40 for 40 Series: Favorite Live Acts

My favorite musical concerts I've seen

On April 4th of this year, I will turn 40 years old. Gulp.

40.

That number seems like a bigger deal than 30. Or 20. It means you have pretty much hit the middle of your life. There are still more days ahead than behind but you are starting to get to that point where you reach the crest.

At 40, we are stable with the person looking back at us in the mirror and comfortable with what makes you tick.

I’m a pretty sentimental person and I’ve spend a lot of time thinking about what happened over the last 40 years that made me the person I am today. I decided a few months ago that I was going to start a series of posts on this website on my favorite things over my first 40 years. My wife thinks this is pretty egotistical of me, that I would list the music, movies, albums and other things that I like because it means that someone out there gives a fuck about what I think.

I think there are people who care and if you are reading this, thank you. This is going to be fun for me and even if only one other person reads these posts, that’s enough for me.

There won’t be a set schedule for these but I will give you periodically my favorite 40 over the last 40 years for a set topic until I turn 40 on April 4th.

Part 1: My favorite live acts 

I started to go to concerts when I was 16. The first show I saw was the band Cracker at the (now closed) Avalon Ballroom in Boston. I had never been to a club or a even a battle of the bands before and my heart was pounding as I walked into that little venue on Landsdowne Street behind Fenway. Little did I know that I would never be the same after passing through those doors.

It was an all-ages show, so I didn’t need a fake ID to get in, but I had to go by myself because nobody I knew in Andover at the time liked music they way I did. I took the commuter train into Boston, counting the stops till I got to North Station. I floated from the train to the T where I took the Green Line to an event that started my life-long love of live music.

In 40 years, I’ve seen over 400 concerts. I still see as many as I can every year. Having a family now makes it tougher to get out but I still make sure to get to few a year. Here’s the list:

40. George Winston – 1 concert in Des Moines, Iowa

Every Christmas, I have played an album that I was given by mother and step-dad. It was “December” by George Winston. When he came to Des Moines in 2007, there was no way I was going to miss it. Sure, it was a unique night because it was just a guy and a piano playing for 2 hours but it was an amazing experience to hear him perform live.

39. Blink 182 – 1 concert in Northampton, MA

I started my radio career at WMUA, the college station at the University of Massachusetts in 1996. My first job at the station was hosting a Friday night rock program I called “Natural Mystic”, named after the Bob Marley song. I thought it was the coolest experience getting sent albums by labels and getting promo tickets to events. A few months into the gig, I got my first chance to interview a real band in-person. It was Blink and wouldn’t you know it – I was LATE. I had scheduled a 2 pm interview at the venue and I showed up at 2:15. Needless to say, I was frantic, calling the tour manager to beg forgiveness as I ran from my car to the tour bus. I knocked on the bus door, shaking with embarrassment, but Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker could not have been cooler. They invited me in and spent 20 minutes with me talking about life and music. They also made sure I was coming to the show that night. They made a fan for life for that.

38. Tori Amos – 2 concerts in western MA


Tori Amos is talented, beautiful, and often misunderstood. In the 1990’s, she loved to blow your hair back with some of the most blunt lyrics of the decade. I saw her twice while I was in college – first in support of “Under the Pink” and then in support of “Boys For Pele” but “Little Earthquakes” is the record that we all still talk about. Each time I saw her, when she performed a track from that album, it received massive approval from the crowd. Similar to George Winston, the piano playing was memorizing but Tori’s haunting voice is what made her shows so memorable. While age has calmed her a bit, the voice has remained the same over the years.

37. Counting Crows – 3 concerts around the country

This is a band that I have spent a lot of time with over the years. I first saw them after Courtney Cox made that famous music video with them and their popularity was at the highest. Yet, the  first time I listened to “August and Everything After” in high school in the basement of a good friend. I still remember the feeling hearing the whole record for the first time. Later, I will list my favorite albums of the last 40 years, and the Counting Crow’s debut album will be high on the list. I will always be excited to say I lived in Omaha and saw them perform that song, in Omaha.

