Top concerts & artists of 2023

Matt Bailey gives his opinion on the best artists, concerts, and Vegas residencies he caught this year

One hundred eleven shows, 100 concerts, 56 venues, and 21 cities traveled. That was my 2023 in music. In total, I heard approximately 2,300 songs performed by over 200 artists. It’s quite literally the MOST music I have consumed live in any given year. And so, I feel particularly armed to give you my list of the top concerts I’ve seen in 2023.

Given how much music my earballs have taken in this year, I am also adding two new categories: Top 5 Vegas Residency Shows, and Top 5 Vocalists. We’ll begin with the former.


I’ll be cheating a little bit here. I’m taking not only from what I’ve seen in 2023, but the Vegas shows I caught in 2022 as well. There will be one entry that has closed entirely, but she is expected to hit the road soon.

5. Miranda Lambert: Velvet Rodeo

Act fast if you want to see country music’s favorite female badass at Planet Hollywood. Final dates for the Velvet Rodeo residency have been announced for 2024. It’s a fantastic run through Lambert’s catalog of girlboss anthems, but it produces little more than what could be done on the road. However, the Bakkt Theatre room suits Lambert’s vocals nicely.

4. Garth Brooks / Plus One

I know! My beloved Garth is not in the top spot?! Make no mistake: The show is still a party, and well worth the money for any diehard Garth fan eager for an intimate experience with Brooks, full of surprises. With a full band in tow, this residency is closer to the country-rock concerts the No. 1 Selling Solo Artist in US History gives on the road. But the show is still a third storytelling and acoustic moment. Brooks sacrifices setlist mainstays like “Ain’t Goin’ Down Til the Sun Comes Up” and “Beaches of Cheyenne” to take fans on a musical journey. Instead of plowing through, Brooks tells stories to contextualize his megahits. But he also talks about the history of music as it has affected him, using lots of the music from the likes of Bob Seger, George Jones, the Righteous Brothers, and many others along the way. The Seger showstopper “Turn the Page” is a notable moment that builds and builds to a fever pitch.

This by no means is to say the show is bad. I have gone four times. It’s a killer show for anyone who loves Garth and loves watching him connect his musical influences to his own timeless hits–that’s where the surprises lay. But for the casual fan paying Vegas prices, you will leave feeling as though his own catalog was not fully represented. Maybe one day Brooks will accept that the full “Freakshow” will work in a Vegas setting if he allows it.

3. Katy Perry: Play

Part theatrical production, part Pixar movie, and all decisively Katy-Kat, Katy Perry: Play was an incredibly fun pop confection on the Strip. Her vocals were strong, her band tight, and the visuals immersed the Resorts World crowd into a Disney-esque playland. From the oversized furniture to the viral “Poo-ppet” in the toilet, Perry had her crowd smiling from ear to ear for a full two hours. Rumor has it she ended the residency to work on new music and to tour a travelable version of Play. Let’s hope “Perry Playland” drops doll-sized Katy into a city near us soon.

2. Weekends with Adele

I did not review this for The Music Universe. I went with a friend who is Adele-obsessed. But what I saw turned me into a fan for life. The residency starts small, and gradually grows in scope and spectacle, with Adele’s peerless voice the anchor to it all. Without giving too much away (because I want your breath to be taken from you as it was from me), it is the perfect blend of Vegas-level, can’t-do-it-anywhere-else spectacle paired with her music in a way that does not pull focus from Adele as a vocalist. Of note, I was at the performance of the show that went viral because Adele did her first-ever gender reveal.

1.  Carrie Underwood: Reflection

If Carrie Underwood is coming to a town near you: don’t go. Don’t do it. Save your money, fly to Vegas, go to Resorts World, and see Reflection. You will never hear her perfect voice the same way again. The cavernous walls of an arena bounce her vocals against the back wall, shimmy the notes around the bowl, and land them with a thud into your ears. At Resorts World, her voice is heard the way it was meant to be experienced: straight from the stage to you. There is not so much spectacle here as there are set pieces: An ice castle, a Cadillac throne, a gigantic water wall. Mirrors above the stage keep the theme of reflection in the audience’s subconscious. Underwood does not need anything else to deliver what will go down in history as the show that set the contemporary bar for a Las Vegas residency.


These are my thoughts on the top 5 vocalists of 2023, based on shows I have seen where I have been able to confirm the singing is live.

5. Reba McEntire

The twang in Reba’s voice is unmistakable, and she’s maintained it during her longest tour in years. Listen to her Veeps special, though, and you’d think it’s thinned with age. Chalk that up to the mix: hear Reba live, and there’s no denying the power of that down-home Okie authenticity.

4. Adele

Adele is someone who sounds exactly like her record, but live. She’s been recreating her hits on stage in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace, and it’s clear she has once-in-a-generation pipes.

3. Josh Kiszka of Greta Van Fleet

Much has been made of Greta Van Fleet as “Zeppelin reincarnated.” Vocally, Kiszka is the 2023 version of all those high-pitched dudes who churned out classic rock in the 70’s and 80’s. It’s something that needs to be heard live to be fully understood.

