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20 Concerts Everyone Should See Before They Die

Updated on January 28, 2013

Or the band breaks up... or a band member dies... or any other catastrophe that could happen...

I have been lucky enough to work for an independent alternative radio station called FM 102.1 just outside of Milwaukee, WI for the past 5 and a half years. Over that span of time, many of my musical dreams have come true and I have gotten to see more concerts than most people see in their entire lives. Below are the best 20 concerts that I have been to and that I recommend to any other music lovers out there. Even though I work for an alternative rock station, there are plenty of different musical styles on the list. Anything from a boy band to classic rock artists to a country singer so give my list a shot. These are in no particular order except for #1 which is my favorite concert of all time. Enjoy!

1. Foo Fighters

Over the summer I finally got to see one of my favorite bands perform. A little background on me, Nirvana is my all time favorite band. My cousin showed me Nirvana when I was about 10 years old (2 years after Kurt Cobain died). If it wasn't for Nirvana I would probably still be listening to country music, would have never started working for FM 102.1, and well my life would just be completely different. Since I can never see Nirvana live, the Foo Fighters are the next best thing.

Onto the concert. Dave Grohl started out by telling the crowd that the Foo Fighters had skipped Milwaukee on their last tour (something that seems to happen to Milwaukee a lot). He went on to further explain that the Foo Fighters would therefore be playing as long as possible and even were going to skip the encore because that was a waste of time when they could be playing music. What followed was an amazing 2 and a half hour experience I will never forget.

The Foo Fighters have been around for almost 20 years and with that comes a lot of amazing music. They played pretty much everyone of my favorite songs of theirs and also a few amazing covers. What makes this concert my number one pick besides what I stated above and their music was the comedy act that they put on between songs. There are bands out there that will just play song after song and barely even speak to the audience. (None of those bands will be on this list). It was hilarious hearing the banter between band members throughout the entire concert. I have never sang so much and laughed so hard ever in my life.

If the Foo Fighters ever come near your area, do everything in your power to go. You won't regret it.

2. Blink 182

I have seen Blink 182 twice now since they reunited in 2009 and both times were absolutely amazing. They have a lot in common with the Foo Fighters show including almost 20 years of music together and they are absolutely hilarious. The best part of the show is watching bassist Mark Hoppus and guitarist Tom Delonge interact. They mercilessly make fun of each other to the point of wondering if the band is happy to be back together or not.

The first time I saw them, they were openly drunk on stage. Delonge kept yelling "Vodka and Redbull!" and "You guys love cheese".

The drummer Travis Barker always puts on an amazing drum solo. Both times the stage lifted in the air and moved back and forth but it never stopped the amazing soloist. The second time he played, his drum set went directly over my head.

Blink 182 didn't disappoint either time that I saw them play at the Marcus Amphitheater. It's great to hear them back together playing all their hits from when I was in high school and all the great memories that go along with those songs.

3. Brand New

Brand New is a fairly underground band but they have a huge completely loyal fan base. Unfortunately the band only comes out with a new album every 3+ years (although it has now been 3 years since their 2009 release of Daisy and while they have talked about studio time, nothing has been released) and they really hate touring so concerts are few and far between. I was lucky enough to find a group of friends who shared my love of Brand New and in 2009 we travelled to the Aragon in Chicago, IL to see them play.

First of all, the Aragon is an absolutely beautiful venue and getting to see Brand New there was perfect. My only regret is that I didn't get to see them sooner. They played a lot of their newer songs and of course their classics but there were a lot of songs from my favorite album The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me that I unfortunately didn't get to hear. Even then, Brand New is still in my top five favorite concerts ever. Haven't heard of them? If you are interested, here is a list of songs that are some of my favorites, starting from when they first came out up to their last album. You can hear how they changed over the years. "Jude Law and a Semester Abroad", "Me Vs Maradona Vs Elvis", "Ok I Believe You But My Tommy Gun Don't", "Sic Transit Gloria... Glory Fades", "Sowing Season (Yeah)", "Jesus", "Degausser", "At the Bottom", "Daisy". There are so many more but those are the most popular.

4. Cage the Elephant

From the time I first met the members of Cage the Elephant at Summerfest in 2009 I knew they were something special. They were extrememly personable and loved talking to their fans. Guitarist Brad Shultz is especially sweet and will happily talk your ear off (which is definitely not a bad thing).

