21st Century Breakdown: Greg M. Schwartz’s Top 10 Concerts of the 2000s

Yesterday I listed my ten favorite albums of the decade. (To view that list, click here.) As promised, in conjunction with our End of Decade series, here are my top ten concerts of the decade, again in chronological order.

Galactic, 6/10/00 @ The Warfield, San Francisco, CA
The New Orleans funk masters made the Bay Area their second home this decade, with one stellar show after another. This was the night they unofficially evolved from a good funk group to an amazing big league jam band. The evening concluded the band’s spring tour and they paid extra to extend the show past the normal venue closing time. This enabled a memorable three-set affair whose final set didn’t start until after 2 AM. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band joined the band for that entire third set of acid jazz ecstasy. There’s nothing quite like seeing a band on a night when they know from the start that they’re going to drop “the bomb,” which Galactic clearly did since the event poster was a picture of an old school-style sphere bomb with fuse.

The String Cheese Incident, 8/7/01 @ Mt. Shasta Ski Park – Mt. Shasta, CA
The jam rock stalwarts often work with Peak Experience Productions to put on shows that transcend the typical concert experience. This time they went to an actual peak for two shows – Mt. Shasta is known as one of the Earth’s true natural wonders and is a genuine Earth power spot. (??? – Ed.) The mountain loomed behind the crowd of about 3,000 as the band delivered a monumental performance on this second night, topping a brilliant first night and matching the majesty of the wondrous setting. The huge version of the band’s classic “Rivertrance” is arguably the best ever performed. Thematic selections like “Windy Mountain” and “High on a Mountain Top” only enhanced the vibe further, and the “Midnight Moonlight” encore was perfect. It’s only a shame there aren’t more shows at this magical location. Stream or download free here:

http://www.archive.org/details/sci2001-08-07.shnf

The Other Ones, 8/04/02 @ Alpine Valley Ampitheater – Troy, WI
The four surviving members of the Grateful Dead reunited for the first time since 1998 with a pair of shows before 40,000+ at Alpine Valley in a weekend dubbed “Terrapin Station – a Grateful Dead Family Reunion.” Each of the members’ own bands delivered a set during the weekend, followed by a pair of two-set shows from the Other Ones. The first night was great fun, if a bit uneven. The second night was pure bliss, with a set list featuring only classic tunes and great chemistry from the band. Jimmy Herring ripped on lead guitar and the band gelled for what turned out to be a great 2002 tour, as bassist Phil Lesh was able to influence his mates to do things his way. This meant adventurous playing, bringing back the old songs that hadn’t been played in years and pushing the envelope like the band did back in the day. Stream or download free here:

http://www.archive.org/details/too2002-08-04.schoeps-mk4.unknown.11116.shnf

Phil Lesh & Friends, 10/30/05 @ The Joint, Las Vegas, NV
Part of the Vegoose at Night Concert Series (late night shows at venues on the Vegas Strip following daytime festival performances at the Sam Boyd Silver Bowl), the Grateful Dead bassist and his band threw down a huge three-set performance that started around midnight and lasted until the wee hours of the morning. The bass master has been at the height of his powers in his 60s, aging like a fine wine. This show followed a superb stadium set the day before where Warren Haynes sat in. “Don’t these guys ever fucking quit?” a bartender asked me during the third set that featured a monster “Unbroken Chain” and a bust-out cover of the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” with Joan Osborne on vocals. Osborne, who toured with the Dead in 2003, was a last-minute replacement for Ryan Adams, and played the role of alchemist – everything she touched turned to gold, including Adams songs like “Hardest Part” and “Let It Ride.” Stream or download for free here:

