There's a Facebook list going around of top five concerts you've been to. I found five to be too limiting so I got inspired to do one of my periodic music posts.
Thinking back, I'm not really embarrassed by any of these, and I'm kind of embarrassed by that. I mean, I lived through the 80s and there's not a single MTV haircut band on here. I missed the Thompson Twins for a national speech tournament, and that show would have filled a big gap on the resume.
Hop in the Wayback Machine with me:
Heart, 1978: Ooo! Barr-a-CU-da! My first concert ever, in 19-Seventy-freakin-8, the Dog and Butterfly tour, original lineup before the intra-band relationships tanked, before MTV and the outside songwriters. If they'd had less personal and record company drama they'd be recognized for the great band they were. After this show I had a crush on Nancy for years. We took black and white photos that looked a lot like this one.
The opening act was Player. That's right, "Baby Come Back" Player of Swiffer ad fame is technically my first-ever live act.
Cheap Trick, 1981: They were my favorite band at the time but they played too much of the weak All Shook Up album and nothing from the lost classic first album. What I remember most was the giant eyeball over Bun E. Carlos' head and Rick Nielsen's insane five neck guitar.
Styx, 1981: Technically at their career peak: the week Paradise Theater was the number one album. My first drunk concert. My best friend had died at age 18 a week earlier so I really needed to cheer up. The show was framed by the current album but not really a "concept" show. All the hits you know except for "Mr. Roboto" which was still in their future.
The Association, 1982: "Windy," "Along Comes Mary," "Cherish"... They were reunited with some quotient of original members doing the oldies circuit. We were 60s retrophiles, in that one generation behind nostalgia curve way. It was just down the hill from the dorm, we figured what the hell. We were the youngest people at the show by at least a decade.
Two days later with the same bunch of guys:
The Who, 1982: The greatest regret in my life, other than ways I may have mistreated people, is that I never saw the Clash. They were opening for the Who this tour, and I had expected to see them, but they skipped this particular leg.
The Milwaukee Brewers clinched their only pennant on our way to the show. I got really drunk and passed out during the emergency backup opening act, T-Bone Burnett, but recovered in time for the Who.
They opened with "Substitute." I had never heard "Eminence Front" before (the It's Hard album was just barely out) and wondered what the hell Roger Daltrey was doing playing guitar. Lost my I'D TRAMPLE YOU TO SEE THE WHO T-shirt (tasteless but funny; this was the first post-Cincinnati tour) on my way out. This was supposed to be The Last Time Ever, but it turned out I'd have another chance.
Running joke for the semester: "The Who was OK, but the Association kicked their asses."
John Mellencamp, 1985: He opened the Scarecrow tour with "Small Town" in a small town--my hometown, La Crosse. I went with the rebound girl I was briefly dating, her friend, and my brother.
Mellencamp was at his career peak, but the sound was poor; I got the sense he was opening in the sticks to live-rehearse the show. (Rush used to do the same thing; they went through La Crosse on about the third date of several tours, so early that the album wasn't even out yet.)
It was the debut of the hoedown-style band that he used more prominently on The Lonesome Jubilee. I remember him hauling an audience member on stage to sing "Hand To Hold On To," and closing with a beautiful "Under The Boardwalk" that was later an obscure B side.
The Suburbs, 1986: Twin Cities dance-rock band that fell just short of the big time and broke up right after I saw them. Their non-hit "I Like Cows" was the de facto theme song of my college radio show.
Bob Dylan, 1988. It was a year after the Dylan and the Dead album and the night before the Dead was moving into Wisconsin's Alpine Valley for a multi-night stay. The Deadhead caravan was already settled in and the rumor or hope was that Jerry and the guys were going to show up. They didn't, so I never got to see the Dead, but I got to see the Deadheads.
Bob, touring behind the weak Down in the Groove album, hit all the usual highlights. In fact, was was most interesting was opening act the Alarm. We were up in a section of 40-somethings who grumbled about "punk rock" as singer Mike Peters intro'd "Spirit of 76" with some lines about how much the Sex Pistols meant to him. But there were three people way down front who were there not for Dylan, but for the Alarm, and they left before Dylan.
Crosby Stills and Nash, 1988. The Liver Transplant tour. The deal was: Graham and Stephen would agree to tour and David would agree to not die. The universally panned American Dream, the 18-year delayed CSNY follow up to Deja Vu, had just come out, but Y was absent from the tour (see Farm Aid below). Free tickets from the radio station I worked at. Followed the classic CSN format: Band set, acoustic set, solo sets, band set again. All classics; the new album was absent save for Crosby's sobering up song during the solo set.
Arlo Guthrie, twice in 1989: Once at Wolf Trap with Pete Seeger, where they played mostly old folkie stuff, once in Madison on his own where he did his own stuff. Got to meet him the second time and he signed my CD. At one point he'd talked about retiring "Alice's Restaurant" from live performance, but by the Madison show he's fortunately reconsidered that.
The Who, 1989: One of the most uncomfortable nights of my life. The summer internship in DC was a good experience that was motivated by the wrong reason. She was a redhead. She met The Other Guy, who she eventually freakin' married, get this: while was in line buying tickets for us to see this show. But believe it or not, she and I still went to the concert together anyway. Awk-ward.
