Last month, we asked you which artist you wished you could’ve seen live. This month, we have essentially the opposite question, posed by A.V. Club Copy Editor Kelsey J. Waite:
What artist have you seen live more than any other?
I feel like I’ve disclosed this here before, but maybe not: I have a long relationship with the band Spoon that dates back to when I was just 18, where—after catching them on a bill with Pavement—I launched its first-ever website on my university’s servers. Over the next 20 years, our paths have converged a lot: One of my bands did a short run of tour dates with them in 2004; Britt Daniel sang backing vocals on one of our albums; I wrote the oral history for Merge’s recent reissue of Gimme Fiction, etc. etc. I say this not to boast, or to explain why I generally try to recuse myself from writing about them here, but to establish that Spoon has been an unusually consistent part of most of my adult life. And in that two-decade span, I’ve lost track of just how many times I’ve seen it live. Conservatively, I’d have to put the estimate somewhere between 100 and 150, which is about as close as you can get without being part of its road crew.
The first time I saw Neko Case, I had to wait in line in the rain. It was actually a pretty perfect lead-up to the gorgeous, intimate set she and her band played that night in Memphis, and to the profound, decade-long relationship I now have with Case’s shows. The tiny size of the bar had us bellied up to Jon Rauhouse’s pedal steel with a front-row view to Case’s captivating stage presence and the hilarious banter between her and Kelly Hogan. The band burned through tracks from Blacklisted and Fox Confessor with an electricity that hooked me instantly. I’ve since seen Case perform eight more times across the States, and like her albums, her shows keep getting rawer, with each new setting emphasizing a different aspect of her music—at Golden Gate Park, its expansiveness; at the Ryman, its timelessness. Now that I live in Chicago, where she once lived and still passes through often, I’m anxiously awaiting show No. 10.
This won’t surprise any of my fellow staffers, but since I saw Sugar on the File Under: Easy Listening tour in the fall of 1994, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Bob Mould. It helps that I live in what Mould has long considered his second hometown, so I can count on his coming through at least once a year. And from the summer of 1998 until about 2012 (when my daughter was born), I saw all of them. Mould is on my Mt. Rushmore of music, and his music and sound have had an incalculable effect on me. When he’s in town, chances are I’m there.
I loved going to school at the U Of I so much, I was one of those kids who even stayed in the summer, becoming an honorary townie. Every year during those hallowed three months, it seemed like our fellow Midwesterners Soul Asylum would stop by at least a few times, to play Champaign’s legendary live club Mabel’s (don’t look for it; it’s not there anymore). These shows were always fun and beer-fueled, specializing in who-cares covers like “Seasons In The Sun” and “Rock Me Gently.” The band wound up recording some of those versions—like “Sexual Healing” and “To Sir, With Love”—for posterity. In later years, I’d catch Soul Asylum at Chicago’s Metro, where I regretfully noted that the shows seemed to be a bit less ragged—but still completely enthralling. Last year, I finally met Dave Pirner myself at Thalia Hall, as the reconfigured Soul Asylum played with The English Beat. I thanked him for always putting on a great show. Self-deprecating to a fault, he shrugged that I must not have seen the band very much. His guess was off by at least 30 times, my most-seen band ever.
I’m pretty sure mine is The Promise Ring by a long shot, with Low coming in second. The rise of The Promise Ring coincided with my most intense concert-going days, and it didn’t hurt that we were in the same city (Milwaukee) and friends. There was a long stretch there where I saw them play every Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, or Chicago show, and I even ventured farther distances from time to time, occasionally riding along in the van and pretending to carry equipment. That reminds me: There was a weird incident in New York once where they were stopped by hotel security (for something they had nothing to do with) and I ended up packing a car full of gear and getting it to the venue alone. Weird. Anyway, I’d put the number of Promise Ring shows that I saw at 80 or so, over the years. It might even be more…
My deep love for LCD Soundsystem developed during my music taste’s formative years, and given James Murphy’s eclectic influences, the band became a flashpoint for my own musical exploration. Needless to say, the group is incredibly close to my heart, and I’ve gotten out to see them a bunch of times in very different settings. My first LCD show was a wild one-day mini-festival on New York’s Randall’s Island where it played with Arcade Fire, Les Savy Fav, and Blonde Redhead. Then came a few shows in mid-size rock clubs, like Terminal 5. And it cost an arm and a leg thanks to scalpers, but I was able to attend the band’s “last show” in Madison Square Garden, which was an extremely emotional experience for me. LCD Soundsystem’s music will always be better suited to those dark, sweaty smaller venues, but singing “To tell the truth, this could be the last time” with thousands of other teary-eyed fans (who all foolishly thought the band was retiring) is a moment I’ll never forget.
