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“Best Show Ever!”

Last week, we touched on live music’s inherent ability to bring people together.  This week, we’re taking a more in-depth and interactive look at what makes a concert unforgettable. But first, a brief history of live music.

Back in the mid-nineteenth century, composer Richard Wagner changed the opera scene by instituting what he called Gesamtkunstwerk or “total work of art.” His philosophy was that opera, rather than remain mostly a musical vehicle, should encompass every aspect of the creative arts – poetry, music, drama, and visual art all working in complete harmony. These operas were the Woodstocks of their time, and Wagner worked to take them to the next level.

Wagner's "Parsifal" performed in Berlin, 2005.
Wagner’s “Parsifal” performed in Berlin, 2005.

The better part of two centuries later, Wagner’s vision is still being realized at every great live concert. It is my firm opinion that the most memorable and significant live performances tap into this “total art” idea. Live music, above all, is about performance, and performance is dramatic. Performance takes place in a setting that enhances its story. Performance not only pleases the eye and ear, it creates a unique experience in which the show becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Not just songs, lights, and energy, but a fully realized, artistic vision.  The best live concerts are so enveloping that they can only be described as “mind-blowing,” “epic,” or “best show ever!”  Sometimes this entails an eight-piece band, elaborate stage design, and psychedelic lights; sometimes it only requires a solo performer on a bare stage.

Photo by Dylan Thomas of Hillsong United
Photo by Dylan Thomas of Hillsong United

As every concertgoer knows, this type of magic can’t be captured every time a band steps on stage. Even some of my favorite groups, which will remain nameless, have disappointed me live. This is simply the nature of the business. And this is what makes it so special when an artist you love blows you away in person.  My all-time favorite shows – from acoustic performances to hip hop concerts –  accomplished what Wagner envisioned back in 1860.  I could gush about these incredible memories in extreme detail, but I’d rather hear from you.

Send us your own stories of your favorite concert experiences, whether you were onstage or in the crowd, to [email protected].  We’ll read them all, and, if it’s okay with you, we’ll even post some of them on our blog.  Contributors who have their stories featured will receive a free Strymon t-shirt!



We look forward to hearing about your all-time favorite concerts!



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9 Responses

  1. Queen – 1976 St. Paul Auditorium, St. Paul MN.
    This was an epic show even by current standards.
    Freddy Mercury was the ultimate front man, to a group
    of all star musicians.
    Few ever have had his singing range, stage presence,
    and piano playing skills.
    Oh by the way, the rest off the band were bad ass too 🙂

  2. ver since i played my first gig i thought i was doomed as a concert visitor. You know, you get used to that thing pretty fast so there is a phase when you want to just be there onstage instead of being down there in packed place where you cant even breathe. But there is also a phase when you start to enjoy what you do and start to realize how things work. And that is the phase when you are in the audience checking out how is that guy doing this and that, how clean is that girls vocal, how freakin expensive and massively sounding that amp over there is or most of the time trying to check out what kind of pedals does the band have.
    Its been 9 years since i havent enjoy somebody elses gig that much. Considering the fact that im 30, its quite a long time. We do have this big summer festival in our country calld Pohoda. This year i went there just to see one band. A japanese math rock with a little bit of that teenage nostalgia smell. I was expecting a good show but there was i standing and talking to myself: “man, are you jumping?”. I was. I was shouting, jumping and just recieving an awful lot of emotions. The best thing is that i dont remeber what instruments there were, what amps, even who played what. I dont remember anything technical. But i do remember something that is so special, that ill never ever forget it. Dont know the word for that, even in my own language, but my head somehow welcomed that as a long lost child that had returned from faraway lands. That was the best show ever.
    As for shows with my band, there were wonderful evenings and events, but i believe the best is yet to come. We will see. Btw, you are kinda part of all those shows too, thanks for participating Strymon.

  3. The one concert that will never escape my memory was a MuteMath show during their Odd Soul tour. Those guys EARN the money you spent on your ticket. Each musician’s energy and creativity was simply incredible. That energy combined with their 3D projection mapping gave me chills song after song. You could really tell that those guys were born to perform.

  4. Three amazing nights that I’ll never forget.

    When Radiohead released Kid A, they only played three North American shows all year. It was my first trip to NYC and my first Radiohead show. They brought an analog warmth to the new bleeps, blips, loops, and experimentation that was just beginning to inform their sound. I will never forget my first experience seeing Everything In Its Right Place live. Someone offered me $800 for my ticket. That show was worth so much more.

    Foo Fighters ended their 3rd album’s tour with a small club show at The Black Cat in DC. They came out and played all three records from front to back in order, took a short break and then came out and played some covers. Epic, epic show.

    Also lucky enough to see John Frusciante’s first show back with the Chili Peppers. It was a warm up show, the night before the Tibetan Freedom Festival, that took place at DC’s 9:30 Club. They kept it pretty straightforward and focused on punk tunes that night with nothing that really exposed John as he was getting his feet back under him. But, what a night. I never thought I’d get to see John play with that band again.

  5. @Dave Janke – Thanks for sharing! Freddy was unique indeed.

    @Martin – You said it. No words can capture that type of emotion. Thanks so much for the story!

    @Wesley Binford – I’ll have to check that band out. Sounds like a unique performance.

    @Tim Wendland – Very, very jealous. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Being 59 has some advantages at least as far as seeing memorable live performances – Bob Marley, Bowie with the Spiders younger Stones, Muddy, etc.. New performers still deliver the goods though and this year alone, John Butler Trio, Califone and Hard Working Americans all treated Chicago to some of the best live music I have been lucky enough to see.

  7. There have been many great ones, but the best in the past few years was Nile Rogers at the 2014 Moogfest in Asheville, NC. He and his nouveau Chic band performed an extensive chronology of his and bassist Bernard Edwards’ tunes from the disco era through (Chic, Sister Sledge, etc.), Madonna, Bowie, Pharrell Williams (just shy of Daft Punk).

  8. @Thomas – Sounds like you’ve seen your share of greats!

    @Steve Ormsby – Sounds like an amazing set. Thanks for sharing!

  9. So many dimensions of best. Too many answers to this question, but in the Wagner realm sort of recently would have to be Amon Tobin @MoogFest

    Right after 9/11 would have been Mahler’s 9th Symphony in Nuremberg in a hall filled with impoverished European nobility and refugees from the former Soviet Union.

    Most recently was sobbing all the way through The Symbols performing unplugged “Be Here Now” in a tiny art gallery.

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