The Electric Commentary

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Top 8 Concert Songs

These are, of course, my top 8 concert songs as I have to have seen them for them to count. These are songs that really stood out to me, that I prefer to both their album versions as well as to other songs by these artists.

8. Don't Drink The Water, The Dave Matthews Band

A short preview to a future post in which I will defend Dave from Phish-head assault, Dave is much maligned by true hippy-folk because, even though they play with jam bands, and even though they meander on at length jam band style, they are not a jam band. They're actually a different genre altogether. But this is unimportant.

What is important is that several years ago I saw them play a show at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee that was distinct for its lack of jamming. Every song was 4 minutes long. It was a beautiful thing. Don't Drink The Water stood out for its uniqueness, a true hard rock song performed by a band with a violin and saxophone. They're not always up to the task, but they were on this evening, blasting a raucous version which could have easily been mistaken for an 80s hair metal tune. A few months later they would play the worst concert that I have ever seen at Alpine Valley, but on this night they found their true element as a tight, pop band. I've yet to hear a Dave song that is its equal.

7. Hope I Never Lose My Wallet, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones

St. Patrick's Day at The Metro in Chicago featured local Irish rock troupe The Tossers, as well as the Boston ska legends. The Bosstones broke out every hit in their arsenal, but they excelled on this concert-friendly tune with it's eminently singable refrain:


Hearing "Wallet" on the album you immediately know that it's meant to be performed live, and on this St. Paddy's night they knocked it (and everything else) out of the park. As a rule you should see the Bosstones whenever possible, as they are always fun as hell, but they're probably in short supply as lead singer Dickie Barrett is now the announcer for Jimmy Kimmel Live. At least he was the last time I saw that show. Which was like a year ago.

This was one of two truly heroic Bosstones shows that I've witnessed, as they also played the Wisconsin State Fair in 100 degree heat, in suits.

Here's a clip from an old Warped Tour:

6. The Weight, Travis

While I was in law school Marquette managed to book an actual good band to play at their dinky auditorium (and they had Remy Zero opening, pre-Smallville). The lower level was jam packed, but a friend and I managed to sneak upstairs into the press area for the entire show, and everyone just assumed that we belonged there.

The crowd was really into the show and the band seemed genuinely appreciative. They ran through most of their songs (they only had two albums at the time) including what I believe was the last ever rendition of their cover of "Hit Me Baby One More Time," but they still wanted to play a few more. They came back out, played a few verses of AC/DC's back in black, and launched into The Bands' classic tune.

Every member of Travis has a lead singer's voice, and their harmony during the chorus was outstanding. It's tough to sing "The Weight." One of the worst songs that I've ever heard is a Wallflowers' version. Just awful. On this night, Travis was not going to play anything unless it was perfect, and they hit every note, and hit it with feeling. It wasn't The Band, but it was as close as I'm likely to get.

Here's an OK version:

5. Paranoid Android, Radiohead

It was 98 degrees in Grant Park for the brilliant weirdness that is Radiohead, as they played a show that is still legendary 'round these parts. Everyone claims to have been there, and it's quite possible that everyone was. Thom and crew played their greatest song with their greatest intensity, leading an enormous sing-along, and leading everyone out of the punishing heat, at least for a moment.

From a great height, from a great height,
God loves his children, God loves his children,


Radiohead is one of, if not my favorite band, and I'm always glad that I managed to see one of their all-time best performances. This will give you some idea:

4. Dr. Worm, They Might Be Giants

Back in the before time, in the long-long ago, when I was in college, there was a club in Madison called Bullwinkles. It was one of Madison's only dance clubs at the time, and it frequently featured 2 a.m. fights, underage kids, and a seediness that out-skanked the many skanky bars in the general vicinity. A veritable skank-central station. Bullwinkles would soon go out of business and become Club Amazon, which would go out of business and become Madison Ave., which was a prominent player in Danny's graduation party, but that's a story for another day. What is important is that, at this violent, salacious, meat market, I saw They Might Be Giants play a show.

I'm not sure how this happened, but they made the most of the unique environment. They were clearly very entertained at the surroundings and knocked the goofiness up a few notches. While Giants' staples Ana Ng and Birdhouse In Your Soul were up to par, they really got into lesser known Dr. Worm, opening and closing the show with it. Fitting for such strange Johns.

Since MTV doesn't play videos anymore, I may as well pick up the slack:

3. Race For The Prize, The Flaming Lips

On Saturday the Flaming Lips played at Lollapalooza. Wayne came out, explained that, due to the fact that it was daytime, and it was outside, his usual entrance was not going to have the same impact that it usually does, but if anyone asks, we should lie and say that it was amazing. Well, it was amazing. Where do they keep all of that stuff backstage?

