Best (and worst) musical performances
Blue Oyster Cult at the Roseland Theatre in 1994. I've been a fan since 1972, but never heard a live show and (based upon their live recordings) never really cared to. But I figured that this might be my last chance to see them, so what the heck... Well, I was truly amazed at what they managed to pull off on stage. Kinda put the lie to my notion that they were really a studio-only band. They put on a truly outstanding performance in rather intimate venue - there were only a couple hundred people at that show, far less than house capacity.
Sadly, subsequent BOC shows that I've attended have been all over the map. Most of them turned into an excuse for Buck to show off while the rest of the band just sort of phoned it in... Too bad. They're still one of my all-time favorite bands.
Best Previously-Unheard-of Artist
I first heard Joan Osborne as the opening act at a large venue. Too far away to even see her on stage, but she owned that room. The rest of the evening was irrelevant.
She returned to Portland to play a smaller venue as the headliner, and did not disappoint. That woman is a force of nature on stage.
Most Memorable Indoor Concert
Led Zeppelin in 1969 at the Boston Garden. My buddy and I snuck down to take a couple of reserved but unclaimed second-row seats and got to keep them for the whole show. Not more than 20 feet from Jimmy Page! And they were loud. All the concert-goers on the train back to the North Shore were shouting because our ears were shot.
Most Impressive Cooperation from the Elements at an Outdoor Concert
UMass/Amherst stadium sometime around 1973. Up-and-comer Bruce Springsteen was the opener, Cold Blood in the middle, and headlined by It's a Beautiful Day. It was completely overcast and had been threatening to rain all afternoon. As soon as It's a Beautiful Day took the stage a hole opened up in the clouds and a single beam of light covered the stage. Strange but true.
Most Impressive Outdoor Venue
We paid $100 a head and drove five hours to see the Who. Parked in a huge field and waited for the gates to open. Nothing special, really. Until I walked over the last rise and saw the Gorge amphitheatre for the first time. Truly breathtaking. (The Who were pretty good, too.)
Best Use of Technology
The Grateful Dead with their "wall of sound" back in the mid-70s. Crystal-clear sound everywhere in every venue - indoors or out. And the experimental electronic music that Phil Lesh and Ned Lagin performed had to be heard to be believed.
Greatest Dynamic Range
Godspeed You Black Emperor (with cello, violin, three electric guitars, two bass guitars, and two drummers) went from so quiet that you could hear someone sniffle at the other side of the venue to so loud that you could feel it in your chest. Not only that, but they also put on a mesmerizing performance. Two hours went by in what seemed like it must have been only fifteen minutes.
Gov't Mule before they added the keys.
Best Free Concert
John McLaughlin and Little Feat playing to an under-capacity crowd of a couple hundred people at the UMass/Amherst Student Union Ballroom sometime around `72 or `73.
Best Stunt during a Musical Performance
Todd Rundgren with Utopia sometime around `76. During his big guitar solo he walked up rungs to the apex of an open-frame pyramid. At the last note of the solo he dove 20 feet to the stage, stopped by a bungee cord.
Some guitarist that I heard while on holiday in London just after New Years 2000. He was playing rock standards like "Little Wing" and "Stairway to Heaven" in three- and four-part counterpoint.
"If I had known what it would be like, I wouldn't have bothered"
"Summer Jam" at Watkins Glen. 600,000 people showed up on ticket sales of something like 125,000. Needless to say, it was crowded. Owsley was on the right track with his concentric rings of PA towers and delayed feeds to correct for the propagation times. But whenever the wind shifted, as it did quite frequently with the approaching storm front, the sound reinforcement system turned into a really expensive phase-shifter effect.
Garbage at the Roseland Theatre a couple years ago. Their backing tracks overpowered the band, and the subwoofers overpowered the venue. The vibrations worked loose a chunk of plaster that hit my wife on the shoulder. The only decent performance of the evening was when they went "off-program" to play an audience requested song - an older number not in their sequencer.
Runner-up, Worst Concert
REM at the Colliseum in Portland in `94 or `95. It was my younger son's first concert and I felt compelled to tell him that not all concerts were like that. The band had zero stage presence and put on a lacklustre show. They really should have been playing to a pub somewhere rather than a stadium full of fans. Fortunately, opener Sonic Youth put on a great show.
The hippie hand-drummers that infest Portland (especially the Hawthorne district) every summer.