Friday, February 12, 2016

Ranking The Concerts I've Seen

My post about Van Halen a few months ago got me to thinking about all of the concerts I had attended and whether I thought I could rank all of them. My concert attendance has slowed down very significantly in recent years since I have actual obligations and no money to meet those obligations, but figured I would give a ranking them a shot. I'm probably missing a show or two. I'm not including stage shows I saw in college because I went to quite a few stage shows in college with local college bands and probably was not sober for a good portion of them. I went to a concert one time in a small club and it took me five songs to realize the lead singer was black. I probably pregamed too hard. I have my favorite concerts in reverse order below. The worst one is probably obvious. It's Van Halen, but you know that already. Hopefully the year I went to the concerts are not incorrect either. And yes, you can laugh at some of these. I'm fine with that.

Van Halen (1998)- As much fun as it would be to harp on this, it wasn't a good concert. I've stated why and I still think Eddie Van Halen is a great guitarist.

Steve Miller Band and George Thorogood (1999)- Not that this was a BAD concert, but I don't like either of these two artists enough to attend a concert to see them, yet I did. This one is on me. Nothing I saw in concert convinced me to like them otherwise. Steve Miller was pretty good, though I'm not really passionate about their music, but after about 20 minutes of George Thorogood playing the whole "rowdy blues riff while women scream and he sings a little bit more about drinking" it got slightly grating for me. The two women in front of me really, really, really enjoyed the show though. Enough to scream the whole time and jiggle their scantily-clad bodies in my face when they were not of age or size to be scantily-clad.

Angie Aparo (2001)- I went to this concert, on a whim, in Atlanta. It is probably considered a stage show, but I had no idea where I was going so we were almost late and I spent most of the concert upset that all of the songs on his album were a full band and he played with just him and a guitar in concert. My friend who went with me, she could have explained that he played stripped-down, because it was a sort of letdown for me. She did not explain it. Curse her for this. I drove to Atlanta to see him and got surprised by not having a full band. I like acoustic, but only when I'm expecting it. He did a great version of "Rocket Man," but I felt awkward the whole time because everyone was so much older than I thought they would be and I couldn't yell or talk loud in the venue or else it would disrupt the music. Still love his first album, but this was a disappointment.

Guster and The Avett Brothers (2007)- This is a somewhat interesting story. My wife and I had never heard the Avett Brothers music, but we knew of them considering they were North Carolina legends already that point. We heard they put on a good show and we love Guster. We happily went to Raleigh to see the show. Well, the opening act came on at 7:30pm and didn't leave the stage until 8:30pm. Then the Avett Brothers came out at 8:45pm and would not leave the fucking stage. Guster didn't come on stage until 9:45pm and at that point they were nearly running into the Avett Brothers as they left the stage. They had to be off stage by 11pm, but the Avett Brothers would not leave the stage. Their set lasted too long and to make matters worse, the entire crowd was thrilled they were on stage. Every lyric was sung loudly and obnoxiously, not obnoxiously because it was bad music, but because I wanted to see Guster play, not the Avett Brothers. Naturally, this colored our opinion of the Avett Brothers for a few years until "I and Love and You" came out and now they are one of my favorite bands. The lead singer of Guster (they have two singers and one sings most of the songs these days) even didn't do an encore. His words were, "We usually leave the stage and come back on, but we are almost out of time. Pretend you clapped for us and we came back. Also, we can only do one encore because we are out of time." That was annoying. Eventually, I forgave the Avett Brothers and the unnamed opening act.

Counting Crows and John Mayer (2003)- It was pretty blah. I got roped into going to the concert with an acquaintance I didn't really like all that much, so that probably ruined it. John Mayer can play guitar and for some reason the only thing I remember about Counting Crows' set is they did a great version of "Miami" after Adam Duritz told a really long story about the song. Also, they changed the rhythm and lyrics to "Round Here" so that wasn't cool.

