Best Pop Concert: Bruuuuuce!!
Bruce Springsteen performs at Consol Energy Center with the E Street Band.
Neil Young performs with Crazy Horse at the Petersen Events Center.
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The criteria for this list was simple: the artist had to be of age to collect Social Security in order to qualify.
Or, at least it seems that way, for the most part.
It was a great year for the classic rockers, who have a huge advantage over the youngsters in the live arena: not only do they have the greater performance, they draw on a wealth of material that has stood the test of time.
Not included here were the shows by Roger Waters (who did an encore of "The Wall") and the Avett Brothers, who have simply made the list too many times.
1. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (Consol Energy Center, Oct. 27): If you told me Bruce Springsteen was going to step up his game, I would have told you he was already on the top step. On this tour he went to step 11, if that's a thing, with what may have been his best performance here ever. It was a densely packed three hours of songs mostly strung together by a quick 1-2-3-4 count. Typically, it was a "Darkness" night in Pittsburgh and we were shortchanged some of the story songs he'd been doing on the tour ("Incident on 57th Street," "Jungleland," "Lost in the Flood"), but the "Wrecking Ball" songs were right on topic, his energy was nearly superhuman, and the mission seemed to be to lift every person in the place out of whatever doldrums they might have been in.
2. The Beach Boys (Benedum, May 11): In some ways, this show didn't make sense. Put America's most populist, most summery band, in a posh theater with tickets at $80-$350, and you're shutting out a lot of people from celebrating the Beach Boys' 50th anniversary. If you had the money, what you got was priceless: a 45-song retrospective with the world's finest pop harmonies and exquisite support from indie band The Wondermints. Although he was frail, it was a wonderful testament to the genius of Brian Wilson, to longevity and to a time when pop was more tuneful, innocent and, frankly, better.
3. Neil Young with Crazy Horse (Petersen Events Center, Oct. 9): There are so many ways to enjoy Neil Young. This was the LOUD way. He turned up on the Pitt campus to make Le Noise with Le Crazy Horse, the band that brings out the beast in him. They did 12 songs over 120 minutes, so there were jams aplenty, one of the best being on "Walk Like a Giant" from the new album, "Psychedelic Pill." Mr. Young, at 67, reminded people how he became the Godfather of Grunge, and with Old Black in hand, he will still out-grunge anyone who gets in his path.
4. Trey Anastasio with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (Heinz Hall, Feb. 14): We've heard the terms "classical rock" and "symphonic rock" and often have to shudder at the very thought of the bombast. The elaborate nearly 40-minute suite "Time Turns Elastic" was a gem, and the "Abbey Road" medley put the whole thing over the top.
5. My Morning Jacket/Band of Horses (Stage AE, Aug. 21): These two indie-rock forces rolled in with the siren voices of MMJ's Jim James and BOH's Ben Bridwell, both of which sounded angelic, immaculate, haunting, flat-out amazing, rising up over the cool, cloudy North Shore. MMJ is, quite simply, one of the best live bands on the planet -- the place where indie-rock and jam-rock meet. Not only is the Kentucky quintet heavier than a lot of metal bands (seriously), it can take off into majestic art-rock, sound as psych-folky as the Dead or tear into a soulful Southern jam to rival the Allman Brothers.
6. Rush (Consol Energy Center, Sept. 16): The rule of thumb for old bands arriving with new albums is basically: play three or four of those songs (we'll pretend we're interested) and then get back to the hits. Kudos to Rush for loading the first set with deep cuts and boldly making the new "Clockwork Angels" a dazzling showpiece in the second. Needless to say the musicianship was sublime, and Geddy Lee can still soar to the heavens.
7. Puscifer (March 1, Byham): Maynard James Keenan, of prog-metal giant Tool and alt-rock spinoff A Perfect Circle, rolled out his third band for an evening of ambient/industrial metal with a darkly comic trailer park aesthetic. It was music for the end-times made all the more effective by the presence of gothy British rocker Carina Round.
8. The Who (Consol Energy Center, Nov. 11): If you saw the Sandy benefit, you know the deal: The Who still has it! Even without its vaunted rhythm section. The Who did its legacy proud with a muscular and precise reading of "Quadrophenia," ending with Roger Daltrey nearly buckling the walls on "Love Reign O'er Me" and through a kicking greatest hits encore.
9. Motorhead/Slayer (Rockstar Energy Mayhem Tour, First Niagara Pavilion, July 28): Midway through its main stage set, Asking Alexandria singer Danny Worsnop suggested the lawn people split down the middle for a "wall of death," and that's when the Mayhem commenced. The free-for-all in the mud pit quickly extended into the pavilion. It peaked for Motorhead, which provided a throwback thrash-metal soundtrack that turned it all just a little slapstick. Slayer, one of the bands that started all this insanity 30 years ago, followed with a set that was dark, fast, sinister, bludgeoning, heart-pounding and wicked tight. Footnote: Slipknot had no business following either of them.
10. Wiz Khalifa/Mac Miller, et al (First Niagara Pavilion, Aug. 4): Last year it was Watch the Throne. This year, the hip-hop event of the year was our hometown boys drawing 21,000 to Burgettstown. Chevy Woods, Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q all provided strong support, and Mac (hampered by a broken hand) and Wiz delivered in their own different ways. It was the first time seeing Wiz here with a live band, and it definitely enhanced his appeal.
Honorable Mentions: Squeeze/English Beat (Carnegie Library Music Hall); No Age (University of Pittsburgh); Sleigh Bells (Carnegie Mellon University); Dinosaur Jr. (Mr. Smalls); Fiona Apple, Smashing Pumpkins and Boston (Stage AE); Red Hot Chili Peppers (Consol Energy Center).
First Published December 20, 2012 12:00 am