http://www.archive.org/details/paf2005-10-30.dpa4023.31513.flac16

Pearl Jam, 5/20/06 @ Quicken Loans Arena– Cleveland, OH
I’d always seen Pearl Jam in California, but being back home in Ohio going to grad school gave me the chance to catch them in my hometown for the first time, and did they ever deliver. The new tunes kicked ass. They threw down great rarities like “Faithful,” “Thumbing My Way” and “Spin the Black Circle.” They included plenty of fan-fave classics too. The crowd was absolutely amped and grew more so when Eddie Vedder mentioned that the band’s next stop would be in Detroit (the Cavaliers had just dropped a heartbreaking playoff game six to the Pistons at the Q the previous night and were headed north for an ill-fated game seven the next day.) The crowd started chanting “Pistons suck,” and got Vedder to say it once too. Before “Unemployable,” Vedder had commented on the dour economy in Ohio and invited the crowd to move to Seattle, where they would “be not only unemployed but also wet… but you’ll be out drinking with us.” Songs like “Alive”, “Why Go” and “Fuckin Up” all raged with peak intensity. It was Pearl Jam at their best.

The Black Crowes, 8/1/06 @ Lifestyles Community Pavilion, Columbus, OH
With no opening band on this particular night, it was an “evening with” show where the band took the opportunity to open with a stellar acoustic set and follow it with a superb electric set. Thank goodness I passed on the Cleveland show at the lame Tower City Ampitheater with two opening bands to see this one instead. The word is getting out that this gem of a venue is one of the Midwest’s best. With great sound and not a bad view in the place, it’s become a venue not to miss when one of your favorite bands is in the house. The second set opened with an electrifying cover of Eric Clapton’s “Got to Get Better in a Little While,” featured 18 minutes of rock grandeur with “Thorn in My Pride” and concluded with a “Sugaree” encore in tribute to Jerry Garcia’s birthday. Buy it here:

http://www.liveblackcrowes.com/live-music/0,2295/The-Black-Crowes-mp3-flac-download-8-1-2006-LC-Pavilion-Columbus-OH.html

Smashing Pumpkins, 7/30/07 @ The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA
The Pumpkins re-opened the Fillmore in 1994, so seeing the band reunite to deliver a 12-show residency at what some have dubbed “the greatest venue in the known universe” was an unexpected and special treat. In egalitarian fashion, tickets for the shows were just $25. Two of the four original members had been replaced, but with Billy Corgan on guitar and Jimmy Chamberlin on drums, this epic three hour-plus show featuring a mix of classics and stellar new material was grunge bliss at its finest. New songs like “Doomsday Clock,” “United States” and “That’s the Way (My Love Is)” rocked with a live intensity that was at an entirely higher level above the studio versions. Corgan stated that this was a new band, but deep rocking on “Drown,” “Hummer” and “Cherub Rock” turned back the clock in the best way. Monster jams on “Heavy Metal Machine” and the 36-minute “Gossamer” that ended the show threatened to blow the roof off. Check out the If All Goes Wrong DVD for some flavor from this residency. Stream or download the show free here:

http://www.archive.org/details/tsp2007-07-30.st11.flac16

Sound Tribe Sector 9, 3/1/09 @ The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA
STS9 were the closest thing to a house band for the venerable Fillmore in the first half of the decade, before outgrowing the venue and moving on to larger ones. But they returned this year for a four-night run that concluded with a scintillating throwback performance for the ages. The positive energy inside the building on this Sunday night was something special, yet another testament to the Fillmore’s timeless vibe. The ever-evolving band left their high-tech toys on the shelf for a night and featured their older material in a show that won such raves from the fan base that the band changed their policy on releasing the soundboards. The group had barred the normally-allowed audience taping for the run, ostensibly to use the shows for a new live album or DVD. But after this show, a fever pitch outcry from the fans saw the band reverse course within a week and make the soundboard recordings immediately available. The “Baraka” opener set the tone, “Tap In & We’ll Meet in Our Dreams” was groovy psychedelic bliss, while the “Hubble” encore was simply transcendent. Stream it for free or purchase downloads here:

