Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Best of 2013: The Best Concerts I Attended

Yes, this list is something of a farce. 

No, that doesn't mean it represents anything other than my honest appraisal of the rock concerts I most enjoyed in 2013.

But while I saw, and loved, several of the greatest artists in rock 'n roll history, including classic rock icons like Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Brian Wilson, Leonard Cohen, Bob Seger, Fleetwood Mac, Heart, Rush, The Rascals and Cheap Trick, as well alternative rock heroes such as Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Green Day, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, Garbage, Pixies and a reunited-for-3-shows-only Replacements, none of these really had much of a chance to claim the top berth. 

So be it that Bruce Springsteen—my all-time favorite musician and, with the E Street Band, the best live performer in rock 'n roll history, IMHO—didn't play any shows on North American soil in 2013. And so what if I had already seen him 42 times, and in 11 of the prior 14 years?

Having never seen him in Europe—where he has arguably been bigger in recent years than anywhere in America beyond the New Jersey vicinity—in December 2012 I bought a ticket for his show with the E Street Band at London's Wembley Stadium on June 15, 2013. I didn't actually book my trip, using American Airlines' miles, until May, and in addition to London (where I'd been multiple times), I went to Krakow, Vienna, Budapest and Paris (see photos here).

While the trip and almost everything I saw and did was awesome, there was considerable time, effort and expense expended in going to Europe, and even just in getting to the venerable grounds of Wembley—the historic stadium itself was fairly recently rebuilt.

Plus there was the sacrifice of missing the entire final round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in which my hometown Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Boston Bruins in 6 games.

But even with rather lofty expectations, per usual, the Boss didn't disappoint.

Except for a bit of an echo bouncing around the cavernous stadium, the concert was every bit as good as I could have hoped, with "Rosalita" being played earlier in the set than it ever has been, relative rarities like "Jackson Cage" and "Lost in the Flood," the Darkness on the Edge of Town album being performed in full and Bruce playing "Thunder Road" all by himself to close out the 3+ hour concert.

Thus, even in a year with an absolutely sensational Stones show, Sir Paul please pleasing me on a sweltering night in Milwaukee, Pearl Jam playing until 2am at Wrigley Field (following a lengthy rain delay), my first live exposure to the legendary Leonard Cohen, the reunited Replacements—long a favorite—being perfectly outstanding, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were virtually promised to land atop this list before 2013 even began.

And having thunderously fulfilled that promise, this "farce" of an open competition essentially begins with second place

Nonetheless, entirely filled with shows that I rated either @@@@@ or @@@@1/2—even those in  Honorable Mention—here's my forthright ranking of the Best Concerts I Attended in 2013:

(Note: I will cite opening acts in cases where I enjoyed them in their own right, but my rankings are based solely on the performance of the headliner. All venues are in Chicago area except as noted.)

1. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band - June 15 - Wembley Stadium, London (my review)
(Full concert audio on YouTube) 

2. The Rolling Stones - May 31 - United Center (my review)

3. Paul McCartney - July 16 - Miller Park, Milwaukee (my review)

4. The Replacements - September 15 - Riot Fest, Chicago (my review)
(YouTube playlist of most of the show)

5. Pearl Jam - July 19 - Wrigley Field (my review)

6. Soundgarden - January 29 - Riviera Theatre (my review)

7. Willie Nile - October 18 - SPACE Evanston (my review)

8. Leonard Cohen - March 13 - Chicago Theatre (my review)

9. Depeche Mode - August 24 - First Midwest Bank Amphitheater (my review)

10. Elton John - November 30 - Allstate Arena (my review)

Honorable Mention (in order of preference)

Green Day - March 28 - Allstate Arena (my review)
Opening act: Best Coast

Ash - March 17 - Lincoln Hall (my review)

Brian Wilson - July 26 - Ravinia (my review)

Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band - April 6 - United Center (my review)
Opening act: Joe Walsh

Fleetwood Mac - April 13 - United Center (my review)

Heart w/ Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience - July 29 - Ravinia (my review)

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