Springsteen, Prince, Bowie, And The Best Live Acts Of The Last 50 Years

Arts & Celebrities


Being at BottleRock this year brought back many memories of past festivals I've attended in the Napa Valley region of California and begged the question, “What was the best BottleRock set I've ever seen?” The answer came in seconds: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers during their incredibly successful 2017 tour that came just before his tragic death.

Being a proud music geek who has seen everyone, including Led Zeppelin's 2007 reunion show at the O2 Arena, thinking about Petty at BottleRock got me thinking about the greatest live acts of all time. This is of course a completely subjective list. But having seen at least four to five thousand shows and everyone from Zeppelin to David Bowie, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Prince, James Brown and more, I can certainly make an informed list. So these are my top ten live shows.

1) Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band

An easy choice for me for number one. I've seen Springsteen in some form 61 times, including several shows in this current run. As a fan, and as I admit this list is subjective, there has never been a greater combination of musicality, of joy, of emotion, of optimism, of belief in the power of rock and roll, and there there has been a greater sense of community than there. it's at an E Street Band show. Just the spirit of camaraderie that emerges when everyone in the building is screaming, fists in the air, during “Born To Run” makes this an essential experience for any music fan. Springsteen has several of the best live songs in music—the upbeat “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” and the epic “Backstreets” topping a list that, depending on your tastes, might also include the anthemic “Badlands,” the guitar-driven “. Prove It All Night,” the timeless “Thunder Road,” and more. At the age of 74, the boy still plays for more than three hours a night. Quite simply, there has never been a live music experience that captures the sense of liberation and optimism that rock and roll is supposed to bring you more than a Springsteen and the E Street Band show.

2) Patti Smith

The sense of optimism that comes from seeing Smith comes from a very different place than Springsteen, but the strong belief that one can change the world that comes out of a Smith concert is very real. Smith, once called “The High Priestess of Punk,” said in an interview with Rolling Stone years ago: “When I perform, I can't say that I feel like a man or a woman. What I feel is not in the human vocabulary . . . She brings a frenzy and primal animal power that cannot be matched. Songs like “Pissing In A River”, “Dancing Barefoot”, “Land” and “Gloria” are as frantic and passionate as any in the music. And the socially uplifting “People Have The Power” is one of the most powerful political anthems you'll ever feel emboldened by. Smith delivers a sense of hope and triumph with a power and energy that is as strong as ever.

3) Prince

I was lucky enough to see Prince on numerous stages, from small clubs and even a living room party to main stages. I saw him doing jazz shows, greatest hits nights, blues jams and more. That's what Prince saw, he could do anything. There is little argument that Prince was the greatest musician of his era. Anyone wondering just has to go back and watch his 2007 Super Bowl Halftime Show, a masterclass in game-playing, all done in the Miami rain. He constantly pushed the boundaries of popular music and the results were always fascinating, challenging and inspiring.

4) Neil Young

Speaking of pushing boundaries, Young has done it his entire career, going from rock to being the “Godfather of Grunge” in the 90s, from folk to synths in the 80s. One thing that never changed in all that musical experimentation was the strength of Young's live show. Probably the two most memorable shows I ever saw from Young were a mesmerizing solo acoustic performance at the Greek Theater in LA in the 90s and his triumphant Desert Trip show where he stole the weekend from fellow legends The Who, The Stones , Paul McCartney, Bob. Dylan and Roger Waters. Whether he's delivering beautiful, intimate songs like “After The Gold Rush” or wailing on guitar for 10 minutes on “Like A Hurricane,” Young plays every show like he wants to be the best band in the world that night. And more often than not it is.

5) The Afghan Whigs

Yes, by far the most unknown band on this list of legends. But the Whigs are the perfect example of the axiom, “If you know it, you know it.” They may not have the same mainstream acceptance as others, but in the 30 years I've seen Greg Dulli's band play live, I've seen the band's legions of fans swear by the live show for good reason. I have never seen the Whigs disappoint, and at their best they are as good as any. Mixing soul and alternative with a joy and confidence that only oozes confidence on stage, the Whigs can do anything from Prince, Marvin Gaye and even some Eagles covers to playing their own impressive catalog with the same vibrancy as when they first released some of these. songs from over 30 years ago. Trust me, do yourself a favor and experience The Afghan Whigs live.

