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Red Hot Chili Peppers at the 1992 Lollapalooza at SPAC.

Photo: Martin Benjamin

The Capital Region’s top 10 live shows of the past 30 years

Here’s where that subjective memory thing gets interesting. A few of our respondents included “Bob Dylan at SPAC” on their list of best area live shows. You know he’s played there a few times, right? Like, a million?

Not that specificity would have affected the final tally, though the lack of it helped to boost our No. 1 entry. We allowed the first two Lollapalooza festivals to rank together at the top of our list for a few reasons: First, a few of those polled seemed confused as to which one they actually saw; others just wrote in both. The inaugural freak-fest—featuring Jane’s Addiction, first-wave Nine Inch Nails, Ice-T’s Body Count, and Siouxsie and the Banshees—represented a coming of age for the counterculture. The 1992 edition was stocked with soon-to-be rock-radio staples like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Red Hot Chili Peppers, and served to measure the massive surge in the popularity of what was just starting to be called “alternative” music. Together, these two festivals pinpointed the zeitgeist of their time, serving as a changing-of-the-guard ceremony in popular music. Teen spirit never smelled so good.

Another zeitgeist, albeit on a smaller scale, was nailed when Albany’s own Clay People co-headlined the 1999 EdgeFest at the Altamont Fairgrounds. The band were at the height of their popularity, having just released an album through a major-label affiliate, and their performance that afternoon was positively electric. On this day, the Clay People were superstars.

Few in the audience may have known it, but when Sonic Youth played QE2 in April 1987, they were trying out songs from their then soon-to-be-released masterwork, Sister. (Daydream Nation was still 18 months off.) Their music had by this time coalesced into the perfect storm of pure-pop sensibilities and Lower East Side scuzz. Was this the beginning of Sonic Youth as we now know them? Possibly.

At No. 4 is a tie between two unexpectedly bittersweet performances. The Boss’ 2006 Magic show was one of the last with organist Danny Federici, who passed on a few months later. And Count Basie’s 1984 stop at J.B. Scott’s was, also, one of his very last.

Also making the list: Guided By Voices’ Budweiser-chugging Valentine’s show, the Stones’ vital late-period stop at the then-Pepsi, U2 and the Pretenders in the ’80s, the Pixies’ believe-it-or-not acoustic show at the Egg, and the late Elliott Smith’s cloud-parting summer 2000 set at the Empire State Plaza.

Just on the outskirts of the Top 10 (or so): the Smashing Pumpkins’ 1996 Knickerbocker Arena show; the 1997 H.O.R.D.E. tour at SPAC (with Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Beck, Ween, and so many more); Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense-tour appearance at SPAC; From Good Homes’ many stops at Bogie’s; Elvin Jones’ late-’90s show at the Van Dyck; Frank Sinatra’s Knickerbocker Arena-opening show in January 1990; Bob Dylan’s set at the Woodstock Anniversary Show in Saugerties; Faith No More’s Angel Dust-tour stop at the Palace in 1992; Richard Buckner and Anders Parker at the Larkin in 2002; Between the Buried and Me’s post-post-metal thrashing at Revolution Hall in ’07; and Radiohead’s post-“Creep,” pre-“High and Dry” set at Saratoga Winners in the spring of 1995. Raise your hands: How many of you knew that Radiohead played at Winners?

Survey respondents ranked up to 10 choices, and points were tallied as follows: 10 for 1st place, 9 for 2nd, and so on.

1. Lollapalooza @ SPAC, 1991-1992 (30)

2. Clay People @ Edgefest, 1999 (18)

3. Sonic Youth @ QE2, 1987 (17)

4. Tie: Bruce Springsteen @ TU Center, 2006 (14), Count Basie @ JB Scott’s, 1984 (14)

6. Guided by Voices, Spoon @ Valentine’s, 2001 (13)

7. Tie (all 10 points): Dr. John @ Pauly’s Hotel, 1985; Pixies @ the Egg, 2005; Elliott Smith @ Empire State Plaza, 2000; Rolling Stones @ Pepsi Arena, 2005; Missing Persons @ Palace, 1980s; U2 @ SUNY, Mayfest (early 80s); Nick Matulis, Matt Loiacono, Bob Buckley, Troy Pohl @ Larkin, 03-04; Pretenders @ JB Scott’s; Mekons @ QE2, 1988; Stigmata, Clay People, Terrorcake, Plaid @ Winners, 1995

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