2006: Top 10 Concerts

by Vish Iyer

My top 10 favorite concerts of 2006, in descending order:

1. Porcupine Tree (Keswick Theatre, Glenside, PA & State Theatre, Falls Church, VA; October 07 & October 08): These back-to-back shows top the list because Steven Wilson and his group simply put on awesome performances both nights. In what seemed like a common theme on all concerts on the band’s entire Arriving Somewhere tour, both the shows were divided into two halves. The band played unreleased material from the upcoming album on the first half and the regular favorites during the second. The new material, which included the brilliant tentatively-titled “The Beast,” which was well over 10 minutes long, sounded very promising and was almost in the same vein as In Absentia and Deadwing.

Following the first hour the band took a break, after which they returned to play more than an hour’s worth of the old stuff. However, centered on In Absentia and Deadwing, it included almost no songs from any other record. But the fans of the last two albums of Porcupine Tree got what they wanted: “Car,” “Halo,” “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here,” “Blackest Eyes,” “Train” and “Sound Of Muzak” among other crowd pleasers. All in all, the band just put out no-nonsense absolutely fabulous shows. And drummer Gavin Harrison stole the show as much as Wilson did.

2. Tool (Tweeter Center for the Performing Arts, Mansfield, MA; September 29): Almost everybody at this “sold-out” show seemed to have bought scalped tickets It just goes to show that nothing stop the rabid fans of Tool from seeing their favorite band play live. You can have a “no camera” policy at a Tool concert, but you can never have a “no sneaking in the good stuff” policy, because Tool fans, determined as hell they are, don’t care about sneaking in cameras or the price they paid for the tickets, as they are with sneaking in the good stuff. And they did that day, and the smoke and the funny odor were the only bothersome things at the concert; not the hysterical fans screaming Maynard’s name to death or the deafeningly loud music or the disturbing images on the screens.

Tool’s concerts are all about the experience and the anxiety of seeing the band, and it's almost a sensory overload with the two giant TV screens and the screen right behind the band itself, bathing the members throughout the show with weird and scary images as they played weird and scary songs. And who can forget the spacey laser show? The encore was the greatest part of the show. The band didn’t go in but sat right on the stage, with all the lights in the stadium switched off. Drummer Danny Carey lit his cigarette lighter and waved it to the crowd, and the whole partially open-air stadium, in response, lit up, with tiny specks of flames from cigarette lighters giving a breathtaking sight.

3. Alice In Chains (Lupos Heartbreak Hotel, Providence, RI; October 31): The second leg of the AIC’s 2006 tour was extraordinary. The first leg of the tour was amazing, but this one was something else. After close to an hour into the show, the band retreated inside and there was a short film on Staley projected on a giant screen. Then the band came out to do a fully unplugged set, and they played the classics “Down In A Hole,” “No Excuses,” “Don’t Follow” and “Got Me Wrong,” among others. Then they came back out for the third set to wrap up the show, but not before the five-song encore. They rocked the house like it was a party in hell, which was kind of fitting for that night; it was Halloween.

4. Depeche Mode (Nissan Pavilion, Bristow, VA; May 21): Opening act She Wants Revenge wasn’t as huge eight months ago as it is now, but despite their Gang of Four or The Cure ripoff style of music they were energetic and interesting. But former '80s band Depeche Mode had more spunk and energy than most rock bands do. Dave Gahan’s frantic spinning dance during “A Question Of Time” was absolutely phenomenal, never mind his age.

As with most Depeche Mode shows, this one focused more on their new gothic stuff and kept away from the older songs. However, they did do a complete makeover of “Photographic,” (from their very first album Speak And Spell), turning it into an industrial dance track. “Home” was changed as well, with a super intro leading into the song. Depeche Mode could be forgiven for not playing Violator in its entirety, but the exclusion of “Policy Of Truth” on some shows on this leg of the tour – that was a part of all shows on the first leg – was a little disappointing.

