratoga Springs

It has work by top-quality artists, both regional and national; a clean, well-lit (if a bit cramped) space; and a smart, friendly staff that knows how to sell like nobody else this area has ever seen before in the business of art. That means collectors get art, and artists get paid. Get the picture?

Best Gallery (Abandoned storefront)

Albany Underground Artists
Any Space Will Do

Chip Fasciana and Tommy Watkins are like a two-man wrecking crew—in reverse. They’ll take a neglected former bakery (or filling station or whatever), and in no time flat it will be full of wild art, happy throngs and very much energy. The local scene hasn’t been this vibrant since—well, we’re not old enough to remember.

Best College Gallery (Division I)

Williams College Museum of Art
Main Street, Williamstown, Mass.

With a never-ending stream of grad student curators and a collection that spans the millennia, this resource keeps getting better. There are usually three or four shows on at any given time (covering a gamut of artistic and academic ideas), admission is free, and the building itself is a great piece of architecture. A clear winner.

Best College Gallery (Division II)

Opalka Gallery
140 New Scotland Ave., Sage College of Albany

Under the expert guidance of director/curator Jim Richard Wilson, the Opalka is only in its second year but is already building a legacy of unforgettable shows, including Ugo Mochi’s stunning paper cuts, Frank Wimberley’s jazzy and intelligent abstract paintings and Conrad Atkinson’s brilliant blend of Dada and contemporary politics. We want more!

Higher landscaping: Union College. Photo by: Martin Benjamin

Best College Gallery (Division III)

Mandeville Gallery
Nott Memorial, Union College, Schenectady

Housed in the bizarrely marvelous Nott Memorial, this gallery in the round, under the savvy leadership of curator Rachel Seligman, brings in shows we’d otherwise never see—women printers, outsider artists, basket weavers—but are so glad we did. Faculty shows (usually solo) also outdo the competition in their comprehensiveness.

Best College Gallery (Intramural)

College of Saint Rose Art Gallery
Picotte Hall, 324 State St., Albany

Working out of a space about the size of a Loudonville foyer, curator Jeanne Flanagan puts up some of the smartest exhibitions in the area, often enticing outstanding mid-career artists to the college to meet with studio majors and give public talks as well. An underappreciated public resource in a private-college wrapper.

Best Museum You Drag Your Kids to

New York State Museum
Empire State Plaza, Albany

From fine art (Barbizon School), to sociology (Lost Cases, Recovered Lives) to pop culture (Woodstock), this museum’s exhibitions fulfill a range of desires and emotions of children more inclined to be taken to the movies than to a state-funded behemoth. And hey, what 8-year-old isn’t willing to tolerate yet another viewing of the Ice Age dioramas just to keep Mom and Dad happy?

Best Museum Your Kids Drag You to

The Berkshire Museum
39 South St., Pittsfield, Mass.

Even the art exhibitions are kid-friendly, and the aquarium and hands-on stuff just keep ’em coming back for more. Fortunately, with such shows as last year’s Myth, Object and the Animal, featuring the glass art of William Morris, and the current Presence of Light installation, the adults don’t get bored too easily, either.

Best Equity Theater Company (Year-Round)

Capital Repertory Company
111 N. Pearl St., Albany

Capital Repertory Company is the only full-time theater in the area, and Artistic Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill gives her subscribers what they vote for.

Best Equity Theater Festival (Long-Established)

Berkshire Theatre Festival
Main Street, Stockbridge, Mass.

Since Kate Maguire took over the reins, the BTF has steadily grown in production values, programming quality and educational outreach. In presenting plays with important themes that enlighten as they entertain, the BTF has gone where no other major theater company has dared to tread. Nowhere else has there been such a steady and healthy critique of our society and values as at the BTF with its first four offerings: Heartbreak House, Siddhartha, Blues for an Alabama Sky and Floyd Collins.

Best Equity Theater Festival (Newly Established)

Adirondack Theatre Festival
207 Glen St., Glens Falls

Now with its own theater space, Adirondack Theatre Festival performs plays few others dare to, and it’s a proving ground for new plays and musicals; it’s also working with the community leaders to revitalize Glens Falls.

