Seminal Live Performances – A Memorable Travelogue

Like travel, music has the power to expand horizons, introduce new cultures & change lives. The difference is that with travel – one travels to the culture. With music, particularly with touring music acts, those cultures largely come to you.

Long Live Rock

Saw The Who twice on their last North American Tour with Keith Moon in 1976/77 – Long Live Rock
Image Credit: Heinrich Klaffs (cc|flickr)

Both music and travel can be transformative – For me, greater categorical impacts are difficult to recall.

If the topic of music arises in a conversation, the inevitable questions follow – “Who is your favorite band?” or “What is the best concert you have ever seen?”

When experiencing live music, it is not only who was seen, but where they were seen that creates indelible memories. The concert venue serves as a frame for the aural and visual pictures created by the artist.

You may be wondering why I am talking about unforgettable concert experiences in a blog that tends to focus on the marketing and technology aspects of the travel business.

Once you pass through all the acts and videos, at the end, I will let you know – if you could not figure it out for yourself.

Over the years I have been very fortunate to have seen some fantastic concerts – in some remarkably unique venues around the world. Seeing my favorite musical acts performing has become something of a travelogue – with the cities and venues contributing significantly to the overall experiences.

So before I get too old to remember, or lose my file of ticket stubs, it seemed these events should be archived for future reference. I have seen a great many concerts – hundreds over the years, with both highlights and lowlights. Yes, I have witnessed the best and worst of popular culture.

The Top 5 Highlights that failed to make the list:

  • Rick Wakeman in Seattle at the Paramount Theater in 1975, when he ascended through the floor playing the theater’s Wurlitzer pipe organ that had been unplayed in decades
  • Paul McCartney transforming the 70,000 seat, acoustically hostile Seattle Kingdome into a space with better sound than most living rooms to capture his Wings Over America tour on film in 1976
  • Joe Jackson at Cornell’s Bailey Hall in 1979 – Backstage, we really didn’t think any human ingesting that quantity of drugs & alcohol could function – but he prevailed
  • Trout Fishing in America playing Dallas Kidsfest in the late 1990’s – proving Kids music could be appealingly intelligent & subversive for parents too
  • The Doors of the 21st Century at Houston’s Verizon Wireless Theatre in 2003, filming the full LA Woman album live with Ian Astbury of The Cult filling in for Jim Morrison (who was apparently indisposed)

In the case of Paul McCartney & Wings and Doors of the 21st Century, I personally attended the shows captured in the respective video clips. It’s a shame these didn’t make my official list, but they were beaten out by more influential acts and/or venues.

The Bottom 5 Low Points were either dreadfully disappointing, or soul-draining affairs (while perhaps, still unique points in pop culture):

  • George Harrison – In Seattle on his maligned Dark Horse tour in 1975. Laryngitis is a respectable reason to cancel a concert tour. My 1st concert and greatest disappointment
  • Robert Palmer – Twice. In Ithaca, NY & Toronto ON in the Early and mid-80’s. Both shows were played to a pre-recorded reel-to-reel backing track that killed spontaneity & improvisation
  • Watching Wham meander aimlessly through a thin catalogue in a crowd of 60,000 screaming women at the massive Canadian National Exhibition Stadium in Toronto.
  • The Spice Girls producing the most artistically sterile piece of piece of commercial schlock ever presented (and without Geri) at Dallas’ Coca Cola Starplex in 1998.
  • The Wiggles, somewhere in Houston, at some point in time – I have not yet fully eradicated the complete memory, but I am still optimistic

So below is my official list – complete with live performance videos that fall as close as possible to the shows I actually attended. One additional consideration was video and sound quality, but thanks to YouTube, almost anything you seek may be found. It seems even the really old and offbeat stuff is increasingly getting digitized.

Google and/or YouTube locate some real gems when searching for audio recordings of the actual concerts. The number and quality of soundboard recordings is startling, and many include detailed setlists. If a specific show is missing, often a show from the same tour can be found – which is exactly what I have tried to do with the video clips embedded below.

For organizational purposes, I have arranged the groups by the decade when I started listening to them (or in a few exceptions, in the order when I first saw them perform live).

| The 1960’s |

The Rolling Stones
Saturday October 31, 1981 & Sunday November 1, 1981 – The Cotton Bowl, Dallas, Texas
The Halloween show featured a blinding, torrential rainstorm that left the tarp covered field with shin to knee deep water by the end of the concert. There couldn’t have been a greater contrast on Sunday, All Saints Day, under warm crystal clear skies. One cannot dispute that there was something symbolic in that juxtaposition. And the Halloween show was actually the better one of the two – probably having something to do with singing Sympathy for the Devil all those times.

