Who Rocked, Who Rolled in 2002

Dec. 27, 2002

BY JIM DeROGATIS Pop Music Critic


One of the questions I’m asked most frequently is, “Do you ever find it a chore to go to a concert when you’d rather stay home and watch TV or read a good book?”

Honestly, there is [ital] nothing [ital] I’d rather do than see live music and have that transcendent experience that only comes from a great concert.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t times when it does seem like work—say, having to review N ’Sync in the 110-degree heat at Soldier Field at the end of an already long summer day. But I honestly never approach any concert expecting (much less wanting) to have a bad time, even when the artists’ albums and previous shows have left me cold.

For one thing, there is always the electric jolt of anticipation that comes from several thousand people gathered as a temporary community to share an artistic experience. For another, in live performance, there is always the chance to be surprised. [ital] Anything [ital] can happen, and that’s why it’s special. Some day, Britney Spears might even actually sing!

Finally, I try to never lose sight of the fact that I am one lucky S.O.B., being paid to have fun and search out those moments of musical magic. Heck, no matter how egregious the assignment, there are a million jobs worse than sitting through even the most dreadful concert. I could be digging holes--and may well wind up doing so, the day some review finally rubs my editors the wrong way.

With all of that in mind, here are my choices for the Best and Worst concerts of 2002, culled from the 400 or so acts that I saw this year. (I average two or three show, with at least two or three bands, each and every week; I don’t have the exact tally handy this year, since I switched calendars in the summer, but you get the idea: That’s a whole lot of live music.)


THE 10 BEST CONCERTS OF 2002 (in chronological order)

 1. Paul McCartney at the United Center, April 10

A few months before his 60th birthday, Sir Paul justified both his status as a rock legend and his top-dollar ticket prices by delivering a high-energy 2-1/2-hour set with a young and fiery band, taking some real artistic chances (notably in the solo acoustic part of the evening), and playing a satisfying mix of Beatles classics, Wings’ best songs, and solo nuggets.

 2. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at the Chicago Theatre, April 26

Touring with the Bad Seeds, one of the most subtle bands in rock, in support of the stellar “No More Shall We Part,” Cave transformed himself into the characters in his songs, acting out their tales of murder and mayhem. There’s nothing like two hours of gore from the master of dark mood music to leave you feeling giddy and cheerful.

 3. Paul Westerberg at the Virgin Megastore, May 2

Some performers would have phoned in an instore performance like this, but the former leader of the Replacements has never been the predictable type. Alone with his guitar, Westerberg delivered 18 songs spanning his career, taking requests from the crowd, and turning to the fans to provide the lyrics he’d forgotten.

 4. Rush at the Tweeter Center, July 20

During its first tour in five years, the Canadian power trio proved that it is still one of the best live bands in rock. The show had some low points (the “trippy” computer graphics and some of the ’90s material), but for the most part, the propulsive energy of “Vapor Trails” spilled over into everything the group played, from the opening “Tom Sawyer” through a triumphant closing with the epic “By-Tor and the Snow Dog.”

 5. The Smokin’ Grooves Tour at the Tweeter Center, July 24

Six hours that came as a welcome reminder that hip-hop can still be a powerful and creative force onstage as well as in the studio. The day belonged to Jurassic 5, but the Roots and Outkast followed close behind, and Lauryn Hill was the only disappointing act. (Tragically, the concert was also marred by something that happened after the crowd left, when a young security guard, Dean Perozzi, Jr., was struck by a speaker as the stage was being dismantled. He later died from his injuries.)

 6. The Rolling Stones at the Aragon Ballroom, Sept. 16

Only the self-proclaimed “world’s greatest rock ’n’ roll band” would consider a 4,500-seat venue “an intimate performance,” but the Stones treated their Aragon show as if it were a tiny club gig, almost redeeming themselves for the last couple of mediocre tours by digging deep into their songbook to show the range and depth of their musical ambitions, from R&B to reggae, and from disco to country blues.

