Listfully Speaking - Top 5 Artists I'd Love to See Live But Haven't: Morrison, Waits, U2, Frisell, Bragg

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In college a buddy of mine bought tickets to see the Grateful Dead in Birmingham. He asked me if I wanted to go, but I was short on cash and there were tests to study for so I said no.  I'll catch them next time I figured and let him have his fun.  The year was 1994. Jerry Garcia died a few months later. The Grateful Dead  never came 'round again. To know me is to know I am a Deadhead. I've been kicking myself ever since that day I said no.  

You'd think I would learn a lesson from that and would have gone to every concert in my area that I had any desire to attend. You'd be thinking wrong. Time and time again an artist will come close to me and I'll be dying to go, but then I'll look at the budget or think about the other things I probably ought to do and I'll figure I'll catch them next time. I always regret it.  

That isn't to say I haven't gone to some cool shows. I've seen a lot of great acts, sometimes paid too much for them and neglected important things in order to go. I've never, ever regretted it. Great concerts, even not so great ones build memories. They are experiences worth having. I try to remind myself of that every time I see a tour coming my way. Maybe next time I"ll remember it.

I thought it would be fun to create a list of artists whom I haven't seen, but would very much like to. Perhaps this is a list of people that I simply cannot say no to the next time they come anywhere close to me. This is, perhaps, a more personal list than we usually write in this column as it by necessity excludes all of the artists that I have seen before. A person might look at this list and say "hey, where's Bob Dylan?" and I get to respond, "I've seen him, ya jerk." Or something like that.  I thought about creating a list of all the artists I have seen, but I didn't. So you're gonna have to just deal with that.

Anyways, here's my top five list of musical acts that I have never seen, but simply must hear before I die.

1.  Van Morrison: I've been a casual fan of Van since forever. I've loved "Brown Eyed Girl" for as long as I can remember. I dig many of his other hits like "Domino" and "Into the Mystic" as well. But when you look at his rather enormous catalog of music, I don't roll very deep. Or at least I didn't used to.  

For years Van and his management went after anybody who posted any of his music online without permission. This included unofficially released live recordings. Then about a year ago they gave up. All of a sudden there was a tsunami of bootlegs popping up everywhere. If you've paid any attention to my writings you'll have noted that I'm a big collector of live music. I grabbed as many Van Morrison shows as I could.  And they are awesome.

At his peak, Morrison is a lightning bolt of energy. The man puts every ounce, every fiber of himself into his songs.  Just watch him perform "Caravan" with the Band in The Last Waltz.  ven Robbie Robertson looks at him in awe. In his prime there was nobody better than Van Morrison live and in person.

It is true that going to a Van Morrison show is something of a crap shoot. Known for his diva like attitudes Morrison has often come to a performance only to spend most of the show complaining about the soundboard, or yelling at an unruly audience member. On numerous occasions he's simply walked off the stage after only a few songs. True too, with 67 years under his belt, Morrison can no longer hit the floor like he used to. That lighting bolt of energy is more of a static shock these days, but even so, from the bootlegs I've heard from recent tours his band is killer and his singing sublime.

2.  U2: To tell the truth I haven't truly loved a U2 album since Actung Baby more than 20 years ago. They've released some very good stuff since then, but nothing that has kept my fandom from a continual free-fall. Still, their live shows are something of legend. Bono is one of the few people on the planet who can make an enormous stadium seem like an intimate setting. Watching him perform in various television specials and video tapes is something of a wonder. He has a way of connecting with every single person in the audience and making them believe he's talking directly to them.

The rest of the band aint bad either. These guys have been playing together for decades and amazingly they all seem to still get along really well together. At least they play like they do. While the songs have declined in quality of the years the performances have remained incredible.

3.  Bill Frisell:  He's on my list of folks I had the chance to see, but declined. This was a few years ago and at the time I didn't really know his music. I had a couple of friends who raved about him, but their tastes run a little sketchy at times - they both have a tendency to dig things that wonk - and I was under-employed and so I decided to skip the show.

Then I bought East/West, Frisell's magnificent live album. Generally considered a jazz guitarist - and rightfully so as he's played with some of the great jazz artists of our age - Frisell's music really runs through the whole of American music.  Live he'll certainly lay down some wonky business but then he'll bust out covers of songs like "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," or something by Hank Williams or a classic Beatles number and then he'll close with something like the schmaltzy "Feelings" but make you rethink your preconceived notions of it. 

He often plays solo, just him, his guitars and his devices. He likes to deal in loops - recording a guitar lick that he will then play back over and over again while then playing something new, recording it, and continuing along those lines until he's got a wall of sound. The results are phenomenal. He is a brilliant guitarist who can take a classic song and find new and interesting ways to make it fresh.

4.  Billy Bragg: A British singer song-writer who is overly political with his lyrics, whose guitar skills are average at best and whose voice has no right to be sung on internationally released records, and yet Bragg is someone I would pay very large amounts of money to see perform. His back catalog is filled with some wonderful songs and it would be a treat to hear him play them, but the real draw for me is Bragg as a person  He's extremely well spoken, intelligent and fascinating to listen to.

In interviews he is extraordinarily articulate, fascinating and funny. He is very liberal in his politics and while I do agree with him on many issues, even when I don't I find myself changing my mind as I listen to him talk. He's passionate and well informed but never cynical or mean spirited.  n the many bootlegs I have of his he is often chatty between songs talking about not just politics, but all sorts of subjects and I never feel like skipping over his banter to hear the next song.  

The songs are good too. He's admittedly not a great musician but he plays with lots of energy and passion and even in a recorded medium I find myself glued to the stereo wanting to stay for the whole show even when I could easily hit pause and come back later. Live and in person must be a thing of rare beauty.

5. Tom Waits:  He very rarely performs anymore but when he does its a celebration.  Waits is a guy who understand the theatrics of a concert.  He's one of the great songwriters of our age, but he understands that when we're paying big money to see him perform we want more than just the songs as they come on the albums.  He's a great storyteller - wry, sleazy and funny.  He's a carnival barker, a strip club announcer and a back room preacher rolled into one.  

I've got a couple of dozen bootlegs of his covering all stages of his career and every show is a treasure.  I never tire of listening to any one.  His shows are never the same and they are always amazing.

There are too many to name that I've left out. This list was harder to make than I imagined. There are acts like Paul Simon and Paul McCartney that it pains me to leave off. But someone had to get cut and getting cut is never fun. Still others I'd love to see, but I've come to terms with the fact that I'll never be able too. Guys like Pete Seeger who, while still alive and occasionally performing are just too old to really tour and whose performance are sold out before I'd ever get the chance to catch a ticket. Others are simply priced out of my league. I'd love to see the Rolling Stones or Neil Young, but I just can't justify spending hundreds of dollars for a couple of hours of music.  

But I'm proud of that list. I've even got a pretty good chance of seeing most of them too.