Every Popular Music Concert (I Remember Seeing) Ranked

This is a list of concerts I remember more or less in the order I enjoyed them from “enjoyed most” to “enjoyed least.”  I’ve generally not gone to see concerts by bands I don’t like (with some exceptions) so the worst I can say about any of these bands is that they were forgettable – in one case because I was nine when I saw them.  In some cases, my favorite bands (The Replacements?  The Pogues) weren’t as memorable in concert as bands that I wasn’t initially especially fond of (Guns n Roses).  I’ll add bands that I’ve seen as people remind me who I failed to mention.

1. The Cure (July 20, 2013 – Neil Blaisdell Arena, Honolulu)

What I Remember – I cried like three times – first when Robert Smith came on stage and then again during two songs (I know one of those times was at the start of “Plainsong” which is just so beautiful in concert).  They played 38 songs that night and Robert Smith was having such a good time that he even danced a little bit.  The band seemed thrilled by the reception and they vowed to return – which they did for two shows in 2016.  Not just one of my favorite concerts, but one of my favorite life events.

2. Guns n Roses with The Kings of Spade (December 8, 2018 – Aloha Stadium)

What I Remember – Well, I just saw them last night.  I’ll be thinking about this show for a long time.  I’ve been cool on Axl Rose for most of his career, but he is one of best frontmen I’ve ever seen – maybe the best.  His voice is still powerful, he connects with the audience, he never stops moving, and his costume game is on point.  Slash – whoa – Slash is at least as good a guitarist as Carlos Santana.  His solos were gorgeous and mind-blowing.  I thought “we are in the presence of greatness now.”   Duff” McKagan on bass and Richard Fortus on guitar (along with Slash) really played well as a team and as soloists.  There were a few back and forth exchanges between Slash and Fortus that were worth the price of admission (particularly on the cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.”)  They played 31 songs over nearly 4 hoursand not a dull moment.  Slash looked like he was ready to continue playing forever.  The rest of the band -drummer Frank Ferrer, keyboardist Dizzy Reed and second keyboardist Melissa Reese – were just as sharp (although, of course, immobile due to their instruments).  Kings of Spade opened and were quite good, though this was a tough venue for any band to play without video screens.  They are an amazing local band and I hope they keep getting big gigs.

3. Bruno Mars with Green and The Common Kings (November 10, 2018 – Aloha Stadium)

What I Remember – We arrived too late to see Green, but The Common Kings were really very good – I’d not previous heard them before.  Bruno Mars and the Hooligans put on one of the best overall shows I’ve ever seen.  The dancing, the video work, the pyrotechnics and (of course) the musicianship were all top notch.  I’m a bigger fan of Bruno Mars than I am of his music (which is to say Bruno is a local boy and I’ll go out of my way to support him but I don’t necessarily seek out his songs) but I would encourage anyone who loves concerts to check him out if they can regardless of your feelings about his songs.  He is a master entertainer and one of the most charismatic people I’ve ever seen on stage.  The day after the concert, I told Sharon that – while I didn’t want to buy tickets to that night’s performance – I was jealous of everyone who was getting to see him that night.  Setlist here

4. U2 with Lone Justice (April 1985 – Hartford Civic Center)

What I Remember – I was crazed for U2 in 1985.  The U2 set list is here.  I remember that after one song Bono threw a flag into the audience and when people started fighting over it he stopped it with “there’s been enough fighting over flags.”  At the time, I didn’t realize that he knew the audience would fight over the flag creating this great moment of theater.  The band did the thing where they ended the show playing “40” and left one by one.  I think Bono was back in the hotel Jacuzzi ten minutes before Larry Mullen had finished playing drums.  We were all likely sitting in the Hartford Civic Center singing “how long to sing this song” until the band started their next show in another state.  I’ve rarely felt as much a sense of belonging as I did at that show.  Lone Justice rocked the house – I knew two of their songs (“Sweet Sweet Baby” and “Ways to Be Wicked”) and thought they were going to be huge. 

