Of course, I also have to
sit through some very, very long nights. (Thankfully, 'N Sync is no longer
touring and Britney Spears isn't coming until next year.) But no job is
Here are my choices for the best shows that I saw in 2003, as well as a
list of some of the worst (in terms of being shows that I expected to be
much better than they were -- and I never attend any concert hoping or
expecting to have a bad time, even 'N Sync).
If you had a great time at any of the latter -- good for you! The point
isn't to discredit your experience but to stimulate discussion about it.
There's nothing that's more fun than debating music that matters, except, of
course, listening to it. With that in mind, see you in the clubs in '04!
THE 10 BEST CONCERTS OF 2003 (in
1. Paul Weller at the Vic Theatre, Feb. 15
The night after Valentine's Day, the former leader of the Jam and the
Style Council delivered a heartfelt performance that underscored his
position as author of some of the most mature, romantic and subtly nuanced
love songs in rock today. Fronting a tight and versatile five-piece band,
Weller gave the packed crowd an ultra-high-energy, 26-song tour through his
impressive catalog, emphasizing his solo years (including the recent album
"Illumination"), but also reaching back for a surprising sampling of tunes
from his past, among them rollicking versions of "In the Crowd" and "That's
Entertainment," and an all-too-timely cover of Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin'
2. Spoon at the Abbey Pub, March 30
One of several bands that made noise in 2003 by reaching back to the New
Wave era of the late '70s, the Austin, Texas, quartet emphasized songs from
its latest and best album, "Kill the Moonlight," during the first of a
two-night stand at the Abbey. No band that writes songs as strong as "The
Way We Get By," "All the Pretty Girls Go to the City" or "Paper Tiger" can
be dismissed as mere revivalists, especially when its distinctive sonic
colors and imaginative arrangements are so unique. Spoon dished out one
beautifully crafted, sharp and angular musical vignette after another.
3. Tom Petty at the Vic Theatre, April 13
Petty kicked off the first show of a sold-out five-night stand by
covering Muddy Waters' classic "Baby, Please Don't Go." It set the tone not
only for this ambitious 2-hour, 45-minute performance, but for the entire
intimate small-venue run, which the Heartbreakers used to illustrate their
roots in early rock 'n' roll and the sounds that preceded it -- from Alvin
Robinson's "Down Home Girl" to JJ Cale's "I'd Like to Love You Baby," and
from Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue" to Chuck Berry's "Carol." This was a rare
opportunity to see one of the best arena acts in rock up close and personal,
stretching out, jamming and taking chances that it could never take in the
4. The Deftones at Metro, May 11
A week before the release of its self-titled fourth album, one of the
most inventive bands in the so-called "nu-metal" or "rap-rock" genre set
itself apart from a sorry pack that includes the likes of Limp Bizkit and
Linkin Park. The Sacramento, Calif., quintet moved from its earlier, more
straightforward material to the more intricate and layered songs from "White
Pony" and "Deftones," and by the time frontman Chino Moreno hurled himself
about the stage while roaring through the single "Minerva," it was
impossible not be swept up by the band's passion and energy.
5. Love with Arthur Lee at the Park West, June 3
The 59-year-old legend of the psychedelic era reclaimed his finest album,
the 1968 classic "Forever Changes," onstage with the inspired backing of a
group of young Los Angeles acolytes in the band Baby Lemonade, plus an
eight-piece horn and string section imported from Europe. As with Brian
Wilson performing "Pet Sounds" in concert a few years ago, it was something
that fans never thought they'd witness, and it was every bit as brilliant.
6. Rocket from the Tombs at the Abbey Pub, June 4
A footnote to a footnote in rock history, "The World's Only Dumb-Metal
Mind-Death Rock & Roll Band" justified its status as the first American punk
group as veterans David Thomas (Pere Ubu), Cheetah Chrome (the Dead Boys)
and Craig Bell (the Saucers) joined some top-drawer hired help (including
Richard Lloyd of Television) to tear through timeless songs such as "30
Seconds Over Tokyo," "Final Solution" and "Sonic Reducer." Nostalgia never
kicked so hard or seemed quite so vital.
