I have been a concertgoer since the early 70s, so I have a huge pool to draw from when compiling a list of the most rocking, jam filled and important shows I have ever witnessed. I wish I had saved all the t-shirts I bought from these shows in lieu of the current demand for retro shirts. Despite this, I would not trade my memories of seeing my rock heroes for anything in the world… well except a Yankees box seat. I might revisit this list someday and alter some picks, but these are my selections on this June afternoon.
1- Led Zeppelin at MSG- February 12, 1975
I will never forget the snowstorm that fell on New York the day of the concert and how ecstatic I was that I was going to see the mighty Zeppelin for the first time that night. My friends and I hid cans of Tequila Sunrise in our over-sized down jackets and smuggled them into the show.
The show began with the John Bonham’s drum intro of” Rock and Roll” and the band was in top form throughout. “Physical Graffiti” was the new release at the time, so some of its tracks (“Sick Again,” “In my Time of Dying and Trampled Underfoot”) were featured that night. Jimmy Page’s guitar playing was so impressive that, weeks after the show, I pestered my mother to buy me a Les Paul guitar ( Page’s main guitar) that I still own to this day. John Bonham’s “Moby Dick” solo showed why he was the most powerful and innovative drummers in rock history. Robert Plant’s vocals were banshee-like, while John Paul Jones’ steady bass playing and keyboard artistry complemented Page’s and Jones’ virtuosity They closed the show with “Whole Lotta Love, “Black Dog” and Heartbreaker.”After close to three glorious hours, we left the Garden on such a high( not from the alcohol) that sleep wasn’t an option that night.
Who knew that this would be my only chance to see these rock icons as a unit, though I saw Page in 1988 on his “Outrider “ tour and Plant on his “Now and Zen” series of shows.
2- Queen at Avery Fisher Hall 1975- Lincoln Center
Freddie Mercury in his glam heyday with Brian May’s one of a kind guitar sound in a small venue. They closed with a version of Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” and did a late show that night. I was sitting next to a woman who had Queen playing cards pasted all over her body. What else can I say.
3- Elton John at MSG 1973
My first concert and John’s career zenith. His “Goodbye Yellowbrick Road “masterpiece had just been released and Davey Johnstone( guitar), Dee Murray (bass) and Nigel Olsson (drums), along with John’s Jerry Lee Lewis inspired piano pounding, proved that they were one of the best bands ever.
4- Wings at Madison Square Garden 1976
Paul McCartney with Denny Laine( ex-Moody Blues) , guitar prodigy Jimmy McCulloch and Joe English on drums, tore the roof off the garden with rockers like” Soily”(never released on a studio effort) and soothed the crowd with touching versions of “Blackbird,” I’ve Just Seen A Face”and “Yesterday” from his Fab Four days. A Beatle coming of age.
5- The Rolling Stones at MSG- June 1975-two nights
Seeing the Stones two times in three nights was mind-blowing. The “Glimmer Twins,” Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, pulled out all the stops on this tour. It was Ron Wood’s first with the band as Mick Taylor’s replacement on second guitar. The shows were three hours long and featured the late Billy Preston on keyboards and a guest appearance by Carlos Santana, who jammed with the band on “Sympathy for The Devil.” The World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band lived up to their advance billing in these shows.
6- Chicago at MSG -1973
The original lineup with the late Terry Kath, who Jimi Hendrix told the band was better than him, mesmerizing the crowd with his fret board mastery. Wonderful vocals by Robert Lamm (‘Saturday in The Park”), Peter Cetera (“Dialogue”) and the aforementioned Kath(“Colour my World”) plus Danny Seraphine’s expert percussion work gave the audience the ultimate jazz-rock experience.
7- Jeff Beck and Stevie Ray Vaughn at Madison Square Garden December 1989
A guitar connoisseur’s dream. Though they played separate sets, they did combine for a rousing encore of “I’m Going Down,” a blues staple. Jeff Beck, along with Tony Hymas on keyboards and Terry Bozzio on drums, dazzled the eyes and ears with his guitar wizardry. The late, great Stevie Ray Vaughn was complemented by Double Trouble (Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon), and dished out a blues and rock clinic on guitar. This concert was the ultimate classic rock guitar pairing that will never be equaled.
8- Bad Company and opening act Kansas- MSG-1976
Led Zeppelin’s label mates were at their peak with Paul Rodger’s bluesy vocals, Mick Ralphs’ melodic guitar and Boz Burell (bass) and Simon Kirke (drums) as a steady rhythm section. “Feel Like Makin Love” and “Bad Company” were standouts. The opening act , Kansas, kept everyone in their seats. Their progressive rock sound, along with Steve Walsh’s vocals made many in the audience go out and buy this unknown band’s album.
9- Riot- 1976 at the Rock Palace in Brooklyn
This underappreciated Brooklyn-based band were mainstays at this club that catered to the classic rock crowd. The late Guy Speranza’s soaring vocals along with Mark Reale and Louie Kouvaris’ trading of guitar licks wowed this packed venue. A wonderful aspect of this show was that the band mingled with the crowd during the breaks, sharing drinks and rock “war” stories. They released the albums “Rock City” and “Narita,” which remain undiscovered classics to this day. I might write a piece about them someday. They deserve it.
10- Santana at the Pier concert 46th and 12th Avenue, New York 1981
Last, but certainly not least, Carlos Santana and his Latin influenced rock was a perfect choice to play a concert by a body of water. It was a hot summer night and after the sun set the band started cooking. Carlos’ one of a kind guitar sound pierced the night sky and Alex Ligertwood’s unique vocal styling fit right in. The sound of the Conga, Timbales and Graham Lear’s drums made it feel like a party that would never end. In fact, most bands that played the Pier would not play for more than 90 minutes. Santana and his ensemble rocked for three solid hours. Whew.
There it is. I know there may some disagreements, so please post a response. Who knows, I might add some shows that I am going to review this summer to the list.