5. David Bowie with Yngwie Malmsteen (July 21, 1990 – Foxboro Stadium, MA)

What I Remember – This might be more legend than true among my friends at this point – I swear it happened.  Bowie came out and said “Good evening Pittsburgh…  Foxboro…  Adrian, play me out of this,” referring to guitar virtuoso Adrian Belew.  I also remember the food vendors shouting “get your Bowie dogs here,” which was unsettling.  Bowie was on his Sound + Vision tour and was playing greatest hits (plus his duet with Belew, “Pretty Pink Rose”) theoretically for the last time.  He had a fifty foot tall Scrim that allowed him to project images and still see the band – the highlight was Bowie’s enormous projected face singing at tiny little on stage Bowie during “Space Oddity.”  Sort of deliberately making the real Bowie small in relationship to his legend.  Bowie had a bit of a voice issue so when he reached the “break down and cry” part of “Young Americans,” he took a knee and the audience sang it.  It was a great dramatic moment.  Setlist here and you’re welcome to be jealous.  Malmsteen is a huge talent but his concert doesn’t figure into this rating in the least.

6. Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe (April 27, 1987 – Meehan Auditorium, Brown University)

What I Remember – We drove down from Bates to Brown to watch this one.  I have no idea where we crashed or if we drove back after.  Nick Lowe opened and was typically fabulous – I recall it was the first time I heard his song “Jumbo Arc” and he joined Costello for “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?”  Elvis was touring solo with the Spectacular Spinning Songbook – he brought audience members up to spin a wheel with all his songs on it and he’d play whatever came up.  I am still nuts for this idea.  He cheated at one point because the audience member wanted to hear “Alison.”  I remember first hearing part 2 of “American Without Tears” for the first time and I’d not previously heard “Taxi.”  I also remember he played “Pump It Up” and it morphed into Prince’s “Sign o’ the Times.”  Set list is here and I’m amused to note that I’m linked as a reviewer of that particular concert.  Click my name at the link.

7. The Cure (July 16, 2016 – Neil Blaisdell Arena, Honolulu)

What I Remember – Sharon’s sister and I went to this one because we’re both Cure fanatics.  We both regret that we didn’t also go to the one the next night and have agreed that – should The Cure return again – we’ll get tickets to every show.  The “only” played 33 songs this time but between the two Cure shows, I’ve been spoiled for all other concerts.  The sound system wasn’t as good for this show as for the 2013 one.

8. R.E.M. with The Three O’Clock (August 24, 1985 – Agora Ballroom, West Hartford, CT)

What I Remember – The Three O’Clock kicked ass but the crowd wasn’t having it.  I remember lead singer Michael Quercio saying something about “this is my life” in exasperation.  I loved “Her Head’s Revolving” and “Underwater” at the time and thought their whole set was just smashing.  R.E.M. started in pitch black with “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” (complete with train noises and a sudden blinding light like the train was about to pull on stage).  They played 29 songs and my only disappointment was I really wanted to hear “Radio Free Europe,” which they were surely sick of by then.  It was so hot in the venue that people at the front of the stage were passing out and being rescued by the band and roadies.  One of my friends was pulled up on to stage, half-unconscious, and spent the rest of the show hanging out with The Three O’Clock.  I lost my whole friends group and ended up dancing all night with this young woman from UConn who I had never seen before nor seen since.  Such is the power of music.

9. Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe (April 8, 1989 – Colby)

What I Remember – I seem to recall that a friend of mine who was an even bigger Elvis Costello fan than I got booted for trying to sneak backstage.  I think this was in the Colby College gymnasium.  Costello was still touring solo but this time I recall he had a giant heart with him that possibly represented the seven deadly sins somehow.  Audience members could pull cards out of the heart that had song names written on them and he’d play them.  Nick Lowe was again excellent and they played “What’s So Funny” together as before.  I recall a highlight was “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror,” from his then-new album Spike.  The venue wasn’t quite as awesome as Brown but the show was excellent.

10. Duran Duran (July 16, 2017 – Neil Blaisdell Concert Hall, Honolulu)

What I Remember – These cats seem to love playing together – like they all just seem to be so grateful to be able to be playing music all these years into their career.  They balanced hits with songs from their latest album (good for them for creating new music), they had dynamite backing vocalists, Simon Le Bon sounded excellent and while the whole band sounded fantastic, John Taylor on bass was exemplary.  Lots of dancing from Le Bon, who really enjoy working a crowd.  They came out with a Hawaiian flag and praised it both for itself and also for having the Union Jack in it, which the audience appreciated.  NBC sound system was adequate, stage projections complimented the show but I can’t recall them now.  Minus points because the opening act was a DJ.

