The crowd waits for hours in desperate anticipation. Feet get heavy, backs ache, and often strangers end up becoming close acquaintances in the mad dash to get as close to the stage as possible. Then, after seemingly a lifetime of unbearable waiting, time suddenly stands still. They take the stage. The lights turn off. The music begins.
Such is a rough example of a live music concert, one of the greatest artistic expressions on earth. Each happens merely one time and each has its own form, feeling, and flow. Even if the setlist goes unchanged from night to night, each concert is a complete individual. And, no matter the quality of video and audio capturing a live show, no re-presentation can ever replace the experience of being in the moment itself.
Below are ten video examples of my personal favorite representations of live music. And though these videos offer a taste of what the shows must have been like, it is my belief that even the person farthest from the stage at each show would not trade anything in the world for that experience.
10. M. Ward - “Chinese Translation (Live at the Bing Lounge)
To kick off the list I chose M. Ward, one of my favorite songwriters and guitar players. This is my favorite song by Ward and I find this performance subtly sublime. Though most of the videos to follow in this list include crowds of several thousands and grand spectacles, I can honestly say that if I could trade places with any of the artists I mention, it would be M. Ward. His rugged voice and expert guitar playing can bring comfort to even the most troubled soul, one of the key components to a great artist.
9. My Morning Jacket - “Mahgeetah (Live at Okonokos)”
Ever since being introduced to them my freshman year in college by a good friend, My Morning Jacket have quickly risen in the ranks of my favorite bands. Known for a unique blend of southern rock, country and soul influences, MMJ have been touring rigorously for well over a decade creating a devoted following of fans. Part of this is due to their truly outstanding live performance. This video captures them at their best— such passion and energy is emitted from the band members for the audience to receive that it is nearly overwhelming. I had the privilege of seeing this band two years ago and plan on seeing them many times in the future. (Anyone reading in the Chicago area, they are playing Northerly Island on August 22).
8. The Verve - “Bittersweet Symphony (Glastonbury 2008)”
An anthem in its own right, this song is meant to be received by 10,000 at a time, just as this video demonstrates. An often overlooked lyric, this song displays the struggle Ian Brown speaks of prior to the song. Having himself fallen victim to the pressures of life, the band on stage stands as an example of its own creation and unites with the audience. At 1:15, Brown puts the microphone to his heart, and for the rest of the performance lets it do the singing rather than his voice.
7. The Killers - “When You Were Young (Royal Albert Hall)”
The idea behind a musical performance being a single event never to be repeated is demonstrated clearly in this video. The audience interaction perfectly matches the intensity of the performers. For once in the modern age, there is little evidence of people attempting to capture the moment on their cell phones. No tweeting is happening. Everyone is simply living in the moment. This is the way it should be. Chills at 3:15.
6. Oceansize - “Ornament/The Last Wrongs (Feed to Feed)”
The complexity of this performance is what I appreciate the most. Oceansize clearly was a band of complicated arrangements and thoughtful songwriting. This presentation of this song in such an intimate environment allows it to blossom throughout the space and fill every last square foot. Though this song could easily be played in front of a distracted arena crowd, I prefer this moment in which a select few were free to enjoy its true beauty.
5. Derek Trucks Band ft. Susan Tedeschi - “Anyday (Crossroads Festival)”
Within this video is my favorite guitar player (Derek Trucks) and one of my favorite vocalists (Susan Tedeschi). What follows is a nearly perfect cover of a Derrick and the Dominos tune. The chemistry between the expert slide guitar work of Trucks and the soulful vocals of Tedeschi is electric. Did I mention the two are married? To have a pair so clearly matched in their purpose of sharing music with the world gracing the stage together is remarkable to watch.
4. Swedish House Mafia - “Tomorrowland Encore”
Leaning more toward the spectacle aspects of live music, this video offers a taste of the potential future of musical performance. Looking out into the crowd of this video presents the unifying power of music and its ability to create truly once in a lifetime memories. This festival creates an environment for music fans and DJ’s to dance underneath the umbrella of their favorite tunes. Not all music needs to be complex. In fact, simplicity is often more than enough. And what the music in this video lacks in complexity, the producers of this show more than make up for in visual presentation. (Talk about going out with a BANG!…..right? Anyone? Ok, I’ll stop).
3. Arcade Fire - “Wake Up (Coachella 2011)”
Having successfully taken over the world with their album The Suburbs, “Wake Up” remains arguably Arcade Fire’s most recognizable song, and with good reason. Anyone who has seen this song live will surely never forget the performance. The genuine passion with which this band plays does not go unnoticed and nor does the message this song attempts to embark upon the audience. With any luck, we’ll be hearing this song for many years to come. (Look out for a cool moment specific to this video at 2:00).
2. Oasis - “Don’t Look Back in Anger (Argentina 2009)”
Granted, Oasis holds a special place in my heart, and since this is my favorite song you had to see this coming. That being said, this is truly an incredible performance. A historically un-emotional Noel Gallagher is moved nearly to the brink of tears following the response of this specific audience. Having heard this song sung back to him by crowds twice this size, it is the pure jubilation with which the audience belts the chorus that surely caught Mr. Gallagher off guard. It seems as if until this very moment he had not realized the true impact his music has had upon the world. Now you know, my friend.
1. The Who - “Won’t Get Fooled Again (Concert for NYC)”
My number one favorite example of live music comes from English rock legends The Who. Though, in this performance, it is not their characteristic energy and showmanship that steal the show. It is the clear evidence that they are not playing for themselves, and instead are giving everything they can to the brave men and women who sacrificed their lives on 9/11 to protect the innocent victims of that fateful day. This video proves that music has the power to transcend entertainment and can in fact shape the lives of those who choose to enjoy it. To view one of the most famous bands in pop music history so clearly undermine their achievements in honor of those in the audience reinforces the beauty of musical performance and solidifies its necessary place in society.
“We could never follow what you did” - Roger Daltrey addressing the New York City Police and Fire Departments.