Top 20 Concerts – The Final 5

5. The Pogues (March 2006, Washington DC – 930 Club)

Is there a better way to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day then going to the see the originators of Irish-folk punk?  Last year was an exception, but since 2006 I’ve been going to see the Pogues every March when they tour the East Coast.  Some years I even went twice.  Shane MacGowan’s vovals might be more warbled than they are on record, but the musicianship of the band more than makes up for it.  The Pogues can easily tear through songs such as “Streams of Whiskey”, “The Sunnyside of the Street”, and “Bottle of Smoke” with reckless abandon that can cause even the squarest of concert-goers to let loose.

Even the slower songs as such as “The Old Main Drag” and “A Pair of Brown Eyes” truly come alive in concert.  “Thousands Are Sailing” a lament about the troubles of Irish immigration becomes a triumph, when the song’s writer Phil Chevron takes over on lead vocals (MacGowan uses this a break to take a piss – I’m not joking).  The fan-favorite “Body of An American” can become something of a bit of bro-mance – when was the last time you saw so many dudes with their arms around each other’s shoulder singing loudly?

4. U2 (June 2001 Washington DC – Verizon Center)

I personally think that the 2005 Vertigo Tour had better performances (saw them twice that year) but on the 2001 Elevation Tour U2 showed not only were they back after the disaster that was Pop, but proved that concerts can be an uplifting and cathartic experience.  U2 perhaps more than any other group, excel at this.

This was the first U2 show I went to, after years of trying.  I had desperately tried to buy tickets several times, only to find Ticketmaster inform me that the show was sold-out.  Less than a week before the show, I read on a U2 fan-site that leftover tickets were being released.  Nervous that I would be locked out again, I quickly logged on.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I snatched up a pair of tickets for my older brother and I.

By June, even the newer songs off of All That You Can’t Leave Behind seemed like classics – particularly “Beautiful Day”, “Kite” and “In a Little While”.  Even the classic warhorses seemed to gain a new life.  Whatever you may think of him, Bono remains one of rock’s greatest frontmen – restless, until he reaches out to every single person in the arena.  It’s rare that a band seems to be so aware of every single person in a 20,000 person arena.  And The Edge’s ice-y guitar chords never sounded so glorious.

One of U2’s strengths has always been to make their old songs, relevant and contemporary.   The bridge of “I Will Follow” linked the past to the present as Bono recalled playing clubs in DC during the group’s early days.  “Bullet the Blue Sky” included an anti-gun rant, and “One” shed light on the troubles in Africa.

I just wish I had seen the post 9/11 shows when U2 songs seemed to be a soundtrack for a wounded nation.

3. Elvis Costello (May 2007, Washington DC – 930 Club)

I should probably pick the Costello show with Allen Touissant.  But, I only remember half of the show, so I don’t think that should count.  As I stated many times during this list, I’m in in love with small venues.  And seeing Elvis Costello, five feet from my face at the 930 Club is about an intimate as you can.  Being this close to one of your heroes is an experience that has evaded me until this show.

It wasn’t just the closeness that made this show great.  Costello was touring behind a collection of his “rock” songs, and as such the show centered around material from his earlier days when he looked liked and act like a pissed off Buddy Holly.  While Costello has mellowed a bit in his songwriting, the performances retained every bite and sting he left on record.  “Lipstick Vogue” was particularly snarling with its length instrumental bridge.  “There’s No Action” was a little tighter than the version found on This Year’s Model, but still seemed on the verge of veering out of control.

“Shabby Doll” was even darker than its studio counterpart, and the live favorite “Watching the Detectives” was given an extended reading, which suited the song’s reggae feeling.  Costello is often known for his love of The Beatles, and the group’s rendition of “Hey Bulldog” was a highlight.

2. Leonard Cohen (May 2009, Columbia MD – Merriweather Post Pavilion)

For a man that doesn’t tour very often, Leonard Cohen put on one hell of a show.  And like Willie Nelson, Cohen also seemed to be enjoying himself through the over 3 hour set which included all of his best known songs, “Suzanne”, “So Long, Marianne” “Tower of Song” and of course “Hallelujah”.  As for Cohen himself, he seemed a lot more animated than you would expect a 75 year old man to be.  He also seemed extremely humbled to be in the presence of “friends”.

The constant rain didn’t seem to do anything for the atmosphere.  Despite being soaked for most of the night, the show could have gone on for 3 more hours and I wouldn’t have cared.  Unlike Bob Dylan, your chances of seeing Leonard Cohen live are few and far between.

1. Van Morrison (February 2009, New York City – Wamu Theater)

(Note: I couldn’t find a video from the Astral Weeks tour)

A once in a life-time show.  I’m usually not lucky enough to go to “special performances”, but I did manage to get tickets for this sold out show (at a hefty, but extremely worthwhile price).  Like Cohen, Van Morrison doesn’t tour very often but in late 2008 he surprised everybody by not just playing a few shows, but by performing Astral Weeks in its entirety.

