Published July 23, 2013 by JB
- We’ve had to have seen them live personally
- They need to be an ‘active’ band/artist – still touring. Still making music.
Joe Stadele top 10 live bands
A bands’ live performance can make or break an artist for me. Each of the bands in my Top Ten have deepened my respect for them based purely on the quality of their live performance and their ability to reproduce or grow the sound of their albums in the live arena. The bands in my Top Five earn their ranks due to quality of performance and consistency. There are so many great up and coming acts I would like to add to the list but the band in my list have also stood the test of time. I have a feeling 10 years from now this could be a very different list.
- Fiona Apple
- Jane’s Addiction
- The National
10. Queens of the Stone Age
9. The Flaming Lips
8. Ryan Adams
7. Cloud Cult
6. My Morning Jacket/Jim James
#5. Pearl Jam
Pearl Jam is one of those rare bands that have been fortunate to grow and craft their cult fanbase over the years, thanks in part to an anthemic back catalog in the same vein as U2, constant touring and an outstanding fan club, Ten Club. PJ pride themselves in never playing the same setlist twice and often times offer bootlegs of their live shows for fanboys to revel in for years after the performance.
#4. Nine Inch Nails
NIN shows are of the most intense performances I have ever attended. Trent Reznor’s dark, yet beautiful, intensity can not be matched, which may be in part to the fact I have had to seriously considered my well-being (ie, witnessing a touring guitarist launch his mic stand into the photo pit and hit a security guard in the face, right in front of my face). You can expect high energy and an innovative light show that pushes the music to another level.
#3. The Smashing Pumpkins
The Smashing Pumpkins, 2013, are one of the tightest touring rock outfits in the world. As a whole, this is the most talented incarnation of the band. Nicole Fiorentino and Jeff Schroeder ARE the best bassist/guitarist (respectively) combo Billy Corgan has worked alongside; while Mike Burn has really stepped up to the plate to fill the meteor sized hole left behind by Jimmy Chamberlin. With such an expansive back catalog and ever evolving new material, expect to hear fresh arrangement among “the dusties” and extended guitar interludes in the vein of Pink Floyd. And there is no other place in the world where you will witness the glory that is “Gossamer.”
U2 concerts are an event. There isn’t much else that needs to be said. There music is anthemic, moving and an experience. In the arena, Bono has the rare capacity to reach out to the rafters and transform 60,000+ people into a backing vocalist. Their music was made for the live performance.
#1. Sigur Ros
Why Sigur Ros? There are few bands who can successfully translate their albums to a live performance, let alone in a foreign language. In concert, their mysterious layered sounds are only magnified as they take you on an emotional journey that transcends space and time. I’ve seen Sigur Ros in everything from small clubs to the arena setting and the shows continue to get better and better. Jonsi’s (Sigur Ros’ lead vocalist/guitarist) solo shows are of equal caliber and not to be missed.
- Aha! I can see that we have a couple of common favorites, Joe! Very cool list! I wish that I could have added a section to my Top 10 list for “Bands That I Bet Are Awesome Live, But That I Haven’t Seen Yet,” because I’m sure NIN would have made that list. I might have to come back and rework my own list after I see NIN in a couple of weeks!
- I totally agree with what you said about U2, their “music is made for a live performance” because of Bono’s impassioned vocals, Larry’s driving drums, The Edge’s consistent, not flashy, guitar solos, and Adam’s solid bass lines.
- I am glad to see Pearl Jam made your list, too! I can’t wait to see what they bring to table on their Lightening Bolt tour. I hope to catch them in November when they come to San Diego.
- The only band I disagree about is the Smashing Pumpkins. I haven’t seen them recently so I bet they have really tightened up their show since I saw them in 1996 (touring for Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness) with Garbage as their opening act. Shirley Manson and Garbage made such an impact on me that night, that they ranked in my Top 10 based on just that performance. To be fair, I think the Smashing Pumpkins (at the time the band was Billy Corgan, James Iha, D’arcy Wretzky, and Jimmy Chamberlin) sounded great as a band when they played the music. As soon as Corgan started singing, though, I wanted to plug up my ears and run towards the exit. Was this the age before auto-tune? I think Corgan is a genius as a composer, Siamese Dream is one of my favorite albums of all time, but I swear he sang every note off-key that night. Maybe he was just having a bad night? I wanted to catch Smashing Pumpkins last year when they were touring for Oceania, but my bad experience in 1996 left quite an impression. Perhaps I should give them another try soon?
- I like the fact Joe’s list leans heavily towards bands that blossomed in the early 90’s, including U2 (whose best tour was arguably in the 90’s). That was a truly watershed moment in rock/alternative music as they thankfully moved eyes and ears away from the Motley Crue’s of the world and into something more real and with less lipstick.
- Sigur Ros is an outstanding entry and a band that too much of the U.S. may not have taken the time to experience yet. Even though their recorded material is somewhat polarizing (or perhaps unconventional) to U.S. fans, their live show is truly epic with how it mixes light with sound. How did I leave them off my list? Dear God, I’m an idiot.
- The surprises on your list, for me, are Cloud Cult and Queens of the Stone Age. Never would have guessed them.
- The fact you have Pearl Jam on there re-affirms I’m a loser, and I need to go see them. Now.
- The Smashing Pumpkins reached my list also and I could not agree more with your comment about this being the most talented (and sober, LOL) incarnation of the band. Corgan’s back catalog is un-Godly and unjustly underrated by the music world. I don’t understand why. Sure, there was a dip in his legacy with the Zwan/solo material/Zeitgeist but show me another major artist who hasn’t had a dip. Pearl Jam has had dips – so has Springsteen, Dylan, Pink Floyd….nearly anyone that isn’t named ‘The Beatles’ has had a dip. I think the Pumpkins, right now, are the most under-rated live band out there. I never thought I would say that.
- My only complaint on your list: Where’s the females? None, in the top 10? 🙂 🙂 No Annie Clark, Emily Haines, Shirley Manson or Grace Potter?
- And where’s Wilco? 🙂 🙂
Sylvia Borgo’s top 10 live bands
When I was first contacted by The Way That He sings about my top 10 live musical acts of all time, I got very excited. I said to myself, “This should be easy, I’ve gone to sooooooo many great concerts and I’ve seen sooooo many great performers! This is going to be a piece of cake!” But, the more I thought about it, the more sleep I lost. I’m not kidding, I lost a little bit of sleep over this! See, my biggest fear was, “What if I leave someone off the list? What if I forget whom I’ve seen in concert? As a matter of fact, I was just talking to a good friend last weekend and he reminded me of some concerts we’d attended together. He said, “Do you remember that Adam Ant concert we went to on such and such a date?” And I retorted, “What Adam Ant concert? I don’t remember!” He said it was a great concert and that we had a blast! That we had gotten there early, that we stood in the very front row, that Adam Ant’s sweat fell on us, and that I danced my butt off and sang my head off. Well, I don’t remember. So now I wonder, how many other concerts have I forgotten? For a while, I collected my concert stubs, I bought the concert t-shirts – they provided proof that I was there, at that show to see that artist. But I’m, like, so not a pack rat, so I got rid of the ticket stubs and the t-shirts and the tour programs. And now, I’m really sad about that fact. So here I am faced with the task of naming the top 10 live acts of all time, a nearly impossible task. Here is something else to consider, how much weight do I give to a concert I attended at the age of 12, for instance? As an adult, would I have had the same opinion of the performer?
So, let’s see, let’s just see who I list as my top 10 live musical acts of all time. I am listing these musical acts in semi-random order. Performers #6 -10 are in a random order but they are the bottom of my list. My #1 – 5 performers are also in random order, but they are definitely the top of my list.
#10. Public Enemy
#8. Rage Against The Machine
#7. Father John Misty
#5. Foo Fighters:
I’m going to start off this list with one of the more recent, big-arena, concerts that I’ve been to. I saw the Foos in October 2011 at the San Diego Viejas Arena for their Wasting Light tour. I love how Dave Grohl loves his job. When you see him play live, or speaking in interviews for that matter, you just get the feeling that he loves music, that he loves rock, that he loves to get up in front of an audience and just play music and put on a great show. And he is real and humble about it, too! Certainly, there are many great performers who put on a great show but perhaps their motivations are varied, they might like the thrill of being in front of tens of thousands of fans, they might like the financial benefits that touring brings them, and certainly they like to perform their music, but somehow you feel that the music might be secondary or tertiary to them. I never get that with Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters. I picture Dave Grohl waking up in the morning, eating a bowl of cereal and then picking up his guitar or sitting behind his drum set, and playing music for the rest of the day just because that is what he loves to do. And I think that is what transcends and comes out in the Foos’ music, in their live shows. During their live show, the band not only makes you love their music more, they also make you love all of rock a little more, too. So, yeah, their performance in San Diego was nothing short of phenomenal. I was in the pit, about four feet away from Grohl. Did I have Dave Grohl sweat rain down on me? Absolutely.
