A Look Back at 20 of the Year’s Best Concerts

Chance the Rapper performing at Blossom. - Jacob DeSmit
Jacob DeSmit
Chance the Rapper performing at Blossom.
After a time period when it seemed as if the biggest tours skipped town, 2017 found major acts returning to the city.

Hall of Famers such as U2, Green Day, Tom Petty, Roger Waters, Patti Smith and Red Hot Chili Peppers put on stellar performances while eventual Hall of Famers such as Chance the Rapper and Jay-Z delivered memorable concerts as well.

Here’s a look back at 20 of the year’s best concerts.

Chance the Rapper
May 19

If God's will was to dampen the mood of Chance the Rapper's show at the Blossom Music Center with a messy bout of rain, it wasn't enough to deter the showman, or his legion of young followers, from staying positive throughout the gig. In fact, the rapper’s Christian faith seemed to stoke the fire that ignited his exuberant performance, though it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to anybody who has heard Coloring Book, the artist’s latest mix-tape, whose spiritually-steeped songs factored largely into the 80-minute set.
(Jacob DeSmit)

Eric Church
Feb. 24
Quicken Loans Arena

Cut from the same musical cloth as classic rockers such as Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty, country singer-guitarist Eric Church writes narrative-based songs about the American experience. And like those aforementioned rock icons, he tours and records with a killer band that can bring those narratives to life. His Eric Church Band capably alternates between hard rocking anthems and tender ballads, incorporating banjo, organ and mandolin along the way. Church and Co. were in terrific form at the Q as their Holdin’ My Own tour stopped in town. Playing an epic three-hour set (with a 20-minute intermission) that featured nearly 40 songs, Church had members of the capacity crowd, which he said was the tour’s largest audience so far, on their feet for the entire gig. (Jeff Niesel)

Dead & Co.
June 28

All the talk about this show revolved around guitarist John Mayer, sure, but it's gotta be said that often enough keys man Jeff Chimenti stole the show. When he took the lead, it was terrific, but his most vital talents lie in the flourishes, the washes that take the hand of a particular jam segment and push it further. The highlight, no doubt, was “Truckin',” which featured a spellbinding jam that dissolved into roving, spacey melodies. (Eric Sandy)

Future and Migos
May 27

In front of semi-entrancing, semi-stock footage-y background visuals, the three rappers known as Migos came onto stage armed with their A-game. Offset wore his denim-on-camo-on-denim, Takeoff was in his typical Cobain-referencing white sunglasses and Quavo looked like a spelling bee champion with a beige T-shirt tucked into some faded sky blue jeans strapped with a light brown belt. Running through almost the entirety of their latest record, Culture, Migos unleashed a round of album cuts to drum up their base, from “Get Right Witcha” to “Slippery” to “Kelly Price.” A bigger font can’t convey the composed veteran performance that Future brought to emerge as the headliner amongst headliners. The 33-year-old Atlantan fully inhabited this rockstar role. He owned the stage, and his almost 90-minute performance was diverse and immersive. (Lawrence Neil)

Green Day
Aug. 21

When seeing a Green Day concert in 2017, one might assume pop-punk’s elder statesmen, whose founding members, Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt, formed the band just over three decades ago, have lost a step when it comes to putting on a show. That assumption proves to be far from the truth, as many who witnessed the enthralling, two-and-a-half-hour set the group performed to a maxed-out crowd at Blossom Music Center. (DeSmit)

Janet Jackson
Dec. 3
Quicken Loans Arena

Janet Jackson's songs run the gamut from high energy pop numbers to romantic ballads to defiant and inspiring anthems to even the most sultry quiet storm tunes. She brought all of those to the State of the World show at Quicken Loans Arena. The tour took its name from a track on Jackson's Rhythm Nation album and was actually a continuation of her last tour, Unbreakable, which she postponed due to her pregnancy. The early portion of the show was filled with Jackson's hits from the '80s and early '90s, including "Nasty," "Miss You Much," "Alright," "Control," What Have You Done For Me Lately" and "Pleasure Principle." The transitions between songs were virtually seamless and the light show did an excellent job of showcasing both Jackson and her dancers as well. (Emanuel Wallace)

