By Christian Lipski
I’ve been to a few live shows in my life, starting with the Beach Boys in 1983, and there’s nothing like seeing your favorite band doing what they love and giving them that immediate feedback. Recently I was asked what my ten favorite concerts were, and surprisingly that’s not something I’d ever done. It made me look back at all the great live moments I’ve experienced, and that was worth the trip alone. Here’s what I came back with, in no particular order.
1. Flaming Lips: Maritime Hall; San Francisco, CA; 2000
I went with my brother, who had turned me on to their current album The Soft Bulletin. The CD, with its epic imagery and vulnerable vocals, sank right into my brain, and I was able to see the band tour for it. The venue was small and packed with love. I think the stage was only about three feet high, so it felt like Wayne Coyne was putting on a show in our living room. He packed so many people onto that stage, and so much was going on during the show, I thought that I’d explode from the sensation. Coyne was a consummate showman, and really seemed to care about everything he was doing, whether bleeding from the head or singing through a boxing nun puppet. It all made me think about how performers might use neurological communication to have a more direct effect on their listeners’ brains, because that’s what the show felt like to me.
2. David Bowie: Universal Amphitheater; Los Angeles, CA; 1997
Bowie is my favorite performer, so my wife Deborah and I decided to do it up right and get the best tickets from a ticket agency. They were expensive, but the tickets were for the general-admission pit, which I’d say holds maybe a hundred people. We showed up early and ended up one person away from the stage. Bowie was seriously RIGHT THERE, and I’ve never been that close to a stage at his shows, so it was incredible to watch. I could see details down to the nail polish on his toenails, and the rest of the band were just as visually interesting. At one point, Bowie looked right at me, which sounds goofy to write, but for a performer I’ve really only seen on a huge video screen or from a great distance, it was an affecting moment. It was amazing to be so close to someone who’s had a profound influence on me.
3. Muse: The Mayan; Los Angeles, CA; 2005
After seeing Muse at Coachella, Deborah and I got free tickets for attending a Tower in-store appearance, which blew my mind. Free tickets to a show just for showing up to get their latest CD (which I would have done anyway) and also getting autographs and pictures. The Mayan is a small theater, but has a balcony, which means that the balcony leans out nearly halfway to the stage. Not wanting to be amidst the crush of people on the floor, we went upstairs just to find a place to sit, and realized that the balcony was practically empty. We stood next to the soundboard at the center of the front row and had a perfect view of the show, which was amazing. We’d heard the music and seen an outdoor performance in Indio, but this one was in your face. Everything was loud and epic, and this remains the best Muse show for me.
4. Brian Wilson: Roxy Theater; Los Angeles CA; 2000
Brian was performing live for the first time in forever. Like FOREVER. He had withdrawn from public life, but after the Capitol Beach Boys box set and other releases, Brian seemed to have gotten the confidence to appear in public on a tour. We had seen him in a mid-sized theater in San Francisco, but he was going to do a pair of shows at the Roxy, a little club on the Sunset Strip. The place was so intimate, I couldn’t believe that he was really there. This was later in the tour, so he was much more at ease, especially in a smaller setting. There were a number of celebrities there, and they had to stand up with the rest of us, which we all did happily. The best moment came at the very end, when Brian played and sang “Love and Mercy” on his own, making every eye a bit misty.
5. U2: Oakland Coliseum; Oakland, CA; 1992
This was the Outside leg of the ZooTV tour. I’d gone to see U2 on the previous Inside leg, but this was an even bigger spectacle. I went with my band at the time, all huge U2 fans, and as we waited outside the parking lot to enter, we whiled away the time with the guitars we’d brought, entertaining the people around us (I hope). The Sugarcubes opened, and they were great, despite my not knowing many of their songs. In between the two bands, the audience was encouraged to visit the “confessional” booths and record a message, so I went in and talked off the top of my head. When U2 came on, it was like all the lights of a major city flaring up at once. There were enormous scaffolds and video screens and cars hung from the rafters, all providing the information overload which was the theme of the tour. And imagine my surprise when my confession was one of the ones broadcast during the show.
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