Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Had To Be There: Favorite Concerts

You people seem to like sharing your opinions, so I'm hoping this post will send you scurrying to the comments section.

It's a simple list of the best concerts I've seen, with only the first one "ranked" and the rest all honorable mentions. Inspired by a discussion tonight with a lovely woman over a plate of about 3,000 French fries. (I love fries and can put them away, but the volume of them served at many restaurants and pubs is a subject worthy of study. It's shocking.)

OK, back to the concerts. First place, hands down:

Prince (Reunion Arena, Dallas, December 1998)

Despite the fact that I had always loved Prince in a radio-exposure kind of way, this show did benefit from moderate expectations. I figured it would be fun, but it wasn't like the indie-rock shows in cramped clubs that I spent months at a time anticipating. This was a Star -- one I assumed would be arrogant and a bit difficult -- playing a basketball arena. Our seats were in the upper deck.

What ensued was insanely entertaining. Prince stands at about three feet, five inches. He's tiny. To command an arena of that size the way he did must mean that he has more charisma per square inch than anyone in history (maybe even Napoleon; I believe Prince, if he had lived during that time, would have convinced people to help him conquer Russia in winter. But they would've won.) Most shockingly to me, at the time, his performance could only be called generous. He ripped up the guitar; he belted piano ballads; he playfully censored himself during "Darling Nikki"; he brought the house lights up near the end, then invited a large and random group of fans on stage to dance during an extended jam (during which time he shouted at one elderly woman who was getting down, "Dance, Grandma!") -- a grand finale if I've ever seen one; but no, then the lights vanished again and he launched into an extended medley of greatest hits. I remember the whole thing as being ridiculous in the best possible way.

Honorable mentions (dates might be blurry; I've tried)...

Lyle Lovett
(Majestic Theater, San Antonio, 1994?)

Joan Osborne
(Caravan of Dreams, Fort Worth, Spring 1995)

Radiohead (The Woodlands, Houston, September 1995, opening for R.E.M. in support of The Bends)

Centro-matic (I forget the name of the place. It was small. Dread Pirate, it was when they shared the bill with Mary Lou Lord. Oh, I think it was called The Galaxy Club, yes?, Dallas, 1998? 1999?)

Whiskeytown (Trees, Dallas, January 1998. Like viewing the aftermath of a car wreck with a few good songs occasionally floating over the scene.)

The Jayhawks
(Gypsy Tea Room, Dallas, May 2000)

Built to Spill
(Irving Plaza, New York, September 2001)

The Innocence Mission (Southpaw, Brooklyn, April 2004)

Ray Lamontagne (Bowery Ballroom, New York, January 2005)



Anonymous Anonymous said...

New York DEMANDS "You Were Right"!!!!!

10:38 AM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

This is like Christmas, you asking questions like this. So much of this depends on timing. Timing for both you (right mood, right time in life) and for the artist (at what point they are in their career, etc.) But here goes...

I cannot choose between these three, so it is a tie between these three shows.

1. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, 1985, Texas Stadium, Dallas, Texas
'Born in the USA' juggernaut tour. Everything about this show was HUGE. A filled football stadium, a huge crowd totally into the show and what was going on. And you talked about Prince being able to reach the arena, Bruce was able to communicate to everyone in a freakin' football stadium. You totally felt a part of what was going on.

1. Neil Young & Crazy Horse, 1989, Jones Hall, Houston, Texas.
I've seen Neil many times, but this was the first and this was the best. After a shaky decade (the 80's), Neil's drawing power and stature had fallen. It was not difficult to get great seats in a small hall in downtown Houston. He was touring for THIS NOTE'S FOR YOU, the latest in his baffling genre jumping. The article in the paper earlier that day warned, "don't expect any of the old favorites, this tour so far has been all big band blues numbers". Unbeknownst to anyone, before this show, Neil had gotten in a disagreement with his Bluenotes Band and fired them all. So, Neil saunters out, alone, and plays a 30-45 minute gorgeous solo acoustic set. "Heart of Gold", "Needle and the Damage Done", "Old Man", "Comes a Time", "After the Goldrush"...all of the faves. Then some killer way obscure tunes, like the awesome "For the Turnstiles" (on banjo!) And since he had not been playing them on this tour at all, they were all fresh and he played them with passion. He then took a break and then returned not with a blues band and horn section, but freakin' Crazy Horse, and they blazed through a show of the LOUDEST and most brutal rock and roll I have ever heard. (I still have the ticket stub, which says Neil Young & the Bluenotes on it...funny). My ears rang for days afterwards. What do they play? Every song you'd want to hear. "Down By the River", "Cinnamon Girl", "Mr. Soul", "Like a Hurricane"...every damn one of them. The crowd went nuts. It was like he had read the newspaper article and was saying "f*ck you, I will give this audience EXACTLY what they want to hear then". But not just that. He played a ton of then unreleased songs as well, and they were magnificent. It turns out, these were all songs coming out later that year on what has become one of the all time great Neil Young albums, FREEDOM. Songs like "Rockin' in the Free World", before it was released and nobody had ever heard the song before. Like I said...timing is everything.

1. Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, 1992, Rockefellers Club, Houston, Texas.
As JW discussed earlier, moderate expectations help. How about no expectations at all. Rockefeller's no longer exists, but it was one of the great clubs in Houston for a long time. I had heard of banjo wunderkind Bela Fleck before, and so some friends and I decided to catch this show one summer night on a fluke. Hell, we had nothing else to do. I believe the most enthusiastic comment before the show was: "well, it will probably be interesting". Was it ever. Midway through the opening song, there was one of those WOW moments. The song was "Frontiers", and the first few minutes are aimless jazz noodling. Ho-hum. But midway through the tune, the band launched into the funkiest groove you've EVER heard. I still vividly see that moment. My friends and I all perked up immediately and looked at eachother, and we had these uncontrollable smiles on our faces. Now this is freakin' cool! Victor Wooten (in my view the most talented electric bass player around today) was incredible, Bela was on...the whole band was on. The whole show was a revelation. I've never left a show, however good, with goosebumps still on the arms. It was that good. To top it off, Bela and the band came out afterwards and hung out and chatted with anyone who stuck around. Great guys, too.

Honorable Mentions:

U2, 1988, The Summit, Houston, Texas.
U2 on the 'Joshua Tree' tour? Enough said.

Colin Hay, 2001, some small club, Austin, Texas.
Former Men At Work leader performs a totally engaging solo acoustic show in front of about 15 people. He was the friendliest guy to hang with afterwards too.

Dire Straits, 1985, Astroworld, Houston, Texas. T
hat's right, Dire Straits at Astroworld. My first concert ever. Still one of the best I've ever heard.

The Cure, 1990, Woodlands Pavillion, Woodlands, Texas.
We went in dark clothes and eyeliner to make fun of all of the goths. Ended up loving the show, been a big fan ever since.

Jeff Beck, 2000, Austin Music Hall, Austin, Texas.
The best rock guitarist ever. Hendrix's and Allman's equal. Small venue in Austin, astounding show.

Eric Clapton, late 80's, The Summit, Houston, Texas.
Near the end of the time that he was still great, before all of the AOR and blues aping crap. 5th row, center. He played the hell out of that guitar that night.

Stevie Ray Vaughan, 1989, The Astrodome parking lot, Houston, Texas.
The Bud Lite Festival, they had several stages set up in the middle of the summer on the concrete parking lot. Houston summer. Fire trucks were out there hosing down the crowd to keep them conscious. SRV rocked the house...err...the parking lot.

The Who, 1989, Astrodome, Houston, Texas.
The headliner for the Bud Lite Festival referred to above was The Who, inside the Dome that night. (Yes, they actually got to play inside instead of in the parking lot). Summer, with your buddies, after a day of seeing great shows outside all day...cap it off with The Who in the Dome? One of the best days of my life.

4:27 PM  
Blogger MAW said...

This is hard for some reason, mainly because I have this nagging feeling like I'm forgetting something critical, but here's the ones that immediately come to mind:

1. Radiohead - OK Computer Tour, 1997, The State Theater, Detroit, Michigan
I was (and still am) so in love with that album, and this show was ridiculously awesome - hands down the best show I've ever seen. Thom Yorke's self-depricating version of "Creep" was the comedic highlight (who knew they even had a sense of humor?), and feeling "Climbing up the Walls" pulse in my gut was incredible.

2. Paul Simon and Bob Dylan, 1999, Pine Knob Music Theater, Clarkston, Michigan
It was amazing to see these two giants at the same concert, especially Paul Simon who I have had a school girl's crush on since I discovered "Bookends" at age 12.

3. Tori Amos, The Dew Drop Inn Tour, 1996, Fox Theater, Detroit, Michigan
The Fox Theater is quite possibly the most gorgeous place to see a show, so the ambiance alone was worth the ticket price. I was a bit of a "Tori-head" in 1996, so seeing her perform live was enough to make me swoon.

4. REM, UP Tour, 1999, Pine Knob Music Theater, Clarkston, MI
I'm sure that, had I seen them in concert earlier, this would not have been my favorite of their shows, but I love REM so much and this is the one and only time I've ever seen them in concert so it must make the list.