The band I’ve seen most is also the band I saw first. I was on vacation with my family in Spain when I was 15. While in Barcelona, my brother came across a flyer for a warehouse show Fugazi was playing that same day and he convinced my dad to let him and me go, much to my co-mingled fear and excitement. I didn’t know much about the band at the time, but I knew it was cool, and on returning home, I wielded the experience like a weapon in that insufferable way teenagers do, hoping some magical transitive process would impart upon me an air of continental savvy. Naturally it didn’t, but the experience did open me up to Fugazi’s music. That relationship, combined with the band’s dedication to keeping shows as inexpensive as possible, made it easy to catch them on tour. I’ll always remember seeing them at the Rave in Milwaukee and having Ian MacKaye look on fondly at an audience member who rushed the stage, stating dryly, “That was a Sasquatch who lives in a landfill outside of Waukesha.”
When I was in seventh grade, my mom pulled my sister and me out of school for three days to see Bruce Springsteen in Indianapolis. My teachers were jealous, and I was just glad I got to skip class to stand in line for two days so we could get to the front of the pit area, which involved making new friends and learning the British game of table rugby (sort of England’s version of table football, using a heavy pound coin instead of a piece of paper folded up into a triangle). It was a great first concert—Springsteen played through The Rising, which was the first of his albums I’d gotten into, as it both spoke post-9/11 sorrow and boasted a couple ultra-catchy pop tunes. Our line waiting payed off, as my sister, mom, and I stood at the very front, and Springsteen even put the mic down so my sister and I could sing along to “Waitin’ On A Sunny Day” and gave us each a guitar pic. Since then, I’ve been to maybe a dozen more Springsteen concerts—I’ve lost track. Each one delivers the epic experience his shows are known for, and even though they’ve all blurred together, it’s a blur of non-stop energy and crowd engagement that few other bands I’ve seen live have pulled off.
The first time I saw Animal Collective live, I hated them. I had always hated them. I am deeply, profoundly allergic to whimsy, and the band’s mixture of woodland creature fetishism and man-child music-critic adulation triggered me toward a sort of blanket disgust for everything the band did. (I realize this is an unpopular opinion.) But in a pretty magical outdoor set shortly after Strawberry Jam came out, the band seemed locked into an almost dubby electronic groove, stretching that album’s best tracks into 15-minute odysseys that built into rousing post-rock crescendoes. Soon, they’d release what is, for my money, their only truly great album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, which I’d eagerly pay out to see them perform at a show where they’d inexplicably exclude drums from their biggest, most drum-friendly tracks. (Can you imagine “My Girls” without that seismic drum fill?) I’ve caught them at no less than three festivals since then, each time more fiddly, aloof, and up-their-own-asses than the time before. If I ever stumble across them a sixth time, they’ll probably be playing kazoos over a keyboard-preset electronic beat and personally insulting my family members. I wish I could’ve hit pause on my live experiences with them back in 2008, along with most of their recorded output.
As someone who largely hates live music—The standing! The inconvenience! The feeling of unwanted connection with the monolithic, oppressive crowd!—I had to really search my brain for an artist I’ve managed to drag myself to see more than once. Luckily, I was less of a misanthrope when I was younger, which means college-aged me saw Ben Folds twice (but the Ben Folds Five, never). As far as ambassadors for the live music experience go, Folds is pretty great: lively, funny, and technically impressive. Both shows—one at Purdue University’s giant Elliott Hall Of Music, the other at an outdoor fair—saw Folds play solo, seated at a piano, tossing out dumb-great dad jokes and generally charming everybody. Memories like that are enough to make a guy wish the thought of being surrounded by other fans of the same types of music didn’t make him break out in hives, desperate to retreat to the safety of home.
