Here we are the first day into 2020 and I just have one question: Where did the 2010s go?
Music is uniquely qualified with a transcendent power that allows it to tie directly into a memory. How many times does a certain song come on the radio and it immediately takes you back to a specific time period or some direct experience in your life? If you’re like me, that answer would be “quite often.”
So it was that looking back at a list of concerts I attended along the Wasatch Front over the past 10 years really opened the floodgates of fantastic memories. Mental photographs of the staging, where I was sitting (or more likely standing), who I went with, emotional high points in the set and the overall power of the performances themselves all provide welcome flashbacks to savor.
Goodness gracious, I can’t even drive to or from Salt Lake City without glancing off to the Living Planet Aquarium on the west of I-15 and fondly remembering the U2 concert at Rice-Eccles Stadium in 2011 — thanks to the aquarium’s recent purchase of the band’s infamous “360°” tour stage rig (affectionately dubbed “The Claw”).
Looking over my list of shows from 2010-2019, my overriding conclusion was, “Man, rock fans along the Wasatch Front did not get cheated.” And the future looks bright, as more and more, the biggest tours are making sure a Salt Lake stop is essential to their itinerary.
So, while anxiously anticipating what the roaring ‘20s have in store for us, let’s honor the Utah concert scene by taking a last, longing look at the top 10 rock concerts — in my opinion — from the 2010s in sequential order (along with a few honorable mentions).
Billy Joel and Elton John (Feb. 19, 2010, at EnergySolutions Arena)
This was the second of two “Face 2 Face” tours that hit Salt Lake — and if it weren’t for a three-month postponement due to a medical illness, this show would have fallen in the previous decade. But, in the “Face 2 Face” concept, these two piano titans struck on a near-perfect evening of unbridled cooperation. The concert was divided into four musical suites as it were: Segments where John and Joel performed duets of some of their greatest songs to open and close the show, portions where all members of both bands performed together, and individual sets by both artists. The result was a rollicking 3-hour, 15-minute show that was simply pure genius.
Paul McCartney (July 13, 2010, at Rio Tinto Stadium)
It may have taken 46 years, but Beatlemania finally arrived in Utah as McCartney became the very first member of the Fab Four to ever grace the Beehive State with a concert appearance. For his two hours and 45 minutes on stage, Sir Paul owned the joint, as Rio Tinto packed in a soldout crowd of 25,974 fans to the landmark show. In addition to all the screaming, singing along, and hanging on every directive given by McCartney throughout the evening, I remember the magnitude of this show by what happened afterward. Basically, nobody wanted to leave. Once a concert is over people usually are in a hurry to get out of a venue to try and escape traffic or catch a late-night episode of “The Simpsons” or whatever else may be going on. But fans milled about on the Rio Tinto field, basking in the afterglow and giving knowing glances and half-smiles to perfect strangers for a good 15-20 minutes. The show was so memorable, people wanted to hold onto that communal vibe for as long as possible. McCartney returned four years later for an outstanding show at EnergySolutions Arena, but the Rio Tinto show could not be topped.
Scorpions (Aug. 16, 2010, at USANA Amphitheatre)
This show may have had a little extra juice, coming as it did on the band’s “Last Sting” tour — so most in the audience were under the impression that this very well could be their last opportunity to see the juggernaut German rockers. I was duped too, but I find I tend to take a pragmatic view of bands who renege on farewell tour promotions. If I love the band, then no harm, no foul. If I don’t really care for a band or if they sign supposed contracts barring them from ever performing together without substantial penalty (does that sound like anyone in particular?), then I’m bugged by it. So it is that I’ve been able to see the Scorpions three additional times after this show — and loved every minute of it.
U2 (May 24, 2011, at Rice-Eccles Stadium)
This show, which was postponed a year due to Bono’s back surgery, was indeed a grand spectacle, starting with “The Claw.” The mammoth stage dwarfed the south end of the stadium, making the Olympic torch, visible in the background outside that end, appear like a mere flashlight. It may measure 150 feet from the bottom of the main stage to the tip of its disco ball-like spire, but it appeared as if nearly every inch of the staging served some functional purpose visually. All the special effects in the universe wouldn’t mean diddly if the band was unable to back it up musically. No worries there. The two-hour, 20-minute performance was dynamic to the core. And Bono is such an engaging and earnest frontman, I have no doubt that he will one day achieve world peace.
