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51 Concerts Ranked

Updated: Apr 23, 2020




Paul McCartney plays live at Lollapalooza, Chicago in 2015. Photo by Kevin Kenealy


Excluding cover bands and novelty acts like The Blue Man Group, I have been lucky enough to see 51 concerts in my life. Below are the bands ranked as they put on the best concerts to the worst concerts. Concerts are judged by the length of show, stage performance, improvisation of performance, and overall quality of music.

Below you will find each artist and a link to a live show of theirs around the time that I saw them. It will be at a different venue since I could not get good videos from these particular shows, but you can get a good feel for their live performances.

1. Paul McCartney –

Wrigley Field, Chicago (2011) and Lollapalooza (2015) - Chicago Live 2011 Wrigley Field Concert Video *It doesn’t matter if you’re a Beatles fan or not, you have to appreciate that he plays for three hours without taking a single sip of water. He came out and played an encore that lasted about 30 minutes. He played on multiple guitars, rocked it out, and of course, serenaded us on the piano. He did this all while being 70 plus years old. Not bad Sir Paul.

2. Rolling Stones – US Cellular Field (at the time) – Chicago Chicago 2019 Concert Video

*What can you say about the Stones? There’s a reason they’ve lasted so long. This was my first concert, and I didn’t want the ringing in my ears to go away. They blasted every inch of White Sox park with bluesy/rock, and generations of young and old were on their feet the entire show.

3. Billy Joel – Wrigley Field – Chicago 2017 Wrigley Field Video *Like McCartney, Joel also played quite long. It didn’t sound like he lost his voice at all since the 1970s and even got up from his piano to dance to “Uptown Girl.” His sarcasm came out to make jabs at Elton John, and even though Wrigley was packed to capacity, it seemed like a more intimate concert when you’re singing along with the piano man.

4. Aerosmith – Hollywood Casino Amphitheater – Tinley Park, IL

2014 Tinley Park Video

*Aerosmith was just fun. Steven Tyler reminds me a lot of Mick Jagger. They both move around the stage the same and have similar interactions with the crowd. He seemed, at least from a fan’s observance, to be a friendly guy. He wasn’t afraid to shake hands with the front row and certainly wasn’t afraid to still hit those high notes. In the pitch of Tyler, “Ahhh yeaaa!”

5. Alabama Shakes - Lollapalooza, Chicago 2016 Chicago Video

*If you have never listened to Alabama Shakes, find them on Spotify or Pandora. If you have never seen them in concert, look for tickets. I was more than pleasantly surprised when I saw them as part of a two-group opening act for Paul McCartney at Lollapalooza in 2015. Lead singer Brittany Howard’s vocals backed by her bluesy band make for one unforgettable experience. 6. Yes - Chicago Theater, Chicago Yes 2015 Video

*When I used to think of the Chicago Theater, I thought of elegance and the theater. After seeing Yes, I was taken to a whole new meaning of performance art. The prog rock band from the ‘70s wow’d all the good people in the audience with long drum solos, vocals that although sung by temporary member Benoit David at the time, sounded just like original and current lead singer Jon Anderson.

7. Red Hot Chili Peppers - - United Center, Chicago 2016 Live Show Video

*It’s hard to imagine that the Chili Peppers have been around since 1983 since it’s a band that seems to surpass generations of music and times. Their set, complete with improvisations, high energy and mellow melodies, makes for a California daydream that Chili Peppers fans hope for. My only wish was that they played more of their hits and played a little longer of a show – they played for about an hour and a half.

8. Peeping Tom - House of Blues, Chicago Peeping Tom with Mr. Bungle Concert

*Mike Patton is a musical genius. He has created such bands such as Peeping Tom and Mr. Bungle, along with having solo projects of his own. His vocals range from sad and endearing, as on “Anger Management,” to quirky and schizophrenic as on his Mr. Bungle stuff. His performance live left you guessing what Patton would show, and for concert-goers, that made for an enjoyable evening.

9. Ringo Starr and His All-Star Band - Chicago Theater, Chicago Ringo at the Rosemont Theatre

*For a guy that is almost 80 years old, he performs like he’s much younger than that. He still sounds relatively the same as he had years ago, and his all-star cast included the drummer from Santana, 10-CC, and Men at Work. These bands may not blow any one’s hair back, but they played well together that night, and more than satisfied my then love for 1980’s music as I binge watched Stranger Things.

