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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.