My First Concerts

17 Sep

Sure it was wild punk-rock club action that I really wanted to witness live as a kid in the early 80’s. Once, I even hatched an elaborate rouse involving this church-going family we knew, an older skinhead, and my non-rocking mulleted brother, all to try and get to this show. As one might expect it never materialized, since my parents swooped in to nix it all at the 11th hour.

Stadium shows were the more logical way in: they were marketed toward middle class suburban folks, they were held in well-established venues with sensible parking facilities, and they promised safe, controlled evenings of prepackaged entertainment. Even conservative parents could consider them semi-respectable. And so to stadiums I did a-go, and not infrequently. Yep these concerts were alotta fun but they also helped open my eyes to the increasingly corporate, oppressively slick side of rock and roll. I blogged a bit about some of my early concert experiences here, but I’m gonna talk a bit about those very first few today:

Devo1. DEVODecember 1982, Universal Amphitheater. I’d only just turned 12 and I was going to see my favorite band in the whole wide world! We’d resented hearing “Whip It” a gazillion times a day a couple years earlier, but after seeing them live on TV’s Solid Gold lip syncing to “Jerkin’ Back and Forth” in ’81, I was hooked. (I’ll go out on a limb and say their ’82 Oh No It’s Devo LP is an unacknowledged crowning achievement of the Square Pegs generation.) With tickets in hand and my mother chaperoning, for a brief second every cool surfer kid at my school wanted to be my friend. Or something like that: “hey dude, if your mom can give me a lift there, we won’t even have to sit together!”

My buddy bought an energy dome, but I felt that was passé by ’82. I opted for the tour t-shirt, which I still have to this day, though it’s since shrunk to the size of my fist. The show itself surpassed my wildest expectations: 2+ hours of a bank of synths blowing new earholes in my head, vertiginous video images projected on multiple screens, and singer Mark Mothersbough appearing on the balcony after intermission, climbing down a rope to the floor, and making his way through the crowd on foot while leading a call-and-response version of “Jocko Homo” with crazed fans. Nuts! Choreography synced to video may sound dated now, but it was totally state of the art then. And when that corncob screwed into the donut (DEVO fans will no doubt be familiar with this effective bit of phallic imagery) my mom’s eyes just about popped out of her head. No, I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

Huey+Lewis++The+News+HLN2. HUEY LEWIS & THE NEWSJanuary 1984, Universal Amphitheater. I’m actually blushing as I type right now. This friend of mine got a bunch of tickets to this show for his birthday, and invited me along. I couldn’t say no, could I? It’s little more than a bad Sports injury now . . . all I really remember was that Huey sang into an old fashioned-looking ribbon microphone, and that he didn’t do any CLOVER songs. Oh! And that tense moment Huey called out to the audience: “you guys wanna hear us sing a little A cappella?”

l_6032385aeb33c8c711#CB26133. PRETENDERSMarch 1984, Universal Amphitheater. A crucial chunk of this band (Pete Farndon, James Honeyman Scott) had died and already were being attributed with musical skills usually reserved for Jimi et al. But new members Robbie McIntosh and Malcolm Foster held their own, and inspired songwriting and rockin’ drive remained. And holy cow Chrissie was still totally captivating: wearing black spandex, flicking her bangs, and slinging a telecaster with casual distain. To this day I reckon the first PRETENDERS LP to be a crucial part of my desert island album collection, and no way had the fire of that inferno entirely abated at this point.

This was the first concert at which I’d ever witnessed someone “freak out”: this naked dude leapt onstage dancing manically, only to get viciously kicked in the face and dragged off by security goons. I still have a touch of PTSD from that. But a little violence only served to heighten the drama, so much so even openers ICICLE WORKS(!) hit me as kinda bitchen. At the time I felt I’d was witnessing something normally reserved for folks a decade older. There’s a great live radio broadcast of an LA gig from that same week that gives me shivers listening to it today. Show me the meaning of this word – indeed you did, Chrissie.

boss4. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN & THE E STREET BANDNovember 1984, Los Angeles Sports Arena. I’d only recently gotten hip to this man, after someone from the church I was forced to attend recommended I listen to Darkness On the Edge of Town. I did, and all manner of new synaptic connections were quickly forged in my head. We bought tickets late, and so our seats were in the second to last row in the very back of the arena. But never have I had my mind blown in among so much denim, then/since.

