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The 40 greatest concerts in Boston history

The Phoenix picks the shows that have defined the scene
By PHOENIX STAFF  |  October 30, 2006

Billie Joe Armstrong at the Hatch Shell

Forty years ago, the very idea that rock and roll was worth serious consideration was novel at best. Jazz, blues, classical? Sure. But rock and roll was just dirty kids’ stuff. Fodder for the gossip pages, perhaps. but soon, the fissure between pop singer and rock band widened until it became difficult if not impossible to ignore this new cultural force. And, beyond Rolling Stone and few other emerging national publications, it was in places like the Phoenix the alternative weeklies — that the rock critic found his or her platform.

Music coverage is now integral to our mission. And we’re fortunate to live in a city that supports a thriving music scene of its own, a destination for any serious touring act. And yet Boston is not LA or New York. It’s not an industry center. So there are things that happen on stages here that just don’t happen anywhere else. For some artists, it’s almost like a second home, which has made for 40 years of great music, unforgettable shows, and legendary performances. Here’s our list of the 40 greatest.

We thought of many more shows that didn’t make the list; every entry sparked memories of half a dozen other great ones. Did anybody we know see Sonic Youth’s first show and was it really at Mass Art? What about that notorious Police show at the Rat — the one that purportedly drew only three paying customers? And what about all those all-ages hardcore matinees, especially since every now and again the Del Fuegos or Echo and the Bunnymen played that circuit?

We wouldn’t have pulled this together if we weren’t expecting — no, hoping — that anyone reading it will feel compelled to remind us of all the shows we missed. So add your own Boston rock experiences in the comments sections. Click here to get the list started.


Written by Matt Ashare, Ted Drozdowski, Jon Garelick, Brett Milano, Will Spitz, and Jim Sullivan.