Then I saw them play. I have seen Cage the Elephant 4 times now and I can remember every concert sepearately because each is memorable. They have an amazing stage presence and so much energy that you can't help but get excited throughout the show. The lead singer never stops moving and sounds flawless.

The main reason that Cage the Elephant was one of the first bands I thought of for this article is because of one of their shows at The Rave in Milwaukee. At the very end, lead singer Matt Shultz jumped into the crowd, crowd surfed over to the balcony, and climbed to the top with the help of fans. He then jumped off the balcony back into the crowd.

That concert is one that everyone talks about even now. Anytime Cage the Elephant is brought up in conversation, the immediate question is "Were you at their show at the Rave?!" Not only does jumping off the balcony look cool but it shows an absolute trust in his fans.

Whenever Cage the Elephant comes to town, I make sure I'm at that show.

5. Imagine Dragons

Imagine Dragons is one of the youngest bands on my list, both in age and band formation. Honestly, when Imagine Dragons played our Summerfest US Cellular/FM 102.1 stage the summer of 2012, I had no idea who they were. Their first single "It's Time" had just started to get radio play and while I knew the song, I didn't know who sang it.

While Imagine Dragons was taking the stage, two of my friends had come to visit me while I was working. We were standing in a circle talking when Imagine Dragons began to play their song "Radioactive". This is one of those songs that you have to see live to appreciate it because the record version doesn't do it justice.

I was going to post the Jimmy Fallon version of them playing this song, but I think they one shows more of the energy that they bring to the stage. Next to the lead singer Dan Reynolds is a bass drum. As he sings, he pounds along to the beat. It is so enamoring that my friend stopped talking mid-sentence and his eyes grew wide. The rest of the song, all 3 of us just stared at the stage, unable to speak.

I saw them again at Rock the Green this fall and their show was just as amazing as the first. They are a bunch of great guys and musicians that completely deserve their fame.

6. Manchester Orchestra

Manchester Orchestra opened for Brand New at the show in Chicago that I spoke of in #3. I was already stoked to see Brand New but when I heard that Manchester Orchestra was opening, I knew it had to be one of the best combinations of bands ever.

Andy Hull is the big bearded frontman and when you look at him you probably envision a completely different voice coming through his whiskers. Hull has a wide range of voices and even his raspy one is beautiful. He carries his talent completely to the stage.

At the concert above (Verge 2010), it was pouring rain. It didn't matter to the huge crowd as they stayed, drenched to watch Mancester Orchestra play. That is the effect this band has. I wouldn't miss this band coming to town, rain or shine.

7. Bright Eyes

Conor Oberst has been in many different bands throughout his career, but he is best known for founding Bright Eyes almost 20 years ago. His lyrics and music have influenced a generation and years from now his name will be listed among the greatest musicians. If that isn't enough of a reason to see him in concert I don't know what is.

Bright Eyes has created new and revolutionary music that sounds so different from anything else out there and that transfers into their live performance. While Oberst is also known for his political tirades in his lyrics and on stage, he can back it up with unfortgetable performances. I have seen Bright Eyes 3 times and that is nothing compared to some of my friends who travel to see him and have done so over 10 times.

Bright Eyes has a folk/indie rock sound and Oberst has one of the most distinct voices out there. Since his voice is so different, most people either love him, or they hate him. If you are in the love category, I highly recommend going to see Bright Eyes live at least once.

8. The Cure

I got the opportunity to see The Cure a few years ago when one of our DJ's got tickets to their show in Chicago. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures but I can tell you that they played for over 3 hours. 3 hours! Most bands nowadays can barely make it for one hour, even if they have a long discography behind them.

The most amazing part about them playing for 3 hours is, lead singer Robert Smith kept apologizing for sounding terrible because he was sick. First of all, if that was them sounding terrible, then I don't know what great sounds like. I thought they sounded perfect and had great energy which in turn got me amped up for the show. Second of all, he was sick and still played for over 3 hours! I'm sorry, 3 hours of great music from one band just blows my mind. Definitely go check out The Cure if you ever get the opportunity. It is worth every penny and every second of your time.

9. City and Colour

Dallas Green (get it? City and Colour? haha) founded this band with his first songs coming out in 2005. I discovered the band after a friend of mine showed me a bunch of his music. I was hooked immediately. I still go through spurts where I will become addicted and only listen to City and Colour. Green's vulnerable lyrics and haunting sound is hard to turn off. He writes about things that we have all been through and can relate to.