#4. Pearl Jam:
A contemporary of the Foo Fighters. I saw them perform in 2003 at the San Diego Sports Arena. I’ve only seen them play live once, can you believe it? My previous attempts to see them were major fails. For some reason or another, I couldn’t make it out to Indio, CA in 1993 – maybe I was busy with school or work, but I remember I didn’t even try to buy tickets. I missed my chance to crowd surf, huh? The next time I “missed” Pearl Jam, was in June 1995. I actually had tickets. I had driven seven hours from Los Angeles to San Francisco with my friend to see them at Golden Gate Park. But Eddie Vedder was down with the stomach flu, so he only sang three songs and then Neil Young took the stage. Now, I’m not really a fan of Neil Young, I don’t own any of his albums. I can see how he is the godfather of grunge and can appreciate that, but let me just say I was not very happy to see Eddie Vedder walk off stage and see Neil Young take the stage. I was hoping to see Pearl Jam perform songs off of Ten, Vs., and Vitology but instead I got Neil Young. Our joke that day was, “Neil better play ‘Rockin in the Free World’ at the beginning, the middle, and at the end of his set to make up for this.” Needless to say, I was uber excited to finally see Pearl Jam in 2003 – I had waited a decade! As you know, Eddie Vedder is a San Diego boy and his hometown welcomed him that night. The Sports Arena, with 15,000 fans in attendance, came alive with the very first note of “Betterman.” It truly was an incredible show by a band that puts out an incredible amount of energy in their live performances.
Such a great band. Even if you are not necessarily a fan of all of their music or any of their music, if you plugged up your ears and just went to their concert to see the show, you would have to say it is quite a pleasant attack on the senses! I saw U2 in 1992 at Dodger Stadium for the ZooTV tour, and again in 1993 for the second leg of that tour with The Pixies as their opening band. I caught their PopMart tour in 1997 at the Los Angeles Coliseum. And the last time I saw them was in 2005 at the San Diego Sports Arena supporting Vertigo. Look, most people would agree that they made it big in the US with The Joshua Tree. Some people would say that The Joshua Tree was their best album. But my favorite U2 album is The Unforgettable Fire. Gosh, am I really putting that out there on print? Will people think I’m an idiot because I chose The Unforgettable Fire over The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby? On Boy and October you can see the band’s undeniable talent and raw energy, the beginning of their greatness but with room left for growth and development. The Unforgettable Fire has that same raw energy, that talent, but it is a more precise, a more refined, and also a more natural album, it sounds like the four of them, it isn’t overthought. And, dare I say, it lacks the tinge of pretentiousness that I find in other U2 albums? Okay, now I’ve made 87 trillion enemies by saying U2’s albums have a tinge of pretentiousness. Eeeep! Look, I love the band, I love their live shows, but even Bono has said he has a “messiah complex.” Okay, back to why U2 is a great live act. Their live shows are arena rock at its best, the sound, the lights, the videos, the dancers, the masks, the calls to the White House, the political activism – it is a total package! I don’t mind U2’s political activism, I like it. I know some people are bothered by how much Bono talks about the issues that matter to him, democracy, apartheid, AIDS, Greenpeace, debt forgiveness, war, the list goes on and on. If you are a U2 fan, you know this is just a part of the package in the live setting and away from the live setting.
