I know there are many more pressing issues to write about – increasing regulatory cost and complexity; competition from Lemonade and Ladder; economic volatility and interest rate uncertainty, to name a few. And I promise to get to all of those in the coming weeks. But I saw “The Last Waltz” on an obscure cable channel last week, and it got me thinking about all the incredible concerts I’ve witnessed over the years. I don’t get to many live shows these days. So many tours seemed programed and less than authentic. Not to mention that most them are in arenas so large that it’s impossible to hear the nuances of the lyrics or watch the musicians improvise through extended solos. But that’s the curmudgeon in me coming out. Here’s a list of the Top 10 concerts that I was fortunate enough to see over the years:
10. Rare Earth at the Oakland Arena, 1973 – This one is on the list because it was the first concert I ever saw. Rare Earth was in rare form. Funkadelic opened the show (10 bonus points to anyone out there who’s seen them). But the show stealer was the second act: Buddy Miles. I’m sure Buddy is dead or in prison by now, but I haven’t stopped humming “Them Changes” since…
9. Neil Young at the Boarding House, San Francisco, 1978 – Neil in a nightclub with an acoustic guitar. Doesn’t get much better.
8. Bob Dylan and The Band at the Oakland Arena, 1974 – The “Before the Flood” tour. Skipped school and a basketball game to see the mid-week show. It was worth the detention and the benching.
7. David Bowie at the Sportshalle, Vienna, Austria, 1978 – I spent the first six months of 1978 on an exchange program in Vienna. Since most of the bands that toured were either British or American, the local concert promoter recruited temporary “roadies” to help the crews set-up and tear down the stage and equipment. So not only did I get to see this incredible concert from the side of the stage – and actually meet Bowie himself – I got paid to do it!
6. Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge at the Sportshalle, Vienna, Austria, 1978 – Kris and Rita were married way back then and this was another one of those “get paid to watch from backstage” gigs. I’ll never forget all of us Americans dancing to “Me and Bobby McGee.”
5. Elvin Bishop, the Marshall Tucker Band, and the Outlaws at Winterland, San Francisco, 1976 – Elvin was a local legend in the Bay Area and put on a terrific live show. A very underrated guitarist, particularly with a slide on his finger. The Outlaws were the warm-up act – those guitar lessons really paid off for them – and the Marshall Tucker Band rocked what was absolutely my favorite concert venue on the corner of Post and Steiner Streets in San Francisco. Don’t go looking for it on your next visit; it’s been turned into condos.
4. The Tubes at the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music, 1977 – I attended college at UOP and whoever was booking bands for on campus concerts that year was a genius. We got to see the Kinks, Boz Skaggs, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. But I’m pretty sure the poor kid got fired after booking this concert by the cult classic Tubes. I don’t think anything stronger than chamber music was ever allowed to be played in the Conservatory after that.
3. The Grateful Dead at Red Rocks, Denver, 1982 – This could actually occupy three spaces on this chart because they played three consecutive nights and every show was different and better than the last. Red Rocks is a magical outdoor amphitheater in the hills just outside of Denver. I went with a diehard Deadhead (Ralph Koransky, where are you now?) and the chemical levels in the bands bloodstream were balanced from the opening chord of night one to the last encore of night three.
2. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at Winterland, San Francisco, 1978 – Another entry that could take up two slots as the band played on December 15 and 16, and were at the height of their powers each night. The first night, I went with a group of buddies; and the second night I took the woman who is now my wife on one of our first dates. And, of course, Bruce played the best version of “She’s the One” I’ve ever heard just for her.
1. The Last Waltz, Winterland, San Francisco, Thanksgiving Night 1976 – The Band’s farewell concert. A group of us had purchased $5.00 tickets for a Band concert in October, only to be told the show was cancelled and to hold on to our tickets for a “special event.” We cautiously traded them in for $25.00 tickets – at the time, an astronomical price for a rock concert – to a show billed as “The Band and Friends.” Bill Graham dressed up Winterland with sets and accessories from the Opera House. Dinner for the 5,000 guests was provided. Martin Scorsese filmed the whole thing. The Band absolutely rocked. And those friends of theirs – Neil Young and Bob Dylan, among them – were on top of their game. But the two guys who brought down the house were Paul Butterfield and Van Morrison. Butterfield and the Band’s version of “Mystery Train” is still ringing in my ears. And Van Morrison knocked it out of the park with “Tura Lura Lura” and “Caravan.” Turn it up…that’s enough…so you know…it’s got soul.
Feel free to share your favorite concert experiences here. Next week it’s back to business…
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