5. Over the Rhine, 1998(?), The Ark, Ann Arbor, Michigan
I haven't followed this band much in the past five years or so, but I was deeply in love with them in college so this concert came at the perfect time. They are a lovely band and played a lovely show in a very intimate venue. I don't know that seeing them live would have the same effect on me today, but this is the perfect example of the right concert at exactly the right time.

7:20 PM  
Blogger Thin White Duke said...

Well now I'm going to jump in.

In no particular order....

1) David Bowie, Sound and Vision Tour, The Woodlands, 1991 (I think?)

A greatest hits tour, but amazing nonetheless. I had never seen Bowie and had no idea what I was in store for. He had rigged up an enormous transparent curtain which hung over the stage and on which were displayed massive moving images that went along with the songs. (Computer-controlled, I think, not projected). So, e.g., during "Space Oddity" there was a weird, floating gyrating Bowie--huge--that shifted in front of the actual Bowie, who was singing. Dramatic and visually awesome. Oh, and it rocked.

2) Bowie, Earthling Tour, The Warfield, San Francsisco, 1998

I know, bad form to use the same guy twice. But also awesome, in a different way. A 2000 seat club, and I was standing in the front, ten feet from the stage. The album was great, the band rocked; it was extremely intense and wild. The bassist came out dressed as a horse on one of the three nights. Bowie did NOT seem like a man in his fifties.

3) US3, London, Venue Unremembered

An odd choice, since I'm not--and wasn't really at the time--a big fan of the band. But it was a fantastic show. US3, for those of you who've forgotten (!) was one of those 'let's rap over jazz' bands; for this show they had an actual jazz band, though, that they jammed with (not just samples). Tons of fun; I was 19, in London by myself, seeing a show! I could drink! That probably played into it....

4) The Who, The Astrodome, 1989

I was with Dez for this event. Totally awesome. I still remember when the band came out; I think they opened with "Pinball Wizard." When the bass and drums came in, the entire crowd was on its feet yelling. I don't think we sat down the entire time. Pure adrenaline.

5) U2, Zoo TV Tour, The Summit, 92

The Pixies opened.

Great visuals, lots of drama and Bono totally held the crowd. Big screens displaying lots of static. I think that was the tour where Bono called the white house and ordered pizza, though not at the show I went to.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Robin said...

I also saw that Built to Spill show. It was terrific. I think my hearing never recovered, but it was worth it.

2:39 PM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

Funny about the hearing loss. It depends on the show. as I stated in my list above, my ears rang for days (really) after that Neil Young show. We were close to the stage and it was SO loud. But you know, I was honored that I got to have my hearing probably permanently impaired due to Neil being pissed off at his recently fired band and him being all juiced to be playing with Crazy Horse again. That's cool.

BUT, more recently, my fiance made me (I repeat, MADE me) attend a Gary Allen show. Now, this guy really isn't all that bad as far as these younger Texas country guys with rock and roll hearts go (you know the type). But man, it was one of the loudest shows I've ever been to, and my ears were ringing well into the next day. That pissed me off. I only have so much hearing left, and I do not want to waste it on Gary freakin' Allen.

Thinking more about that Who show that the Duke and I both listed makes me smile. What a great time. For me, I remember when they started jamming in "Amazing Journey / Sparks" (well, actually the "Sparks" part to be specific). John Entwistle's bass runs in that song...YES!!!!!! ROCK AND ROLL!!!!!!!!!!!

3:36 PM  
Blogger helen_boyd said...

wow, y'all make me feel old.


the damned, a couple of years ago, irving plaza. converted my husband from "i hate the damned" to (with great respect) "damn, they're the loudest band ever."

oingo boingo, dec 1985. they were amazing. huge horn section, danny elfman hadn't gotten fat from making movies yet, & they were just perfectly angelino *weird.*

the woodentops, the ritz, have no idea when (mid- to late 80s). a band no-one's heard of anymore, who were like punk folk. i miss rolo mcginty, the most frenetic lead ever.

elvis costello - well, i've never seen a bad show, but the one that stands out is at the beacon with just steve nieve a couple of years ago.

& since i'll stop at five, rufus wainwright in philly, want tour. it was a perfect night; him & his sister did a few cabaret songs in french, & it was the first time i'd heard some new songs. perfectly beautiful night, his voice in exceptional form.

others: soft cell (for which i waited approximately 15 years); adam ant, who was the perfect ham but a remarkable showman; the stranglers, just before they broke up; radiohead in liberty state park, a couple of months before 9/11, & so the last time i travelled through the wtc, & the last time i got to enjoy the towers as part of the skyline.

7:32 PM  

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