Best Equity Troupe (Risk-Loving)

StageWorks/Hudson
41 Cross St., Hudson

StageWorks/Hudson has more balls than money, scraping together enough hope to open a new theater complex in Hudson on credit. StageWorks left the safe but banal surroundings of North Pointe to strike out in a gritty area by the train tracks.

Best Theater on a Shoestring

Hubbard Hall
25 E. Main St., Cambridge

Every community theater makes do with what it can beg, borrow or scrounge from its neighbors and wring out of its underpaid and overworked creative staff. But whether it’s a Victorian drawing room, a Monet landscape or the mayhem of a circus tent, Hubbard Hall has got the knack of shabby chic down to a science.

Best Eclectic Community Theater Venue

ZuZu’s Wonderful Life
299-301 Hamilton St., Albany

Where else can you see three different improv groups, three different community theater troupes, belly dancing and ballroom dancing; take classes in yoga, meditation and group drumming; as well as hear folk singers and performance artists? The art gallery space and the baked delights from the Caputo Kitchen of Wonder aside, ZuZu has a lot—and all in downtown Albany.

Best Theater Director

Eric Hill
Berkshire Theatre Festival

Hill, who resides in the Berkshires, is a triple threat: actor, writer and director extraordinaire. Taking wild but not foolhardy risks, Hill has consistently pushed his actors and audiences into new realms, always with a look toward exploring the human psyche at its most tragically destructive (Moby-Dick: Rehearsed) or metaphysically creative (Siddhartha). To each of his tight ensemble productions, he brings a uniquely physical style, a fierce passion and a mighty intelligence.

Best Theater Venue

Founders Theatre at Shakespeare & Company
Lenox, Mass.

The Founders Theatre’s thrust stage is working-class friendly, surrounding the audience with canvas and pipe,and the seats are comfy and nice. The Founders can be adapted to theater-in-the-round or the more conventional proscenium arch found at other local venues. Coupled with the outdoor space of the Rose Theatre (an “in progress” re-creation of the Elizabethan Rose Theatre in London), Shakespeare & Company is a theatrical wonderland.

Best Theater Education Program

Shakespeare & Company
Lenox, Mass.

It has the largest program in the Northeast; operates year-round, not just as a summer camp; works in four states (Vermont, Connecticut and New York as well as Massachusetts); and does different programs for schools, communities, corporations and jails. It works with everyone, not just the pampered and privileged.

Best Local Dance Company

Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company
The Egg, Empire State Plaza, Albany

The Sinopoli company continues to mature without losing its quirky side. The proof includes the recent premieres Rising Low, which bolstered mournful country music with the power of women together, and Jammin’, which pulled jazz and swing into the modern dance mix.

Best Dance Venue

Skidmore College Dance Theater
Skidmore College, 815 N. Broadway, Saratoga Springs

Skidmore’s dance theater has 184 seats, great sight lines, and performances by the likes of Jeanne Bresciani, Robert Battle and Doug Varone. It also offers cheap or free concert tickets and a generous helping of dance demonstrations, talks and videos.

Best Indoor Concert Venue

Hart Theatre
The Egg, Empire State Plaza, Albany

Smart and even adventurous booking, reasonable start times, comfortable seats, great sound—the Egg is more than just the city’s architectural identifier. And it’s always fun to hear performers riff on the shape of the place. The current champion is John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants. At their show last year he looked the place over and dryly stated, “I can’t believe they stole my idea!”

Best Outdoor Concert Venue

Empire State Plaza
Albany

With nary a blade of grass in sight, the Plaza doesn’t present an “outdoor” experience in the conventional sense. But with strong booking, great organization, a wide range of vendors and an airy landscape that’s equal parts imposing monoliths and modern art, it continues to be a wonderful (if surreal) gathering place where local folks of all ages can enjoy free music. It’s a strikingly unique setting—no other city has a place like it. Add a knockout performance and well-organized event, and you’ve got a concert experience like no other.