7. Lou Reed at Skyline Stage at Navy Pier, June 15
On tour to support his sprawling double album, "The Raven," Uncle Lou
played with a postmodern chamber group (guitars, bass and cello, no drums)
and delivered an intense, 2-1/2-hour set that found him digging deep into
his back catalog to pull out songs that fans haven't heard him play in
years, if ever. In the process, the curmudgeonly godfather of punk showed
that he is every bit the giant in his field that the subject of "The Raven,"
Edgar Allan Poe, was in his.
8. Neil Young at the United
Center, June 17
Another grouchy old legend (and just as artistically perverse as Reed),
Young disappointed some fans by playing the two-hour entirety of his concept
album, "Greendale," and only offering a handful of his signature tracks with
Crazy Horse during the encore. But open-minded fans were rewarded with a
truly unique spectacle and some of the hardest-grooving and most fiery music
that he's made in years.
9. Wire at the Double Door, June 25
Looking back, 2003 was certainly a great year for musical legends
eschewing nostalgia and moving forward in invigorating new ways.
Contemporaries of the Clash and the Sex Pistols, the art punks in Wire
turned to 1977's "Pink Flag" to provide the blueprint for the sounds of
their third incarnation, but they focused on the most searing and starkly
minimalist songs from that album and upped the wattage even more. When their
pummeling and unrelenting set was over, open-mouthed fans were left scraping
their brains off the floor.
10. The Strokes at the Aragon Ballroom, Oct. 19
The New York City quintet performed a week before the release of its
second album, "Room on Fire," and it justified the hype by playing with a
furious precision, unleashing a rapid-fire barrage of 17 songs in less than
an hour. Like a subway train hurtling down the tracks at top speed, the
Strokes play with considerable intensity, but they were always thoroughly in
control, crafting each interlocking instrumental part for maximum melodic
Pop Music Critic Jim DeRogatis co-hosts "Sound Opinions," the world's
only rock 'n' roll talk show, at 10:30 p.m. Sundays on WTTW-Channel 11 and
from 10 p.m. to midnight Tuesdays on WXRT-FM (93.1). E-mail him at
firstname.lastname@example.org or visit him on the Web at www.jimdero.com.
Reviewing live shows is both the best and the worst part of my job as pop
music critic. Every year, I am privileged to witness an incredible number of
truly outstanding concert performances, and of a much broader variety than
even the most ardent fan of any particular genre. The manic hip-hop head
would never go to the Warped tour, for instance, and the R&B devotee
probably skips Ozzfest. But I get to see it all.
forgot: The five worst concerts of 2003
1. Pete Yorn at the Riviera Theatre, May 1
One of those all-too-eager sellouts who want to appear hip while
pandering to the lowest common denominator, "Pete Yawn" peddled his obvious
formula (Americana roots-rock a la Wilco and the Jayhawks meets Pearl
Jam-style arena-alternative) without conviction, soul or much discernible
2. Daniel Lanois at the Old Town School of Folk Music, May 30
The producer and ambient musician doesn't tour often, and now we know
why: Masterful at emphasizing other artists' strengths, Lanois doesn't know
how to edit himself, and the two-hour show rapidly devolved into a boring
3. Pearl Jam at the United Center, June 20
With too few exceptions during a 2-1/2-hour set, this once galvanizing
live band was just another slick, well-oiled arena-rock cash machine --
fundamentally no different than its slavish imitators in Creed, though
without the gushing geysers of flame.
4. Blur at the Congress Theatre, July 16
This 80-minute set found the restructured Blur battling a horrible sound
system and alternating songs from its impressive back catalog with material
from its uneven recent effort "Think Tank." It was an awkward and
unsatisfying mix that only reminded longtime fans how far the psychedelic
popsters have fallen.
5. R.E.M. at the United Center, Sept. 26
Reneging once more on their longstanding pledge to play smaller theaters,
the favorite sons of Athens, Ga., tromped through the arenas again. The
subtle instrumentation of their quieter ballads (piano, melodica and
mandolin) and Michael Stipe's velvet baritone were lost in the muddy,
bass-heavy rumble, and the tired trio at the heart of the band went through
the motions with rote professionalism.