Top 5 Concerts I’ve Attended

I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to get to this top five list–but today being as cold as it is, my desire to read about Foucault as low as it can be and a live version of “Brain of J.” blasting through my speakers, the timing seemed right. Since seeing the Who back in 1997 I’ve gone to approximately a hundred and fifty concerts. Some have been great; others have not; and the ones listed below transcended mere categorization.

  1. a) Pearl Jam: Buffalo, NY–5/2/03 b) Pearl Jam: State College, PA–5/3/03 c) Pearl Jam: Boston, MA–9/29/04 d) Pearl Jam: Montreal, PQ–6/29/03 e) Pearl Jam: Minneapolis, MN–6/30/98 f) Pearl Jam: Boston, MA: 9/28/04 g) Pearl Jam: Toronto, ON–10/5/00 h) Pearl Jam: Wantagh, NY–8/23/00 i) Pearl Jam: Toronto, ON–6/28/03 j) Pearl Jam: Wantagh, NY–8/24/00 k) Pearl Jam: Hershey, PA–7/12/03 l) Pearl Jam: Montreal, PQ–10/4/00. I still haven’t figured out if I’m serious about this or not…I mean, Pearl Jam is by far and away my favourite band, their live shows are legendary for a very good reason and I’ve been fortunate to see the band put on some of its all-time great performances (specifically the first three shows on my list, which the average Pearl Jam fan would likely be able to identify as three of the most significant in the band’s recent career). But here’s the thing: when you’re as obsessed with a band as I am with Pearl Jam, it becomes difficult (if not impossible) to be objective. I mean, I’m sure seeing Bruce Springsteen perform “Jungleland” in an open SkyDome makes that particular concert a better one than, say, the second Jones Beach show from the 2000 tour. But I can’t pretend to be objective here: given the choice between seeing Pearl Jam or any other band in history, I’d make the same decision each and every time. And even if I weren’t to mention every single Pearl Jam concert I’ve attended, the top three form a sort of holy personal triumvirate. Buffalo, in particular, is a concert for which I’m still fishing for superlatives: tight, powerful set, a majestic first encore (“Crazy Mary” into “Do the Evolution” into “Alive”), a second encore that included one of my “hear it and I’ll die happy” songs from 2003 (“Sonic Reducer”) and a stirring cover of the Patti Smith classic “People Have the Power”…and then, just when I thought I’d achieved nirvana, the band came back for a third encore. The moment where Eddie announced, “We had a vote backstage; the result was, ‘It’s Friday night–what the fuck!'” and the band launched into “Baba O’Riley” probably ranks as the single-greatest of my life as a music fan. Almost two years after the fact, I still start smiling when I think about this show.
  2. Summersault 2000, featuring the Smashing Pumpkins, Our Lady Peace and the Foo Fighters: 8/9/00–Winnipeg, MB. Summersault was both larger than the sum of its parts and a direct result of the confluence of several unpredictable, yet entirely important and absolutely irrevocable component pieces: a peerless lineup, a group of thirteen of my closest friends, the most perfect weather possible for an outdoor show, being three rows of bodies from the stage when the Smashing Pumpkins came on, being with my friend Ryan when he finally got to see his favourite band…you just can’t legislate for these kinds of things. I would do anything to get to relive this day.
  3. The Who: 8/1/02–New York, NY. The Who is the band that made me into the music fan I am today, the first band I saw live (7/22/97 in Minneapolis), the only band other than Pearl Jam I’ve ever described as “mine”…I mean, their impact on my life has been immeasurable. The four New York shows, which took place at the legendary Madison Square Garden, almost didn’t happen, what with bassist John Entwistle dying on the eve of the tour’s opening date and the Who almost calling it quits. But the band pressed on, drafted in a new bass player (Pino Palladino) and the tour continued…and the second MSG show was the sort of heart-stopping, brain-fucking show that few bands on the planet can produce. I’ve had a good life, a great life even…but it hasn’t gotten much better than sitting inside a blackened Madison Square Garden and hearing the opening of “Baba O’Riley” cascade from the stage like a waterfall. And “Listening to You”? Best show closer I’ll ever experience. Period.
  4. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: 9/10/03–Toronto, ON. Bruce Springsteen forms the final third of my musical holy trinity for a plethora of reasons: Born in the U.S.A. (the first rock n’ roll album I ever memorized), “Jungleland”, the three amazing shows of his I’ve seen…I mean, there’s more, but when I think about Springsteen those are probably the first three thoughts that come to mind. I’d never seen him live until The Rising tour; I then saw him three times in ten months, twice in Toronto and once in Ottawa (so, if you’re a completist like me, every Ontario date on the tour). The Ottawa show was amazing, and was highlighted by an utterly unexpected “Detroit Medley” to close down the first encore. But Toronto…I dunno: it’s hard to bet against a show that took place in an open SkyDome (first time a concert has ever taken place there with the roof open), a full moon, a full-blooded “Ramrod” in which Springsteen did his best Jack Nicholson and actually started howling at said moon, “Seven Nights to Rock”, “Rosie”…and “Jungleland”. Plus, I had awesome, eight-row centre seats (this point feels tacked-on, doesn’t it? I’m sure I could have incorporated this point a lot better than I have.) I almost sold out Pearl Jam to see Springsteen on the Vote for Change Tour, then balked…but the fact I was considering it says much about his ability to kick ass on stage.
  5. Bob Dylan & Paul Simon: Duluth, MN–7/3/00. Take a look at that double bill. Blink. Check it twice. Crazy, huh? But it happened–and for me, it happened in Bob Dylan’s hometown. I’ve heard a lot of great rock n’ roll songs…but hearing Dylan play “Highway 61 Revisited” next to Highway 61 was a thing of sheer majesty; plus, the “Like a Rolling Stone” / “Blowin’ in the Wind” double shot to open the encore is likely the only time I’ll ever be able to hear a pin drop in a crowd of 20,000 people. And Paul Simon played before him! Graceland, like Born in the U.S.A., is one of the albums I grew up with, so hearing “those songs” was like watching a segment of my life being replayed in front of me.

And that’s it! Here, however, are a few honourable mentions:

  • I Mother Earth, 6/29/00 in Thunder Bay, ON
  • The Tragically Hip, 7/8/00 in Apple Valley, MN (a zoo!)
  • The Tragically Hip, 7/10/04 in Ottawa, ON
  • Blur, 7/22/03 in Toronto, ON
  • Wide Mouth Mason, 11/29/99 in Kingston, ON
  • The Tragically Hip, 9/12/04 in Kingston, ON
  • I Mother Earth and Wide Mouth Mason, 9/11/99 in Kingston, ON
  • Our Lady Peace, 2/5/98 in Thunder Bay, ON
  • Our Lady Peace, 11/23/00 in Kingston, ON (Grant Hall!)
  • Sleater-Kinney, opening for Pearl Jam on 7/12/03 in Hershey, PA
  • Jonny Lang, opening for the Rolling Stones on 2/15/99 in Minneapolis, MN (N.B.: the Stones sucked)
  • The Who, 7/22/97 in Minneapolis, MN
  • The Who, 9/28/02 in Toronto, ON
  • Tool, 9/18/01 in Toronto, ON
  • Placebo, 4/26/01 in Toronto, ON
  • Moist, 9/10/00 in Kingston, ON (last-ever show?)

There it is. Take care all.


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