Kenny Chesney, Dierks Bentley and Rascal Flatts (2004)- I don't do country concerts and this is part of the reason why. The environment ruined this show for me. It was I am not a huge fan of Rascal Flatts but my friends were all going and I used to like Kenny Chesney a lot, so I figured I would go. I think the fact I can't really comment on it much probably shows what kind of concert it was. Chesney did a melody of his slower songs, which was nice since a concert isn't supposed to be a downer, but also a bit disorienting at the same time when one song starts and then the lyrics to another song start after a minute.

Chicago and the Doobie Brothers (1998)- Yeah, I went to a Chicago concert. My friends left the concert early because they thought Chicago's music was too slow. What the fuck did you expect? Really? Have you heard any of their music? The tickets were cheap and I like the music of the Doobie Brothers enough to bear with the slow parts of Chicago's half of the concert. The sad part is Chicago is really great when they do their material that is more horn-heavy, but there are the children of the 80's who just HAVE to hear "You're the Inspiration" and that's a problem for me. So the slow 80's stuff was the main material on the menu. The end result is I got a Doobie Brothers beer holder that I still own to this day. It was "The Doobie Brothers koozie" that gained infamy in college for some reason as my go-to koozie.

The Eagles (2003)- It's funny how a concert experience can be affected by the events around the concert. I went to this concert on a Thursday night (I believe) and had to be back at school the next morning at 9am for a summer law school class. It was a four hour drive by the way. Four fucking hours. So I left the concert and got home at about 4:00am after driving home in a rainstorm, smoking cigarettes and wondering if this wasn't a bad decision in retrospect. The concert was pretty much by the numbers and the band's set list, which isn't exactly uptempo as it is, was even more down tempo than usual. Plus, they led off with "The Long Run." Open the show with "Hotel California" or go home.

Carbon Leaf (2009)- This concert was on me. I went to see Carbon Leaf after they released an album I didn't really love (Nothing Rhymes with Woman) fully knowing they would play most of the album and I wouldn't like it. My wife wanted to see them and I wanted to hear "The Boxer," plus the concert too place three miles from our house. To make matters worse, I remember them backloading the set with songs from their new album, so as I got tired of standing, the music got a bit worse for me. Overall, a great band who I would love to see play again though...just not in support of an album I don't love.

Train and Far Too Jones (2001)- I went for Far Too Jones and the girl I went to the concert with went for Train. So that sort of created a minor issue in that we didn't really have a shared band that we liked. At the time, Train wasn't a band whose sole purpose was to stay together long enough to create more Top 40 singles. They had Top 40 singles, but were a band, which is the opposite of what they are today, which is a singer and a guitarist. Far Too Jones was really good and Train put on a good show too. I know it is hard to believe, but the lead singer of Train had a great stage presence and really engaged with the audience. I was more entertained than I probably care to admit at this time, given the fact "Hey, Soul Sister" and "Marry Me" are still the bane of my existence.

Mae and Locksley (2009)- I had no idea who Mae was, but they turned out to be a rock/pop/art band whose music had small Christian overtunes, but not to the point the songs seemed to actually be about God. They put on a really good show and the songs fit well in the club I saw them in. They were the main act and I wasn't disappointed after hearing Locksley play. Locksley is like a power-pop version of the Beatles and they were very fan-friendly, plus I love how high energy the concert was. Locksley's had a new bassist at the time and his girlfriend was standing beside me. I mention this to say she could not have been 17 years old. He threw her his pick about halfway through the concert and I heard her tell her friend after that something to the effect of "I'm showing this off in school tomorrow" and I am very sure she wasn't talking about a college-school. So that was interesting.

The Eagles (2013)- I dragged my wife to this concert because I wanted to see them play before I died. Sort of fortuitous now. They were doing the "History of the Eagles Tour" in support of the Showtime special that was out. Even if you don't like the Eagles, I would encourage you to watch that special. It's kind of crazy and few people mix the reaction of "What he's saying is making total sense" with "My God, he's such a condescending asshole" better than Don Henley does. His explanation for why tricked Don Felder into leaving the studio so he could cut his own vocal for a song was a mixture of, "I get it" with "What a fucking dick move." They played songs that didn't usually play in concert and had much more energy than the show the decade before. I love it when bands play songs in concert you don't usually get to hear. I'm not always there for the hits. Do I need to hear the Eagles hits over and over again? Probably not.