10. Flogging Molly - Rothbury Music Festival – Rothbury, Michigan Flogging Molly at Rothbury

*Puns aside, seeing the crowd at this concert was like experiencing a drunken lullaby. It seemed like the whole crowd was in a mosh pit, until near the end of the show when they were too tired to keep it going. The fiery Irish group makes you want to do the jig at the very least, but be careful of the crowds at these shows.

11. Anthrax – House of Blues, Chicago Anthrax Live in Chicago

*Speaking of crowds, Anthrax’s fan base may be aging, but they are young at heart. Fists

pounded the air in the tightly squeezed House of Blues, as the fans echoed the energy of the

group. Bassist Scott Ian jumped around the stage like an angry gorilla, pounding each

floorboard as he went. The energy at this show was one of the higher energetic crowds I’ve

experienced, so if you like that kind of thing, check them out.

12. Girl Talk - Rothbury Music Festival, Rothbury, MI Girl Talk at Rothbury Live

*Like to dance? Girl Talk mixes everything from Ludacris to AC/DC on his turntable, and the beats got the whole crowd into it and dancing. Imagine thousands of people dancing at once on an open field with no bouncer to get into a stuffy club. I present to you the magic of Girl Talk.

13. Jack Johnson - Northerly Island, Chicago Jack Johnson Live at Northerly Island *In contrast to Girl Talk, Jack Johnson will help you mellow out and this particular concert was perfect for a surfer to sing on a summer night outdoors in Chicago. Johnson played solo, but brought surprise guest on stage such Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros joined at one part of the show. During the ‘second half of the show,’ Johnson came out with his beard trimmed and with a different outfit on to sing his pop culture tunes. It seemed to lighten the mood even more for the concert-goers.

14. Modest Mouse - Pitchfork Music Festival, Chicago Modest Mouse Live, 2014 *This one was tricky. While Modest Mouse brings it in all through Isaac Brock’s pleasantly squeaky tones, the crowd brings it as well, and a little too much. If you’re claustrophobic, seeing Modest Mouse may not be for you. At least it wasn’t at this show where the crowd was so smashed together you could hear everyone breathing and they kept swaying and pushing into one another. This wasn’t moshing; it was something else entirely, but it wasn’t fun whatever it was. It was good musically though.

15. Andrew Bird - Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago

Full Concert, 2019 *Andrew Bird might be one of the most underrated musicians out there, in the form that he doesn’t get as much notice because of the lack of radio play. When I saw him, he was solo, but he might as well of had a whole orchestra behind him because he carried with him a spinning double horn speaker, which creates walls of sound that complimented his violin playing. Even though weird radio frequency noises were coming into the venue from nearby Chicago buildings, it didn’t seem to phase him either, as his experimental folk music played on and played true.

16. Maroon 5 - United Center, Chicago Live Concert in Rio

*Maroon 5 played like they were a big band. Adam Levine walked out on stage with confidence, and had the pipes to back it. To the audience’s satisfaction all the hits were hit, and he even stopped in between for audience’s interaction. He joked with a fan for bringing an iPad to the show for photos and then proceeded to have concert-goers to place cell phones on the stage. His improv worked, as fans enjoyed the show even more from then on out.

17. Dave Matthews -Farm Aid 2005, Hollywood Casino Amphitheater, Tinley Park, IL Performing at 2011 Farm Aid *Dave seemed really high at this show. “One day ya’ll, the world will be nothin’ but flowers,” he said. That didn’t stop his acoustic solo performance from hitting it big with the crowd. Although he only played for a short time as part of a larger Farm Aid set list, his time was worth it. The jams got the crowd singing and dancing along.

18. REO Speedwagon - Taste of Joliet, Joliet, IL

Performs "Time for Me to Fly," 2010 *REO gets high points for trying to play through high winds and a thunderstorm. They played for about 30 minutes at a crowd-pleasing pace of fast and slow rock until high winds and rain threatened the end of the show. They started to keep going until the city closed the event down.

19. The Moody Blues - Ravinia Music Festival, Ravinia Park, IL Live at Royal Albert Hall, 2011 It’s unfortunate this band didn’t score higher because while the band sounded good, I couldn’t sjkee them. A Ravinia concert experience is like a picnic with a concert on the side for some people. We weren’t able to get seats to see the show well enough, so we settled for a good time with the food and hearing the music. It was hard to judge The Moody Blues on a live performance without seeing the group.

