I’m a big fan of Nick Hornby stories. I’m especially a fan of “High Fidelity.” Somewhat paradoxically, I haven’t yet read that particular book, but the film adaptation starring John Cusack, Iben Hjejle and Jack Black is an all-time fave.
And while I may or may not have seen it originally on a date with a woman who did not go on to become my wife, it has nevertheless had a lasting impact on my marriage, as the missus (who also enjoys it) and I will often pick each other’s brains with impromptu top-five lists. It’s nothing deeply philosophical or earth-shattering, mostly just inanely intriguing time-killers — top five places you’d like to visit … top five Swedish bands … top five candy bars … top five bassists, et cetera. We have yet to touch upon top five musical crimes perpetrated by Stevie Wonder in the ’80s, but please refrain from mentioning “I Just Called to Say I Love You” to her.
One we’ve tossed around in the past took on added significance with Tom Petty’s death on Oct. 2: top five bucket-list concerts. Who are the top five musical acts you have yet to see in concert that you must before you (or they) die?
Sadly, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers would have been No. 1 on my list. Another musician who left us this year, Chris Cornell, would also have been on there.
I’ve been fortunate to knock off plenty over the past few years. Still, we’ve all got those artists who’ve frustratingly eluded us, don’t we?
OK, let’s talk criteria, then. Because I’m not a fan of cluttering up a good thing with excessive rules, we’ll keep it simple: 1. Current bands only. Much as I’d love to see The Beatles or the Ramones, they’re not a thing anymore, and time travel doesn’t exist (yet). And 2. They have to actually still do some touring, or at least some occasional performing, in your chosen incarnation. Yes, Robert Plant still performs, and yes, Jimmy Page still performs, but no, they don’t still perform together as Led Zeppelin, and no, that doesn’t appear likely to change, so Zep and the like are disqualified as well.
OK, then, let’s do it …
1. Pearl Jam
That early-’90s grunge debate — Nirvana or Pearl Jam? — was no contest for me. Kurt Cobain claiming PJ was too mainstream-sounding? So what. Pearl Jam has more than simply held up over the years, it’s become a bona fide rock ‘n’ roll institution. Have you listened to the trembling vulnerability of “Sirens”? Mike McCready’s incendiary fretwork in that closeout solo from “Alive”? Eddie Vedder’s plaintive, haunting, wolfman howl on “Black”? Seriously — if I could cherry-pick any rock singer’s voice ever to steal for myself, well … Cornell would’ve been my choice, but Vedder was a close second. The fact that each show Pearl Jam does is its own one-off, a uniquely curated experience never to be duplicated, is the icing on the cake.
2. The Rolling Stones
Yeah, I’m quite aware — they’re old now. Again, that whole time travel conundrum. You find a way for me to go back and check ’em out circa “Exile on Main Street” or something and I’ll do it. In the meantime, I’ll take what I can get. Blues-based, sleaze-drenched rock ‘n’ roll is my all-time jam (there’s a reason Guns N’ Roses and Aerosmith are my two favorite bands ever), so how could I possibly justify missing the godfathers of the genre? Keith Richards may well indeed be an indestructible immortal, a force of nature who, along with his open-G-tuned classic “Honky Tonk Women,” will live on forever, but I suspect that Mick Jagger may be slightly less invulnerable, so the clock is ticking on this one.
3. Red Hot Chili Peppers
They should have been off the list back in March. With any luck, they’ll come off on Monday night. The progeny and I had paused our road trip for lunch in Laramie, Wyo., when the news came that the show scheduled for that night at the Pepsi Center in Denver, among others, was postponed due to singer Anthony Kiedis’ laryngitis. Now we’re ready for Take 2. It’s a little bittersweet, as guitarist John Frusciante was my favorite Pep, and I’m not terribly enamored with his replacement, Josh Klinghoffer. Still, I’m guessing that if you’re at all an RHCP fan, you can’t not have fun at a show. Plus, “Dani California” is such a direct descendant of “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” hearing it live will almost — almost — give me a tiny taste of Petty after all.
4. Fleetwood Mac
OK, embarrassing confession time: Much to my wife’s utter chagrin, horror, contempt and disgust, I used to think I didn’t like Fleetwood Mac music. Turns out, I just don’t like Christine McVie-penned Fleetwood Mac music. It’s all just a bit too saccharine and, well … happy, for my taste. The Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks stuff, though, is a different story. It doesn’t hurt that Nicks has a magical presence, or that Buckingham is seriously one of the most underrated and underappreciated guitarists of all time. Plus, all those decades of drama and infighting can’t help but add another delicious layer to their live show. Tell me you wouldn’t relish the dueling Buckingham-Nicks staredowns from “Go Your Own Way” and “Silver Springs.”
Why the asterisk? Well, because here, I’m kinda-sorta-technically-maybe violating my own rules. We’ll call it gray area. Simply put, Brian Johnson needs to be fronting the band. Clearly, given my GN’R obsession, I’m not anti-Axl Rose, but seeing Axl-fronted AC/DC just wouldn’t be the same. It’s bad enough that Malcolm Young’s health issues have permanently forced him from the lineup. Not having at least an Angus Young-Brian Johnson pairing would be a deal-breaker. There will be no “But, Bon Scott” grousing here. Johnson and his gravel-and-broken-glass yowl have been a band institution since 1980, so it’s time to let that go. If Johnson can overcome his hearing issues, I will head out on the “Highway to Hell” so that I may be shaken all night long.