Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen top 2016's best Cleveland concerts
By Chuck Yarborough, The Plain Dealer
on November 30, 2016
No. 1 on the Hit Parade for 2016 concerts: Sir Paul McCartney. (Chuck Crow / The Plain Dealer)
CLEVELAND, Ohio - By rough estimate, Northeast Ohio enjoyed - or at least experienced - roughly 1.2 bazillion concerts in 2016, and we still have most of December left.
And it seems I was at all but a couple of those shows.
Quite frankly, it wasn't a banner year for concerts. Aside from a few, like Sir Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band, we didn't get a lot of big-name acts.
In a way, this particular concert season was like the NFL, in which, with the exception of the Browns, parity means just about any team can win on any given Sunday. So we had a ton of concerts, a ton of good concerts, but few spectacular ones.
I did go to a lot of shows, but not EVERY show. I'm only one guy, after all, and there are more concerts than one person can cover. So ethically, honestly, morally, I can't speak to the ones I didn't attend. I suspect that some of those could have earned spots on this list.
But of the ones I DID attend, these were what I thought were best:
1. Sir Paul McCartney, Aug. 17, The Q: More than three hours of the best rock 'n' roll in history from a 74-year-old who still "has it.'' How do you top that? I'm nearly 60, but I never got to see the Beatles. This is as close to musical nirvana as it gets.
2. Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Feb. 23, The Q: More than three hours of the next-best rock 'n' roll in history from a 67-year-old who still "has it.'' Springsteen's voice has the rasp of honesty that perfectly matches his Everyman lyrics. A basic tenet of journalism is "there's no cheering in the press box.'' Impossible when Bruuuuuuuce is onstage.
3. Hank Williams Jr. and Chris Stapleton, Aug. 19, Blossom: Hank Jr. was the headliner, but the show belonged to Stapleton, a former lead singer of the bluegrass band the Steeldrivers. With any luck, Stapleton, the man behind the wondrously rich debut solo album "Traveller,'' will pave the way for a new "mainstream country'' that actually bespeaks of more than Daisy Dukes, tailgates and beer. Just FYI, a favorite from this show is his duet with wife Morgane on the classic "Don't Take My Sunshine Away.'' Beautiful. Just. Beautiful.
4. AC/DC, Sept. 6, The Q: Fears that Guns N' Roses lead singer Axl Rose, whose temperamental reputation is as well-earned as it is well-documented, would sabotage this final tour by one of hard rock's icons were at best unfounded, and in reality, ridiculous. Rose, subbing on the microphone for Brian Johnson, who is battling hearing loss, was not just good; he was perfect. More like the late original lead singer, Bon Scott, than Johnson, he was also willing to give the spotlight to the true star of AC/DC, the irrepressibly gifted guitarist Angus Young.
5. Rob Zombie and Korn, Aug. 24, Blossom: As you might expect from a show featuring one of the best horror movie directors in history, this was as much about theater as it was music - and it was great on both counts. Truthfully, Zombie at 51 has lost a little of his mojo as a rocker. But Jonathan Davis and Korn remain among the best in the business.
6. Anthrax, Slayer, Sept. 9, Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica: "If it's too loud, you're too old.'' Obviously, that does not apply to these two pioneers in thrash metal. The bands, both celebrating 35 years of rupturing eardrums for the unprepared, continue to attack their instruments and the audience's senses, like hyenas on a stolen kill.
7. Joan Baez, Oct. 19, Playhouse Square's State Theatre: For more than 50 years, this first-time Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominee has been using her music to push for a better world. My favorite line from the review: "At times, it was tough to decide which was more delightful, the songs themselves or the wonderful stories about everything from spending quality time with her mother and sister in jail after being arrested for protesting, to quips about [former lover Bob] Dylan - 'His manners suck, but his songs are fantastic.' ''
8. Dolly Parton, June 10, Hard Rock Rocksino: Parton has a sense of humor bigger than her . . . talent, and she uses it to her advantage. Truth is that despite her country bumpkin bimbo image, she's one of the smartest people on the planet. But that doesn't take away from her gift as a singer-songwriter-musician. This was one of my most delightful nights of this past summer.