Best Concert Venue (Worth a Drive)

MASS MoCA
1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, Mass.

As you arrive at the Main Stage at MASS MoCA, you feel as though you’re a part of the set. The small bar with snacks and beverages is a welcome addition to the room, complementing the relaxed atmosphere. The audience sits at tables on the floor and on risers, which favor everyone with a spectacular view of the stage. And the gracious staff at MASS MoCA make you feel right at home, which is mighty nice after you’ve bothered to make the trip all the way out to North Adams.

Dome, baby, like you never done before: Troy’s Gasholder Building.
Photo by: Shannon DeCelle

Best Venue (Experimental)

Gasholder Building
Fifth and Jefferson Streets, Troy

Originally built to house coal gas, the domed and circular Gasholder building stands out in its rickety, residential South Troy neighborhood. Its architectural individuality has been well-matched by recent performances staged by RPI’s electro-musico-community, from laptop DJ Jesse Stiles and violinist-electronic musician Todd Reynolds to accordionist-improv guru Pauline Oliveros, sound artist Stephen Moore and electronic cellist Sarah Warren. It’s a visionary use of an underutilized and unlikely monument.

Best Venue (Vaudeville)

Hudson River Theater
521 Warren St., Hudson

Under the careful guidance of Musty Chiffon (aka Dini Lamot, formerly of Human Sexual Response), the Hudson River Theater has regularly presented the kind of entertainment you’d expect to find at the closing party for an East Village avant-garde musical. Maggie Moore (Hedwig and the Angry Inch), Bitch and Animal, assorted celebrity impersonators and the occasional member of the B-52’s have all made appearances. And the upcoming schedule shows no signs of slacking off, boasting top stars of drag culture such as Lady Bunny and Lypsinka as well as an eclectic roster of musical acts like Seth’s Sauerkraut Revue and Max Sharam & Her Quartet. You’ve just got to love a joint in which “Mustang Sally” is more likely to be a stage name than a request.

Best International Polytechnic Happening

iEAR, IR, RPI, et al.
Troy

We love this. We just don’t know how to describe it. The various hipsters and electro-, alterno- and engineero-nerd/geniuses who nest in Troy have created a musical and multimedia scene that attracts internationally renowned artists and musicians. Whether it’s iEar, Impulse Response or the assorted RPI affiliates who kick it in the Gasholder Building, this is really and truly art on the cutting edge. To be perfectly frank, it’s almost too cool for the Capital Region.

Best Club Venue (Living Room)

Lark Street Book Shop
215 Lark St., Albany

When we say “living room,” we’re not kidding. Complete with candles, small wooden chairs lined up in rows and an inviting backdrop of thousands of books, the Lark Street Book Shop has succeeded in creating an intimate, cozy atmosphere that lends itself perfectly to the acoustic acts that play there once a month. No sound equipment is needed—it’s just the artist, a guitar (or other instrument of choice) and a stripped-down sound that reminds you of . . . yup, listening while relaxing in your living room.

Best Club Venue (Den)

King’s Tavern
241 Union Ave., Saratoga Springs

With its lodge-like interior, King’s Tavern is a little like Dad’s hangout across the street from the track. There are martini and amoeba shapes cut out of the log-paneled walls and brands blazed into same. It’s dimly lit; the stage is far from rectangular and sits in front of a fireplace. Jazz, the venue’s amazing and huge rock & roll dog, passes in and out of the room with ease, occasionally lying down at patrons’ feet. Recent improvements have made King’s a tidier, nicer place but haven’t sanitized its character (though the bathrooms are always clean). Beyond that, the family who own this watering hole are always welcoming, and King’s serves as a second home to excellent area bands such as Small Axe.

