The Best Concerts I’ve Ever Seen

Because Jake is the BEST BOYFRIEND EVER, he was sneaky and bought me and his mom tickets to see Norah Jones this past weekend at the Dodge Theater. A couple interesting items about this show: 1) Norah’s opener and backup singer, Sasha Dobson, may have outshined the headliner. 2) Norah’s new album, sadly, feels very pop princess. I don’t know if I’m even going to buy it, which makes Sara sad. 3) Norah did wear yellow pumps with her bright green dress. That, my friends, is awesome. You can read the full write up about the show on the Phoenix New Times website.

This blog entry isn’t about Norah, because Norah didn’t impress me as much as I’d hoped. The lack of impression got me to thinking about the concerts that have impressed me in my life. So, in celebration, this blog post is about those concerts—the ones that really stood out. The ones I will remember until I’m old and senile, and even then, I’ll be saying, “Remember how Neil Young looked like he was having a seizure in the middle of ‘Cinnamon Girl’ back in 1999? Well, I do!”

BEST OLD GUY WHO STILL KICKS ASS
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
North Charleston Coliseum, Charleston, SC
Everybody loves The Boss. It’s the American way, I don’t care who you are. And who knew a guy so dang old could still do running knee slides on stage? I think the best part of this concert was when Springsteen reached out into the crowd, plucked a sign from some little girl’s hands, and said in front of the whole audience, “Well, it’s Jenny’s first concert and birthday today. Boys, let’s sing ‘Jenny Take a Ride’ for this young lady.” And he did! It was the way he accomplished a personal touch, even when playing in front of a sports arena, that stuck with me. (And well, playing hits like “Born to Run” and “Streets of Philadelphia” didn’t hurt his cause.)

BEST GUITAR PLAYER
John Mayer
North Charleston Coliseum, Charleston, SC
Yeah, he’s a jerk. I would hate to actually hang out with the guy, and my brother says most of his early acoustic stuff is so easy, a toddler could play it. However, John Mayer has come a long way. Talking about sexual relationships with the media notwithstanding, Mayer wails on that electric guitar. Through songs like “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” (my favorite) and the slow, sensual “Gravity,” this guy-you-should-never-date rocked my world. I think I listened to the majority of his concert with my eyes closed; I wanted to focus on every riff, every chord, every moment of silence between every riff and every chord. A helluva show. If you can see him in concert, see him in concert. (Here’s my write up from the Charleston City Paper.)

BEST SHOW IN THE BLACK OF NIGHT
Les Claypool and The Frog Brigade
All Good Festival, Marvin’s Mountaintop, West Virginia

Les Claypool

All Good Festival is a three-day music festival in the middle of nowhere. It features famous and up-and-coming bluegrass, folk, and rock musicians, and I attended two years in a row. The first year, I was lucky enough to spend the weekend in a tent with two of my favorite dudes on earth—my buddy, Nate, and my brother, Matt. Every morning, we would make our coffee and Maker’s Mark and wander down to the music area. Past Shakedown Alley. Past the dread-locked hippies selling grilled cheese and oatmeal cookies. To the green hill overlooking the raging crowd and the wide stage, set at the base of West Virginia half-mountains. The one night, me and the boys were … um … we had a sugar high … from the brownies … yeah … and so Les Claypool (best known as vocalist and bassist for Primus) was playing at All Good with a side project of his, The Frog Brigade. Well, I was transfixed by this fluorescent, glowing object, floating in the sky above me, carried through the air by balloons, when the Brigade started jamming. Then, all of a sudden, the lights went out. There was a moment of silence as a cloak of black covered the crowd. Then, Les Claypool’s grainy, low, and kinda creepy voice echoed over our heads. “Well, we’re gonna keep on playing,” he said. “But for now, why don’t we all just space out on that glowing thing in the sky?” And we did. And he did! Claypool kept playing, in the dark, with only his fingers and a microphone to guide him. It was like an extended trippy dream, but even better, it really happened.