#2. Dan Mangan:
This is an artist that you may not yet know, but that you should definitely check out. Dan Mangan is from Vancouver, Canada. He has three albums under his belt, Postcards and Daydreaming, Nice, Nice, Very Nice, and Oh Fortune. I saw him perform at a smallish venue in San Diego, The Belly Up, as the opening act for Blind Pilot. Yes, that’s right Mangan was the opening act, but he really stole the show. I always try to get to concerts early to see the opening act. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by several opening acts and I’ve also been pretty disappointed with many opening acts. You know how it goes, right? It goes without saying, Dan Mangan is an amazing performer. He was touring to support Oh Fortune, but played several songs off of Nice, Nice, Very Nice. What do I love about Dan Mangan? I’m going to throw a bunch of adjectives your way now, okay? He is charismatic, and charming, and witty, and humble, and eager to share his music with you. That’s just his stage presence. His voice is rich and full of depth, it is reassuring and honest, it conveys curiosity and sincerity. He sings about topics that are complex and make you think and wonder, he sings about small, everyday life things, too. His band is fantastic as well, Gordon Grdina on guitar, Kenton Loewen on drums, John Walsh on bass, and a trumpet player all give his songs the gravitas in a live setting that is plainly apparent in his recordings. I actually got a chance to talk to him a little bit after his set. Can I just say he is the nicest guy in show business? I know, I know . . . I have not met every single person in show business, but I’m 100% sure he is the nicest guy in the music business. Trust me, just go see Dan Mangan the first chance you get!
They are my second favorite band ever! I love them! I’ve seen them live several times. I saw them in 1997 at the KROQ Weenie Roast in Irvine where they only got to play six songs because the Weenie Roast was one of those all-day festivals with eight or ten bands playing on one day. I saw them again in 1998 at Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles touring for OK Computer. If I remember correctly, that was the first concert I went to by myself, none of my friends wanted to go to the show and I was not going to miss Radiohead. Uh, uh. No way. So, I just went by myself. Then when I lived in Virginia in 2001, I almost saw them in Centreville, but thunderstorms flooded Bull Run Regional Park that day and they cancelled the show. I went with my then-fiancé-now-husband and I remember driving away from that show in his muddied, white Honda Civic crying, crying, crying. Thankfully, we both got to see them in Chula Vista at the Coors Amphitheater in 2003 and at the same venue in 2008 (by then it was called the Cricket Amphitheater). I was in the front row for the 2008 show supporting In Rainbows. I was standing five feet away from Ed O’Brian. I only yelled, “I love you Ed,” three times. Okay, maybe four times. No more than five times, I promise. Why is Radiohead a phenomenal live act? Quite simple, their music and their musicianship. There is nothing that they’ve put out that I’ve disliked. Their music is complex in structure, their musicianship is unparalleled, and they have a great ability to discover and take chances with their music and bring something fresh to the table with every album. And that is all present in their live shows as well. And, of course, you gotta dig Thom Yorke’s dancing! Damn! Now that I’ve been down concert memory lane, I just want to go to a great concert right now!
- I might be stirring the pot here but my initial thought is…Radiohead are one of the most bloated and critically overrated bands around. However, I have not seen them live so I can not judge their live performance. I do appreciate their creativity and enjoyed In Rainbows, Kid A and OK Computer (the obvious great album).
- I also get the feeling Dave Grohl loves performing and likes to constantly try new things as well…Probot, Sound City Players, Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures…and music videos, documentaries, etc. His appreciation, humility and humor shine through in much of his work and it’s nice to see that he genuinely enjoys his work. I have yet to see the Foos, but Wasting Light was their best album since The Colour And The Shape and would love to see them live.
- Father John Misty is another great performer and easily an honorable mention for me. Hilarious anecdotes and observational humor, great storytelling and perfectly twisted songs. His show reminds me of Ryan Adams as well.
- Metallica – understandable. I have not seen them live but definitely agree they are A-list. Pre-and-Post their mid 90’s “alternative” band wagon jump…Death Magnetic was fantastic.
- Eddie Vedder is a great performer, a chameleon of sorts in the vein of Bono and definitely knows how to play to the audience (ie…San Diego transplant born in Chicago living in West Seattle). PJ’s live shows, cover standards (Keep On Rocking In The Free World, Baba O’ Reilly, Last Kiss are better than the originals) and each show always feels unique.
- U2 are just great live and their shows take on a life of their own. I even own most of their live shows on VHS, DVD Blu Ray….short story, I’ve been a longtime fan. ZooTV still stands as the pinnacle of U2 innovation, however the U2360 in Minneapolis was one of the most amazing shows I have ever attended.
