If you took some time to read my Top 100 list from Wednesday you probably noticed that I avoided any kind of ranking system. Instead I went with an alphabetized list because trying to rank 100 bands sounded difficult and pointless. However, ranking concerts seems custom fit for a Friday 5 list. Time to rock.
Top 5 Concerts
1. The Strokes and The White Stripes, Radio City Music Hall 2002
Without a doubt the best concert I’ve ever seen. It was two of my now favorite bands at the exact moment they hit the big time. And as it turns out, it was one of two times the biggest bands of the 00’s ever shared the stage together. Back in late 2001 and early 2002 I was obsessed with these two bands. The Strokes debut album Is This It? and The White Stripes major label debut White Blood Cells were the coolest things in the world back then.
In the spring of 2002 I planned a trip with my sister to visit my family up in the Philly/Jersey for August1. This concert was announced days after I booked my airline tickets and it sold out so fast that I had to pick up a ticket off of eBay.
The day of the show I walked around New York City with my dad and my sister and by the end of the day I managed to down a whole bottle of DayQuil to fight off my head cold. By the evening I made my way to Radio City Music Hall in a daze not knowing what to expect. What I found was an amazingly beautiful venue and a collection of the coolest people I’d ever seen. The place was packed with an awesome mix of New York hipsters, back before that was a dirty word. I was in awe.
The White Stripes opened the show with a loud set bursting with energy. They ripped through most of White Blood Cells and half of their indie label album De Stilj. It was pretty incredible that only two people were able to rock a place that big.
But the stars of the nite were definitely the Strokes. The show was a triumphant homecoming for the scruffy haired hipsters, and they were in top form. The tore through every song on Is This It? and then stunned the crowd by playing New York City Cops for an encore. But the real surprise was that Jack White came on stage with them to play the guitar solo. It looked something like this.
There were lots of other amazing parts of the evening, like berating Gideon Yago of MTV news in the beer line for not playing enough videos on MTV2 and running into Macaulay Culkin on the way out of the show. But the music is what makes this concert hands down my favorite of all time.
2. Jane’s Addiction and Nine Inch Nails, Ford Ampitheater 2009
My second favorite concert was last year’s NIN|JA tour that I caught down in Tampa. You can read all about it here. Waiting 18 years to see my favorite band do a full blown reunion tour was worth everything and more. Not much else to say, so here’s a better quality version of the amazing intro song, Three Days.
3. Jane’s Addiction and Smashing Pumpkins with Goldie, Aragon Ballroom 1997
Up until last year, my second favorite concert was the Jane’s Addiction Relapse tour in 1997. While it wasn’t quite the NIN|JA tour, it was still pretty damn incredible. My college roommate Eric had a friend living in Chicago at the time who was able to score us tickets for the show. We ended up driving to Chicago and back in less than 24 hours just to see the show, which was tiring but way worth it.
While we knew that trip-hop pioneer Goldie was opening the show, the rumor around Chicago that day was that there would be a super cool mystery band opening too. And this way back before the internet was able to spoil secrets this big. The entire audience was shocked and thrilled when Billy Corgan walked on stage in a Raggedy Ann wig and launched into Zero. It was a short but amazing set that left me super charged for the main act.
Jane’s played a great set with Flea standing in for bass player Eric Avery. The show had what I would call a Caribbean Strip Club theme that was a little strange but seemed to work nevertheless. I was lucky enough to be standing by a hidden side stage when the band came out to play Jane’s Says for the encore. I was almost close enough to touch Perry! It was quite a visual feast.
But the highlight was definitely getting to hear my favorite all time song, Summertime Rolls, 1½ times. The band started playing the song as Perry was attempting to scale a high set of scaffolding, but he was having trouble singing and climbing in 6 inch platforms. When he finally got to the top, he said to the band “How about once more from the beginning?” He then sang that beautiful song like an angel high above the crowd. I still get chills when I think about it. The show left me so excited that I was able to stay awake for most of the eight hour car ride back to Springfield in the middle of the nite.
4. R.E.M. and Wilco, Red Rocks Amphitheater 2003
Back during my days as a traveling apartment inspector in 2003, I often found myself in various major U.S. cities on weekends with no plans. In September of that year, I had a weekend to kill in Denver. On a hunch I pulled up the schedule for Red Rocks Amphitheater and I was thrilled to see that R.E.M. was playing on Saturday nite with Wilco. I had seen R.E.M. once before, but it was on the Monster Tour in 1997 which wasn’t that great. This time around they were playing an all request show, which was an amazing idea!
If you’ve never been to Red Rocks, you should definitely make the drive to Denver at least once in your life. The Amphitheater is carved out of a mountain that sits high above the city. In person it’s breathtaking. On that particular evening there was a full moon and clear skies3, so the entire city was illuminated in the background. Absolutely gorgeous!
Wilco played a fantastic set heavy on tracks from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and with a few gems from Summerteeth. And for the encore they seemed to sense the beauty of their surrounds by playing California Stars, which coincidently is my favorite Wilco song.
R.E.M. did an even better job of playing to their surroundings. They played a mostly fan favorite set from the late eighties and early nineties, but saved the best for the encore. Bathed in moonlight, Michael Stipe came back out on stage and treated the crowd to Man In The Moon followed by a stunning rendition of Nightswimming. What a perfect setting.
5. The Strokes and Kings of Leon with Regina Spektor, Next Stage 2003
This was another bit of luck from my traveling days in 2003. I was in Dallas in November of 2003 with no plans4, and The Strokes just happened to be in town. I didn’t know it before hand, but the show was being held at a brand new, state of the art facility. The venue was basically an oversized, super plush movie theater with a huge stage. Every seat was comfortable and had an amazing view, and the sound quality was top notch. It was a music geek’s dream.
Regina Spektor came out first and played an acoustic set from her major label debut, Soviet Kitsch. Most of the crowd seemed puzzled, but I loved it. I still think she’s the second coming of Tori Amos.
She was followed by a rollicking set by Kings of Leon, who managed to play every song off their astonishing debut album, Youth and Young Manhood. They had a certain type of rawness to them when they first burst onto the scene that they’ve managed to dilute over the past few years.
But all of that paled in comparison to The Strokes. They played damn near every song off of their debut and off of their recently released sophomore album Room On Fire. Seeing Hard To Explain followed by Reptilia almost rocked my face completely off. And for the encore they brought out Regina to sing a b-side they were in the process of recording called Modern Girls And Old Fashioned Men. Seeing Julian and Regina duet together was a treat that I’ll never forget. Here they are singing it at a much larger venue, Madison Square Garden.
This show is sonically probably the best I’ve ever experienced. But as you can tell from all these entries, the totality of the experience is what makes a concert truly great.
1. The other highlight of that trip was catching a Cards-Phillies game at the Vet with my family. It was Scott Rolen’s first game back to Philadelphia after being traded to the Cardinals. Fans booed him mercilessly and a few actually threw batteries at him. Way to stay classy Philly.
2. Which actually seems funny now, arguing for the artistic integrity of MTV. Looks like I was on the wrong side of that debate…
3. While the sky was clear and beautiful, the temperature was in the low forties. Having just spent most of my August traveling through the Southwestern states, I was unprepared to be that cold. Still, that show was totally worth freezing my ass off.
4. If you happen to notice, three of my top five concerts were solo affairs. While they were all amazing experiences, they would’ve been even better if I had someone at the time to share these experiences. Going to concerts alone is a bittersweet affair.