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.