Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sex Pistols: August 16, 1996

Maybe the situation was particularly loaded because the band symbolized anti-establishmentarianism to so many, or maybe it was because of the acrimonious way the members had parted ways, but a lot of people greeted the Sex Pistols' 1996 reunion with anger or derision. It probably didn't help matters that the group baited critics by naming the tour Filthy Lucre and releasing a live album to cash in on it. Regardless of whether I felt skeptical about the artistic merit of the tour or the motivations behind it, I certainly wasn't going to sit it out. At the time, the reunion seemed to come out of nowhere and could well have been as tenuous as it was unexpected. Besides, it had been four years since lead singer John Lydon's Public Image Ltd. had released the disappointing, and at the time seemingly final, album That What Is Not so for a fan the Pistols reunion was the only game in town.

Cobo Arena is part of a sprawling convention center and this caused a weird clash of cultures when gingham-clad attendees of a square dance convention were filtering through the building at the same time as the Sex Pistols fans. It might have been cool if people really were going to a Pistols show wearing square dance outfits, though!

The gig itself was a huge letdown. I certainly didn't expect an anarchic spectacle from middle-aged men on a large-scale tour, but I also wasn't prepared for their stiff professionalism. They played the songs -- of which there aren't really that many, are there? -- skillfully and true to the studio versions. But those songs had a humor and energy that was totally lacking during the show, and the presence of an audience seemed to have little effect. When Lydon reconstituted PiL for a tour in 2010, it was quite a different story. At the later PiL gig, he had the spark, even if it wasn't lit at Cobo Arena that night in 1996.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Rufus Wainwright: March 28, 1999

This show took place less than a year after the release of Wainwright's self-titled debut. He was still very much in the early stages of his career, although there was a lot of positive buzz about him. The venue was packed, but intimate. What I remember most about the evening is having the feeling that I was witnessing the beginnings of a very special artist's career.

Wainwright's voice was a revelation, sounding pure, clear, and completely free of the somewhat lazy phrasing on his first album. In addition to tracks from the debut, I recall him playing at least one that would end up on his 2001 sophomore album, Poses. Introducing "Greek Song," Wainwright mused that he thought it should be a duet. "Maybe I could get George Michaels to record it."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Gene: October 18, 1995

Gene were sort of lumped in with Britpop probably due primarily to their timing. Their debut album, Olympian, frankly was a bit more mopey than anything I'd call Britpop. It garnered plenty of comparisons to the Smiths, although that's mostly due to Martin Rossiter's Morrissey-like crooning.

I can't say I recall much about this gig, although I do remember Menthol opened. It was an odd choice because the two bands didn't have much in common musically, with Menthol being more of a straight-ahead, hard-rocking indie band. Later they'd change gears somewhat with Danger: Rock Science! which nodded at '80s new wave (a weakness of mine, to be sure). At the time, though, I'd say they were fairly nondescript and in retrospect so was Gene.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Gary Numan: October 26, 2010

I am a pretty unrepentant new wave fan. So when the opportunity to see a synth pioneer performing one of his classic albums in its entirety arises, you can count me in. Although I would probably rank Replicas (with Tubeway Army) as my favorite Gary Numan album, The Pleasure Principle, which Numan took on tour for its 30th anniversary, is pretty fantastic too.

I had a good laugh when the crew tested tambourine levels before the show. If you know the song "Cars," and I know you do, you can appreciate the importance of getting the tambourine right.

Despite the passing of years, Numan still had his trademark intensity (and eyeliner). He sounded great vocally and musically, particularly on the instrumental "Random." In addition to all the Pleasure Principle tracks,  Numan and his band tore through other synth-pop classics like "Are 'Friends' Electric?" and "Down in the Park." They also touched on some of Numan's more recent songs, which are more industrial in nature and unfortunately sound dated already. That's hard to swallow from an artist whose best work sounded like it came from the future.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Mighty Blue Kings: April 25, 1997

With all the shows I've seen over the years, I guess it's only natural that my feeble brain can't remember every one of them. Here's a case in point: If I hadn't kept this ticket stub, I probably couldn't even tell you I saw the Mighty Blue Kings.

The band was part of a 1990s swing revival, and it's that genre and the venue of this show that bring back a few memories rather than the band itself. Neo swing groups often played Clutch Cargo's and a bit of a scene sprung up around it. On a weekly basis you could see guys in zoot suits and hats and red-lipped gals' skirts swirling around the dance floor. It was a fun, if fairly short-lived, time.