After last night’s sort-of-a-bust show, I thought it would be appropriate to relive some of my more exciting concert memories to cleanse the palette. There’s been plenty of Hold Steady references here, so we’ll leave them out this round. Here’s four standouts that are seared in mind indefinitely.
Radiohead – August 1, 2008 – Lollapalooza 2008 – Grant Park, Chicago, Illinois
Their shows are of legend. The story’s always the same: anyone that’s seen Radiohead returns from the show changed: blown away and without words. My only experience with them so far was just the same. After a ten hour wait in the August sun, we had a front-row (off to the left side, natch) look at one of the biggest bands in the world. They didn’t disappoint. The LCD lights. Thom Yorke’s unusual contractions. Johnny Greenwood’s retro shoegazer look. Colin Greenwood hamming it up with a CTA shirt on. That’s just the visuals. The songs, so crisp and concise on record, are elephantine in person. They charge, sweep and attack, and not let you down until the final note. A totally unforgettable experience I’d relive again and again without a second thought.
The Strokes – April 23, 2004 – Aragon Ballroom – Chicago, Illinois
The beautiful thing about the Strokes, is that after all of these years, and through their hiatus, they’ve maintained a cloud of mystery. There is something unpredictable – an intangible element to their sound and persona that leaves you questioning why you might even like them in the first place. Bar none, they’re one of the most important rock bands to come out of this decade. Their first two albums – Is This It and Room On Fire are two sharp, immaculately produced discs of seventies punk that are just as authentic as the records they ape from, instead of making what could just be a really strong tribute record.
This tour, for the latter record, combined all of these elements to make for a completely transcendent experience. A non-smoker (I’ve never had a cigarette), there was so much smoke at this show in the pre-smoking ban era, that I craved a cigarette for three days. It’s more of a series of images in my mind than a setlist. Julian Casablancas emerging through the haze. Albert Hammond Jr.’s hole burnt into the headstock of his guitar where he placed his cigarette. Nick Valensi’s irrepressible cool, and Nikolai Fraiture’s steadfast bass playing. It didn’t seem real, but it most certainly was. The physical pressure from this crowd literally took my feet off the ground as I floated weightlessly through it. I eventually came down to the floor, but I don’t think my brain has yet.
Weezer – July 11, 2002 – Tweeter Center (now First Midwest Bank Ampitheatre) – Tinley Park, Illinois
I’ll always remember this show fondly as the first time I actually felt a connection to live music. Music was just something I watched until then. This gig, more than anything, was the first time I saw a band I truly loved, and could sing my heart out to. We sat thirteenth row, center – as close as I’d ever been to front row at the time – as Rivers Cuomo (when he was wearing suits), and company appeared on stage, and started a jam that segued right into the authoritative “My Name Is Jonas”. Three songs in, we heard the Pinkerton classic, “Butterfly”, one of six songs off of that then-maligned album that evening. At that point, many of those songs were rarely played. My favorite record at the time, and still to this day, completely overwhelmed me. For three days after this show, all I could do was smile.
Three years later, I discovered a bootleg of the show on the Internet, and it made it able for me to relive it any time I want. Incredible.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band – October 21, 2007 – United Center – Chicago, Illinois
My New York born/Jersey raised mother likes to tell the story about how she ‘did the lights’ for Springsteen at some point in the 1970’s. That’s a true story. She’s seen him twice, once at a college show when the dude was getting his start, and once again in the 80’s at the Rosemont Horizon. I’m going to credit her for introducing me to the idea of Bruce Springsteen, but not necessarily the music. She generalized to me the songwriter’s populist, everyman approach, and that his shows had been likened to religious experiences.
When The Rising came out in 2002, we had discussed going to see him and the E Street Band play. For whatever reason, we didn’t go, but made a promise that if he came around again, we’d see him together.
That took five years. We almost didn’t go, but I reminded her of our pact, and for my birthday, she bought two first level tickets for the first of two nights at the United Center. We had dinner first, then we went to the rock show. My then (she’s gonna be pissed I divulged this) fifty-three year old mother and I. It was perfect.
Bruce played a smattering of classic songs, new tracks, and hit the peak with – well, what else? “Born to Run”. The show was a complete affirmation of life, wonderful music, and great times. Being there with my mom made it all that much sweeter.