This may be weird, but I always think of concerts as a kind of consummation — like finally getting the chance to be alone with that special squeeze you’ve been sweatin’ for a while. The relationship between you, a band, and a song are finally at the most intimate, whether you’re in the corner of a bar or on the muddy fields of Glastonbury. And for all the time you’ve spent peeling away the layers of a track, analyzing every note, every word, every minute detail about down to the the last wavelength, in concert the pressure is now on the band. Do they really look like their profile pic?
It’s nerve-racking when the moment comes. Some bands have performance anxiety, or were just plain lying about what they were actually packing. Most bands are satisfyingly WYSIWYG, and remain true to their promises. These bands and these songs below, however, represent the most powerful moments in a connection between audience and performer — moments of dynamic expansion that open up whole new parts of the song that you never even knew existed. At the time it’s a revelation, and in retrospect it can be a rediscovery, but it’s always something unique.
We tried to compile a list of songs that resonated on several levels. There are cultural turning points, fan favorites, canonical benchmarks, and most importantly, personal experiences. Name another art form where you’re allowed to feel something so personal, so moving, so hair-raisingly beautiful in the company of hundreds or thousands of other people possibly feeling and relating to the exact same thing you are (MDMA levels notwithstanding). The subjectivity of a live performance is almost more apt than a studio recording, but these here are songs we felt transcended personal preference and reached out to even those who weren’t there (Or: you’ll probably get chills from watching these videos).
But there are more memories than there are YouTube videos™. There will be concerts from an unknown band in the middle of nowhere that will leave a stronger impression than being front row at Radiohead or backstage at The Boss, and that’s a fact. These songs give your personal experiences a run for their money, and while you may not believe that anything will ever top the time the lead singer of Ulterior Motifs set his guitar on fire and suplexed the bass player into the floor tom, we hope you spend some time co-opting the magic that was created with these performances– live performances that deepen, expound, and straight-up own the studio versions.
–Jeremy D. Larson
Joy Division – “Transmission”
On record, they were clean. On stage, they were clean. So, what’s the difference? With “Transmission”, Curtis doesn’t spit out the lyrics so much as he threads together a fragile yet magnificent rope, from which he swings around and around. No one will ever dismiss Martin Hannett’s timeless and unorthodox mixing on Unknown Pleasures, it’s an indefectible example of diamond production work. But in hindsight, the radical producer simply trapped the group’s carnal tendencies. Inside the album existed what only a few knew at the time: This Manchester quartet was working with something otherworldly, and watching “Transmission” live proves this. It’s just a tad spooky, that’s all. –Michael Roffman
The Flaming Lips – “Race For the Prize”
Balloons, smoke machines, confetti, 40-foot projection screens, colored lights, and background dancers wearing plush animal costumes – “Race for the Prize” not only marked a turning point in the band’s recording career, but the transformation of their live performances into the sensory-overloading grand spectacle they’re known for being today. After The Soft Bulletin, it no longer seemed as if we were just watching a band perform on acid, but as if the entire audience were tripping along with them. Now a staple on their setlists, there isn’t a song in The Flaming Lips’ catalog better-suited for setting the tone for their loony live shows than the soaring acid-pop of “Race for the Prize”. –Austin Trunick
Tool – “Third Eye”
“Think for yourself…question authority,” the opening monologue begs of its listeners, just before one of Tool’s most prestigious and haunting musical numbers hushes a live audience. “Third Eye” is the closing track from 1996’s Ã†nima, and from this 1998 concert recording, fans can reminisce on days when Maynard James Keenan could dole out a scream that made people question their own identity. A version similar to the one presented here can be found on Tool’s Salival compilation per secondhand purchase, as it’s now out of print. –David Buchanan
John Coltrane – “My Favorite Things”
John Coltrane took Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway classic “My Favorite Things” for a spin just two years after it hit the stage in the Sound of Music by stretching the showtune into a madcap 13-and-a-half minute jam that’s considered one of the most essential jazz records of all time. Leave it to John Coltrane, though, to turn his own hit on its head whenever he and his band played it live, most notably at the 1963 Newport Jazz Festival. In perhaps the finest performance of his career, Coltrane and his sidemen take the tune on an extended, 17-minute jaunt so hypnotic and memorable, you’ll never whistle that chipper little melody the same way again. -MÃ¶hammad Choudhery