The 10 Best Live Shows I’ve Ever Seen

Laura here, with a look back at some of my favorite concert experiences of all time. I don’t go to nearly as many shows as Liz, but I’ve seen a few in my day, and these are the ones that have stuck with me the most. Most of these took place in New York City unless otherwise indicated.

1. They Might Be Giants – I’ve seen TMBG perform three or four times, but my favorite concerts were their Flood show in 2000 (playing their album “Flood” in its entirety) and their show on New Year’s Eve of 2005. They always put on an amazing performance, with interesting instruments, hilarious gags, and improvised songs to give the fans something something different from what’s on the album.

2. Jonathan Richman – His drummer is from Tucson, where Liz and I hail from, so we’ve seen him perform there as well as in New York, at Town Hall. Since Town Hall is a bit cavernous compared to the intimate venues he visited at Tucson, I have to say I prefer the smaller shows. But no matter where he is, Jonathan Richman always delivers with an engaging sweetness that is rare indeed.

3. Previously on Lost – This up-and-coming band (sometimes called POL), formed by students at my alma mater New York University, is one of the best live bands around right now, in my opinion. They write a song for every episode of Lost (beginning in the fourth season, I believe), and although the recording is rather amateurish, the songs are actually really good. From “The Ballad of Sayid Jarrah” to “The Island Won’t Let You Die” to the awesomely-titled “Wherever Sun Go, I Go,” each song is more entertaining than the last, and the live show integrates mood-setting props (a fake plane that they crash, palm trees, toy polar bears, and tropical clothing) to complete the Lost experience. I bought their T-shirt, and I rarely buy band T-shirts anymore.

4. Radiohead – This one is a no-brainer if you know about my intense love for Radiohead, but even if I didn’t think they were the best band since sliced frozen pizza, I would still have enjoyed these shows. I saw them once at Coachella (the same year the Pixies played), which was incredible, and then had the good fortune to see them again at the Theater at Madison Square Garden a couple of years ago, which was also amazing. Even my boyfriend, who wasn’t as big a Radiohead fan as me, agreed that the last show was one of the best he’d ever been to. If only tickets didn’t cost as much as my student loan balance, I would go see Thom et al a lot more often.

5. Beck – Now this is back in the day I’m talking about. I wasn’t a big fan of his 2006 show when he toured around with marionettes and some obnoxious dancing guy, even though I guess other people found it to be pretty entertaining. No, I’m talking about 2000 or so, right after the release of Midnight Vultures. I saw him in Phoenix, and it was everything I as a starry-eyed Beck devotee could ask for. Weird stage props and costumes, plenty of dancing, jammy improvisation, and so much more. Oh, Beck, what happened? I also saw him at Coachella, by the way, but I was halfway dying from sunstroke and being crushed by the crowd, so it was a little less fun.

6. Misfits – I’m biased because this was the first concert I ever went to, back in the Tucson high school days, but boy was it a good time. I squished up to the very front with my boyfriend at the time, and we got all sweat-drenched as moshers slammed into us for hours (not to mention the fact that the band itself was rather fond of spraying torrents of sweat down onto the crowd). With the always-in-character band acting like they were from hell, skeletons emerging from coffins, rockin’ music you could barely understand, and all those devoted fans, I couldn’t help but get into the spirit. I always think about this show when I look sadly at how unenthusiastic most crowds are in New York these days.

7. The Flaming Lips – When a man gets into a giant inflatable gerbil ball and walks on the audience, you know you’re seeing something special. With all the balloons, synchronized singalong videos, and audience members being dragged up to the stage to play aliens and stuff, a Flaming Lips show is unmistakable. And  always a good time. The only time seeing them bummed me out was at Coachella; even though they put on an amazing show (utilizing the aforementioned gerbil ball), the entire set lasted about 5 minutes. Terribly unfair after all the waiting in the hot sun.

8. ZZ Top – This was just plain badass. Almost everyone else at the show was an aging biker type, and even if these grizzled fans hadn’t been continually passing around joints, we would’ve still enjoyed their company. The show itself was awesome, as could be expected, with the ‘Top playing all our favorite hits, and showing off their delightful stage presence (synchronized dancing, a multitude of costume changes, physical comedy, and of course, those beards). Although I have to say, I was waiting the whole time to see them spin their guitars, and they didn’t. But they did have furry guitars, so I guess it balances out.

9. Elliott Smith – It was really sad when Elliott Smith died, especially because it hadn’t been that long since I’d seen him live. I loved the hell out of him, so the concert was naturally awesome, even if he didn’t deviate from the album versions of his songs very much. He was drinking and smoking pretty much the entire time, which I guess shouldn’t have been a good sign, considering all his addiction troubles in the past. Rest in peace, Elliott.

10. Le Tigre – Even if you don’t like the whole Riot Grrrl genre, you have to appreciate Le Tigre’s dance-happy beats and catchy lyrics. Bikini Kill may have been a little more substantial, but I have a soft spot for Le Tigre because in college I saw them live with Cibo Matto, for $5 I think, and both bands put on great performances, even collaborating a bit. Years later, at Coachella, Liz and I decided to skip the overhyped and overcrowded The Cure performance and instead opted to eat gyros and see Le Tigre play on a smaller side stage. And you know what? It was way more entertaining than that “Friday I’m in Love” crap any day.

Honorable Mention: Peelander-Z, 77Boadrum (Boredoms), Si*Se’, Ween, Pink Martini, Sleater-Kinney, Pixies, David Byrne, and Green Day.

3 thoughts on “The 10 Best Live Shows I’ve Ever Seen

    • I wasn’t that into the Electric Six when I saw them live. Maybe I was just in the wrong mood for it, or the fact that some jackass was being annoying and we were forced to spill beer on him, which distracted me from the main event. I don’t know anything about the other two bands you mentioned.

  1. “Accidently” spilling beer on that stifly stifferson was one of my better beer-related show moments, that and losing an entire beer in the crowd when I stuck my arm up to cheer for Sound of Urchin at the boat show.

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