Nov. 19
Quicken Loans Arena

There is an old adage suggesting that hip-hop is a young person's game and that the pioneers and forefathers who paved the way for the new generation of upstarts should quietly make their way to the land of retirement — Jay- Z never got that memo. The empty stage was an instrument in itself, and Jay-Z played it well. During his most solemn and vulnerable moments, he stood still in the center with his head down, as he did when performing his heartfelt apology to his wife Beyonce on "4:44." At other times, that same stage was his playground as he darted from side to side engaging with the audience singing along with the rapper word for word. (Wallace)

Billy Joel
July 14
Quicken Loans Arena

A Billy Joel concert is a marathon, not a sprint. The pianist demonstrated that at a sold-out, two-and-a-half-hour Progressive Field show that had a few minor pacing lulls but otherwise was a thoroughly entertaining display of musical aptitude and nostalgic revelry. It helps that the setlist found Joel playing everyone's first favorite Billy Joel song, no matter what era someone became a fan. (Annie Zaleski)

Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds
June 14

“I love this building,” said singer-guitarist Dave Matthews at the start of a nearly three-hour acoustic concert featuring him and guitarist Tim Reynolds. Matthews regularly comes to Blossom with his backing band but not often as an acoustic duo with Reynolds, the Dave Matthews Band guitarist who first encouraged him to start a band. An accomplished guitarist, Matthews could’ve performed a solo show and pulled it off. But with Reynolds, a virtuoso player who picked at his instrument all night long with remarkable precision and skill, he had more than enough musical ammunition to make the concert a memorable one. (Niesel)

Midnight Oil
Aug. 27
House of Blues

One of rock’s more politically minded acts, Midnight Oil emerged from a 15-year hibernation earlier this year for a well-received world tour that included this House of Bues show. It’s no coincidence that the tour came at a time when far-right movements have shaken the foundations of democracy in many countries, something that certainly wasn’t lost on band. Before a capacity crowd, singer Peter Garrett, an activist who was once Australia’s Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, delivered a strong anti-Trump message while leading the band through an engaging two-set that dug deep into its extensive back catalog that dates back to the late 1970s. (Niesel)

A Perfect Circle
Nov. 18
Wolstein Center

Even though A Perfect Circle singer James Maynard Keenan performed under dim lights that made it impossible to see his face last night at Wolstein Center, he still managed to have remarkable stage presence. His ability to give a commanding performance from atop a small circular riser positioned at the middle of the stage was a testament to the sheer power of the Northeast Ohio native’s voice. Keenan, who alternately crooned and snarled, possesses a distinctive voice that has turned both APC and Tool, the hard rock band he also fronts, into commercial successes despite their experimental approaches. (Niesel)

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Quicken Loans Arena
June 10

The evening’s 19-song setlist leaned heavily on two specific fan favorite albums, pulling four tracks from Tom Petty’s initial solo excursion, 1989’s Full Moon Fever and five more from its eventual follow-up, 1994’s Wildflowers. Playing what Petty referred to as a “small set of songs” from Wildflowers, Petty and the Heartbreakers peeled off three tracks in a row from that record, which often had a beautifully stripped back feel. The title track, which has made a long overdue return to the setlist with this current tour, proved to be one of several nuggets of the night. The late singer-guitarist Petty strummed the opening chords on acoustic, with airy harmonies from the Webb Sisters (“our newest friends,” as he referenced Hattie and Charley Webb, who provided background vocals for the shows). (Matt Wardlaw)

Jul 21
Quicken Loans Arena

Queen + Adam Lambert made their Cleveland debut at a packed Quicken Loans Arena and did not disappoint the diverse audience comprised of parents with their teenagers and long-time Queen fans. And plenty of Glamberts were there to support the former American Idol contestant too. Seeing Queen's songs live, performed on a giant stage, underscored why the band continues to resonate with younger generations. (Annie Zaleski)

