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50 Greatest Concerts 1959-2009: Part Two (Throwback Thursday)

August 28, 2014

Back in November 2009 we presented our list of the Greatest 50 Concerts from 1959-2009 with commentary by our staff and some special guest writers. Last Thursday we posted numbers 50-31 and the countdown continues today…

30. James Brown, Boston Garden, Boston, Mass., April 5, 1968
James Brown played the Boston Garden the day after Martin Luther King was assassinated and city officials used him to help quell the riots. He somehow convinced the government that if they broadcasted his show, then people would stay home to watch. The whole time you feel like you are on the edge of chaos, but his music is so inspirational and so universal that it seemed to unite everyone. He said “We got to get together,” and it really worked. He talked about where he came from – there was a real humbleness to the way he spoke that night. And even though his politics were a little off – he endorsed Nixon – his music was universal. Gabriel Roth, founder Daptone Records

29. Cream, Madison Square Garden, New York, N.Y., November 2, 1968
A year after Cream played the intimate confines of the Cafe Au Go Go in 1967, the band performed in a circus-like atmosphere inside the cavernous reaches of Madison Square Garden. Though it was part of a farewell tour, many New Yorkers were hearing the stunning interplay between guitarist Eric Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker for the first time. The PA speakers were part of a revolving stage, so you only got to hear the band’s full sound when it was directly in front of you, a terrible production decision. Terry Reid played a terrific support set, but after Cream performed a couple of songs from the album Wheels of Fire, “White
Room” and “Politician,” the concert stopped for an onstage platinum record presentation. Then music finally got underway, starting with powerful versions of “I’m So Glad” and “Sunshine of Your Love” before running through the four epic sojourns of “Crossroads,” “Train Time,” “Toad” and “Spoonful.” John Swenson

28. Michael Jackson, Motown 25, Pasadena Civic Auditorium, Pasadena, Calif., March 25, 1983
Even if Michael Jackson had not introduced his famous moon walk on the Motown 25 television special, his performance of “Billie Jean” still would be one of the most iconic moments in pop history. The groundbreaking video “Billie Jean” was in the middle of a seven-week chart-topping run when Jackson, decked out in a flashy black suit, appeared onstage at the show’s March 25 taping. With the flip of his hat, Jackson assumed the crouching position he borrowed from Bob Fosse’s “Little Prince” as the song’s heavy beat meshed with its familiar creeping electronic bass line. He then launched into a dance routine that’s been etched into our collective memory: the hip thrusts, kicks, twirls, magical footwork and updated Fred Astaire-like classic cool poses. But it was a fleeting segment, three and a half minutes into the song, which made history: Jackson began moving backward in a way that looked as if he were walking forward. The audience erupted. He had not yet begun calling himself the “King of Pop,” but from then on, there was no question that the moon walking Michael Jackson reined supreme. Mark Kemp

27. Minor Threat, 9:30 Club, Washington, D.C., September 23, 1983
Minor Threat shot across the American punk rock landscape like a comet, from self-releasing their debut 7" EP in the summer of 1981 to playing this seething final gig, opening for Washington, D.C. go-go legends Trouble Funk. As he had for three manic years, frontman Ian MacKaye, later of Fugazi, bellowed with a charismatic, infectious fervor as his bandmates raged. Minor Threat embodied the DIY ethos, launching the still-extant Dischord Records to document their own output and that of friends, and all the conflicts that arise when personal, and passionately held, codes of ethics meet the big, bad world. Their music developed equally fast, from the blinding thrash of the debut to the pensive melodies (with acoustic guitar, even!) of the posthumous Salad Days 7." The title track, a lament for shattered friendships and a stagnating scene, was performed only once – at this show, under its working title of “Last Song.” Phil Freeman

26. The Allman Brothers Band, Fillmore East, New York, N.Y., June 26, 1971
The last night [at Fillmore East] was nothing but a bunch of industry people that were given special tickets and by the time we got onstage, everyone was passed out drunk – there was nothing left. But the night before was music the way it was supposed to be. Everybody right there in the moment, no tomorrow, no yesterday, just completely wrapped up in this unbelievable thing that music can be. We played our normal two and a half hour set and when we came back out, the feeling from the crowd was just incredible – I’ve never felt anything like that before or since. We kicked off a “Whipping Post” that lasted until after sunrise. It’s indescribable. We couldn’t quit. No matter what happened, just when it felt like it was going to die, somebody came up with something else and it would go somewhere else. When we finished playing, there was no sound from the crowd. No applause. Everybody just sat there. Then, somebody finally opened the doors, the sun came pouring in and people quietly started leaving. I remember Duane in front of me dragging his guitar out saying, “It’s like leaving church.” I’m very much convinced that we’re best rock and roll band that ever existed and that was the best night we’ve ever played. Butch Trucks, The Allman Brothers Band

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