I have seen The Stones a couple times subsequently – In Toronto at CNE Stadium in September, 1989 and back again in Dallas at The Cotton Bowl in November 1994 for the Voodoo Lounge tour, but all pale in comparison to that surreal Halloween show with most of the audience sporting costumes.

The Rolling Stones – Under My Thumb / When the Whip Comes Down / Let’s Spend the Night Together

Filmed November 1, 1981 at The Cotton Bowl, Dallas, Texas (Same Show)

The Who
March 25, 1976 & October 14, 1976 – Seattle Center Coliseum – Seattle, Washington
Through a rare tour scheduling fluke, The Who passed through Seattle twice on their last US Tour with Keith Moon on drums.

It was the ultimate high school concert experience – cutting afternoon class to get a good place in line, a mandatory pursuit to get close to the stage in the days of “festival” seating. And that line – a crushing sea of humanity where for 10 minutes, your body could be at a 30 degree angle with your feet eight inches off the ground.

Sadly, the second concert was Moon’s last live concert in the US. I’ve seen The Who a number of times since – in Toronto, Dallas & Houston and they were always really good. With all due respect to Zak Starkey (Ringo’s son) who now drums for them, it’s just not as great as they were with Mooney the Looney on drums or The Ox (John Entwistle) on bass.

The Who – Won’t Get Fooled Again

Filmed November 20, 1975 at The Summit in Houston, Texas (four months earlier)

| The 1970’s |

Neil Young
December 11, 1989 – Élysée Montmartre – Paris, France
I started listening to Neil Young’s debut album Everybody Knows this is Nowhere in 1969. It took a while to finally see him live. I was fortunate that a vacation in Paris coincided with Neil Young’s solo acoustic set at the historic 1,200 seat Élysée Montmartre. I was about 20 feet from the stage.

Neil was a bit surly with the French, which was quite entertaining. He had a jar of water to rinse his harmonica and decided that large arcing trails of water directed toward the crowd might add a nice dimension to his performance.

The Godfather of Grunge was in his element – playing his music the way he wanted. The crowd could go along for the ride or go do something better. There are few things better than Neil Young solo live.

My timing for that trip was impeccable – I also saw Melissa Etheridge supporting her new Brave & Crazy album in a small venue three days earlier as well.

I did see Neil perform with Crosby, Stills & Nash on their CSNY2K tour in March, 2000 at Reunion Arena in Dallas. Playing a 30 song set, the group, whom I have seen multiple times without Mr. Young, was playing at an elevated level – Neil raised their game, which was great to witness.

Neil Young – Heart of Gold / Rockin’ in the Free World (Acoustic)

Filmed October 12, 1989 at Muziektheater Stopera in Amsterdam, Netherlands (Two months earlier)

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
November 7, 1978 – Barton Hall – Ithaca, NY
Being House Manager for the Cornell Concert Commission had its perks. The biggest one was meeting Bruce Springsteen and having an opportunity for a brief conversation. It was not a deep philosophical discussion of the imagery and orchestration of his songs, more along the lines of a) if he really did stop by the Ithaca Mall earlier int he day and invite some kids to the show & b) When he wanted to eat the 28 oz. T-bone steak specified in the rider to his contract (he begged for some chicken and swore to kill the guy who added the steak since he now got one every night.

The one remarkable thing was that during his soundcheck, he personally went to every corner of the massive armory to make certain the house sound mix was perfect before the show started. apparently The Boss has no respect for the acts that show up, play, get paid & let the sound board try to work out the mix during the first few songs. Linda Ronstadt & Heart did the same thing – real pros. Boston & The Cars – both at the height of their popularity? Not so much…

Bruce Springsteen – Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)

Filmed July 8, 1978 at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Arizona (four months earlier)

| The 1980’s |

Talking Heads
October 29, 1977 – Nite Court, Ithaca NY
OK, so I cheated a bit – I discovered Talking Heads in a small, 250 seat Ithaca, New York club shortly after Talking Heads ’77 was released. Standing within 10 feet of the band, it was apparent that nobody had played like this before and it was highly unlikely that anyone else would even attempt to play like that again. But since most people didn’t know them until the 1980’s that’s how I will classify them.

I also saw them September 9, 1982 at the legendary Bronco Bowl in Dallas, Texas. Where else could you get a beer and bowl a few games before or after taking in a show? That also happened to be my first date with my wife who was previously not familiar with the band.

