If you come here often (well, often until a few months ago when I got a several months long bout of writers block I’ve been trying to pull myself out of), you know music is important to me. I listen to music constantly. I hate silence. Now that I’m living by myself, I sing to fight loneliness. (And to just use my voice. Seriously, sometimes I don’t talk for hours, and I don’t like that.)
Even more than I love recorded music, I love live music. I think part of this comes from my love of performing, but most of what I love so much about live music is that it’s the time that – to me, at least – you feel the most connected to the music and the artist, even if there are tens of thousands of people around you. Regardless of who they are or what they’re going through that day, everyone is singing along, dancing, feeling happy, not worrying about anything else. You have those lyrics in common, and you’re going to scream them at the top of their lungs. It’s kind of an oxymoron – it’s so personal, yet shared with so many other people. There’s a reason “what was your first concert” is such a popular topic of conversation.
For the record, my first concert was Billy Joel, when I was in the sixth grade. It was his River of Dreams tour, at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh. I was pretty obsessed with Billy Joel in middle school, and the tickets were the greatest Christmas present I’d received up to that point.
Since then, I’ve gone to some incredible concerts. I’ve gone to concerts I don’t care about just to use as an excuse to sit outside and drink all day. I’ve gone to concerts for bands that disappeared within the following year, and I’ve been able to track certain artists throughout their careers. And this weekend, after I got home from three incredible hours with Justin Timberlake and Jay Z, ears still ringing and throat throbbing from screaming along, I started thinking about my favorite moments over the years. Doing that finally started to break me out of the writers block I’ve been battling for months. So here you go, if you’re still around reading this… some of my favorite concert experiences – accompanied by YouTube videos where possible (the Internet is a wonderful place!).
Green Day – Irving Plaza, 2012
I’ve written about my love of Green Day here before, and the Irving Plaza concert last year remains the greatest concert I’ve ever seen. (Justin & Jay Z came close, but Green Day edged them out solely by the smallness of the venue.) It was the third time I’d seen Green Day, and while their big arena shows have their appeal, being mere feet away from Billie Joe and the gang gives you a completely different experience. There are songs I like much better, but the strongest memory I have from the concert now is Wake Me Up When September Ends. After yet another September treating me like shit, I needed to hear this song that weekend.
Justin Timberlake & Jay Z – Fenway Park, 2013
It could be difficult to pick a favorite moment from last night’s incredible show. Was it hearing everyone in Fenway Park – the epicenter of Boston sports and New York hatred – singing along to Empire State of Mind? Was it Justin tearing up the electric guitar backing up Jay on 99 Problems? Was it the epic dance party / sing-along taking place when Justin brought sexy back? All incredible moments, to be sure. But for me, nothing – nothing – tops Cry Me a River live. The song is nearly perfect in its album form, but in concert it takes on a whole new life – it becomes an unencumbered fuck off anthem, simultaneously angrier and sexier and more impassioned than the recorded version. Even the minor change from “messing with my head” to “fucking with my head” just feels right, and by the time you reach the climax of the song – which becomes raw rock and roll when done live – it feels like the entire stadium may actually explode. It’s no wonder Britney went crazy. If I’d inspired this, I might have lost my mind too.
Dave Matthews Band – Three Rivers Stadium, 2000
I went to plenty of DMB concerts in college. This one was, by far, my favorite, and for years my answer to “the best concert I ever saw” question. Nearly all of my favorite DMB songs – both then and now, since I don’t listen to anything released post-2003 – were played: Crash Into Me, #36, Drive In Drive Out, and the first time I’d ever heard Grace is Gone. Midway through the concert, it started to rain. Still raining, the band kicked into Two Step during the encore, and an early July 4th fireworks display began to explode over the stadium. It was one of those magical moments when a concert suddenly became so much more. This being pre-YouTube, pre-Twitter, pre-Facebook, back when CD stores still existed, my friend found a bootleg recording of the concert, which I still have on my iPod to this day.
‘N Sync – Three Rivers Stadium, 2000
Do you guys remember how awesome this concert was? No, seriously. There was an HBO special for the tour, which I recorded on VHS and invited all of my friends over to watch. ‘N Sync in 2000 was THE SHIT. They shut down Times Square anytime they appeared on TRL. They sold a bajillion albums in one day. We all knew (and perhaps still know) the choreography for Bye Bye Bye. And they put on one hell of a show (with Pink – UPDATE: AND SISQO, as a friend reminded me today. Ahh, Y2K – as the opening act, if I recall correctly). Sometimes concerts are about the music, and sometimes they’re about the spectacle. This was a spectacle concert. I joked this weekend that my relationship with Justin Timberlake is the longest running relationship I have with a man these days, and it all dates back to this tour, the first of the five (soon to be six) times I’ve seen him in concert in some capacity. Seriously. Do you remember how awesome this was?