City and Colour finally came to Milwaukee in February of this year. My friend that first showed me C&C and I were some of the first people there, hoping to get as close as possible to the stage. It was a phenomenal concert. Green sounded flawless and overall it was one of the best concert experiences of my life. I hope he comes back soon.

10. Pearl Jam

As I stated above, Nirvana is a band that changed my life. Once I got into Nirvana, I followed with pretty much every grunge band out there, starting with Pearl Jam. They are living legends. So when the opportunity to see Pearl Jam came up, I jumped on it. Pearl Jam played at Alpine Valley two back to back days in Wisconsin in 2011 for PJ20. These were the only 2 US dates they had. While Alpine Valley isn't my favorite venue, the guys sounded great. I worked the second day of the show and watched most of their act. The packed theater had an enthusiastic crowd that hung on every word that lead singer Eddie Vedder said. The almost 50 year old musician had a lot of energy and that transferred to the crowd. I would definitely go and see Pearl Jam again. Unfortunately, their touring is few and far between so if the band comes anywhere near where you live, snatch up that opportunity and go because it may never happen again.

11. Taylor Swift

Yes, you read that right. Swift is one of the few modern country singers that I like. What can I say, she gets my life.

Before seeing Swift, I had heard a lot of people say that she isn't good live. Well I can say from experience that that is not true. She sounded amazing live, had a great stage show, and interacted with the crowd as much as possible.

This shows how far away I was from the stage

Then she had a second small stage set up on the other side for her other fans

Then she had a floating stage that went around the whole arena

Her back up dancers all had little storyline that went along with the songs. She had a huge staircase in the center of the stage and people hanging and from the ceiling. It was the best and most entertaining live performance I've seen. On top of all of it, I thought her singing was beautiful. Sometimes her voice would be a little off, but no one is perfect. It happens to all musicians.

Seeing Taylor Swift live is like going to a concert, a musical, and the theater all at once. Her new CD Red just came out so hopefully she'll be back in town soon. I'm sure she'll be in a town near you soon as well.

12. Hanson

Once you get your groans and grumbles out I will continue.... Alright? Now I am 26 so yes I was one of those screaming obsessed 11 year olds that loved "MMMBop" when it first came out. I saw them twice in concert when they first came out. I was ecstatic to hear that they would be playing Summerfest 2012 and I found a bunch of Hanson fans to go with me to the concert.

As a music lover, I have always been a fan of Hanson mostly because they were a boy band that wrote their own music and played their own songs. They didn't have a back up band playing so they could dance around stage. Despite why they became popular, they are still a very talented group of musicians.

They still sounded amazing when they played this year, even when they brought out old songs from their first CD which is a big feat since that CD came out before they had even gone through puberty. They have so much energy on stage and easily get the crowd singing and dancing along. If you can stand the sound of screaming girls (yes we still do that at concerts) then I highly recommend seeing Hanson live if you get the opportunity. You won't be disappointed.

13. My Chemical Romance

My Chemical Romance has had such a huge influence on my life. I still remember when I was sitting in the cafeteria at UW-Whitewater and saw their breakout video for the song "I''m Not Okay (I Promise)". The video was hilarious and I became an instant fan when I went back to my dorm and researched them. They are another band that has great and relatable lyrics.

I have seen My Chemical Romance the most (6 times) live out of any other band on this list. Their live shows are incredible whether they are opening for Blink 182 or they are the headliner.

Frontman Gerard Way has such a passion when he is singing that you can't help hanging on every word he says. Their last album had a rock/dance kind of feel to it and even though I'm not a fan of that type of music normally, I loved their version. At their concerts its hard not to dance along with the band and everyone in the crowd. I'm hoping that My Chemical Romance comes out with a new album soon so I can go see them for time number 7. I can never get enough of this band.

14. Paramore

Paramore is another band that I've seen numerous times (4) live. Lead singer Hayey Williams has one of the most unique and talented voices in music right now. She sounds amazing live and never stops trying to perfect her craft. When you look at a lot of other female singers in the industry right now, its easy to see just how talented this young singer is.

