I’M FORTUNATE TO BE IN AN INDUSTRY that affords me tons of great concert experiences. Here are five that stand out above the rest:
Van Halen, 1979
Only the second show I ever saw, this was an unadvertised warm-up show before the band’s headlining tour of their second album. Edward Van Halen was absolutely unstoppable that night with huge tone, massive chops, and that delightful chip on his shoulder that he would lose in later years. I could easily put the Fair Warning or Diver Down tours on this list as well, but this gig, with EVH rocking the black and yellow striped guitar, was the one that started it all for me.
Randy Rhoads, 1981
I had only heard the first Ozzy record a week or two prior to this show, and even though I thought Randy was great, I wasn’t prepared for how great he would be live. This was an all-day show—one of Bill Graham’s legendary Day on the Green gigs in Oakland—that also featured Pat Travers, Blue Oyster Cult, and Heart, but Randy was the guy everyone was talking about. He burned and shredded with a tone ten times bigger than what was on the record, and made it all look way too easy. I had already bought a ticket to the following tour when I learned of his death.
Stevie Ray Vaughan 1984
Stevie was opening for Huey Lewis and the News at this show in Hampton VA. He hit the stage and within ten seconds I could tell that something amazing was happening. His tone ruled and he was completely in the zone the whole night. Huey was cool enough to bring Stevie and Double Trouble onstage for a big jam at the end of the night. For all the haters out there, I’ve got to say—Huey went toe-to-toe with Stevie, with Huey on harp and Stevie on his beat-up Strat, and he totally held his own.
Danny Gatton, 1992
This was at a NAMM show, with Danny opening for Buddy Guy. I had seen a lot of world-class players by this time, but I had never seen anyone who could master so many styles and make them his own as what he did that night. He melded country, blues, jazz, and rock, sometimes all in the same solo. I was there with a bunch of grizzled old industry vets and we were all completely floored.
Jeff Beck, April 18, 1999
I put the date in there because it was my birthday. At this point I had seen many of the greatest players in the world and thought I knew a thing or two about guitar playing. Beck came out and started the opener “What Mama Said,” and turned my whole world upside down. It was, without a doubt, the greatest display of tone, dynamics, phrasing, intonation, and technique that I had ever seen. I was lucky enough to meet him after the show and, despite the fact that I had met heroes of mine in the past (and was a GP editor who was supposed to act like he’d been there before), I completely freaked out and could barely talk. I vaguely remember telling him that it was my birthday and he wished me a happy one. Years later, when I confided my star-struck moment to Jennifer Batten, who was also great that night, and she told me that she had seen the exact same thing happen to a lot of people way heavier than me when they met him. I’ve seen Beck many times since then, and the Warfield show two years later was arguably even better, but this was the one I’ll always remember. I’ll see him again just a couple days after my birthday this year!