Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pulp: May 31, 1996

In the mid '90s, after having led Pulp for about 15 years, Jarvis Cocker was thrust into belated stardom in the UK and role of de facto spokesman for the burgeoning Britpop movement. The fact that he seemed somewhat befuddled and amused by the whole thing only made him that much more endearing.

At the time of this show, the band was touring in support of Different Class, the landmark album containing "Common People," probably its best known and loved song. It was the height of so-called Britpop, but here in the States, bands that were hugely popular in the UK played at clubs that were probably much smaller than what they were accustomed to back home.

Nashville's Superdrag opened, and at the time I unfairly pegged them as Americans wanting to sound British. In fact, they were a pretty great power pop band, and I wish I'd paid them more mind at the time. I admittedly wasn't the biggest Pulp fan either (although I eventually warmed to them, especially the album This Is Hardcore) but found Cocker immensely entertaining and funny. I recall he made a quip (equal parts cringe- and chuckle-inducing) about the Valu Jet crash that had taken place about three weeks before. "Did you hear they found the black box?" Cocker deadpanned. "The pilot's last words were 'Heeeeeellllllpppp!'" So it wasn't the height of witticism for him, but it was sort of endearing that the reluctant figurehead was willing to toss off a tasteless joke, just like any of your mates might.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Radiohead: April 5, 1996

This is one of those shows that was a downer, not because of the band, but because of the venue. I'm surprised to see this was billed as being at Sanctum, which at some point was renamed Clutch Cargo's. I'm guessing this might be the only show I saw at the venue prior to its renaming. Name change or no, Clutch Cargo's was a place I loved to hate. It booked some of the best alternative/college acts, but always seemed to be filled with frat boy lunkheads, especially on nights when there was DJ instead of live music. The Radiohead show was a particularly bad example.

This was the tour for Radiohead's album The Bends, their second release and first to gain considerable critical acclaim. Maybe because it was so early in the band's career, it seemed like most of the audience only knew, and only wanted to know, the mega hit "Creep." If the band didn't acknowledge the seeming single-mindedness of the audience, frontman Thom Yorke was aware of the bar's skeezy vibe, commenting on the scantily clad waitresses. For a band as arty and cerebral as Radiohead, the venue seemed crazily inappropriate. Yet they soldiered on, giving solid if somewhat exasperated performances of most of the songs from The Bends and some from Pablo Honey and the crowd got its desired rendition of "Creep."

When the band skipped Detroit on its next tour, I was disappointed, but by the release of Kid A both my residency in Michigan and my interest in Radiohead had ended.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ringo Starr: July 30, 1989

I recall shamefully little about this show, which was the only time I've ever seen a member of the Beatles. Believe me, I tried to see McCartney, standing countless hours in the freezing cold outside a department store Ticketmaster in January only to hear the unobstructed seats sold out, then the side-of-stage seats sold out, then even the behind-the-stage seats sold out. Alas, it will probably never happen.

This was the first of many of Ringo's tours with his self-proclaimed "All-Starr Band," comprised of various rock luminaries from days gone by. I recall Joe Walsh played at this show, Billy Preston, Dr. John, and some others. It was a solid band, actually, and Ringo led them in good-natured versions of singalong classics such as "Photograph" and "Yellow Submarine" - a mix of songs from his Beatles and solo careers.

One odd off-the-cuff thing I recall: The tickets for this show seemed quite expensive at the time. Looking back, it's funny to see that the face value was $25. With the service fees, they soared to over $30, which by today's standards is one of the cheaper shows you'll see, but in 1989 was still pretty pricey. I guess All-Starrs don't work for nothing.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Björk: August 5, 1995

Björk has long been a favorite artist of mine, ever since her days fronting the Sugarcubes. I saw that band twice: opening an amazing alt-rock bill with Public Image Ltd. and New Order, and headlining its own tour for the 1989 album Here Today, Tomorrow, Next Week. The latter show was a mini disaster that ended after only about 45 minutes when the band's Einar Örn Benediktsson shouted, "Some asshole hit me in the eye with a chain," tossed off a "Fuck you as well!" to someone in the crowd who dared to jeer, then stormed off the stage, his bandmates following somewhat sheepishly.