BEST SHOW FOR MAKING MY DAD GREEN WITH ENVY
Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young
Sports Arena, Toledo, OH
I was raised listening to Neil Young. Neil Young is my father’s favorite artist, and he has passed this trait onto my little brother. So when I had the chance to see CSNY and my father didn’t, well, he wasn’t too happy. I know their voices aren’t quite like they used to be. Steven Stills can barely hold a note anymore. But there was nothing better—nothing—than when Crosby and Nash stepped forward from the rest of the band. Crosby shushed the crowd. He shushed us! And these two musical moguls sang “Guinevere,” a cappella, on perfect pitch, until tears were rolling down my face.  Why was I crying? I dunno. It’s what music does to me sometimes, so I cried. And then, I cheered, because when Neil Young plays guitar, you have to cheer.

AND FINALLY … (drum roll, please) …
THE BEST SHOW EVER!!!!!!!
The Punch Brothers, featuring Chris Thile
Spoleto Festival, Charleston, SC
No show will ever rise beyond the beauty, skill, or setting of The Punch Brothers show at the College of Charleston Cistern Yard. I’m sorry, but it’s true. I already knew Chris Thile from his days as the mandolin player for Nickel Creek. I also knew him from his solo career, but his new group—The Punch Brothers—was new to me. Until Spoleto. Until the man came on stage and announced that he wasn’t used to playing beneath Angel Oaks and Spanish moss. (Who is?) I fell in love immediately—with the music, the lyrics, and with Chris Thile. When he played his four-part “symphony,” I couldn’t speak. In fact, I think the audience was afraid to make a sound. It was all too beautiful. Too hard to believe that we were all THERE under the Angel Oaks with this MUSIC! And a song I can never get enough of: “How to Grow a Woman from the Ground.” I could go on forever about The Punch Brothers, but for the full write up, hit up an earlier blog entry of mine. And if you ever hear about The Punch Brothers or Chris Thile coming to your town, buy tickets. Immediately. You’ll never see anything like it.

Chris Thile.

6 thoughts on “The Best Concerts I’ve Ever Seen

  1. Okay, so I guess all my “best concerts” would have to be country.

    Keith Urban
    Faith Hill solo or with Tim McGraw, but not Tim by himself (he doesn’t put on a good show like he used to)
    Lady Antebellum
    and Gary Allan, only because I swear he winked at me! 🙂

    But…what did happen to Nickel Creek?!

    • Good question. Hmm. I’ll have to find out … If you liked Nickel Creek, you need to hear Punch Bros. I like them more than Nickel Creek, no joke!

      PS: I like to think that Chris Thile winked at me, too. It’s funny — although I guess this is true of many musicians — they aren’t hot until they’re on stage, rockin’ out, ya know? 🙂 Case in point: Mick Jaggar never woulda gotten any chicks if not for the Rolling Stones.

  2. Great eclectic write up of best concerts! Even though John Mayer is not boyfriend material, he is a good guitarist. I read Guitar World every month (my ten yr old son gets it, but I preview it each month so I can tear out inappropriate pages or marker out bad words!).
    Concerts are my favorite entertainment outlet.
    My faves are different but include Motley Crue, The Killers, Duran Duran, Cruefest 1, and Guns n Roses/ Skid Row way back when.

    • He is a heck of a good guitar player. I was dubious, going to the show. I knew his rep, and I didn’t like it. But onstage, shredding guitar, I guess the bad boyfriend stuff doesn’t matter as much …

      I would love to see the Killers. And holy crap, Guns N Roses back in the day??! So cool!

  3. I must say that All Good Music Festival is quite the good time, having gone twice myself. In fact, my very first visit was inspired by yourself, Matt, and both the Shipman boys!

    I would thoroughly enjoy seeing Bruce Springsteen, as I’m sure The Boss knows how to throw a good live show. I mean, he’s only been rockin for like 30+ years now, right?

    As far as my live concert repertoire goes, it isn’t very extensive or impressive, but I’m obligated by nature to say that Phish has a killer live show, with the two-nighter in Cincinnati I saw at the top of my list. 🙂

    In March I saw Puscifer, one of Tool’s Maynard James Keenan’s side projects, and I gotta say it was pretty cool, except that Maynard hid behind a TV screen for about half the show. Otherwise, good stuff.

    Hooray for live shows!

    • HEY, KID! Always happy to inspire good music in others 🙂 If you can see The Boss in person, please do. An excellent performer. I don’t know why I’ve never had the inkling to see Phish. I did see Trey Anastasio and Mike Gordon at All Good, though. It was fun … from what I can recall … I need to see another live show soon. I do love them so!!!!

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