9. Brandy Clark, Rachel Brown, Oct. 27, Music Box Supper Club: This was one of the few times I went to a show as a "civilian.'' I ethically couldn't review the show because I was acting as merch guy and roadie for Brown, whom I've been seeing for a while. But I'd have gone anyway. The Grammy-nominated Clark is the best songwriter in Nashville today, male or female, as her new album, "Big Day in a Small Town,'' attests. And, although I'm admittedly biased, I will say that Brown has the best voice in Cleveland music.
10. Tri-C High School Rock Off Final Exam, Feb. 13, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: The Rock Off began, as most things do in the music biz, as a way for Belkin Productions (now Live Nation) to keep the cash register ringing during the slow winter months. It's grown into a Northeast Ohio tradition that will celebrate its 21st anniversary in 2017. If ever you worry about the future of music - rock 'n' roll in particular - attend just one of these. Most of the "kids'' who play are as good or better than 99.99999 percent of the acts on any stage, in Cleveland or elsewhere.
11. Zac Brown Band, June 24, Blossom: If there is an all-star team of musicians, it's the Zac Brown Band. Vocally and instrumentally, they're in the big leagues while most everyone else is playing rookie ball. Brown's haunting and distinctive multi-octave baritone can caress a country ballad like "As She's Walking Away,'' tent-revival testify with "Remedy'' and slay with the grunge-tinged "Heavy Is the Head.'' And angels text from heaven to ask for advice on harmonies.
12. Tri-C JazzFest salute to Tommy LiPuma, June 16, Playhouse Square's State Theatre: One of Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Leon Russell's last performances was at the 37th annual Tri-C JazzFest bash honoring local Grammy legend Tommy LiPuma for his 80th birthday. He suffered a heart attack about three weeks later and died in November. That would make it poignant enough, were that the only performance. But we were also treated to Diana Krall, Dr. John and Al Jarreau, all who added some nice hardware to their trophy cases, courtesy of LiPuma.
13. Miranda Lambert, July 28, Blossom: What we saw was the continuing evolution of the reigning three-time Academy of Country Music female vocalist of the year. She still has the sass of "Kerosene'' and remains the p.o'd girl behind "Gunfire and Lead.'' But Lambert is developing - as if she needed to! - into a multidimensional true artist. Her new double album, "The Weight of These Wings,'' shows that, and the few fans at Blossom that night - only 12,000 in a venue that easily holds 20,000 - got a taste.
14. Rascal Flatts, June 25, Blossom: Fifteen mainstream country music shows at the Cuyahoga Falls amphitheater this past summer probably were too many. Not sure who you'd cut, though. For sure it wouldn't be Rascal Flatts, which features Ohio-born cousins Gary Levox on lead vocals and Jay DeMarcus on bass and backup vocals as well as Oklahoman Joe Don Rooney on guitar. The guys made a steady rise to the top after their 2000 release "Prayin' for Daylight'' and a show-opening gig for that year's WGAR Country Jam. And they show no signs of stepping down.
15. Joe Walsh, Bad Company, June 26, Blossom: Back in the good ol' days, when jukeboxes were three plays for a quarter, they were ruled by guys like Walsh and Paul Rodgers and his band. And for one night, those days were back again. Here's how I put it in the review: "All the dimes fed into that Great Big Outdoor Wurlitzer known as Blossom Music Center on Sunday night got one thing: classic rock. Not just classic rock, but GREAT classic rock, from two of the genre's stalwarts, Joe Walsh, whom Ohio has claimed as its own since his Kent State and James Gang days, and Bad Company, featuring one of the best voices in music, Paul Rodgers, on the microphone."
Cleveland will always love Joe Walsh, who delivered a great night of classic rock at Blossom with fellow rockers Bad Company. (Chuck Yarborough / The Plain Dealer)