Best Club Venue (Basement)

B.R. Finley’s
87 Fourth St., Troy

This may not be the place for eschatology, but we hope that B.R. Finley’s—or a place very much like it—is where we go when we die. This basement bar is the antithesis of pretension: It’s got nothing much fancier in the way of decor than some Christmas lights in its cozy grotto-like confines, and its patrons respond with an appropriately easygoing bonhomie. The drinks are cheap, the bartenders are friendly, and the live entertainment on any given night is as likely to include dueling DJs as it is to boast Tom Jones covers. Stranger still is the fact that people will actually dance to said performers, a phenomenon almost unheard-of in the ostensibly hipper Albany clubs. And given the proximity of RPI, you’re likely to find one of your dancing companions willing to cease busting a move long enough to talk enthusiastically about such far-flung egghead topics as media theory, acoustic archaeology, culture jamming techniques or—maybe, just maybe—eschatology.

Best Schizophrenic Concert Venue Identity

WAMC Performing Arts Center
339 Central Ave., Albany

This is the only building we know of that has one name for the outside surface and another for the inside. A fine structure, it’s basically one big room. From the outside it’s the WAMC Performing Arts Center (our preferred designation); inside it’s the Linda Norris Auditorium. The latter being a bit of a mouthful, there’s an effort afoot from within the WAMC think tank to have the populace refer to it as simply “the Linda.” Well, we say, “Not in our lifetime!” If we’re going to boogie down to a night of Keillor- or Seeger-approved music, we’re going to make the scene at the WAMC Performing Arts Center.

Best-Booked Club (Consistency)

Valentine’s
17 New Scotland Ave., Albany

Howard Glassman has been hanging in there while other local venues have come and gone, and we’re glad he has, because no other club in the region can boast such a consistently high-quality live-music schedule. In a town that’s largely ignored by touring bands, this is where they come to play when they do stop in our fair city. In the last few months alone, the old “beer joint and music hall” has played host to top-notch performances by Ted Leo/Pharmacists, the Pernice Brothers, Grand Champeen and the Candy Butchers. Young, local bands are always given welcome here, too, and when the going gets rough, the cooler case is always stocked full of ice-cold cans of Schaefer. Yum.

Best-Booked Club (Variety)

Hudson Duster
40 Third St., Troy

Weekly hardcore, hiphop, blues, garage, metal, comedy, block parties, all-age matinees and cheap, killer pub fare make former Bruise Brother Mike Valenti’s vision of the old Rolls Touring Company a Collar City must-see. He’ll try anything, usually successfully. The club’s balcony stage makes you feel like Kiss in their heyday. Or at least like one of their lighting technicians.

Best-Booked Club (Heaviosity)

Saratoga Winners
Route 9, Latham

A roadhouse no more, this perennial hard-rockers’ favorite earned some fresh appreciation of its endearing attempts at a nightclub atmosphere—especially the fluorescent green fog lighting over the new banquets and the deer-yard smoking area where the sound bleeds through the exterior with little loss of volume. Yet what remains best about Winners is that it brings in the edgiest, evilest and all-out heaviest acts that nowhere else will dare to book, from the bizarre (Cradle of Filth) to the extreme (Morbid Angel) to the just plain crazed (Hank Williams III).

Best New Club

Trinity Church
235 Lark St., Albany

Finally, a bona fide all-ages space on Lark Street—a perfect locale with Washington Park a block away and two premier vegan joints just down the road (Bombers, Shades of Green). The killer shows dropped on the lids of all-too-suspecting youths by Step Up Productions and Wake Up Punk bring hardcore & punk underground back to Albany. In a Methodist church, no less. God bless.

If we do say so our damn selves: the Sixfifteens.
Photo by: Leif Zurmuhlen

Best Band

The Sixfifteens

Since emerging in 2002, Saratoga band the Sixfifteens have just gotten stronger and stronger—and have continued to evolve in compelling ways. A large portion of the group’s appeal stems from a blistering live show; leader Bob Carlton (formerly of Dryer) plays every set like it’s his last, his stage presence and energy hovering somewhere between Frank Black and Jack Black. The ’fifteens—which also consist of Carlton’s former Dryer colleague Joel Lilley, along with Jeff Fox and Matt Bombard—have moved long strides beyond their original punk/power pop intentions, adopting complex, contrapuntal guitar lines, tightly frenetic rhythms and melodic noise. Their recent EP, Let’s Not Think About It, was a strong debut, but we can’t wait to see what they cook up in September, when they head into the studio for their first full-length.