Locksley and Rooney (2008)- This was a really good show that I saw in Carrboro, NC. At the time the guitarist for Rooney was dating Mischa Barton and when the lead singer (Jason Schwartman's brother, son of Talia Shire) introduced him as the guy dating Mischa Barton you could tell he wasn't happy. Pretty sure they broke up shortly after this (he and Mischa Barton, not Rooney). One of the most entertaining parts was watching the bassist for Rooney stand in the very far left corner with sunglasses on acting as disinterested as possible in the fact he was performing at a concert. He could have been cooking spaghetti. He didn't care, he was just playing bass and standing very still wearing sunglasses. The lead singer of Locksley stood outside the club door after the concert and told the people attending goodnight and wanted to know where they had heard of them from. He desperately wanted his band to be FOUND and to know how that could happen. The fact he was so nice made me like the band even more.

Jimmy Buffett (1998) and Jimmy Buffett (2002)- I combine these concerts because if you have been to one of his then you know how it goes. Your parents or me (as the case may be in the future if Buffett doesn't die in the next 10 years...fingers crossed) get drunk and act like fools pretending they are at the bench when they are really in the middle of North Carolina and working at a job they just sort of like. One really good thing about a Buffett concert is he has his core songs he sings, but the set list changes every single tour and probably every single night. When you are a big fan like I am, it's nice to hear him end a show with "Survive" or bust out with "Lage Nom Ai" at some point. You don't always know what he will play and that makes it fun.

Bruce Springsteen (2008)- Then there are the drawbacks to a singer/band playing obscure songs that diehard fans enjoy. I enjoyed this concert, but went with my wife, who isn't a huge Springsteen fan. If she liked a song he was playing and knew it, things were great, but the obscure tracks didn't make for such a great time for her. Plus, I dragged my feet on getting tickets and we were behind the stage. It's not a great view, though Bruce tried his best to give us attention. 

The Bacon Brothers (1998)- I know. Go ahead and laugh. This is Kevin Bacon's band. Maybe it was seeing this concert at Myrtle Beach during grad week after high school. Maybe it was the fact I was in a good mood because I had obtained more alcohol for after the show. Whatever it was, this was a very enjoyable concert. The audience (in the parking lot of a Planet Hollywood...hello 1998!) was engaged and the band bantered a lot with the audience. They even played "Footloose" as the encore. I bought their album and listened to it a lot, much to the mocking of my friends. I still have that album and dust it off from time to time, much to the mocking of my wife. I don't care. I had a good time.

Guster (2010)- The worst part about this concert was I got there too early and was really tired by the time the concert actually started from standing the whole time. It was at a venue in Charlotte and there were no chairs. The venue was the Fillmore and I believed it had just opened. They opened with "The Captain" which I thought was kind of odd, since it doesn't scream "concert opener" to me. It was nice not to have the Avett Brothers present and hogging the stage.

Dawes (2011)- They are one of my favorite bands, so getting to see them live was awesome for me. They did not let me down. Oddly, the song I think I enjoyed the most was "Lawyers, Guns and Money" which of course isn't their song. They did a great cover version of it though. Of course, they played "A Little Bit of Everything" which is probably one of my favorite songs by them. I was distracted by the drummer's facial expressions though. My wife and I spent a lot of the concert figuring out if he had Tourette's or another condition which caused him to make odd facial expressions. More than likely, he was just into playing the drums. I did do a Google search after the concert and couldn't figure out whether we are the only ones that noticed it though or if there was some information about it on the Interwebs. Weirdly, this concert probably had the most hipsters of any concerts I've ever been to. I felt pretty uncool because I did not dress ironic enough.

