50 Greatest Concerts 1959-2009: Part Three (Throwback Thursday)
7. The Band, Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, Calif., November 25, 1976
After a lifetime on the road, The Band staged a grand farewell and got promoter Bill Graham to throw the show and Martin Scorcese to make the movie. Graham had transformed the dirty old ice rink called Winterland for the occasion. He rented hedges and potted plants. He hired a string orchestra to play waltzes. He laid out a Thanksgiving turkey dinner with all the trimmings (backstage, producers painted a room white, hung noses cut off dime store masks on the walls and ran a tape loop of someone sniffing). Pieces of scenery from the local opera company’s “La Traviata” hovered over the stage, scrupulously illuminated for the filming of the evening’s events. Following a routine set by The Band, the first guest was Canadian rock and roll wildman Ronnie Hawkins, where it all started for The Hawks. Dr. John, Paul Butterfield, Muddy Waters and Eric Clapton warmed up the crowd for Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. Neil Diamond, not yet camp enough to be ironic who had recently finished recording an album produced by Robbie Robertson, got a shot. Van Morrison blew the place apart with “Tura Lura Lura,” done as a duet with keyboardist Richard Manuel and a “Caravan” for the ages. The Dylan finale gave the evening its cathartic emotional release – Bob Dylan and The Band reunited one last time – leading to the inevitable all-cast “I Shall Be Released,” including – where’d they come from? – Ronnie Wood and Ringo Starr. Dylan and Morrison shared one microphone with Robertson; Mitchell and Young another with Rick Danko; Dr. John and Neil Diamond flanking one side of another mic, Clapton and Butterfield on the other. The old ice rink never had a finer moment. Joel Selvin
6. The Beatles, Shea Stadium, Flushing, N.Y., August 8, 1965
Why the Beatles at Shea? Because, until then, a “big show” was a movie theatre with 15 different acts. Because Elvis was playing rodeos. Because nobody could even conceive of a band filling a 50,000 seat stadium. How did it happen? Sid Bernstein, the mad genius, pulled-off this crazy idea. He had booked The Beatles (sight unseen!) into Carnegie Hall, just because he was stationed in London during the War and loved the English sensibility, so he followed the London newspapers and read about this crazy band from Liverpool that was filling the halls of the UK with screaming teenagers.
Long story short, the box office manager at Carnegie Hall calls Sid over one day when he came to drop off a check for the deposit and says, “Hey, Bernstein – how many shows is your act playing?” “Two,” Sid says. “Shoulda booked ‘em for a month – phone has been ringing off the hook.” So Sid asks if he can have more nights. Nope: classical concerts as far as the eye can see. So Sid, a Mets fan, too green to know you don’t just do this out of the blue, calls the Mets and says: “Excuse me, but how much would it be to book Shea Stadium for a musical act” ? And they’re crazy enough to give him a price, knowing it will never happen. And he says “DONE!” Remember, so much about The Beatles – psychedelic mainstream pop, Sgt. Pepper, stadium concerts, the Concert for Bangladesh – The Beatles blazed the trail, and created the roadmap for all to follow. Ken Dashow, New York radio personality
5. James Brown, Apollo Theater, New York, N.Y., October 24, 1962
It all began one fall night in Harlem. “All aboard?!” ( “Yeah!” ) “All aboard?!” ( “Yeah!” ) “All aboard?!” ( “Yeah!” ). With that sizzling call-and-response intro to the final track of Live at the Apollo, James Brown had some 1,500 fans suited up and ready to go. Where he would take them, they had no clue. In retrospect, of course, we know that Brown went on to chart the course of post-‘50s popular music – first from R&B to soul, then from soul to funk. The album, released in early 1963, almost didn’t happen. King Records owner Syd Nathan was wary of putting out an LP with little chance of generating singles. His reluctance was understandable. While Brown’s first single, “Please Please Please,” reached the R&B Top 5 in 1956, he followed it with nine consecutive duds. He scored other hits, but even by 1962 Brown still didn’t have the clout to demand a live album. He recorded one anyway, using his own money. Looking back, it seems a no-brainer. Brown’s raw onstage energy and charisma always trumped his studio performances, and Live at the Apollo makes that abundantly clear as he transforms earlier songs – the pleading soul ballads “Try Me” and “I Don’t Mind,” the proto-funk of “Night Train” – into magic. With a razor-precise rhythm section, seven horn players and backup singers The Flames, Brown coos, cries, begs, shouts – and defies all odds. The album peaked at No. 2 and spent 66 weeks on the pop chart, long before black artists regularly crossed over to white fans. Mark Kemp