36. Pvris – 1 concert in Las Vegas

This band is new and this concert is one of the newest on the list as I just saw them in 2016. I’ve written a lot on this band, so I won’t spend a ton of time here on them, but they are from Lowell. Pvris’ debut album was my favorite album in 2015 and their show here in Las Vegas last July was amazing.

35. Tim McGraw – 2 concerts in Omaha, NE

I’m not the biggest country fan but I do like some kinds of country music. Living in the south and midwest, I was exposed to Tim McGraw and understood his music a lot more because of the people that I met while living in farming communities. I saw Tim and Faith perform twice and they really know how to rock a country audience.

34. Flogging Molly – 1 concert in Omaha, NE

I haven’t hung out backstage at many shows but I did for the only time I saw Flogging Molly, the Celtic punk group from LA. I’m seeing them here in Vegas next month but that’s me with their accordion player Matt Hensley and my old producer Brian back in 2008 at their show in Omaha. It was really wild to see the show from the view of the band and these guys are a ton of fun live.

 

33. Cranberries – 3 concerts in Mass

So how much did I like this band back in the day? I skipped my senior prom to go see them.

32. Helmet – 1 concert in Boston, MA


Soon after I saw my first show in Boston, I saw my second show and learned of a thing called the “Mosh Pit”. Needless to say – this was a big discovery and something that I found great joy getting into …. depending on the size of the dudes in the pit of course. See Number 1 for more on my involvement in the pit.

31. Alison Krauss and Union Station – 1 concert in Boston, MA

The most decorated grammy-winning country artist of all-time was someone I was dying to see live. I’m sorry to say I’ve only seen her once but it was a really good when I finally did in 2012. I’m looking forward to hearing their new album later this month.

30. The Fray – 2 concerts in Omaha, NE

This is a weird selection I know but I was really, really impressed with these guys. I saw them for free the first time at a station event and then I paid the next time. I know their music went south after their first 2 albums but they were good for a while.

29. The Samples – 1 concert in Northampton, MA

I had one of the best moments of my music radio career when Sean Kelly, the lead singer of The Samples, when he played an acoustic set live in-studio on my college show. It was freaking awesome. He signed a bunch of CDs for me and then I was invited to their show that night.

28. The Lemonheads – 3 concerts in MA

Evan Dando and The Lemonheads were one of my favorite bands of the 90’s. While I loved them for most of high school, I didn’t see them until my senior year. Then I saw them in college again. There wasn’t a more tortured soul in all of Boston than Evan in the 90’s but he was damn fun to listen to play music.

27. Sinead O’Connor – 1 concert in Hampton, NH

I first heard Sinead’s voice in high school and I waited years to be able to hear her in-person. The show was exactly what I thought it would be. Twisted, angry, but beautiful at the same time. Her music has lasted the test of time.

26. Cypress Hill – 4 concerts around the country

From seeing these guys with Biohazard (more on them coming) to seeing them at festivals around the country, I’ve never had a bad time at a Cypress show.

25. Machine Head – 1 concert in Northampton, MA

I saw these guys on Halloween. It was one of the most violent and fun shows I’ve ever been to. During this wild show, they spit fake blood onto the crowd during the first few songs while dressed in devil costumes. They blew the doors off the place.

24. Natalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs – 3 concerts around MA

I combined these two even though they are separate now. They will never be fully apart in my mind and I’ve seen them as a unit twice and Natalie solo once. I like them both in their own way and Natalie’s voice live must be heard.

23. Foo Fighters – 4 shows around the country 

Here’s a fun story … I took my brother to see these guys the first time I saw them. He was 15 and I was 17. We got right up to barrier in-front of the stage at The Avalon. It was a great plan, until the band came on and the entire crowd rushed the stage. My brother, being a bit on the shorter side, had to be rescued by the bouncers cause he was being pinned down by the crowd. He could have been in big trouble if the bouncers didn’t act fast. Every time I’ve seen them, they haven’t disappointed. When they played clubs, I was always surprised at how violent the crowds would get. They are still a lot of fun today.

