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At this point, it's fair to say I've been to a lot of concerts. After recently watching the Wetlands Preserved documentary and finding it difficult to recall a specific highlight from the blur of shows I attended at the eponymous club, I challenged myself to come up with the top five favorite concerts of my youth without reference or research, completely biased by the transcendent experiences I had. (In fairness, too, the hazy Wetlands memories could've have had something to the club's liberal smoking policy.)
Nine Inch Nails @ Webster Hall, 5/13/94
My initial impression of this show was seeing the generator they used to power it parked in the middle of E11th Street. How loud was this going to get? Once perched in the balcony, the intense experience played out more like movie scene about a concert than a real gig. Violently running through material from Pretty Hate Machine, Broken and the freshly released Downward Spiral, Nine Inch Nails was in its raw prime. Dancers writhed on poles, a barrage of strobe lights created trippy illusions, and the balcony shook so hard that I feared it would give out. On Friday the 13th. Trent Reznor was never quite so fuckable ever again.
[Bonus: "The Only Time"]
Jane's Addiction @ Madison Square Garden, 4/24/91
To this day, I don't think any band has ever made a room as big as MSG seem so warm and intimate. Still at the height of their Ritual de lo Habitual popularity, the forefathers of alternative rock recreated the theme of the album—including a huge mural depicting the cover—through a red-hued stage set resplendent with stringed lights and carpets. That freed up the band to dive head-first into a set comprised of "Stop!" "Jane Says" and "Ocean Size" while connecting with the audience in a wholly organic way. Singing along with the majority of the crowd for the entirety of "Three Days" was epic, as was their steel tub drum circle interlude (really!). Good practice for the inaugural Lollapalooza festival a few months later.
Testament & White Zombie @ The Ritz, 8/1/92
Still very much a teenager, this was the first show at which I rode the crowd—during "Alone in the Dark," no less. Surfing through the pit produced an unforgettable sensation of momentary weightlessness, almost as if I was being guided by the song's sinuous Egyptian guitar scales. Coddled during the pre-Limp Bizkit era, male concertgoers hadn't yet started taking it as an opportunity to molest women en masse. And White Zombie were still a local band.
The Ramones @ Roseland Ballroom, 11/10/92
I'd never experienced a concert by a band with such universal appeal before this. Though it was incredible to see the Ramones play a rapid fire greatest-hits set (and if I recall correctly, "Spider-Man"), the people watching was nearly as stunning. The local stalwarts had an innate ability to pull a wide cross-section of NYC's populace out of the woodwork to see them play. Alongside me were skinheads, punk rockers, metalheads in Manowar back patches, pals from junior high school, various freaks, a former camp counselor, supermodels, and 60+ year old women with fur coats over their shoulders. If you wanted to bump into anyone from your past, a Ramones show would have been your best bet. Nowadays, it's Motorhead.
Slayer @ Anytime, Any town, Anyplace
Slayer is up there with sex and pizza—even when things are a little bit off, they're still pretty good. But if I had to choose, I'd say their most momentous shows were on their Undisputed Attitude run. Slayer had a two-night stint at Irving Plaza in early August 1996 and because they were pimping their superb covers record, they padded several cuts into their sets, including Verbal Abuse's "I Hate You," T.S.O.L's "Abolish Government" and Minor Threat's "Guilty of Being White." Leaving the show, sweaty and bruised, my friend and devoted punk rocker Louhawk turned to me and reveled, "Dude, we just saw Slayer play Minor Threat." The bewildered and consummate look on his face said it all.
PS: This meme is truth.