The Eagles (Sept. 2, 2014, at Energy Solutions Arena)
This show will go down as the last time Glenn Frey appeared with the Eagles in Utah as the integral co-founder, guitarist/vocalist died 16 months later. This “History of the Eagles” tour was special, from its unique setlist approach which largely followed the band’s hit-laden career in sequence, but also for the involvement of co-founding guitarist Bernie Leadon, who returned after years in exile to perform in key, select areas of the show. The Eagles still touched on all the hits fans would hope for, as well as the bring-down-the-house solo numbers by guitarist Joe Walsh, but the format of this tour set it apart from anything the band has done before or since.
Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters (May 27, 2015, at The Depot)
It is not often when one gets to kiss the ring of rock royalty in the confines of an intimate club environment, but that is exactly what happened when former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant brought his current project, the Sensational Space Shifters, to The Depot. Plant is too determined to not rest on his laurels to do straight versions of his Zeppelin material, so he and the band put totally different spins on them, as well as performed new material. Still, as a music fan, when you are in the presence of true greatness, there is no denying it. Such is the case with Plant.
Rush (July 13, 2015, at the Maverik Center)
Rush is a true musician’s band, with all three members among the top of their class when it comes to their individual instruments. The band visited the Wasatch Front a bevy of times since the turn of the century, but this “R40” show was special among them for several reasons, not the least of which is that it appears that it was indeed a true farewell tour. Another notable set feature was the band deploying a true reverse psychology, opening the show with material from its current album and then working backwards all the way to its initial single, “Working Man,” which was the final encore song. Not only that, but the stage design followed suit, beginning with the most elaborate stage effects then gradually removing amps and other equipment until the band was performing with a single stack of amps and a pair of nightstands at each side of the stage. It was truly a fitting farewell to kings.
Van Halen (July 18, 2015, at USANA Amphitheatre)
This concert marked the first Van Halen appearance in the Beehive State with original frontman David Lee Roth since 1984 — and I guess there’s a pretty good chance it also will be the last. The latest rumblings from Roth are that Van Halen as we know it is finished, and he alone will be carrying the banner forward from here. To back that up, Roth has not only announced a solo Vegas residency early this year, but also will be hitting the road as the opening act for Kiss’ “End of the Road” tour. The USANA Amphitheatre show came early in the band’s 2015 tour and the group was firing on all cylinders. Anytime Eddie Van Halen straps on a guitar, it is worth being there, to be sure, but hearing the hits and deep album tracks from the original Van Halen six-pack of albums blast through the Utah evening air provided a show not to be missed. It was so good in fact, I traveled to Colorado two days later to catch the band at Red Rocks in a concert that allowed me to check “See your favorite band in one of the world’s greatest venues” off my bucket list.
Stevie Nicks (Feb. 25, 2017, at Vivint Smart Home Arena)
Nicks, who lived in Salt Lake City for a time in her teens, split her two hours and 15 minutes on stage between singing and sharing stories from behind the music of her illustrious 44-year (to that point) recording career. And you know what? Give us more shows like this — ones where it’s as if the artist is standing in your living room and carrying on a musical conversation at their own relaxed pace rather than punching some imaginary time clock monitoring exactly when they need to be off stage. Nicks has a unique voice and spellbinding stage presence. It was captivating watching her weave her magic outside the confines of Fleetwood Mac.
Metallica (Nov. 30, 2018, at Vivint Smart Home Arena)
This show is still strong in my memory, coming as it did 13 months ago. It had been 10 years since the band’s last Utah visit and Metallica fans turned up in record numbers — 17,574 to be exact, a post-renovation high mark for Vivint Arena. Metallica has turned performing in the round into an art form and the “WorldWired” tour showcased the band in all its fist-pumping glory.
Peter Frampton “35 Alive” tour (Aug. 17, 2011, at Red Butte Garden), Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band (July 11, 2012, at USANA Amphitheatre), The Soundtrack of Summer tour with Styx, Foreigner and Don Felder (July 23, 2014, at USANA Amphitheatre), Def Leppard (Sept. 28, 2015, at USANA Amphitheatre) Elton John “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour (Sept. 4, 2019, at Vivint Smart Home Arena)