The highlight of seeing Paramore live was seeing them play "My Heart" from their first CD which was recorded when Hayey was only 16. Hearing such a huge and powerful voice coming out of such a young and small girl is epic. When they played that song live at Summerfest a few years ago, the band drew out the ending to the song with Hayley absolutely nailing it.

This is one of the oldest ones I could find. The best part of the song starts at 3:20.

Sadly the last time I saw the full band was at the Honda Civic Tour 2010. Two of the founding members left soon after. But they are young, so I guarantee there will be a Paramore reunion tour sometime in the future. If there is, definitely check them out.

15. Rob Zombie

I had the pleasure of seeing Rob Zombie back in 2007 when he opened for Ozzy Osbourne. Rob Zombie easily over showed Ozzy both in his stage show and his singing. (Ozzy was still good. I mean Ozzy is old and his past drug habits didn't help him out on stage. Still love him). Rob Zombie has to be one of the most energetic singers I have ever seen. He was just all over the stage at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee and he sounded great too. His stage show had a lot of gruesome images playing behind him which isn't all too shocking since he directed The Devil's Rejects.

I would never pass up the opportunity to see Rob Zombie live.

16. 30 Seconds to Mars

I have always been a fan of Jared Leto. I also remember when I first saw the music video for "Capricorn (A Brand New Name)" from 30 Seconds to Mars. It took a few glances before I realized, "Hey! That's Jordan Catalano!" It was a pretty braggable feat to realize it was Jared Leto. I mean, look at that hair.

This hair is a little more recognizable..

30 Seconds to Mars became famous with their song "The Kill" a few years after "Capricorn" came out. That's when the above picture was taken at Summerfest. Jared Leto climbed to the roof of the stage and also told fans to try tearing out the bleachers. While securtiy wasn't too happy with his anitcs, it made for an entertaining stage show.

Jared Leto has an amazing and beautiful voice and it is just as perfect live. In fact, he is my favorite male singer on this list. He is also a talented actor. Put those two qualities together on a stage and you're in for a real treat.

17. Florence and the Machine

Florence and the Machine broke out in the US with their hit "The Dog Days are Over". When I first saw them in concert, I had only known a few of their songs. That was my mistake. Their concert completely won me over and I now own all of their CDs. Lead singer Florence Welch's voice is hypnotizing. Like Hayley Williams, Welch has one of those voices that is different in a world where everyone sounds the same. She will win you over in concert guaranteed.

18.The Black Keys

The Black Keys have been around for awhile but have finally gotten the fame they deserve. They have an older sound that people of all ages can love. One of their older songs that not many people know is called "The Lengths" and it's my favorite. Unfortunately it's so old that they don't play it live anymore but they do play a lot of their greats. Between being played on rock stations and being used in movie trailers, you have probably heard at least one of their songs. They're a band with a great sense of humor (as seen in their music videos) and an amazing talent. They bring those both to the stage. If you are looking for a great night filled with old rock music with a modern twist, The Black Keys will give you that and so much more.

19. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

You had to know that Tom P would be on this list! I had the pleasure of seeing Tom Petty at Rock Fest 6 or 7 years ago. I grew up with my dad listening to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers so I've always been a huge fan. Everyone has to like at least one Tom Petty song and they plays them all live. They've been together almost 40 years and still sound great live. Definitely try to catch them while they are still touring because you will have a great time and something to brag about.

20. ZZ Top

Last but not least, ZZ Top. I saw ZZ Top at the same Rock Fest that had Tom Petty (there were a lot of terrific bands there that year). ZZ Top still has it! They sounded great, especially for their age. Mybe they made my list because of the funny story that goes with their concert. The night that ZZ Top played, we were about to have a terrible storm. A lot of people began to leave because the winds were so terrible but my friends and I stayed. Just as ZZ Top took the stage and started to play, the sky opened up and it began to absolutely downpour. I know it sounds miserable but it was quite the opposite. The part that makes it funny is the two frontmen (Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill) who are best known for their beards. While they were playing, those gigantic beards of theirs were blowing in the wind all over the place. Watching the legendary ZZ Top play their hits in the middle of a storm that made their beards hit them in the face? Priceless.

And that's all...

There are my top 20 concerts that you should attend before you die. There were so many other bands that I wanted to put on the list but I had to limit it. I also highly recommend Seether, Sugarcult, AWOLNation, Three Days Grace, Weezer, Panic! at the Disco, and so many more. Please comment with some of your favorite concerts. I posted the same question to Facebook and the responses I got were very interesting. Thank you for reading!

