My Top Five Live Shows


Live music is a really fun thing that I don’t do anymore, because all the things that used to be fun about it (standing, being up late) don’t really appeal to me at my present age. If I’m at a concert at the age of 31, I had better be a super-fan of the band to the extent that my pure enjoyment of their music will completely trump all other less-than-ideal aspects of the experience. That being said, the vast majority of my memorable concert experiences took place between 2005-2015, which perfectly coincided with the decade of my 20’s. That’s probably not unusual. Also, the nature of subjective memory being what it is, certain concerts probably seem better in retrospect than they actually were because of variables like who you were with, what the weather was like, etc. That’s why this list is “My Top Shows” and not “The Top Shows.” And here they are, complete with as many details about them as I can remember. I’ll also include a live video of the band in question, which may or may not be from the actual show that I am describing, as well as my choice for best song of the night.

5. Violent Femmes – 2004 (Promowest Pavillion, Columbus, OH)

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I didn’t know what to expect when I saw this group live for the first time. Sure, I had always been a fan, but that was completely on the strength of their first record. Now it was 20 years later, and the group hadn’t exactly been tearing up the charts lately. Imagine my surprise when the group played a high-energy set with a high level of audience interaction. The group sounded terrific, as though none of the years had passed. Their simplistic yet caustic anthems of teen angst sounded just as sharp as they must have in the mid-80s. I liked the show so much that I saw them again when they came back the next year.

Highlight: Either “Out of the Windows” or the above “Prove My Love.”

4. Phish 2003 (Klipsch Music Center, Noblesville, IN)

The “Klipsch Music Center,” previously the “Verizon Wireless Music Center,” used to be called “Deer Creek Music Center” before that, and it was one of the more ideal venues to see a jam-band like Phish. Corporate renaming aside, Deer Creek (as will always call it) remains a great arena. It’s one of those outdoor venues where the parking lot is basically a little capitalist microcosm of the outside world. The Phish fan can buy anything from hemp necklaces to edibles in the parking lot. I opted for the mysterious granola bar and the warm Rolling Rock, ended up separated from the folks I came in with, and made some really great friends who I have never seen since. Sounds like a Phish show to me.

Highlight: “Cavern.”

3. Ween 2008 (Newport Music Hall, Columbus, OH)

This was my third and final Ween show (so far), but it was exciting for two reasons: First, my brother was in town and it was his first Ween show. I completely credit myself for getting him into this weird and wonderful band, so I felt like a proud mentor. Second, they finally played “Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down),” which pretty much reaffirmed my believe in a higher power. Well, not quite, but who’s counting? The band was on point, and delighted the audience with a cover of Motorhead’s “The Ace of Spades” as well.

Highlight: “Spinal Meningitis,” “Bananas and Blow.”

2. Neutral Milk Hotel 2014 (Riviera Theatre, Chicago, IL)

File this one under “Acts I Never Thought I’d See.” Bandleader Jeff Mangum kind of went a bit nuts for a while following the 1997 release of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and I wasn’t so sure I’d ever get to see these songs live. When, against all odds, the group started touring again in 2014, I was sure I’d never get to go because the tickets were likely to be prohibitively expensive. Enter my resourceful girlfriend, who found some from an online scalper and presented them to me as a birthday present (The concert was on my birthday as well). We went, expecting distanced versions of some of our favorite song. What we got was a raw, emotional experience that brought both of us near tears. The auditorium was stocked with long-time, hardcore fans who knew every word, and I was fortunate enough to be one of them. A truly magical evening.

Highlight:  “Oh Comely” is unmatched. It might be the greatest single live performance I have ever seen.

1. The Flaming Lips 2003 (Newport Music Hall, Columbus, OH)

This was my first big concert the summer before college, so to be partaking in the dangerous, subversive actions of a Flaming Lips show in the very town I was about to become a citizen of come fall was quite important. The group was touring behind Yoshimi, but they played most of The Soft Bulletin, which was really what I came to see. Confetti, fake blood, batshit multimedia performances and two joints later, I was having the experience that would set the bar pretty high vis a vis adulthood. The Flaming Lips don’t just play music. They paint a room with it. One of the first real concerts I have ever seen, and still remains the very best.

Highlight: “Race for the Prize,” “The Gash.”

Share your experiences below!

Photo credit (Phish) – By Dan Shinneman [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons; Flaming Lips concert – By Usuario Mrdarrow [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

One comment to “My Top Five Live Shows”
  1. I also am glad I got to see Neutral Milk Hotel, what a presence. I’ve seen Radiohead 3 times and they have been incredible.

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