I was asked the other day what was the best rock concert I ever attended. It’s a tough question for me. You see I’ve had somewhat of an obsession with music my entire life. I feel like I’ve spent a quarter of my life in front of a stage. If I had to guess I would say I’ve been to around 500 shows, give or take twenty. From my very first show at Raincross Square in Riverside, California (Cheap Trick on their “Dream Police” tour with Ted Nugent opening promoting his “Scream Dream” album) to my latest one (Vans Warped tour).
There have been memorable shows, horrible shows, and shows that were great because of the people I was with rather than the band that was playing. There are bands I have seen many times. (Slayer 27, Iron Maiden 12, Judas Priest 10, Dio 7, Ozzy 9, Queensryche 5). There are bands I have only seen once and that was enough. Maybe next I’ll do a list of my top ten worst concerts.
Some shows drag on while others end too quickly. There have been dry shows, wet shows, and shows with lots of fire. There have been shows too loud and shows not loud enough. I have seen bands play three nights in a row and only have one really good performance.
But in looking back and taking my time, I made a list of the top 14 concerts I have ever been to. Now this is by no means a list of my top 14 favorite bands. And it’s not a list of the best tours. And I tried to limit it to 10 but it was really kind of impossible. This is a list of specific concerts where the band just came together in a way that motivated the crowd. Concerts that took on a sense of surrealism. Shows that left the audience completely satisfied. Something that is a rare thing these days.
I tried to stay away from any festivals like the U.S. in 83, or Cal Jam 2, Family Values, Mayhem and Warped. These were all shows that for whatever reason everything just clicked perfectly and something magical happened. I also stayed away from non-rock shows. I have attended many country, jazz, blues and rap shows. But the question was what was the best ROCK show I have ever been to. So I stuck with one genre. I also wanted to pick the best shows not just the historical ones. I have seen Metallica play street parties in the Mustaane days, Quiet Riot in the Randy Rhodes days, and I was at the Dead/Dylan show where hundreds of people started have sex with each other in the walkway that circled Anaheim stadium. I was there when Teri Nunn of Berlin dropped her mink coat at a show in Disneyland and relieved she was only wearing a bra and panties and started simulating oral sex with the guitar player as the cops came in and hauled them all off stage. I was there the night Cindy Lauper was completely caught of guard my an unknown band called The Bus Boys. The band was so good that they demanded an encore even as Lauper began singing. Finally Cindy stopped and started cutting all her hair off with a pair of scissors. The crowd drew silent in disbelief. One they were quiet she started to sing again, and really did a great job completing her set. Anyway, I can go on forever and that’s what makes live shows such an experience.
You might be surprised with my choices, but I don’t think there are any real big surprises. Here we go…
14. IN THIS MOMENT March 4th 2008 “The gun show” tour Oakdale theater, Wallingford Connecticut
This band reenacted my faith in music. Maria Banks voice was strong and full of many surprises. The band was great. The show was flawless. The singer sang the title track of the album while walking out into the crowd. This show made me excited for metal again.
13. AEROSMITH October 15th 1985 “Done with Mirrors” tour. Fontana high school gymnasium. California
Aerosmith was right in the middle of their drug days. They were so messed up that they were playing high school gyms because no arena or club would have them. I remember they were remodeling the gym at the time and insulation hug exposed from the ceiling. They handed everyone mirrors and straws as they walked in the door. By the first song there was broken glass everywhere. The band would take turns doing solos while the rest of the guys got high. Tyler did a drum solo, Perry sang “All along the watchtower”. As sloppy and screwed up as this show was, it was rock and roll at it’s best.
12. IRON MAIDEN: September 9th 1986. The “Somewhere in Time” tour. The Los Angeles Forum
They opened up with “Number of the Beast” and closed with “Wasted years”. Bruce Dickenson wore a brown leather jacket with a bright red beating heart built into it. Eddie came out dressed at the Terminator and a laser battle broke out from one end of the arena to the other. The sound was amazing and the crowd was incredible.
11.SLAYER: June 17th 1981 “Haunting the Chapel” tour. Hollywood Palladium on the Sunset strip.
With all the bad music around that time, the bubblegum pop and studio rock, Slayer was a much-needed style for the rebellious youth. The place held 4000 people, 10,000 showed up. The streets were lined with leather jackets and Levi jeans. Two songs into their set a riot broke out and the windows of the Palladium were smashed. People poured into the building forcing the police to come in and shut the place down. Slayer was banned from ever playing Southern California again.
10. RATT: June 22 1985 “The Ratt and Roll tour” with Poison. Irvine Meadows Amphitheater, Irvine California.
It was a very warm night. Poison went on just before Ratt. Bret Michaels told the crowed that he was nervous, but if everyone stripped down to their underwear it would help him to perform better. The entire place took off their clothes. I remember standing up on the chair in my boxers head banging to a band I always said sucked. They won me over. Ratt came out and really had to step it up a notch. Which they did. They brought strippers with them who danced topless on stage during their entire set.