http://sts9.com/?p=578

Jefferson Starship, 7/3/09 @ Pearson Auditorium, The Roswell UFO Festival, Roswell, NM
With amazing new vocalist Cathy Richardson in tow since 2008, Jefferson Airplane founder Paul Kantner has had this modern version of the band riding a new wave of artistic power. The band has sadly flown under the mainstream radar and had plans to capture this unique performance on DVD for mass consumption. But like a mind-blowing UFO sighting that doesn’t show up on video, the HD video feed crashed and left this spectacular show as just a memory. Kantner brought in former vocalist Darby Gould along with a slew of other special guests like bassist Pete Sears, guitarist Barry Sless and former Grateful Dead keyboardist Tom Constanten for a special performance that featured a mostly acoustic first set and a sci-fi themed, mostly electric second set. The four-part harmonies between Richardson, Gould, Kantner and David Freiberg on 1970’s “Have You Seen the Saucers” were truly out of this world, as were performances of Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” the Dead’s “Dark Star” and Airplane classics like “Crown of Creation,” “Wooden Ships,” “Somebody to Love” and an electrifying “Volunteers” encore.

Phish, 10/31/09 @ Festival 8, Indio, CA
For their first Halloween show since 1998, the band combined two of their greatest traditions for the first time to create an unprecedented event – a Halloween performanc featuring an instant classic musical costume set, joined with one of their legendary multi-day festival events. The show of the year went down at the Coachella Festival site in Southern California, a gorgeous setting for Halloween fun, especially with the site tricked out with all kinds of psychedelic ambience. The three-set Halloween show featured a complete performance of the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street, with the band joined by Sharon Jones and a horn section for a dazzling performance that took the crowd to “cloud 8” (it was the band’s eighth festival event.) “Torn and Frayed” was jammed to heights the Stones never dreamed, “All Down the Line” conjured a joyous dance party into gear and “Shine a Light” took on a truly transcendent flavor I’d never gleamed from the album. Buy it here:

http://livephish.com/live-music/0,504/Phish-mp3-flac-download-10-31-2009-Festival-8-Indio-CA.html

  

21st Century Breakdown: Greg M. Schwartz’s Top 10 Albums of the 2000s

It’s been a decade of strange contradiction for the music industry. The historic decline of sales might suggest to some that rock ‘n’ roll is waning – the demise of Tower Records could even be viewed as a sign of an impending global apocalypse. But there’s a somewhat hidden story of the 2000s, which is that it’s been a fabulous decade for live music. While the RIAA cried that the sky was falling, a new wave of improvisational rock bands made a steady living by touring the country with exciting live shows that differed every night. These bands won die-hard core followings of music fans in search of peak experiences not offered by one-hit wonders and paint-by-numbers performers. Following a path blazed by the Grateful Dead and then Phish, a whole new movement blossomed into a thriving scene that made the 2000s the decade of the jam band.

Phish kicked the new decade/century/millennium off in maximum style by throwing down the most epic performance in rock history with their 12/31/99 New Year’s Eve show at the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in the Everglades before 80,000 revelers (the largest ticketed millennium party on the planet.) After having played a three-set show on December 30 and an afternoon set on the 31st, the band returned to the stage at midnight and played until past the dawn, delivering a monumental seven-hour plus set with no breaks. Phish would go on to have their ups and downs in the decade (a hiatus in 2001-02, a stunning “permanent” breakup in 2004, a triumphant return in 2009), but the jam band scene grew to the point where it could flourish without an arena-level entity like Phish to lead the way. There are a slew of great bands touring clubs, auditoriums and theaters year-round now, keeping alive a counterculture music scene birthed in the ’60s but evolving in fresh, exciting ways in the 21st century. These bands rarely make classic albums, because the songs don’t fully evolve until they’re worked out on the road. But for many fans, the live experience delivered by these bands far surpasses anything that passes for “popular” music.

The growth of the jam rock scene also led to the rebirth of the festival movement. The inaugural Bonnaroo Festival in 2002 was built on the template of the big Phish festivals – lots of custom psychedelic scenery, fan-friendly event staff, reasonably priced amenities and remote location to better establish the alternate reality of counterculture utopia. The first Bonnaroo was a jam band Woodstock, featuring nearly all of the top acts from the scene. Bonnaroo kept growing and branched out to include more genres, only to see the Rothbury Festival created in 2008 to rekindle that jam-centric vibe. Lollapalooza was also reborn as a weekend festival, while Austin City Limits flourished and the similarly-scoped Outside Lands Festival was launched in San Francisco. A slew of smaller regional festivals dot the music calendar. The bottom line is that there are more opportunities than ever to see great live music here in the 21st century.