Best B-Movie Band

The Erotics

The Erotics continued to burn the glam-punk, Bowery-sleaze torch with conviction this year. Leader Mike Trash is one of the region’s most unabashed rock stars—equal parts Nikki Sixx, Johnny Thunders, tattoo ink and eyeliner. And there’s no other band like the Erotics in the Capital Region: they’ve constructed their own neon-glitter world around chunky glam-metal riffs, Trash’s Crüe-like shriek, and such otherworldly thematic fare as “Gas Chamber Barbie Doll,” “Space Age Mafia,” “Teenage Drag Queen” and “Fast Cars & Porno Stars.” If you need any more convincing, check out the group’s music (“Banged Up”) in an actual upcoming B-movie called The Situationist. But let’s not forget that beyond all the otherworldly trash and glitz lies a great band. They earned our Best Rock Band honors just last year.

Best Prog Rockers of the Future

Boxes of Squares

This Greenwich-based quartet (with a drummer hailing from Saratoga Springs) are high schoolers with one foot in Starless and Bible Black-era King Crimson. It’s hard to tell whether they’re aware of that reference point, but it matters not. They could use more focus on their songs’ beginnings and endings, but in between they sure do get some ferociously hypnotic cerebral grooves going. There are vocals (and some angst-heavy titles like “A Brief Study of Existentialism” and “Fireworks Make Me Feel Lonely”), but it’s the instrumental onslaught that mesmerizes and impresses.

Best Band (Imported)

Five Alpha Beatdown

They’ll say it themselves: Rocking is their job. These wild and crazy guys have been doing their shtick around the area’s club scene for more than two years now, but it’s safe to say they’ve come a long way in that time. Since debuting as a duo, their “big band” appearance at last year’s Aerosmith tribute and recent performances with bassist Obelix “Testosterone” Tungsten (we’re pretty sure it’s actually Mike Pauley of the Day Jobs, but they won’t budge) have made it clear that the boys from Iceland (cough) are here to stay, and we’re happy to have ’em, no matter where they really call home. And what other area band can whip up an honest-to-God sing-along the way these guys can with that “Time to Rock” song?

Best Band (Exported)

Slick Fitty

It’s said that, in this business of music, you have to go where the work is. For rockabilly revivalists Slick Fitty, that means regular trips overseas—to Germany, to be specific. We’re not sure whether they’re getting a sweet money deal or if they’re just über-fond of wheat beer and bratwurst, but our rockabilly boys have been spending an awful lot of time over there this year—in fact, they’re currently in the midst of their second six-week German tour in six months—and we’re right proud of them. Wir gratulieren, boys!

Best Blues Artist

Albert Cummings

Albert Cummings has played and recorded with Double Trouble (the late Stevie Ray Vaughan’s rhythm section), toured with B.B. King and lit up hundreds of stages with his smoldering blues guitar and soulful singing. So what else is there to say about this Berkshires bluesman? Well, for one, he’s also a darn fine songwriter, and he’s set to drop another full-length album of originals in August. The album, recorded in Austin and Memphis with producer Jim Gaines (Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan)—and once again featuring Double Trouble’s Tommy Shannon—will be followed by a national tour. Let’s hope the nationally emerging blues star doesn’t forget to light up a few stages back home.

Best Jazz Artist

Brian Patneaude

The term most often associated with Brian Patneaude is “ubiquity,” and for good reason; we’re under the impression that Patneaude has the ability to be in three places at once. While this may not be the case, the sax slinger has earned his stripes as most active player in our fair city. Whether it’s his Tuesday night jazz jam at the Larkin (with the Adrian Cohen quartet), his regular Sunday gig with his own quartet at Justin’s or his new Thursday night saxophone-and-DJ combo at the Lark Tavern (Nouveau Chill), he’s almost always playing somewhere. Oh, yeah, and the cat can blow, too. Real good.

