From today’s Live column in Weekend — my choices for the best live concerts of 2007. Forgot I’d filed this column! Click on the links to read my original overnight reviews. And now, no more lists for at least a couple of months — I promise.
For many people, going to the “right” concert is a matter of being seen and bragging that you’re there: Witness the number of folks ignoring the artist as they spend the whole time on their cell phones, boasting to their friends about how cool the show is.
For hard-core music fans, the concert experience is more about the never-ending search for that elusive moment when the performer, the crowd, the time and the place all combine to create a feeling that can only be called transcendent. As the pop music critic at the Sun-Times, I’m lucky to have a healthy handful of these magical moments every year, though more often than not, they happen at smaller or unexpectedly great gigs than at the much-hyped, top-dollar concerts by the likes of the Police, Van Halen or Hannah Montana.
Here then, for my last column of the year, is my list of the 10 best shows I saw in 2007, charted in chronological order. I hope you had as many great live music moments as I did during the last 365 days, and I look forward to seeing you in the clubs, theaters, arenas and parks in 2008.
Playing three shows in less than 24 hours is an impressive feat under the best circumstances — especially when the morning gig is in New York, the afternoon show is in Chicago and the evening performance is on a rooftop in Los Angeles, and the Windy City happens to be in the midst of a snowstorm. Somehow, Chicago’s chart-topping pop-punk heroes pulled it off, delivering a rousing set to celebrate the release of their fourth and best album, “From Infinity on High,” and kicking off a year that would see them become our town’s biggest rock band since the Smashing Pumpkins (who couldn’t even be bothered to grace us with one of their many reunion gigs).
J.T. wasn’t quite as good at this show as he’d been during his House of Blues gig in 2006, but he still delivered the goods, maintaining his reputation as the top male artist in dance-pop today, and bringing sexy back as he led a kicking 11-piece band. Yes, the show lagged a bit when he paused to deliver several songs on acoustic guitar and upright piano. But his fans only screamed louder and swooned a bit more.
On the first of a sold-out three-night stand supporting their second full album, “The Neon Bible,” Montreal’s orchestral pop heroes kept up their tradition of entering from the rear of the theater and walking down the center aisle while banging on drums. From there, the syncopated rhythmic undertow rarely let up as the musicians traded off on hurdy-gurdy, mandolin, French horn, tuba, trombone, two violins and even a scaled-down pipe organ, in addition to indie rock’s standard bass, drums, guitar and synthesizer.
In its third year, the city’s best rock festival reached its climax with a rare live appearance by a 74-year-old rock legend who’s become an icon to underground music fans who couldn’t care less about whether she helped break up the Beatles. Backed by an accomplished band and joined for a cameo by Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore, Ono made clear her pre-John Lennon roots in the classical avant-garde (with John Cage and La Monte Young) and free jazz (with Ornette Coleman), as well as conjuring the underrated noise-rock of the Plastic Ono Band in the early ’70s. And the finale was breathtaking as she led the crowd in a chant of “War is over if you want it” while Union Park was illuminated by the thousands of flashlights her crew distributed before the show.
Yes, I loved the self-titled debut by Nick Cave’s raw, raunchy blues-rock side project the minute I first heard it, and “Grinderman” wound up being my choice for the best album of 2007. But that didn’t guarantee a great concert: Plenty of heroes have delivered on album but let me down live. Thankfully, Grinderman’s short, sharp shock of a set at Metro was even sexier, more urgent, more intense and more electrifying than its recordings, and that’s truly saying something.
For as massive an undertaking as it is, Perry Farrell’s three-day soiree has provided relatively few memorable moments during its first three years in Grant Park. With one incendiary 45-minute show, Detroit’s reunited punk progenitors most likely claimed bragging rights to the greatest Lolla gig ever as they destroyed the well-mannered shopping-mall vibe with an eruption of pure chaos, inviting a significant portion of the massive crowd to join them onstage for a sloppy, dangerous and completely out of control version of “No Fun.” Rock ‘n’ roll isn’t supposed to be polite, well-marketed, family-oriented and neatly packaged like most of Lollapalooza, and the Stooges reminded us that it still can be something more.
Homeboy Jeff Tweedy and the band sounded rather sleepy on their sixth proper album, “Sky Blue Sky.” But in concert at the lakefront’s classy and previously rock-averse new venue, they wowed their loyal fans by veering between dynamic extremes and reinventing their songs to fit the moment. This was jamming as Neil Young perfected it with Crazy Horse, and it had nothing to do with the Grateful Dead or any of that ilk.
While the half of this show devoted to the progressive-rockers’ later-day MTV pop was thoroughly mediocre, the half that reprised older material such as a brilliant medley of “In the Cage,” “The Cinema Show,” “Duke’s Travels” and “Afterglow” was nothing short of phenomenal, and in a year of much-ballyhooed blockbuster reunions, this was my favorite.
A year after his first disappointing comeback attempt, the 37-year-old New Yorker reclaimed his throne and justified his status as the best-selling rapper of all time with a strong new album, “American Gangster,” and an even more powerful career-spanning performance fronting a 13-piece band for an intimate crowd that hung on every word of his biggest hits and free-styled rhymes.
Taking the stage on the evening of his 62nd birthday, Young followed the model of his classic 1979 concert film, “Rust Never Sleeps,” by giving us one set in his solo acoustic mode and another with the full-on electric fury of a great band featuring some of his best-ever sidemen. Long may he run.