2. Arnel Pineda of Journey

Speaking of reincarnated vocal styles, Arnel Pineda’s ability to capture the Perry-esque magic of Journey with his voice is another thing that cannot be fully explained. It’s crazy. He can reach notes that should not exist. His is a voice meant for rooms of 20,000 or more, and I cannot wait to hear him again on Journey’s upcoming stadium tour with everyone’s favorite classic rock co-headliner, Def Leppard.

1. Carrie Underwood

Carrie Underwood can sing the damn telephone book and make it captivating. Whether she’s growling a country rocker, unleashing her powerful “How Great Thou Art” or dueting with Axl Rose, hers is the most versatile–yet full-bodied–voice in music today. Just let me beg of you yet again: GO SEE HER IN A THEATER. Arena concerts take a bit of the sheen off that magic.


This list is always fun to put together because it lets me look back at a crazy year of shows and pick out my absolute favorites. This list takes into consideration the entirety of the concert itself, not just the artist as a performer.

My two criteria: The show must be mostly live. No track shows will appear on this list, even if the vocals are performed live. Sorry, boy bands. The other rule: You, the reader, must be able to see these artists live in 2024 with ease. That’s why I separated the Vegas residencies from this list: These shows should provide a reason to have a night out on the town, not a full-blown vacation.

The “honorable mentions” category is for acts that are either retired or not on the road heading into the New Year. What’s the point of a ranked listicle if it doesn’t compel you to act? And again, this list is ranked. Without further ado:

10. Jelly Roll – Billboard Country Live – Marathon Music Works, Nashville

Jelly Roll has brought a new era of authenticity to country music. That’s evident in his recordings and his performances. In between his heartfelt songs, mostly from Whitsitt Chapel, Jelly (real name Jason DeFord) showed gratitude and befuddlement at his meteoric rise to country royalty. Why at number 10? The show at Marathon Music Works was too short. At only an hour long, Jelly could have kept going and kept the audience with him.

9. Ed Sheeran – Mathematics World Tour – FedEx Field, Landover, MD

The stage is stunning. Ed Sheeran is at the top of his game. It takes admirable guts to fill a football stadium with little more than a guitar and a looper. But if you’re going to bring a band out on the road with you for full-throated arrangements, use them more, or dispatch with them altogether. Ed did not need his band, and it became clear they were a crutch for the size of the venue. Hopefully, on his next outing, he’ll just bring that guitar.

8. Ann Wilson of Heart – Brooklyn Bowl Nashville

Wilson has maintained that powerful falsetto. But fans–most of whom are older, yet the standard GA configuration of Brooklyn Bowl was unchanged–come to hear the Heart-era stuff. And while “Magic Man,” “Barracuda” and a few others were present, there were 2 or 3 heavy-hitter Heart songs left off the setlist. It’s also the reason I left Ms. Wilson off my greatest voices list: there was just not enough classic material present in the show to compare to. Don’t let this dissuade you though: Hers is a must-hear-live voice, and with Heart reuniting for a stadium tour with Journey and Def Leppard, more opportunities to hear those hits will present themselves.

7. Nate Smith – Desert 5 Spot, Los Angeles

An album release party at a swanky LA living room-style club, Nate Smith proved why he has the best new voice–both as a singer and as a songwriter–in Country Music today. On tour constantly, do not miss this smokey-voiced hitmaker. Number 7 because the show was a bit different from his road gigs, and like Jelly Roll above, very short.

6. Def Leppard/Motley Crue – Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena, Atlantic City, NJ

At this show in Atlantic City, the precursor to their second year of touring together, both Def Leppard and Motley Crue sounded in top shape. I chalk that up to hearing them indoors, as opposed to a baseball stadium. Crue in particular sounded very tight with John 5, and Vince’s voice sounded worlds better than it did in 2022. For the first time in 2 years, Leppard and Crue will be touring separately. Crue has their own dates, and Leppard is embarking on a stadium tour with another stacked lineup. Catch them both if you can.

Before we get to the top five, here are some honorable mentions (also ranked)

4. Kiss – The Final Tour – Madison Square Garden, New York City

The legends (supposedly) called it quits and moved to the universe of virtual reality with two sold-out concerts at MSG in December. Kiss put on the musical, pyro, grease-painted spectacle they always have for 50 years. Much has been made about the lack of sentimentality in these final shows, but those critics don’t understand: Kiss always strived for consistency, making sure to give fans exactly what they came for, no matter where, when, or the circumstances.

3. Reba McEntire – Madison Square Garden, New York City

Reba’s tight April performance at Madison Square Garden was a triumphant debut at the World’s Most Famous Arena. Captured by Veeps for streaming, McEntire’s concert completed a lifelong dream for her to perform where her Daddy rodeoed decades earlier. With no dates on the books (yet) for 2024, this historic show could not make my main list, but please keep an eye out for one-offs and your fingers crossed for another full tour by the red-headed icon.

