Monday, July 30, 2007

Baby, Don't Go to the Show Tonight

In the spirit of the upcoming Back to School Bash (9/4 - 12th and Porter), I've been thinking about great concerts. On a given week in Nashville I go to anywhere from one to three shows. Sometimes I'll hit up two or three in a night. Aside from being part of the job (where else can you find so many musicians?) I just really enjoy seeing live music. Nashville, obviously, has plenty of it.

Unfortunately, a great show can be hard to find. I present to you...

Milam's All-Time Top 5 Concerts!

5) Phantom Planet - Vanderbilt University - Spring 2002
This show was part of some college's Rites of Spring weekend. The then-obscure Phantom Planet opened for the late-night headliner Guster, which was a collegiate favorite in 2002. I had heard "California" (yes, the O.C.'s theme song...also written by Jason Schwartzman of Rushmore fame) on a friend's computer approximately four minutes before the concert. I had, essentially, no clue who this band was. They proceeded to play one of the most solid 60-minute sets I've seen to this day. Everyone familiar with their superb debut The Guest knows how tight those songs are, so the crowd immediately took to the music itself. But really it was the unrestrained energy of the show that took me by surprise--here was this uberpop California band climbing Marshall stacks, jumping off kick-drums, openly mocking the headliner ("Guster's here, too, if you want to see THAT"). They were simply incapable of holding back. The swagger of the entire band only amplified the tightness of their sound the accessibility of their songs. There is maybe nothing harder than being the unknown opener warming up an indifferent crowd before the headliner takes the stage--Phantom Planet made everyone their fan that night, and made Guster negligible.

4) Lucero - Mercy Lounge - Spring 2005
Lucero seemingly does nothing but tour, so it's no surprise that they're a great live band. This show in particular stands out, as it came right before the release of Nobody's Darlings. Lucero was big enough, even then, to fill the Mercy Lounge, but even a few hundred of their biggest fans hadn't heard any of the new songs yet. They played over two hours of rip-your-face-off rock, tight, sober, and absolutely crazed. Every opening chord sounded like a statement, every chorus felt bigger than the last, Roy Berry beat the living crap out of his drums. When they debuted "Last Night in Town," the crowd immediately took to the song and made me count the hours until the record came out. I left that night--after a few hours of some of the best rock performances I'd ever seen--wondering why anybody, anywhere would pay $35 to see The Shins' catalogue of quaalude-tunes when bands like Lucero were dishing out shows like that for $7 at the door.

3) Cory Branan and Ben Nichols - Radio Cafe - Spring 2004
The now-defunct East Nashville dive Radio Cafe hosted, for a brief time, some very noteworthy artists. This show was one of the first that Cory and Ben (of Lucero) played together, both onstage with an acoustic, trading off songs and playing on each-other's. The draw of Lucero's frontman more than filled the little venue, but the listening-room atmosphere kept the crowd deathly silent all night. About four songs in, something clicked for both singers: they realized that the other wasn't going to goof off and they had to bring it every song. A quiet competition heated up between the two, each song needing to top the last. If Cory played a cover, Ben had to play a better cover. If Cory played a Lucero song, Ben had to do a better version of one of Cory's. Cory would slow down the tempo with "Through the Freefall" and Ben would answer with the definitive version of "Nights Like These." They harmonized and played each other's solo's, upping the ante with every performance. This went on for nearly three hours, and almost nobody left until the bar closed and they had to finish. These guys have played a ton of shows like this since (and will again on the Brew City Tour), but this was the first and best of the bunch. To this day, the best acoustic concert I've ever seen.

2) My Morning Jacket - The Ryman - Fall 2006
I had seen My Morning Jacket once before, October 2005 at Nashville's glorified warehouse City Hall, and thought they were incredible despite the poor venue. Pretty much everyone remotely familiar with MMJ knows their reputation as arguably the best live band around, so I absolutely could not miss them at my favorite Nashville venue, The Ryman. The Ryman, as you might know, is kind of a symphony house for pop music--an incredible theater with perfect sound and a listening room vibe. Pop acts play here, but the show experience approximates going to the symphony--everyone is deathly silent and the performers are held to the highest standard. Everyone sits on their wooden seat, claps between songs, and listens reverently. Except, at the My Morning Jacket show, that's not at all what happened. They proceeded to come out swinging--filling the setlist with all their heaviest rockers and highest-energy songs, running around the stage, bringing the crowd to their collective feet. Nobody in my section (front and center) sat down during the show, and the aisles on the lowest level were flooded by people trying to get closer to the stage, moving with the music, screaming along. The ushers were a combination of shocked, dismayed, and genuinely scared. Of course, the music itself was incredibly tight, and I wonder if they've ever sounded better than they did in that room that night. After the encore, Jim James came back out and closed, playing "At Dawn" and "Bermuda Highway" acoustic and solo, almost a tip of the cap to the "traditional" Ryman performance. This would be #1 if it weren't for...