As for the band, they were better in `82 when I was drunk. They opened with a 45 minute compressed version of "Tommy." But mostly what I remember is riding home alone on the subway.
Of all the bands I love, the Who makes me the saddest. The endless farewell tours, including the one just days after John Entwistle died. The aggressive sale of songs for ads. In retrospect, I never really saw the Who--because Keith Moon was already dead.
The Violent Femmes, 1989: I got into this show free by working as--get this--security. With the rugby team. In my grad school poverty I couldn't afford the tickets, but one of my fellow TAs was a rugger and snuck me in that way. Easy work: I frisked a bunch of girls with the back of my hands, then enjoyed the show.
Titling your fourth album "3" is one way to disown the third album. It was only their first or second gig since they'd been effectively broken up for three years, but they seemed to have their act together. One guy rushed the stage and the rugby team took care of him real good.
Bob Dylan twice again, 1990: I hate to say it but not much really stands out. These two were a lot like the `88 show except they were inside. Same backing band, similar sets. Still, it was Bob freakin' Dylan. At the La Crosse show, he went straight from song to song with only one stage remark. No one could understand it so half the hall was buzzing with "what did Bob say?" as if trying to decipher an oracle's riddle.
Farm Aid, 1993. The Bryan Adams "Summer of '69" opening riff sounds like rock heaven in a stadium. Roger Clinton made me briefly wish that Bush 41 had been re-elected. Lyle Lovett wore his old FFA jacket. An all-starr band led by Don Was had a low-key drummer named Ringo, the only time I've ever seen a real live Beatle. Saw Arlo a third time and Mellencamp a second time, and of course for the occasion he led with "Rain On The Scarecrow.".
Bit that's just the random stuff. The highlights:
He was just off the Unplugged album and played Transylvania pipe organ versions of "Helpless" and "Like A Hurricane." Then he grabbed his acoustic and said, "Hey, Willie, get out here," and as an aside to the audience, "I like playin' with Willie." Then they did about four more songs, including a custom-written unreleased song ("Goin' up to AMES, I-o-WA... lookin' for a country that don't need Farm Aid.") Neil played his usual banga-banga-banga rhythm style (as opposed to his one-note solo style), and Willie added these cool solo flourishes. The man can freakin' PLAY.
So Neil was great, but I still want to see him in loud Crazy Horse mode.
Paul Westerberg, 1993: Another regret is that I skipped the Replacements in 1991 to go to a night class: "I'll catch them next tour." Oops. Meanwhile, grad school turned out to be a dead end and the Replacements mean far more to me that that never-earned degree.
It was Paul's first solo tour post-Mats, and he was sloppy casual but not sloppy drunk. Favorite moment: Westerberg, an underrated genius, introduced his then current single with "Here's out latest flop." He then launched into a stellar version of the now-forgotten coming of age song "First Glimmer." The details were all wrong for me but the emotion was perfect.
Sugar, 1994: Bob Mould's short-lived post Hüsker Dü band. The LOUDEST show I've ever been at. I wrote a total fail review for the DI; the end of the show was the Beaster EP played in full in sequence and I hadn't heard it yet, so I completely missed the point. No Hüsker material.
Liz Phair, 1999: This was the night of Iowa City's great concert duel: Liz Phair on campus vs. Vanilla Ice at Gabe's. Babe with talk-dirty-to-me lyrics; yeah, I drank the Liz Kool-Aid. As I think back I remember less about the music and more about how hot she looked in the red dress, but in her case the sexuality and the music are hard to separate.
Liz had gotten over early-career stage fright and was just starting out with live performance. Switched back and forth between playing and just singing and focused on the better first two albums rather than the then-new one. I was the oldest person at the show by at least ten years, which makes up for the Association.
James McMurtry, 2001: I was just into a marital separation and a girl danced with me. I should have stayed separated. She and I got to talk to James post-gig. He's really cynical about corporate record labels and thinks "I'm Not From Here" would have been a much better single from the Too Long In The Wasteland album that "Painting By Numbers" was. Never saw that dancer again.
The Know-It-All Boyfriends, 2003: KIAB is an unrecorded side-project with Butch Vig and Duke Erickson of Garbage, Freedy Johnston, and a local Madison musician. So I got to see the guy who produced Nevermind and Siamese Dream in a bar band.
They get drunk and play no-rehearsal classic rock covers: "The drunker you are, the better we seem." Shouts for Garbage songs were ignored, this was clearly a guy's night out. But they did play Freedy's one almost-hit, "Bad Reputation" (no, not the Joan Jett song). Speaking of which:
Joan Jett, 2004: Only saw two of the four songs she played at the Howard Dean rally the night before the caucuses and the Scream. We had an, er... issue between the county party and the state party and I had to deal with a state staffer, who I will never forgive for making me miss Joan Jett singing "I Love Rock N' Roll," on the phone. If you thought Dean was screaming, you should have heard that call.
Garbage, 2005: This one was "Special": the Madison home-town stop on the world tour, with all the families and friends present. For once, I was not the oldest person at the show. I blogged this one the morning after, following an overnight drive back.
Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne, 2007: This one's liveblogged. Campaigning for John Edwards. Got to meet them. Bonnie Raitt is tiny.