Blink 182 – Civic Arena, 2000
I didn’t realize until writing this how much fun I had in the summer of 2000. If memory serves me correctly, this was the first concert I went to early that summer, and it was my first genuine “wow” concert experience. Yes, it’s Blink 182, and they’re not exactly in the pantheon of concert greats. They’re not even that good live. But they’re fun, and cute, and to an 18-year-old version of me, that was all I needed. The floor of the Civic Arena was general admission, and after sitting on the dasher boards that were still remaining from the hockey season (reason enough to put this concert in my top 5), my friend and I somehow pushed our way to the front of the floor and watched the concert mere feet away from Mark, Tom, and Travis. I think I crowd surfed. I saw Blink a few more times – it became an annual summer tradition in college – but the first time was always my favorite.
Madonna – Verizon Center (then MCI Center), 2004
Like any woman my age, I idolized Madonna. I’ve only seen her in concert once, and the experience was so perfect that I don’t ever want to taint it by seeing her again. Honestly, singing along to Like a Prayer with my best girlfriends and an arena full of people was a religious experience.
Kelly Clarkson – Radio City Music Hall, 2012
Just a few hours of pure, unadulterated fun, singing along to breakup anthems at the top of your lungs with a theater full of single girls and gay men. Kelly throws the party and provides the soundtrack, and we just come along for the ride.
The Clarks – 9:30 Club, 2006
Shortly after Super Bowl XL, Pittsburgh band The Clarks visited DC and played a show at the 9:30 Club. At the time, the Clarks were trying to break out of “Pittsburgh band” status and weren’t terribly interested in playing that up. The crowd had different ideas. Taking place just after a Steelers Super Bowl win, we transplanted Pittsburghers used The Clarks concert as a de facto championship rally, and by the end of the concert, The Clarks just couldn’t resist it anymore. They ended up with a Pittsburgh flag on stage. And we wonder why people in other cities hate Pittsburgh transplants.
Teddy Geiger – 9:30 Club, 2006
Some concerts are memorable because of the music. Some are memorable because of the company and the experience. This one falls into the latter – an evening with a friend who convinced me to attend a concert populated mostly by 16-year-old girls, leaving the bar completely open to us, a bartender who appreciated our business, and plenty of free shots.
The Who – Verizon Center, 2007
I’m not thankful to my ex for much, but one thing I’ll admit thanks for is dragging me to see (the still living members of) The Who. I can’t call myself a huge fan of the band, but I appreciate them, and I would never have gone to see them in concert otherwise. They did put on a hell of a show.
Evanescence – Station Square Amphitheater, 2003
Don’t laugh. Remember how I said some concerts are memorable because of the company and the experience? The ATM magically gave me $80 extra (without charging me the $80) to start the night, which I promptly spent on all of the beers in the amphitheater. Holding hands with my best friend singing along to My Immortal remains one of my favorite concert moments of all time, though I couldn’t tell you the name of a single other Evanescence song these days.
X Fest – Star Lake Amphitheater, all through college
A few things: first, Star Lake will always be Star Lake, regardless of what they call it these days. Second, if you were of concert-going age in Pittsburgh in the late 90s/early 2000s, you probably went to X Fest. It was a tradition kicking off the summer. You wore your cutest tank top, drank cheap beer in the parking lot, then bounced from stage to stage and watched whatever alt rock band was popular that year. I really couldn’t tell you who I saw in any given year; I just remember it was a given that I’d be going.
American Idol Tour – Verizon Center, 2008
Just two girls from My Spirit Has Been Broken reporting on the scene. There’s a whole review, if you’d care to read it, but the basics were that Kristie Lee Cook sang in front of a giant American flag, the cougars next to us lost their shit over Jason Castro, Michael Johns was awesome, David Cook, resplendent in guyliner, sang Hello with a normal haircut rather than the gross one he had when he sang it on the show, thus cementing his place as my favorite Idol ever, and I had some of the most fun I’ve ever had at a concert. (Except for when David Archuleta rose from the stage and I momentarily lost my hearing from all of the teenage screaming.)
I can trace my life and my friendships and my taste in music through these concerts. There are so many more – I couldn’t even begin to catalog the number of concerts I’ve been to – and I have a mental concert bucket list that, hopefully, I’ll continue to check off. I will never judge you for paying to see someone perform live, because I’ve seen some ridiculous concerts and have had the times of my life doing so. Concerts are awesome. Music is amazing. And I’m feeling more compelled to get my creative juices flowing again. So thanks for sticking around, and leave your own memories below. Let’s reminisce together.