I have been to hundreds of concerts in my lifetime. I have seen bands that nobody has heard of in rooms not much bigger than some luxury garages, and I have seen some of the most well-known bands in the world in stadiums. With each concert comes a different experience. There are certain moments that you will never forget, songs that when experienced in person transformed how you forever want to listen to and experience them, and venues that are the perfect fit for those artists.
However, as I reflect on the many concerts I have taken in, I am thinking about what was the “coolest” show I have ever seen. For me, it has to be a concert in a small intimate venue. The artist or band had to be relatively unknown at the time or on the cusp of their major breakthrough. And the final qualifier, the crowd had to be fully engulfed in what was taking place on stage, which I don’t know will ever happen in the world of cell phones and recording devices today. As I’ve reflected on this, I’ve narrowed it down to two shows that meet my criteria, but one stands out just a little bit more than the other.
Before I get into the those two shows, let me share some of the concerts I considered, but disqualified. October 10, 2001 might have been the best concert I’ve ever seen. It was a month since the devastating attacks of 9/11, and everyone was still uncertain about going out to large events in public. U2 was arguably the most populart band in the world, and they were playing in a venue that held less than 10,000 people. I was 24 years old and the pregame was fantastic. I expected U2 to come out and be fantastic and sentimental about the recent events that changed the world, and they were. For anyone that asks, I always tell them that was the best concert I ever saw, but it wasn’t the coolest. https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/u2/2001/joyce-center-south-bend-in-6bd6fee2.html If you didn’t get chills and tears when they played “One” you simply weren’t human. I cannot imagine a concert ever topping that experience, but it was what I went in expecting.
There were other great bands I saw during or relatively close to their peak at large venues that put on good shows, but that’s what everyone expected to see. It’s why they played in large venues and plowed through their hits. Metallica in the summer of 2000, Foo Fighters with the Red Hot Chili Peppers that fall, and Oasis in 2002 were great shows. Tom Petty playing all of his hits, Cake doing a three hour show, and a nearly four hour show from Bruce Springsteen were all crowd favorites that delivered everything you could want as a concert goer.
Yet, for me I always relish the shows where you’re there with a few hundred other die-hard fans. The shows where you’re not sure what songs the band is going to play because they never don’t have a laundry list of hits that they’re expected to play at every show. It’s the uncertainty and anticipation of what songs they might play that put you on edge throughout, and then fill you with elation when not many other people can sing along like you. It’s also a rush to go to a concert when a band only has one album to play, but everyone is there because of how impactful that album was for them. The shows where the band itself is a bit of a mystery are especially exciting. Twenty years ago, the Internet wasn’t as easily accessible as it is now, and while people had cell phones, they were only carried for the purpose of calling people. They weren’t a constant distraction during shows, so people truly locked in on the experience and the music. This is what made a show really cool. When the entire energy of the room was focused on the band, and everyone in that room came in thinking that this might be the last time they got to see a band of this caliber in a venue this small because their music had just blown up or was on the verge of becoming known by everyone.
My choice 1b of coolest shows I ever went to was on July 30, 2005 at the Congress Theater in Chicago. I had wanted to see the Kings of Leon for a couple of years, but I couldn’t make it work. They had released their second record and had gotten some decent publicity, but the music they made didn’t have commericial appeal. It was just good-ole dirty rock n’ roll. They went from playing rooms in Chicago the year before that fit 350 people to the 3500 capacity theater. Well, they did not let the big room change their energy. I had never heard of the opening band, The Secret Machines, but they were so loud and amazing that I thought parts of the walls might come off the old building. It’s pretty rare that the opening act gets the sound board operator and main act to allow them to sound so good, but they blew the lid off the place. I remember telling my friend I went with that I didn’t think the Kings of Leon could top their act, but they did. For 20 songs in a little less than 90 minutes, they just flat our shredded, and the whole room shook. I honestly thought that was the pinnacle for Kings of Leon, but their next album in 2008 took them to pop levels of stardom, which is what made that summer night in 2005 so special, and one of the coolest shows I’ve ever been too. I felt like I got in on the secret just before the word got out. I honestly thougt that the Secret Machines would become more commericially know than the Kings of Leon, but as you obviously know, I was wrong. https://www.concertarchives.org/concerts/kings-of-leon-secret-machines-at-the-rave-eagles-club#setlist-section
However, the coolest show I got to see in my life was the summer before this at the Hosue of Blues in Chicago. It was on July 6, 2004, and it featured a band that had been and was blowing up on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Their music was being used to sell beer and Apple products, and they were just growing in popularity. They had played small venues the year before in Chicago, but now I could have gotten three times what I paid for my tickets on the secondary market. A couple months earlier in Chicago they were an opening act, but now they were the headliner. As soon as this show was added and they were the headliner, I pounced on the tickets and the anticipation just kept building, and so did their audience. The line to get in for the general assembly show that night was stretched outside and around the corner to get in, and the buzz was palpable. Everyone was dying to see, JET.
Yes, the coolest show I’ve ever seen in my life was JET in 2004. This was a band that was exploding. They only had one album at the time, and they were being considered as the next AC/DC. A typical show in Chicago has a later arriving crowd that is often more engaged in socializing that what is taking place on stage; however, this night the place was packed before the opening bands took the stage. You didn’t want to leave your spot because getting back would be a nightmare. The opening bands came and went without moving the needle in any way, so the anticipation for JET had now built even more than when we were standing outside.
I don’t remember much about the actual concert, except that is was loud, fast, and the crowd energy was unmatched. If you haven’t been to the House of Blues in Chicago, the concert area is actually not on the ground level. Therefore, when the place gets jammed and the crowd gets going, you can feeling the floor moving up and down with everyone. I remember thinking at one point that the floor was going collapse. The entire crowd was jumping up and down.
When they started playing the opening riff to “Cold Hard Bitch” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZjziFmy-o0 I remember this swell of people just surging towards the stage. It was the most insane concert moment of my life. I was in my prime at 27, and this band seemed destined to take over the world. They were getting booked onto all of the late-night talk shows and headlining shows all over the U.S. in major markets. They had songs that had unforgettable guitar riffs to go along with ballads that were hitting the charts. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i77QVCt0D4U That night it felt like I had seen a band that wasn’t going to be playing small venues much longer. After the show, I remember feeling such a rush of adrenaline that we didn’t want to leave the city. Even though I’ll always consider the U2 concert in 2001 the best I’ve ever seen, for many reasons and circumstances, that JET concert was the coolest show I had ever been a part of.
JET went on to release a couple more albums that got solid radio play, but for one reason or another they never seemed to be engaged in capturing the mega-rock status in the United States. In fact, they only ended up playing about 225 more shows together after that night, and a very significant number of those shows were not even in the United States. Maybe that’s what made that night even more special. JET didn’t go on to become one of the most well-known and praised bands in the world. They aren’t readily available for others to see, unless you happen to catch a random show in their native Australia. What makes it cool is that to this day everybody knows the riffs for “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” and “Cold Hard Bitch”. They are still staples and sporting events and large gatherings, but not many people can say they saw them performed live, when those songs were constantly being played on the radio everywhere. I did, and as a 46 year old man that is disenfranchised with new music, I cannot imagine ever seeing a ‘cooler’ show that one.
2 thoughts on “What Was the “Coolest” Show You Have Ever Seen?”
Chicago (Transit Authority) at IU in 1969.
The Buckinghams – ND maybe 1967-68?
Both just starting out.
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How amazing! Lindsey Buckingham was just supposed to be in Elkhart recently but had to cancel.