Ten live shows that defined a decade
I tunneled through boxes of old stories and re-read long-forgotten notebooks to come up with a definitive list of concerts representing the last decade in Houston.
The list started with about 120 shows. I sliced it to 75, then cut it again to about 40 cherished memories. In the end I found that, while it's impossible to come up with 10 shows that are the best of the best, here are the most memorable ones:
Macy Gray — Jan. 25, 2000 at Numbers
It was a perfect case of being in the right place at the right time. SFX Entertainment (the company that evolved into concert promoting conglomerate Live Nation) initially booked then-unknown Macy Gray to play long-gone club Instant Karma, which had a capacity of less than 300. As her soulful, heartbreaking first single, “I Try” rocketed up the charts, the show was moved to Numbers (capacity 850) in an effort to capitalize on an unexpected potential for ticket sales. She ended up needing a room twice that big.
A line of fans wanting to hear Gray stretched out the door of Numbers and down Westheimer to La Strada. She won a Grammy that year and was poised to take a run at the soul princess crown. But her career stalled for most of the rest of the millennium, eclipsed by Beyoncé and Alicia Keys. Yet in Houston, in early 2000, she was the hottest name in show business… for one night.
George Strait Country Music Festival — June 11, 2000 at Enron Field
Long before Roger Clemens started an All Star game or the Houston Astros played a World Series game at the new $248.2 million ballpark, Strait and his all-star posse created a frenzy on the field that later was renamed Minute Maid Park. The all-day show sold out in 60 minutes. Inclement weather kept the retractable roof closed over the crowd of 30,000. By the time Strait took the stage for the evening’s main event, however, the roof was opened and Texas’s favorite cowboy hit-maker got to sing as a cowboy should. By moonlight. Under the stars.
Bob Schneider— June 8-9, 2001 at The Fabulous Satellite Lounge
What’s one way a showman knows he has mesmerized an entire club with his music? When one of the most memorable weather events in Houston history is taking place outside and few inside are even aware until the encores have finished.
Such was the case when Bob Schneider and his band revved up the jangle-heavy Americana from his early album “Lonelyland” (in my opinion, still his best solo work) on the late night/early morning that Tropical Storm Allison swirled over Houston. This was the apex of Schneider-mania in town and the house was shaking. Outside, the heavens were giving a performance of their own, dropping rivers of water onto central Houston creating one of the biggest natural disasters on record. Many ended up staying at the Satellite Lounge well into the next morning. After the concert, I was stranded on a gasoline station island on Shepherd Ave., soaking wet and watching the water rise up my car tires and into my wheel wells.
Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band— Nov. 4, 2002 at Compaq Center
Springsteen and his band have played many memorable shows in Houston over the last decade, so picking one is a tough call. The 2000 stop was mind-blowing because Springsteen hadn’t toured with his E Street crew in 11 years. And the group’s performance at the Toyota Center last April was a “rock 'n' roll revival” that demonstrated just how tight a machine the band had become in this decade. It was the 2002 show, however, that elevated the spectacle of a night with Springsteen into full-on catharsis. The set list was built around “The Rising,” the group’s first new album together in 18 years and a solemn tribute to the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Just like Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan before him, Springsteen was the perfect musical messenger during a time of social unrest, offering an outlet for emotions ranging from fear to anxiety to grief. Acoustic renditions of “Empty Sky” and “My City of Ruins” brought many in the crowd to tears.
The Rolling Stones— Jan. 25, 2003 at Reliant Stadium
Few double entendres have better described a concert better than the Stones’ “Lick Tour.” In addition to referencing the band's salacious lips and tongue logo, the show was a celebration of the band's 40 years of making music together. Whether it was Keith Richard’s familiar charging prelude for “Brown Sugar” or the reverberating three-chord loop that announces “Start me Up,” the hits kept coming all night. The 46,000-plus fans on hand couldn’t get enough. This was the first major concert held at the new Reliant Stadium and a first glimpse of what a band can do with at the state-of-the-art event cathedral. The expanded stage stretched nearly 200 feet across the width of the stadium, with rigging more than 85 feet in the air. Until U2’s “360 Tour” played at Reliant Stadium this year, it was the biggest concert stage ever built in Houston.