  Topics: Live Reviews , Billie Joe Armstrong , Entertainment , Music ,  More more >
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The 40 greatest concerts in Boston history
I've been lucky enough to see ten of the forty concerts on your list of the "Greatest Rock Shows in Boston History." I'll give you James Brown at #1, for its historical significance if nothing else, even though it wasn't one of them. And I agree with ranking the Stones at the Garden in '72 at #3 because I did see that. But I also saw the Jimi Hendrix Experience perform at the Carousel Theater in Framingham on August 25, 1968. It was easily the greatest and most magical rock show I've ever seen. In my opinion, you made a big mistake in not ranking it #2 - not to mention by completely omitting it from your list. -Dan Currie, Boston
By Dan Currie on 10/26/2006 at 1:01:24
The 40 greatest concerts in Boston history
Top 5 shows of the '90s that aren't on this list: Johnny Cash solo gig at Avalon, right after the first American album. Alice in Chains and Screaming Trees at the Channel, 11/27/1992. Sweat raining from the ceiling. The Make Up at that Chinatown loft that burned down a while later, sometime in the 90s? Also, Shellac at the same loft, although technically Shellac's MidEast shows were probably better. Slayer at Axis. Can't find the date, but it was bloody and cruel.
By on 10/27/2006 at 7:25:40
The 40 greatest concerts in Boston history
Glad to see you rank James Brown as #1. I didn't see that show, but an earlier one at the Boston Arena in 1965 was one of the great shows I've been to - as was Ray Charles at the Orpheum around 1962. For Rolling Stones shows, my favorite remains the Manning Bowl in Lynn in 1966 - though I'll tell you, the Fenway Park show just last year was pretty darn good. Two Georges rank high for me - George Thorogood and the Destroyers at a number of clubs around town, and George Jones at the Paradise. He played the first show, then disappeared before the second show that night. Fortunately, I was front and center at the first show. Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys at Nightstage late in his career was a show that demonstrated how bluegrass really ROCKED. Many, many folk shows at the old Club 47 (now Passim), and Dylan's after-hours show around 1963 at the Cafe Yana near Fenway. Lots of good music.
By Bill Nowlin on 10/28/2006 at 4:59:18
The 40 greatest concerts in Boston history
I posted this on the #8 page for U2. You have the date wrong. It was 12/13/80. See my post on that page for the details.
By Shyla on 10/29/2006 at 12:47:33
The 40 greatest concerts in Boston history
Top 40 Shows in the Boston Area Well I’m sure that you wouldn’t run all 40 of my favorites but I’ll drop a few that I think should have made the list that I saw. In no particular order 1. Jimi Hendrix and the Soft Machine at the Framingham Carousel Theatre in the summer of 1968. Hendrix at his best, Hey Joe, a drum solo by Mitch Mitchell while Hendrix replaced a string himself, switching over to a Fender Mustang and destroying it for the Wild Thing finale. It was just awe inspiring showmanship and musicianship as well. 2. Newport Jazz Festival with Jethro Tull, Jeff Beck and 10 Years After. Jethro Tull playing new day yesterday while speed freaks stormed the fence is a 60’s memory. 3. Joplin’s last concert ever was at Harvard stadium. A powerful and joyous night. 4. Paved Country at the Lizard Lounge with Jim Scoppa and Billy Loosigian wailing away. 5. The Swimming Pool Q’s at the Inn Sq Men’s Bar 6. The Infliktors at the same venue. Both probably early 80’s 7. Bram Tchaikofsky at the Paradise. They ran out of material and saying they were just a UK bar band proceeded to tear up some covers. 8. An unknown Steeleye Span opening for Procol Harum at the Orpheum and responding to heckling for rock and roll with an acapella version of Gaudete that brought down the house. 9. Fleetwood Mac and the Jefferson Starship at the Garden, with the floor open. Both bands at the height of their powers 10. The Stompers at the Channel. 11. Willy Loco and Ready Teddy at the Arlington Theatre last year. 12. Robin Lane and the Chartbusters at Jack’s place in the 80’s 13. Howlin Wolf at Joe’s Place 1972 14. Dwight Twilley at Paul’s Mall. Greatest pop punk band ever in tremendous form 1985? 15. Little Feat at Paul’s Mall 1973 or so. Lowell George at his best. 16. Muddy Waters and Claudia Lennear at Paul’s Mall, 1976? The statesman and brown sugar. 17. Country Joe with Barry Melton and the Rascals, at Paul’s Mall. 18. Lisa Gilkeyson at Passim 2005, great great singer with a very tasteful guitar player 19. Ten Years After opening for the Mothers of Invention, Framingham Carousel Theatre 1968. Just a night for guitar gods. 10 years after took 4 encores and the Mothers took up the challenge with Zappa playing amazingly well. 20. The Bottle Rockets at Harpers Ferry this year. Great American Band rockin out for an empty house. 21. The Kinks at the Orpheum on the Preservation tour 1974 22. The Smithereens and Paul Kelly and the Messengers at the Orpheum 1987 23. The Pretenders teetering on the edge of chaos while they were all still alive, with the English Beat who were boring as hell, 1982 24. Al Kooper and all those tv sidemen at Harpers Ferry in 2000. 25. The Georgia Sattelites at the Channel. 26.
By Rockinwillie on 10/30/2006 at 11:29:54
The 40 greatest concerts in Boston history
Add to the list: Little Man Tate, Great Scott Sunday, 11/5/2006 A heads up not to miss a gig that people will be talking about forty years from now.
By on 11/03/2006 at 10:15:51
The 40 greatest concerts in Boston history
I agree that James Brown at Boston Garden in April 1968 has to be #1. It was not only the HWMISB at the top of his craft, but possibly history-changing. Jimi at the Carousel (both shows) in August 1968 would be a worthy choice for second place. They were poweful performances, but quite intimate due to the relatively small venue and the round stage. There were a number of other great shows at Carousel in 1968 and 1969, including Led Zeppelin (another top 40 candidate). The Mothers of Invention Jamming with Rahsaan Roland Kirk at the 1968 Boston Globe Jazz Festival (War Memorial Auditorium) was a dynamic rock and jazz fusion. And what about Van Morrison's various free gigs on the Boston Common and Sly at Harvard Stadium???Another glaring omission is the Stones 1969 stop at Boston Garden. And does anyone remember the Allman Brothers opening for Chuck Berry at the Boston Tea Party (or was it the Ark) ?? Or is that a complete confabulation?? The Modern Lovers at Brandeis??
By Merrill Rubin on 01/13/2007 at 1:23:50

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