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    • profile image

      Robert21 3 years ago

      You guys are forgetting... COLDPLAY

    • profile image

      Alexandria Lehman 3 years ago

      I loved this article. I am going to see Elton John this September and am also seeing 30 Seconds to Mars for a second time :) I would love to get a chance to see some of these other bands perform. Especially Imagine Dragons :)

    • Nykki13 profile image
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      Nykki 3 years ago from Germantown, WI

      I'm so jealous that you got to see Elton John!! I would love to see him!

      I have heard of Needtobreathe but haven't seen them and I will have to check out Pink Martini!

    • kereeves3 profile image

      Karen 3 years ago from Salem, OR

      I have seen Styx several times since I first became a huge fan back in 1999; these guys can still rock in their old age, even without Dennis DeYoung! I have also seen Fleetwood Mac and Elton John, because I am famously a fan of older music.

      But my all-time favorite concert was actually of a modern rock band called Needtobreathe. With roots in Gospel and Southern Rock, these young men put on an amazing show. I love to listen to their albums, but they simply don't do them justice! They are definitely a must see!

      Pink Martini hale from my home state, and are called "The World's Smallest Orchestra." They are a Latin Jazz group with an amazing pianist and even more amazing vocalist (Thomas Lauderdale and China Forbes, respectively). Forbes can sing in over seven languages!

    • Nykki13 profile image
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      Nykki 3 years ago from Germantown, WI

      I really have been so lucky at the bands I have seen live! Honestly in the past year I have seen a bunch more great bands and I was thinking about doing another hub about them! I mean I saw Sir Paul McCartney last month! He NEEDS to be on this list! haha. Thank you so much for reading! What are your favorite concerts?

    • kereeves3 profile image

      Karen 3 years ago from Salem, OR

      I am so jealous that you have seen The Cure live! Actually, there are a few bands on here that make me pretty jealous. But there are also a few that I have seen myself, and enjoyed very much. I would KILL to have your job (but not really)!!

    • Nykki13 profile image
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      Nykki 4 years ago from Germantown, WI

      epigramman- I appreciate your efforts to read my hub and I'm glad that you liked my photography skills (or lack thereof haha) I can't wait to here what some of your favorite concerts are!

    • Nykki13 profile image
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      Nykki 4 years ago from Germantown, WI

      spartucusjones- Thank you so much for reading and commenting! I am so jealous that you've gotten to see Neil Young AND Johnny Cash! Those must have been great concerts! I don't know if I should admit my first concert... -cough- Backstreet Boys -cough- I was young don't judge! My cousin showed me Nirvana shortly after that and I haven't stopped loving rock music since.

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 4 years ago

      I will come back to this one, Nykki, when I have more time - some of these bands I am not familiar with - but you are doing fabulous work here and you are a popular music lover's dream.

      Love your photography here and your obvious world class journalistic efforts are very much appreciated by the epi-man. We are definitely kindred spirits of our love for music and I have seen a lot of live gigs in my time and will list them when I come back here again - sending you warm wishes and good energy from lake erie time ontario canada 4:20am

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 4 years ago from Parts Unknown

      It sounds like you have been to many memorable concerts. From your list I also seen Foo Fighters (as part of the Summersault Festival back in 2000), I have seen Pearl Jam (as part of a Neil Young/Pearl Jam double bill back in 1993), and City and Colour back in 2008. They are put on amazing shows and would love to have an opportunity to see them again.

      As far as bands that you mentioned that I haven't seen, I would love to see The Black Keys, Bright Eyes & Florence and The Machines live.

      The two best concerts I have ever seen was Neil Young (which was part of the Pearl Jam double bill) and Johnny Cash (who I have seen in 1994). The Neil Young/Pearl Jam double bill (Soundgarden and Blues Traveller opened) was my first concert ever. You don't forget your first!

    • Nykki13 profile image
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      Nykki 4 years ago from Germantown, WI

      Thank you so much shollando10 for reading my hub and for the kind words :)

    • sholland10 profile image

      Susan Holland 4 years ago from Southwest Missouri

      Hi Nykki! Welcome to HubPages! What a dream job! I would have loved seeing all those bands. You did a wonderful job of describing each band and/or concert. I can definitely see that Nirvana had a great impact on your favorite bands. Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting. :-)

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