For me, Astral Weeks is a life-changing album, and I had no doubt that seeing Morrison perform Astral Weeks live would be a life-changing experience.  Usually, I’m not a fan of concerts where you have to sit down, but this was one concert where sitting back, taking in the music was a perfect suit.  In its original incarnation, Astral Weeks a reflective mood piece – one that commands you to sit down and listen.  And the same went for the show.

The first half of the set contained many standard Van Morrison songs. While he was every professional, Morrison seemed to plow right through the set (“Domino” was particularly short winded).  I wouldn’t suggest that he was actually bored with own material, but it was clear that he really wanted to do the Astral Weeks set.  In contrast to the first set, Astral Weeks was given a slow jazzy treatment that didn’t take on the songs original arrangements, but retained the spirit of the record.  “Slim Slow Slider” was given an expanded ending with Morrison repeatedly chanting, “I start breaking down”.  It’s a song that I never gave enough attention to on the record, but it became one of the highlights for me.

Astral Weeks has always existed in its own plane.  It’s not rock, it’s not folk, and it’s not jazz.  It can be a combination of these things – but it’s also about the passage of time – looking back and seeing the past.  Morrison made many great records since Astral Weeks, but he never made a better one.  And in 2008 and 2009, Morrison finally looked back into the past and finally admitted what everyone already knew – Astral Weeks isn’t just a record, but an experience.



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57 responses to “Top 20 Concerts – The Final 5

  1. A great collection here — you’re very lucky to have experienced all of these. I’m jealous! 🙂

  2. Great final five. I’ll check out the other 15 today. I have a top ten list, but the more I think about it, the more I want it to go to eleven!

  3. id give a nut to be at 4/5…sorry, i just cant give bono the satisfaction. great post though.

  4. See KISS in concert and any other band will be ruined for you…they’ll pale in comparison!

  5. Love it! I am a small-venue lover myself…never seen a show in a stadium and walked away feeling good about it!

  6. I’d do anything to hear Van the Man perform! I was raised on jazz and blues, and it was hearing Van Morrison’s Caledonian soul that got me interested in other kinds of music. (My father used to play Summertime from the Last Waltz for me when I was a baby to get me to go to sleep.) Beautifully expressed thoughts on Astral Weeks…thank you for this post.

  7. Mark

    Check us out at

    award winning artist,

  8. Great post! Loved U2 in concert, saw them in Toronto. Good list that you’ve seen.

  9. I’m totally sending this link to my friend Sky who is what I call HFO or “High Fidelity Obsessed” — everything is top five. ESPECIALLY music. And he loves to argue about it. I’m sure he’ll be inspired to put together his top concert experiences too.

  10. Love your blog- just subscribed! Some fabulous music here… saw U2 at Wembley stadium (360 tour) one of the best shows ever… I had expected it to be good- as they have a reputation as an amazing live band- but I was absolutely blown away… the power of Bono…lol… true legend.
    Have heard that Coldplay are also amazing live… oh, and Muse…definitely in my top 10!

  11. Oh, man, you lucky bastard. Slim Slow Slider’s my favorite song on that album, can’t imagine what it must have been like seeing Van play it straight at a show like that. Need to see all these guys before I die actually, think a Pogues St. Paddys’ day show might completely my life in one fell swoop.

    Great post and congrats on making it to the front page!

  12. Clay

    Those are all wonderful… Thanks for sharing. For what it’s worth, here’s mine:
    1. Springsteen, Madison Square Garden, 2001
    2. Stevie Ray Vaughn, Albert King, B.B. King, Red Rocks, 1984
    3. U2, Rainbow Music Hall, 1980
    4. Bob Dylan, Ryman Auditorium, 1995
    5. Van Morrison, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest, 2002 (I think.)

    Fun to remember…

    • Thanks for the comment. Your top 5 list is quite impressive. I bet the SRV & BB King show was amazing. I’ve heard U2 shows from the early 80s and even then you could tell that the band was going to be big.

  13. I didn’t catch Leonard Cohen when he was here in the UK but he got great reviews. ………”Astral Weeks”.- I agree. Interesting post.

  14. Geez, I hope someday I make someone’s list of top 5 tours!
    Great post, thanks for sharing.



  15. lnfiniterainbow

    I went to a Queen Concert in 1984. Freddy Mercury had us all in The Palm of his Hand – He was The Ultimate Showman. They Actually Came back on for Three Encores – and in The Last One – Under Darkness The Drummer Sneaked on and Started “We Will Rock You” – it was Awesome!!! – and Then They Finished Off with “We are The Champions” – a Most Brilliant Way to End The Concert 🙂

  16. All County Insurance - Brea, California

    Amazing that you’ve been so lucky to have seen all these great bands/performers! Van Morrison would be one of my favorites!

    • Thanks for the comment. I’ve been to so many shows that it was hard to 1.) remember them all and 2.) decide which ones I really enjoyed. Though I knew at the time when I saw Van Morrison it was the best thing I had seen.