The Eagles (1995)- Yes, I am very not cool. I recognize this. This was during their first "Grab some cash" tour after they had reunited after taking a 15 year vacation. Since I have been to two other Eagles concerts I can look back in retrospect and say this is the only one where they didn't feel/seem like they were doing a job of sorts. It seemed very natural up there, like it wasn't five guys who separate after the concert, which they probably did anyway and I have no delusions about this. I went to the concert at Death Valley, which is Clemson's football field. It was a pretty awesome venue to see a concert I have to admit. It was packed and they even opened up with Hotel California, did an acoustic set (or a few songs) and generally felt like they were the opposite of the band they are live...which is a band that tends to robotically play every note, instrument, and song as if it were programmed six months earlier. You know, like all the moves had been memorized so long ago they were second nature.

The Shins (2008)- I was very, very surprised how much I enjoyed this concert. I like the Shins, but my girlfriend (now wife) liked them more than I did prior to the show. This was one of those concerts that made me like a band more. I wasn't sure how the sound from the album would translate to the stage, but it did, and it translated well. I also didn't realize how many multi-instrumentalists there were in the band. "Kissing the Lipless" was the opener and it worked really well with the band behind a curtain until the rest of the band started playing a 1/4 of the way through the song when the curtain dropped. A pleasantly surprising concert.

Boston (1997)- There is a 56% chance I moved this concert up in the rankings because I spent almost half of the concert with a drunk middle-aged man talking to me like I was his brother. He thought I, a 17 year old at the time, was his brother and was joking around and talking to me like we were old family members who could recall stories together. It was very, very amusing...except when he put his sweaty arm around me of course. The band, who is of course old and not really selling a ton of records, was excellent in concert. They played all their hits and even some album cuts that weren't considered hits. Brad Delp, who has since died (see, they were old...though his death was a suicide), could still hit high notes and the band really sounded good. I did not win any cool points for going to the concert and I will win fewer cool points saying it was a great concert. There is something to be said for an energetic concert where the musicianship of the band is as impressive as the songs being performed.

R.E.M. (1995)- This was my first ever concert. I saw them on the ill-fated "Monster" tour where everybody in the band except the guitarist had major surgery or almost died. But I saw them BEFORE they all got sick, which was very fortunate. I'm glad I saw them after they put out their "rock" album, because it made the experience even better knowing there wouldn't be an entirely acoustic set. Not that I wouldn't want to hear an acoustic set. What was a little confusing at the time is how they played songs off "New Adventures in Hi-Fi" before the album was released. They were on tour to support one new album and ended up playing 3-4 songs off an album that would be released a year later. I'm not sure that R.E.M. ever got their due as a live act. It may be because in the small window where they were huge stars they didn't tour and when they did tour they almost died. So there is a small window where they were a huge act and got to play large concerts while touring behind a loud album. I got to see one of those concerts. I feel fortunate about that. Prior to this "Monster" tour they were a smaller band or a college band, and after the tour, they generally played behind albums that were a little bit on the slower, moodier side. They are really good live.

Bruce Springsteen (1999)- It's not a cliche at all that he is good in concert. This was an absolutely amazing show. It helps I'm a big Springsteen fan and knew all the songs, but he does a great job of setting a mood for a certain song and generally putting on a show. I remember moving seats so I could be more to the front and the crowd going crazy when he played "Badlands." Even the songs I could go without "Land of Hopes and Dreams" and "41 Shots" were great performances. This is the tour after the band got back together and seemed to combine Bruce not being too old and the band being excited to play together again. Fantastic show and it will be hard to top this experience.


  1. Great post, Ben. Not a ton of overlap in the bands I've seen in concert, but the recap and specific commentary about the situations around and within each show really took me back to some of my best (and worst) concerts that I've seen as well.

    1. I realized while I ran today that I forgot one! It's probably the most memorable in terms of thing that happened.

      I went to see the Strokes after they released their second album and after they took a looooooong break before the encore, the lead singer (Julian Casablancas) came out absolutely wasted. He then waded into the crowd and could barely stand while singing a song. He ended up stumbling and falling on one of my friends and I basically had to yank her out of the way in order to avoid her being crushed. Then I helped him up and he absolutely stunk of liquor. It was repulsive.