1) Pearl Jam - The Pyramid - Spring 2000
Admittedly, this concert is much more in my memory than a great show. During high school, no band mattered more to me than Pearl Jam--and I honestly wonder if any band will matter more to me than they did at that point. During the Binaural tour, they stopped through Memphis (at the Pyramid, which is a great sporting venue, but doesn't have good acoustics for concerts) and I immediately bought tickets. This wasn't just my first Pearl Jam show--this was the first "actual" concert I'd ever been to attended. Predictably, Pearl Jam was exceptionally good that night--nonstop energy, incredibly tight, a few memorable surprises (Eddie donning a jacket and sunglasses to sing "Can't Help Falling In Love"). Unpredictably, their setlist was one of the weirdest they've ever played, hitting all kinds of obscure favorites that I haven't seen live since ("In My Tree," "Tremor Christ," etc.). They played two encores, twenty-eight songs in total, and closed with The Who's "Baba O'Reilly." And what I'm trying to say is this: if you don't think that a seventeen year-old Milam lost his damn mind watching his favorite band play one of his favorite songs in front of his hometown crowd, giving them the "don't cry, don't brace your eye" section to sing, eight-thousand voices at once, with Eddie screaming uproariously into the next verse...I don't know what to tell you. But eight years later, I can still get those goosebumps just thinking about it. I guess that's the hallmark of a great concert.

But what are your favorite concerts of all-time? Were you at any of the ones I just listed? Let me know, yo!

Till then,


Michael said...

1) Robert Randolph and his Family Band - May 2004, Memphis, BSMF

2) Chris Milam - April 2007, Champaign, IL Aroma Cafe

ross k. said...

Hey man, I saw Robert Randolph raise the spirit at the Exit/In in 2003 or 2004. That's on the list.

Others...Stone Temple Pilots at Polaris Amphitheatre in Columbus, OH, Summer 2000

-The Hawk and Bebek at Uncle Pleasant's in Louisville, KY, 2005

-Jeff Hamilton Trio at Café 123 in Nashville, TN, 2002 or 2003

-MTSU Jazz Band at Café 123, 2003 or 2004

-George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH, November 2001

-Wooten Brothers and Friends at 3rd & Lindsley in Nashville, TN, 2002

-Joe Wooten and the Hands of Soul at 3rd & Lindsley, 2004

-North Mississippi All-Stars at Vanderbilt, Rites of Spring 2004

-Will Hoge at Vanderbilt, Rites of Spring 2001

-Casket Salesmen and The Doctor Teeeth at the Agora in Cleveland, OH, May 2007

Michael said...

good list man:

two more just came to mind -

Will Hoge 2003 Mud Island Amphitheater, memphis**

**While mr. hoge's lyrics can be a little grating, but I'm with you... I have to say he and his band put on one of the most energetic live shows I've ever seen. What can you do? The man writes a catchy/easy to like melody.

The Decemberists 2007 Follinger Auditorium, Urbana, IL

I thought this would be a stuffy hipster affair, but they put on a great show. They really connected with the crowd.

ross k. said...

I feel the same way, caught in that bind of being embarassed by Will Hoge's trite lyrics and that I bought his albums while swept up in his being popular when I was a freshman...but it really was a killer live show. It's nice that we can own up to questionable tastes on this blog without getting shouted down. Music is music; there's a lot of it out there. I still like a couple of his songs, "I'm Pretty Sure I'm Over You" and his cover of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?"

Chris Milam said...

North Mississippi All-Stars were exceptional...but that actually wasn't Rites. Some fall concert the school put on with Nickel Creek. Needless to say, NMAS absolutely shut those folks DOWN. Good call. Forgot that one...

Here's a question: artist you would most want to see live that you cannot (dead or broken up or whatever)? Pretty sure mine's The Who, but Jimi and Zeppelin are close behind...

Michael said...

Easy -

Artist I'd most like to see that I cannot:

1) Stevie Ray Vaughan - anywhere, but pref. at Austin City Limits

2) Bob Dylan - anywhere in the late 1960s

ross k. said...

Just one? We're spoiled for choice, Chris. Props to Michael, Stevie Ray is an excellent call. Look for a DVD with two different Montreux shows on it: the first one is where they boo him, and the second, later one is just unreal, seriously great. I would really like to have seen Hendrix do his Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock or Machine Gun at the Fillmore East on New Year's 1970.

It would also be great to have seen the Who at Leeds, Led Zep ca. or pre-1971, Guns n' Roses around 1987 or 1988, and an early Chili Peppers show, before they toned down.

ross k. said...

I'd also like to have seen Wilhelm Furtwangler conduct the Berlin Philharmonic, and have seen Charlie Parker at his best--the old recordings don't live up to how great people say they were, but having seen some great live performances and thinking, "this is what people mean when they talk up _________," I'm sure they were. Miles Davis's second quintet with Tony Williams and Wayne Shorter, too, and Wayne's group when he had Elvin Jones on drums. And John Coltrane...why not?

Elizabeth said...

1. The Wailers, May 2004, Sundown in the City, Knoxville

2. Violent Femmes and Old 97's, (some time 2004-05 school year), Nashville

3. Robinella and Scott Miller, summer 2006, Knoxville

Who I most want to see:

1. Steve Earle (yeah he's not dead or anything, but I wish he would start performing regularly again)

2. REM (also neither dead nor broken up, but rare to see)

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