The 21 Greatest Halloween Concerts Of All Time
Any day with great music is like a holiday, but there are certain days on the calendar that make the live music experience even more celebratory. Even without music, the transformation that occurs in late autumn takes on a surreal, ominous tone, it’s no wonder that ancient societies create myth and ritual that mirrored the dwindling sunlight and sudden chill.
And as always, music is right there to capture the spirit of the season — evoking pageantry and wonder — with bands dressing up both musically and physically for the occasion. Halloween is a day when music freaks have an excuse to get just a bit more freaky, and bands step up to goad them along. Occurring in the heart of the fall touring season, it’s the one holiday that more-often-than-not finds bands hitting their stride on the road, playing shows in more intimate indoor environments.
With this in mind, I’ve set out to inventory the 21 greatest Halloween concerts ever performed. In doing so, I set up a few ground rules:
- No band could make the list more than once. Other significant shows by the same artist are listed as Honorable Mention
- The show had to happen on October 31st. I know some bands declare that their official Halloween show falls anywhere from the 26th to the 30th if it happens to be more weekend friendly, but if it didn’t happen on Halloween, it’s disqualified.
- Elements that went into The Barn’s top secret ranking formula: significance in the band’s career, quality of the music (originals and covers) performed, holiday spirit, other Halloween goodness (costumes, location, theme).
In most cases, I’ve included a link in the heading to view the setlist and listen to the entire show. Select highlights are provided in line for your listening pleasure.
Before going into hibernation, I don’t think Backyard Tire Fire ever truly got the recognition they deserved. For a small band, they thought big and had high aspirations. The 2009 show from their hometown of Bloomington is perfect example. While most bands save their Halloween shenanigans for the second set, BTF comes out swinging with a blistering run through of the Stones’ Some Girls album, even nailing the Jagger country honk twang on “Far Away Eyes” and Keith Richards snarl on “Before They Make Me Run” for an unfairly small crowd.
Let’s face it, Halloween in the ’70s was a different animal, but this show gets the nod in the number twenty slot because of its staying power and symbolism. Recorded at arguably the absolute peak of Feat’s musical prowess, broadcast to the masses via radio and available nearly instantly in some kind of high quality bootleg format ever since. It’s a near perfect boot and a fine Halloween concert, it features all the customary mid-period Feat hits and a couple others that Waiting For Columbus fans may be unfamiliar with.
It was probably inevitable that The Motet tackled Talking Heads at some point — sharing a mutual love of world rhythms and off kilter funk. This Halloween performance plays like a greatest hits set, and features String Cheese Incident’s Kyle Hollingsworth on additional keys. Some of the jams are nice and juicy, adding a dimension to the live sound that the Talking Heads only flirted with.
Honorable mention: The Motet’s Funk Is Dead 10/31/11
A sense of humor and playfulness is often associated with bands who make a big deal of their Halloween shows, not typically attributes one assigns to Smashing Pumpkins. But, it’s great to see Billy Corgan and the ’08 Pumpkins assume the dress up role for this concert. A parade of covers, including first time playeds like “Louie Louie” and “Hang-on Sloopy” find their way into the set. I particularly like the thematically appropriate “Monster Mash” and dead-serious take on Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler”. For good measure, Rush, Airplane and The Nuge are all teased in the set closer.
The wild and opposing forces that co-exist within SCI essentially tore the band apart. From 2001 and on, it sent them down some weird paths, and Halloween was no exception, producing wildly inconsistent and questionable cover choices, and *ahem* even stranger band costumes.
But in 2000, they were definitely one of the best things going. Even their humble, democratic approach to choosing Halloween covers was just-exactly perfect. With each band member selecting a song during an encore “mini-set”. Choices were all good, especially “The Wedge” coming a few weeks after Phish hung it up and announced an indefinite hiatus. I loved the nod then and it stands as a fine summary of what SCI was capable of before things went to shit.
While there’s nothing particularly Halloween-y about this show, the fact that it’s the goddamn ARU, with all original members (including the elusive mandolinist Matt Mundy), on Halloween night in the heart of freak-ville (Eugene, OR) qualifies it for #16 with a bullet. From the opening “Compared To What” to the show-stopping “Elevator To The Moon”, this unparalleled raw collection of talent with a leader that was dropped of on this planet from world’s unknown, makes this a holiday to remember.
Steve Kimock plays and carries himself with an almost devout seriousness. Just about the last artist you’d think of when it comes to mixing it up with off-the-wall covers and Halloween treats. Granted, most of this show flows like a typical Kimock show, and the “Five B4 Funk” and “Why Can’t We All Just Samba?” here are just as glorious with Robert Walter and Reed Mathis as they usually are. But its a bouncing reggae-ish take on The Police’s “Spirits In The Material World” and uber-drummer Rodney Holmes taking a vocal (!) on Rush’s Tom Sawyer which totally elevate this show. Though Hendrix’ “Little Wing” is part of the Kimock canon, I don’t think anybody was complaining about it’s inclusion here to close the show.