Wayne got into his hamster ball and walked around on the crowd, rolled back to stage, and as he exited the band broke into the intro to The Soft Bulletin, and got things rolling in style. So to speak. "Race" is one of the few Flaming Lips' tunes that will get people dancing, and really, what better way to kick off a show.

2. Tear, Smashing Pumpkins

Shortly after releasing the vastly underrated "Adore," the Pumpkins attempted to mount a free, nationwide tour. Every city in the US said "no," citing security concerns. That is, except for Minneapolis Minnesota, which booked them into their Aquatennial festival. (Note: They've only had water in Minnesota for 100 years. Before that they ate ice cubes.) Cracker did a commendable job opening the show, and the Pumpkins, clearly showing appreciation for the city (which had also declared it "Smashing Pumpkins" day) played an excellent, and very long set. "Tear" is a fairly nondescript tune on "Adore." The instrumentals on the album are mostly a recording of a distorted orchestra.

But, if you take those orchestral notes and convert them into Guitar, you get a entirely new, and much better, song. This was probably the best show I've ever seen, and Tear was the highlight, to the point that the album version continues to disappoint.

Here's a version:

1. Add It Up, The Violent Femmes

Daaaaaaaaaaay after daaaaay,

I get angry, and I will say,

That the day, is in my sight,

When I'll take a bow, and say goodnight.

The Violent Femmes play as well as they can every night. This plucky little band from Milwaukee doesn't have a very high ceiling on talent, but they more than make up for it through sheer force of will. Add It Up is one of their many classics, and a tailor made concert tune. The almost entirely distinct first segment builds from innocent angst into creepy vulgarity. What follows is a melding of insane guitar solos and an almost story-like, multi-verse bridge. There's not really anything else like it in pop music, actually:

Oh my my my my my oh my mum
Have you kept your eye
Your eye on your son?
I know you've had problems
You're not the only one
When your sugar left, he left you on the run

Mo my my my my my mo my mum
Take a look now
Look what your boy has done
He's walking around like he's number one
You went downtown and got him a gun.

Don't shoot shoot shoot that thing at me
Don't shoot shoot shoot that thing at me
You know you got my sympathy
But don't shoot shoot shoot that thing at me
Don't shoot shoot shoot that thing at me
Don't shoot shoot shoot that thing at me
You know you got my sympathy
But don't shoot shoot shoot that thing at me

Broken down kitchen at the top of the stairs
Can I mix in with your affairs?
Share a smoke, Make a joke
Grasp and reach for a leg of hope
Words to memorize, words hypnotize
Words make my mouth exercise.
Words all fail the magic prize
Nothing I can say when I'm in your thighs

Oh my my my my my mo my mother
I would love to love you lover
City's restless
It's ready to pounce
Here in your bed from ounce to ounce
Sayin' oh my my my my my mo my mother
I would love to love you lover
The city's restless
It's ready to pounce
Here in your bed from ounce to ounce

I've given you a decision to make
Things to lose, things to take
Just as she's about ready to cut it up
She says
Wait a minute honey I'm gonna add it up

These aren't verses exactly. They're what lies between verses, and this builds and builds and builds, culminating in a musical climax of epic proportions.

If you have an opportunity to see The Violent Femmes, you should. They won't be around for ever...well, actually they might be around forever, but you should see them anyway. Even if you hate every minute of it (which you won't, they also have Blister in the Sun, and Kiss Off, and American Music), it will be worth it for Add It Up.


  • Wow, Violent Femmes at number 1? Really? I've seen the Femmes about 30 times and most have been pretty fun shows (the time they had a 12-year-old playing tuba with them at Summerfest was a terrible show though), but I'd never put any song from any of there shows in my top 8(why not ten?).

    My top 8 would go:
    8. Remy Zero, Fair

    I saw Remy Zero open for Pete Yorn in 2001 at The Quest in Minneapolis. This was pre-Smallville. Phantom Planet was the first act on the bill, pre-TheOC. It was actually a very kick-ass show in its entirety. But the best part was when we went to The Electric Fetus record store prior to the show and Remy Zero happened to be there signing copies of their latest and then they played a short set. Fair, which eventually made it onto the Garden State soundtrack, was the highlight.

    7. Wallflowers, Won't Get Fooled Again

    I'd heard bad things about the Wallflowers in concert but not very many descent bands came through Eau CLaire, WI while I was there. All the reveiws said Jacob Dylan was in uncharacteristically igh spirits. He was talkative and outgoing. It was altogether a great show. They ended with a solid rendition of this Who classic. They also covered Blur's "Song 2."

    6. Pink Houses, Hootie and the Blowfish (Yes, I'm serious)

    Hootie played at a free stage at summerfest in 1999 on the same night John Mellencamp played at Marcus. Ended with the cover and played it far better than I've heard from JCM.