The Dixie Chicks— July 30, 2003 at Compaq Center
Months before The Dixie Chicks got to Houston, the fire around the trio’s “Top of the World” tour was already burning hotter than a local summer. In March of that year during a show in London, lead Chick Natalie Maines made some critical remarks about President George W. Bush that did not play well with more conservative country radio listeners. The following outrage led to radio boycotts. It was all supposed to come to a head in Houston when the Chicks were to play mere miles from where the President’s parents, President George H.W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush, lived. But unlike the Dallas show a few weeks earlier, in which Maines received death threats, the night at the Compaq Center went off without incident. Fans were treated to a state of the art concert-in-the-round featuring a stage floor made of LED lights that has yet to be topped and hits like ‘Travelin’ Soldier,” “Wide Open Spaces” and an exquisite take on Bob Dylan’s “Mississippi.” It ended up being the hottest country music tour ever (to that point).
Simon & Garfunkel— July 7, 2004 at Toyota Center
Some will fault me for not including the first event to ever happen at Toyota Center—a Fleetwood Mac reunion in October 2003—on this list. Had Simon & Garfunkel not trumped them by reuniting to play their first Houston concert in 34 years in 2004, I might have. But those who were in attendance for the iconic '60s duo’s “Old Friends” tour (if two guys who don’t like each other have to be stuck together touring, they might as well have some sarcastic fun with the marquee) know this was the night the Toyota Center was truly christened for live music. America’s audio time capsule was brought to life as Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel showcased their pitch-perfect harmony on “Scarborough Fair,” and “The Sound of Silence.” But it was the coupling of Simon & Garfunkel with openers The Everly Brothers on early rock classic “Bye Bye Love,” that turned a magic night into history.
Ian McLagan and the Bump Band with guest Ron Wood—Dec. 1, 2005 at Continental Club
The evening started out as one of the more disappointing in Houston concert history. The Rolling Stones had just finished sleepwalking their way through an uninspired set in support of their last studio album, “A Bigger Bang” and I was resigned to a quiet nightcap at the Continental Club in hopes that Ian McLagan could save the night. Then it happened. Ron Wood, McLagan’s former Faces bandmate and guitarist for the Rolling Stones, walked through the door of the small club and took a seat at the corner of the bar. Before long the two old friends were onstage together, trading solos on old favorites in front of just a few hundred people. Wood even stuck around for a smoke, drink and banter with the locals into the early morning. And that is how a forgettable evening turns into a lifetime memory.
Prince—March 3, 2006 at Warehouse Live
Only a month after opening for business, Warehouse Live made its indelible mark on Houston concert history. At first glance the show didn’t look that out of the ordinary. Up-and-coming Houston-born soul singer Támar was playing songs from her debut album “Beautiful, Loved & Blessed” (an album that never was released) with the help of a back-up band. When it was discovered that her band included Minnesota funk maestro Prince on guitar, however, Támar’s show became the hottest ticket in town. Prince was billed as a sideman, but that is precisely what made it special. Unburdened by fan expectations, the lil’ purple pixie was free to flaunt his nimble guitar improvisation skills like few ever get to see. He vamped on a cover of “Play That Funky Music,” and ended the night with the obscure original “Partyman” and a slow, thoughtful rendition of “Purple Rain” that almost cracked the foundations of this brand new music venue gem.
U2— Oct. 14, 2009 at Reliant Stadium
Truth be told, I wrestled with adding U2 to this top 10 list multiple times. The 2001 trip for the “Elevation Tour” was a subtle sea-change from the over-the-top theatrics of the '90s. The “Vertigo Tour” in 2005 humanized Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. and offered positive signs that U2 was gonna thrive in middle-age. It wasn’t until they landed a spaceship in Reliant Stadium, however, and played in-the-round for over 58,000 screaming fans on the largest stage ever built that U2 truly exhibited its full magnificence.
The Irish icons have become the very definition of how to mix rock n’ roll, cultural relevance and social politics in an fast-changing technological world. Not only was this year’s “360º Tour” in support of new album “No Line On The Horizon” the best show of the year. It may be the best stadium-sized show in rock 'n’ roll history.
Of all the bands on this list, U2 is the only one that I will guarantee you will find a way to top this performance and end up on the next “Top 10 Houston Concerts of the Decade” list in 2019. Their ability to continue to not only stay relevant but to set the bar for what’s cutting edge makes them the greatest rock 'n’ roll band in existence.