11. Santana (April 30, 2017 – Neil Blaisdell Arena, Honolulu)

What I Remember – Carlos Santana runs a tight ship and the show started and ended exactly on time.  He is, of course, the center of the show and holy cats can the man play guitar.  The setlist was a nice collection of his work (and a delightful cover of “Orinoco Flow”).  An unexpected highlight was drummer Cindy Blacman’s drum solo.  She was best known for playing with Lenny Kravitz but she’s phenomenol.  I mean, the whole band was pretty amazing.  I went, in part, in the hopes that it would knock the song “Smooth” out of my head.  It worked for the most part.

12. Ray Charles (1988 – Ives Performing Arts Center)

What I Remember – I got to meet Ray Charles.  I was working as the house manager at the Ives Performing Arts Center (an outdoor venue in Danbury) and before the concert started, I had to clean out the vilest toilet ever in the women’s room.  Because there were lines at all audience bathrooms, after I cleaned up I headed backstage to thoroughly wash my hands.  I want to stress, my hands were dry by this time.  Anyhow, I head to the backstage bathroom and there’s Ray Charles and his entourage and Mr. Charles is chatting with some important Ives Center person.  I have to pass them to get to the bathroom.  I put on my “I’m not really here face” and attempt to pass by but my superior says “Mr. Charles, this is our house manager, Kevin.”  He says something like pleased to meet you and stretches out his hand to shake mine.  I stutter something out about just having cleaned some toilets and he replies something like “I had to clean out toilets back in the day too – not too proud to shake the hand of a man who does.”  So humbled I shook his hand, thanked him, babbled something about being a huge fan and (beet red) scurried to wash my hands.  I was completely embarrassed about this encounter for 20 years and only started telling people about it as an after-thought to the toilet cleaning part of the story – which is epic in it’s detail but which I’m not retelling here.  Essentially, I was less embarrassed about cleaning the grossest toilet in the world than I was about being an incoherent fool in front of Ray Charles.

I didn’t get to watch a whole lot of the concert because of my job but I did get to watch him play “Hit the Road Jack” and he and his band were amazing.

13. Adam Ant (September 14, 2013 The Republik, Honolulu)

What I Remember – To this day, this is the loudest concert I’ve ever attended.  Ant puts on a great show – he is still a very good dancer and he works the crowd.  He has embraced his early punk days so he tends to play it loud and aggressive.  Duel drummers and the rest of the band was solid.  The show wasn’t especially well attended which is a shame because it was really quite good.

14. Brian Wilson (June 16, 2017 – Neil Blaisdell Concert Hall)

What I Remember – The oldies station DJ made a point to critique all post-Beach Boys music when he introduced Wilson.  Brian Wilson himself played keyboard and was backed by 11 other excellent musicians (including Al Jardine and Blondy Chaplin.  Wilson is quirky and apologized for the fact that he was going to play Pet Sounds the whole way through – the whole reason most of us had come to see the show!  Jardine did his best to remind us all of Wilson’s place in the rock firmament, but I think he was really trying to remind Wilson.  The show was one of the best sounding concerts I’ve ever been to.  He played 37 songs and Def Leppard really has no excuse playing a 75 minute set when Brian Wilson is playing for three hours.

15. They Might be Giants (November 25, 1992 – Pink’s Garage,  Honolulu)

What I Remember – I remember the band being incredulous that people were slam dancing during their show.  Twice they said “we’re not that kind of band.”  My then-girlfriend got slammed by some dude so she kicked him and he gave her a look of such deep hurt as if to say “why did you kick me, I’m only socially slamming into you against your will.”  At one point, the band picked up a radio and played with the dial.  When ‘We Are The World” came on, they attempted to play that with no prior rehearsal and I remember it being a joyous mess.  I don’t remember too much else about the concert – not even sure if there was an opening act.  I had a good time.

16. Squeeze with The Hooters and The Truth (August 23, 1985 – Agora Ballroom, West Hartford, CT)

What I Remember – I was very amused the the marquee read “Squeeze The Hooters – The Truth.”  I don’t remember much of anything about The Truth, but I do remember The Hooters playing “All You Zombies” and “And We Danced.”  They were fine.  Squeeze was in fine form though there is no setlist available.  I know they debuted a couple of their new songs – I remember in particular that they played “The Prisoner” a couple of years before they released it.  I saw R.E.M. the next night which sort of overwhelmed my memories of Squeeze.

