5 Bob Dylan at Newport 1965
No one quite anticipated Bob Dylan would be the harbinger of the electronic age – but he was. During the Newport Folk Festival, Dylan decided to shock the world (and it really was the world) by playing with an electric band. The king of folk had changed his tune. Wikipedia has an entire page dedicated to the “electric Dylan controversy,” and rightfully so. “Plugging in” changed the face of folk music irrevocably. Suddenly, folk didn’t have to be simplistic acoustic guitar – it could be layered with acoustic and electric instruments to create an even more complex sound. Moreover, Dylan proved that as an artist he had the permission, nay the right, to grow and evolve. Whether or not everyone agreed with him, Dylan did it – and he brought about the biggest upheaval in folk music to date.
4 The Beatles’ Rooftop Concert (Jan. 30, 1969)
When Across the Universe finally came out, I was overjoyed. I saw it four times in theaters, and a subsequent 17 times on DVD within two months. So whenthe characters take to the roof to perform “Don’t Let Me Down” and “All You Need is Love,” I had a nerdgasm (though the whole film is Beatles-nerdgasm worthy in my opinion). The basis for the moment in the movie is the Beatles surprise performance atop the Apple building in London. It would be, unbeknownst to anyone on earth, their last live performance. For that reason alone, the concert is worth its weight in gold. As the most influential band to grace modern music, The Beatles’ final concert represents so many things – a last ditch attempt at the harmony that, ever present in the music, was missing in the group, a conclusion to the Let it Be film masterpiece, one last moment of whimsy, and another fun way to piss off the NYPD. But mostly it was the most amazing culmination to a musical canon that the world would ever know, and is a concert that continues to live on in the collective-nostalgia of all Beatles lovers.
3 The Doors at New Haven (Dec. 9, 1967)
Anyone who’s watched Val Kilmer do a very strange job of portraying an even stranger man knows what “The Doors at New Haven” means. Besides being home to Yale, New Haven doesn’t have much to boast – except being the place where Jim Morrison was arrested on stage mid concert, for going on an obscenity laced rant about the police who had maced him an hour earlier for making out in a shower stall (official charges were inciting a riot, indecency, and public obscenity) the whole thing seems rather absurd. Known as being a modern day Dionysus, you have to expect a certain level of debauchery when it came to The Doors live shows. Apparently, New Haven PD was not too keen on having an ancient-Greek-style-orgy on their watch. Too bad, too, because The Doors’ live shows were as close to that as we would ever get, and by cutting it short the New Haven PD effectively ensured it would be forever etched into our cultural memory of live shows, and New Haven history.
2 Nirvana at Reading (Aug. 30, 1992)
Nirvana was well on their way to worldwide musical domination when they arrived in Reading in 1992. They had played there once before in ’91, midway on the bill, but in 1992, Nirvana was set to headline. Amidst rumors of Kurt Cobain’s mental instability, the front man used his talent at spinning the public’s perception of him into hilarious antics. Pushed out on stage in a wheelchair, donning a hospital gown, Cobain gave undoubtedly one of the most visceral live shows to grace our ears, minds, hearts, and eyes.KristNovoselic’s and Dave Grohl’s abilities were in no shortage either, and both prove themselves to be the most talented musicians of their era with their respective instruments. As such, Live at Reading is one of the most influential musical experiences of all time. It was the last time Nirvana would play in the UK, and only a few years later, the band would dissolve with the shot heard ‘round the world. Live at Reading, however, lived on – and was released as an exclusive DVD in 2009, proving that a concert as exceptional as Live at Reading was capable of outliving the band, and one of the musicians himself.
1 The Rolling Stones at Altamont (Dec. 6, 1969)
Due to protests over The Rolling Stones’ American tour ticket prices, the band decided to put on a free concert in San Francisco. That’d show them! Well, it certainly did. After various venue failures, they finally settled on Altamont. The band began “Under My Thumb” when an angry, methamphetamine-addled concertgoer attempted to rush the stage. When denied by “security staff” (e-hem, the Hells Angeles) he apparently drew a revolver. What was his punishment? A beat down from huge bikers, including being stabbed five times in the back. Needless to say, he died. Through all of this, The Rolling Stones played on (Mick Jagger claims he was aware of the kerfuffle, but not the stabbing – those stage lights are bright, after all). Altamont effectively marked, in blood, the end of the “Summer of Love.” Who even knows how well The Rolling Stones played that evening (though I’m sure they were awesome)– what Altamont proves is that concerts are far more significant than the music alone. And as far as culture-altering concerts go, Altamont is number one.
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