 7. The Creation at the Beat Kitchen, Sept. 18

A few days after their old mates the Who held court at the House of Blues, two veterans of the legendary Creation (plus two younger ringers) blew away their contemporaries from the English psychedelic/mod scene. Eddie Phillips restaked his claim as one of the most inventive guitarist British rock has ever produced, and the band underscored just how many timeless tunes it produced in its short but fertile career.

 8. Beck and the Flaming Lips at the Chicago Theatre, Oct. 18

This was an unusual pairing in many ways: Where alt-rock icon Beck has always shielded himself behind a cloak of irony and an affected cloud of angst, the Flaming Lips celebrate their sincerity in voicing the joys of being alive. The two brought out the best in each other, with Beck providing the Lips a forum for showing the depth of their talents as musicians, and the Lips giving Beck a welcome antidote to the cathartic new material from his dark new album. For Generation X, the combination was the equal of Neil Young pairing with Crazy Horse or Bob Dylan joining forces with the Band.

 9. Peter Gabriel at the United Center, Nov. 12

In ads on the West Coast, the veteran art-rocker’s record company took a line from my review of this show out of context, trumpeting that it was “the best concert I’ve ever seen!” In fact, I’d written something more complex, about the power of a great Gabriel show (as with a great show by any performer) to make you feel as if you’ll never see a better concert. O.K., it’s a subtle difference. I’m not backing away from my praise, just underscoring that it filled me with the joy of discovery, something all the more impressive when an artist is as familiar as this one. And it wasn’t only the theatrics, but the power of the complex new material. So while, no, it was NOT the best concert I’ve ever seen (I could never choose just one!), it was certainly one of the 10 best this year.

 10. Mission of Burma at Metro, Nov. 22

Like the Creation, this reunion show by the legendary ’80s art punks succeeded not on the strength of nostalgia, put on the power of songs that were always ahead of their time, performed by a group of musicians who seemed thrilled to be rocking together once more, giving their all to the material for the benefit of an appreciative crowd.



 1. Creed at the Allstate Arena, Feb. 13

These mullet-headed new-millennial masters of arena bombast seem constitutionally incapable of avoiding any rock cliché. But for all of their religious proselytizing, the one ingredient they lack is soul.

 2. Ozzfest at the Tweeter Center, Aug. 10

With the exception of System of a Down (which is always great in concert), this seventh annual grind fest was an epic of endurance, proving that are still countless variations of brutally ugly guys standing onstage cranking out tuneless, formless churn while pointlessly growling like Cookie Monster. And TV show or no, Ozzy Osbourne circa 2002 is simply too sad for words.

 3. OK Go and the Vines at Metro, July 13

Two of the more hyped acts of the year shared a bill, and neither could prove that it deserved a tenth of the attention it’s received. Mixing dream pop and regurgitated Nirvana, headliners the Vines were even more contrived and formulaic than the last great Australian hype, Silverchair, with added demerits for copping Kurt Cobain’s trashing of their instruments. Meanwhile, Chicago popsters OK Go reveled in “aren’t-we-clever?” shtick, outdoing the Barenaked Ladies and They Might Be Giants in their cutesy smugness.

 4. The Anger Management Tour at the Allstate Arena, Aug. 2

A week after Smokin’ Grooves highlighted how great live hip-hop could be, the summer’s other major multi-act hip-hop show proved only that some mainstream stars know no limits in pandering to the lowest common denominator. It’s a good thing that headliner Eminem has launched a film career, because this show illustrated that he hasn’t grown a bit as a live performer, relying on flashy stage tricks and gratuitous guest spots from his pals to pad out a short and unsatisfying set of truncated hits.

 5. Guns N’ Roses at the Allstate Arena, Nov. 18

It was a travesty for Axl Rose to call this cover band Guns N’ Roses, but it wasn’t the new members’ fault that the show was a flop--it was Axl’s. The set sank under the weight of the singer’s pretensions (no grand piano power ballads, please!) and his fast-paced but rote performance (it was hard to believe he needed monitors feeding him the lyrics to the band’s classic tunes). Two weeks later, he paused onstage at Madison Square Garden to denounce this reviewer for such observations. Two nights after that, the tour fell apart amid a flurry of cancelled gigs, and the reunited band may or may not have broken up again, depending on which reports you choose to believe.