May 18--Thursday marked the first anniversary of the night Sands Bethlehem Event Center opened with a nearly sold-out show by alternative rock band Incubus.
In the 365 days since, the event center has held a little more than 100 concerts, with big name across virtually all genres of music. The 50th anniversary tour of the Beach Boys and the 40th anniversary tour of country kings Alabama. The king of the blues, B.B. King, and electronic dance music king D.J. Tiesto.
It even had the Backstreet Boys for its New Years Eve party.
The center has, indeed, changed the face of music in the Lehigh Valley, drawing virtually every week the big acts that only Allentown Fair or Musikfest could get for their short runs each summer.
And that wave continues. On Monday and Tuesday, Motley Crue will be the highlight of its anniversary month.
But before that, it's time for a look back at the best of the concerts in the first year of Sands Bethlehem Event Center.
We didn't see them all, and we even missed a couple (Gin Blossoms in July) we're sure likely would have made this list. But we got to a lot of them: 33 -- about a third of all the concerts the Sands held in its first year.
Here are the Top 10:
10. The Beach Boys, May 17, 2012: In many ways, The Beach Boys have always represented an escapist dream: The free surfer's life of endless summers. And for its 50th anniversary reunion tour, that's still what it represented: Memories of those carefree teenage summer beach days. Unfortunately, summer ends. And for half of the show, which included 46 songs over two hours and 25 minutes, those memories were far better than what was onstage. But it was the first time the band has toured with Brian Wilson in 28 years, and that alone made it worthy of the Top 10.
9. Flogging Molly, May 24, 2012: Flogging Molly frontman Dave King came on stage apologizing that one of the two opening acts the band was supposed to have never made it to the show. No worries, King told the crowd, "We'll play a ... extra half hour." And Flogging Molly played its heart out with, as King promised in the same opening remarks, "lots of dancing, lots of singing and lots of smiling faces." There was all that in a 23-song, hour-and-50-minute blast that had the intricate instrumentation of Celtic music but the agitated spirit of punk. This show closed out the center's opening month.
8. Daughtry/3 Doors Down, Feb. 10: There's an old saying that if you really want people to listen, don't shout -- whisper. Chart-topping rocker Daughtry seems to have learned that, nearly seven years after his histrionic singing propelled him on "American Idol." 3 Doors Down, on the other hand, had the precise texture for songs down solid in its 16-song, 75-minute set. This show was a delightful surprise.
7. Goo Goo Dolls, April 21: Eight months, some time off, a strong new upcoming album and the start of a new tour. After a solid but hardly soaring show at Bethlehem's Musikfest festival in August, The Goos returned to Bethlehem for a show that found the band stronger and sharper than they've appeared in years, seemingly energized and invested -- especially in the new music, which also is the band's best in years.
6. The Offspring/Neon Trees/Dead Sara, Sept. 8, 2012: So what happens when a punk rock band whose biggest success was when its members were snotty Southern California brats in their mid-20s, hangs around for 25 years? If you're The Offspring, what you do is put out two of the best albums of your careeri(in the past four years), play a good dose of the songs from them alongside your best and biggest hits, and play them well. Supporting act Neon Trees was good, too, and opener Dead Sara was great.
5. Alabama, May 2: Before there was Garth Brooks, before there was Keith Urban or Tim McGraw or Brad Paisley, there was Alabama. That group pretty much single-handedly in the 1980s melded country music with rock sensibilities for the sound that's so pervasive in country music today. And while others such as Brooks simply added a cowboy hat and twang to rock, Alabama's music is rooted deeply in country. And that's why it still sounds great -- as it did when Alabama brought one of its first 40th anniversary tour shows to the Sands. The virtually sold-out show opened a month of more than a dozen high-profile shows to mark the first anniversary of the event center's opening.
4. Steel Panther, July 20, 2012: Parody's success really depends on precision -- its proximity to reality without crossing the line into simply imitation or simply stupidity. Heavy metal/glam rock parody band Steel Panther walked that line brilliantly, playing a show that frequently was laugh-out-loud funny, not only because it nailed every stereotype of the genre, but did it with music that was so good, it would stand up to nearly any real metal band.
3. Tiesto, Feb. 25: This much can be said about Dutch electronic dance music DJ Tiesto's show, without exaggeration: It was the biggest indoor party the Lehigh Valley has ever seen. There are statistics to back that up. For one, it was headlined by Tiesto, who is unarguably one of the genre's biggest acts. He holds the world record for the biggest single-headliner DJ concert in U.S. history. Billboard says he's the first electronic act to crack the list of the top 25 touring artists in the world. For another, the concert drew the largest crowd Sands Bethlehem Event Center has seen -- something above its normal 3,550 capacity because it opened the elevated wing sections that are normally closed during a standing show.
2. Backstreet Boys, Dec. 31/Jan. 1: The first half of The Backstreet Boys' New Year's Eve concert offered an unsettling question: In 2013, what place in music does one of the biggest boy bands of the late 1990s and early 2000s have? That question was answered in the second half of a successful but too-short show that lasted just 70 minutes, including a six-minute break to welcome in the new year and sing "Auld Lang Syne." This performance was far better as a New Year's Eve party than as a concert.
1. Steve Earle, April 26: Roots/country rocker Steve Earle opened the tour for his new album "The Low Highway" at the event center with what was the venue's best show in its first year, albeit its most poorly attended. When Earle opened the show with three songs from the new album, there wasn't an iota of disappointment. But that was just the start. In a 26-song set that lasted an hour and 50 minutes, Earle played all 12 of the new disc's songs, and nearly all were outstanding. His band was great, too. And, of course, there was his best-known song and only Top 10 hit, "Copperhead Road," so much a touchstone that the crowd cheered its synthesized bagpipe beginning. It was so good it drew goose bumps.
Honorable mention: Glen Campbell, Oct. 26, 2012; Jewel, March 15; Alan Jackson, May 18.
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