First Avenue's 20 best concerts: The complete list

Categories: Lists
5. U2, First Avenue, 2/21/82
In a smaller venue, the young and spiritually charged rising rock stars U2 were mixed with a devoted audience that, even then, knew every word to every song. Literally, as Bono struggled with the words to a "Southern Man" encore, he brought up a member of the audience to help him with the performance. This was Bono before the bug shades, this was Edge debating the relationship between faith and the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, and this was way before multi-million dollar Pop Mart stage setups. This was an simple Irish band, up close and personal with its fan base, they would never be this intimate and vulnerable again. The electricity of this night will never be matched again as U2 moved on to bigger venues over the years. -Lars Larson
4. Radiohead, First Avenue, 4/03/96
Many Radiohead devotees have already spoken out about the legendary show the band put on the year prior to this gig (6/04/95, although my ticket stub says 6/11/95). In both cases, a brash, young folk singer named David Gray was the opening act, and both shows were examples of the band right before meeting people became so easy. Having attended both, the 1996 concert had more of a feel for where the band would end up on OK Computer. For Bends purists, this would be a nightmare. But those of us looking for the band to distance itself from the Buzz Bin, hearing wild renditions of songs like "Ripcord" that would soon go in the vault forever was only the tip of those Kid A icebergs. Plus, they did an in-store signing at Let It Be Records after the concert. -Reed Fischer 

3. Public Enemy, First Avenue, 12/12/88
In a time before Chuck D became the hip-hop guy who every NPR listener could quote, Public Enemy was the band that was scary. Hip-hop went from the cartoony plumage of Grandmaster Flash to the hardcore gangster attitude of Ice-T and PE. Walking into their first show felt dangerous -- at least from my perspective as gothy teenager from Fridley. It felt like a moment where everything changed. Punk rock wasn't dangerous anymore, but this was. With Griff and the hard-stepping of the Nation of Islam soldiers, Chuck D and Flavor Flav stepping so hard that it was bouncing Terminator X's turntables. It was a bit like losing your virginity, only without sex and a lot more references to Louis Farrakhan. -Chris Strouth

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