  2. That is a pretty damn cool story. Can't think of anything similar. We're about the same age so you can appreciate some of my highlights/lowlights though:

    1996: Saw Better Than Ezra and got to hang out backstage with them, during their club tour supporting Friction, Baby.

    1996, maybe 1997: Smashing Pumpkins show, shortly after Chamberlain got axed after overdosing along with deceased touring keyboardist. Corgan came up to the mic after a couple songs and said "I...I just can't deal" and left. That was fun...but Garbage opened (seeing a trend with 90s alt-rock yet?) and I always loved them.

    1998: The Verve, after Nick McCabe left the band but before they called it quits for the second time. Ashcroft on stage with a pint of lager in his hand for most of the night.

    1996-2015: Any of the many Rush shows I've been to. Even if you hate their music, their live shows were just astonishingly good. I say "were" because it appears Peart is done touring.

    In terms of overlap with your list, I did get to see The Shins, supporting Wincing The Night Away, and agree with you 100% - I had no idea they would sound that good live, that the sound would translate so well, but it did. That show was in high demand, can't even remember how I got tickets. I looked it up on Wikipedia and I guess the founder of the band pretty much gutted it, started anew, but kept The Shins name. How does their newer stuff sound?

    Regrets on bands I had a chance to see, but didn't - Manic Street Preachers. If you don't know them, they are an odd Britpop band from Wales that make some pretty catchy music, but never really caught on here, even though by all rights in the late 90s, they should have. Politics was one thing; go read some lyrics from The Holy Bible and you'll see what I mean. I had tickets and was outside the venue in Boston a few years back, and me and my buddy sold the tix and left because they weren't due to go on till 10pm or something. They have only toured the states a few times in 25 years, and I doubt they'll be back anytime soon...should have stayed for it!

    Enough about me... :)

    1. In college I worked a concert and met Tonic after the show. It was about as cool as it sounds. I'd rather meet Better than Ezra.

      I'd love to see the Verve in concert. They are one of my favorites. I never really gotten into Rush's music that much. It's not bad, just not my type of thing.

      Yeah James Mercer gutted the band and then did another album with basically himself and a couple others. It wasn't bad, but it's not the same as the first three albums. He mostly does music with Danger Mouse now in a band called Broken Bells. They are pretty good. I'm sure you have heard something by them. If you like the Shins, then Broken Bells is more dance-oriented but still has Mercer's voice.

      I do know Manic Street Preachers. I don't know much about their music. They have a song about a broken phone booth or something if I'm not wrong.

      I checked their site and they are only in Europe right now. They put out a new album in 2014 apparently.

  3. Haha you may be thinking of Primitive Radio Gods with the broken phone booth song - which, if you're my age (36), was a huge hit on the radio around senior year of high school. Just an incredible lightning-in-a-bottle moment for a band that, if I'm not mistaken, was pretty much never heard from again:

    Manic Street Preachers have had a couple minor hits here over the years, and their 1996 album Everything Must Go was as commercial as they got. Great album, worth checking out as an intro to their music. Go back into the early 90s (Holy Bible especially) and it gets pretty dark. Go forward to 1998's "This is my truth tell me yours" and it gets odd. That album is a bit of a continuation of Everything Must Go, if overly polished. In 2001 they scrapped that sound and went to an odd post-modern punk type sound with Know Your Enemy. I have grown to love that album and it has some great-sounding tracks, but the lyrics are pretty much full-on communist in places. That is what I'd call a "grower" :)

    If none of this interests you, I apologize for wasting your time :)

    I would say that if you checked out their more recent albums, they've settled into a great sound since, say, 2007 ("Send Away The Tigers"). For a Britpop-era band to still be making music consistently after 25 years and one missing/presumed dead band member is, I think, pretty impressive, as many of those bands had one or two good albums then sort of flamed out or ran out of ideas.

    Cool about Tonic. Really. That's great. Haha...Hey I did like their radio hits.

    The Verve reformed in 2007, released an album in 2008, which I believe was pretty damn good (it was called "Forth", if you're interested in hearing it), but Ashcroft and those guys just don't get along well, so after a short festival tour in 2008 they stepped away from it and haven't gotten back together. Ashcroft is releasing his second or third solo album since that time, so my guess is we'll never hear from The Verve again.