Björk's solo English-language debut, aptly titled Debut, was a big hit at the time I was studying in England. My globe-trotting was done by the time her sophomore effort, Post, arrived. I was anxious to see her after so many years (six) and minus Einar's shenanigans.

I can't recall much about Björk's band. I have a vision of her center stage, a small but commanding presence. The set consisted of songs from Debut and Post, and her voice sounded amazing - which made it all the more memorable that she kept apologizing for trying to sing with a cold. I remember my friend and I asking each other, if this is what she sounds like with a cold, how in the world would she sound if she were well?! She was, and remains, a true talent.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Electrafixion: June 1, 1996

Electrafixion was a short-lived band featuring Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant of Echo and the Bunnymen. They only put out one album before reforming the Bunnymen, which Mac had left in the late '80s. Released in 1995, Burned, Electrafixion's one and only full-length release, was a sleek, confident update of the Bunnymen's sound. Although it came nowhere near the level of those blissful classic Bunnymen albums, it proved McCulloch and Sergeant still had some oomph left in them -- which hadn't been apparent in the Bunnymen's one Mac-less release or McCulloch's solo work.

One funny thing I recall about this show was how I got the tickets. I won them at another show from a DJ who offered them to the first person to identify a song he played. All my years of being a couch potato paid off when I immediately recognized Quincy Jones' theme from Sanford and Son and sent my friend running to the DJ booth.

The show was pretty great, at a much more intimate venue than the one the Bunnymen had played on their (seemingly) final tour with Mac. They seemed in good spirits and played a couple of Bunnymen songs, including "The Killing Moon," which inspired a middle-aged female fan to leap onstage and gyrate, much to the band's bafflement. This show is a memory I hold especially dear since Ian McCulloch was a cranky hot mess when I saw the reformed Bunnymen in Chicago over a decade later.

Friday, October 21, 2011

James Brown: July 6, 1996

I saw James Brown just once, ten years before his death. He was 66 years old at the time, and I wondered beforehand how his onstage prowess might be affected by his advanced age. After all, this wasn't an artist who sat on a barstool and sang; this was the Godfather of Soul, known for getting up, getting down, staying on the scene like a sex machine. It turned out I needn't have worried.

The show was at Chene Park, a beautiful venue on the Detroit River. While Brown performed we could see the lights of boats passing by behind him. The opener was Jimmie Walker, the comedian best known for playing the cartoonish son J.J. on the 1970s sitcom Good Times. His was a strange set of dated racial humor that was not very incisive or funny, and ended with a weak apology. (The gist of it was, "Ha ha, white people are such idiots... but seriously folks, I was just joking and really we should all get along. Thank you and good evening!")

Brown was a marvel onstage, shimmying, shaking, and doing the splits with the zest and skill of man one-third his age. He performed various hits spanning the many decades of his career, everything from "It's a Man's World" to "Living in America." Just as he had for years, Brown did the bit with the cape and had a bevy of young and attractive female dancers onstage. You didn't see showmanship like that very often by the mid '90s, and certainly not on the level of James Brown. It was inspiring to see that, despite the many ups and downs of his life, he remained a dynamic performer in his sixth decade, reinforcing his legacy at a time of life when many lesser artists are dishonoring theirs.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Kristin Hersh: July 27, 1997

Here is what I love about Kristin Hersh: With her, there is a sense of music being a normal part of life, something that is just there, the way oxygen is. Despite the mystique of "an artist possessed" that others tried to build around her during the earlier years of her career with Throwing Muses, if you see her in concert, speak to her, or read her self-deprecating and funny Tweets, she seems like a normal, down-to-earth woman, mother, and wife who just happens to make her living as a musician.

These days Hersh alternates between Throwing Muses, 50 Foot Wave (with Muses bandmate Bernard Georges), and solo work, but at the time of this show Muses were on hiatus, 50 Foot Wave hadn't been born, and she had released just one solo album, 1994's Hips and Makers. The album was a decidedly quieter affair than the Muses' material, and Hersh's stripped-down acoustic performance continued in that vein. While the opener, Melissa Ferrick, demonstrated how loud and frantic an acoustic guitar could sound, Hersh proved the power of hushed and intimate sounds. Her music and voice were haunting, but between songs she would declare with good humor that she was wearing a dorky shirt because it was the only one not stained by the nursing infant on tour with her. Such is the juxtaposition between real art and real life that Hersh embodies to me.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Rufus Wainwright: May 13, 2001

I've seen Rufus Wainwright several times, but this was the last show of his I really enjoyed. It took place at an intimate (and very crowded) venue before he started opting for the more lucrative but less enjoyable rounds of outdoor summer concerts and casino gigs. It also coincided with the release of my favorite of his albums, Poses. Rufus was in top form, giving a powerful but genial performance of songs from his first two releases. What I remember best, though, is the weird family dynamics on display that night.

The twin-sister duo of Tegan and Sara opened the show with a set more notable for their incessant sibling bickering than their songs. Later in the evening, Wainwright told the story of how he got thrown out of the gay bar Sidetrack the last time he was in Chicago. All feigned innocence, he insisted all he'd done was accidentally bump someone, causing him to spill a drink. The next thing you know, he was being roughed up by bouncers and tossed out on the sidewalk. (Knowing that Sidetrack is a decidedly non-tough bar and that Rufus was a hot mess during this period, I'm guessing this was not the most accurate version of events.) Rufus' sister Martha, who was singing backup for him, gently chided him that maybe that wasn't all that happened. They bantered back and forth for a minute before he gave up, declaring, "God, we're starting to sound like Tegan and Sara."

Such glimpses of personality were largely missing the next couple of times I saw him, in part because he played at outdoor summer festivals. To me, there's something about a person at a piano that calls for a smaller venue.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Kelley Deal 6000: May 10, 1996

Kelley Deal is best known as a member of the Breeders, along with her twin sister and Pixies bassist, Kim. In 1994-5, she was busted for heroin possession and went through rehab for her addiction. Emerging from the negative publicity, she assembled and fronted her own band for a time. The Kelley Deal 6000, as they were called, showed Kelley's songwriting, playing, and singing to be every bit as quirky and cool as Kim's. I just wish they'd hung around longer. Kelley's continued to record and perform with the Breeders and took part in a one-off release from the Last Hard Men with Sebastian Bach and Jimmy Chamberlin, but sadly hasn't released any additional solo albums. (By the way, she has also found success as a crafter, selling hand-knit bags and writing a how-to book.) 

I saw TKD6K in Ann Arbor twice: when their first album came out in 1996, and a year later when they released another. This show was in support of the debut, Go to the Sugar Altar, an eccentric but very catchy collection of tunes. Before the band went on, I was at the bar when Kelley came up and asked for a Coke. When the bartender feebly joked, "With rum?" she nicely but firmly replied, "Oh no, I don't do that anymore." A good sign, for sure!

Kelley, along with a band that included Jimmy Flemion of the Frogs, played her quirky songs, gave appreciative thanks, and at one point introduced her parents, who had traveled out from Dayton for the show. And that sort of typifies what all the Kelley Deal shows I've seen have been like: There's something very homey about her performances, she comes off as nice, and she seems to genuinely take pleasure in making music and sharing it with people. I was glad to see that vibe was retained when she most recently played with her new act, R. Ring, who hopefully will record some new material soon.

Monday, September 5, 2011

John Tesh: June 15, 1996

A friend's mother and stepfather had season tickets to the historic Fox Theatre in Detroit but were not free the night of the John Tesh concert, which is how two relatively hip then-twentysomethings ended up going. Tesh, of course, is best known as a co-host of Entertainment Tonight who launched a career as a sort of new age/easy listening musician. It wasn't my type of music, but I figured it would be an experience if nothing else.

By the time we parked and got to the theater, the show had just started. An usher told us that he would wait until the first song had ended before seating us. This being Tesh, the song kept going for a good ten minutes before the exasperated usher gave up, said, "Oh, come on," and led us to our seats.  We were set adrift in a sea of khakis and polo shirts. Really, I don't think I've ever seen so many people in the same attire in one place.

Tesh played a series of very long songs and made a few cracks about the National Anti-Tesh Action Society and its assertion that Tesh is a space alien. He seemed like a good-natured guy and a decent musician, even if his music didn't exactly win me over.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Blondie: May 23, 1999

Blondie is one of my favorite groups, so when most of the original members got back together in the late '90s for a new album and tour, I was excited to see them. The resulting album, No Exit, was a mixed affair veering from the high of the appealing hit "Maria" to the low of Debbie Harry rapping with Coolio. Despite the mostly disappointing new material, I still looked forward to seeing the band live. Since Blondie originally broke up in the early '80s, it was a treat I didn't think I'd get to experience.

Having seen Blondie twice now since the reunion, I still don't feel like I've seen Blondie. Original members Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, Clem Burke, and Jimmy Destri were supplemented by additional musicians (Destri has since left).The set was slick and hit-filled. Maybe that's what some fans are looking for, but not me. It felt more like Debbie Harry and a backing band, and there were few surprises.

The highlight of the No Exit show, for me, was "Shayla," an Eat to the Beat track that was the only older non-hit that crept into the set list. It's a slow song, but Clem Burke punctuated it with an amazing drum solo, twirled his sticks with the skill of a baton major, shot one a good twelve feet in the air, and caught it with such ease that it looked like someone had just placed it gently in his hand. Many have said it before, but I'll say it again: Clem Burke is Blondie's secret weapon.

Power, humor, and chemistry in a band cannot be underestimated. Adding new, more musically adept members to a band might make the sound "bigger" or more professional, but it also changes the entire nature of the venture. I still wish I could have seen the "real" Blondie, warts and all.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Midnight Oil: October 15, 1988 & September 17, 1990

I saw Midnight Oil in concert twice within two years. These tours were in support of the best-known of the Australian band's albums (at least in the U.S.): 1987's Diesel and Dust (featuring "Beds Are Burning," "The Dead Heart," and "Dreamworld") and 1990's Blue Sky Mining. I still admire the band's melding of socially conscious lyrics with unabashed pop hooks. They had a lengthy career, but never made much of an impact on the American charts after their 1987-90 heyday.

At the 1988 Masonic Temple show in Detroit, the opening act was Graffiti Man, a.k.a. John Trudell. Trudell has an impressive history as a Native American activist, so in that regard his pairing with the politically involved Midnight Oil makes sense. However, the crowd was not receptive to his blend of poetry and traditional instrumentation, and at one point, Trudell tried to calm then down by saying "peace, man" while holding his fingers in that famous hippie V.

Peter Garrett is a very tall, thin fellow with a shaved head, so he definitely makes an impression onstage. He wore something like coveralls and danced in herky-jerky motions. Although he has a somewhat intimidating look, his stage presence was very sweet and cheerful. Midnight Oil was a very good live band, so it's a shame they very rarely perform anymore. Rather, Garrett has served as a Member of Australia's House of Representatives for several years, working on environmental, education, and arts issues.

Although I haven't seen Midnight Oil since 1990, I did see Peter Garrett once in the early 2000s, before Midnight Oil stopped touring. He was eating alone in a diner I frequented during my lunch breaks when I first moved to Chicago; the band had played a couple doors down at House of Blues the previous night. Of course I recognized him (you can't miss that guy) but I left him to eat in peace.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Liz Phair: October 19, 1998

Liz Phair has had one interesting career. A critic's darling after the release of her first album, Exile in Guyville, she appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone and was widely hailed as one of a new breed of female artists bringing a sexual frankness and indie-rock sensibility to the confessional singer-songwriter role. But her reign was short-lived as her follow-up album, Whip-Smart, failed to sell as well as the debut, in part because Phair didn't tour in support of the album, instead marrying, having a child, and going on hiatus.

Phair reemerged in 1998 with Whitechocolatespaceegg, in my opinion a vastly underrated release that found her exploring the ups and downs of "settling down" in her usual quirky way, but as a vastly improved singer and guitarist. Unlike with her previous album, Phair embarked on a full-fledged tour to support Whitechocolatespaceegg, and this ticket is from one of those shows.

On a personal note, I remember it was windy on the night of this concert. I handed my friend her ticket as we left the parking lot to walk a block or two to the venue. When we got up the street a bit, she asked if I'd given her the ticket, because she couldn't find it. We hurried back to the parking lot where, amazingly, the ticket was still on the ground where it had fallen, untouched by the breeze or a lucky pair of hands.

We watched the show from the balcony of the very strange, identity-confused Clutch Cargo's. I don't recall who opened, but Phair was really good. Because she'd shot to fame without honing her act in clubs as most artists do, she'd previously been known as an erratic performer. By this time, though, her voice and confidence had improved considerably and she was solid onstage. She ran through songs from all three albums, made jovial chit-chat between songs, and looked fantastic.

What a surprise it was, then, that she dropped from the limelight again soon afterward. Her next album wouldn't be until 2003 and featured a shiny, commercial sound that alienated much of her original audience. It would also give her a Top 40 hit with "Why Can't I."

Monday, June 13, 2011

Buzzcocks: October 30, 1999

I notice this was another Devil's Night show in Detroit -- but well past the time when I had to worry about teen curfews. This was a particularly exciting evening for me, because I interviewed Pete Shelley beforehand for the now-defunct All Music Zine. It was my first big interview, but it turned out pretty well. A friend and I had dinner in Detroit, met Shelley at the venue, then stayed for the show.

This was my second or third Buzzcocks gig; I'm pretty certain I saw them tour for All Set in 1996, although I have not come across that ticket yet. (I'd first seen them in 1994 in Brighton, England.) This show was in support of the album Modern, which had the band tossing in a few electronic flourishes before returning to a more basic guitar-bass-drums sound.

The set was a mix of classic songs and tracks from the band's (at that point) three "post-reunion" albums. The crowd seemed so genuinely happy to see the band, and were really well-behaved, unlike some of the  Buzzcocks shows I'd later see in Chicago. One guy excitedly asked us, "Do you think they'll do 'Fiction Romance'? I love that song!" When the song started up a little later, we looked over and saw the guy sporting a giant smile.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Chuck Berry & Little Richard: October 21, 2000

This will be unique among my blog entries, because I actually have a record of what I thought about the concert at the time. The following text is from my long-defunct first blog, written a few days after the show in 2000.

Last weekend I experienced something very strange indeed. Joe and I saw Little Richard and Chuck Berry ("The Kings of Rock 'n' Roll," so their posters declared) perform at a horse racetrack in Cicero, IL. It was like something out of a movie, with the betting counters everywhere you turned and the sound of the announcer talking about horses with names like "Holy Conflict" and "Mary Had a Little Wolf." 

We sat on plastic chairs in a Plexiglas-enclosed room facing the track. We actually saw part of the races and the tractor going around the track smoothing the dirt. At the bottom of the rows of chairs, someone had unceremoniously plopped a stage for The Kings of Rock 'n' Roll. Alice Cooper had just played there a few days earlier. Welcome to my nightmare indeed.

Little Richard was surprisingly good, but poor Chuck Berry was another story. First off, his band was wretched. He actually remarked that they were rehearsing and would let us know when the show really started. Sometimes they were so out of time that he would signal for them to stop and perform the song with just guitar as accompaniment. Sometimes he was so out of time that he'd stop the song altogether. He only managed to get through a couple of complete songs -- "My Dingaling" unfortunately, and "Reelin' and Rockin'," which, I'm certain, benefited from the fact that Chuck had some big-breasted women dancing onstage to inspire him.

If the show was a mixed bag, my feelings about it were even more mixed. While it's great that these guys, who surely are legends, are still entertaining people after all this time, there is something maudlin about seeing senior citizens trying to rock and roll. While there are plenty of artists growing old gracefully -- Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Marianne Faithfull, etc. -- they generally do so by coming to terms with their age, not by rehashing the past.

Morris Day & the Time: August 8, 1997

Was this a fun show? As Morris Day might say, "Yaaaa-esss!" When I first saw Purple Rain as a kid, I thought Day completely upstaged Prince. Think about it: You might quote that Minnetonka line every now and then, but the ones that really stick with you are Morris' one-liners (my favorite: "Ain't that a bitch? And I just got this coat outta the cleaners!").

Oddly enough, Prince was also in town around this time (I think it was the same week). Tickets to his show were $80. Check out the price of this ticket: $5. That was one easy decision to make.

Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, famed producers and important members of the original, pre-Purple Rain version of the Time, were sadly not involved in this reunion, but it was a great show all the same. Jerome Benton was there, bringing Morris his mirror and joining him in some smooth moves just like in the old days. At one point, Day said, "Did ya'll think I was too old to dance? Well, fuck ya'll!"

Morris and Jerome weren't the only ones dancing. The crowd was dancing in the aisles to everything from "Cool" to "Ice Cream Castles." Definitely the best $5 I ever spent!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Depeche Mode w/ Nitzer Ebb: June 29, 1990

This was the second time I saw Depeche Mode, at the same outdoor venue as the previous show in support of Music for the Masses. DM's momentum had been growing steadily for years, but after the 101 documentary and the huge Rose Bowl concert it showcased, things seemed to really be taking off. This time the band was supporting Violator -- that great big album with that great big "Personal Jesus" single. Nitzer Ebb, who had recently released their third album, Showtime, opened to an appreciative crowd.

I don't remember many details of this show. Dave Gahan demonstrated his usual whirling dervish dance moves. I think we might have been denied "People Are People" once again. I recall "Enjoy the Silence" being pretty great. Oddly, what I remember most is some tipsy boys flirting with us in the parking lot and throwing popcorn through our open car window.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Echo & the Bunnymen: January 29, 1988

Like the INXS show I recently posted about, this was another fairly intimate show at the University of Michigan's Hill Auditorium that I feel fortunate to have seen. This turned out to be the last tour by the classic lineup of Echo & the Bunnymen that included drummer Pete de Freitas, who died in a motorcycle accident in 1989. Having endured a number of personnel changes and a hiatus, the Bunnymen are active today, but only guitarist Will Sargeant and singer/guitarist Ian McCulloch remain of the '80s version of the group.

The opening act was the Leather Nun, whose affected abrasiveness provided a very odd counterpart to the Bunnymen's slightly psychedelic pop. The Bunnymen were in good form and played many of their singles, including "Lips Like Sugar" and "Bedbugs and Ballyhoo" from their then-recent eponymous album. I remember them really rocking "Do It Clean," from their debut, Crocodiles. I also remember a girl in front of us who danced in a crazed way during certain songs, then would basically collapse into her seat for awhile.

As we often did for shows at Hill Auditorium, my friend and I waited out back to sneak a peek at the band as they boarded their tour bus. I remember McCulloch looked really worn out and not particularly happy. And that was likely the case; he left the band later that year to launch a solo career.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

INXS: October 17, 1987

This is one of those shows I feel really lucky to have seen. INXS had been kicking around for years by this point. Although they were stars in their native Australia, in America their career momentum built steadily but slowly. By this time they had a number of minor hits under their belts -- among them "Don't Change, " "Original Sin," and "What You Need." Tracks from their last album, Listen Like Thieves, got lots of airplay, but it wasn't until Kick was released -- in the very month of this show -- that they had a true blockbuster.

I don't think Kick had dropped yet (and I'm pretty sure I bought it the week of its release), but if so it was brand new and this was the first taste the audience got of the new material -- songs that were to become ubiquitous over the next year: "Need You Tonight," "Devil Inside," "Never Tear Us Apart," "New Sensation." The next time the band played in Michigan, it was at an arena in Detroit. This was the last taste of intimacy before they hit the big time.

They interspersed the new songs with those older singles, which this crowd knew by heart. They were always so solid live, and Michael Hutchence was really underrated as a frontman. He had it all: charisma, a powerful voice, and a sexy strut. One funny memory of him stands out: A bunch of kids sort of mobbed the tour bus after the show. The crowd didn't disperse even after the band boarded the bus, so the driver finally started to pull out slowly. Hutchence was visible in the window and he had such a frightened look on his face, as if he thought the kids might be run over. Of course, we all quickly got out of the way! For him, maybe it was a taste of American stardom to come.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Duran Duran: July 6, 1987

I'm sad to say that, although I'm sure I was excited about it at the time, I don't recall a lot of particulars about this show. This was the first of four times (so far) I've seen Duran Duran. It was during the tour for Notorious, their first album as a trio after the departure of Roger (drums) and Andy (guitar) Taylor. I was saddened at the departure of those key members, but still liked Notorious a lot and really wanted to see the band. I see that the concert was less than a week before my birthday, so I'm sure that was a very good week in the teenage life, indeed.

Oddly, the thing I recall most clearly about this show is the merchandise. I bought an absolutely huge poster (really the most ridiculously oversize poster I've seen) and a program. I also had a gigantic T-shirt with "Abstract Idealist Romantic" printed on the back, although I can't recall if that's from this tour or the one supporting Big Thing. After that show I gave up on Duran for awhile, but you never really get out of that particular cult. More to come, Duranwise!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Belinda Carlisle: July 20, 1988

This was another freebie concert, courtesy of a friend who had an extra ticket. I loved the Go-Go's and liked Belinda Carlisle's first solo album, but I recall my reaction to Heaven on Earth (her new release at the time of this show) being immediate and negative. I was bummed that I had missed Carlisle opening for Robert Palmer when her earlier album came out.

I don't recall a lot about this show. I know Carlisle performed a few Go-Go's songs in addition to selections from her two solo albums. Paul Carrack, of Squeeze and Mike + the Mechanics, opened and did a couple songs from both those bands, including "Tempted." Mostly I remember the novelty of being in the pavilion of Pine Knob, an outdoor venue for summer shows, whereas I normally sat on the big hill that comprised the lawn.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

R.E.M.: April 5, 1989

My one and only R.E.M. concert. I'd passed up an opportunity to see them at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor when Document came out. Stupid, stupid, stupid! This was the tour for Green, the band's first major-label album and the last one I could tolerate. (It seems like, just as with Bowie, each new R.E.M. album is heralded by some as a return to form... but it never is.) The opener was the Indigo Girls, also supporting their first major-label release.

I remember a few older songs in the set, like "So. Central Rain," and of course lots from Document and Green. This might have been the first time R.E.M. played arenas of such a large size, and there was really no connection with the crowd at all -- to be sure, it's a challenge in a huge venue, but it can be done. There was a screen behind the band with projections, and while I can't recall exactly what they said, I remember there was something toward the end of the show along the lines of, "You've been a lovely audience. Now it's time for you to go home." I'm sure it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but it just came off as assholish. I mean, R.E.M. is not Mark E. Smith on the best (or is it worst?) of days. I grumbled about it for what seemed like an eternity, first to my parents, who seemed amused. My dad seemed to particularly relish the couple of times I came home furious at a band (the other time being the Sugarcubes, which you will read about here at some point).

Although I haven't enjoyed any of R.E.M.'s post-Green music, I still love their '80s output. I realized all was pretty much forgiven when I saw Mike Mills at SXSW one year and he gave my stomach butterflies.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Yes: November 21, 1987

I'll just come right out and admit that I own Big Generator, the album Yes was supporting on this tour. That would be the one after "Owner of a Lonely Heart," which is a pretty cool song and video -- and you cannot convince me it is not. Of course, this '80s version of Yes sounded very little like the earlier prog rock version, but it's up to you to decide whether that's good or bad.

I was not a huge Yes fan by any means, but I liked some of their songs well enough that when a high school friend offered a free extra ticket I was game. What I remember most about this show is the stench of pot in the air of a sports arena and stoner guys standing on folding chairs. The band was kind of boring, and some members of the somewhat restless crowd actually booed a little. Not being a fan of pot, sports arenas, stoner guys, folding chairs, or booing, I side completely with Yes on this one, boring or not.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Go-Go's: November 22, 1990

The Go-Go's have been one of my very favorite groups since I was a kid. I still have the original copies of all their albums from back in the day along with the picture sleeve 45 of "Head Over Heels," which probably holds the distinction of being the most well-worn record in my collection (that goes for both sides!). I was too young to see them during their original three-album run, but thankfully they've reunited several times for tours and even recorded a new album in 2001. 

The first reunion tour was in 1990, so this show at the beautiful, historic Fox Theater in Detroit was the first chance I'd had to see them, although I'd seen Belinda Carlisle solo in 1988. Note that this show was on a Thursday night in late November. You know what happens on Thursdays in late November? That's right; my sister and I went to see the Go-Go's on Thanksgiving. So much for holiday traditions!

If I'm remembering correctly, Too Much Joy was the opener at this show, and I'd see the Juliana Hatfield Three open for the Go-Go's a few years later. I distinctly remember two things from this show: Belinda Carlisle commenting on how gorgeous the theater was (it is beautiful, even if it's a little over-the-top!) and her tossing handfuls of candy into the crowd. Some guy near us made a remark like, "It looks like she's had too much candy!" Har har har. Carlisle, and lots of other female performers, have endured these kinds of smart ass remarks for years but this struck me as particularly awful because a) the guy had paid to be at the show and so was allegedly a fan, and b) she was not even remotely overweight at the time. So, this show is a bittersweet memory in a way, because it was so great to see my longtime heroines rocking out in the flesh, but the same ridiculous sexism and double standards were still apparent a decade after they blazed a trail for female acts.

Another note about this show: This is the only instance where I noted the set list when I wasn't reviewing the show. The set included (not in the order performed):

Our Lips Are Sealed
Lust to Love
This Town
We Got the Beat
How Much More
Skidmarks on My Heart
Get Up and Go
Beatnick Beach
Cool Jerk
Head Over Heels
Turn to You
I'm the Only One

Friday, March 11, 2011

Corey Hart: February 5, 1986

My primary memory of this concert is being sick as a dog. I had a fever of 103 (yes, just like the Foreigner song!) but there was no way I would miss Corey Hart. I sucked it up, slightly delirious, not exactly sure why my parents let me go, but going all the same, with my sister and soon-to-be brother-in-law. I believe this was the first show I saw on the University of Michigan campus -- the first of many, as it turned out. Hill Auditorium, famously designed to have perfect  acoustics, remains a wonderful place to see concerts.

Corey Hart, as you might remember, was a Canadian artist best known for the hits "Sunglasses at Night" and "Never Surrender." He continued to record throughout the '90s but today works primarily as a songwriter (for his wife, singer Julie Masse, among others). When I saw him, he was promoting his second album, Boy in the Box, the title track of which, I kid you not, includes the lyric, "Pull up your socks / You're the boy in the box." He performed it, and other tracks from BITB and First Offense, in the overly emotive style any fan of his albums would expect, throwing in the occasional melodramatic gesture for good measure. I'll admit I ate it up. I was 13 and he was foxy -- what can I say? I'm not sure how long I wore my Boy in the Box T-shirt before I started to feel like a dork.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

David Bowie: September 12, 1987

Everybody loves Bowie, right? The great thing about being known as a musical chameleon is that everyone is bound to enjoy something you've done sooner or later! Needless to say, my 15-year-old self was excited to see him. I have to admit I'm not fond of Bowie's more recent work, but in 1987 he hadn't made too many missteps yet. On this, the Glass Spider Tour, he was supporting the album Never Let Me Down which, somewhat ironically, was a letdown. I was excited about the tour, however, since it was being billed as a return to theatricality after the more traditional Serious Moonlight shows. Toni Basil was the choreographer and Peter Frampton, former golden-tressed arena rock god of the '70s, would be playing guitar.

This was the pre-Internet age when you actually had to go stand in line for concert tickets and my friend's super cool mom, who as a Bowie fan herself would accompany us to the show, camped out a few hours ahead of time for ours. She completely shocked our teenage sensibilities at the concert by correctly identifying the pot smell near us and jumping up to dance during "Rebel Rebel."

It was great to hear Bowie sing his hits, but for the most part the show was a failure. As the local paper pointed out the next day, the audience reaction was so dismal that it seemed Bowie altered the show, sending the dancers offstage at one point to go it alone for a few numbers. But you know what? Bowie on a bad night (or a bad tour) is still David. Damned. Bowie. And I got a nifty T-shirt with spiders all over the back out of the deal.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

BoDeans: May 14, 1988

This is one of the few bands I have to wonder about seeing. I suppose they are inoffensive enough, but not particularly memorable or inspiring.

I don't remember much of anything about this show, but I do recall that afterward my friend Bonnie and waited at the alleyway where everyone who plays the Michigan Theatre has to exit to get to their tour buses. Sammy Llanas, who is probably best remembered for being annoying in an already annoying Robbie Robertson video, totally brushed us off. He signed our photos or whatever we were carrying, but I think he actually grunted at us. Kurt Neumann was very nice and polite, but Bonnie made some joke, then said she was being facetious, and he had no idea what "facetious" meant.

Had there been some sex or drugs, we would have encountered all the negative stereotypes about rock musicians in a single night!