Best Rock Band

Super 400

It’s good to have them back. OK, they never really went away, but their appearances on the Albany side of the river have been sporadic at best over the last few years. Good news, though: It turns out they’ve actually been lying low while recording their long- awaited second album. And now that they’ve returned to regular gigging, we’ll be damned if they’re not better than they’ve ever been. Instrumental mastery and enviable internal chemistry aside, they’ve also shown their ever-improving skills as songwriters over the years. You’re going to have to wait a few months on the new record (not to boast, but we’ve heard it, and it’s out of this world); in the meantime, catch them live just once, and trust us, you’ll begin setting your watch by their performance schedule.

Best Secret Weapon

Mike Hotter

Hotter has been slowly but surely revealing his many layers over the years. Besides his longstanding role as guitarist for knotworking, he can also be found churning out the tasty licks for Mitch Elrod’s CountrySoulHouse, and his recent all-star Strange Personalities project showed his strengths as a bandleader. He’s also got considerable songwriting chops—check out the wonderful title track from knotworking’s The Garden Below LP for an example. With knot leader Ed Gorch having recently released his first solo CD, we have a feeling that it’s only a matter of time before Hotter follows suit, and we can’t wait to hear what he comes up with.

Best Punk Band

Plastic Jesus

With the grouchy soul of Chuck Berry and the glib chic of Dee Dee Ramone (sans the poppy fetish), Plastic Jesus lay down some glorious duck-walking noise. The trio have matured tenfold in the past two years, improving both their live sound and their writing prowess with the release of 2003’s So You Say Rock and Roll’s a Sin. Loud, leather-clad and slightly unwashed, the band recently ranked third on Rolling Stone’s local-indie chart and continue to draw scads of miscreants to local clubs to feel the pain.

Best New Band

The Mathematicians

Break out your graphic calculators. Glens Falls band the Mathematicians know how to rock their algebraic equations and then some, creating a highly entertaining form of dance-friendly electro-rock. Regardless of how you feel about the band’s “shtick” (the plaid suits, the four-function lyrics, the geeky personas), the band always put on an energetic live show. Though they’ve only been around for a year, the band have toured the country from coast to coast and released their full-length Level One album, one of the best-sounding (and best- packaged) local releases of the year. Nerds of the world, unite!

Woman in front: Kelly Murphy of Empire State Troopers.
Photo by: Joe Putrock

Best Even Newer Band

Empire State Troopers

Empire State Troopers, a band that includes members of Small Axe and the Wasted, have only been together long enough to play a handful of shows, but here’s to their longevity (we hope). With an electric stage presence (thanks in part to front woman Kelly Murphy’s animated singing style), a kick-ass live show and some great tunes that cover the best sort of devil-worshiping, white-trash- celebrating territory, EST have been generating quite a buzz in the local music scene. Some have said EST = Soundgarden + White Zombie, while others claim EST = Shellac + Pat Benatar.

Best Frontperson

Kelly Murphy

In her other band, Albany’s the Wasted, Empire State Troopers singer Kelly Murphy plays bass and takes on a somewhat more subdued role in comparison to her bandmate, singer/songwriter Gay Tastee. So we were a bit unprepared for Murphy’s turn as the energetic and captivating frontwoman of EST. She rocks the microphone with powerful pipes and an in-your-face, vaguely menacing charisma that perfectly compliments the band’s scuzzed-out, stoner- friendly rock.

Best Live Band

Small Axe

They’ve been crunching it out for years. Their recordings are spellbinding. Their songwriting has gotten better and better. All three members’ roles play perfectly together in creating the sincere intensity that is Small Axe. DJ Miller’s power-gruff vocals are the most original in town. His ability to front a powerhouse rock band without falling for lame antics of the ego (despite being a guitar whiz) is not only an admirable achievement of the psyche, it’s what steeps Small Axe in their patent authenticity. Bassist Orion MacDonald has helped contain the band’s muscled, experimental abandon with a tighter, arguably better-fitting sound. Tom Parker’s drumming style—equally brainy and forceful—neatly sums up what their garage-sludge cacophony is all about. Yeah, maybe they should have been Best Band. But they’re so damn amazing live, we couldn’t resist.