17. Def Leppard (October 20, 2017 – Neil Blaisell Arena, Honolulu)

What I Remember – They played the entire Hysteria album and I realized I knew more of the songs than I thought I did but also that I found the songs I didn’t know a little tedious.  They sounded sharp, their use of visuals and projections was really quite good and the pre-show announcement  – urging us to try “Def Leppard Pale Ale” – was an unexpected highlight.  I left with a new appreciation of the band but wished the concert was five songs longer.  Setlist here.  Minus points because the opening act was a DJ.

18. Guadalcanal Diary (1980-something, Some hotel in Danbury, CT

What I remember – This occured in a hotel ballroom somewhere.  I think it was before their 2×4 album because I specifically remember that when that album came out, I was already a fan.  The concert was sponsored by WXCI and the band was passionate, tight and thrilled to be playing.  I had not previous heard their cover of “Kumbaya” before and it blew me away.  I eventually bought all of their records (and lead singer Murray Attaway’s solo album) and wish they’d broken huge.  A good time was had by all.

19. Bon Jovi with the Mike Corrado Band (February 12, 2010 – Neil Blaisdell Arena)

What I Remember – I was not a fan going in to this concert.  I’d made fun of Bon Jovi through the 80’s.  We went because we were doing field research for Oil in the Alley.  I left the concert with a huge amount of respect for the band and a new love for some of their songs.  Jon Bon Jovi is a consummate front man and I’ve stolen many of his moves for our rock band comedy show, Oil in the Alley.  We were seated behind the stage and he didn’t forget about us.  His cover of “Hallelujah” is one of my favorite performances of that song.  Richie Sambora was a fine guitarist and the whole band was tight as heck.  Watching his real fans in the front row (one of the advantages of sitting behind the stage is we could watch the people in front of the stage) made me realize how much the fans love this band and that really made me rethink my cynicism towards them.  After all these years, I have to admit that “Bad Medicine” is a pretty amazing song.

20. The Replacements with The Truth (March 18, 1989 – Colby)

What I Remember – Seeing The Replacements was always a dice roll – would they be sharp and amazing or would they be drunk and a train wreck?  Their show at Colby (with The Truth who, I recall, I knew by that time because of the song “Exception of Love”) was closer to the former.  My friends and I were all over the Don’t Tell A Soul album at that time.  I no longer recall what they played beyond “I’ll Be You,” but I remember hanging on every note.

21. Psychedelic Furs with The Blow Monkeys (August 6, 1986 – Palace Theater, New Haven, CT)

What I Remember – I made a mix tape called “Psyched for the Psychs” just to get amped for this show.  I loved both the Furs and the Blow Monkeys at the time and was beyond excited for this show.  The Palace Theater is a theater, so standing up and dancing was a challenge – it lent itself more for sitting down and watching.  The Blow Monkeys were great – they didn’t have an especially deep catalog but they sounded excellent.  The Psychedelic Furs – I recall – sounded great live, but in retrospect nothing much stands out in my memory.  I do remember Dr. Robert of The Blow Monkeys taking time to theatrically comb his hair. 

22. David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks (1986 – Bates Gym)

What I Remember – Apparently, I’m a terrible Batesie because I can’t remember the name of the little cafe or the gm.  Ruffin and Kendricks were, of course, formed members of The Temptations and the highlight of the concert were tunes from that era.  They sounded great but I remember being a little bored when they weren’t singing songs I knew because I am a terrible person, too.

23. The Bobs (1987 – Town Crier Cafe, Pauling, NY)

What I Remember – The Bobs were really fun to see live.  I remember many specific songs, including “Helmet,” “Banana Love,” “Purple Haze,” “Valentino’s,” and “Naming The Band.”  They sounded great, worked the small venue and were gracious and charismatic throughout.

24. Everclear (December 15, 2012 – Hawaiian Brian’s, Honolulu)

What I Remember – They were really quite good.  The concert felt pretty informal (in a good way). 
Art Alexakis is a good front man/vocalist.  I’d encourage you to check them out if you can.

