The best concerts of 2002
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., December 17, 2002) – I thought I had it all worked out. For weeks I had been carrying around loosely in my head the top five concerts of the past year. The only question remaining was would I find another five shows worthy enough of mention to fill out the bottom half of a year-end top 10?

Or so I thought, until I went back over the list of shows I had seen this past year. One after another jogged my memory – oh yes, this one was terrific, that one was a revelation, what a great night that was – and before I knew it, my list included about 20 shows altogether worthy of the top 10.

So in retrospect it was a great year for Berkshire concertgoers and for those occasionally venturing beyond the county’s borders to catch some of the big-name talents in the region’s arenas. And while my list might seem slightly weighted toward baby-boomer nostalgia acts, the simple fact is that these are performers who have endured not solely because of their past accomplishments but because they continue to be artists of tremendous artistic significance as well as terrific entertainers.

What is equally exciting to me at least is to scan the list and see the names of younger artists – several who made their area debuts – in a variety of genres, offering great promise of a future full of great performances.

1. Blind Boys of Alabama (Mahaiwe Theatre, Great Barrington, February 10): Three singers in their 70s turned the Mahaiwe into a rocking church party with their Pentecostal-style, hard gospel, the music that in large part gave rock music its spirit and soul.
2. Paul McCartney (Fleet Center, Boston, September 30): Sir Paul fully embraced his past as a member of the Beatles in a concert that celebrated his 40-year legacy while affirming his role as a lonely survivor.
3. Bruce Springsteen (Pepsi Arena, Albany, December 13): The Boss hasn’t lost a step as a showman, and he found a way to integrate fully the post-9/11 liturgy of “The Rising” into his overall body of work, finding new resonances in old songs along the way.
4. Bob Dylan (Hartford Civic Center, November 17): With nothing left to prove, Dylan reinvents himself as a rock ‘n’ roll keyboardist and a classic-rock interpreter, while reinvigorating songs from his own stellar catalog.
5. Chuck Prophet (Club Helsinki, Great Barrington, July 21): Of the few dozen people in attendance, arguably only a handful had any idea who Chuck Prophet was, but by the time the night was over, everyone was unified in the belief that they had just witnessed a unique rock ‘n’ roll journey by an utter original.
6. Jake (Helsinki, February 2): In the great tradition of Chrissie Hynde and Patti Smith, Jessie Lee Montague proved herself to be an intriguing, sensual vocalist and bandleader tapping into a rich and deeply soulful vein of modern rock with classic values.
7. They Might Be Giants (Mass MoCA, North Adams, May 11): The two Johns who godfathered the whole geek-rock movement combine the cultural savvy of Walter Benjamin with entertainment values borrowed from TV game shows, and make the fusion work.
8. Amy Fairchild Band (Helsinki, February 28): Fairchild combines the literate intimacy of a new-folk singer-songwriter, the unerring pop-rock instincts of a Sheryl Crow, and the moves of a rock goddess.
9. James Taylor and the Boston Pops (Tanglewood, July 17): They may have caused a traffic jam on the turnpike from Stockbridge nearly to Boston, but the pairing of these all-American icons in readings of Abraham Lincoln as per Aaron Copland and renditions of a host of Taylor’s songs made for an unforgettable summer’s night.
10. Jen Chapin Band (Helsinki, August 22): With the help of her versatile band, Chapin combined her singer-songwriter-oriented material with a jazz sensibility, and she had the vocal presence to pull it off. Look out, Norah Jones.

Bubbling under: Jim’s Big Ego (Helsinki, April 11); Asylum Street Spankers (Helsinki, June 6); Bang on a Can All-Stars (Mass MoCA, July 13); Bang on a Can Marathon (MoCA, July 27); Dave Brubeck Quartet (Tanglewood, September 1); Rene Marie (Helsinki, October 5); Popa Chubby (Helsinki, October 17); Golem, (Helsinki, November 14).

Honorable mentions: Marc Ribot (Helsinki, January 12); Demolition String Band (Helsinki, January 19); Sex Mob (Helsinki, February 23); Lucy Kaplansky (Berkshire Museum, March 9); Groovelily (Helsinki, May 2); Tom Tom Club (Port of Hudson, Hudson, N.Y., July 6); Sally Tayor (Helsinki, August 4); Everton Sylvester and Searching for Banjo (Helsinki, August 15); Josh Roseman Unit (Helsinki, August 24); Pharaoh’s Daughter (Helsinki, December 7); Sonya Kitchell Band (Helsinki, December 8).

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on December 20, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

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