While prepping for tonight's webcast, I got to thinking about the five best live shows I've ever seen. I'm not a particularly voracious concert-goer. Bob Boilen seems to go to several shows a week, every week, whereas I'm way more selective. Outside of the many concerts and festivals we live webcast throughout the year, I only see a handful of shows. That said, after nearly 30 years of concert-going, I still had a lot of memories to sort through to come up with this list.
Bob Dylan and his band performing on the group's 1995 tour.
Bob Dylan - Atlanta, GA (1995) Anyone who's followed Bob Dylan for any length of time knows that he can be both magical and miserable live. He gave the best show I've ever seen in my life about 15 years ago in Atlanta at this gorgeous old theater called The Fox. The members of his incredible backing band were dressed in matching black suits and hats. They just killed it. This was between the release of World Gone Wrong and Time Out Of Mind, so the mix they played of new and upcoming songs and old favorites was perfectly arranged. I remember there were these two Russian guys sitting in front of me who kept yelling, "Booby! Booby!" and eventually rushed the stage before security pushed them back.
Pink Floyd performing on its Division Bell tour in 1994.
Pink Floyd - Atlanta, GA (1994) When Pink Floyd (minus Roger Waters) announced that it would tour again in the spring of '94, the group's remaining members promised to redefine what it means to see a concert. I thought they succeeded: They had massive floating warthogs with laser eyes, huge bursts of fire and a disco ball the size of a house, and the whole thing unfolded under this giant clam that simultaneously projected a dizzying array of psychedelic images. I remember, about a month after the show, I was driving around with a friend, telling her how awesome it was. I could kind of tell she wasn't that into it, so I asked whether I was boring her. She said, "Well surely something else has happened in your life in the past month that's worth talking about." I guess I'd been going on about it for a while.
Wilco, at a performance in 2001
Wilco - Washington, DC (2001) I went to the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., one night back in 2001 — not to see Wilco, but to see the opening band, Elf Power. Elf Power was (and still is) one of my all-time favorite groups. At the time, I didn't think much of Wilco. I never got into the whole "alt-country" thing and didn't care much for A.M. or Being There. But when Elf Power ended, the club was packed and I'd managed to hold on to a good spot to see the stage, so I figured I might as well hang out for a while to see whether this Wilco band was worth anything. This was when the group was battling with its label to put out Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and when the band took the stage, it began playing the incredible opening cut to the album, "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart." I'm getting goosebumps again just thinking about it. By the end of that year, I'd managed to see the band play a half a dozen times. I've seen Wilco so many times now, I can't even count the shows, but that first one still leaves me a little breathless.
Bright Eyes performing live at Auditorium Shores in Austin, TX
Credit: Credit: NPR and XI Media Productions; Photo credit: Shantel Mitchell for NPR
Bright Eyes - Austin, TX (2011) To be fair, before the members of Bright Eyes even took the stage at Auditorium Shores in Austin back in March, I'd already decided the band had made the best record of the year: The People's Key. So I was jumping out of my skin to see the group perform cuts from the album live. It was just an amazing performance. The band couldn't have been tighter, and the setlist felt like it had been made just for me, with every one of my favorite Bright Eyes songs. And the whole night ended with a massive fireworks display. Man. If the gods above told me I could re-live only one moment of my life, I might pick seeing this show.
Okay, maybe it wasn't that good. But, lord, it was amazing.
Sharon Van Etten giving a Tiny Desk performance at the NPR Music offices
Credit: Filmed and edited by Michael Katzif; photo by Mito Habe-Evans/NPR
Sharon Van Etten - Austin, TX (2010) I was going to mention a Radiohead show I saw at the Tower Theater near Philly in 2006, but then I remembered how overcome with emotion I was when I saw Sharon Van Etten perform at a church in Austin at SXSW last year. Within a minute after she began playing, my eyes swelled with tears. Two songs later, it was game over for me and my heart. She didn't have a laser light show, or a killer backing band. It was just Van Etten and her guitar. Sometimes the quietest, most intimate performances pack the most punch.