Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Best of 2014: The Best Rock Concerts I Attended

I have always loved live music, and though there are aspects I rather dislike--shows where standing entirely is the only option, and therefore festivals; the proliferation of rude assholes who frequently seem to be sitting nearby--at the age of 46, I still love going to rock concerts.

And in 2014, I attended more concerts than I ever had in a given year.

Qualitatively, as well as quantitatively, it was about as good--and fulfilling--a concertgoing year as I can remember. 

I saw many living legends including those I'd seen before--Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Robert Plant, Billy Joel, Bob Seger, John Fogerty, Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac and more--and some I never had: Stevie Wonder, Barry Gibb, Jackson Browne, Richard Thompson, Alice Cooper.

I even saw Santana, Devo, Steve Winwood, The J. Geils Band and R.E.M.'s Peter Buck--as opening acts!

Though my calendar was crowded with Rock 'n Roll Hall of Famers, I also caught "current" acts such as Arcade Fire, the Black Keys, Fitz & the Tantrums and Vampire Weekend as well as alternative era superstars such as Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bob Mould, Billy Corgan, Johnny Marr, New Order, Wilco, The Pixies, Flaming Lips, Afghan Whigs and even the Spin Doctors.

I saw longstanding personal favorites like Paul Weller, Alejandro Escovedo, The Bangles and Rik Emmett of Triumph. 

I survived two festivals: Lollapalooza in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Riot Fest (for a day) in Chicago.

I caught a trio of outstanding free shows at Chicago's Millennium Park, as part of the city's Downtown Sound Series at the Pritzker Pavilion: Bob Mould, Richard Thompson (playing electric but also opening with an acoustic set) and The Both, consisting of Aimee Mann and Ted Leo. The latter two shows were especially revelatory for me.

And beyond the big name, high profile concerts, I derived great pleasure from small blues shows (Carl Weathersby at Kingston Mines, plus Buddy Guy at Legends), a Bluesfest performance by Bettye Levette and several first-rate cover/tribute artists including American English, The Cheetles, an unnamed Zombies tribute band, Gerry Grossman (the Human Jukebox), Final Say and Tributosaurus as Stevie Ray Vaughan and as The Doors.

Just this past Sunday, I made a point of seeing a deep-blues guitarist/singer named Donna Herula at the Skokie Public Library, accompanied by her husband Tony Nardiello, because I had enjoyed Herula so much earlier this year at the Glenview Public Library (where she was joined by a harmonica player named Dave Ricks).

So although I had to take a Thunder Road trip to Columbus, Ohio to see my all-time favorite concert performer, Bruce Springsteen--he was again fantastic, even for the 44th time, and played personal favorites like "Backstreets" and "The River"--even without catching the Boss multiple times (as I often have), 2014 was a truly spectacular concert year.

For more that I can readily remember, I had numerous "OMG!" lose-my-shit, "rock is my religion," "art is salvation," "this is fucking incredible!" spastic air-drumming moments of musical bliss--that honestly do make life much more worth living.

And on my @@@@@ rating scale, I gave 30 shows 5 or 4-1/2.

Looking back, I do not feel like I overrated any.

So every show in my Top 10 and Honorable Mention was one I truly loved, and many are not readily distinguishable in terms of quality, especially months later.

Thus, take this ranking with a grain of salt, but know that even if primarily performed by aging legends I conceivably could have been seeing for the last time--not a small factor in choosing to attend so many shows--I still love rock and roll.

Live and in person. 

And so, without anything else on my concert docket for the remainder of 2014, I proudly present...

The Best Rock Concerts I Attended in 2014
Includes Blues performances; does not include cover/tribute acts

(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 - April 15 - Nationwide Arena, Columbus, OH (my review) (full concert audio on YouTube)

2. Pearl Jam - October 20 - BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI (my review)

3. Arcade Fire (w/ Devo) - August 26 - United Center (my review)

4. Robert Plant (w/ The Last Internationale) - October 2 - Riviera Theatre (my review)

5. Stevie Wonder - November 14 - United Center (my review)

6. Neil Young - April 21 - Chicago Theatre (my review)

7. Elvis Costello - June 11 - Copernicus Center (my review)

8. Bob Mould (w/ Split Single) - June 23 - Pritzker Pavilion (my review)

9. Paul McCartney - July 9 - United Center (my review)

10. Santana (w/ Rod Stewart, co-headlining) - August 16 - Allstate Arena, Rosemont (my review)

Honorable Mention (in preference order)

- Buddy Guy - January 19 - Buddy Guy's Legends (my review)
- John Fogerty - July 27 - Chicago Theatre (my review)
- Richard Thompson - June 16 - Pritzker Pavilion (my review)
- Fleetwood Mac - October 3 - United Center (my review)
- Paul Simon and Sting - February 25 - United Center (my review)
- Paul Weller - September 13 - Riot Fest (my review of Riot Fest)
- Fitz & the Tantrums - November 22 - Riviera Theatre (my review)
- Soundgarden - April 2 - Lollapalooza, Buenos Aires
- Afghan Whigs - September 13 - Riot Fest
- New Order - July 3 - BMO Harris Pavilion, Summerfest, Milwaukee (my review)
- Barry Gibb - May 27 - United Center (my review)
- Billy Joel - July 18 - Wrigley Field (my review)
- Billy Corgan - August 30 - Ravinia Festival (my review)
- Arcade Fire - April 1 - Lollapalooza, Buenos Aires
- Johnny Marr - November 25 - The Vic (my review)
- Bob Seger (w/ J. Geils Band) - December 11 - United Center (my review)
- Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band - June 28 - Chicago Theatre (my review)
- Bob Mould (w/ Jason Narducy) - January 17 - Prairie Center for the Arts, Schaumburg (my review)
- Wilco - December 8 - Riviera Theatre (my review)
- Carl Weathersby Blues Band - March 10 - Kingston Mines (my review)

Others Worth Mentioning

- Bob Dylan - November 8 - Chicago Theatre (my review)
- Jackson Browne - October 14 - Chicago Theatre (my review)
- The Both - July 21 - Pritzker Pavilion (my review)
- Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers (w/ Steve Winwood) - August 23 - United Center (my review)
- Rik Emmett - January 23 - Arcada Theatre, St. Charles (my review)
- Red Hot Chili Peppers - April 2 - Lollapalooza, Buenos Aires
- Alice Cooper - November 2 - The Venue at Horseshoe Casino, Hammond, IN (my review)
- The Bangles - July 28 - City Winery (my review)
- The Black Keys (w/ Cage the Elephant) - September 27 - United Center (my review)
- Nine Inch Nails - April 1 - Lollapalooza, Buenos Aires 
- Alejandro Escovedo (w/ Peter Buck) - February 22 - Lincoln Hall (my review)
- Steve Nieve - September 30 - City Winery (my review)

Others seen at Festivals (some only in part):

The Pixies, Vampire Weekend, Ellie Goulding, Lorde, Imagine Dragons, Phoenix, Buzzcocks, Television, Flaming Lips, Face to Face, Tokyo Police Club, Face to Face, The Orwells, The Get-Up Kids, Bettye Levette, Spin Doctors 

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