In Jerry Lee Lewis: Lost and Found I write briefly about live albums, and about some of my favorite shows over the years. Here’s a list of my top 15. These are of the ROCKING variety and, like all “best-of” lists, this is bound to be fluid:
The Rolling Stones @ Capitol Center, Landover MD, 1981
Through luck and kinda-connections my brother scored first- and second-row tickets for this stop on the Stones' Tattoo You tour. Jagger flew over my head in a cherry-picker, my brother shook Bill Wyman's hand, Keith painted on his jeans and drank from the bottle, Charlie rolled his eyes. Great stuff. And to think that they seemed like an old band then.
Hüsker Dü @ Psychedelly, Bethesda MD, 1983
One of the loudest shows I've ever witnessed. The Pyschedelly was a cool, lo-fi place, and a great roster of bands came through over the years. Bethesda was a kind of Mecca to me in my raised-in-Wheaton ways, and that the club was across the street from the seminal WHFS progressive radio station only made the place cooler. Some local punk kid jumped onstage at Bob Mould's invitation and promptly forgot the lyrics that he was supposed to yelp. I still feel bad for him.
The Ramones @ Wax Museum, Washington D.C., 1984
My first time seeing the Kings of Queens. The Too Tough To Die tour. Johnny Ramone had just had his clock cleaned in NYC by Seth Macklin of Sub Zero Construction, and was sporting slightly shorter hair; I could be wrong. They were fantastic, of course, and because we showed up late we had to stand along the wall by the stack of Marshall amps. My ears rang for a week. (UPDATE: I think I got some details wrong, unsurprisingly. More here.)
The Fleshtones @ University of Maryland, College Park MD, 1984
In all honesty, I can say that I've never seen a disappointing Fleshtones show, and I've seen many. This one ranks especially high. They played an absurdly extended "Girl From Baltimore," and opener Barrence Whitfield joined for a sing-along/chant through the crowd and out of the room to who-knows-where. They played forever that night in front of a great college crowd. Afterward, my friend Marty and I and some girls joy-drove drunkenly and stupidly through the campus parking lots. That kind of night.
Government Issue @ University of Maryland, College Park MD, 1984
At the time, loving the grins and groove of Mod and 50s R&R/60s garage, I wasn't much of a Punk fan. My friends took me to this amazing show, where for the first time I experienced the ferocity of moshing and the intensity of the D.C. Straight Edge scene. Around this time we saw G.I. in D.C. at the Sanctuary Theater on Columbia Road, where afterward a locally-legendary skinhead named Lefty chased us up 15th Street and (good-naturedly?) threw rocks at me, denouncing my sport jacket and skinny tie. "This ain't prom night!" she yelled. The rumor was that she put a guy in the hospital in Philly. Ah, D.C. in the 80s.
Madness @ Warner Theater, Washington D.C., 1984
What I remember most from this really fun show was the No-Standing policy at Warner, when we just wanted to dance to Madness' pop ska. That, and the guy who had the entire lyric to the Jam's "Carnation" written on the back of his jean jacket. I conflate this show with another ska concert from around this time, Bad Manners at the 9:30 Club; afterward on F Street Marty and I removed our thrift-shop old-man baggy suits and wrung the sweat from them as if we were pouring out water.
The Oysters @ 9:30 Club, Washington D.C., 1986
One of the great shows I've seen, mostly for its randomness. I have no idea what happened to this Boston band, and it might be that I saw them on a night when everything clicked for them. They were tight, loose, intense, sloppy, fun, and funny. Riffs, beer bottles, grins—a great night of rock & roll at the old 9:30.
The Dictators @ 9:30 Club, Washington D.C., 1991
My buddy Steve and I caught the Dictators on one of their reunion tours before they re-formed in the mid-90s. They deliver every time; this show ranks high as it was the first time I saw them, and they were particularly tight and stomping, from the mock-heroic opener "I Stand Tall" to "Two Tub Man." The place was packed and the legends vibed off of the good-will.
New Bomb Turks @ Union Bar and Grill, Athens OH, 1994
I'd dug the Turks' records, and was happy to see that they were playing in the tiny Union, my favorite bar in Athens, where I was living. The top of my head lifted off at their mid-Ohio rawk: energy, anger, noise. Singer Eric Davidson leapt about for his life as if he was dodging the guitarist's riffs and shards. One of the more scintilating performances I've seen, all the more intense for my lack of preparedness.
The Woggles @ Local 506 (Sleazefest), Chapel Hill NC, 1997
A band that always delivers live. I saw them for the first time here, at the late, lamented three-day Sleazefest, at Local 506, one of the all-time great divey places to see rock & roll. Good sound, happy bar maids, black interior, barbecue and sweet Appalachian air outside. And go-go dancers in cages. Worth the drive.
Mono Men @ Empty Bottle, Chicago IL, 1998
This was Mono Men's last show, and they hand-picked the Bottle for their sign-off venue, a thank-you of sorts to the club's owners and clientele of loyal fans. I liked the band's Estrus releases, but had never seen them live. Being "last show ever," the Men played long and loose, the evening both tempered and warmed by the fact that it was the final time the guys were going to be onstage together. Loud and raw, boozy and fun.
Electric Frankenstein @ Fireside Bowl, Chicago IL, 2000
Great super-charged riffs from this New Jersey band in front of a packed crowd of teens and Old School Punks. The long-gone Fireside was a working bowling alley that hosted mostly punk shows at night. E F didn't get to the Midwest that often, and I made sure to check it out. The show was of the coming-apart-at-the-seams variety, held together by an amped-up crowd and the band's ruthless energy and spontaneity.
The Mooney Suzuki @ CBGB, New York NY, 2001
Just before their ascension (?) to major-label ranks, Mooney Suzuki schooled a raucous crowd at CBs on their home turf. I was there with friends, and we were digging what felt like CB's last stand (that came a couple of years later). The place was packed and Mooney drank it up. I remember the MC5-channeled break in "Singin' A Song About Today" like it was, well, yesterday.
Reverend Horton Heat @ The Hideout, Chicago IL, 2002
I've seen a lot of great shows by the Rev. This makes the list because of the venue, one of my favorite places to see bands in Chicago. He played a four-night stand in the city, visiting a different club each night, and I knew that the Hideout gig would be special. It was my first visit to the place, and I drove past it twice, thinking that it was some family's home tucked away in an industrial strip. Turned out the be the Hideout (appropriately), and the show felt as if we were in the Rev's basement for a party. I don't know when again I'll see him in such an intimate, ramshackle place. Great.
Elvis Costello @ 9:30 Club, Washington D.C., 2007
Supporting his Hip-O First 10 Years compilation, Costello played over 30 songs in front of a sold-out and knocked-out crowd at the (new to me) 9:30. With 2/3 of the original Attractions behind him, Elvis seemed committed, and ripped into his past, revisiting the well-known and the obscure, singing and playing with intensity and sincerity. His recent "Country Darkness" felt ageless and lived-in; I'd wanted to hear him sing "Riot Act" for years. We were close to the stage and it felt historic. Once-and-gone.
What are your favorites?