The next year, I caught them again on October 24, 1983 at an utterly forgettable venue – The Dallas Convention Center Arena. However, that show was not at all forgettable as it was their celebrated Stop Making Sense Tour. That show was six weeks before Jonathan Demme filmed their Pantages Theater, Hollywood, California show on December 15, 1983 for the movie.

Talking Heads – Psycho Killer

Filmed December 18, 1980 in Rome, Italy (three years, 2 months later) – with King Crimson’s Adrian Belew featured on guitar (sadly, I never saw him tour with them)

October 16, 1993 – Texas Stadium – Irving, Texas
I was at Texas Stadium with 60,000 of my closest friends for the Zoo TV tour, but my 4th row seats more than compensated. The show was both visually and sonically spectacular. The band played 25 songs that night – tied for the most on that tour. Out of 156 shows on the world tour, they only played 25 songs seven times – that’s pretty special.

All I can tell you is that watching the video is most definitely not “even better than the real thing.”

U2 – Even Better Than The Real Thing / Mysterious Ways

Filmed November 26/27, 1993 at Sydney Football Stadium in Sydney, Australia (six weeks later)

| The 1990’s |

Pearl Jam
April 6, 2003 – Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavillion – The Woodlands, Texas

OK. So the same fate that put The Who on my path twice on their last US tour and The Stones on Halloween apparently kept Pearl Jam away from me for over a decade. Having grown up in Seattle, I would have loved to see them at the Moore Theatre when they started headlining. The Houston show was great – outdoor shows in a big shed can be challenging, but I had seat options that put me in the first five rows, plus the venue was about a 10 minute drive from my house – doesn’t get better than that.

Pearl Jam – Full Concert

Filmed April 30, 2003 at Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, New York (three weeks later)

Foo Fighters
April 23, 2003 – Reliant Arena – Houston, Texas
Like Pearl Jam & Neil Young, it took a bit to finally see Foo Fighters live – the One by One tour tour was well worth the wait.

Having never seen Nirvana live, I can’t compare the energy level, but Dave Grohl brings a palpable drive and commitment to the material – he’s not passing time waiting to get paid. It’s a mystery how Grohl prepares his throat for the onslaught of primal screams – he must have developed calluses on his vocal cords over the years…

Plus, credit must be given to Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins – It can’t be easy playing drums for a guy who a) started the group playing all the instruments and b) was formerly Nirvana’s drummer. He appears to be more than adequately holding his own.

Foo Fighters – One by One

Filmed January 19, 2003 at Gold Coast Parklands, Southport, Australia (three months earlier)

| The 2000’s |

The White Stripes
September 8, 2005 – The Rave/Eagles Ballroom – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Another classic venue – Buddy Holly played here in 1958 – a week before the day the music died. Meg & Jack came, killed it and left an audience stunned that a two-piece band could create that scope of music and atmosphere. They were relentless. They were also kind enough to throw in the tune “Little Ghost” reportedly in consideration of the ghost that haunts the closed pool in the basement, but often drifts upstairs to observe band afternoon soundchecks.

The White Stripes – Blue Orchid / Hotel Yorba / Seven Nation Army

Filmed June 24, 2005 – at Glastonbury Festival, Glastonbury, England (nine weeks earlier)

Back Door Slam
April 23, 2008 – The Rave/Eagles Ballroom – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Davy Knowles may have only been 21 years old when I saw him for the first time, but this kid has the soul of a blues master. Having seen Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Albert King, Buddy Guy & John Mayall all play at significantly more advanced ages than this guy, he certainly has the potential to join their ranks.

Davy has been locked up in the studio honing his craft for the past 18 months – he is expected to tour in 2013/14 in support of a new EP. Always nice to see an artist spend time to improve his craft as opposed to constantly focusing on cashing in. That’s almost better than time off for rehab. Can’t wait to see how he’s developed as a musician. Expecting good things.

Back Door Slam – Come Home

Filmed September 30, 2008 at The Soiled Dove Underground, Denver, Colorado (five months later)

| The 2010’s |

Ed Sheeran
May 10, 2013 – The Rave/Eagles Ballroom – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Apparently opening 72 shows every night for Taylor Swift on her Red tour is not enough work for 22 year old Ed Sheeran. Maybe he is still used to playing 312 gigs per year – the number he played in 2009. He seems to be a strong believe in the old adage that practice makes perfect.

