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.
1. Fall Out Boy at the House of Blues, Feb. 6
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).
2. Justin Timberlake at the United Center, March 12
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.
3. Arcade Fire at the Chicago Theatre, May 18
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.
4. Yoko Ono at the Pitchfork Music Festival, July 14
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.
5. Grinderman at Metro, July 25
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.
6. The Stooges at Lollapalooza, Aug. 5
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.
7. Wilco at Millennium Park, Sept. 12
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.
8. Genesis at the United Center, Oct. 2
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.
9. Jay-Z at the House of Blues, Nov. 7
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
10. Neil Young at the Chicago Theatre, Nov. 12
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.