Another secret of the jam band success is that all of of these groups encourage audience recordings and many allow them to be freely available for downloading at Archive.org, a site that is easily the greatest gift the music gods could have bestowed on Earth at this juncture. It’s an absolute treasure trove. And conjunction with our End of Decade series, here are my top ten albums of the decade. Stay tuned for my top ten concerts I had the good fortune to witness this past decade, with links to hear the shows where available.

Top Albums of the 2000s (in chronological order)
Michael Franti & Spearhead: Stay Human (2001)
Franti and crew blew everyone away at the 6/15/01 CD release party at the Fillmore in San Francisco with a mix of socially conscious hip-hop, funk, soul and rock that I’d never heard blended together in such a strong way before. This powerful concept album features lamentations for all that’s wrong with the world mixed with a cathartic and uplifting vibe about taking the power back. Woody Harrelson guests as a right-wing governor to serve as a foil to Franti’s pirate radio station. “Oh My God” and “Rock the Nation” were the post-9/11 songs of the year, presciently released in the summer.

The String Cheese Incident: Outside Inside (2001)
This is one of the rare jam band albums (Widespread Panic’s Til the Medicine Takes from 1999 is another) where the band’s collection of songwriting matches their instrumental prowess. SCI’s third studio album saw them shifting from a bluegrass-based sound to more of a rock flavor, yet without abandoning their roots. A socially conscious tone that most larger bands eschew also helped make SCI the unique entity they became. “Black and White” is a funky take on hidden history, while “Rollover” warns of impending Earth changes. “Close Your Eyes” and “Sing a New Song” demonstrate the band’s melodic rock talents and instrumental chemistry, as does the hard rocking title track. Nearly all 11 songs became live fan favorites, the true mark of a classic album.

Incubus: Morning View (2001)
Alternative rock didn’t all collapse into rap metal at the turn of the century. Incubus had blown up with 1999’s Make Yourself and followed it up with this gem of an album that mixes hard rock with heartfelt vocals, melodic hooks, and some turntable flavor. Vocalist Brandon Boyd scored the only rock radio hit of the decade that mentioned UFOs with “Wish You Were Here,” while the band also demonstrated their versatility with feel-good funk on “Are You In?” and ambient psychedelia on “Aqueous Transmission.” Guitarist Mike Einzeiger is a master of mixing hard rock crunch with psychedelic flair on tunes like “Nice to Know You,” “Circles” and “Warning,” showing that you can be a metal head and a Phish-head too.

Green Day: American Idiot (2004)
The Bay Area trio evolved from mere pop-punkers into one of the most ambitious rock bands on the planet with this concept album that got back to what punk is really supposed to be about – taking issue with authority and commenting on society’s ills. “American Idiot” was not only the anthem of the year, it summed up the Bush regime’s entire first term. Billy Joe Armstrong’s songwriting brought in a majestic Queen flavor, while still retaining punk rock roots for one of the top audience crossover albums of all time. It’s too bad more bands don’t have the guts to show such ambition. The follow-up, 2009’s 21st Century Breakdown, is also a most worthy successor that could have made this list as well.

Beastie Boys: To the 5 Boroughs (2004)
There’s been little in hip-hop this decade that combines the Beasties’ knack for mixing funky grooves with insightful social commentary. Tunes like “Right Right Now Now,” “All Lifestyles” and “We Got The” deliver an uplifting vibe about bringing the planet together, with slamming beats and psychedelic tricks. The lyrical flavor is a sharp and welcome contrast to the petty rivalries and superficial obsessions that infect hip-hop like a cancer. But tracks like “3 The Hard Way,” “Triple Trouble” and “Hey Fuck You” still flat-out jam with the party vibe that made the Beasties famous, all of which makes this album a mainline into the cultural zeitgeist of the decade. The Beasties know that we want to party and save the planet too, and they dare to dream it possible to do both.