20. Peter Frampton - Chicago Ridge Fest, Chicago Ridge, IL Performs Live at Festival de Viña del Mar, 2008

When Frampton asks the question, “Do you feel like I do?” in that robot voice of his, it makes the crowd go wild. For an old-timer, Frampton can really rock, but maybe it’s just that he didn’t have enough of a long set of hits to drive this one higher in the rankings. If he comes to your local summer fest though, he’s definitely worth checking out. I saw him for free and as they say, they best things in life are free.

21. Crosby and Nash - War Memorial Auditorium, Nashville, TN Performing "Teach Your Children" Live *CSNY is one of my favorite bands of all time. The Déjà Vu album is what I measure this band to, which is unfair considering both Stills and Young were not with the band when I saw them in concert. That being said, they were not nearly as good on the harmonizing front that makes them so appealing. Their acoustic set was still strong, as strong as it could be without them, and by finishing with “Teach Your Children Well,” it really stirred up the crowd in Nashville.

22. Grand Funk Railroad - Naperville RibFest, Naperville, IL Performs Live at Ostrich Festival, 2015 *I was really excited to see Grand Funk being that I interviewed drummer Don Brewer in college for our school paper. I really got into their music around that time, and so when I saw them I felt like they were my band, not just an American band. Brewer sounded every bit as good on the drums that give intros to songs like “American Band” that feel good hard-hitting rock I came to love. The absence of original guitarist Mark Farner hurt a little though, but all in all, they were a good show.

23. Skillet - Carnival of Madness, Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, Tinley Park, IL Live at Pinkpop, 2016 *Here was another band that surprised. I was at Carnival of Madness to see Shinedown and left enjoying Skillet the most out of all the acts that night. They came out with the most variety, energy and overall good vocals of the three bands seen that night.

24. The Devin Townsend Project - House of Blues, Chicago Live at House of Blues *I think Townsend is one of those rare artists that is better listened to than seen. Of course these reviews are of just my opinion, and of course, I have only seen him just this once, but that was my impression upon the end of the concert. Similar to Patton, Townsend brought ferocity one minute on an album and lightness and almost silliness on another. In concert though, it almost sounded forced and unoriginal. But this was years ago, and things could have changed for him.

25. Goo Goo Dolls - Lantz Auditorium, Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, IL Perform "Name" at EIU *Playing to a college audience that grew up with the Goo Goo Dolls should have been gold; except it wasn’t. I was the only one who wanted to stand during the whole show while everyone else sat reserved like an opera audience in their seats. I grew up enjoying such songs as “Black Balloon,” “Slide,” “Broadway,” and of course, “Iris.” I found myself singing along to each even if the songs were a “little bit weaker than they used to be.”

26. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - Congress Theater, Chicago Live at Pukkelpop, 2016 *This band is just folksy fun. Most of us know the song “Home,” or at least heard it on that one commercial back when. But what’s fun about them is that you don’t have to know their music to enjoy them. The folksy/bluegrass band gets you in a feel-good mood that lasts throughout the set.

27. Kenny Chesney - Farm Aid, Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, Tinley Park, IL Live at Farm Aid, 2005 *While country historically hasn’t been my favorite genre, I am rating this upon quality of the concert, and not by my favorite music. Also, I have always sort of liked Chesney anyway. Coming in at 26 out of 50 isn’t bad, but it isn’t great. That’s how I would sum up his performance. He had chances to knock this out of the park, especially at a down-home country show like Farm Aid, but there was something missing, and I just couldn’t put my finger on what it was.

28. Cold War Kids - Lollapalooza, Chicago Performing at Lollapalooza *They’re one of the few still modern bands that I’ve seen. I unfairly compared them to one of my old favorite blues/rock bands at the show, the Black Keys, who I thought were just a little bit stronger musically. However, I never did see the Black Keys in concert. While I did enjoy singing along to the Cold War Kids’ hits in this one, their other songs didn’t do much for me, and strong bands outdo themselves live in that category.