My university years corresponded almost exactly with the era when Mike Watt had begun recovering from the death of his friend D. Boon, and had reunited with his Minutemen drummer George Hurley and eager young guitarist/fan Ed Crawford to form Firehose. The band’s albums never really measured up to the live show, because as Watt would often explain to the audience—both from the stage and during the extensive time he’d spend hanging out by the merch table, before and after the set—he and the boys really made their living on tour. Firehose went from college town to college town, every spring and every fall when the weather was mild; and I not only saw every gig in Athens during my four years at the University Of Georgia, I occasionally rode up to Atlanta to catch the band there, too. I also went to every Nashville show when I moved back home, until the trio broke up (after which I saw Watt on his Ball-Hog Or Tugboat? solo tour, with an uncredited Eddie Vedder on guest vocals and the former Nirvana drummer’s brand-new group Foo Fighters opening). Firehose were my ideal rock act: easy to dance to and shout along with, with a kinetic stage presence and a populist bent. I loved every minute I spent with them.
I’m trying to get over my bad habit of checking out on bands when they become popular enough to play venues that hold more than a few hundred people. I see acts a few times (in really awesome settings!) and then save my money for new ones playing those same tiny bars and clubs. This means I’ve seen political pop-punk superhero Ted Leo no more than a half dozen times, albeit in medium to large venues, but every show, he absolutely brought it. Whether it was in front of a somewhat sedate crowd in downstate Illinois (who needs prompting to stand up for Ted Leo?) or thousands of sweating kids at the 2006 Pitchfork Music Festival—the set where he hit himself in the forehead with his microphone until he started bleeding (“I was there, man!”)—the former Pharmacists frontman jumped, screamed, scissor-kicked, and sweat all over the stage. He injects his tunes with so much raw energy that I’ll keep going out to see him, no matter where he plays.
Having spent the better half of my twenties in an indie rock band in the Twin Cities, the honest answer to this question would be that I’ve seen my fellow Minnesotan rock acts far more times than anyone else, groups I came up alongside, with whom my band played innumerable shows over the years, and with whom I’ve shared practice spaces, apartments, vans, and more: Superhopper, Hockey Night, Falcon Crest, and others. But since most of you outside Saint Paul probably haven’t heard of them, any more than you’ve heard of my band, I’ll go to a more recognizable name. I’ve seen Dillinger Four play between 20 to 30 shows, and I’ve enjoyed every single one. From the first time I saw them, when bassist Patrick Costello had his underwear around his ankles and was smearing some unknown substance on kids in the front row, to catching them just the other week at the House Of Vans here in Chicago, it’s always been a treat, albeit an occasionally uneven one. Luckily, I was usually drunk at the same shows they were, so it was a level playing field. I think we might have even shared a bill with them once or twice? It’s tough to recall some of those nights. But they are, and always will be, the symbolic representation of that Midwest punk rock that has brought me so much joy. And whiskey. With coke, no ice.
I’ve seen Jenny Lewis in concert—with Rilo Kiley, in the one-off duo Jenny And Johnny, or as a solo act—enough times that I needed to dredge up an old, old concert review just to confirm that I was actually at one of the shows I remembered being at. All told, it’s 10 live sets spread across dingy rock clubs, one college auditorium, and way too many summer nights in the dusty backyard amphitheater attached to a touristy Austin barbecue destination. And while I’d be hard-pressed to say I’ve loved any new music she’s released since 2006’s Rabbit Fur Coat, I keep going to see Lewis because even her lesser material makes for a great show. And if I were saying these things out loud, this is the part where my wife would go “Really?” until I sheepishly admit that I’ve had a crush on Jenny Lewis since the first time I heard “All The Good That Won’t Come Out” in a dorm room in 2003, and then I’d deflect with a story about how my friends and former roommates Carrie and Laura kept a snapshot of themselves with the Rilo Kiley frontwoman on display in our apartment, inside a wedding-themed frame that said, I think, “I DO.” But seriously: The woman can command a stage, exuding a cool confidence in the spotlight that’s the one aspect of her silver-screen past life she’s never fully left in the past. Singing the number that most directly addresses that part of her life—the title track of Rabbit Fur Coat—at the Chicago Theatre last fall, Lewis cast a hush over the venerable 3,600-capacity hall, a moment of stillness I’ve never encountered at any concert before or after. And as long as she’s capable of getting modern-day audiences to shut the fuck up for five minutes, I’ll gladly go see Jenny Lewis for an 11th, 12th, or 13th time. Bring on that inevitable Rilo Kiley reunion tour.