  17. Van Morrisson – I like him not only for his music but for his inability (or unwillingness) to fit into anyone else’s mold, and that is precisely why his music is without comparison.

    U2’s War, Unforgettable Fire and All that You Can’t Leave Behind – soundtracks for milestones in my own life.

    Nice write-up and enviable concert attendances. Congrats!

  18. I’m a huge fan of U2 and really enjoy seeing them perform, even though its nearly impossible to get tickets

  19. I saw the Stones open for the Beach Boys in the 60’s. I’ve seen the Allman Bros, The Who, Janice Joplin, James Gang, Ozzie, blah blah. I have never seen anyone match U2 on their Joshua Tree tour. Noone wanted to leave.

  20. Renegade Spark

    Pretty cool list there fella. Have to say Elvis Costello ain’t really my cup of morning brew but The Pogues are right up my street – Shane MacGowan is probably the only man I know uglier than me! My best gig was watching a british band called ‘Red Star Rebels’ a few years back at The Garage in London. They were being supported by a Canadian band called ‘Crystal Pistol’ who themselves were on top form but Red Star Rebels blew everyone away. I’ve been to loads of rock gigs, especially during the cocaine-fuels 80’s but this young band put my faith back in rock’n’roll. Shame really coz they split up about a year after that.

  21. My first concert was U2’s Elevation Tour in June 2001. I saw them again post-9/11 in October. Amazing.

  22. Sean

    Pogues, 1986. 9:30 club. Shane hanging onto the mike pole for dear life. Marlboro reds on the floor next to a jug of Gallo wine. Nice to see some things never change.
    TMBG, 1990, also 9:30. Before the backup band. They used a reel-to-reel for background music.
    REM, 1987. GMU. Life’s Rich Tour. Best concert ever.

  23. The Author

    Someone covering real music amazing~!

  24. Leonard Cohen, so hot at 75! I’m inspired.

  25. Where’s The Bay City Rollers, Mid-Hudson Civic Center Poughkeepsie, NY 1977? I was there! My first concert!

  26. You’re right about Leonard Cohen. For awhile he seemed to have disappeared, and then all of a sudden he’s putting on these amazing live shows. Good choice.

  27. nyc collection!!>.i am a huge fan of U2..great post.

  28. Great article – and GREAT taste in music! Here’s an article along the same lines from back in November. Enjoy…and thanks! Cheers.

  29. Wow, nice list! And you’ve actually seen all of these? Wow. That’s all I can say.

  30. Dominic

    Nonsense, no.1 should be Muse@Wembly 2007.

  31. I am envious of you ,some great concerts there,my fav u2 track is van diemans land,it’s full of emotion,
    best light show was a Rush concert about 1995 .
    but i think my fav was i.O.w festival 2008.a beautifull sunny day,Newton F

  32. I am envious of you ,some great concerts there,my fav u2 track is van diemans land,it’s full of emotion,
    best light show was a Rush concert about 1995 .
    but i think my fav was a small venue in southhampton,robert plant was doing a warm up gig for his big log tour ,it was in a hall at soton uni,it was crammed real tight but cosy lol..these big concerts are ok ,but if you miles away from stage you might as well watch it on tv,well thats my opinion anyway.

  33. Nice! Really enjoyed reading these, am going to subscribe to this blog.

  34. Pingback: Top 20 Concerts – The Final 5 (via Leading Us Absurd) « Platinum Pizza

  35. Pingback: Top 20 Concerts – The Final 5 (via Leading Us Absurd) | El blog de First Studio Institute

  36. Great post…..Love your site – Thank you!

  37. Enjoyed reading your top 5 as we share an interest in some of the same singers/groups. I agree that U2 puts on a great show; they’d be my number two. I was lucky enough to see them at Soldier’s Field in Chicago. My all-time favorite concert, though, was Three Days Grace (w/ Breaking Benjamin and Flyleaf). And after U2 I’d have to put Nickelback, who I’ve seen three times, and another great act is Papa Roach, very entertaining. Worst concert ever- Chris Daughtery. He sounded great, but he had no connection with the audience. It was very strange! It was like they were trying to hard. I was very disappointed.


    Here’s a more polished version of my Top 10 on Randomville’s site. The other writers contributed to a Top five (see link at the top of my article) last year. Fun to compare…I included Ryan Adams in my 10. He was sober in 2008, and came with full band.

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  40. That best information for all

  41. chocolatespacemonkey

    Leonard Cohen is someone I really wanna see live. Heard he’s gotta incredible “presence”?

  42. j

    Title should be: “My Top Concerts,” you’re implying that these are the best concerts ever, which is absurd of course.

  43. Beautifully written and I totally empathise, only to me, “home” is most definately where the heart is. Congrats on FP!

  44. Geoff Knight

    For once in my life I took the initiative & organised for myself and some friends to treak south to Brixton Academy London for 1990’s St Patrick’s night to see The Pouges. At the height of their mainstream success, with “Should I fall from the grace of God album” firmly fixed in people’s minds, boy did the place rock…

    Talk about atmosphere.. and I was there….

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