29. Matisyahu - Rothbury Music Festival, Rothbury, MI Live at Stubb's, Vol. II *Matisyahu had some modest fans, as what appeared to be a number of Jewish rabbi’s in attendance. As we all know, he keeps the faith while rapping as in songs “Keep the Faith and “Light.” Getting in touch with the spirit moves the crowd, but somehow, his performance lacks the spirit felt in his studio albums.

30. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Congress Theater, Chicago Live in Chicago (audience clip) *I honestly hadn’t heard much Nick Cave, but before the concert heard that he was somewhat like Leonard Cohen with his voice and I got excited. While his voice matched what I was hoping for, his performance was stale and was unlike the performance as seen in the video above.

31. Van Morrison - Northrop Auditorium, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN Live in Montreux *Van Morrison is said to hate playing his hits, as he feels as though they have been overdone when he was huge in the ‘70s. The strength of this concert was that his voice felt the same as it always had. You couldn’t tell the difference between “Tupelo Honey” and whatever he was singing now. But you couldn’t hear whatever he was singing now because it sounded more muffled, and perhaps that was a combination of his voice and the seating in the auditorium. 32. Between the Buried and Me - House of Blues, Chicago Performs "Turn on the Darkness" in 2015 *I feel like Between the Buried in Me did to heavy metal what Radiohead did to alternative and what Yes did to rock. They made a version of heavy metal not really seen before where song blends into song and just leaves you saying, “Wow. It’s so intricate. Every time I listen to it, I hear something different.” While I heard the same Colors album performed, I saw a band that performed tight and reserved, afraid to break through and let loose. However, if you look at the video above it shows differently. Maybe it’s because I saw them years before this.

33. Shinedown - Carnival of Madness, Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, Chicago Live in Cedar Rapids And then there’s Shinedown. I don’t have much to say about them. At the end of the day, music either makes you feel good and leaves with you a good impression or it doesn’t. I went into this hoping for something good and left forgetting what I heard. The end.

34. Bob Dylan - Starllight Theater, Kansas City, MO (2007) & Rothbury Music Festival, Rothbury, MI (2009) Live in Sweden, 2009 *Man, was I in awe of Bob Dylan. He was one of the first major acts I ever saw. I had ‘love goggles’ on as they say, but slowly they started to fade, as I noticed how old and run-down he became. Some artists age well, and well then, you have Dylan. His voice sounds like he speaks through one of those voice boxes for people who have smoked too much. He was okay in 2007 when I saw him first and pretty darn bad when I saw him again in 2009. I hate to think of what he sounds like now.

35. Ani DiFranco - Rothbury Music Festival, Rothbury, MI Live in New York *Ani DiFranco was a surprise, at first. She kept you interested for a while with her voice and acoustic strumming, but then it just got old and felt like she could put you to sleep. If you see her as part of a larger act, stick around for a while and then go get a hot dog.

36. John Mellencamp - Farm Aid, Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, Tinley Park, IL Live at 2005 Farm Aid *I always thought John Mellencamp was kind of cheesy, so I’m a little bias on this one I guess. Bias aside though, nothing stood out about this performance other than he didn’t play “Jack and Diane,” the one Mellencamp song I actually enjoy. Oh well, maybe you enjoy him more. In that case, go and see him.

37. Styx (Dennis DeYoung) - Chicago Ridge Fest, Chicago Ridge, IL Live in Los Angeles, 2014 *Well, look at who it is. It’s not Styx. It’s Dennis DeYoung. So then you expect the soothing vocals you hear on “Babe” and the strong rock vocals you hear on “Renegade” right? Wrong. DeYoung just doesn’t have the pipes anymore. However, he still is entertaining. For a man from Chicagoland, he does his best to bring you back, and in a way, that’s all the audience was hoping for.

38. Pat Benatar - US Cellular Field, Chicago Performs "Heartbreaker" Live *Benatar opened for the Stones. Not bad for an opening act, but that’s what she’s become – an opening act. I hate to be a heartbreaker on this one, but she doesn’t always bring the fire unlike she did in the video above. The audience was mainly waiting for the Stones to come out, and wasn’t too impressed with her performance at White Sox park.

39. Magic - United Center, Chicago Performs "Rude" Live in Brazil *Magic is cool to hear the song “Rude,” which is a cool resurgence of Reggae; cue Bob Marley. But the thing is – they’re not Bob Marley. None of the other songs the audience even heard of remotely and the band is starting to cement itself as a one-hit wonder.

