"If there were no fights, it was not a good gig."
-John Lennon, perhaps apocryphally paraphrased in the liner notes to "Everything Went Black"
It's been ages, now, since I've been to any shows... I did see Aimee Mann back on Valentine's Day, but that was 'cause a friend had an extra ticket. Before that... Dwight Yoakam last summer? Steve Earle? I forget the last one I saw. Before coming out here, I worked as a music critic for several years in Colorado, and I think that experience combined with age has made me less enthusiastic about live music -- umpteen dozen badly-bearded hippies with acoustic guitars overshadowed the good stuff.
But there's a bunch of concerts that lodge in my mind for one reason or another, so without further ado, a random list of memorable concerts in my life:
1) Motley Crue -- McNichols Arena (Denver), 1985. My first concert, their "Theatre of Pain" tour. I felt like a very badass 12-year-old, nullified somewhat by the fact that my Dad accompanied me. I cringed when some giant dude screamed "why the fuck is everyone bringing their parents to this?" outside the front doors; wanted to shrink under the seat when Vince Neil led off the set by saying he'd heard Denver girls had the best tits in the land. The tale is still a staple at family dinners. Random bits of trivia: Autograph opened the concert, perhaps the most mediocre heavy metal band in recorded history. Also, on the way down, we were listening to the Broncos-Chargers game on the radio -- a game that's entered Broncos lore because Louis Wright blocked a Chargers field goal try in overtime, ran it back for a touchdown, had it called back, blocked the re-kick and ran it back for the touchdown.
2) Tucson hardcore house parties, Sanjay Desai's house, 1991-92. Sanjay's parents had this amazing lowered living room that presented a natural venue for shows, and was both big enough and remote enough that the neighbors never complained. Groundwork, Soulfish, Outreach/Forthright -- all footnotes to footnotes to footnotes in hardcore history, but the center of our lives around then.
3) Fugazi, the Offspring, 411 -- the Palladium (Hollywood), 1991. My friend Daron (of the aforementioned Soulfish, later 400 Years and Delegate) and I flew out for this one, hanging around ex-NFAA guitarist Gavin Oglesby and Triggerman like groupies pre-show. 411 is kind of lost in the mists of time now, but for their brief existence, they were one of the tightest, most entertaining bands around. I'd missed the whole first wave of SoCal straight edge, something that troubled me greatly at the time, and 411 was a bit of a connection to that. On the big stage, they really shone. The Offspring were good enough; little did we know that within years they'd be an everpresent annoyance, with the catchphrase to that execrable "keep 'em separated" song used to promote recycling at the University of Arizona. Fugazi were, as ever, amazing. After the show, we went straight to LAX, where we slept until our 8 a.m. flight back to Tucson in molded chairs that probably contributed to years of back trouble.
4) Rocket From the Crypt/Superchunk -- Downtown Performance Center (Tucson), early '90s. I'd dismissed RFTC after disliking the "Paint As A Fragrance" album, and was just there to see Superchunk. RFTC proceeded to put on perhaps the finest show I've ever seen -- I don't remember a single detail of Superchunk's set. RFTC was probably my favorite live band ever -- I wish they would have called it quits before ruining it through their last few albums, though.
5) Iceburn -- Downtown Performance Center, early '90s. It's amazing how, when you have limited musical knowledge, something so self-indulgent, dull, and unpleasant can seem groundbreaking and awesome.
6) Born Against and Groundwork -- DPC, early-mid '90s. Groundwork, friends of mine, were in one of their confused periods of disintegration -- this one stands out because singer Brendan stormed off the stage in a Kent McClard-inspired fit of pique over people slam-dancing, leaving the rest of the band rather befuddled. Born Against, at their height one of my favorites, had by this point entered their "everything's a joke" period, but were still pretty excellent.
7) Los Crudos and Absinthe -- the Candy Shack (Tucson), 1995 or so. Absinthe was Brendan's post-Groundwork band, and this show was enough to briefly revitalize my flagging interest in Hardcore. The Candy Shack was this dingy little (and I presume short-lived -- I moved soon) place that became the hardcore hangout after the DPC shut its doors, a ceiling about six and a half feet high, and it gave a little jolt to a flagging scene.
8) Space Team Electra -- Round Midnight (Boulder), 1997. I never got into the whole shoegazer thing, but STE blew my mind. Copious amounts of alcohol, a tiny space, soaring music, high volume, and Myshel Prasad's astonishing voice made me think, for one of the only times in my life, that maybe I should try hallucinogenic drugs. (I didn't. Forever kind of a wimp.) Afterwards, my (retired blogger?) friend Sid and I interviewed the band, all of us in a state of extreme inebriation -- I went directly to the newspaper office, wrote it up before sobering up, and it later won a Colorado journalists' award for music criticism. That would seem to have indicated great things for my career; it didn't. Similarly, I never got quite the same rush from Space Team again, though they were always good (and their first album, "Vortex Flower," was also really good). And Myshel was cuter than hell. They're apparently still around in some form; a website is here. Hunt around and you'll find a bit of my drunken column from way back when.
9) John Fogerty, the Old '97s, Cracker, and Lucinda Williams -- the Fox Theatre (Boulder), 1997. This was probably spread over two days -- it was one of the Gavin/Adult Alternative shmoozefests that came about annually, giving me the chance at free booze, shows, and buckets of CDs for a few days. Being 25-ish at the time, most of the acts didn't really appeal, but these four did. Lucinda was at her height, right after "Car Wheels"; Cracker, a band that's only occasionally impressed me recorded, were fantastic; it was the first time of many that I was to see the Old '97s, and it began a diehard interest that lasted for years; and John Fogerty, well, I've always loved CCR. I forget how many forgettable solo albums he'd done by this point, but for that night, he was pretty magical.
10) William Topley -- some hotel in Boulder, 1998. I could take or leave Topley and his blue-eyed soul -- this was at the next year's Gavin conference. But my friend Mary and I spent all day drinking free beer outside, then watching him play under some pagoda. An extraordinarily pleasant day, even if I couldn't name a Topley song if you held a gun to my head.
11) Son Volt -- Boulder High School, 1998. I love Son Volt, but God, they are/were the world's most boring live band. Playing one of Boulder's "E-Town" shows, they took to the stage in the auditorium of a school where I'd spent one unpleasant year a decade before, no beer to be served, and played a set that looked like they were doing it out of legal obligation.
12) A whole bunch of bands -- Steve Earle, Del McCoury, Robert Earl Keen, Joe Ely, several more -- some Boulder County fairground, summer of 1999. I was in my "unemployment" period, and thus was free to start drinking beer at 10 a.m.; most of my friends around then started drinking beer at 10 a.m. whether they were employed or not. The whole day's a blur of hot dogs, falling asleep under trees, and country music. REK was great; I've seen Earle better since; I could remember very little else. One of those amazing Boulder weather days, though, where you become acutely aware that you live in paradise. Post-show, an unnamed friend urinated on someone's SUV because, as I recall, he didn't like the personalized license plate.
13) The Saw Doctors --
There's a few others that pop into mind from the Atlanta stage in my life -- beating a girl I was dating handily at pool at an Old '97s show; seeing Daron (and Delegate) again and then taking him out on the town, only to see him get kicked off the stage at a karaoke show; intervening in a troubled relationship at the Dwight Yoakam concert. But those haven't faded enough to get the dreamy sepia-tone of memory, yet, so I'll wait a few years down the line -- when I can fully romanticize them.