LIST: The 10 Best Concerts I’ve Seen

There’s a new band out there.

Pitchfork gave their debut an 8.4. Twitter and the music blogs are lighting up. Everyone you know has the single.

The group is coming to your town and you make sure to snatch up tickets. You know if you don’t, you’ll look back one day with regret.

You pack into the venue. The first band is good, but the band you, and everyone else, came out to see is a few minutes from taking the stage. You can feel the buzz in the room. The excitement is so thick you can taste it.

The lights go out. The spotlights come up. You dart your eyes to the stage. Everyone around you is cheering at the top of their lungs.

And they take the stage. From note one, to note last, they kill it. They’re everything you ever expected and more. You share amazed glances with your buddies every now and then.

Everyone in that room knows they’re seeing something incredible. Something special. The beginning of something.

It ends. And the breathless exaltation starts. You know something just happened you’ll never forget. Something you may never be able to replace.

That is, until the next band comes along.

I went to my first concert in August 2000. I’ve been to nearly 70 concerts since, which is a lot for some but a small number compared to others. There is nothing on Earth, in my opinion, like the thrill I just described above. It doesn’t necessarily just come from a band you haven’t seen before, or a new act trying to make a name for themselves.

It can come from a great act you’ve seen a a million times, or an old standby that hasn’t stopped rocking. Or it can just be from a great time and great memories you created with friends on a night with music.

As times change, the way we experience music has also changed. Until now, our increasingly socially-connected world hadn’t made its way to concert-going.

My best friend, Sam Mullins, has been working for months to develop an iPhone app that will help you find great live bands, check into concerts, rate and review shows and connect with other people in the crowd.

The app is called TourBus and it’s now available in the App Store on your iPhone. If you have an iPhone, and enjoy the thrill of live music, I urge you to check it out and tell all your friends about it. Check out TourBus on Facebook and Twitter, too.

To mark the occasion of TourBus’ release, and as a reward for your download of the app, I’m offering a list of the 10 best concerts I’ve seen. Narrowing down all the great shows I’ve seen to 10 was an extremely difficult task.

I have based this on a number of criteria, including but not limited to: the greatness of the headliner, the greatness of the entire bill, my personal memories of the show, the overall concert experience, and basically anything else I felt was important.

I’ve listed the shows in chronological order and each show is accompanied by my ticket stub. Thanks for reading, thanks for downloading the app, and keep on listening.


This was my second concert, and my first at Portland’s great State Theater. It was also the first of the seven times I’ve seen Jimmy Eat World, four average guys from Arizona who leave everything they have on stage every night. It was the height of their popularity, with “The Middle” and “Sweetness” burning up the airwaves. With nearly everyone from my high school in attendance, I got to first understand the power of a smaller venue. It was my introduction to the songs from their 1999 opus Clarity, which would become my favorite album of the era. Not only that, but the guys played not one but TWO encores, finishing the set with Bleed American‘s epic closer “My Sundown.”


The first concert Sam and I went to together, we got there early and were leaning up against the front of the stage throughout. Beth Hart and her strong voice made a great early impression, but Michael Franti and his backing band Spearhead stole this show. Franti was wildly funky, traipsing the stage in bare feet. But he was so strong, so believable and so enjoyable from beginning to end. When the set ended, he walked off the front of the stage into the crowd to say hello to people in attendance. Ziggy Marley played a good set, but I was always struck by how much fun Franti and his band had that night.


Las Vegas rock gods the Killers were touring in support of their monster second album Sam’s Town when I was treated to the best arena show I’ve ever seen during my sophomore year of college. The Red Romance were a fun rock act with tinges of ’80s nostalgia, and put on an excellent set. None of us knew anything about the next band, the Silver Beats. It turned out they were a NOTE PERFECT Beatles tribute band from, of all places, Tokyo. I’m telling you it was borderline creepy how good they were. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of any show I’ve seen. Then the Killers came out and made everyone nearly forget about the incredible display they’d just witnessed.


Don’t pretend you’re not jealous: I got to see John Mayer in a casino ballroom and stood a few feet away while he spun hours of blues-rock perfection. Mayer wasn’t touring for an album, but it was my first Mayer experience and it was unforgettable. He played songs from throughout his catalogue, with some of the best coming from his best album, 2006’s Continuum. Certified show-stopper “Gravity” was the highlight of the night. Sam and I saw this show with Sam’s family friend Todd, known as “Toad” to friends. Toad, who loved live music, passed away about a year after this show. If you look really closely at the icon for the TourBus app, you’ll find a tribute to Toad in there.


