Three Emotional Concerts I Have Attended

It goes something like this – you like a band, you buy their albums, and when they hit your city, you buy tickets to the big rock show. They come out and play their songs, the fans go crazy, the band gets paid, everybody goes home happy. That’s how it works 99.9% of the time. Once in a while, there is a concert that is somehow emotional. That’s because something happens with the band, there’s something that happens that reminds us rock stars are only human, and they’re all susceptible to the same problems all of us face. So, it’s nice to see when they overcome their problems.

Cheap Trick
July 29, 1988
Madison Square Garden
New York, NY

$20 is all it took to see this concert

Background: Nobody worked harder to get to the top than Cheap Trick. Between 1974 and 1978, the band scratched out a cult following, playing every dive and special guest slot nationwide. Finally, it all came together following a fluke of a live album, and then it was time to put the bow on in. Headlining arena shows by 1980, the band headed into the studio with the holy grail of rock producers, George Martin. Time to become all-time legends.

But things weren’t all rosy in the inner sanctum. Bassist Tom Petersson was burning out, being pulled one way by his wife and losing interest in being one of the cogs in the Cheap Trick machine. So, in August 1980, he dropped out, right on the eve of the release of the Martin-produced All Shook Up.

Rick Nielsen, Bun E. Carlos, Robin Zander and Pete Comita, a.k.a. the faux Tom Petersson

Although he was quickly replaced on tour by doppelgänger Pete Comita, the damage was done. Like KISS (and unlike Supertramp), Cheap Trick was a “personality” band – meaning the loss of one member was a body blow that would be hard to recover from. See, fans are funny about stuff like this; they feel if the members of the band don’t care, why should they? So, All Shook Up didn’t live up to its predecessors both artistically or commercially, and the next four albums did little to heal that wound. By the time late 1986’s The Doctor was released, did anybody care anymore? Cheap Trick was a relic of the pre-MTV era of rock.

By 1988, any bad feelings between Petersson and the other members of Cheap Trick had dissipated – and suddenly the original quartet was back together. For better or worse, record company politics force fed the band a boatload of material, relegating chief songwriter Rick Nielsen to the minority position. But out of the wind and fury, the band did manage to start having hits again, most notably “The Flame,” a somewhat generic ballad that hit #1 on the singles chart the same month as the concert, which saw the band opening for Robert Plant, who suddenly remembered he used to be in a band called Led Zeppelin. 

The #1 hit single that changed everything

Why it was emotional: Because everybody loves an against all odds comeback, to paraphrase Phil Collins. The band delivered a tight 11-song set, mixing classics with three of the new songs. Starting the set with 1980’s “Just Got Back” was a great way to start things off. And things only got better after that.

Cheap Trick opened for Robert Plant in the summer of 1988

Setlist:

  • Just Got Back
  • On Top of the World
  • Let Go
  • Dream Police
  • Don’t Be Cruel
  • She’s Tight
  • I Know What I Want
  • California Man
  • The Flame
  • I Want You to Want Me
  • Surrender

Rush
June 28, 2002
Meadows Music Theatre
Hartford, CT

Background: Rush had been an arena-filling band since 1981’s Moving Pictures hit the stores in 1981, and the band worked pretty steadily since then, doing the album/tour treadmill thing. Finally, after the 1996-1997 Test For Echo tour campaign ended, tragedy struck drummer Neil Peart. First, his daughter was killed in a car accident, and less than a year later, his wife died of cancer. Following these tragedies, he announced “consider me retired” to his bandmates.

It took five years before the world saw another Rush album. 2002’s Vapor Trails was a departure sonically, a dense soundscape that featured neither keyboards or guitar solos. In addition, its “loud” (aka over compressed) sound angered fans, similar to Metallica’s 2003 release, St. Anger.

In 2013, a remixed version of Vapor Trails was released.

Why it was emotional: For years, it looked like the end of the road for Rush. There was no movement inside the tent, only a solo release from each of the other two members and a live album, that par for the course of the sequence of the band’s usual practice of four studio/one live album. In addition, The Who’s bassist John Entwistle had died earlier in the week. And since it was first night of tour, everybody in attendance (both on and off the stage) knew what a big this show was.

Setlist:

Set 1:

  • Tom Sawyer
  • Distant Early Warning
  • New World Man
  • Roll the Bones
  • Earthshine
  • YYZ
  • The Pass
  • Bravado
  • The Big Money
  • Between Sun and Moon
  • Vital Signs
  • Natural Science

Set 2:

  • One Little Victory
  • Driven
  • Ceiling Unlimited
  • Secret Touch
  • Dreamline
  • Red Sector A
  • Leave That Thing Alone
  • Drum Solo
  • Resist
  • 2112 Part I: Overture
  • 2112 Part II: The Temples of Syrinx
  • Limelight
  • La Villa Strangiato
  • The Spirit of Radio

Encore:

  • By-Tor & The Snow Dog
  • Cygnus X-1 (Prologue)
  • Working Man

The Rolling Stones
August 1, 2019
MetLife Stadium
East Rutherford, NJ

The Rolling Stones are back!

Background: The Rolling Stones have been around since 1962 – and spent the rest of the 20th century releasing albums and touring. But by 2002, things slowed down. Longer gaps between albums and tours. After 1997, only one more album of original is issued (2005’s A Bigger Bang) and a blues cover album (2016’s Blue & Lonesome.) Three career-spanning greatest hits albums are released, not to mention a handful of live albums, both current and “from the vaults.”

After ignoring the northeast (for the most part) since 2006, The Stones finally scheduled two shows at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium. (It had been so long since the last appearance in New Jersey, that the old venue – Giants Stadium – had been razed and the new stadium built.) Suddenly, there was a health crisis in the band.

That’s right – let’s all blame Keith Richards!

Of course, everybody pointed their fingers at guitarist Keith Richards, as he was voted “most likely to croak” in the band. But amazingly, it was lean and fit Mick Jagger that was the one who needed medical help. Turns out he had a defective heart valve, and replacement surgery was able to correct things.

My blind date for the concert…

Why it was emotional: For years, we’ve all thought that any minute it could all be over for The Rolling Stones. While their best years are obviously behind them, they put on a smoking, two-hour show at MetLife, with the band as energetic as they were in 1981, the first time I saw them.

Setlist:

  • Street Fighting Man
  • Let’s Spend the Night Together
  • Tumbling Dice
  • She’s a Rainbow
  • You Can’t Always Get What You Want
  • Sweet Virginia
  • Dead Flowers
  • Sympathy for the Devil
  • Honky Tonk Women
  • Slipping Away
  • Before They Make Me Run
  • Miss You
  • Paint It Black
  • Midnight Rambler
  • Start Me Up
  • Jumpin’ Jack Flash
  • Brown Sugar

Encore:

  • Gimme Shelter
  • (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction