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

August 21, 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. We’re going to revisit the list over the coming Thursdays, starting today with the countdown from 50-31.

50. Arcade Fire, Coachella, Indio, Calif., May 1, 2005
Arcade Fire had already appeared on the cover of Canada’s Time and scored a near impossible 9.7 on indie music site Pitchfork Media by the spring of 2005, but it was the Montreal collective’s debut performance at Coachella that instantly catapulted them from a buzz band into a careerband. From the anthem-like opening guitar riff of “Wake Up” through the barrage of keyboards, percussion and guitars pulsating through the set’s climax “Rebellion (Lies),” Arcade Fire positioned itself as an arena rock band in the guise of an artsy club act. In an era where multi-genre music festivals function as three-dimensional radio stations, it was the move that anointed Arcade Fire as a voice, if not the voice, of the indie generation – and it sounded pretty great, too. Mike Greenhaus

49. Pantera, Santa Monica Civic Center, Santa Monica, Calif., May 2, 1994
Texas cowboys from hell emasculated just about every other thrash band of its day when it came to six-string fueled high-octane, heavy rock and roll. This shredding set delivered by one of metal’s most important institutions of higher yearning even attracted fellow musicians from Exodus and Metallica – as nod of respect, Pantera closed the show with the latter’s “Whiplash.” The band’s locomotive rhythm section married perfectly with Dimebag Darrell’s face-melting Flying V playing and Phil Anselmo’s brick-busting vocals saw full impact on the medley “Domination” / “Hollow,” “Walk” and, of course, “Cowboys from Hell.” Lonn Friend

48. Phil Ochs, Carnegie Hall, New York, N.Y., March 27, 1970
Phil Ochs was one of the most politically conscious of the sixties-era troubadours. Somehow inspired by the vision of a fusion between Che Guevara and Elvis Presley that might spur revolution, he appeared at this Carnegie Hall show in an Elvis-style gold lamé suit. Two concerts were scheduled that night; the first was interrupted by a bomb threat. The second featured medleys by Buddy Holly, Elvis and various country songs as well as several of Ochs’ best known protest songs. Audience reaction – at first hostile – turned appreciative. Power in the hall was turned off at midnight, but Ochs led a “power” chant and the lights were turned on, so he played into the early morning. A recording ( Gunfight at Carnegie Hall ) was his last before his eventual suicide – not released in the U.S. for 20 years – and documents his search for a way to unite radical action and popular culture. Dick Flacks, author and professor

47. B.B. King, Regal Theater, Chicago, Ill., November 21, 1964
B.B. King combined the raw emotion of traditional blues with the elegant delivery of a jazz singer, playing terse, single-line guitar solos to match his powerful vocal style in a call-and-response pattern that created a template for modern blues. Live at the Regal documented a Chicago performance in which King fronted a sextet with a crack rhythm section that followed his every move. He turned the set-opening “Every Day I Have the Blues” into a statement of purpose, and had the crowd responding gleefully to the double entendre of “Sweet Little Angel.” The concert reached its triumphant peak with King’s witty catalog of complaints about an ungrateful woman, “How Blue Can You Get?” John Swenson

46. H.O.R.D.E., Cumberland County Civic Center, Cumberland, Maine, July 9, 1992
The premise seemed logical. Bring five bands together (Phish, Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors, Widespread Panic, Aquarium Rescue Unit) that were still slogging it out in the clubs, with the hope of reaching the critical mass(es) to fill arenas and amphitheaters. ARU opened it all in Portland before their largest audience to date and as the members of Widespread Panic stepped out for the first of the galvanic full-band segues that would come to mark the opening installment of the HORDE tour, it was clear that this was more than a multi-band bill. It was a celebration of community on both sides of the stage and everywhere in between, buttressed by a mutual admiration for crackling, capacious improvisational music. Dean Budnick