The Whigs and We Are Scientists both played good sets at this show. With that out of the way, I can now gush about how un-fucking-believable Kings of Leon played that night at the Orpheum. We had excellent seats, just a few rows from the stage. Only By the Night, the Tennessee quartet’s third album, the one that would launch them to super-duper-stardom, was tearing its way through the country while “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody” were in everyone’s heads. Every note they played that night was dripping with Jack Daniel’s-infused rock gravitas. They practically burned that place down. We knew immediately upon leaving we’d never see Kings of Leon in a venue that small again.


This show came shortly after the newly-renovated House of Blues opened. I could think of no better kick-off  than seeing Jimmy Eat World on their “Clarity x 10″ tour. They played only 10 shows that winter showcasing the entirety of their finest album, which turned 10 that month. They played their set with a special energy and enthusiasm. For me, it was an unforgettable chance to see my favorite band play my favorite album. My emotions ran high as they went through favorites like “Just Watch the Fireworks” and “For Me This Is Heaven,” obscure singles like “No Sensitivity” and the incredible re-made closer “Goodbye Sky Harbor.” So many of the songs they played were ones I feared I’d never see again. Instead, they gave me memories in one night I’ll never forget.


The dearly-departed WFNX’s annual holiday show in 2009 had an absurd lineup, despite the disparate styles of the three bands: Passion Pit was a local group that had exploded that year thanks to their masterful electro-pop debut Manners; French rockers Phoenix were also gaining major attention in the U.S. for the first time on the heels of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix longtime Texas alternative demi-gods Spoon were set to release Transference in the wake of immensely popular Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. The result was an astoundingly-great show from beginning to end. Today the only one of those bands who could still headline a venue as small as the Orpheum would be, interestingly enough, Spoon, who headlined that night.


Before the release of their third album, This is Happening, James Murphy-led Brooklyn indie behemoths LCD Soundsystem made clear this would be the end of their band. With this knowledge in hand, there was no way I’d miss them that year. The result was a show at the Orpheum for the ages. We were in the back of the orchestra that night and I remember it being more sweltering than usual inside the old venue. That could have been due to the intensity of LCD’s live show. They blistered through classics like “All My Friends” and I specifically recall “Get Innocuous!” as a highlight of the night. It’s almost certainly the first, last and only time I’ll ever see LCD Soundsystem live. My sadness over that is replaced by the incredible memories of their live prowess.


We didn’t really know what to expect when we got tickets to see Anthony Gonzalez’s shoegaze-inspired synth pop project M83 in concert last fall. Because of demand, the show had been moved from the much-smaller Paradise to House of Blues and we stood in the mezzanine to get a bird’s eye view. It’d safe to say we were stunned beyond belief at just how astounding M83 was that night. From the opening synth drones of “Intro” to the out-and-out amazing closer “Couleurs,” I had chills the entire night. They scampered around the stage like crazed French elves, jamming away on Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming staples like “Reunion” and world-beating single “Midnight City.” This was definitely a night like the one I described in my intro. Months later, we were still talking about how great that show was.


I’ve seen Dave Matthews Band five times now, and every time has been awesome, including two fantastic shows at Fenway Park in May ’09. There cannot possibly be another band on the planet who has more fun on stage than these guys, who’ve been crushing it live for over two decades now. They have a chemistry that’s so deeply palpable. The show this past June stands out because of how it ended: After so many years as the DMB concert version of a white whale, Boston-area fans finally got to see “Halloween,” the Before These Crowded Streets deep cut that takes an entirely new existence live. That segued into a joyously euphoric closing rendition of “Tripping Billies” to cap another incredible show. Even if you aren’t a huge fan, you owe it to yourself to take in the DMB experience someday.


2 thoughts on “LIST: The 10 Best Concerts I’ve Seen

  1. Best concert I saw this year was Kurt Vile in Rochester. You probably know who that is, but if you don’t you should check out his newest album. I was supposed to go with my girlfriend, but she dumped on the day of the show…classic bitch move. So I sold her ticket to some random dude, went by myself and it was fucking epic!

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