Another Best Of List…For Concerts

An extraordinary year for concerts in the Twin Cities
Jon Bream
Star Tribune
Published January 2, 2005

I always avoided answering the inevitable question.

Photo: Libby

When someone meets me for the first time — or I speak to a college or high-school class — the question invariably comes up:

What’s the best concert you’ve ever seen?

I’ve been covering concerts for the Star Tribune since 1974, typically attend more than 200 shows a year (yep, that’s more than 5,000 performances) and when faced with the question I invariably cop out by mentioning not the best concert but rather my 10 favorite live performers.

However, I no longer need to give a long-winded, evasive answer. On Oct. 5, I witnessed the best concert I’ve ever seen in the Twin Cities: the Vote for Change show featuring Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M., John Fogerty and Bright Eyes at Xcel Energy Center.

Springsteen has long ranked at or near the top of my list of favorite performers, and Fogerty, if he mounted a tour more often than every six years, would be on the list, too.

On this night, Springsteen exhibited the urgency, the immediacy and the unbridled passion that had attracted me the first time(s) I saw him in 1975.

It helped that, in two hours-plus onstage in St. Paul, he did only one slow song, “The River.”

It helped that this was a political benefit, giving Springsteen a sense of purpose that put the focus on his passion as much as his art.

Whatever it was, there was fire in his belly, fire in his voice and fire in his message as he sang about believing in love, faith and hope.

This was the best Springsteen performance I’d seen in the Twin Cities. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give it a 13. But elevating this evening into the best Twin Cities concert I’ve seen were Fogerty, R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe and, most of all, Neil Young sitting in with the Boss and the E Street Band.

When Young, who is also on my list of all-time favorite live performers, tore through Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” he did something I’d never seen in person or on TV or film — he upstaged Springsteen with his own E Street Band. Young was bouncing around the stage like a 22-year-old punk rocker with the guitar vocabulary of a 58-year-old legend, and Springsteen, strumming away on rhythm guitar, was grinning in complete awe.

After that magical moment, I paused and did something I’d never done before in all my years of reviewing concerts for this newspaper. I decided to completely rewrite my review only 20 minutes before deadline.

“Whatever your presidential politics, it was a monumental musical night of Mount Rushmore proportions,” I wrote up in the press box as Springsteen and friends carried on below me. Editors at the paper viewed this as a political benefit; I saw it as a rare convergence of three Rock and Roll Hall of Famers — and a fourth shoo-in when R.E.M. becomes eligible — sharing a stage.

“To be sure, this Vote for Change evening had much to do with presidential politics and sparking these giants of rock to spirited heights,” I wrote. “But there also was a sense of over-the-top fun and seldom-seen camaraderie that made the evening extraordinary.”

An unforgettable concert.

The rest of the best

Vote for Change was at the top of the list of a terrific year for concerts in the Twin Cities, 12 months in which several of my revered live performers rewarded us.

A couple of them — the enigmatic Bob Dylan at Roy Wilkins Auditorium on March 10 and the mercurial Van Morrison at Northrop Auditorium on April 1 — disappointed (though Dylan later redeemed himself with Willie Nelson in Rochester in August).

As for the top Twin Cities concerts of 2004, here’s the rest of the best:

Prince, June 16, 17 & 18, Xcel Center. Three music-licious nights of rocking, roaring, superfunky, career-defining and -refining performances by one of my all-time live heroes. Not only did he finally play an acoustic set, he showed more warmth, humor and humanness than ever before.

And, now, in chronological order:

David Bowie, Jan. 11, Target Center. Spectacle-free, straight-ahead, almost informal. A wonderful survey of his magnificent career.

Betty Lavette, Jan. 12, 13, 14, Dakota Jazz Club. The most emotive and emotional singer in R&B, this 57-year-old veteran was dramatic and draining, exhausting and exhilarating. On the second and third nights, a cold crippled her voice, but she still gave a full-throttle performance.

Jamie Cullum, March 26, Dakota. This punky newcomer, an arena-level star in England, was a nervy, fearless original as he tore through standards, an unforgettable jazzy reworking of the Who’s “My Generation” and his pop-jazz originals with crossover potential. He had the bratty brashness of early Elvis Costello with the jazzy piano/vocal chops of a young Harry Connick Jr.