Best Singer-Songwriter (Arena Rock)

Brian Bassett

The term “singer-songwriter” usually conjures images of acoustic strummers delivering folky or brooding narratives. But Brian Bassett’s straight-ahead rock tunes—which call to mind expansive fare like early Radiohead, Oasis and Matthew Sweet’s 100% Fun—are made to be swathed in thick guitars and lush production (courtesy of former Wait member Ryan Barnum). His songs take a direct, simple path to the heart, not to the intellect and not hitched to any trend. On last year’s Rock and Roll LP, Bassett came off like a man in search of an arena, avoiding poetic platitudes and complex rumination and glorying in big, breathless love-rock, earnestly direct anthems and throbbing melodic hooks. Bassett was back in the studio with Barnum recently, so let’s hope that we soon see a new album packed with his grand rock intentions.

Best Singer-Songwriter (Indie rock)

Brent Gorton

Apart from being a ubiquitous star of rock in local circles, from promoting shows to recording bands like the Kamikaze Hearts and Coal Palace Kings, Brent Gorton has an acuteness for smart, twisted songwriting. Since his 2002 home-recorded masterpiece, San Diego—one of the best albums to come out of the area in recent memory—Brent’s songwriting has rendered an experimental bend on the lo-fi pop he perfected on San Diego. That experimentalism, along with his incorporation of things old and new (e.g., acoustic guitar and theremin, folk and dissonance), creates an ironic twist in his music—playing with the tradition while still traveling along it. Singing in his lispy, quivered hush, Brent’s songs can sound like an Americana-obsessed mental patient, disposing of his near, dark and bizarre secrets, but with a disproportionate beauty.

Best DJ

DJ Panzah Zandahz

Listen to any track off his album Uncertain Future or a two-minute drop from any of his mix tapes, and it’s plain that we’ve got a soon-to-be master on our hands. DJ P.Z.’s turntablism might be described as academic funk experiments, forays into the glitchy, sonic shadows that can lurk around hiphop’s clichéd boundaries (if you’re daring enough to look). But Zandahz isn’t just some square-pants rat stuck in the turntable lab, micromanaging the mods on his sequencer steps (well, maybe, kind of); he’s also a very serious fan of the funk groove, especially in his live sets and mix tapes. As turntable law should mandate, Zandahz shakes your brain only after he’s taken care of your ass. Technologically, Zandahz is an adamant purist—sticking with the basics (turntables, mixer, sampler, sequencer) and swears off all computer-DJ hacks (“You kids who DJ on the computers are not DJs, you’re just kids”). Check out his multiple projects (a new full-length; a fully self-written, self- published magazine, Send in the Clones; production work for Pitch Control’s Atypical) at his self-designed (of course) Web site, www.pz.com, or his online collective, www.zeroskillz.net.

Best MC

Sev Statik

Whether it’s battle lyrics or spreading the gospel, we love Sev Statik for his humble, thought-provoking style and his dedication to putting the 518 on the map. He’s also responsible in part for Pitch Control Music, a cooperative of local artists that continues to bring hiphop to new heights in the Capital Region. His work ethic is hard to top by any standard, what with his hand in the California-based Tunnel Rats projects and Deep Space 5 and his latest solo effort, Speak Life. The international distribution through Uprok/EMI doesn’t hurt, either.

Best Hiphop

Blue Water Tribe

Like the Mathematicians, our newest techno-rockin’ darlings, this project also hails from the hub of Glens Falls/Lake George. Both bands feature the same drummer (we’ll call him Al Gorithm), and his multitasking production, live programming and live drumming for both make us wonder whether he’s the mastermind behind them. Besides his excellent live drums (an impressive enough instrumental feat in the universally digital genre of hiphop), Blue Water Tribe’s three-way MC bouts pair their vigorous flow with intelligent (and intelligible) lyricism. What results is like if the Beastie Boys grew up under the Def Jux umbrella of experimental hiphop: a smart expository force of tight rhymes and tighter beats (and did we mention live drums?). Full album available for download at www.bluewatertribe.com.