And all that practice paid off. Sheeran is remarkable in his ability to engage his audience. About 1/3 of the way through the show, he asked his rabid throng of 1,200 festival seating fans who were crushed toward the stage to be silent for a quiet song. They obliged. What were formerly screaming fangirls hellbent on reenacting Beatlemania, suddenly all fell silent.

Despite his prodigious capability to engage, Sheeran appears to be dealing well with his fame – even after playing with Elton John on The Grammy Awards and now the Taylor Swift gigs. Like Davy Knowles, this kid is all about the music, staying humble, and not letting fame go to his head.

He folked, rapped, rocked, indied and balleded his way, alone, through a 1 hour 45 minute set that had his fans begging for having only a single album released thus far. He extended the first song of his encore “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You” to over 13 minutes and it flowed naturally.

Why do I think he is going to make it big? Check the video – how many opening acts do you know that can manage a full stadium sing-along for a song about a heroin addicted prostitute? I rest my case.

Ed Sheeran – The A Team

March 28, 2013 at the Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey (six weeks earlier)

Now here is the big cheat. I have no idea who else will rate as an indelible musical influence through this decade – hopefully there will be many (but I’m not holding my breath.) So instead, I will go old school and highlight the one artist whose music has had a profound impact on me since I first heard his Past, Present & Future album in 1974. I would rate him as perhaps the most underrated songwriter of my generation.

Al Stewart
Late October, 1976 – Paramount Theater – Seattle, Washington
I have literally lost count of the times I have seen Al perform live – but the highlights included – as well as the venues – Seattle (The Paramount) New York (The Bottom Line – an iconic club, like CBGB’s, that should have been preserved as a historical site,) Toronto (the historic Danforth Music Hall,) Fort Worth (the now defunct Caravan of Dreams,) and Houston (McGonigel’s Mucky Duck – a great little pub & live music venue.)

At some point after being Paul Simon’s roommate in London in the mid-1960’s (pre-Garfunkel,) Al Stewart tossed aside romantic pop songs and folk ballads to challenge himself by writing songs about topics that had never before been put to music – and he has succeeded magnificently.

Although primarily known for his mid-70’s mega-hit Year of the Cat, Al has released 16 studio albums over the years and continues to periodically tour North America and Europe.

The video example here is a beautiful song about the German invasion of Russia in June, 1941, through the end of World War II in May, 1945. It’s poetic, historically accurate, and musically mesmerizing.

Al Stewart – Roads to Moscow

No Idea Where – 1978 (sometime later)

So why write a post about amazing live concert experiences on a blog that discusses the business of travel? Because unforgettable experiences are what travel is all about.

Airlines, hoteliers and tour operators become so self-absorbed in their day-to-day operations that they lose perspective. Travel enables people to have unforgettable experiences that shape their lives. Planes & hotel rooms facilitate travel; they are not the objective of travel.

Music plays a huge part in most people’s lives as well. Closing the gap between music-related experiences and travel represents a big opportunity for travel sellers. With supply scarcity able to generate good margins, surplus supply can also offer great consumer values to drive volume. For a concert event, the seats up front may be scarce, while simultaneously, there may be surplus seats in the back. The key is the bundling process, user experience and merchandising.

Hotels in particular, struggling to differentiate themselves, need to create memorable experiences for their guests. Concerts are a big demand generator. Many shows fall on or around weekends – typically a need period for hoteliers interested in sourcing weekend leisure business.

By working with promoters, venues, sponsors and the talent, travel sellers can creatively create value for fans – simplifying logistics, helping the fans better focus their attention on the music experience than the travel aspects. For others, the same could easily be applied to sporting events, museum exhibits, new restaurants, etc. – the concept is nearly universal.

So there’s my list – Now it’s your turn to travel, experience live music, and seek out historic venues where the greats have played before. You’ll wind up with not only a travelogue, but a soundtrack as well. And if you are lucky, maybe an enlightened hotelier or airline will help make it easier for you to you accomplish that goal.

Hoping readers will share their great live concert experiences and the venues where they were held in the comments.

P.S. I still check for every trip I make, just to see if someone interesting is playing during my stay. If some performers names aren’t familiar, do a little research – great discoveries abound.

About Robert Cole

Robert Cole is the founder of RockCheetah, a hotel marketing strategy and travel technology consulting practice. He also authors the Views from a Corner Suite Blog and publishes the Travel Quote of the Day. Robert speaks regularly at major travel industry conferences, authors articles for leading travel industry publications, advises travel-related startups and the equity investment community. He is an evangelist for the global travel industry.