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 nothing 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. Anything 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 shows, 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
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 in-store 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
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, 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 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 guitarists British rock has ever produced, and the
band underscored just how many timeless tunes it produced in its short but
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. OK, 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
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
THE FIVE WORST
CONCERTS OF 2002
1. Creed at the Allstate Arena, Feb. 13: These mullet-headed
new-millennial masters of arena bombast seem constitutionally incapable of
avoiding any rock cliche. 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 canceled gigs, and the reunited band may or may not have
broken up again, depending on which reports you choose to believe.