Concerts, Popular Music

The Best Concert Year Ever

In addition to local history and classic literature, I also love popular music, particularly classic rock, sixties pop and early Rock and Roll.  I love listening to it, researching its history and learning how to play it on the guitar and drums.  I especially love listening to live music, so I try to attend as many concerts in Pittsburgh or within a reasonable driving distance as possible, depending on my schedule (and finances!).   I was thrilled to discover that my top five favorite groups and artists were touring throughout 2012 and I would be able to see them all, in addition to an unexpected reunion tour.  It was the best concert year I’ve ever had and one I will never be able to repeat.

The Beach Boys
Benedum Center in Pittsburgh, PA
May 11, 2012

The Beach Boys - May 11, 2012
Photo by Jennifer Sopko

I never thought I’d see the day when all surviving Beach Boys, including the legendary Brian Wilson would reunite on the same stage.  But they did, to celebrate the group’s 50th anniversary and brand new album, That’s Why God Made the Radio.  I highly recommend their new album, with it’s outstanding production (duh, Brian Wilson), beautiful pop compositions and gorgeous harmonies.  The group’s vocals sound as fresh as they did when these guys were in their early 20s and the songwriting is still strong.  It’s an incredibly joyous album that it makes the listener feel just as joyous.  It was a pleasure to see these guys together (with dearly departed band members Carl and Dennis Wilson fondly remembered) and hear some of the greatest and most beautiful pop songs in history performed live.

Neil Diamond
Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, OH
July 1, 2012

Neil Diamond - July 1, 2012
Photo by Jennifer Sopko

He’s the Jewish Elvis… and probably the only instance where my musical taste and my sister’s musical taste cross.   As a Pittsburgher and die hard Steelers fan,  it really takes something special to get me to drive to Cleveland (enemy territory) and Neil Diamond is something special.  I’ve seen him several times and each time I am struck by the look of gratitude on his face as he gazes out into the crowd after performing each of his songs.  His eyes sparkle just as much as his legendary sparkly shirts.  He truely conveys how much he loves his vocation and appreciates his audience.   He’s such an geniune singer-songwriter; his compositions are truely touching with their honesty and intimacy and his voice is so warm and honeyed.  It’s a wonderful experience to join Neil and thousands of rapt fans in a “Sweet Caroline” singalong.  My sister and I both agree he is “so good, so good, SO GOOD!”

Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, PA
September 11, 2012

Rush - September 11, 2012
Photo by Jennifer Sopko

I love being in the female minority when it comes to being a fan of the band Rush.  I feel very unique and privileged to be connected to the musicianship and wordsmithing that characterizes the progressive rock band’s catalog of music.  While I love the primitive driving rhythms and simply lyrics of early Rock and Roll, I equally love the intelligent, thoughtful, creative compositions of Rush.  The band has constantly evolved throughout their long career yet remained consisted in their musical integrity.  I wasn’t immediately drawn to their most recent album Clockwork Angels until I heard it performed live – the best execution of a new musical work – but it had me as mesmerized as the anthems you expect to hear at a Rush concert such as Tom Saywer and Subdivisions.   Their musicianship has inspired countless drummers and guitarists (on tangible and air instruments alike); their album-centric storylines have solidified their rock as art.

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, PA
October 27, 2012

Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band - October 27, 2012
Photo by Jennifer Sopko

The first band I ever remember listening to was Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.  At five years old, I sat in front of my dad’s stereo, repeatedly listening to a cassette tape of Born in the USA that my uncle had made.  The first songs I even remember hearing were “Dancing in the Dark” and “I’m On Fire.”  At five years old I had no idea what those songs were talking about, but I loved the sound of the music and I loved Bruce’s voice.  25 years later I had the thrill of hearing my earliest musical memory played live and understanding the message within those powerful, emotional lyrics.  Springsteen’s superhuman endurance and exuberance on stage and absolute committment to his music and his audience are overwhelming.  It’s always a party in Pittsburgh when The Boss is in town and that October night was complete with crowd-surfing, microphone stand-straddling, epic guitar solos and a touching tribute to the badly-missed Big Man, Clarence Clemons.

The Who
Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, PA
November 11, 2012

The Who - November 11, 2012
Photo by Jennifer Sopko

Let’s keep it simple: The Who are the greatest rock band in history.  I knew when I heard that my favorite band of all time, would be performing my favorite album of all time, Quadrophenia, in my hometown of Pittsburgh that this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity and not even an act of God would keep me from the show.  From the 12th row I was bombarded with the lush, orchestral, pounding rock that tells the story of Jimmy the Mod in post-World War II England and his struggles to reconcile his four personalities and musical themes that reflect the four individual personalities of the Who.  I found myself not only dancing to the music, but conducting along with it.  The first time I saw Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend live on stage I was taken aback by the fact that these men were actually not immortal gods, but simply regular hard working people who accomplished amazing things using their musical talents and sheer determination and perseverance.  It’s the way Townshend captures universal experiences, emotions, struggles and celebrations in the group’s “power slop” rock and the way Daltrey bares his soul on stage with his roaring vocals that really overwhelms me whenever I see these two live.  I was equally touched by the duo’s inclusion of their dearly departed bandmates through piping in John Entwistle’s epic bass solo on “5’15” and Keith Moon’s vocals on “Bell Boy.”  It was an unforgettable evening of “organized chaos” and a display of one of my favorite characteristics of The Who’s music: their combination of powerful rock and emotional honesty.

The Monkees
Lakewood Civic Auditorum in Lakewood, OH
November 17, 2012

The Monkees - November 17, 2012
Photo by Jennifer Sopko

Once again, it must be a pretty unique event that draws me to the Cleveland area, especially when it involves driving to and from that city in the same night (thank you energy drinks).  When I heard that Mike Nesmith was joining his former Monkees bandmates Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork for a short tour in tribute to the late Davy Jones, I knew I had  to find a way to the closest show.  The Monkees were my first pop culture obsession and Davy was my first teen idol.  I’ve seen Davy solo, Davy and Micky, and Davy, Micky and Peter, but never had to chance to see the elusive Nesmith perform until now.  It was such a treat to hear some of the group’s Nesmith-penned tunes performed by him, a selection from their cult movie Head and their quintessential hits.  I teared up as the audience took the lead on “Daydream Believer,” a song that no Monkee could sing in place of Jones.  It was a special, emotional night, and I’m proud to say that I have now seen all four Monkees in concert.


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