- Surprises: Dan Mangan (I will need to check out his music), Public Enemy
- The biggest surprise is unquestionably Dan Mangan at #2. I need to do some serious research on this one. Considering the list of names you have from #3-10 that one is an eye opener. I think it’s the biggest surprise entry on all 3 lists.
- Radiohead is a perfect entry for #1. They nearly made #1 on my list, and 5-10 years ago they probably would have been.
- I like that you have U2 above Pearl Jam because knowing how humble Eddie Vedder is, he would agree with that also.
- Yes, you should pay the $250 to go see Prince. Get on the rail, and just enjoy.
- Foo Fighters surprised me, but only a little. They’ve worked their butt off to be where they are and for Grohl to be able to completely shed the shadow of Cobain and Nirvana is a testament to his talent and skillful marketing. I really enjoy listening to him talk as much as I do enjoy watching him play. I need to do the latter – I’ve never seen them.
- Garbage – yes, thank you. Shirley Manson + Butch Vig is a tremendous combo. They aren’t as great as they were 10 years ago onstage (which is when they were unreal) but they’re still sounding great. So glad you got a female on that list. 🙂 I was worried I’d be the only one with a female lead singer.
- I’m also a little surprised at how your list leans towards some serious pounding rock there. Foo Fighters but then also Rage plus Metallica. No shyness with those bands and I love how your list is eclectic enough to have both Metallica and Father John Misty.
- Advice: Great list! Go see Prince, and then go see the Smashing Pumpkins, please. 🙂 Would love to hear your thoughts after those!
Jeff’s top 10 live bands
- The Shins
- St. Vincent
The biggest (and almost the best) band since the Beatles with one of the most captivating lead singers in the history of rock. I saw U2 at their peak in 1993 when Bono was in his full Elvis mode and they were touring on the best album of their catalog (Achtung Baby). For the most part they’ve remained fairly epic despite the predictable and inevitable decline in their studio material. Bono’s voice remain ones of the most compelling sounds in rock.
#9. Franz Ferdinand
#8. The Smashing Pumpkins
Six or seven years ago the Pumpkins weren’t even on the radar with this list. But with a set of new bandmates contributing to Corgan’s outstanding new album Oceania, the Pumpkins are making the ultimate rebirth, nearly from the dead. Corgan’s talent has never been in question, but 2012 was the best year of his career since 1998. Their blazing live show was mesmerizing and powerful.
#7. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Grace Potter has become the single most electric female performer that I’ve ever seen, except for Shirley Manson back in 2002. A combination of looks, sex appeal, a Roots-style band backing her, and a voice that soars – she’s the full package and getting better. She’s moving up on this list next time.
Another surprise entry unless you’ve seen them live – and thus realized that Emily Haines has leaped over every female on the planet save Annie Clark and Grace Potter. What Metric has more than the others is stellar material to work with that has recently blossomed over a 5-album stretch in the past 10 years. They’re just now hitting their groove. Haines is no dumb blonde either – not by a mile, and her engaging, rocking, yet sensitive presence onstage makes this an easy choice actually.
#5. Belle and Sebastian
My surprise entry. On a live stage, they’re enormously talented, eclectic and vibrant. The gods of twee pop maintain a youthful exuberance even as Stuart Murdoch, the clever bandleader works his way into his early 40’s. In a theater setting, their brand of indie pop bounces off the walls in all directions as Murdoch dances and share lead vocals with equally odd, but remarkable bandmates.
The tightest band in the world, and notoriously for their relentless touring. If you haven’t seen Wilco, it’s your fault, not theirs. They tour like every year is an election year and the hidden gem of their show isn’t just Tweedy; it’s Tweedy’s charm. With a razor sharp sense of humor and tremendous voice he is dominant onstage with a room full of musicians who are impeccable. Like the others before them on this list, their catalog is a who’s who of great songs from the past 15 years. They’re #4 on this list and nowhere close to dropping lower.