Nellie McKay, March 9, Fine Line Music Cafe. Sounding like the daughter of Doris Day and Eminem, this 19-year-old New York piano woman was smart and smart-alecky with just the right amount of musical sophistication. Her show came across like one hilarious “Saturday Night Live” music sketch after another.

Al Green, March 29, Guthrie Theater. My all-time favorite soul singer can be a frustrating tease in concert. This time he was soul-sational, consistently joyous, often electrifying and ultimately uplifting.

Bobby McFerrin/Savion Glover, April 2, Orpheum Theatre. The wordless vocal master and the celebrated tap dancer created a new kind of jazz together, a rare combination of joy, intensity and improvisation.

Eric Clapton, July 18, Xcel Center. The born-again bluesman was assertive, eloquent, emotional, stirring and surprisingly energetic. And he rocked like a guitar monster, too. Wow!

Annie Lennox, July 20, Target Center. Her voice was a sublime combination of steamy soul and synth-pop ice. Never has a singer made an arena rock concert (she opened for Sting) seem so artful and intimate.

Elton John, July 20, RiverCentre. Playing solo at a benefit for the Starkey Hearing Foundation, he gave a friendly, personal and often emotional 60-minute performance.

John Fogerty, July 25, State Fairgrounds. Nobody brings a combination of intensity and happiness to a jukebox full of radio hits like the Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman. His return visits to the Vote for Change Concert and to Northrop on Nov. 23 were triumphant, too.

Rosanne Cash, Aug. 13, Minnesota Zoo. With her rich, sincere voice, the former country star covered a remarkable range of emotions and experiences — love found and lost, prison, death, war, peace, politics. Plus she was funny, especially the quick repartee with her husband-guitarist, John Leventhal.

Gretchen Wilson, Sept. 3, State Fair. Opening for Martina McBride, the newcomer had the perfect mix of heartache, honky-tonk and humor, with enough lyrical references to modern things (Paris Hilton, Dr. Phil) and enough musical references to classic artists (Hank Williams Jr., Loretta Lynn).

Norah Jones, Sept. 11, Xcel Center. Without having a musical makeover, she figured out how to make her small music work in a big arena. The understated singer-pianist did it by showing more character, confidence and personality. Thoroughly satisfying.

Big & Rich, Sept., 27, Xcel Center. Opening for Tim McGraw, this new duo offered what most of today’s big country stars lack: a distinctive voice, commanding showmanship, a variety in their delivery and material, a sense of fun, a sense of humor and originality.

Brian Wilson, Sept. 30, Orpheum Theatre. The U.S. concert premiere of his long-lost pop symphony “Smile” was touching and triumphant. His band sounded better than the Beach Boys ever did, doing his other fun, fun, fun songs.

Wynonna Judd, Sept. 16, O’Shaughnessy Auditorium. The faded country star reinvented herself, putting the focus on art from the heart, unleashing her versatile voice on a series of killer covers from Led Zeppelin to Tina Turner. Fresh, fun and liberating.

Rock for Karl, Oct. 21, the Quest. The lengthy benefit for Soul Asylum bassist Karl Mueller, who has cancer, was an inspired and inspiring revisit to the Twin Cities rock scene of the ’80s, complete with an unexpected reunion of the Husker Two.

Paul Westerberg, Nov. 7, Pantages Theatre. The great reclusive Twin Cities songwriter finally relished playing with a band again. He was focused and unfocused, purposeful and fun, concerned and carefree. Perfectly Paul.

Green Day, Nov. 10, Target Center. Fierce, focused and ferocious, Billie Joe Armstrong was more passionate than Springsteen at the Vote for Change concert. Enough said.

Bruce Hornsby, Dec. 4, State Theatre. What a treat to witness the adventurous piano man mix his classical and jazz chops with his group’s jam-band sensibilities in a cozy setting.

The Steeles, Dec. 5, Ordway Center. Whether inspired by the recent death of their longtime stepfather or just the depth of their own souls, this local brothers-and-sisters act gave as spirited, heartwarming and uplifting a holiday performance as I’ve ever seen.

Bette Midler, Dec. 12, Target Center. One of my all-time favorites, Midler, who kvetched that she was tired on the last night of her tour, is still a one-of-a-kind blend of Broadway and vaudeville who covers a wide range of human emotions in one hyper-stimulating evening.

Share A little Divinity
Verified by MonsterInsights