What I Learned Going to 100s of Concerts - Part II
Recalling my trips to see Bruce Springsteen, Dick Dale, Elton John, Ed Sheeran and so many more.
When I published part one in this series, a few readers asked about concerts I wish that I’d seen. It would take too long to write about every living or deceased artist I wish I’d seen perform live. Instead, here are a few artists that I had the opportunity to see but for a variety of reasons ended up not being able to.
Olivia Rodrigo: My girlfriend Devin was very into Olivia Rodrigo’s debut album SOUR, so I tried to get us tickets to see the rising starlet at Radio City in April 2022. I succeeded. But Devin was in the height of her job’s busy season, so I gave the tickets away because I didn’t want her to feel stressed about having to choose what to do. I don’t think she’s completely forgiven me.
Passion Pit: During my senior year of high school, a bunch of my friends and I were supposed to see Passion Pit at Madison Square Garden on February 8, 2013. Sadly, there was a freak snowstorm, so none of our parents would let us make the trip into New York City. A decade later, I still haven’t seen them live.
Sam Smith: At Bonnaroo 2014, I made my friends go see a rising soul band called St. Paul & the Broken Bones. As we filed out after the show, we noticed a huge crowd forming. “Who’s playing next?” one of my friends asked. “Some singer named Sam Smith,” someone responded. None of us knew who Smith was. So, we went and got lunch. Flash forward a couple of months. Smith’s debut album In the Lonely Hour was a smash hit, spawning multiple hit singles.
Snoop Dogg: My friend Chris invited me to see Snoop Dogg at the Wellmont Theater on September 27, 2012. I have no idea why I didn’t go, but when I reminded Chris of my faux pas, he texted me, “Big mistake lol.”
I could probably point to a few other shows, but why relive the pain? I’d rather get back to the shows that I have seen. Feel free to return to part one if you missed that.
Every Concert I’ve Ever Seen: Brandi Carlile - FLETCHER
10/13/2018 (Austin City Limits)
I don’t think anything makes me feel the vicissitudes of emotion more than live music. This Brandi Carlile set was a prime example of that. As she recounted her difficulties coming out as a lesbian as a young girl in a religious community just before playing “The Mother”, you couldn’t help but feel tears well up in your eyes. When she later played a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave” with Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready featured on guitar, that sadness turned to musical ecstasy.
The Brian Setzer Orchestra
12/5/2012 (Bergan PAC)
Billed as a “Christmas Extravaganza,” Setzer and his orchestra definitely played their fair share of holiday music during this set. But they also worked in some of his Stray Cat hits (e.g., “Rock this Town”), along with big band classics (e.g., “Jump, Jive, an' Wail”). This show was a good reminder that Brian Setzer is not only a supremely underrated guitar player but that rockabilly and swing - the two genres he helped revive - are two of the most exciting genres to hear live.
Bronze Radio Return
Bronze Radio Return might be the most heard indie rock band of the 2010s. I say that because their music has been licensed in so many movies and television shows that not only is a section of their Wikipedia page dedicated to licensing but their Spotify biography brags about it too: “Indie roots/rock band … whose music has appeared in countless commercials, including Nissan, Starbucks, the movie St. Vincent, and numerous TV shows.”
Given that I saw them on Bonnaroo’s Miller Stage, I’m starting to think that this band was created by a marketing executive. Regardless, their album Up, On & Over still vividly reminds me of my freshman year of college. Luckily, when I saw them, they were touring in support of that record.
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
10/3/2009 (Giants Stadium), 4/3/2012 (IZOD Center), 9/21/2012 (MetLife Stadium), 8/25/2016 (MetLife Stadium), 9/14/2016 (Gillette Stadium), 4/14/2023 (Prudential Center), 8/30/2023 (MetLife Stadium)
In 2012, Bruce Springsteen gave the keynote address at the South by Southwest arts festival. Here are some of his closing remarks:
So, rumble, young musicians, rumble. Open your ears and open your hearts. Don't take yourself too seriously, and take yourself as seriously as death itself. Don't worry. Worry your ass off. Have ironclad confidence, but doubt – it keeps you awake and alert. Believe you are the baddest ass in town, and, you suck!
It keeps you honest … Be able to keep two completely contradictory ideas alive and well inside of your heart and head at all times. If it doesn't drive you crazy, it will make you strong. And stay hard, stay hungry, and stay alive. And when you walk onstage tonight to bring the noise, treat it like it's all we have. And then remember, it's only rock and roll.
These contradictory truths that Springsteen highlights are not only what makes him special but what makes him the most important artist of my life. Springsteen is the artist that I go to when I want to enjoy myself (e.g., “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”). He’s also the artist I go to when I need to level with the confusions of life (e.g., “Racing in the Street”). His music and his brotherhood with the E Street Band has tied my family and friends together for as long as I can remember.
Though I’ve been lucky enough to have seen The Boss seven times, the most memorable show is still the first, a show my dad got tickets for just hours earlier. It was part of a quintet of shows where the E Street Band was closing down Giants Stadium before it was knocked down and rebuilt across the street as MetLife Stadium.
The night we went, the band played the entirety of Born in the USA. But before that, they played a new number that they prepared for the night: “Wrecking Ball”, a song ostensibly about the destruction of the stadium we were seated in but also about celebrating the past and pushing through everyday pain. From the opening chords of that song, I was shocked by the energy that the band injected into their set. It completely changed my perspective on what a concert can be.
5/23/2023 (Saint Vitus)
At least once a month, I get a text from my friend Seamus that says, “You want to go see [INSERT RANDOM PUNK BAND] at [INSERT TINY VENUE]?” Usually, I answer, “Yes.” Usually, I have a good time. In the case of Camp Trash, both of those statements held true.
Chance the Rapper
6/14/2014 (Bonnaroo), 4/2/2016 (Matthew Arena at Northeastern)