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50 Greatest Concerts 1959-2009: Part One (Thowback Thursday)

August 21, 2014

35. Nirvana, Sony Music Studios, New York, N.Y., November 18, 1993
We had been on tour with Nirvana and they asked us to play a few of our songs with them for the show. They covered some crazy stuff – from Lead Belly to David Bowie – but it all made perfect sense and connected with this violin, cello, Celtic thing they had going on. The vibe was pretty chill all in all, with this bittersweet, almost coffee shop feeling to the tunes they wanted to play – both the covers and their songs like “All Apologies.” It was a different side for them, but I always thought their stuff was beautiful at its root, so it wasn’t a surprise that is translated over to that setting. There are a lot of similarities between that show and when Dylan went electric, although people weren’t booing when Nirvana unplugged. Curt Kirkwood, Meat Puppets

34. Various Artists, Concert for Bangladesh, Madison Square Garden, New York, N.Y., August 1, 1971
The Concert for Bangladesh at New York’s Madison Square Garden, starring George Harrison, Badfinger, Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Ringo Starr and a stellar list of musicians and vocalists, raised money for starving people in India. Beatle reunion rumors aside, there was a huge surprise that afternoon, namely, the unannounced appearance by Bob Dylan with a set that dazzled the crowd. It was the coming together of rock royalty for a worthy cause and the gesture contained the seeds for all the mega-charitable events that have occurred since. Pete Fornatale, New York radio personality

33. Miles Davis, The Plugged Nickel, Chicago, Ill., December 22, 1965, second set
At the end of 1964, trumpeter Miles Davis finally solidified what would become his second “classic” quintet: pianist Herbie Hancock, drummer Tony Williams, bassist Ron Carter and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Davis had been laid up for most of 1965 while recuperating from hip surgery, and he was eager to play again with his group. After warming up in Philadelphia, Detroit and New York, they played Chicago in late December. Though the band would record its first album together the following month – ESP – these sets saw them playing Davis’ older catalog with vigor and a ruthlessness that would preface the group’s next five years. This was a new band, a new Miles and, shortly, a new jazz. Josh Baron

32. MC5, Grande Ballroom, Detroit, Mich., October 30, 1968
Turned loose on a bare stage, the Motor City Five were among the most awe-inspiring perpetrators of sheer bombast and rock and roll brinkmanship ever to play. They outsold The Beatles in their hometown of Detroit, were championed by The New York Times and The Village Voice and landed on the cover of Rolling Stone before they had even recorded an album. In the liner notes to the reissue of Kick Out the Jams, singer Rob Tyner waxed nostalgic, advising fans to “Let yourself step back to a time when muscle cars ruled the Detroit streets and Motown battled psychedelia for the airwaves.” This was a band that never played by any rules, and tonight they were about to break an important one: they were going to record a live album as their debut. The Grande’s unofficial house band since it opened in 1966, the MC5 permanently etched their sound into rock history with these legendary shows over Halloween weekend. Jaan Uhelskzi

31. Roosevelt Sykes, B.B. King, Bukka White, George Porter and Professor Longhair, New Orleans Jazzfest, New Orleans, La., 1973
In 1973, back when the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was still in its infancy, the event hosted what longtime producer Quint Davis has described as “the greatest jam we ever had.” The events leading up to it began late on Saturday afternoon as The Meters took the stage for what bassist George Porter Jr. describes as “the biggest audience we had ever seen in our young career. It was heart-warming and scary.” The Meters performance was further animated by the surprise appearance of Stevie Wonder, who guested on keyboards before appropriating Zigaboo Modeliste’s drum kit for a song. As The Meters set concluded, Porter recalls, “Me and Zig jumped off stage onto carts Quint had ready for us and went over to where ‘Fess was.” Fess, of course, was celebrated NOLA icon Professor Longhair – and those fortunate enough to be on hand witnessed a jam session in which The Meters rhythm section joined Professor Longhair, fellow New Orleans pianist Roosevelt Sykes and two cousins by the names of Bukka White and B.B. King. “It was musically incredible,” Porter reflects. “We threw down hard, hard, hard and let it lay as it lay.” Dean Budnick

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