Say hello, Chicago. You had a great performance in 2023. You’ve filled stadiums, arenas, arenas, parks, bars, and just about every space in between. You sat down, you stood up, you screamed. And you benefited from one of the densest, most robust concert programs this city has ever witnessed.
Although other entertainment sectors continue to fill seats at pre-pandemic levels, there is no such problem in popular music. The seemingly unlimited demand for live shows was also reflected by the regular appearance of capacity crowds. Another telltale sign: the hundreds of deep lines where fans wait to purchase merchandise and the premiums they pay for shirts, sweatshirts and various souvenirs that confirm they’re “there.”
Several major events, including Taylor Swift, Beyoncé, Lollapalooza, have received the lion’s share of attention, in part because of the jolt they give to the local economy. These destination sweepstakes are part of a larger story unfolding in places ranging from reputable clubs to parking lots and gyms.
The most unforgettable moment of the concert year? Whether through motivation, necessity, serendipity, or a combination of related factors, many musicians have delivered in a way that leaves audiences in awe. Especially in these 10 performances from my point of view.
Depeche Mode at United Center 5 April: Given the band’s affinity for hard-hitting issues and somber moods, the path Depeche Mode would take onstage following the unexpected death of founding member Andrew Fletcher in May 2022 seemed almost a foregone conclusion. Not so fast. The veteran British collective spent two hours pursuing freedom, finding solace and having fun. Full of soulfulness and sophistication, Depeche Mode played with a fervor that linked the wise meanings of old songs to contemporary times. Acting as if he had spent a season working in a ballet company, agile singer David Gahan delivered a performance for the ages. Her extroverted dance maneuvers channeled a defiant combination of freedom, determination and lust for life that no amount of bad news could stop.
Taylor Swift at Soldier Field, June 2: Swift called Soldier Field home for three nights. The public’s insatiable appetite for tickets meant that he could make reservations for a week and fill every seat. His groundbreaking presentation, a spectacular approximately 3.5-hour presentation consisting of nine separate sets linked by thematically related scenes, props and choreography, both justified the structuring and set new production standards. The phenomenon offers an epic journey punctuated by limitless ambition and imagination. “Who is Taylor Swift anyway?” He answered the question intelligently. She proved that she is lyrical and has crowds. More importantly, Swift remembered the basic foundational principles learned at a young age but compromised in adulthood: sincerity, warmth, gratitude. Anyone looking for an explanation for his objection need look no further.
Beyoncé at Soldier Field, July 22: If you took away the parade of opulent costumes, Broadway-style sets and futuristic extravaganzas at Beyoncé’s two-night “Renaissance” stand at Soldier Field, the singer’s powerful messages would still resonate. Its powerful vocals, provocative vibe and large ensemble almost guaranteed it. Welcoming diversity, promoting pleasure, empowering women, and strengthening Black identity, the vocalist has transformed the lakeside setting into a safe space for everyone, especially often marginalized communities. She invited physical interaction through advanced dance material filled with funky rhythms, R&B dynamics, Afrobeat percussion and disco beats. Along with the enthusiasm that evoked the carefree atmosphere of a summer block party, the songs also paid homage to Chicago-based house music and its subcultures. (The opening line of my Tribune review read, “This is Beyoncé’s home.”) She released a new track in early December. Title? “My home.”
Bruce Springsteen at Wrigley Field, 9 August: Before peptic ulcer disease forced him to postpone his tour, Springsteen and the E Street Band issued a warning that rock ‘n’ roll was here to stay as long as they were on guard. While the then-73-year-old singer-guitarist has long been known for his resilience and faith, his opening salvo on Friendly Confines went beyond those parameters. Continuing the ongoing conversation The Boss started more than 50 years ago, the inspiring three-hour event was about the enduring bonds of friendship; the spoils of hard work; refusing to back down; the chemistry comes from thousands of hours of playing together; expertise in knowing the sounds of different styles and eras inside and out; and the responsibility, trust, and faith that come with realizing that life-affirming music can move people more than anything else in the world.