25. The Kinks with Tommy Shaw (December 20, 1984 – Hartford Civic Center

What I Remember – This was the first concert I made a choice to see.  There’s a partial setlist here.  Ray Davies changed into this amazing red and black checkered suit that I have coveted for 34 years now.  They did the traditional “Lola” fake out (they start to play the song, say they’re not doing that one, then do it).  I did now know Tommy Shaw was a member of Styx until he started playing “Renegade.”  At the time, he was promoting “Girls With Guns,” his solo tune/album.  That song made it hard for me to take him seriously when he criticized Dennis DeYoung for being too pop.  His sax player was pretty fantastic.

26. Deep Purple with Girl’s School (February 26, 1985 – New Haven Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum)

What I Remember – I remember Girls School being loud.  Deep Purple was fine I guess.  Ritchie Blackmore was doing this thing where he played with his back to the audience so nobody could steal his riffs or some nonsense.  Jon Lord, on the other hand, was the highlight of the show.  He played his Hammond Organ so hard it nearly fell over a couple of times.  You can get a little sense of that in this contemporary silent clip of them playing in Providence that same year.  The band seems to be much more into it than I remember them being in Hartford, but that could be because it was Hartford.  Set list here.

27. Face to Face (late 80’s – Bates)

What I Remember – Bates had a small cafe that was open late in the Commons area.  I can no longer remember the name.  Face to Face had a small hit with “10 – 9 – 8” in the early 80’s and they played this small cafe.  One of our college bands opened.  They were quite good but I recall the show being under attended.  Having a hit doesn’t necessarily ensure a career I guess.

28. The Pogues / Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper / The Violent Femmes (July 17, 1989 – GreatWoods Center, MA)

What I Remember – I recall that Mojo played “Elvis is Everywhere,” but didn’t seem to be especially into it.  I recall almost nothing about the Violent Femmes, which is a shame because I really dig their music.  I was there for The Pogues and I remember Shane MacGowan having a bit of a lie down in front of the drums after a few songs and another band member – Spider Stacey I’d guess – filling in on vocals.  Whether this was by design or by inebriation is difficult to gauge.  Pogues setlist here

29. Dolenz and Jones Boyce and Hart (April 1976 – Six Flags Over Texas)

What I Remember – I was eight.  We were in Texas for a vacation I think and we all went to Six Flags.  On the marquee, it said something like “The Monkees – today at 1.”  I had watched the TV show for at least a year at that point.  My mom (who was familiar with The Monkees) thought it couldn’t possibly be the band – probably just some show with actual monkeys.  I insisted on going and sure enough it was Micky and Davey from The Monkees playing with Boyce and Hart (who I knew from some other sitcom).  I remember the show being goofy fun, but it also became a reference point for me regarding the fates of faded bands.  When I saw This is Spinal Tap and they played a theme park, I laughed extra hard because I realized the sad truth this was reflecting.  The happy ending, of course, is that The Monkees had a huge comeback.

30. O Postive (late 80’s – Outside at Bates)

What I Remember -A WRBC favorite, I remember them playing at Bates and remember being excited about hearing “Up Up Up.”

31. Three Colors (late 80’s – by The Bill, Outside at Bates)

What I Remember – Another WRBC favorite, I was ambivalent on them until I saw them play “One Big Tree” live and then I decided “these cats are pretty good.”

32. The Nails / David Johanson / NRBQ (1986? – Ives Performing Arts Center)

What I Remember – I recall that I was much more interested in seeing The Nails (“88 Lines About 44 Women,” “The Things You Left Behind,” and “Let It All Hang Out” had all gotten a ton of airplay on WXCI) than either other band.  I think I stayed at least through part of NRBQ’s set but recall I had to leave, though I can’t remember why.  The lead singer of The Nails mentioned that there was a dance associated with “88 Lines” and I think somebody was going to demonstrate but I don’t really recall much.  I don’t think I was house manager of this event – I think this was either while I was still in high school or after my Freshman year of college.

33. The Zoning Board (late 80’s – The Quad, Outside at Bates)

What I Remember – kind of a late-80’s reggae comedy band.  They had a tune called “Reggae for Reagan” that was amusing at the time.  They were pretty forgettable, but they got the place grooving for that one song.

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