Mark Bestul’s Top 5 All-Time Shows

[Editor’s Note: You might know Mark Bestul as the hands behind the flying, front-and-center guitar licks of the Lincoln roots-rock band Weldon Keys. You might also know him as one of the most consistent faces at Lincoln shows, any given night of the week. Below, Mark continues our series of Nebraska musicians and scene figures remembering their Top 5 shows. You can read other installments from Spencer Munson and Marq Manner, as well. Now, let’s turn it over to Mark.]

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The difficulty of narrowing down nearly four decades of concert-going to a list of five was greater than I anticipated.

I feel my final choices may come across as lame, mainstream and easy. But I tend to categorize and sub-categorize music into neat little bins that make sense to no one other than me. And sometimes, if I forget the reason for the connections, they lose cohesiveness altogether. Could be anything: The Byrds; Charlie Parker; Andrew Bird… (you get the idea). So, to create a general, music-related list can be hard for someone who spends his musical fancies spiraling deep down the rabbit hole.

I thought about a list of best Lincoln bands, best Omaha bands as seen in Lincoln, best Lincoln bands as seen in Omaha, best ’80s Lincoln bands and on and on. But I changed my mind. I decided to pick five national/international acts where each of these shows helped me discover love toward each act at significantly greater intensities than I otherwise would have found without them.

So, while these may not be the most important, the most hip, the most thought-provoking concerts, they stick out in my mind for some reason or other. Bear with me as I explain. Interestingly enough, to me anyway, none of these concerts, save one, are the first time I’d seen the acts.

These are in chronological order:

U2 | Zoo TV Tour | October 18, 1992 | Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO.

I have been a U2 fan since 1983 when, as a junior high, flop-wearing, new wave kid, I picked up a copy of War and soon filled in the back catalog with October and Boy. The rootsy change in sound found on Joshua Tree and Rattle & Hum took the band really, really mainstream, I suppose, so 1991’s Achtung Baby was a huge risk. But it dropped at the right time.

Edgier (pardon the pun) than anything since War, and seemingly anticipating the changes brewing in rock music by way of Seattle, the album was a great bit of fuzzy, overdriven, noisy, new U2, yet still undeniably full of U2-ness. Catapulting on the success and reception of Achtung Baby, the band planned and executed the most expensive and elaborate touring stage the world had ever seen and set off on a two-year-long journey that changed big arena/stadium concerts forever.

Sure there were big screens at concerts before, but they really just magnified the little people on the stage so people in the nose-bleed seats could see some action. What the Zoo TV tour did was (and, remember, this was pre-internet) completely embrace and lambast technology and media all at once and warning of the future that constant exposure to media might bring about. The complex and enormous set was interactive: combining satellite live feed-ins, phone calls from stage, disturbing imagery of war, pestilence, death, violence, drug addiction, sorrow, Lou Reed’s head filling the screen and singing “Satellite of Love” with the band.

It was unreal. It was, from start to finish, an experience unto itself. And, at least according to Wikipedia, many critics believe it to be the best rock and roll tour ever (with one claiming the Zoo TV tour did for rock tours what Sgt. Pepper did for rock music). I can say that absolutely nothing I’ve seen since — despite 22 years of new technology — has even held a candle to that stage and that performance, not even anything from U2.

Paul Westerberg | Eventually Tour | June 19, 1996 | Ranch Bowl, Omaha

For some reason, Paul Westerberg kicked off his Eventually Tour at the Ranch Bowl in Omaha.

This was the last show I ever saw there and, maybe, the best. The Westerberg show proved that, despite how perplexed and dumbfounded I was with 14 Songs and Eventually (which have both grown on me over the years), when it came to playing rock and roll, Westerberg still lit it up without the requisite messy and often hit-or-miss performances of The Replacements.

By the way, Tommy Keene, who recently opened for Matthew Sweet in Omaha and Lincoln, played guitar in Westerberg’s band on the Eventually Tour, and maybe even played on the record if I remember correctly. Paul, playing most every Replacements song you’d want to hear, a few you wouldn’t, and picking up the pace on the decent solo stuff, reassured that his cause was still just; there would still be this music.

Plus, I met him after the show where he gave me a cigar, signed my 45 of “I’m in Trouble,” and hit on my now ex-wife.

Bob Dylan | Never Ending Tour | October 24, 2001 | La Crosse Center, La Crosse, WI.

Still reeling from the 9/11 attacks, the world seemed uneasy and ordinary activities — especially those involving large groups of people — seemed different.

Seeing Dylan perform a bunch of songs I’d seen him perform before seemed potentially a tiring, antiquated and irrelevant endeavor. Meeting up with a bunch of my uncles and attending the show, with Dylan finding new performance inspiration, (perhaps from the world events), the concert proved cathartic and reminded us there is good in the world, no matter how dark a place, there is always music.

The Strokes | Room on Fire Tour | December 5, 2003 | Alexandra Palace, London, UK.

What can I say?

The hottest band going at the time, having just released Room on Fire; in the greatest city in the world; British Sea Power opening; Regina Spektor joining the band for a great rendition of “Modern Girls and Old Fashioned Men”; covering the Clash’s “Clampdown”; the power going out; the (long-since rescinded) promise of a live record from the show; Dixieland Chicken by the tube station at midnight after about 36 hours with no sleep.

Paul McCartney | Out There Tour | July 14, 2014 | Pinnacle Bank Arena, Lincoln

I’m just not going to even say anything. If you were there, you know.

OK, I’ll say something: “Helter Skelter,” “Let it Be,” “Let Me Roll It,” “Blackbird,” I’ve Just Seen a Face.” In my home town.  By the guy that wrote them. Who was in The Beatles. Jesus.

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The reality, with all previous explanations aside, is that I remember most the people who were there: my friends.

I guess that’s what going to any show has always been about, a shared musical experience with other people where, years later, we can approach each other and ask, “Remember that time we saw so-and-so play? That was awesome.” Yes, it was.