    5. James Taylor, Sweet Baby James

    Sitting in the grass at the Marcus, interesting mindset, over three hours of the most mellow concert I've ever attended. Ended with Sweet Baby James.

    4. U2, Daydream Believer

    Camp Randall in 1996ish, on the Pop tour. With the Edge on vocals, they played this Monkey's hit. 100,000 fans joined in when the words started to light up on the jumbotron. It was fun. One of my first real concerts.

    3.Dave Matthews, Crush

    First time I heard this song at Alpine Valley in the summer of 1997 I think. It's still my favorite of his.

    2.Dan Wilson, Closing Time/Circles.

    I saw Semisonic front-man Wilson play a show with Mike Doughty of Soul Coughing fame. Whenever Doughty plays "Circles" he bridges it over into some other cover songs. What those songs are changes from show to show, but "Closing Time" is usually one of them. As Wilson wrapped up his set with his biggest hit, he carried it over into a great cover of "Circles." Doughty joined him on stage and sang the last verse.

    1.BoDeans, Only Love

    Playing a show at the Riverside in Milwaukee, Kurt and Sammy hushed the crowd and played this very underrated song completely accoustic, no amps or anything.

    By Blogger DannyNoonan, at 4:43 PM  

  • Only 8 deserved to make it.

    Ah, but you've seen them like 30 times. I just think that Add It Up is a great song.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 10:09 PM  

  • Those are some awesome concert moments, Paul. I agree with you on most of them, at least the ones that I was at. But Add It Up at #1? Also, I wish I had gone to that Travis show!

    Good ol' Bullwinkles. I lived just down the alley from it that one year, and I can't even count the number of times I ran into yucky shenanigans going on there. That skanky alley actually had a street name, the particularly unfitting "Hawthorne Court."

    Danny, I liked U2's "Daydream Believer," but I wouldn't rank it among top performances.

    We saw an awesome (and playful) Wallflowers show at Summerfest a few years ago, so I agree that Jacob Dylan can rock when he wants to.
    - Jodi

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:32 AM  

  • Jeez, no love for the Femmes from the Fam.

    But yes, I like that song that much, although no one individual performance sticks out in my head.

    I've seen good Wallflowers shows, but this was not one of them. It was at Harleyfest and they were not into it.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 10:20 AM  

  • as a lover of the hippie-bands, i'll also come to DMB's defense. they aren't great, but they definitely don't suck, and they certainly have their moments. (the crowds at their concerts however, are nearly unbearable) but for some reason, it's become "cool" to bash DMB, so people do it without every really considering whether the band is actually any good. i wouldn't pay to see them. but i'd see them free anytime.

    caught the violent femmes at moe.down last summer, and they were really, surprisingly fun to see. "add it up" is only their 5th best song or so in my opinion, but given that it's such a cool song, that speaks to the quality of their other material.

    By Blogger ahren, at 12:37 PM  

  • Nice list, Noonan boys. And I welcome the pro-Dave post...because I think I inspired it.

    I'm all for people liking bands that they like, and I'm all for folks enjoying what they enjoy. Seriously, if you like Kelly Clarkson, but you really like her, then I think you're great for doing so.

    But I personally think Dave's new material (post 1997, really) is awful pop trash, and he's flat-out wasting his band's talent. His band members are great. He's bizarrely overrated.

    But really I'm just trying to look cool, because I always care what some drug-addled fake neo-hippie thinks of what I think of DMB.

    That's my preview. I'll save the rest for your splendid defense.

    By Blogger Ace Cowboy, at 1:12 PM  

  • You did in fact inspire it, but I also will not defend any modern Dave. Blah, blah, blah.

    I think he's both overrated and underrated, sort of like Jake Plummer.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 2:32 PM  

  • I agree that anything post "Before the Crowded Streets" is at least a small step down. Probably a big step. It's still okay, but it never got me like the older stuff.

    Ace, I just realized that I'm sort of guilty of taking a band's fans into account on this very post. My #8 notes that I was seeing Remy Zero bfore their breakout hit became the theme song to a WB tv show. Like that made the song worse or something. I'm such a hypocrite bastard.

    By Blogger DannyNoonan, at 5:02 PM  

  • I see live music very, very rarely, but I've seen the Femmes and I agree with Paul completely.

    By Blogger MDS, at 7:25 PM  

  • I was also at that TMBG show at Bullwinkle's, a good long time ago.

    I can't find any actual reference from the band to this show, let alone any other person being there. When was it? And why doesn't anyone else know why?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:49 PM  

  • I believe it was 1998, but that's a guess. I'm not off by more than a year though.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 4:57 PM  

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