09. VAN HALEN August 7th, 1982 The “Diver Down” tour. Seeland Arena, Fresno California.
I had heard Van Halen on the radio but never really cared for the screeches of David Lee Roth. The drums were average and the bass lacked any appeal for me. I drove up to this show with a group of older guys and it was my first true tailgating experience. I remember standing on the floor of that arena in that sold out crowd. The noise level was so high and there was so much smoke in the place that my head throbbed. Then the lights went out and Eddie opened the show with “Eruption”. Everyone went silent. You could heard my jaw hit the floor. To this day I have never seen any guitarist, any musician for that matter, command an audience the way he did that night. It was a life changing moment for me.
08. THE DOOBIE BROTHERS February 8th The Greek Theater in Hollywood California.
I know what your thinking, what? I knew all the songs was not a huge fan or anything. But they put on a show I will never forget. This would be the last show Micheal McDonald would ever play with the band. Everyone was dancing and singing. The vibe was intense. It felt so incredibly warm like the music was embracing everyone. I remember at some point kissing the girl next to me. I had no idea who she was or who she was with. But the music just had that effect on everyone who was at the Greek that night.
07. JUDAS PRIEST March 1983. The “Defenders of the Faith” tour. Long Beach Arena, California
Their opening act (Slayer) was banned from playing anywhere in Southern California because of the damage they caused a couple of years before. After fighting tooth and nail and refusing to tour there unless Slayer was able to open the show. They finally agreed. Slayer however had to keep the lights on during their set, no booze could be served until after they played and they could only perform for twenty minutes. Afterwards the lights went out and Priest opened with “Love Bites. After which singer Rob Halford approached the microphone and said “Tear this place apart!” and we did. We torn it to shreds.
06. OZZY OSBOURNE May 10th 1984. “The Ultimate Sin” tour. Lost Angeles Forum
Metallica opened the show. They played their set on a stage made up of crosses and fog. They completely took over the show that night. Ozzy never knew what hit him. The following week Metallica would leave the tour to finish promoting their “Master of Puppets” album as a headlining act. Although Ozzy did open the show being lowered down from the top of the arena on the lap of a huge Buda looking idol. Jake E. Lee was on fire that night too.
05. W.A.S.P. November 17th 1985 on the “Last command” tour. The Troubadour. Sunset strip, Hollywood California
It was supposed to be a four band co-headling tour with Black and Blue, Keel, and Twisted Sister. The band got there early on a different tour bus. The other three bands were coming down from Washington and one of the buses slipped off the road and forced them all to stop. After an hour went by Blackie Lawless took the stage and said that the band would just jam for a bit and entertain us until the others showed up. So with no make up and no stage props, W.A.S.P. played to a drunken rowdy crowd for two hours. Taking request from the audience and covering everyone from Deep Purple to Led Zeppelin. After which they left the stage and came back out in full make up and rocked the hell out of the place. We never missed any of those other guys. I give that band a lot of credit for doing that. Not many bands would step up like they did.
04. Y&T July 4th 1985 on the “Contagious” tour. The Corona Beer gardens, Corona California
An unknown band called “Guns and Roses” opened the show. Ace Freely was the next to go on. Axl Rose came out and opened the show by saying that Ace should be opening for them. Bottle flew on the stage pelting the singer so many times that he barely made it off the stage with his life. They never played a lick. Y&T headlined and although I had seen this band several time before. On that night, under the stars, with the Santa Ana winds blowing the dirt all over the place. They shredded. They had that crowd up against the stage with their heads banging and fist in the air the entire time.
03. DIO January 5th 1986 “Sacred Heart” tour Long Beach Arena, California
What can I say. Anyone who has ever seen DIO knows. No musician ever, EVER, has put more into a stage production. The stage was a castle complete with dragons and snakes. He used lighted whips to slay the snakes and when he cut the head off the dragon streams of colored lasers came out from its neck. He sang “Don’t talk to strangers” in a cone of yellow light. It was absolutely amazing.
2. MOTLEY CRUE July 3rd “Theater of pain” tour Los Angeles Forum
One of my all time favorite show. Vince dyed his hair the same color as his pants so when the black lights came on all you could see was hair and pants dancing around. Tommy on his roll cage drum kit. The carnival like stage set. They closed the show singing “Dancing on glass” while on a huge mirror with a razor blade in the corner. I have seen them many times and this particular night they were just perfection.
1. TRIUMPH September 11, 1984 on the “Thunder Seven” tour San Francisco, California
I know this seems a bit odd for my favorite rock concert of all time. But there are no words to describe this show. The laser show was hypnotic. The quality of the music was the best I have ever seen. I was moved. They ended the show singing “It’s time to light the fuse” while singing under a huge hologram of a face that circled high above the crowd. I was completely blown away. Heart opened the show which was the band I went to see. I never expected such an incredible performance from Triumph. And to think I almost didn’t stay to see them.