Rock is dead they say, long live rock. Forty years ago, in the song “Long Live Rock, The Who (who will be in town in February, 2013) prophesized that rock would stay alive forever. Pete Townshend was much more in tune with the future than the Mayans were as the 2012 classic rock calendar in the Valley remained quite full and live classic rock performances were alive and well. Picking the best out of a stellar year of over fifty classic rock concerts is not an easy task.
You know it was a great year for concerts when performances by Van Halen, Joe Walsh, the Scorpions, Roger Hodgson of Supertramp, Styx and Asia can’t even crack the top 10. Even though I saw over forty acts live this year, it’s impossible to catch every concert. Sorry Rush and ZZ Top fans, I didn’t get to witness those shows and therefore couldn’t include them on my list.
So what makes a concert great? Length of the concert, musicianship, fan reaction, set list, band enthusiasm, special effects, ticket price and personal bias are just some of the elements. Although fans of each group will think their band performed the best, here are my top ten favorite classic rock concerts for 2012.
#10. The Moody Blues. December 13, 2012, Mesa Arts Center. Although you wouldn’t think so by the sold out crowd, The Moody Blues may be one of the more underestimated classic rock bands around. Most people are familiar with “Nights in White Satin,” but for two hours, Justin Hayward, John Lodge, Graeme Edge and company played song after recognizable song. The songs of the Moody Blues still hold up well after forty years and live they still sound amazing.
#9. Crosby, Stills and Nash. September 4, 2012, Phoenix Symphony Hall. Those who think CS&N are a mellow folk rock group, haven’t been to a Crosby, Stills and Nash show. Stephen Stills showed why he is considered one of rock’s finest guitarists throughout the night with some blazing solo work and many of the songs were more up tempo than not. But it is the three part harmonies that CS&N are known for and they didn’t disappoint.
#8. The Australian Pink Floyd Show. September 30, 2012, Mesa Arts Center. Technically, they aren’t a classic rock group, but they do perform classic rock and do so with perfection. This is as close to hearing what Pink Floyd might sound like today in concert if they were still able to tour. Brilliant musicians and astounding visual effects, there was more than just one “wow” moment in their show.
#7. Toto. September 23, 2012, Talking Stick Resort Ballroom. No one seemed to have as much fun on stage this year as the members of Toto did when performing their final show of their 2012 tour. It’s been many years since original members David Paich, Steve Lukather and Steve Porcaro have played together. Along with bassist Nathan East, drummer Simon Phillips, and singer Joseph Williams, Toto showed that although they are known for their pop hits, on stage they really are more of a jam band.
#6. Yes. August 17, 2012, Talking Stick Resort Ballroom. Valley progressive rock fans got to see virtuoso guitarist Steve Howe and equally talented keyboard player Geoffrey Downes twice this year, once with Yes and once with Asia. But it was the Yes performance that really showed what each can do. Admittedly you have to be a prog rock fan to enjoy the many ten to fifteen minute songs Yes performed, but no one did it better than Yes did in 2012.
#5. KISS/Mötley Crüe. August 9, 2012, Ashley Furniture HomeStore Pavilion. KISS fans and Mötley Crüe fans will argue over which group was better that evening. Both groups came out onstage with their A game and pyrotechnics were the norm not the exception for this head banging evening. KISS was polished, Mötley Crüe raw, which is exactly how each band wanted to be. These bands both know how to entertain an audience and did so.
#4. Neil Diamond. August 29, 2012 US Airways Center. On a hot August night, Neil played a huge chunk of his best live album, “Hot August Night,” for a sold out, enthusiastic crowd of Diamond Heads who may be a generation older than the Mötley Crüe fan base, but are their equal with energy. Diamond’s contributions to classic rock may only be from the late 1960’s to the early 1970’s, but this night he concentrated on the old rather than the new. Diamond was truly charismatic and how could you not enjoy singing “Sweet Caroline,” along with the man who wrote it?
#3. Roger Waters. May 15, 2012 US Airways Center. It’s hard to believe that this show is only number three on the list. Roger Water’s “The Wall” was an epic performance and should be on every classic rock lover’s bucket list to see. The marvel of watching a thirty five foot wall being erected throughout the show is topped only by the visual effects (huge blow up puppets, screen projections, flying objects) that accompany the performance. Visually, one of the most stunning shows ever, but the music isn’t too shabby either. Waters was backed by a top notch band led by guitarist Dave Kilminster. It was mesmerizing and jaw dropping.
#2. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. December 6, 2012, Jobing.com Arena. After forty years at being at the top of the rock and roll game, Bruce Springsteen has nothing to prove. But he keeps doing it anyway, releasing the critically acclaimed album “Wrecking Ball,” and embarking on a 2012 tour that had its final stop in Glendale. Three hours of old and new hits still weren’t enough as Bruce ventured into the audience many times while the E Street Band commanded the stage. Greatness doesn’t require flashiness. This was a throwback to when concerts were an unscripted event, not just a paycheck.
#1. The Beach Boys. July 7, 2012, Grand Canyon University Arena. Historic in every sense of the word. Celebrating fifty years, the Beach Boys played fifty songs for over two hours and forty five minutes. This was no watered down version of the Beach Boys. This was Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, Mike Love, Bruce Johnston and David Marks, together for the first time in decades. Wilson sang and played as best as he now can and the nine member backing band filled the sound of what is necessary to accomplish live what a Wilson composition requires. It was magical. It was perfect. It was the best of the year.