Sunday, July 15, 2007

My Favorite SNL Musical Performances Of All Time

Saturday Night Live has a history of incredible musical performances. They do lots of things right, that other shows don't, such as correctly mic'ing and mixing everything, and having great camera work. It is incredibly difficult for a band to pull off a truly inspiring and electric show when they are playing to millions of people, yet only have a handful in front of them. Be that as it may, SNL has been host to some absolutely astounding performances. Here are my top 10.

1. Radiohead - Idioteque

I like Radiohead a lot. OK Computer was my first Radiohead album, and after listening to it, I immediately went back and bought The Bends and Pablo Honey. When they came out with Kid A and Amnesiac I was pretty disappointed. It took me a very long time to come around to those albums, but now I love them just as much as the others. This performance made me begin to see them in that light.

2. Neil Young - Keep On Rocking In The Free World

I'm not old enough to have seen this live and appreciate it, but thanks to the intertubes I can appreciate it now. I really wasn't exposed to Mr. Young until a few years ago, and even then I favored his folkier stuff ("Old Man," "The Needle and the Damage Done," etc). This performance changed that. This is true Rock N Roll. Incredibly intense.

3. Pearl Jam - Not For You / Daughter

My brother told me about these performances when he first played Pearl Jam for me. I can still remember him hooking up his Discman to our stereo and playing Vitalogy. This was Pearl Jam's second appearance on SNL, and this one came only 8 days after Kurt Cobain committed suicide. Pearl Jam dedicated this performance to him.

4. U2 - I Will Follow

I got to see this one live. Say what you want about Bono or even U2, but you can't deny they are incredible live. After their 2 performances (I don't even remember what they were), the cast did their closing wave, until Bono got up, and they sang their first hit, "I Will Follow." One of the most awesome parts about this is the shots of the cast watching the show. You can tell they are just enthralled.

5. Simon & Garfunkel - The Boxer

This was the second SNL ever, during the 1975 first season, and it set the bar incredibly high for musical performances on the show. It featured a still record number of performances--eleven. This was only the second time Simon and Garfunkel had played together since their 1970 split.

6. Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit

Nirvana blew up ridiculously fast, and their first appearance on SNL in 1992 was controversial, as was pretty much everything they did. Their appearances on SNL are some of the best recordings of their performances. Which is great, because they are also some of their best performances.

7. Arcade Fire - Keep the Car Running / Intervention

Arcade Fire played SNL after I had only been listening to Neon Bible for a few weeks at most. Lucky for me, they played my two favorite songs from the album. This performance made waves because of the guitar smashing at the end, and whether it was presumptuous; which is sad, because the songs are near perfect replicas and possibly better than their studio counterparts.

8. Smashing Pumpkins - Bullet With Butterfly Wings

Mellon Collie and The Infinite Sadness was an album that shifted my entire musical outlook. I still remember sneaking into my brothers room and listening to those CDs on his Discman. It wasn't until I was older that I could expand into some of the Pumpkins earlier works, but that album will forever be my favorite. This performance is pretty stunning, and probably contains much of what people either love or hate about the Pumpkins.

9. The Beastie Boys and Elvis Costello - Radio, Radio

This is a rather interesting show, and when I saw it I had no clue what was happening (I saw it as a re-run on Comedy Central). After looking into it further, "Radio, Radio" had gotten Elvis Costello banned from appearing on SNL many years before. Besides that history, this represents two entire worlds of music colliding, and both the Beasties and Costello look like they are having an awesome time. A great performance.

10. Beck - Clap Hands

This is just awesome. I heard Beck did this exact same piece on his tour that year, and I'm glad he did it on SNL as well. That way, I get to see it.


Chris said...

I understand that this is personal opinion, and with that comes personal bias. My bias towards Fear's performance (a performance which is by far one of the most significant on the show...on national television in general) would lead me to include that on the list (possibly tops even).

The legend behind the performance is almost as great as the pre-song banter.

On the up though, I hadn't seen the Costello/Beastie Boys performance before - solid considering the history.

Dodge said...

Great list...thanks for the clips. Where's Ashlee though?!

O'Flannabhra said...

Well, obviously those should be included in a list of the top 10 most controversial or historical performances, but I was trying to get at something different with this list (although I was pretty terrible at explaining it). It is rare when a concert that is filmed for television is able to capture the feeling of being there. Even amazing performances can come out feeling flat or uninspired when poorly captured (see: late night talk shows). But when everything aligns perfectly, you can tell. It's obvious. You are witnessing something important--history is being made. I was trying to make a list of performances that conveyed that feeling of stunned awe.