A long time ago, I made a list of gigs I’d been to. Not that many, because I hate going out, lol, but there was a peak period in my 20s when I went to a lot. Looking down that list now, there could be a couple of updates. Jason Isbell needs to be added; I think the Jonathan Richman number is up to (9) now, and Springsteen is up to (4). I saw a gig listing for Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes the other day, and I had a little wistful moment, but no. My most recent gig-going experiences have been somewhat ruined by Other People Who Are Terrible. I won’t rehearse those complaints here.
But which was the best?
I think big stadium gigs are always horrible, so it’ll never be Springsteen. Bob Dylan is always mostly terrible. Tom Petty, Tim McGraw and Brad Paisley vie for the prize as far as concert hall sized venues are concerned. But really, the best gigs are the ones in small sweaty clubs in the days before people decided (a) to talk throughout the concert, and (b) to constantly walk back and forth to the bar. Believe or not, these things never used to happen.
So I’m narrowing it down. Tift Merritt was never bad. Birmingham Symphony Hall for Jason Isbell and Trisha Yearwood was great. But the best gigs of all were probably in the Town and Country Club, and there are three that standout: Jonathan Richman, the time he had a couple of other musicians with him (one playing a lone snare, the other on guitar); Dwight Yoakam, up close and personal, truly exciting. But the winner, the knock-your-socks-off, blow-your-face-off, best ever gig was Maria McKee at the Town and Country. The voice.
You go in expecting something like the records, the Lone Justice, the first solo. But then you hear what her voice can actually do, outside the studio, beyond the limits of technology. Just the soaring power of the human voice. I imagine Brandy Carlile’s voice has a similar power, but Maria McKee sticks in my memory, never to be forgotten.