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals: Cold Roses (2005)
Adams put out a string of great albums throughout the decade, arguably making a case as songwriter of the decade. Rolling Stone may favor 2000’s Heartbreaker and 2001’s Gold, but this double-album opus is Adams’ true masterpiece. It caught Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh’s ear to such a degree that he not only invited Adams to collaborate, but brought in a number of Adams’ tunes into his own repertoire after Adams left the fold. Adams has an amazing knack for tapping into universal emotions that correspond to all levels of love and loss. The depth and variety of emotion he explores on this album is a supreme achievement. “Mockingbirdsing” might be the most heartfelt song of the decade, with “Magnolia Mountain,” “Easy Plateau,” “Let it Ride” and “If I Am a Stranger” close behind.

Neil Young: Living with War (2006)
It’s kind of a shame that a younger band didn’t put out this album, but thank the music gods that Neil was up to the task of putting out “Let’s Impeach the President.” Pearl Jam had taken a disturbing amount of flack for “Bush Leaguer” in 2003, so maybe younger bands were afraid to speak out. But with the Bush regime plunging the planet into utter chaos and ruin, it was imperative that rock ‘n’ roll have a response. Young recorded this album in a matter of days, and it’s utterly brilliant in its urgency and social commentary, all of which takes on renewed relevance here at the end of the decade with Obama escalating the Afghanistan war. This album rocks like a Crazy Horse classic, filled with catchy melodies, grungy guitars, a choir of harmonies and brilliant lyrics. It’s a shame on America that it didn’t sell better.

Pearl Jam: Pearl Jam (2006)
Pearl Jam has always been a force to be reckoned with in the live arena, but they started the decade off with a couple of lackluster albums with 2000’s Binaural and 2002’s Riot Act. So it was most inspiring to hear them come back with an album that rekindled the band’s original fire with more up-tempo energy and some instant classic tunes. “World Wide Suicide” was not only one of the most prominent songs of the year, it was an anthem for the entire decade, taking the powers that be to task for their reckless ways that endanger all humanity, yet doing so in the context of one of the catchiest songs the band has ever written. “Severed Hand” is one of the most electrifying guitar workouts the band has ever laid down, and that immediacy bleeds over into other hot tunes like “Life Wasted,” “Big Wave” and the grandeur of “Inside Job.” Eddie Vedder’s lyrics are consistently strong throughout, with the birth of his daughter stoking his justifiable anger at the state of the planet.

Radiohead: In Rainbows (2007)
I didn’t have this album as best of the year in 2007, but it really grew on me after witnessing the band’s awesome set at San Francisco’s Outside Lands Festival in 2008. Trendy consensus ranks 2000’s Kid A as the band’s best album of the decade, but for my money, there’s only one song on there (“National Anthem”) that rocks like “Bodysnatchers,” “Weird Fish/Arpeggi” and “Jigsaw Falling into Place,” three songs as good as anything the band has ever produced. There’s a power at work here that only continued to build the band’s aura as a cultural force to be reckoned with. This was augmented by the band’s bold and innovative decision to release the album online with only a digital tip jar to collect donations. This made In Rainbows more than just another big rock album, it made it a true cultural touchstone.

The Black Crowes: Before the Frost… Until the Freeze (2009)
After putting out a merely decent comeback album with a handful of great moments on 2008’s Warpaint, the Black Crowes dug deep into the well for this magnificent double album that re-stakes their claim as one of the best rock ‘n’ roll bands of their generation. Recorded live at Levon Helm’s home studio in Woodstock, NY, there’s an immediacy missing from albums of most bands that like to jam like the Crowes do. Chris Robinson is at his soulful best on bluesy southern rockers like “Been a Long Time (Waiting on Love),” “A Train Makes a Lonely Sound” and “Houston Don’t Forget About Me,” as well as deep ballads like “Appaloosa” and “Last Place that Love Lives.” Guitarist Rich Robinson leads the band in a dazzling array of musical depth and maturity that runs a gamut of stylistic references, with lyrics from Chris that clearly come from deep in the heart. The Freeze disc features a collection of acoustic-oriented winners that are tasty icing on the cake. This is the kind of rare mid-career album that enables a band to really expand their repertoire with quality material.

  

Related Posts