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

August 28, 2014

15. Bob Marley, The Roxy, Hollywood, Calif., May 26, 1976
Owo! Yoyoyo! Yabba yabba yo! The exhilaration of singing along with a Wailers chant was a martial and spiritual awakening that stirred the star-studded, blasé Los Angeles audience when The Wailers played The Roxy. Would The Wailers win over local heroes like Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr and George Harrison, Neil Diamond, Robbie Robertson, Carole King and Led Zeppelin, plus movie stars like Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson? The waves of audience voices the musicians heard onstage, shouted yes. Their new album, Rastaman Vibration, functioned as a calling-card for a worldview as well as a new riddim; and with the churning, uplifting 20 minute encore of “Get Up, Stand Up,” “No More Trouble” and “War” that closed the show, changed minds and lives – and established the band’s American career. London was Marley’s second home. But this was Los Angeles – Hollywood – the home of the cowboy movies that inspired Marley to write “I Shot the Sheriff,” which helped make Marley’s name when Eric Clapton began covering it two years earlier. That night, Marley threw his all into the song, in a way he only did when his urge to communicate transformed him fully from artist to shaman. He mimicked the shooting, and his fast, soccer-trained footwork suggested how it felt to be on the run, wrongly accused. That night, though, the joy of the L.A. audience declared him not just a free man, but – creatively and spiritually speaking – one of the freest that ever lived. Vivien Goldman

14. Led Zeppelin, The Forum, Los Angeles, Calif., June 25, 1972
Led Zeppelin cognoscenti – Jimmy Page included – agree that the mighty hard rock behemoth was at the zenith of their powers for this show. They hadn’t toured immediately to promote Led Zeppelin IV, which had been released in November the year before. The break invigorated the band and when Led Zeppelin hit our shores on their eight-date North American tour, their first in three years, they were on fire, but never so much on this hot, sticky June night They were exhausted and giddy, introducing three songs from the not yet recorded Houses of the Holy – “Over the Hills and Far Away,” “Dancing Days” and “The Ocean.” Plant assured fans that they wouldn’t title the next offering Led Zeppelin V, but instead Burn That Candle – a title that bootleggers misinterpreted as Burn like a Candle, misnaming the stealth recordings that flooded the market soon after the show. The temper of the crowd was as high strung as the violin bow that Page used, with a number of rowdy fans persisting in setting off firecrackers, something that Plant addressed with some improvised lyrics, later threatening to leave: “You start blowing blows and we’ll go, right? …If everybody keeps cool, we can stay here all night!” Which they did, doing a 25-minute “Whole Lotta Love” medley (one of the last times they’d do it) and a record seven encores! Jaan Uhelszki

13. Talking Heads, Pantages Theatre, Los Angeles, Calif., December 18, 1983
It was the end of the Speaking in Tongues tour in the U.S. Those shows which from that tour were truly uplifting. It had a spiritual, perhaps a church-like gospel element to it. There was a feeling of transcendence that I’m pretty sure we reached every night. The show built as it progressed – it was designed that way – the whole set was fantastic. For me, “Genius of Love” was a real high point, though objectively, it was just an excuse for David Byrne to change into his big suit. When he came back, that’s when things really started smoking (the final three songs were always “Girlfriend is Better,” “Take Me to the River” and “Crosseyed and Painless” ). People were always on their feet from like the third song till the end of the show and by the end of the show, everybody was pretty sweaty and done. Jonathan Demme shot these three shows at the Pantages for his film Stop Making Sense (celebrating its 25th anniversary on Blu-ray this year we might add) and after the last one we had an enormous reception backstage with people like Brian Wilson, Robbie Robertson, Peter Gabriel, Jodie Foster and Drew Barrymore when she was little. Every night of that tour for me, and I’m certain for the rest of the band, was a transcendent experience. Chris Franz, Talking Heads

12. Pink Floyd, Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Uniondale, N.Y., February 28, 1980
No less than the most elaborate stage show ever launched up until that time, Pink Floyd’s live staging of its album The Wall was unprecedented. As drummer Nick Mason reflected, “It was absurdly expensive. It’s not something other people will do, generally, because it’s just so expensive to put on – it’s simply not feasible. But it was great to have done it once.” In all, The Wall was only performed live 31 times in four cities, 12 of which took place in New York and Los Angeles. Throughout the first set, a physical wall consisting of 340 white bricks would be built to form a wall 160 ft. wide and 35 ft. tall. Giant puppets representing various characters in the narrative loomed about the stage. The second set, which began with “Hey You,” would see the wall slowly coming down – the show reaching its climax during “Comfortably Numb” as guitarist David Gilmour would appear on top of the wall seemingly out of nowhere for a searing solo. “It was a fantastic moment,” recalls Gilmour. “The audience, they’re all looking straight ahead and down, and suddenly there’s all this light up there – their heads all lift up and there’s this thing up there and the sound’s coming out and everything. Every night there was this sort of ‘gasp!’ from about 15,000 people. And that was quite something, let me tell you.” The final Nassau show would be the last Pink Floyd show to feature Roger Waters in the United States. Josh Baron

11. David Bowie, Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica, Calif., October 20, 1972
David Bowie brought his feral androgyny and sci-fi glam-rock to the United States for the first time in Cleveland, on September 22, 1972. Bowie had released Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars earlier that year and he was inhabiting the persona of that rock and rollin’ bitch of a space invader onstage. On October 20, Ziggy and the Spiders performed a particularly excellent – and bootlegged – show that was re-released earlier this year as Live Santa Monica ‘72. The kinky link that would mutate hippie into punk had arrived on platform heels with rainbow kimono a-flowing. The Ziggy-Spiders sound was a high-voltage hybrid of rock, folk and musical theater smacked around and bruised by guitarist Mick Ronson’s scrappy blues-rock licks. According to Bowie, Ziggy was a Christ-like creation with Dionysian tendencies, the human manifestation of an alien come to save the earth five years prior to its destruction. Onstage, as one can enjoy in director D. A. Pennebaker’s 1973 film of Bowie’s final Ziggy, this translated into a triumph of style over substance amid some great tunes and an eventual “Rock and Roll Suicide.” Fortunately, by this time, Bowie had already morphed into Aladdin Sane. Richard Gehr

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