As someone who frequents a lot of concerts, I can tell you that there is nothing like experiencing great music live. The energy is contagious and there's always an air of electricity that resonates through the room. One of the marks of a great live performance is that it can have that same power whether you're there in person or watching from the comfort of your own living room. This edition of Ten on Tuesdays takes a look at the best live performances of the decade in my opinion. I took into account the overall quality, memorability and how well it held up over the years. I've also only included performances that were broadcast to a wide audience, either on TV or online.
These ten performances, all in chronological order, left their mark on me when I first saw them and they still give me chills to this day. Of course, there had to be some omissions. As much as I wanted to include Bruce Springsteen's premiere of "My City of Ruins" for the 9/11 charity telecast because of its importance and how much it struck me at the time, it still stands as only merely a good performance removed from the context. My sentimental favorite was Lauryn Hill breaking down during "Peace of Mind" on MTV Unplugged 2.0 because you rarely get that intimate of a look at a big artist, but I concluded that it probably could have been trimmed by a few minutes, but it's still nonetheless magical. Five years from now, I might also kick myself for not including Lady GaGa's recent performance on Saturday Night Live, but I could go on and on about all the great ones I might have missed on this list.
Mary J. Blige - "No More Drama" (Grammys, 2002)
The nation was still in the healing process from the events of 9/11 and all the additional stress and paranoia that it brought on. Mary J. Blige's "No More Drama" took on a whole new meaning in this context and when she belted it out while running back and forth across the stage, you can feel that she understood the newfound weight of the song too. Blige opened her soul for the world to see like few others could do and you can't help but feel all her pain and hope.
Kylie Minogue - "Can't Get Blue Monday Out Of My Head" (BRIT Awards, 2002)
In the early part of the decade, mashups—sometimes called bastard pop—received a lot of press in the U.K., but had yet to really crossover. When Kylie Minogue performed Soulwax's mix of her own "Can't Get You Out Of My Head" and New Order's "Blue Monday" at the 2002 Brits, it served as confirmation that the genre had officially gained attention from the mainstream. While mashups have since quietly faded back to a fringe genre since then, Minogue's performance is something to behold for its originality at the time and the highly stylized stage show.
Dashboard Confessional "The Best Deception" (MTV Unplugged 2.0, 2002)
While Chris Carraba doesn't do much singing in this clip, it's still a moment where you feel something special is happening. Armed with only an acoustic guitar and a room full of fans who sing along to all the lyrics, Dashboard Confessional's Unplugged performance is a reminder of the power that music holds over us and how it can unite. Regardless of whether you're a fan of emo or not, it's not very often that you see sing-a-longs of this magnitude and the artist so welcoming of it.
The White Stripes - "Let's Build A House/Goin' Down To Memphis/John The Revelator" (Late Night with Conan O'Brien, 2003)
Finishing off their week long stand as the musical guests on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, the White Stripes played a blistering medley that displayed the rawest of energy and plenty of shredding guitar heroics and howling from Jack White. It's always nice to see network television get this rambunctious, even if it is late at night.
Scissor Sisters - "Take Your Mama Out" (BRIT Awards, 2005)
Scissors Sisters understand what they're all about. They know that they're a flamboyant pop band who have an equal amount of love for good choruses and humor and they don't care who knows it. That mantra is evident in this performance, which included a live puppet show that looked like it came straight from a Saturday morning children's show in the 70's. It's trippy to see the set become more and more alive as the song goes on, but it's the kind of trip that keeps you smiling.
Robbie Williams - "Angels" (Live 8, 2005)
When the subject of how Robbie Williams failed to break in America comes up, it usually comes down to one simple argument: he simply doesn't tour the States. The idea is that if he took the time to play live shows here, he could have been huge. You have to be inclined to believe that there is some merit to that discussion when you look at this clip from Live 8. Williams is already a megastar in his native land of England and it's easy to see why with this performance of "Angels." The song is obviously popular, but Williams is still filled with charisma and is in complete control of the crowd. When you think of megastar, this is the kind of performance that should come up in your mind.
Prince - "Let's Go Crazy/I'm A Star/Proud Mary/All Along The Watchtower/Best Of You/Purple Rain" (Super Bowl XLI Halftime Show, 2007)
On one of the biggest stages in the world, Prince pulled out just about every trick in the book for an immensely crowd pleasing set. The showmanship and flair was at its expected high level, but the most magical moment came when Prince sang "Purple Rain" while it was actually raining. It was the sort of happy accident you can't script and in turn elevated the entire set as it winded down.
Death From Above 1979 w/ Max Weinberg - "Romantic Rights" (Late Night with Conan O' Brien, 2005)
death from above 1979
Death From Above 1979 were going through a typically intense performance of "Romantic Rights" and then things kicked up in to high gear when Max Weinberg joined them on the drums. It gave off an aura of spontaneity that isn't often seen on talk show performances and still maintains its cool even though you know what's going to happen next.
Kanye West w/ Daft Punk - "Stronger/Hey Mama" (Grammys, 2008)
Most of the times when the Grammys book collaborations between artists, they're usually not that memorable and ultimately feel forced. The Kanye/Daft Punk pairing was natural since he already sampled them for "Stronger" and he was in his futuristic phase at the time. The light show was a feast for the eyes, but the moment soon turned sentimental when West performed "Hey Mama" in honor of his recently deceased mother. It was a reworked version that was made more minimal so as to focus on West's vocals and made the moment even more heartfelt.
Pet Shop Boys w/ Lady GaGa and Brandon Flowers - "Suburbia/Love Etc./Left To My Own Devices/Always On My Mind/Paninaro/Go West/Opportunities (Let's Make Lots of Money)/What Have I Done To Deserve This/Domino Dancing/I'm With Stupid/Being Boring/It's A Sin/All Over The World/West End Girls" (BRIT Awards, 2009)
Even if you're not a fan of Pet Shop Boys and all their singles, it's still easy to appreciate the spectacle of this performance, complete with dancers and men in suits seemingly come out of nowhere from the video screens. Lady GaGa and Brandon Flowers also made appearances, but their presence is pretty secondary after this exquisitely staged event.