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

September 04, 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. Two weeks ago we posted numbers 50-31, last Thursday we posted 30-11 and the countdown concludes today…

10. Phish, Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, Fla., December 31, 1999
We arrived in The Everglades on December 27 for the ultimate Phish show. Big Cypress was the greatest weekend of my life. Whenever I hear or see anything from that set, it still gives me goose bumps. As the first set closed with “After Midnight,” the anticipation for the midnight set began building. It was insane. The band compound was behind a wall on stage right, and beyond that wall you could feel the energy continue to grow as midnight got closer. It felt like what it must be like playing in the World Cup soccer final. We all felt that way. I remember having some doubts that the band could keep it interesting for eight straight hours – boy, was I wrong – and I learned never to doubt Trey [Anastasio] ever. For me, “Sand” at about 2:30am was so thick and heavy, then “Axilla” at around 4 a.m. took it to another level. “Drowned” > “After Midnight.” Are you serious? Mind you I was “working.” After “2001” > “Velvet Sea” > “Meatstick,” the band came offstage as the sun was coming up. After eight hours, they were utterly drained. “Are you gonna do an encore?” I asked. As soon as it came out of my mouth, I thought, “Did I really just say that?” Brad Sands, Phish road manager 1991 – 2004

9. Elvis Presley, NBC Studios, Burbank, Calif., December 3, 1968
Personally, my interest in Elvis peaked when I happily sat on the floor of a totally packed movie theater at an Air Force Base in Germany in 1958 – Elvis was not only King, but he was about to arrive in Germany to serve his Army hitch – to see Jailhouse Rock. Having set the world on fire in the mid-‘50s, he then surrendered to his manager’s sleazy wiles and made, after Jailhouse Rock, a string of mostly very bad movies. By December 1968, I was a college student interested in jazz and the incandescent rock of the day, and Elvis seemed entirely irrelevant – out of touch with his own roots, his body and music flabby, long since surpassed by the British Invasion. After all, he hadn’t performed live since 1961. So my friends and I sat down to watch his TV show with more than a pinch of skepticism. It began with the usual overblown production numbers, but then something remarkable happened. On a tiny stage surrounded by audience members, he and his band, including Scotty Moore and D. J. Fontana, began to play – for real. He went back to his beginnings at Sun Records for “That’s Alright, Mama.” He reprised his masterpieces “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Love Me Tender.” He sang the gospel that was his birthright. We were blown away. The talent and voice had endured; the guitar was of course merely a prop, but the singing – and the dance moves – stood up. F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong. Once in a while, there are great second acts in American music. Dennis McNally, author and former Grateful Dead publicist

8. Sex Pistols, Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, Calif., January 14, 1978
“You’ll get one number and one number only,” Johnny Rotten spat just before the Sex Pistols launched into an encore that saw the most notorious original punk band – as Neil Young would later put it – burn out instead of fade away. It had been a horrible mess of a show at San Francisco’s storied hippie haven, Winterland. The Pistols sounded awful. They hated each other. They hated their fans. During “God Save the Queen,” the crowd could barely hear Steve Jones’ jagged guitar riffs over the clatter of Paul Cook’s drumming. And Sid Vicious? He was so smacked out he could barely see his bass strings, let alone play them. Rotten became increasingly disgusted as the band clamored through sloppy, out-of-tune versions of “Bodies,” “Problems,” “Pretty Vacant,” “Anarchy in the U.K.” By the encore – a cover of The Stooges’ “No Fun” – he was finished. For more than five minutes, he whined and groaned the words over and over, adding his own sentiments as the band roared away: “It’s no fun… no fun being alone… this is no fun at all.” When it finally, mercifully ended, he laughed blankly and asked, “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” The Sex Pistols’ final show before imploding days later marked the death of punk’s first wave – but it was the birth of a movement that would culminate 13 years later in Nirvana, which took the Pistols’ anarchic spirit to the top of the pop charts. Mark Kemp