    Sorry for being long-winded - it's Friday afternoon, my boss and team member are both out for the rest of the day, and I'm killin' time.

    1. Those bands with three names in the title throw me. This isn't the first time I've gotten those two confused. I need to listen to their music and get de-confused. You are obviously right though. That was Primitive Radio Gods.

      I may have to give them a try. A lot of bands that are "growers" have a tough time with me because I have so much music I barely have time to listen to it. Any music always interests me. I got some suggestions to listen to prog-rock and I have checked it out and enjoyed it.

      Wait? One missing/presumed dead member? (Uses the Google machine)...Richey Edwards just disappeared? That's odd. I bet he killed himself.

      Their radio hits were cool, but the band were sort of dicks. Except the drummer, he was cool.

      Oh yeah, I have some tracks from "Forth" and I like it. I prefer their second album, the title of which I can't remember and am too lazy to look up. It has "This is Music" on it.

      I heard Ashcroft's solo stuff. It's good, but I wouldn't call it on par with the Verve.

  4. Just saw this tonight.

    I enjoyed your write-up and, wow, there are many bands I've never even heard of! (Too prog rock and very talented musician oriented.) Will check some of these out.

    I am sad to say that I have only been to two full-blown concerts and those were some years ago :(

    Sting: Mercury Falling 1996 (Albuquerque, NM)--terrible sound because it was played at the Pit. The way the Pit was set up, the noise really amplified the further up the arena from the floor. So sitting/standing at the upper middle level was not enjoyable (so much echo and fan noise). The only time I could make out anything was when the band went acoustic. Did not enjoy the concert at all :( (I wear hearing aids and they pick up every noise, so it makes it hard for me to separate the music from the noise. I prefer symphony or opera houses where the design help focus the sound rather than allow it echo all over the place.)

    Fleetwood Mac:The Dance 1997 (Dallas Texas). It was an outside venue, and the sound was very crisp! It was set up like a symphony hall but without the roof! I loved that venue! Can't remember the name of it. They played much of their big hits and some of the more instrumental songs (I'm So Afraid--great guitar work here!). One negative that I remember--the band members (except Mick and John) loved to turn their backs on the audience frequently throughout the concert. Strange behavior :)

    Both concerts were (from what I understand) very sedate, I did not see any that were in drunken stupor (as a country concert--went to a country music festival at Texas Stadium 1998 or 1999 (cannot remember) and boy, almost everyone was drunk and loud. I left after 2 shows--John Michael Montgomery and Faith Hill--I'm not proud of it) or obnoxious, over-loud fans.

    It is unfortunate that going to a concert now is a take-out-a-loan-because-it-is-too-cost-prohibitive experience. Hopefully I can go to one prog-rock concert in the near future, but I'm not holding my breath--Charlotte seems to never get these type of bands :(

    1. Wow, two concerts is all you have been to? Of course, I quit going to concerts over the past few years. I used to go more frequently.

      I know how you do love prog rock and I'm surprised Charlotte doesn't get those bands. I was supposed to see Fleetwood Mac in 1997 but something happened (I can't remember what) and I couldn't get tickets. I do have to say that they have come to Greensboro a few times, but having seen them on television in concerts of late, I'm not sure I would enjoy it. I saw them perform at a festival (on television) and the sound was awful. They did not sound good at all.

      I think a lot of people have gone to a country concert before. I would go again, but maybe just go to a concert I enjoyed more than I enjoyed the one I went to.

    2. Oh, and also, concerts are WAY too expensive. It's how bands make money these days. Make an album, go on tour to make money and then record another album in a few years. The cycle has slowed to a crawl since touring is how bands make money and albums are just seen as a way to get back on the road.

  5. Whoo-hoo, finally am going to see a Dream Theater concert in Durham on Nov 27. Will let you know how it goes!

  6. Do let me know how it goes. I had friends in college who saw Dream Theater in concert. They said they were fantastic.

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