Thursday, August 27, 2009

5 Favorite Concert Moments

I've seen a lot of shows. My very first was Frank Zappa at Stabler Arena in 1979. I was 15. It was an amazing show. Since then, I've seen The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, David Bowie, Yes, Kansas, Todd Rundgren, The Tubes, and far too many others to mention and even a few I'm sure I've forgotten.

Of all the shows I've attended, here are five experiences I'll never forget.

5) Metallica, 08/07/1989 at the at the Stone Balloon, Newark, DE

I've always envied people who got to see huge acts in tiny venues. Well, this was my experience with a huge act at a tiny venue.

I thought maybe it was a misspelling or something- perhaps this was a Metallica tribute band or similar. I called the club and they confirmed that it was, in fact, the real deal and Metallica would be playing at the Stone Balloon.

The Stone Balloon was not a huge place. Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but the legal capacity for the venue had to be less than 400. So when I saw an ad in a local music magazine boasting that Metallica was playing there, I called a friend, and he and I drove immediately from the main line in PA to Delaware to get the tickets - to ensure our place at this historic event.

That night, I experienced one of the loudest concerts I'd ever been to. I hung out with Pauli Slivka (Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers' bassist) right in front of the sound board. He and I took cigarette butts and jammed them in our ears to lessen the barrage.

I think Slayer opened for them that evening, but it was all about Metallica for me that night. I couldn't have asked for a better set and a more memorable setting.

4) The Tubes, Summer, 1989 at the 23 East, Ardmore, PA

The Tubes were on a small club tour with another lead singer after Fee had left the band. Now, for some, this would be a disappointment, but the core of the band, Bill Spooner, Rick Anderson, Roger Steen, Vince Welnick, and Prairie Prince - drummer extraordinaire - was intact. I'd pay almost anything to see Prairie play and to hear Bill Spooner croon. (That's Spooner in the pic.)

They played an amazing set list that night, including Pimp and Brighter Day from the Young and Rich album. Hard to believe, but Fee was barely missed.

At one moment, during I Don't Want to Wait Anymore, Bill toasted the crowd, guzzled a 12 oz., subsequently vomited behind his amp, and came in on the vocal without missing a beat- like it had been choreographed.

Afterward, I went backstage and was chatting with the band. They'd seen my band, Love Bomb, on the schedule to appear in the club later that month and wanted to know who and what it was. When I told them it was my band, they asked if we did any covers of their stuff. When I said I hadn't, Roger Steen asked, "What, does our stuff suck so much?" We had a good laugh. At least, I did.

Bill invited my band to come and record at his studio in San Francisco. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in an earthquake and we never got the chance to do so. C'est la vie.

3) Jane Siberry, 5/4/1988 at the Chestnut Cabaret, Philadelphia, PA

I'd caught Jane on MTV's 120 Minutes when she released the single, One More Colour, from her debut album, Speckless Sky. I thought she was terrific. So, imagine my surprise when I arrived one night at the Chestnut Cabaret to see a friend's band, only to walk in Jane playing live. What an unexpected surprise.

During one song, a boisterous number with a rich Latin feel (Very Large Hat, perhaps?), the band broke down into a simple quarter-note piano part. Jane came out looking like Jackie-O with the tight sleeveless dress that ended just above the knee, white gloves, and a pill-box hat. She started waving both arms back and forth with the beat, then broke into Petula Clark's Don't Sleep in the Subway. The rendition was flawless and I was floored. Then, when the song was over, they went back into the loud frenetic Latin number as quickly as they had come out of it.

I will never forget that.

2) Chris Whitley, 10/24/92 at the Chestnut Cabaret, Philadelphia, PA

I'd seen Chris with his entire band at the Trocadero in Philadelphia just six months earlier. He was touring in support of his first album, Living With the Law. That night at the "Troc," the turnout had been good and the show was great. The live versions of his tunes were spot on.

My guitarist, Sean, and I had a serious love affair going on with Chris's first album. So when we heard he was playing again so close, it was a no-brainer to go see him.

On this night at the Chestnut Cabaret, though, there were few in the audience - maybe 50 - and Chris took the stage alone. He came out with National steel Dobro and a gadget called a Stomp-box. What ensued was one of the most intimate nights of music with an amazing artist that I've ever experienced.

Chris stomped out the beat on his stomp-box while he did solo versions of every song on the Living With the Law collection, with the exception of one tune: Dust Radio. Dust Radio was Sean and my favorite song at the time and we - and the other 48 people in attendance -simply wouldn't let Chris leave without playing it.

He came out for the encore and apologized, saying that he couldn't pull it off without the band. We begged and pleaded for him to do his very best and that we would be satisfied with any rendition of the song. He relented and started playing.

I know that the parts of the arrangement he couldn't play were imagined by all of us as we swayed back and forth to the stripped down, but magical version he gave us that night.

What an amazing show.

1) King's X, 8/12/2009 at the Sellersville Theater, Sellersville, PA

I've seen King's X 5 or 6 times now. And every show has been great. In addition to being a kick-ass bass player and having the best voice in rock and roll, DUg Pinnick (see photo) is the pinnacle of charismatic front men - he knows how to entertain a crowd. Ty Tabor is one of the greatest guitar players alive: watching and hearing him play is mind-blowing.

I'd seen a set list online before the show and knew what to expect: along with 4 songs on their set list from their latest album, XV, the band had chosen a broad selection of material from most of their albums.

I attended the show on the 12th with my brother and two other friends. I knew my brother - also a huge King's X fan - would be happy that the band was planning to play Summerland, his favorite King's X song.

My favorite King's X song is Goldilox, a track from their first album that Ty Tabor had written. My brother loves that song, too, but unfortunately, it wasn't on the set list I'd seen before the show. It's not a song they do live very often. We've only seen them do it once before in the early 90's - and my brother and I certainly had no expectations of seeing it that night.

So, as is usual, the band was incredible. We had front row seats just behind the "cabaret" seating (a few tables and chairs immediately in front of the stage) and right in front of DUg, so our view couldn't get much better. The band played Summerland and my brother was ecstatic.

Then came the moment. DUg turned the mics out to the audience, the house lights came up, and Ty started playing the opening guitar part of Goldilox. My brother and I were in disbelief. Then, DUg motioned for the audience to start singing. 300 + people in attendance started singing every word of the song as the band played softly in the background.

DUg came off the stage and stood in front of my brother and I - a mere 2 feet away - and we all continued to sing. "I'd like to know your name and I must know who you are..."

At the end, DUg said, "The hit that never was." Someone behind me yelled, "It's a hit to us." Another yelled what we were all thinking, "Thank you for writing that song."

Sigh. Yeah, I can go in peace now.