Best Emo Band

Rockets and Blue Lights

If they were from the Midwest in the mid-’90s, Rockets and Blue Lights would have been big, and here—where the kids can’t seem to get enough of ’em—they are that. Perhaps it’s their Fugazi-esque obstinacy about playing all-ages venues that endears them so to fans, or their refusal to play on stages, instead setting up on the floor so that they can’t be separated from the kids. Yes, high-octane rocket fuel and a Turner painting could be to blame for their brand of anxious guitar work, melodic lilts and polyrhythmic antics. They even do that cute Joan of Arc/Braid/Bach thing where they sing different lyrics over one another.

Best Protest Band

Lawn Sausages

So they’re not the most active band around right now, but they sure know how to pack a punch. Their one single last year, “Smoke This, Joe Bruno,” was an ornery nose-thumbing at the state’s decision to ban smoking. With no shortage of piss and vinegar, they had stickers made up and proudly sang their way into a political-song hall of fame in Scotland in the same year as Bob Dylan and Rickie Lee Jones. Hey, Joe: “Smokers are taxpayers, they’ve been treated like mutts / Next election year, they’re gonna blow smoke right up your butt.”

Best Band Name

Pink Hearse Paparazzi Project

Dare we dissect the brilliance of this four-word juggernaut? If this name isn’t nonsense, it can be construed many different ways. Does it mean the practice of stalking dead celebrities as they are hauled off in inconspicuous pink hearses? Maybe the paparazzi are dead and being dragged around in a pink hearse. But then the word “project” leads one to believe that it’s a special paparazzi assignment to cover only pink hearses. Could it be that the band, then, are organized spectators, documenting the death of a gaudy, celebrity-obsessed culture? (What is this, an art review?) Of course, this name could simply be fun words thrown together: the alliteration of popping P’s is strong, yet offset by the soft hiss of “hearse.” Well done.

Best Jukebox

Desperate Annie’s
12-14 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs

Travis has always been proud of this fine jukebox and does his best to keep it stuffed with the very best artists, everything from Ray Charles and Steve Earle to the Dirtbombs and Belle & Sebastian. Select from a double-disc Kinks collection or nuggets from the Nuggets box set; dig deep into nearly complete catalogs of the Figgs or the Replacements; hear both versions of “Jailbreak” back to back; choose from Chocolate and Cheese or More Songs About Buildings and Food; sample the new EPs from the Sixfifteens and the Kamikaze Hearts . . . we could go on. The only pap you’ll find is there because the meatheads and tourists must like it.

Best Arts Organization Imitating Enron

Albany-Schenectady League of Arts
Defunct

Going, going, gone. Like college grads bouncing debt from credit card to credit card, the ASLA has been treading water financially for quite a while now. Last month the league’s board finally decided to throw in the towel, leaving a good number of folks uninsured and scratching their heads. Don’t expect any federal indictments, though—turns out they were just plain old broke in the end.

Readers Poll

Best Movie Theater
1. Spectrum 8 Theatres
2. Regal Crossgates

Best Museum
1. New York State Museum
2. Albany Institute of History & Art

Best Art Gallery
1. Albany Institute of History & Art

Best Local Performing Arts Organization
1. Capital Repertory Co.
2. Saratoga Performing Arts Center

Best Local Visual Artist
1. Tom Lindsey
Shauna Manon
Kara Nigro (tie)

Best Local Filmmaker
1. Michael Swantek & Justin Maine

Best Local Author
1. William Kennedy

Best Local Poet
1. R.M. Engelhardt
Lyn Lifshin (tie)

Best Local Band
1. Sirsy
2. Cryin’ Out Loud

Best Local Solo Musician
1. Mike Grosshandler

Best Live Music Venue
1. Northern Lights
2. Saratoga Performing Arts Center

Best Dance Club/Dance Night
1. Jillian’s
2. Sneaky Pete’s

Best Open Mic
1. Larkin
2. Lark Tavern (tie)

Best Karaoke
1. Oh Bar

 

Back to Metroland Online