40. Willie Nelson - Rothbury Music Festival, Rothbury, MI Live in Amsterdam *Poor Willie. My aunt will hate me for putting Willie so low. I love Willie Nelson by the way, but after years of singing lovable music, his voice is starting to go. The guy is 84 years old. So he was 78 when I saw him. For 78, he was still pretty darn good, just not anywhere as good as back when he was in the good ol’ days.

41. Papa Roach - Carnival of Madness, Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, Tinley Park, IL Live on the Range Festival, 2015 *What song gets you more pumped up than “Last Resort?” Well that’s about the only song I’m afraid, and their performance was something where you see that song, and then see the next one and realize, they’re not that good otherwise. Time to walk around until the next band comes on.

42. The Giving Tree Band - Congress Theater, Chicago, IL Performs Live at The Double Door, 2012 *If you haven’t heard The Giving Tree Band, give a listen. They are a fun bluegrass band that will get your feet tappin.’ Unfortunately, that doesn’t always translate into feet tappin’ music live and their live set fell short of what’s heard on disk.

43. Bleeding Through - House of Blues, Chicago Live Set *I couldn’t help laughing at this band. I expected something hardcore and did get that, but I think it was the way they presented it with over-the-top guitar rolls and moving around the stage as if they were sluggish and tired. I left not feeling the heavy metal so much, as I felt the corniness of the group.

44. Slash - Carnival of Madness, Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, Tinley Park, IL Performs in Chicago, 2014 *Okay, so Slash is going to be there to open, and yea he’s cool. But he’s not Guns’ N’ Roses. So when he starts the guitar riff to “Sweet Child of Mine” and someone else gets up to sing it and it sounds a lot different than Axl, just stop. For the love of God, stop. 45. Brett Dennen - Taste of Chicago, Chicago, IL Performs at the Bing Lounge *I think there’s a reason no one hears about Brett Dennen anymore, and it’s that his music is as boring as his live set. Even he seemed like he was going to fall asleep, so yea, there you go.

46. STS9 - Rothbury Music Festival, Rothbury, MI Performs at Red Rocks *STS9 had cool laser lights and stuff I guess, but you can get that at any club in any big city. Their sound sounded muffled like the voice in the drive-thru at a fast food chain. I kept thinking, was that a technical problem or was that their sound? I really didn’t care after about 20 minutes in and left the show.

47. Montgomery Gentry - Naperville RibFest, Naperville, IL Performs "Dead or Alive" *Some bands that start playing smaller venues are a great catch, such as Frampton or REO Speedwagon. Montgomery Gentry not so much. You could barely hear their voices over the music and I don’t think I was the only one that noticed this.

48. Sufjan Stevens - Chicago Theater, Chicago, IL Performs Live at Carrie and Lowell *From the man who brought you the sing-a-long song “Chicago” from Little Miss Sunshine, I give you a man that pierces your ears with experimental white noise for two hours straight. I gave myself ear muffs much of the show and was wondering why he was doing this to us.

49. Bret Michaels - Chicago Ridge Fest, Chicago Ridge, IL Performs "Every Rose Has its Thorn" *Bret has really made a career riding Poison’s coattails. And who can blame him? Except when after “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” your set list contains mostly covers and you play for about 30 minutes. I guess you need Poison back to really deliver Brett.

50. Grateful Dead - Rothbury Music Festival, Rothbury, MI Live from the Blossom Music Center I don’t see what the attraction is with this band. Okay, maybe when Jerry Garcia was with them things were different, but at least when I saw them in ’09 in sounded like one long practice session. It almost sounded like they were tuning up their guitars the whole time and didn’t really play much of anything. I guess it doesn’t really matter when the crowd are literally deadheads and are stoned out of their minds.

51. Deerhoof - United Center, Chicago Live in Brooklyn The worst band live award goes to Deerhoof. Congratulations. Never see this band. I have seen threads on the Internet where people like white noise and call it “ahead of its time” and what not. But hey, you say tomato, I say garbage. The lead singer sang nothing but the word “Basketball” for the last song while she dance up and down as the band played fast paced rock and roll, which it did on every song. She sounded like Yoko Ono and fingernails scratching a chalkboard simultaneously. The combination of her and the rock band was awful and the audience hardly applauded the set. I almost felt bad for them. Sorry Deerfhoof. You get the award for worst band live.

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