22. Tilly and The Wall – 1 concert in Boston

As someone who understands the wonderful music scene in Omaha, NE, I was so pumped to be able to take Theresa (my wife, but not at the time) to see Tilly in Boston when they came around 4 years ago. They were so, so fun. They are a different type of live act. Ever seen tap shoes used for a percussion instrument? These guys do it every show.

21. Neil Young – 1 concert in Hartford

I had a very special experience when I saw Neil. It was at a venue that was mostly used for classic concerts. Neil was by himself, sitting inside of a semi-circle of guitars, just playing his songs for 3 hours. There was even an intermission after 90 minutes. You couldn’t get up while Neil was playing and the crowd was silent throughout. No phones. No distractions. He just grabbed a different guitar at-will and played whatever song he wanted. It was amazing.

20. Laura Marling – 1 concert in Boston

I’ve been in-love with Marling’s voice for years. I introduced her to Theresa and we were so excited to go and see her in Boston when she came across the pond. Her sound has changed over the years and she is no longer known as the pretty girlfriend of the lead singer of Mumford and Sons. I’m looking forward to hearing some new music from her in 2017.

19. Bon Iver – 1 concert in Boston

Theresa takes credit for introducing me to these guys from Wisconsin. Listen to the track above … enough said.

18. Death Cab for Cutie – 1 concert in Omaha, NE

It’s a big problem that I’ve only seen these guys once. I’m fixing that next month here in Las Vegas but I saw them in Omaha at a gorgeous auditorium that was acoustically perfect. Beautiful show.

17. Tom Petty – 2 concerts in Boston and Birmingham, AL

Come on. It’s Tom Petty. Enough said.

16. Bush – 1 concert in Boston

I get to brag here for a second because I saw these guys before they were anything in early 1994. I saw them at The Paradise in Boston with about 300 other people on a weeknight before “Sixteen Stone” was really being played on the radio. The now defunct WFNX in Boston was playing them as the next big thing and I went to see what they were talking about. Gavin Rossdale was pure sex on stage and Bush ripped through song after song that blew your hair back. It was pretty clear to anyone there that night – the band was going to huge.

15. The Dave Matthews Band – 5 concerts around the country

No band changed more from the first time I saw them to the last than DMB. I was a huge from the first time a Phish fan told me about this opening act that had a great sound. The first time I saw DMB though, they played 12 songs over 2.5 hours. I hate jam bands and really did not like the show but I kept listening and going to see them. When I moved to Charlottesville, VA – home to the band – I saw them again in DC. This time, they understood their audience. They weren’t Phish, their sound appealed to a much bigger audience and now they are one of the biggest bands in the world.

14. The Avett Brothers – 2 concerts in Boston

If you like Americana music, you like these brothers. Just a fun time, playing some of my favorite tracks ever.

13. 311 – 5 concerts around the country

One of the really exciting things about moving to Omaha for me was that 311 was from there. Well, that and the Counting Crows song. I had seen them 3 times previously when I finally saw them in their home city. I had a lot of crazy times at 311 shows, including getting nearly arrested coming back from a show in Worcester in college. Still love these guys.

12. Biohazard – 2 concerts in Boston

The most violent show of my life was when I saw these guys at The Axis . The club had a 9-foot high ceiling with the biggest, scariest dudes I’d ever seen crashing into each other for 2 hours. The second time I saw them was a Great Woods where the first 10 rows turned of seats became the pit. And that was before Sepultura took the stage.

11. Cracker – 1 concert in Boston

Oh your first … when you are 16 and you experience something that you are never the same after it. Cracker was a unique and odd selection for my first show but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

10. Taylor Swift – 4 concerts in Omaha and Boston

Taylor Swift – Red Tour

I’ve been lucky enough to see Taylor at different stages of her career. The first time I saw her in Omaha, she play 6 songs with just her guitar, opening for Rascal Flatts. It was when she had the song “Tim McGraw” on the radio and I thought she was a young talent to watch. Boy, ya think? The last time I saw her she sold-out Gillette, the first woman to do so, and it rained. To this day, Taylor still calls it her favorite show that she ever put on and I had front row seats for it with my little sister and mom. It was a really special memory and one of my favorite shows.

