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

August 28, 2014

20. Aretha Franklin, Fillmore West, San Francisco, Calif., March 7, 1971
It is easy to say that Aretha Franklin is one of the greatest singers off all time, but every time I put on [the shows recorded for Live at the Fillmore West ], it takes me to the same place. There isn’t a dull moment or a bad note – it is a journey: Ray Charles comes out and [Aretha’s] band included King Curtis, Cornell Dupree and Billy Preston. Many people don’t know this, but King Curtis’ opening set from those shows are actually the shows released on his Live at the Fillmore West. Growing up I was a huge fan of Jimi Hendrix and Santana, but the first time we played the Fillmore, the only thing that I could think of was Aretha at those shows. Those shows pop right off of the vinyl and take you right to the Fillmore. Alan Evans, Soulive

19. The Rolling Stones, Madison Square Garden, July 26, 1972
It definitely was not the summer of love. By July 1972, the counterculture’s sunny disposition had turned darker and no band better represented that mood shift than The Rolling Stones. Truly living up to their “bad boys of rock and roll” image, the Stones exuded a palpable sense of decadence and danger, and their audience, larger than ever, was primed for the band’s first American tour in three years. Touring behind Exile on Main Street, the hardest, toughest and rootsiest album of their career, the Stones crisscrossed the country, playing electrifying shows everywhere they set down. Whereas lead guitarist Mick Taylor had just been settling in during the 1969 foray, by ‘72 he was integral; pianist Nicky Hopkins and hornmen Bobby Keys and Jim Price added more muscle to the music. Following opening act Stevie Wonder, the Stones intro’ed each show with “Brown Sugar,” then offered a blistering array of their best, including “Bitch,” Keith Richards’ “Happy,” the acoustic “Sweet Virginia” and all-out rockers “Rip This Joint,” “All Down the Line” and “Rocks Off.” The Stones ended the tour with a three-show run at Madison Square Garden, the final date coinciding with Mick Jagger’s 29th birthday. For many in the audience that night, and at the tour’s other stops, The Rolling Stones truly lived up to the tag others had bestowed upon them, “the greatest rock and roll band in the world.” Jeff Tamarkin

18. John Coltrane, The Village Vanguard, New York City, N.Y., November 3, 1961
Saxophonist John Coltrane was at a turning point in his career when he brought his group to New York’s Village Vanguard for a series of shows on November 1-5, 1961 (available in their entirety on CD). Earlier that year, Coltrane had joined the forward-looking Impulse label and begun a brief but fruitful association with multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy, who shared Coltrane’s fascination with African and Indian music. Though on other nights the band was joined by Ahmed Abdul-Malik on the tamboura, an Indian drone instrument, and Garvin Bushell on English horn and contrabassoon, the middle gig presented Coltrane’s classic quartet with Dolphy (though soon-to-be permanent bassist Jimmy Garrison was rotated with Reggie Workman). The beautiful conversation among Coltrane’s tenor and soprano, Dolphy’s bass clarinet and McCoy Tyner’s piano on the meditative “Spiritual” and “India” take the modal improvisations that Coltrane explored with Miles Davis on Kind of Blue to the next logical step – a journey that would lead to A Love Supreme and beyond (though, at the time, not all in the audience appreciated Coltrane’s new sound). You can hear Coltrane searching for – and finding – new pathways in the music just as he was experimenting with his lineup. “Impressions,” with Garrison, presents the sound of the classic quartet for the first time. John Swenson

17. Otis Redding with Booker T. & The M.G.’s, Monterey Pop Festival, Monterey, Calif., June 17, 1967
It was a multi-layered experience. We flew from London to Detroit to San Francisco after finishing the Stax tour in Europe and it was a culture shock. I had never really seen hippies before. We had done these shows in Europe that were greatly appreciated, but this was different because these weren’t your conservative young British kids that slipped away from home to go to the show. These were people who were making a political statement in America with their lives and they wanted us. They wanted Otis, they wanted Booker T. & The MGs. It was just one of those electric nights. They just showed Otis love that he hadn’t seen before in the United States and he was moved. And we just rode on his energy and took his cue, followed his lead. The music was like riding on the wind, I don’t know how to describe it. I see the video and listen back to the tape and I have no idea how we played that music that way, at that tempo. It was the same music but it seemed surreal. Otis Redding was our leader onstage and his energy was the energy that we rode on. Booker T. Jones

16. The Who, Grande Ballroom, Detroit, Mich., May 9, 1969
Tommy was a watershed moment, both for the rock canon and for The Who themselves. The album transformed them from a tough aggressive singles band into bona fide rock gods and sophisticated thinkers with the intermingled spiritual, musical and autobiographical themes that Pete Townshend disgorged from his messy unconscious. But Townshend didn’t see it as an exercise in rock altruism or even enduring art, remarking dryly two years after its release that a rock opera was “[G]ood thinking for a group who stopped getting hits.” You wouldn’t have thought that as attendance records for the storied venue were broken the weekend that The Who debuted their 74-minute behemoth in the U.S. while 1500 fans (who paid the princely sum of $5 for the privilege) watched rock history being made under the gilded Moroccan arches. The Who had been in Detroit all week, rehearsing at the Grande – forced to practice with music stands so they could memorize the lyrics – since they had only played the album live the month before at Ronnie’s Scott’s club in London for the British press. Afraid that the audiences would revolt – after all no one had heard any of the songs since the album wasn’t released until almost three weeks later – the band returned to the stage and performed some of its hits as well as a Chuck Berry/Bo Diddley medley. Jaan Uhelszki

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