Just a few days ago, I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook when I came across a picture posted by a friend of mine. The photo was of an empty stage, and the location was marked as Cincinnati, Ohio. She was obviously waiting for a show to start.
The next two words I saw made my heart sink. Those words were “Paul” and “Simon.”
That’s right, one of the great musical artists of our time – and one whom I’ve never seen live – was playing a show right up the road, and there I sat, missing out. Now, Simon tours frequently, so there’s a solid chance I’ll catch him the next time around, but knowing that I missed such a great chance made me think about the time I passed on seeing Prince at the Louisville Palace to attend the SEC Tournament instead. I didn’t seriously regret that decision until last spring when Prince passed away suddenly, and the prospect of “the next time around” disappeared altogether.
A lot of what the industry calls “legacy acts” (artists who tour largely on the strength of their back catalogues) are hitting the road again this summer, where they’ll no doubt fill venues with multi-generational audiences. Bon Jovi, Metallica, U2, Roger Waters, Billy Joel, Green Day, Tom Petty, and Paul McCartney are all playing dates in the U.S. at some point over the next six months. Really, there are only two questions to ask:
- Should I see one of these acts in concert before they potentially either no longer want to or are no longer able to tour?
- If the answer to the previous question is yes, then which of them should I see?
Let me answer question #1 for you: yes, you should. Assuming you enjoy the music of the artist in question, don’t let their age or the price of the ticket (unless it’s truly unaffordable) deter you. It’s easy to be cynical about the shows artists play when they’re in the “shut up and play the hits” phase of their careers, but in almost every case, the shows themselves are a whole lot of fun.
For one thing, these artists rarely “need” the money, so if they’re out on the road, it’s because they enjoy the work of entertaining people and still want to feel the brand of excitement unique to live music. For another thing (and I believe this with all my heart), the show you see in 2017 is probably going to be more enjoyable than the one you could’ve seen in 1972 or 1987 or whatever. I’ve used the example of the Rolling Stones often. There’s a chance that seeing them on their tour behind Exile on Main Street would’ve been the best live music experience in history. There’s also a chance the band wouldn’t have hit the stage until midnight, turned up stoned or drunk, stumbled around the stage half-performing, then slink off before the set was finished.
The artists I listed above are often not just musically tighter than they were in their heydays, but they’ve also learned what their audiences love and tailored their shows for maximum entertainment value. No, they may not be able to hit all the same notes, but the top-to-bottom experience for the concertgoer will almost certainly be better.
So now for question #2. This is a little thornier, of course, since so much of the question “which hall-of-fame artist should I see” will depend largely on how much you happen to like the music of the people on tour. But let’s just say you were open to seeing any of them, and the factors that would tip you over the edge would be the show’s production value, the venue, and how close the bands will be.
Well, in that case:
- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Closest Show: Cincinnati
Do me a favor and go dig out your old copy of Tom Petty’s Greatest Hits (I know you’ve got one). OK, fine, you can just Google it. Scan the tracklist. Had you forgotten that Petty had that many great songs? Or that they spanned such a long period of his career? If so, you can make amends for your forgetfulness by taking in a show by one of the most well-honed bands in the history of American music. Heartbreakers shows are great because Petty knows exactly where his bread is buttered. Out of the 20+ tracks on that Greatest Hits record, he probably plays 80% of them on any given night. You’re guaranteed to hear the songs you wanna hear most, and they’re all gonna sound great. Few things are as enjoyable as belting out the “Free Fallin’” chorus with several thousand other folks, and if you haven’t had the pleasure, I highly recommend it.
- Paul McCartney
Closest Show: Detroit
The only reason Sir Paul isn’t in the #1 spot is because this leg of his latest tour bypasses our part of the country almost entirely. For one of the the absolute legends, a five or six hour drive to Detroit or Chicago or Duluth, Georgia is definitely doable, but it’s not ideal. That said, Paul puts on one hell of a show, and he is the most legendary musician alive today, so, you know, he’s kind of a big deal. When I saw him at Great American Ballpark in 2012, he played more than 30 songs (of which, more than 25 were Beatles songs), and absolutely killed it. I have no idea where, at more than 70 years old, he gets the energy to play two-and-a-half hour shows who feed on his buoyancy like musical zombies. But he does. Bust out your lighters and warm up your vocal chords, folks, ‘cause the chorus to “Hey Jude” ain’t gonna sing along to itself.
Closest Shows: Louisville; Indianapolis
Something interesting has happened to U2. Because they’ve continued to put out (mediocre) music (which they sometimes invasively upload to your phone without warning), and because Bono has continued his earnest attachment to a number of highly visible humanitarian causes, they’ve become supremely uncool. But then, as Lester Bangs says in Almost Famous, “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you are uncool.” If that’s the case, U2 are doing their best to spread a whole lot of wealth to a whole lot of people. Their current tour is essentially a celebration of the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree, their best album and the one that made them international superstars. The Joshua Tree did so much, in fact, that it’s easy to forget just how freaking great that album actually is. And at every stop, U2 are playing it front to back, along with a smattering of other hits and, yes, a few newer tracks. U2 shows are always a spectacle, but the real draw is the music. It may no longer be cool to love U2, but when the band launches into “Where the Streets Have No Name,” that’s not going to matter one bit.