Looking Back: Best and Worst Concerts

After somehow securing tickets to see the Rolling Stones in March (OK I’ll admit it, my efforts failed, and I’m only going thanks to my quick-clicking girlfriend), I started thinking about all the concerts I’ve seen over the years.

From the first concert I ever went to way back in 2002 – the Brisbane-leg of the Long Way to the Top show featuring the likes of Billy Thorpe and Ross Wilson – through to today, I’ve been lucky enough to go to close to 100 concerts or festivals.

The overwhelming majority of these gigs were pretty damn good.That makes sense, really. After-all, just as I don’t go and watch movies I think will be dreadful, I usually only go and see concerts that I’m likely to enjoy.

But this post isn’t about those shows that were just ‘pretty damn good’. It’s not even about the myriad that stood out as being great. It’s about those that stood out as being bloody amazing, as well as those shows that were disappointing or downright terrible (at this point I’d like to say hello to Bob Dylan).

Five of the Best:

5. The Stone Roses, Riverstage, Brisbane, 2013

It wasn’t long ago that the chances of the Stone Roses ever reforming seemed about on par with those of Elvis Presley headlining the Woodford Folk Festival. The King has yet to grace Woodford, but in 2012 the Roses shocked fans by announcing they were getting back together for a world tour. Seeing them live at the Riverstage was just surreal, and not even some sound problems early in the set and an agitated-looking Ian Brown could take away from the moment. For 90 minutes it was 1989 again and the Riverstage was Brisbane’s own Spike Island.

The Stone Roses
A Stone Roses reunion had seemed about as likely as the Beatles reforming …

4. Noel Gallagher & His High Flying Birds, Enmore Theater, Sydney, 2012

As raging Oasis-fans, some friends and I made plans to see Noel Gallagher twice on his most recent tour to Australia – at Big Day Out in the Gold Coast and two nights later in Sydney at the Enmore Theatre. I had walked away from the Gold Coast show with the guitar pick Noel used to play ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’. I didn’t think anything could top that. The Sydney show did. Split between High Flying Birds solo material and Oasis classics, the crowd became a rousing choir of 4,000 voices, singing along with every word. Magic.

3. The Killers, Studio Coast, Tokyo, 2013

This one was unforgettable even before the first note had been played. Having failed in our efforts to get tickets, my travelling-partner and I somehow ended up on the guest list after a million-to-one chance encounter with Ronnie Vannucci Jr’s mother at Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine. The icing on top was the Japanese crowd who exploded into action with the first song of the night, pumping their fists in the air in perfect unison to the strains of ‘Mr Brightside’ and continuing until the last note of the show-closing ‘When We Were Young’.

The Killers
The Japanese crowd took the Killers show to another level

2. Arctic Monkeys, The Arena, Brisbane, 2006

It can’t have lasted much more than 45 minutes – a 15-song, 45-minute rock and roll tornado that whipped the Arena into an absolute frenzy. I remember the house-lights coming on and seeing my mate emerging from the parting crowd, absolutely drenched in sweat like he’d just got out of a swimming pool. Another friend had been knocked to the ground. There was nothing rough or violent – just a crowd heaving with excitement for an intoxicating new sound.

= 1. Bruce Springsteen & E-Street Band 2013, Brisbane Entertainment Centre
= 1. Bruce Springsteen & E-Street Band 2003, Brisbane Entertainment Centre

I know I know, this is meant to be top five concerts and I’ve cheated by mentioning the Boss twice in equal first place. It’s well deserved, though. What makes him so good? Well you see the best live acts play for everyone in the venue, from the rich baby-boomers down at the front to the skin-flints in Row Z. Springsteen does that, but he does more than that. The Boss smashes down the fourth wall. He isn’t playing for anyone. He’s playing with everyone. All 15,000 of us.

Bruce Springsteen
The Boss – hands down the best live band on the planet

Honourable Mentions: Dizzee Rascal in the Boiler Room at Big Day Out in ’08. Any concert with Neil Finn or Paul Kelly. John Fogerty supported by Don McLean at the Entertainment Centre a few years ago. Neil Young for his guitar-string murdering rendition of the Beatles’ ‘A Day in the Life’.

Five of the Worst: 

‘Worst’ is a little harder to judge than ‘best’. In selecting these bottom five, I’ve tried to find the balance between expectations, reputation, and the performance itself.

5. Oasis, Virgin Festival, Toronto Island Park, 2008

This was not Oasis’ fault! Some fellow Gallagher-lovers and I had flown all the way to Toronto to see Oasis headline Virgin Festival. Liam & Noel didn’t disappoint, and the crowd was absolutely mad fer it … until the band abruptly stopped during ‘Morning Glory’. I had caught a glimpse of Noel hobbling off, clutching his back in pain… word soon spread that the crowd that someone had run on stage and assaulted him mid-song. Less than a year later our favourite band had broken up. We would never see them live again.

Oasis
Noel at Virgin Festival Toronto… before the assault

4. Silverchair, Big Day Out, Gold Coast Showgrounds, 2008

I enjoyed seeing Silverchair on the Great Divide Tour with Powderfinger in ’07, but something must have changed over the next six months. By the time the Gold Coast Big Day Out came around, Daniel Johns had acquired a fake – and frankly irritating – American accent. Long, boring renditions of songs from Young Modern, combined with Johns’ bizarre gangsta-style stage-talk (“reppin’ my dogs”) drew mostly boos from a hot and weary audience.

3. Guns N’ Roses, Brisbane Entertainment Centre, 2008

Axl Rose and arrogance is nothing new. Maybe he could get away with turning up on stage hours late or punching people in the head when Guns N’ Roses were the biggest band on the planet – but those days are long-gone. You can’t be a rock and roll prima donna when you’re playing ordinary songs from Chinese Democracy with ten unknown session musicians alongside you. It wasn’t all bad though, Axl at his best can still rock and songs like ‘Paradise City’ can still knock your socks off – but coming on stage hours later on a Tuesday night just isn’t cool.

Guns N' Roses
GNR had it’s moments… they were watered down by Axl’s self-indulgence

2. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Big Day Out, Gold Coast Showgrounds, 2013

This might have been an awesome show for all I know. Unfortunately though, the sound was so bad that it was impossible to tell, even from relatively close proximity. It wasn’t a venue issue – The Killers had played immediately before them and sounded pristine from the same distance out. To get an idea of how bad it sounded, take an old, worn-out cassette tape of Chili Peppers songs. Pop it into a cheap, 1980s-vintage cassette player. Wrap it up in a towel, press play, turn it up to 11, and place it thirty metres away. You have now created the Red Hot Chili Peppers show at Big Day Out 2013.

1. Bob Dylan, Brisbane Entertainment Centre, 2007

Dylan has never been famous for his voice, but by 2007 it had deteriorated to the point where it was almost uncomfortable to listen to. His rapsy, grating voice, combined with new unrecognisable arrangements of his songs made for an evening trying to decipher what he was actually playing. I didn’t even know he’d played ‘All Along the Watchtower’ until I read about it in the newspaper the next day. Many of his contemporaries have still got it – for Bob though, the time to give it up has long passed.

Dishonourable Mentions: An excruciatingly long set from support act Bobby Flynn at the Zoo a few years ago which almost put me to sleep by the time the Whitlams came on stage.

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