The best Nebraska summer in music is officially over. And it won’t soon be matched or forgotten.
I didn’t get to see some of the most acclaimed shows from June through August. I didn’t make it to North Platte to catch Chris Stapleton at Nebraskaland Days or to Grand Island for any of the Nebraska State Fair shows, including one of my all-time faves, Joan Jett.
And Run The Jewels was headlining the Maha Musical Festival at the same time I was leaving Omaha’s CenturyLink Center after Lady Gaga’s killer Aug. 19 show.
But I did get to three festivals, a half-dozen arena shows at CenturyLink and Pinnacle Bank arenas, four Pinewood Bowl concerts (or shows originally set for the bowl that moved to PBA), a street concert, and at least a dozen shows in clubs.
Here, in no particular order are the best of that lot:
Lady Gaga. Lady Gaga started her Aug. 19 CenturyLink Center show 90 minutes late for reasons not disclosed, then delivered a two-hour masterpiece of entertainment that was innovatively staged and strikingly arranged and choreographed. And, did I mention, Gaga can really sing, whether she’s dancing up a storm on “Paparazzi” and “Born This Way” or doing the me-and-my-guitar thing with “Joanne.”
Kendrick Lamar. Today’s greatest rapper demonstrated why he might just be the best ever with a riveting Aug. 18 Pinnacle Bank Arena performance that surpassed Lamar’s 2013 Pershing Center concert to be the best hip-hop arena show I’ve seen. Performing alone, save for a pair of dancers who made a few appearances, Lamar brought most of “DAMN!,” his great new record, along with the best from his first two albums in heartfelt, riveting fashion.
Bruno Mars. For 75 minutes on Aug. 7, Bruno Mars and the Hooligans, his fine five-piece combo and three-man horn section/backing singers, brought the party to Pinnacle Bank Arena, dancing and singing up a storm. Channeling Prince and Michael Jackson, Mars sang impressively and the group delivered with choreography straight outta Motown.
Green Day. For more than two hours — and 23 songs — Billie Joe Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, Tre Cool and three backing musicians did something no other band today can do, delivering a full-on punk rock show that made the CenturyLink Center feel like a club. In true punk fashion, Green Day broke down the barrier between audience and performer, inviting fans on stage to sing and play guitar, in an Aug. 12 show that was nothing but pure chaotic fun, fun, fun.
Blondie and Garbage. This two-band bill of '70s/'80s New Wave hitmakers Blondie and '90s alternative rockers Garbage proved to be a match made in heaven at Harrah’s Stir Cove on July 19. Led by Debbie Harry, who was in fine voice, Blondie delivered a mix of hits and songs from its new album while Garbage, and fiery frontwoman Shirley Manson, really brought the intensity in its hour-long set. And X’s Exene Cervenka and John Doe provided a treat with a short acoustic opening set.
Modest Mouse. Modest Mouse made its Lincoln debut memorable back on June 9, delivering one of the best rock shows yet at Pinewood Bowl. Playing the final show of its spring tour, and without a new album to flog, Modest Mouse cascaded through its career, from the loud-soft-loud Pixies-esque '90s rock to dance rock that brought to mind the Talking Heads and The Clash.
Steve Earle & The Dukes. Country music’s literary — and literal — outlaw and the current version of his band The Dukes were as good or better than I’ve ever seen him in this Aug. 1 show at Omaha’s Slowdown. Promoting the excellent new “So You Wanna Be an Outlaw,” Earle and company played most of that record and all of his “hits” in a dynamic, career-spanning show.
Le Butcherettes. Led by the mesmerizing Teri Gender Bender, Le Butcherettes is one of the best live bands in the world. The trio proved that again at Vega on June 16 with a 45-minute blast of punk and passion driven by the pounding of drummer Alejandra Robles Luna. This was my best show of the first half of 2017.
It’s going to be near the top of my end-of-the-year list. So will Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, Bruno Mars and Green Day.