Having the opportunity to attend 40-plus shows in 2011 is something I view as a privilege. All of the downloaded songs on the planet can’t compare with a live concert, from the second the lights snap off to the final encore.
As with any list, it’s tough narrowing anything you love down to just a few. This one, of my favorite 10 concerts of 2011, could just as easily included Cyndi Lauper at Cobb Energy Center, Paul Simon at Chastain, Keith Urban at Gwinnett Arena, Bruno Mars and Janelle Monae at the Fox or yes, even the NKOTBSB reunion at Philips – a blast of a show that perfectly targeted its demographic.
So now that I’ve shown you mine, it’s time for you to share your favorite shows of the year in the comments section. As always, let’s please keep the discussion about music and play nice.
July at Philips Arena
It took a decade for Sade to return to the stage, and her captivating two-night stand at Philips proved her vintage perfection. The woman exudes class, further demonstrated in a stage show that shimmered with sleek production tricks. And then there is that buttery smooth voice, a sensual instrument that cradled her catalog of jazzy pop tunes, from “Your Love is King” to the ubiquitous “Smooth Operator.” At times seductive and gently playful, Sade simply soared.
March at The Loft at Center Stage
It didn’t matter that Andy McCluskey only had about eight feet of space to flail around in at the cozy Loft – the O.M.D. frontman utilized every inch and, along with fellow original Paul Humphreys, took fans on a nostalgic journey. The New Wave faves stormed through their sumptuous ‘80s hits – “Telsa Girls,” “So In Love,” “Dreaming” – cheerfully played the obligatory “If You Leave,” and added some of the excellent new tunes from 2010’s “History of Modern,” the band’s first new material since 1986…and also the last time it toured the U.S. Is it time for an encore yet?
3. Duran Duran
April at Center Stage
With the spring release of its 13th album, “All You Need is Now,” Duran Duran proved that it’s still capable of constructing awesomely layered pop songs, fueled by John Taylor’s racing bass lines and singer Simon LeBon’s distinctive phrasing. At this intimate Center Stage gig – which sold out in minutes – the band (with originals Roger Taylor on drums and Nick Rhodes on keyboards) unleashed a solid set list that was both musically crisp and playfully loose, a sweaty combination of reminiscing and celebrating the new. Their October return at Chastain Park wasn’t quite as visceral, but this powerhouse showing was tough to top.
4. Lady Gaga
April at Gwinnett Arena
Her Gaga-ness has forged a lucrative career by being outrageous, but the most memorable moments of her “Monster’s Ball” stop in Gwinnett were when she unveiled a stripped, dance-free version of “Born This Way” and debuted the Elton John-like “You and I,” her gutsiest song to date. Sure, there were dancers and costumes and inflatables throughout the show – and a lot of preaching about being yourself — but Gaga’s strongest asset is her scorching voice. How about an album of piano ballads next, Lady G?
5. Jay Z and Kanye West
October at Philips Arena
The rap titans kicked off their “Watch the Throne” tour with a pair of nearly sold out shows, a multimedia feast and enough songs to satisfy even the whiniest fan. This shared outing was to hip-hop fans what the joint tours of Elton John and Billy Joel have been to middle-aged suburbanites: Bliss. In a show both exhausting and entertaining, Hova and Yeezy zipped through their arsenal together and separately, proving their unlikely compatibility.
September at Piedmont Park (Music Midtown)
The return of Music Midtown was capped by a band that has morphed into a stellar live act. Chris Martin was an amusing sight, bopping from his graffiti-sprayed piano to the mic stand to scooping up an acoustic guitar. Coldplay’s set – one of its few since a triumphant Glastonbury — was laced with lasers, frenetic lighting and songs ranging from the anthemic “Viva La Vida” to the mellow “Yellow” and funky new “Hurts Like Heaven.” Yes, the word funky was just used to describe a Coldplay song. Hopefully the band’s Atlanta return – July 2 at Philips Arena – will be this crisp.
7. Patti Lupone
May at Symphony Hall
The Broadway spitfire paired with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for her “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” show, and despite it being a scripted affair, the saucy Lupone injected plenty of wry humor and personal details to keep the show lively. Not that there is any fear of slumping during a Lupone performance. Who could do anything but gape in amazement when she razzle-dazzled her way through “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade”? But the most memorable moment of the show came at the end, when Lupone sang, a capella and unmiked, “A Hundred Years From Today,” from the 1933 Broadway show, “Blackbirds.” Chilling and gorgeous.
8. Bon Jovi
May at Philips Arena
Yeah, yeah, yeah, so they’re soulless, middling rockers with a frontman ready to preen for anything from an Advil commercial to a high-end fashion magazine. But frankly, the Bon Jovi criticisms are not only tiresome, but silly. Watch this band – steered by the indefatigable Jon Bon Jovi – work a crowd, exhaust themselves into a puddle of sweat onstage, and guide 20,000 fans through 30 years of hits and then talk to me.
9. Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith
July at Chastain Park Ampthitheatre
For longtime followers of Grant and Smith, the idea of the two old friends sharing a stage for the first time in 20 years was nirvana. And live, the pair’s easy rapport with each other was palpable. During an evening of horrific heat, Grant, who graciously accepted a glass of white wine from a concertgoer, and the eternally handsome Smith glided through songs together (“Stay for Awhile,” “Find a Way,” “Lead Me On,” “Faithless Heart”) and performed their own hits-filled sets. It was a soothing, comfortable music experience during the most uncomfortable weather.
10. (tie) Brian Wilson
August at Chastain Park Ampthitheatre
It’s true that Brian Wilson can look a bit vacant onstage and often sings his most famous songs with a clipped delivery. But that really didn’t diminish the inherent prettiness and sweet melodies of so many of his songs, such as “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)”, “Don’t Worry Baby” and the gorgeously complex “God Only Knows.” The reason these songs still sound phenomenal is because Wilson is backed by an amazing nine-piece band capable of playing the surf’s-up froth of “California Girls” as easily as recreating the sweeping harmonies of “Heroes and Villains.”
September at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park
On a tour designed to showcase “Tommy,” The Who’s acclaimed rock opera, Daltrey and his thundering band – including Pete Townshend’s younger brother Simon on guitar – whipped through some of the most famous songs in rock history with sleek muscularity. Daltrey’s voice sounded robust throughout the show, whether on “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” or, post-“Tommy” performance, “Behind Blue Eyes.” Always a pleasure to see a legend still enjoying himself.
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