Gentlefolk, here is my list.
Best book I read: Elizabeth Costello; runner-up: Nineteen Seventy-Four
Best album: Tie: David Comes To Life / Undun
Best song: The Last Living Rose (Let England Shake); runner-up: We're Back! (Turtleneck & Chain)
Best show I went to: Shilpa Ray, opening for Man Man at Music Hall of Williamsburg, May 31st
Best show I played: Bel Argosy at Lone Wolf, July 15th
Best movie I saw in the theater: Bridesmaids
Best movie I saw not in the theater: Heavenly Creatures
Best worst movie: Double feature: Twin Sitters / Double Trouble
Best pickles: Claussen Kosher Dill (sandwich slices)
Best Not-Just-Rugelach scone replacement: Raspberry-walnut coffee cake, Blue Sky
Best brunch: Huarache, Juventino
Best veggie burger: Italian Herb Chik Patties, MorningStar Farms
Best snack: Store-brand peanut butter and Stoned Wheat Thins
Best houseplant: Spider Plant
Bel Argosy played our final show of the year on Saturday the 17th at Legion (again) with Majuscules and a couple of bands we'd never played with before: Cool Shirt, a duo who are impossible to google but who are apparently both members of other famous bands (Rapid Cities?); and The Long Eye, also a two-piece. Cool Shirt turfed out early in their set with irreconcilable technical difficulties: I guess they'd asked for the lights on the stage to be lowered to a cave-like darkness, but found that they couldn't see their instruments in the gloom, and Dennis (who told us upon arrival, "I'm a ghetto Dorian Gray!") was unable or unwilling to get them back bright enough in time. So we took the stage a bit ahead of schedule. While Cool Shirt were playing, I'd leaned over to Beau, and by way of making idle conversation, said, "You should go crazy on stage tonight." He'd taken it to heart, though, and when we started playing, he really did go crazy: thrashing around, jumping off stage debris, doing that thing where you limbo yourself way down while taking a solo and just kind of fall over. He even managed to cut his fingers open on his strings, lashing blood across his face and guitar, Townsend-style. We were playing to what looked like a full house, there were no equipment issues or fuck-ups. It was a great way to end the year. Majuscules played after us, and after them The Long Eye played what seemed like a super-long set that was crazily well-attended -- and their audience included, we think, a very beardy Cillian Murphy. We'll just go ahead and count him as one of ours.
It's kind of amazing to think back on how many shows we played in 2011: Twenty-two! It would have been more than that, even, were it not for some illnesses, double bookings, etc. And there were lots of other milestones this year -- press, t-shirts, promoters -- that really blow my mind. I went into our first few gigs mortified but determined (sort of like what Janet Weiss describes feeling when she started out at, uh, sixteen) and tried to trust that I'd either learn to play better or the whole thing would crash and burn, whichever way it went I wouldn't have to be self-conscious forever. And it worked! Sort of. I mean, I'm always the least proficient person on a bill, but I've learned to stop worrying and love it like a great job.
Ted Leo and his Pharmacists played The Bell House on Friday. I'd snapped up tickets when they went on sale for fifteen bucks dollars in November or whenever, knowing that I would of course want to go. By the time New Years Eve-eve rolled around, they were a scarce commodity, and people were scalpin' 'em for, like, sixty-five bucks. Emma and Jay managed to get a free pair out of the blue, when one of Emma's Twitter fans had two he couldn't use, and so we all went together. We stood around listening to the music over the PA and waiting for Kurt Braunohler to take the stage.
At some point I realized I was hearing "Prisoners" by The Vapors, and I got curious and looked over at the DJ booth. It was Ted Leo himself spinning records! He played a bunch more quirky, not-quite singles before introducing Kurt, who did some jokes and showed an episode of a new web series he's working on. I'd seen some of his material at Hot Tub, his excellent Monday-night show with Kristen Schaal at Littlefield, but everything was still very funny -- I loved his spurious Wikipedia "fact" that parakeets live fifteen human years or one million mind numbing parakeet years -- and I think I've managed to figure out what his appeal is. He doesn't have a particularly distinctive joke-writing voice, but there's a surprising strain of puckish rudeness that comes out on stage, and which he seems helpless to control, that contrasts well with his posh, geeky appearance.
Obits were up next, and they played a weirdly flat set. I'd heard them on Terre T's show and liked them, but their lead singer -- who, appropriate for their sound, looks like William Sanderson with a wasting illness -- introduced their set by saying, "Let's keep things mellow. We did this last night. We're doin' it again tomorrow night at Maxwell's. I spent today curled up in bed. So let's try to keep it mellow." Seriously? Textbook example of how not to get a crowd excited. And they sounded great, especially their drummer, who had an economical but muscular style of playing, but of course nobody moved.
There was a guy -- there always is -- a few feet away from us who was being that guy all night: saying too-loud, unfunny shit to the band; antagonizing other dudes; hitting on unaccompanied girls way too aggressively. Nina and Emma were actively plotting his demise, and so was I. But when Ted Leo started his set and literally nobody was dancing around, he was the only person who'd bop around with me. In fact, I'm gonna credit myself, that shitty guy, and this little short dude for getting a proper, you know, mosh pit going. (That is probably not how it happened, but.) So I was thinking, you know, maybe I'm gonna disagree with Nina. Maybe this guy's not so bad. But then he blew all his good show karma by repeatedly taking this tambourine away from some girls to show them the "right" way to play it. Yikes. Talk about doing it wrong. The band was stellar and played all the songs I was hoping for: "The High Party" was in there, as well as "Timorous Me" and "Where Have All The Rude Boys Gone?" which Ted dedicated to Joe Martin and Patrick Stickles, both of whom were apparently in attendance. Kurt Braunohler interrupted the set about half way through to remind Ted that it was almost New Years Eve-eve. They counted down, Ted serenaded him, and then he made to stage dive into the audience. I was right under him and gestured "I've got you," assuming that the people next to me would have him as well. Not so -- he jumped and I crumpled, both of us winding up on the floor. (He really does have a "tod bod," as he explains in his act.) We hoisted him back up, though, and passed him to the back of the house, where Emma and Nina promptly dropped him again.
"I was fine," he told us after the show. "I've practiced falling so that I always land directly on my spine, where it's safe."
Feeling bruised and clammy, I parted ways with people and shuffled all the way to Eve's house, where I gave her and her fiancée Jon's two cats (Sam and Sasha) their second ration of the day. Along the way, I passed a place on 3rd Ave. called Canal Bar that seemed like pretty much the greatest bar ever: Fairy lights everywhere; abandoned on a Friday night. I couldn't stop then -- and felt too weak and wretched, anyway -- but vowed to return.