I honestly can’t imagine music without them in the past 20 years. They’ve changed the way music is listened to for people who care about how they listen to music. In a live setting, they are thunderous, and on record, often equally so. They’re equal parts mysterious, captivating and unpredictable and that’s the perfect storm from a potpourri of music grads who all came from the same school in Oxfordshire. Just when you think their studio albums have taken you to a new pinnacle, you see them live and you ask yourself if you’ll ever be able to drop another CD of theirs into your player and listen the same way. I can’t.
This is the artist I’ve seen live more than any other on this list. I’ve taken full advantage of living near Minneapolis and his inner circle to see him 25+ times in the past 25 years beginning with 1988 – including many private shows in his studio with 200 fellow fans. Prince is simply put, with the unfortunate death of Michael Jackson, the most entertaining and talented performer alive, bar none. His skills are endless, his guitar playing is epic, and his catalog of songs….well, seriously, do we need to go there? The only reason he isn’t #1 is because his best decade was 20 years ago but he’s only fallen off slightly. His real fall off has been with his studio material of the past 15 years. The new material simply doesn’t stand against the test of time up against his epic albums from 1982-1988, but his live show does.
#1. My Morning Jacket
Along with Radiohead and Wilco, My Morning Jacket is the most powerful band alive right now – and they are in their full prime. No, this isn’t a great band that’s 12 years past their best days. Their best days are RIGHT NOW. Jim James has morphed into a potent mixture of Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, Marvin Gaye and any hairball 80’s guitarist you can google up. His voice is immaculate and his stage presence is overwhelming. Backed by a band that thumps all the way to the clouds, I’ll just quote myself from my review of the MMJ performance in Kansas City in 2012, “My Morning Jacket have raised the bar so high on the competition that everyone else is simply bringing #2 pencils to a gun fight.“
- Hey! I have a couple of common favorites with you as well, Jeff! Like I mentioned above, I wish I could have a list of “Artists That I’d Like to See Live Because I’m Sure They Are Awesome.” Maybe that can be a list we come up with for a future post? I wish, wish, wish, wish I could see Prince live! He played in San Diego last month, but I just didn’t think I could pay $250 for one ticket. I should have just paid the price, huh? He is truly a gifted musician and I’m certain that he is beyond phenomenal live.
- I also agree with your Franz Ferdinand entry – they are so charismatic and energetic. I loved their performance at Outside Lands in 2012!
- And Wilco! Ohhhhh, fantastic, and wonderful, and amazing Wilco! They are definitely an honorable mention for me. If I could make this a Top 11 list, Wilco would be added STAT! I would say that Nels Cline’s musicianship is equal to Tweedy’s voice, songwriting, and wit. Cline is a genius with the guitar. Because of his skill and his wide knowledge of musical genres, he was an incredibly powerful addition in 2004 to the already strong Wilco band.
- My only dissent is Smashing Pumpkins like I explained after Joe’s list. But now that you have both written them up in your Top 10, I’m determined to give them another shot for their next tour.
- Prince is one of my favorite artists of all time, but have yet to rationalize his current $250 basic ticket fees. He’s a legend and hope to one day see him in concert.
- I think Wilco are great and was FINALLY won over by 2011’s The Whole Love. Easily my favorite album of theirs.
- Metric would not place in my Top 25 list for live acts. Emily Haines definitely plays up to the crowd, is a quality performer and I think they definitely have potential, but I don’t feel they are in that upper echelon of live acts yet. Perhaps time will serve them good fortune, but for now I think there is more work to be done.
- Radiohead: See my comment on Sylvia’s list.
- My Morning Jacket and Jim James solo is excellent…and yes, they are in their prime. They have grown so much with each album and I can only imagine what it will be like to see them 20 years from now, hopefully still on the road performing fresh material.
- The Smashing Pumpkins are my favorite band of all time and favorite live act. The band has had several internal missteps over the years but the fact of the matter is Corgan has risen above so many obstacles and continues to put out high quality music that challenges listeners and expands the SP soundscape. I do miss James Iha’s anecdotes and as far as bass players go, Melissa Auf Der Maur was amazing during her time with the band. I’ve watched this band evolve in concert since the mid 90’s and feel the current incarnation is definitely firing on all cylinders and the 2012 Oceania Tour was of the best.
- Garbage is definitely an honorable mention for me as well. Great live act with high energy!
- Surprises: Belle and Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand