I’ve been digging through a lot of my old Metroland era concert reviews to support some ethnographic research I’m doing. It has been fun to be reminded of so many shows that I’d forgotten I had actually attended, and I’m grateful to have an archive of fairly detailed thoughts about them to paw through, 15 years later. But as these forgotten shows were being restored to my memory banks, it got me pondering which of the thousand-plus concerts I’ve attended since the mid-70s sat at the opposite end of the spectrum, in the most memorable, least forgettable pile. I jotted down some notes over the past couple of weeks as memorable things flitted across my mind, and did a little web research in parallel to confirm some dates, and have come up with this list of My Ten Most Memorable Concerts, in chronological order from oldest to newest.
Jethro Tull, UK
October 1979, Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, New York
I saw Tull a couple of times before this show, which was in support of their Stormwatch album, and was the last tour to feature stalwart members John Evan, Barriemore Barlow and David (now Dee) Palmer. A couple of nights before, Ian Anderson had been hit in the eye by a rose thrown from the crowd, and he performed in sunglasses, and took the stage only after an announcement warning the audience that the show would be immediately terminated if anyone threw anything. I was surprised to learn from my concert program that David Pegg had assumed the bass position, replacing John Glascock, who was ill. A month later, I heard on WLIR that Glascock had died, tragically young. Openers UK featured prog-rock paragons John Wetton and Eddie Jobson, as well as ex-Zappa and future-Missing Persons drummer Terry Bozzio. I liked them a lot, because I knew who they were, though most of the crowd apparently didn’t, and those that did were probably disappointed that Bozzio had replaced Bill Bruford and Alan Holdsworth had gone missing since the last time UK had toured. I remember this Tull show more than any of the others, because of the bittersweet transitions that took place around it. And because they were playing harder and better than at any other time in their history, with the possible exception of the Anderson-Barre-Cornick-Bunker-Evan era, which occurred before I was old enough to be a concert-goer. Darn it.
The Tubes, The Plimsouls, The Outlaws
July 1983, Plantation Music Park, Trenton, North Carolina
I had to research this one to make sure it actually happened. Surely I must have been dreaming or hallucinating to think that I once saw shock-rockers the Tubes, skinny-tie new wavers The Plimsouls, and old school country-rockers The Outlaws on the same bill, at an outdoor dirt track type of venue, right? Wrong: it really happened! And it was one of the most insanely incongruous musical experiences of my entire life. I remember being packed in the crowd right up front with my friend Gail sitting on my shoulders, flashing her rather spectacular boobs at anybody who happened to look our way, in stupendously hot and humid conditions, barely dressed, wondering how in the hell Fee, Roger, Spooner and company were surviving up there onstage with their costumes on and light show baking them. It may have been the most ridiculously rock n’ roll moment of my life, with noise, and dirt, and sex all juxtaposed in the most insidious and memorable of fashions. They just don’t book shows like this anymore, and more’s the pity.
Butthole Surfers, Spot 1019
December 1987, 9:30 Club, Washington, DC
I saw the Surfers probably a dozen times in Washington, DC and Athens, GA during their hard-touring, mid-80s period, with the most memorable shows generally taking place at the original 9:30 Club at 930 F Street in Washington. This one was in the latter days of Jeff Pinkus’ stint as bassist, and after the double-drummers and naked dancers had been dispensed with. What was left was an amazing musical experience without as many distractions. Spot 1019, who I hadn’t heard of before this show, were a great, sympathetically enthusiastic opening band, and their song “Milk Bomb” remains one of my all-time favorite tunes to this day.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
November 1990, Gaston Hall, Georgetown University, Washington, DC
If I had to pick an all-time best and favorite concert, this would probably be the one I would choose. Gaston Hall is an incredible place to see a show, filled with dark wood, Gothic fixtures, and Catholic iconography. It was the perfect setting for Cave and his freshly-retooled Seeds to roll through their heart-felt, spiritual and moving new album, The Good Son. Marcia was with me for this show, as was Katelin, in utero. A couple of songs into the set, a black-clad girl rushed the stage and grabbed Cave’s hand, and he sang the remainder of the song with her clinging to him, moving from side to side as he paced the front of the stage. As she disengaged, the rest of the crowd left their seats and pressed forward, drawn by his palpable charisma. High point: Cave and Blixa Bargeld swaying, arm in arm, while singing the dark duet ballad, “The Weeping Song.” It was literally electric.
Mike Watt, Six Finger Satellite
October 1995, Bogie’s, Albany, New York
I adored the Minutemen but, alas, never got to see them live before D. Boon’s unfortunate demise. I didn’t much care for fIREHOSE, Watt’s first post-Minutemen band, so was excited to see him embark on his first solo tour in ’95, and doubly pleased to learn that he was coming to Albany. I had no idea what to expect, and this sense was doubled when amazing openers Six Finger Satellite delivered a blistering set of hard, synth-driven rock, anchored by some truly superior drumming. Watt’s band featured stellar guitarist Nels Cline (now with Wilco, or at least the last time I checked), backed by a pair of drummers. They blew the lid off the joint, capping the evening with a riveting take on Funkadelic’s seminal “Maggotbrain.” I’ve seen Watt half-a-dozen times since this show, and he’s always good, and always entertaining, but this gig was a pinnacle point for me.
October 1996, Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, New York
The first time I saw Rush was at Nassau Coliseum in April 1979, when they made the tragic mistake of letting Good Rats open for them, and got well and thoroughly dusted by the home team. I wasn’t as much of a Rush fan at that point, as it was their early ’80s albums that worked best for me, and then got me to go back and listen to the back catalog again, more appreciatively. Fast forward to 1996, when, after years of dutifully dragging opening bands around the country, paying back karmic debt to the bands that dragged Rush around in the ’70s, Peart, Lee and Lifeson finally decided to undertake an “evening with” type tour, where they filled the whole evening with two, long sets. The first show of the tour was here in Albany. I interviewed Neil Peart a couple of weeks before the gig for Metroland, and he noted that the longer format was going to allow the group to do things they’d never done live before, like playing the entire 2112 suite as it was recorded for vinyl, not as it had been truncated for the concert stage over the years. I called my Rush-fanboy college room mate, Jamie, to let him know what was going on, and he cashed in some frequent flyer miles to come up to Albany to see 2112 played live in its entirety for the first time ever. It was a gloriously over-the-top show, and the sound of 16,000 people screaming “salesmen!” at the appropriate moment was giggle-inducing grand. Years later, watching the protagonists in I Love You, Man building their bromance over a shared fondness for Rush, I could totally relate. But I will punch you if you tell anyone.
June 1997, Bogie’s, Albany, New York
I didn’t have particularly great expectations about seeing the post-Glenn Danzig lineup of the Misfits, featuring Michale Graves, Dr. Chud, Doyle Von Frankenstein and founding bassist Jerry Only, despite Only’s insistence when I interviewed him that this was the biggest, baddest, best version of New Jersey’s finest horror rock roadshow ever. But then I got to Bogie’s on a hot summer night, and got properly lathered up by a series of opening bands (I’m pretty sure Albany/Troy’s Stigmata was there, but don’t remember the others), and was standing front and center when the ‘fits began to work their corpse-painted magic. I can’t tell you exactly why, but it was the greatest, most intense and insane moshpit experience of my life, and I’ve been in a lot of them. The Misfits played a long, energetic set, and I never left the pit, except for when a girl near me passed out, and I helped carry her to breathing room behind the stage. How vigorous was this show? I weigh myself every morning, and over the 24-hour span when this concert took place, I lost eight pounds. Now that’s memorable.
The Clay People, Section 8
October 1997, QE2, Albany, New York
There were a couple of national bands opening and headlining this show, but they were unmemorable compared to what went down between them. I had seen the Clay People open for Biohazard a month or so before this show, as they were transitioning from an electroclash approach to a more metal attack. At the Biohazard show, they’d been a six-piece with on-stage keys from Alex Eller, but this night at QE2, it was down to a quintet of Dan Neet, Dan Walsh, Dan Dinsmore, Mike Guzzardi and Bryan McGarvey, and they were on fire from git-go to get-gone. I was up in the rafters of the venerable Q’ in my reviewing spot, a colleague who I shan’t name paralyzed next to me from what appeared to be unexpectedly powerful pot, gently moaning as the music pummeled him into jelly. The Q seemed to be far over-packed, with bodies flying everywhere, and people hanging off rails and stairways everywhere you looked. Section 8, for their part, also delivered the greatest set that I ever saw them play, and their more hardcore-inflected fare literally turned the joint into a human blender, meat dancing everywhere. This would probably be my all-time most memorable small venue gig, a show that summarizes everything I loved, and miss, about QE2, the little White Tower hamburger stand that could.
November 2002, Saratoga Winners, Cohoes, New York
Clutch is another band that I’ve seen many times in many places, and they’ve never, ever, ever disappointed me, to the point where I’ve gone on record to propose them as the second greatest live rock band ever, after on The (original) Who. In 2002, they’d gotten to the point where they were outgrowing venues like QE2, so the burnt up husk formerly known as Saratoga Winners was a great step upward, since it was just as gritty and grotty as the Q, but bigger, and with fewer vampires hanging out. I’ve seen a lot of folks open for Clutch (including Clutch themselves, in their altar ego guise as The Bakerton Group), but the best of the bunch, hands-down, was New Hampshire’s Scissorfight, a scary bunch of backwoods ‘billies fronted by a bellowing, bearded monster called Ironlung. It was pure rock fury, times two.
Rockets and Blue Lights
October 2003, Chapel + Cultural Center at Rensselaer, Troy, New York
I booked about 220 concerts, exhibitions, speakers and other events during my five years with the Rensselaer Newman Foundation, running the Chapel + Cultural Center at Rensselaer. Of all the things I brought in there, this show stands out as the best, as a very young group of four players, who I had never seen before, and have never seen since, dragged their gear into the middle of the small back room, faced each other as the audience surrounded them, and let rip one of the grandest noises I’ve ever heard come out of big black boxes. I loved booking shows in this room because it was so intimate, regardless of who was playing, but on this night, something magical happened, and the barriers between audience and performer were completely stripped away, as we all rode the music to wherever the Rockets deigned to take us. As their set wound down, I distinctly remember thinking: “Now, this is what it’s all about!” And it was.