However, this made room for the amazing single’s version of “In Your Room” from Songs Of Faith And Devotion, along with the expected “Walking In My Shoes” and “I Feel You.” Ultra was ignored throughout the tour, with “Home” being the only song played from it. Also downplayed was Exciter, with only “Goodnight Lovers” finding its way into the first leg of the tour, and then nothing on the second leg. But who is to complain? Having too many potential songs for a live performance is only a good problem for fans.

5. Gary Numan (Paradise Rock Club, Boston, MA; August 06): This wasn’t a mega venue like any of the above concerts, but a modest rock club for students of Boston College to hang out. Even the opening act was a bunch of kids from Boston College from across the street. But Numan, with the aid of his able band, completely lit the venue on fire. Compared to Depeche Mode’s show, Numan’s was even more gothic, with searing guitars, heavy synthesizers and an absolutely fantastic rhythm section bombarding the crowd with noise and distortion that they would remember for the rest of their lives. Numan blessed the crowd with old ditties like “Cars” and completely fresh versions of “Metal” and “Are Friends Electric?” He changed a couple of other songs as well and still made them sound so awfully good. Like Depeche Mode, Numan poured so much punch and energy into the show that it would put a lot of rock bands to shame. This legend is not only a pioneer of electronic pop also but knows how to rock hard.

6. Massive Attack (Orpheum Theatre, Boston, MA; October 01): Seeing Massive Attack play live is like seeing a rare species of a bird or animal. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For this “best of” tour, Massive Attack had surprisingly fewer singers and more musicians – case-in-point, two drummers playing simultaneously. The singing lineup had just four people, including Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins, who sang on Mezzanine and is also singing on the band’s upcoming album. But surprisingly, the show was more organic than expected, gracious yet raw, and this made it less of a best-of show and more of a concert to promote Mezzanine. In short, everything that Massive Attack has ever created has been nothing less than brilliant, and the same goes for their shows. My only complaint was that this powerful show was too short.

7. Live (Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, Hampton Beach, NH; July 30): This show had everything that one would expect from a great concert: band comes on time, gives a brilliant performance, and plays a lot of songs. Watching this band play live makes one feel that there is still hope for post-grunge. This concert, promoting the latest offering Songs From The Black Mountain, surprisingly didn’t include many cuts from it, with an emphasis on old favorites and a surprise hard rock cover of “Walk The Line,” which was done fabulously well.   

8. Ani Di Franco (Orpheum Theatre, Boston, MA; November 10): Ani’s live shows always kick ass, but the opening act, Hamell on Trial, a one man punk band, kicked as much ass as Ani did that night. Hamell on Trial, aka Ed Hamell, is like Lewis Black with an acoustic guitar. His hyperactivity and his acerbic songs and rants about politics and life were hilariously entertaining. As far as Ani, this righteous babe’s shows are an absolute joy to watch, with her enthusiastic interaction with the crowd, and her random chats were less about politics and more about her pregnancy experience. It was a simple show with just a three-piece band: Ani with her fleet of acoustic guitars, a xylophone player, and a cello player. But the music was, as always, fabulous. She brings so much personality and life to her shows that no wonder she’s one of the greatest live performers out there.

9. Duran Duran (Providence Performing Arts Center, Providence, RI; November 02): By the look of the crowd, which consisted mostly of 30-something women yelling hysterically like 16 year olds, it was evident that Duran Duran is way past its glory days. But Simon Le Bon and the boys performed as if they were in the prime of their youth. They did not try to experiment with the setlist, and even though this tour was a prelude to their upcoming new record, they stuck to the songs everybody wanted them to play. The setlist comprised pretty much the band’s entire “Greatest Hits” record and the show was modest, no overly fancy lighting or gimmicky stage décor. So the show was all about the music, and Duran Duran still sounds good, one of the few bands that is both talented and good-looking.

10. Pet Shop Boys (Opera House, Boston, MA; October 13): The Pet Shop Boys tour could probably be the gaudiest and most flamboyant tour this year. The stage was full of people, but none of them were musicians, except for Chris Lowe standing in a corner with his keyboard. Visually stimulating, the concert was full of elaborate costume changes and lots of choreography by a group of talented dancers. The show was almost three hours long, with a 20-minute break between the two halves, and the guys played most of their hits and a lot of new numbers from Fundamental.

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