The “list a band you’ve seen A-Z” meme has been making the rounds on Facebook since the beginning of the Coronavirus crisis. I finally got around to making mine.
I’ve seen a lot of live music over the years, so instead of just picking acts at random for each letter of the alphabet, I tried to choose the best show I’ve ever seen for each letter. And I also strove for diversity: you’ll find more than just rock bands here. So dig into it. And feel free to share yours on the ROCK 92.9 Facebook or Twitter.
Aphex Twin | Avalon, Boston | September 8, 1997 – Richard D. James, aka Aphex Twin, deejayed while laying on the sofa of a full living room that had been set up on the Avalon stage. Two dancers in full bear costumes backed him up. It was wild.
Big Al Downing | Johnny D’s, Somerville | June 1998 – I went with a friend to see the oldies artist Bobby Hebb (remember “Sunny?”). We were about to leave when out strolls country legend Big Al Downing. I’m not much for country, but he was so damn good we had to stay for the whole set.
Charles Bradley | City Hall Plaza, Boston | May 29, 2016 – Watching the “Screaming Eagle of Soul” win over the crowd at Boston Calling song by song was something else. By the end of his set, he had everyone at the festival in the palm of his hand.
Darkbuster | Abbey Lounge, Somerville | July 2005 – Darkbuster are one of my all-time favorite Boston punk bands and their annual Hometown Throwup series of shows were always an event not to be missed.
Elbow | Paradise Rock Club, Boston | November 1, 2017 – I’ve seen Elbow many a time over the years–they’re one of my favorite acts ever–but seeing them with a good friend a few years ago was an all-time live music moment for me.
Maynard Ferguson | St. Anselms College, Goffstown, NH | March 1995 – I was a senior in high school and my jazz band got to see legendary jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson live, picking off high Cs and Ds like it was nothing. It blew my 18-year-old music nerd mind.
Guided By Voices | Paradise Rock Club, Boston | September 9, 2004 – GBV are my all-time favorite rock band. I’ve seen them countless times, but watching them kick off their farewell (at the time) tour in Boston was the standout set.
Hel Toro | Harper’s Ferry, Allston | April 2008 – The stories I could tell you about my years hosting and judging the WBCN Rock ‘n’ Roll Rumble. So many great Boston rock bands. So many beers. Hel Toro sticks out in my brain as one of the memorable ones.
Cave In | The Launchpad, Albuquerque, NM | November 2000 – I’d been living in Albuquerque for about six months. Boston metalcore pioneers Cave In were due to come through town in support of their groundbreaking album Jupiter. Seeing them live was balm for my homesick soul.
Pearl Jam | Boston Garden, Boston | April 11, 1994 – My first-ever rock show: Pearl Jam headlining the Garden for the Vs. Tour, Mudhoney supporting. I wrote about it here. Oh, and I’ve seen them at least a dozen more times since then. The Great Woods shows in Summer of ’03 are up there, too.
The Black Keys | Avalon, Boston | November 16, 2005 – I only have a few examples of being able to say I saw a band before they broke big. Seeing the Keys at Avalon in ’05 and again in ’06 are two of those examples.
Annie Lennox | Tweeter Center, Mansfield | June 28, 2004 – Eurythmics co-founder Annie Lennox was opening for Sting. Sting’s set was forgettable. Lennox stole the night with one of the most powerful vocal performances I’ve ever witnessed.
Mogwai | Middle East Downstairs, Cambridge | September 4, 1999 – Another all-time favorite band of mine that I’ve seen many, many times. I remember this show being earlier, though; maybe November ’98? I was pinned up to the speakers by the stage and it was terrifically, ear-splittingly loud.
Neil Young | Mesa Del Sol Ampitheater, Albuquerque, NM | September 6, 2000 – I made a deal with my girlfriend: I’d take her to see Judas Priest if she came with me to see Neil Young. Both shows rocked, but finally seeing Neil after growing up listening to his music was so satisfying.
Ozomatli | Hatch Memorial Shell, Boston | Summer 1998 – Remember back in the day when WBOS and WBCN and WFNX used to host free live shows on the Esplanade? I do. Latin funk band Ozomatli played one for FNX when I was a DJ there and I got to watch the set from the stage. Awesome.
Portishead | The Palladium, Worcester | March 14, 1998 – Remember when I said Annie Lennox turned in one of the most powerful vocal performances I’ve ever witnessed? Beth Gibbons of UK trip-hop act Portishead was another. A voice that just absolutely breaks your heart.
Quicksand | Paradise Rock Club, Boston | January 7, 2013 – Sometimes you get to see a beloved band reunite and it’s just not what you hoped it would be (sorry, Pixies). And sometimes it’s better than you’d ever expected. That was post-hardcore stalwarts Quicksand in 2013. Ditto to alt-rock cult-faves Failure, who I saw reunite the following year.
Rammstein | The Palladium, Worcester | June 5, 1999 – The greatest live rock act I’ve ever seen. It was my first time seeing them and the pyro was so intense we could feel the heat in the balcony.
St. Vincent | City Hall Plaza, Boston; Harvard Athletic Fields, Cambridge | May 23, 2015; May 26, 2018 – Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, is the closest artist this generation has to Prince or David Bowie. An absolute shredder on guitar, a next-level live performer, a musical trailblazer. Jaw-on-the-floor both times I’ve seen her live.
Clark Terry | University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH | January 1992 – I was a freshman playing in jazz band. We’d traveled to UNH for their annual Jazz Festival and trumpeter Clark Terry joined the UNH Jazz Band on stage. A living legend. He played the damn flugelhorn upside-down!
Queen Latifah | Symphony Hall, Boston | May 10, 2017 – I saw Queen Latifah sing and rap with the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall. I mean, what else do you want me to say?
The Ventures | Middle East Downstairs, Cambridge | 1999? – The one show on this list I can’t seem to find an accurate date for. I took my dad to see surf-rock greats The Ventures original lineup (minus drummer Mel Taylor, who had recently passed away; his son Leo had taken his place). An all-time father & son live music memory.
Brian Wilson | Symphony Hall, Boston | June 17, 2016 – Another father & son all-timer: for Father’s Day, I took my dad to see Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys perform Pet Sounds in its entirety at Symphony Hall. There are no words to describe how amazing this was.
Latyrx | Avalon, Boston | Summer 1999 – The rap duo Latyrx is part of the West Coast hip-hop collective Quannum, which also boasts DJ Shadow–my all-time fave DJ–as a member. I saw Shadow and the rest of the crew live the summer after I graduated from Northeastern and it was like being at the greatest house party you could ever imagine.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs | Sunshine Theater, Albuquerque, NM | October 2002 – Karen O is a force of nature live and Yeah Yeah Yeahs were one of the best bands to come out of the early ’00s NYC scene. Interpol was up there, too; I saw them both together the following year at the BCN River Rave.
Dan Zanes | Somerville Theatre, Somerville | February 5, 2011 – I never got to see Dan Zanes with Boston’s Del Fuegos back in the day, but I did get to take my two young kids to see him as a reinvented family bandleader. Fitting that this list would end with one of my kids’ first-ever gigs. Thanks for reading.