2. Carrie Underwood and Garth Brooks Las Vegas residencies

See my above Vegas list for details. Both Garth Brooks and Carrie Underwood would take the top five spots in my main list if they were on the road in 2024. Brooks will probably announce some one-off dates as he has done in the past. But Caesars locks their headliners down pretty tight away from the road. With no upcoming album in the pipeline, Resorts World is probably the only place to hear Underwood’s killer pipes next year. If you have the budget for a countryfied trip to Vegas, put these on your list.

1. Taylor Swift – The Eras Tour – SoFi Stadium, Los Angeles

While I didn’t see the tour, our Editor in Chief Buddy Iahn saw one of the six LA shows, so that’s why it’s in the honorable mentions and not within the top ten. The record-breaking $1 billion trek has Swifties globally flocking to see her perform her lengthiest and most elaborate stage set up to date. The trek sees the global pop star performing roughly 45 songs per night, with the Surprise Songs set featuring some rarely performed fan favorites. The LA shows are featured in Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour film which has broken theatrical records before it opened in October. An extended version of the concert film is now available digitally before Swift returns to the road in 2024 with a handful of dates returning to North America in the fall.

Now on to the top five…

5. Greta Van Fleet – Capital One Arena, Washington, DC

Classic rock is alive and well in 2023. Greta Van Fleet has been the modern champion of a bygone style of rock and roll, and has been rewarded handsomely with major success. The show is all live, just the four musicians, as rock should be. And the show itself looks like it could be from any era of music as well. GVF has truly figured out the formula for rock timelessness.

4. Scarlet Opera – Echoplex, Los Angeles

If you follow one new band this year, please make it Scarlett Opera. Biased though I may be–(I went to high school with the lead singer!)–this Republic Records-signed group is doing for Queen/Leppard style glam rock what Greta Van Fleet is doing for the Zeppelin sound. Lead singer Luka Bazulka gives his all as the group’s frontman, dramatically gyrating, letting the music move him across the stage and sometimes into the crowd. A theatre major at our Performing Arts alma mater, he has taken a theatrically toned voice and uses it to stunning effect on pop-rock tracks. Luka is backed by ceaselessly talented musicians who are also some of the nicest guys on the planet. Listen to “Alive” or “That Kind of Woman” once, and you will be hooked for life.

3. TIE: U2:UV Achtung Baby Live – Sphere at Venetian, Las Vegas

There are scant few chances left to catch this industry-changing residency in Las Vegas. I’m breaking my “must be touring” rule here to tie this spectacle with a touring act below. Not because U2 are in stellar form–which they are. However, the Sphere, developed by Madison Square Garden Company, is a venue that must be experienced to be believed. U2, who always go over-the-top with their shows, was the perfect band to open this mammoth orb. Audiences float, ceilings collapse, and so much more happens inside the desert’s biggest planetarium. But anchoring it all is the iconic music of one of rock’s most enduring bands.

3. TIE: Queen + Adam Lambert – The Rhapsody Tour – CFG Bank Arena, Baltimore, MD

I said it in my review, and I meant it: They need to just go out as Queen, and drop the “+ Adam Lambert” thing. Lambert has proven over the last decade-plus that he is a worthy successor to Freddie Mercury, and has respected and honored his legacy along the way. Sure, Brian May and Roger Taylor are the legends. But would the two of them alone fill the greatest arenas and stadiums around the world? Adam Lambert has recaptured the magic of Queen and breathed new life into their hits. It is a sight to behold.

2. P!nk – Summer Carnival 2023 – Nationals Park, Washingont, DC

Can you sing while bouncing around six stories in the air? Pink sustained her notes while flying, bouncing, and diving during her Summer Carnival stop in Washington D.C. The finale–which at my show Pink performed in the pouring rain–involves a gigantic bungie that delivers the “So What” singer to the very top rows at the back of the baseball field. Amazing to see and hear, and worthy of a high spot on this list.

1. Journey – Freedom Tour – PPL Center, Allentown, PA

This show has stuck to my ribs like a delicious home-cooked meal. I haven’t been able to shake it from my mind all year, and I saw this concert with very special guest Toto back in February. Arnel Pineda–much like Adam Lambert has with Queen–has recaptured the Steve Perry sound that makes the Journey catalog work. And to hear his crystalline voice live is a transcendent experience. The fans have responded in kind, rather than rejecting him as the “replacement” to Perry. This is evident by the 1.2 million Twitter followers Pineda has, versus the 200k that Journey as a band currently boasts.

Band drama aside, it’s clear that when Journey hits the stage, all that matters is the music, letting fans wash themselves in decades of hits as they throw their heads back and belt out lyrics in a way that shows they will never Stop Believin’.

With 2023 behind us, here’s to the musical adventures that await in 2024. I hear Shania has a new residency coming to Vegas, so if you’ll excuse me, I am going to take my Christmas money and book that trip…See you in a theater, arena, or stadium next year! Happy New Year!

Matt Bailey
Matt Bailey

Matt Bailey is a media producer currently located in Washington, DC. He has worked as a writer, producer, and host in a variety of mediums including television news, podcasting, daytime television, and live entertainment. He joined The Music Universe in 2016. Since then, Bailey has traveled across the country to review hundreds of concerts and interview some of music's biggest hitmakers. Bailey truly believes in the unifying power of experiencing live music. To reach him, please email