Chance the Rapper at the United Center 19 August: After a long hiatus, Chance the Rapper resurfaced this summer for a series of shows celebrating the 10th anniversary of his “Acid Rap” mixtape. He treated his United Center appointment as both a celebration of the past and a farewell, daring to dream of a just and peaceful world and using an energy and enthusiasm that made his fans believe goodness was possible. The local rapper broke down and cried when he saw his family and friends before the final. A better ending scenario could not have been written.
Liz Phair at the Chicago Theater 18 November: Phair shed no tears at the Chicago Theater but expressed similar happiness. Reading a soothing track-by-track track from her landmark album “Exile in Guyville,” the former Chicago native gave voice to 30-year-old songs whose relevance has increased due to the #MeToo movement and recent Supreme Court decisions. Moreover, Phair’s unwavering confidence and triumphant attitude have dispelled the double-standard doubts and expectations that have followed her for decades.
Brandi Carlile at Ravinia, August 31: In honor of her first starring role in Ravinia, Brandi Carlile took a night off from her backing band and went back to basics. Cheerful and spontaneous, the 42-year-old has returned to the low-key approach he adopted before stardom; So she acted like a vocal dynamo with her long-term partners, twins Tim and Phil Hanseroth. Together they revisited their acoustic roots, blended magnificent harmonies and radiated richness. Highlights include: a stirring cover of Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls”; an emotional opening duet with Brandy Clark; a sweet rendition of Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine” featuring Carlile with his wife, Catherine; and a hootenanny with the singer’s brother and his children. The loose, charismatic conclusions made a strong case for discarding plans and trusting intuition.
Nick Cave at the Auditorium Theatre, 29 September: How does an arrangement sound like it’s been distilled down to its essence? How might lyrical connotations change when stripped of the outer shell? What happens if words and melodies are revealed? To quote Auditorium Theatre’s Nick Cave, what does it take to “get to the soul of a song”? The Australian-born singer-songwriter explored such topics in a rare appearance without his Bad Seeds outfit or his zany collaborator Warren Ellis. Seated at a piano and accompanied by the sparse bass notes of Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood, Cave presided over a masterclass in quiet intensity, elegant sincerity and vocal finesse. By lifting the lid on works filled with devotion and fragility, beauty and destruction, tender compassion and implied violence, he further enhanced the mystery and wonder of one of modern music’s richest catalogs.
Peter Gabriel at the United Center 30 September: Unlike many of his peers, Peter Gabriel is not ready to rest on his laurels. Challenging the audience and the extraordinary band backed by bassist Tony Levin and drummer Manu Katché, the singer devoted much of her two-set concert at the United Center to brand new material most people had never heard. Not only did Gabriel achieve this feat without sending fans scurrying to beer vendors and bathrooms, he also captured their attention with vibrant graphics designed by a host of global masters and a clear, perfectionist sound system that renders songs with three-dimensional depth. Similar to the Grateful Dead’s famous mid-’70s setup and Metallica’s state-of-the-art modeling system, Gabriel showed what can happen when artists tinker with the details and make enough financial investment in the final product.
Kiss at Allstate Arena, 27 November: There’s something to be said for consistency and loyalty. Granted, Kiss had performed many of the stunts and songs they performed in their fourth-to-last concerts of their career countless times in the past, long before singer-guitarist Paul Stanley lost much of his once-considerable range. But in terms of sheer explosiveness, escapist bravado and pure fun – plus classic rock ‘n’ roll that balanced pop melodies with gritty riffs, strutting rhythms and shouty choruses – Kiss’ farewell remained true to its legacy and legends. fans. The outburst marked a fitting send-off for a band who viewed doing anything other than confronting the crowd as disrespectful, and who created many of the creative concepts that have become the norm in today’s high-profile shows.
Bob Gendron is a freelance critic.