Red Hot Chili Peppers
May 13
Quicken Loans Arena

Early in their 100-minute set at Quicken Loans Arena, Red Hot Chili Peppers singer Anthony Kiedis acknowledged the roar of the near-capacity crowd with a simple “thanks.” And then he paused and added “for everything.” The pause said plenty. It was as if Kiedis recognized how special it is that the veteran alternative rock act can still pack an arena with fans at this stage in its 30-plus year career. The band’s mix of punk, funk and rock remains vibrant, and the group proved it still delivers a killer live show. (Niesel)

Patti Smith
March 12
State Theatre

In 2015, singer and poet Patti Smith began playing her debut album Horses in its entirety to mark the disc’s fortieth anniversary. For a variety of reasons, the tour never landed in Cleveland, one of the first cities outside of Smith's New York home base to embrace the singer. This year, the Horses anniversary tour finally came to town. Smith didn’t disappoint, delivering a passionate performance that displayed the kind of raw intensity for which she’s known and showing the extent to which she remains a singular performer in the rock world. (Niesel)

Rod Stewart
July 28

When Rod Stewart performed at the Q in 2012, he had loads of energy for someone who had just entered his late 60s. Remarkably, when Stewart performed at Blossom this summer, he displayed just as much energy. And he’s now just entered his early seventies. A consummate showman, he regularly changed outfits and alternated between driving rock tunes and tender ballads, showing just how well his raspy voice has held up after all these years. (Niesel)

Dec. 13
House of Blues

For this sold-out show at House of Blues, SZA bounded off the momentum of her excellent openers — in an oversized pink bubble jacket, a black crop top, camo overalls, and flowing locks, her stage presence was natural and brightly energetic, swaggering and vulnerable. She’d arrived late on a flight and missed soundcheck, but hit her vocals strong, standing out as she riffed gorgeously to close out “Go Gina,” or sang 2014’s “Sobriety” a cappella. Whether or not the political moment of trash men being drop-kicked out of positions of power was anywhere near the audience’s mind is tough to say. But without overreaching in interpretation, this felt like a crystallization, though fleeting, of part of what the other side of this era may look like. (Neil)

Nov. 1
Beachland Ballroom

The best way to describe this show is that each song had something to love about it. This band is relentless in the best way imaginable; songs flow into and out of one another, and choreographed moves bring a theatrical element to the setlist. There's jamming and there's incredibly tight compositional work on display. One of the concert’s best moments came during a cover of the Bar-Kays' "Holy Ghost." It's a cool and dynamic funk song, and here Turkuaz bled a glorious jam segment into a solo beatbox from baritone sax man Josh Schwartz. The lighting designer cut everything except for a spotlight on Schwartz as he dished a slick beat into the mic. (Sandy)

July 1
FirstEnergy Stadium

Plenty of rock and pop acts can capably rock an arena. Successfully engaging a stadium full of people is much trickier. Credit U2, who performed before a capacity crowd at FirstEnergy Stadium, for having mastered the art. These guys could run a clinic on how to properly execute a concert in an outdoor stadium. The rousing show had both highly intimate moments and overblown segments that featured immersive visuals and deafening acoustics. And it had purpose as the band offered a message of hope during the two-plus-hour performance, the last date of the summer leg of a U.S. tour to mark the 30th anniversary of the Joshua Tree album. (Niesel)

Rogers Waters
Sept. 21
Quicken Loans Arena

Given the anti-authoritarian themes that circulate through Pink Floyd’s music and founder Roger Waters’ solo albums, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Waters doesn’t support President Trump. At his epic three-hour show before a near-capacity crowd at the Q, he directed some of his ire at the country’s arrogant leader during a visually arresting and provocative performance. As much as the show provided a commentary on war, corruption and false idols, Waters didn’t dwell on the negative. Rather, toward the concert’s end, he congratulated fans for showing him so much devotion. He appeared truly touched by the ovation he received. “In these troubled times, it is good to know not just in Cleveland but throughout the country there is so much love,” he said as he advocated “speaking our minds” in opposition to repressive governments. (Niesel and Joe Kleon)