After reading J. Freedom Du Lac’s excellent oral history of the 9:30 Club, I couldn’t help but chime in with my favorite shows. True, I haven’t lived here very long compared to some of my friends (I moved here in July of 2004, and if memory serves my first show at the 9:30 as a D.C. metro area resident was The Delays playing to a 1/4 full room during an early Friday night show). That said, I have seen quite a few shows I will never forget.
7) LCD Soundsystem - May 2007
Right or wrong, D.C. has a very buttoned-up and reserved reputation, and most of the time it is well deserved. But not at this show. This was 90+ minutes of bodies moving inside a packed club and it was beyond awesome. I didn’t even want to go to this show but decided to go just to see what all the buzz was about. We went early and got a great spot upstairs on the rail and had a blast at this show.
6) Nethers, Cedars and Bicycle Thieves - Jan 2006
Yes, this gig probably looks the most out of place on this list, but this gig will always have a special place in my heart. At this point I’d been in D.C. for a year and a half and was finally starting to feel at home in my new city. This bill of all local bands featured two bands (Cedars and Bicycle Thieves) that Catherine & I had booked to play the first ever DCist Unbuckled concert and I was excited to see them play the 9:30. I had every intention of skipping Nethers since I didn’t know a heck of a lot about them, but my girlfriend at the time (now my incredibly awesome wife) told me “Let’s go see the openers. You never know, they might become your favorite band.” I was very skeptical but did it anyways and wouldn’t you know it, Nikki’s voice totally did a number on me and Nethers did indeed become one of my favorite bands. I went on to see them play another four or five times in 2006 and dropped their name on my blog as often as I could. Sadly they disappeared for a while before popping back up and releasing a sophomore slump busting second album. But they never toured behind it and I never heard from them again. Come back Nethers, I miss you!
This was also one of the first gigs I shot with my old Canon Powershot G6 and I was pretty happy with the results. This was one of the gigs that convinced me that I might be pretty good at this photography thing.
5) Scott Stapp - March 2006
The infamous Scott Stapp show, which produced the finest piece of music writing ever on DCist (as far as I am concerned). The funniest part of the night (and believe me, there were many of them) was DCeiver going around and talking to people before the show trying to get into the head of what exactly makes a Creed fan. He kept telling people he was a field rep for North Face but no one noticed he was wearing a Patagonia jacket.
4) Paul Weller - September 2008
I was hot off seeing The Modfather play a brilliant set at the 2008 Virgin Festival in Toronto , so to see him twice in one week was just too good to pass up. Weller played a two hour set heavy on his excellent 22 Dreams but also taking care to highlight all points of his career, stretching from The Jam to the Style Council and up through his solo career. He whipped the club, mostly old-timers (I love going to gigs and not being the oldest person in attendance) into a sweaty, frothy mess. Highlights were a punchy “Shout It To The Top” and the set closing Beatles cover of “All You Need Is Love.” A perfect ending to a perfect night.
3) Arcade Fire - January 2005
Not sure what to say about this show other than it really felt like you walked into a rock concert and ended up going to church. This was before YouTube, internet video and the glut of music photography (of which I am admittedly a big contributor) so I really had no expectations going into this show as far as what to expect. All the other music blogs that had seen the band said they were amazing, but what unfolded was a show that continually left me thinking “Why aren’t all concerts like this?” But of course, they can’t all be like this show. If they were, I’d have a serious sensory overload problem a few times a week. If memory serves, the band started the show in the crowd (without warning) and went on the play an incredibly intense set, full of energy and enthusiasm. Here was a band that could not be doing anything else other than playing their music to large crowds and were incredibly happy to be doing just that. That segue from “Neighborhood #3(Power Out)” into “Rebellion (Lies)” was just like making the jump to light speed.
The other thing I remember about this show as at the end of the last song of the night, the band, while still playing, all hopped off the stage and walked to the back of the venue, up the stairs and around the balcony to their dressing room. They kept playing the entire time and continued to do so in the dressing room as the house lights came up and people started filing out of the club and into the night. We happened to be standing by the dressing room at the time, so we got to listen to them keep playing while everyone else left.
The one downside of this show was I think it ruined the band for me. I saw them the following year at ACL and it was such a let down. Which is not to say that they played a bad show, more that the same show on a much larger scale simply didn’t have the same kind of impact.
2) James - September 2008
Point blank, this was one of the best shows I have ever seen, period. I have been a James fan since the early-90’s and had been incredibly disappointed the two times I had previously seen them, both at festivals when the band doggedly played hits-free sets that mainly focused on whatever album they were promoting at the time. I honestly felt like I was never going to get the show I wanted out of James. But then they go and release the brilliant “Hey Ma" album in 2008, which ranks right up there with the best things they’ve ever done, and then come to the 9:30 Club and play the new stuff along with all the old hits I always wanted to hear. But the reason this show is so special to me is all the other James fans in attendance that night. At the end of "Sometimes (Lester Piggot)" (which is one of my 10 favorite songs ever) Tim Booth let the crowd take over singing the chorus at the end of the tune. Only the crowd (including me) didn’t stop singing. We kept it going for a good five minutes. The band had already switched out instruments to play the next song. But we kept singing and eventually the band joined back in and we all ended the song properly. I had never seen such a spontaneous thing on such a mass scale happen at a show. It was incredible. Everyone on stage had the biggest shit-eating grins on. They were amazed. And to top it off, they played "Laid" next. Pure pandemonium.
Just to give you an idea on how many amazing shows I saw in 2008, this was only the fourth best gig I saw that year.
1) Radiohead w/ Pulp & Michael Stipe - June 1998
This was such an amazing night. I traveled to D.C. from NYC for the Tibetan Freedom Concert at RFK and ended up sitting in the section directly behind where people were struck by lightning. Later that evening we were sitting around my friend Adam’s apartment listening to the radio (seriously, that’s what we did in 1998!) when we heard WHFS announce a “Special Secret Show” on the air so we immediately got up and hustled over to the 9:30 Club and were early enough to be part of the lucky few (800 people, or so I am told) that were admitted when doors opened at midnight. Rumors were flying fast and furious about who would actually play and what would transpire that night. Pearl Jam were rumored to be doing a full set, along with Radiohead and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I distinctly remember Adam turning to me and saying “You know the best thing about this? We have absolutely no idea who is going to come out onto that stage.” He was right. It turns out Micheal Stipe came out first and did a few songs acapella (including Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” if memory serves) followed by Pulp (Jarvis!!) doing a short four or five song set. Radiohead followed them, playing a full set and pretty much making that night one of the best shows I have ever seen. Seriously, take a look at this setlist!! People would kill to see this set nowadays:
Airbag / Talk Show Host / Karma Police / The Bends / Climbing up the Walls / Fake Plastic Trees / How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found / Just / No Surprises / Lucky (with Michel Stipe) / Paranoid Android / Creep / Street Spirit
But the thing I remember most about that night? Looking up and to the left, there on the main dressing room balcony, arm in arm, swaying to the music were Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, who had just gone public with their romance.