Concerts have been a part of my life since I was old enough to stay out past midnight without my parents waiting up for me.
My first concert was Blue Oyster Cult, Styx and Beaver Brown at the Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Civic Center in 1976. Since then, I've been to several hundred concerts, most times as a fan, other times as a music journalist.
With a new baby and no concerts in the near future, now is a good time to pause and reflect on the very best shows of the last 30 years.
The criteria is a combination of things: First and foremost, it's about the music. But the venue, company, atmosphere and timing can also come into play. That said, these are my Top 10 concerts of all time:
10. Sinead O'Connor
08.28.97, Harbor Lights (Boston)
What an angelic voice. I knew O'Connor was crystal clear in the studio, but I have no idea how compelling she is live. Promoting a new greatest hits package, she finds the correct balance between sublimity and pure power. We sit mesmerized through her set, which includes gems like "Fire on Babylon" and "Nothing Compares to U" as if we're sitting in an outdoor cathedral.
9. Grateful Dead
06.24.84, Saratoga Performing Arts Center (N.Y.)
Heinekens at 11. Burgers at 2. More Heinekens. Frisbee. The crowd mills in, a kaleidoscope of colors, an outdoor collage of a passive whatever. When the Dead take the stage, it's clear they are taking this much more professionally than we are. Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and Phil Lesh are in especially fine form, carefully, slowly, intricately weaving through two dynamic, tight sets. The latter opens with "I Need a Miracle," which was how we feel when it takes nearly three hours for the parking lot to clear before we can get back on the Northway.
8. Lynyrd Skynyrd
07.12.77, Poughkeepsie Civic Center (N.Y.)
At the time, of course, I have no idea that Lynyrd Skynyrd will only play 10 more shows with this lineup. Lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Steve Gaines would die a few weeks later in a place crash in Mississippi. Tonight, Van Zant and Gaines are immense, as is the rest of the band. Highlights include "T For Texas" and "Free Bird," the up-front guitar work riveting. It doesn't matter that we realize we forgot the tickets as we're on the outskirts of town. So we miss a little of warm-up band 38 Special. Skynyrd rocks.
7. Woodstock '94
08.11-13.94, Saugerties, N.Y.
This three-day event, to commemorate the 25-year anniversary of the original Woodstock, takes place behind my high school. Pretty neat. So I convince my newspaper and Relix magazine that I will cover the event from a tent, not so much reviewing the bands but instead reporting on the chaos and confusion of 350,000 people, many of whom crash the gates without paying. Highlights are the Green Day mud fight, Melissa Etheridge, the Allman Brothers, the Cranberries, Aerosmith (playing until nearly 2 a.m. in the rain), Nine Inch Nails, Live and Blues Traveler. It's three days of music in the mud. The Sunday evening shower at my parent's house is, to date, the most refreshing ever.
08.30.96, FleetCenter (Boston)
They're back once again, with the original lineup and makeup. For what Ace Frehley lacks in technical precision, he makes up for with originality and a branded sound. Peter Criss is on the drums, just happy to be here. And so are we. KISS is on fire tonight, literally, opening with "Detroit Rock City," segueing into "Deuce" and rocking and rolling through their storied catalog with guile and grit. The sound is so crisp (unlike some of their shows in the '80s and early '90s), it feels like we're back in the mid-70s, reliving the first time hearing "KISS Alive."
5. Pete Townshend
08.09.93, Great Woods (Mansfield, Mass.)
Promoting "Psychoderelict," a concept album, Townshend creates a futuristic rock opera with a full cast and set. But technical problems occur early in the set, causing the easily perturbed Townshend to stalk off the stage, going into a backstage tirade (we're in the second row, so we can hear the yelling). Townshend scraps the bard approach, ripping into a 15-minute version of "Magic Bus," taking out his anger on his guitar with a blister-bleeding solo reminiscent of his early Who days. While the show doesn't go as he intended, the fans benefit from an ad-hoc Townshend set filled with redirected anger -- a rock 'n' roll passion play.
4. Bruce Springsteen
08.01.03, Gillette Stadium (Foxboro, Mass.)
We score tickets for this just hours before the show, the weather forecast miserable but taking our chances anyway. After driving to Foxboro in the pouring rain, the skies miraculously clear once we arrive. A little tailgating and we're on the field, with excellent seats, dead center. The Boss and the E Street Band are in classic form, from the opener "Badlands" through "Dancing in the Dark." Springsteen plays moving, stripped down versions of "Empty Sky" and "You're Missing" early in the 25-song set, a chilling yet necessary reminder of 9/11.
04.16.85, Worcester (Mass.) Centrum
U2 is popular but are not yet megastars. Promoting "The Unforgettable Fire," U2 is passionate and nearly flawless from the opening "11 O'Clock, Tick Tock" through classics like "Pride (In the Name of Love)," "Bad" and "A Sort of Homecoming." I'm amazed at how tight this four-piece band comes across, with its simple yet refreshingly original sound. This is a snapshot in time of a band on the verge of stardom, four kids from Ireland making their mark in the United States.
2. The Who
09.26.82, Rich Stadium (Buffalo)
Road trip from nearby Geneseo, my undergraduate residence. General admission. Eighty-thousand people, many dressed in black leather, chains and spiked hair for warm-up band the Clash, while Who fans proudly flex their youthful muscles in blue jeans and T-shirts. Always the aggressor in a crowd, I manage to get to the front of stage right, directly in front of Townshend. The Who soar through a 25-song set with Townshend, dressed in jeans and a black leather jacket, leading the charge, windmilling through the classics and songs from its new album, "It's Hard." Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and Kenny Jones (on drums) rock equally hard.
1. Bruce Springsteen
08.12.84, Meadowlands Arena (N.J.)
I was never a Springsteen fan until seeing him live. I had actually seen the Boss a few months earlier in Saratoga, but it was this Jersey show that convinces me that he is perhaps the most energetic, tireless, charismatic performer in the world. Touring "Born in the USA," Springsteen is on the cusp of mega-stardom and you can physically feel the magic he infuses into the E Street Band and the audience. He plays just short of four hours (two sets) and leaves nothing on the stage. More than 20 years later, I'm still on a musical high from this show.