6) Nine inch nails

For intensity, catharsis, power, musical genius and emotion, few shows can rival the scope of a Nine Inch Nails show. I remember in the mid-2000s seeing them play the 10th anniversary of the Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas the same weekend that Bon Jovi and Coldplay performed. It was one of those big bangs in the music industry where everyone was in town. During NIN's unyielding and ferocious set, both Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro and Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda approached me in the VIP area and echoed remarkably similar sentiments. One said, “This is so good I want to cry” and the other said something to the effect of, “This is so good I want to quit.” I can also cite the “farewell” tour a few years ago at the Echoplex in LA with brothers Jared and Shannon Leto of Thirty Seconds to Mars. Musicians have always known and respected NIN architect Trent Reznor as a true musical genius. This is an overused term, but one Reznor and NIN have won.

7) Fleetwood Mac/Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

This is where a list like this becomes so difficult because there are so many great candidates. So I allow myself to sneak in two. These two greats will forever be linked to me because the first time I saw them both was when my father, Bruce Baltin, took my brother and I to the Us Festival in 1982, where they both played . Then Petty and Stevie Nicks' beautiful musical friendship is one for the ages. Nicks just performed “Stop Dragging My Heart Around,” her duet with Petty, Friday night at BottleRock. First, it's impossible to leave out The Mac's classic line-up: Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie. A big part of what makes a great show is familiarity with the songs. When you go to see classical music, the songs are like the soundtrack of your life. I've often said that a song like Christine McVie's beautiful and timeless “Songbird” would be the best song in another band's catalog. But when you're a songwriter in the same band as Nicks, who created songs like “Dreams” and the gorgeous “Landslide,” even a song as beautiful as “Songbird” can be overshadowed. Then throw in Buckingham's pop anthem 'Go Your Own Way' and his incredibly underrated guitar skills on the gorgeous 'I'm So Afraid' and the combination of all three artists from the same band makes for a night of bliss pure Likewise, in the case of Petty and the Heartbreakers, when you can tap into hits like “American Girl,” “Refugee” and “Free Fallin',” as well as incredibly deep cuts like “Crawling Back To You” and ” Wildflowers”, ” the result is a stunning combination of music that is inspiring, provocative and unforgettable.

8) Stevie Wonder

Wonder hasn't toured as much over the past two decades as the rest of the artists on this list, but every time he has, or played one-off shows like his annual House Full of Toys benefit in LA, it serves as an incredible reminder , as why he is as beloved as any musician in the world, along with perhaps Paul McCartney. Whether it's the soul/rock hybrid of 'Superstition', 'Living In The City' or the pure pop beauty of tracks like 'Mon Cherie Amour' and 'You Are The Sunshine of My Life', Wonder is one of the most prolific composers of the last six decades. So, like Mac, all these songs together make a night of beautiful memories come to life.

9) U2

No band was better equipped than the Irish quartet to open the groundbreaking Sphere in Las Vegas. The usual quartet of Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. (who missed The Sphere shows due to illness) have spent over 40 years growing into one of the biggest live draws in history with massive and innovative stage shows. At the heart of these shows, however, no matter how progressive or technologically great the production, has been the band's passion for music. The most impressive thing about U2 is how they have never lost the belief that three chords and the truth can change the world. More than four decades into a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame career, the group has held on to the idealism of four kids just starting out.

10) David Bowie/Nick Cave

Two very different iconoclasts for sure, but both are impossible to leave off this list. I saw Bowie many times, starting in 1983 on “The Glass Spider Tour”. He wasn't always as consistent as some of the others on this list, but at his best, like that tour and when I saw him years later at The Wiltern in LA in a rare game, he lived up to his status as one of the top three rock stars of all time. No one had more style, charisma or class on stage. He defined a rock star in his prime. Interestingly, Nick Cave, like Bowie, was a late addition to this list. Cave has always been an incredible performer, but in the last decade he has emerged into the conversation as the most fascinating performer in music today. His Greek Theater LA show in 2017 is my undisputed best show of the decade. There was a spirituality in that show that was both heartbreaking and uplifting. Cave is as good as anyone in music at taking you on a complete emotional journey. And it will change your life for at least one night, and most likely a lot more.



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