Bruce played, and played, and then played some more, for 4+ hours – doing songs from Greetings from Asbury Park all the way up to fricking “Dancing in the Dark”. And when he ran across the stage and fell on his knees to plant a wet one on the lips of big black sax player Clarence Clemmons . . . well, I’ll just be honest and say I didn’t know what the fuck was going on. Whatever, I had a ball. Mid-80’s Springsteen shows were a rite of passage for a huge swathe of the radio-listening public back then, and although in retrospect not all of his music still resonates with me, I’ll go to my grave saying this is one guy who can write a fucking great song with timeless lyrics when he wants to. And he often wants to.

u2-unforgettable-fire5. U2December 1984, Long Beach Arena. Like alot kids interested in “new rock”, I kinda/sorta believed the hype about these guys being The New CLASH or whatever. C’mon: if you’re my age and you’re honest, how could you not have fallen under the spell of all the agitprop Rolling Stone mag generated about Bono and Co. back then? And dammit if I wasn’t the only one: there were a more than a handful of punky looking folks in attendance – even a girl mohican! – helping me feel in better company.

Somewhat predictably, U2’s rabble rousing fell a bit flat on this Long Beach audience. Maybe Bono was having an off-night, but I was already getting a nagging suspicion this kinda overblown, hackneyed stagecircus wasn’t what I’d come a-knocking for at the door of Rock N Roll. Even my pal J. begrudgingly agreed that openers THE WATERBOYS were way more, uh, heroic . . . I didn’t mind having to make my way out out of the concert hall and into the lobby for the the emotional crest of the show – a 10-minute version of “October” – to use a payphone to arrange our ride home.

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7 Responses to “My First Concerts”

  1. mark September 18, 2009 at 4:36 pm #

    Great post! I appreciate the candor!
    My first concert: Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow w/Girlschool (also saw a mohawked chick!)
    Saw Devo in 2007! Awesome!
    Funny Chirssy Hynde story: years ago, I got a job as a roadie for this bass player I knew, who had a gig at the Lilith Fair (one of the side stages). As an employee, I got a backstage pass, which enabled me to eat a lot of food. At one point, I was walking around, and looked inside a trailer, and Chrissy is sitting there, calmly reading a book. She looks up with this really great smile, nods, and goes back to her book. Somehow, just very cool.

  2. mrowster September 18, 2009 at 7:21 pm #

    Thanks Mark. But Rainbow ain’t nothing to be embarrassed about – at least, up until they’d dive into those pseudo-classical numbers :) Was this the “Difficult to Cure” tour perhaps?

    Cool Chrissie story. She’s my kinda rocker fr sure.

  3. mark September 18, 2009 at 9:20 pm #

    Straight Between the Eyes, baby!
    Chrissie is cool, yeah.

  4. mrowster September 18, 2009 at 9:47 pm #

    Haha yes Straight Between the Eyes was their “return to form” indeed. Though it woulda sounded better with Ronnie James singing, IMO.

  5. mark September 18, 2009 at 10:07 pm #

    Joe Lynn Turner is rather fey, in name and voice. So sayeth Carducci: “Ronnie James definitely separates the men from the boys.” Amen.

  6. nazz nomad September 23, 2009 at 7:40 pm #

    saw devo during that tour in NY. my memories revolve around going to my friend’s house before the show and having his mom greet me at the door with a bag fool of yellowjacket speed tabs and asking me if they were mine as my buddy waved in horror in the background, begging me to take the fall.

  7. mrowster September 23, 2009 at 7:56 pm #

    Nazz: “He’s a Speedracer and he drives real fast”

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