9. The Head and the Heart – 2 concerts in Boston

I got lucky stumbling into this band a few years ago. If you haven’t seen them yet, I really suggest that you do. They are tremendously talented.

8. Pearl Jam – 2 concerts in Hartford and Boston

This is one of my favorite bands and seeing them only 2 times is a big miss by me. I’ll have a lot more on this band later in the series.

7. Bruce Springsteen – 3 concerts in Washington DC, Omaha, and Des Moines

I saw Bruce on his 60th birthday in Des Moines. He played for 3.5 hours straight without a break. He is a music God. I wish I’ve seen him more than just 3 times.

6. U2 – 3 concerts in Omaha, Atlanta and Boston

Like PJ, I have a lot more to say about this band as a whole but to give you an idea of how much I love them – I will see U2 in London in July for my 40th birthday. Yes – this is a big damn deal for me.

5. Oasis – 5 concerts

Speaking of seeing bands in London, Noel Gallagher, co-founder of Oasis will open for U2 in July. The first time I saw Oasis was at The Avalon in Boston and I feel hard for them. I still listen to them weekly. I have a deep, deep love of English music and these guys have been in my rotation for more than 20 years. More on them later in the series.

4. Keane – 3 concerts in Las Vegas, Minneapolis and Boston

Speaking of English music, this now defunct group was my obsession for while in the early 2000’s. Tim Rice-Oxley songs and Tom Chaplin‘s lyrics yielded a superstar group. I met these guys in Minneapolis after their show at 1st Avenue, the venue made famous by Prince. They were amazingly kind with their time and I got to hang out backstage for a while with them. I even did the fan-boy geek thing of getting a CD signed by the band that I still have today.

3. Mighty Mighty Bosstones – 10+ concerts

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen these guys … but it’s a lot. I started seeing them in high school after I learned that the drummer was from my home town. Bosstones shows in Boston were extremely common in the late 90’s and early 2000’s before Ska music became popular nationwide. I’ve seen them all over New England, in the midwest, the south and the West Coast over the years and they never disappoint.

2. Ani Difranco – 25+ concerts

Simply said – Ani Difranco is the most important artist for my first 40 years of life. At one clip, I was seeing her 4 to 5 times a year all over the country. In fact, I’ve seen an Ani show in 10 states. The shows are often part rally, part concert, part slam-poetry performance. Her influence on me is still tremendous, starting back in 1996 when I first heard her music. Much more on her later in this series as well.

1. Dropkick Murphys – 5 concerts 

Let me tell you about how I almost died going to a DKM show. In the summer 2008, while living in Omaha, I finally got to see these guys for the first time. I was deeply homesick and these guys had become my go-to band for Boston music. I was drunk before I even got to the venue, a tiny club near downtown. I kept drinking at the show and went crazy in the pit during the bands first 8 songs. Then “Tessie” was played, the Red Sox 2004 championship theme song, and it set me off in the pit. The song above, “The State of Mass.” was next up and I went jumping into anyone I could find. Coming down after a jump, I got hit square in my back and went straight down to the floor. I put my hand out to break my fall and quickly learned it was a bad idea. My hand hit the soaking wet floor and slipped right to my shoulder, which dislocated.

I walked around the venue with my shoulder hanging out for a song or two in the most pain of my life, trying to figure out what I was supposed to do to stop it from hurting so much. A guy stopped me and offered to put my shoulder back in by punching it against a wall. I was in so much pain, I told him to do it. My friend stopped the guy in mid-punch thank goodness. He then took me to a waiting ambulance outside, which took me to the nearest ER.

The problem was that specific ER had just received numerous gunshot victims who obviously took priority over my shoulder. I had to wait over 3 hours with my shoulder dislocated before being seen. When they finally did come in, they gave me too much of a drug to knock me out so they could put my shoulder back into place. I stopped breathing with my friends in the room. Yup, I stopped breathing and woke up to their shocked faces. I clearly did start breathing again but it was a hell of a night.

Oh, I had to have surgery too to fix my labrum so my shoulder stayed in place lol.

 

 

 

 

 

COMING: My 40 Favorite Albums