ten best live acts worth leaving the house for

by Brian Clarey

Buddy Guy

Sure, I spent my teens and twenties immersed in live music, from stadiums to amphitheaters to bars with cobwebs on the lights. But I just don’t care anymore. I don’t like the crowds, the ticket prices, the late hours or the long drives that devotion to quality live music entails. But there are a few acts out there that I would still go out of my curmudgeonly way to see play live, and Buddy Guy sits at the top of the list. The quintessential Chicago bluesman has aged gracefully, trading the overalls and jericurl for a suit and porkpie hat, and he still knows how to play every inch of a room. I would walk a mile to see Buddy Guy play in a rainstorm.

Stevie Wonder

You damn right I want to see Stevie Wonder play — no matter the ticket price, no matter the room — because playing music is what Stevie Wonder was born to do. I love his entire catalog, and he’s got the tightest backing band in the business. Plus, I’ve missed a couple opportunities to see him, so the next time he comes around I’m gonna go for it.

Steely Dan

Yes, the Donald Fagen/Walter Becker collaboration was mostly a studio creation, but I don’t need sonic perfection to enjoy tunes like “Babylon Sister,” “Your Gold Teeth” or “Brooklyn.” A note: I’d rather hear “Pretzel Logic” twice than “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” once.

Tom Waits

Nope, I never got to see Tom Waits live in my travels, but I’m pretty sure I spotted him drinking in a Bywater bar one night. Either way, Waits makes the list because of his gravelly baritone, his dark theatrics, his barroom sentimentality. Also, he doesn’t play a lot of gigs, so if he comes within 100 miles of my house, I’m going.

ZZ Top

Another act I have never had the good fortune to catch in a live set is ZZ Top. Go ahead and laugh, but ZZ Top remains one of the most enduring power trios in the history of rock — they got in the game in 1969 and played with the same lineup ever since. And there’s a reason they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 — by Keith Richards, no less — and it had nothing to do with facial hair. These guys have chops, plain and simple.


I’ll be honest: I didn’t much care for Prince when he first hit. I’ll be even more honest: I thought he was a weird little freak. I was right, incidentally, but Purple Rain showed me that he was more than just a weird little freak. The man is a true artist — and, if you believe Charlie Murphy, a hell of a basketball player. Every performance of his is an event, one I would like to experience while he’s still young enough to throw down on his tiny guitar and I’m still young enough to enjoy it.

Billy Joel/Elton John

As a former Long Island boy, I come by my love for Billy Joel honestly. His work in the ’70s and ’80s will always be part of the soundtrack to my life. I caught him in the winter of 1999 on his home turf at the Nassau Coliseum; the show was amazing and pretty much everyone in his band was from Long Island. But I’d only brave crowds, congested parking lots and overtaxed urinal troughs to see him live if he was paired with another one of my guilty pleasures: Sir Elton John. They’ve done it before, in a series of Face to Face tours, and if they do it again I’m there.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

Saw these guys live while I was in college, at the University of New Orleans Lakefront Arena in support of Full Moon Fever, and I remember it as the kind of show I don’t see much of anymore: superb artistry, strange theatrics and sustained energy. Note that this deal stands only if Petty appears with the Heartbreakers and not some storyteller acoustic crap or a Wilbury reunion.

Hot Tuna

Sure, Jefferson Airplane made some good music. But if you ask me, the real talent in the band was Jorma Kaukonen, who really came into his own when he paired with Jack Casady and, eventually, came out with Burgers in 1972. Jorma’s still employing that Piedmont fingerpicking style, and he actually comes through this area on the festival circuit every couple years, which means I better start making my plans.

Been there done that

Those who used to be on this list but are no longer because I’ve either seen them or no longer care to: Van Halen, the Grateful Dead, Santana, any George Clinton project, Steve Miller, the Radiators, the B-52s, Pearl Jam, Fleetwood Mac, Adam & the Ants, Glen Campbell and Kenny Rogers (though I’d be up for a First Edition reunion).

Missed opportunities

Among the people who didn’t make this list because of death: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Sammy Davis Jr., Elvis (fat), the Beatles, Frank Zappa, the Doors, Nirvana, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Jimi Hendrix, Professor Longhair and Led Zeppelin.