Friday, February 09, 2007

Joan Spits

Whisky Prajer has a post up about delving into the history of rock and roll, which spurred some memories of my similar voyage. Consider this a companion piece.

Unlike Whisky, I had full access to the media at the time and from the purchase of my first record (a Donny Osmond hits package, and hey my heart was in the right place; I bought it because it was the-girl-I-had-a-crush-on's favorite song, "Sweet and Innocent" - all rock and roll is essentially about girls (or boys), beer, and fun), I was hooked and immediately built up a collection that was the envy of all. Well, not really, because I've always had eclectic tastes; you'd find Neil Diamond next to Sweet ("Ballroom Blitz") next to the Commodores. The mix of styles has almost always gotten me in dutch with roommates. My collection wasn't alphabetized either, until my girlfriend at the time had too much time on her hands one day and did it for me. I've always had a killer visual memory, and just remembered where everything was by the look of the backs of the albums - it was sort of a holistic filing system if you will.

A young, avid collector needs a guide, and mine was the "Harmony Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Rock," which featured the awesome "Rock Family Trees" by obsessive-compulsive-who-found-a-lucrative-outlet Pete Frame. Here's the one he did on Poco and the Eagles. (Click various sections to get a closer view.) Wild, no?

TLD: Back before blogs were a glimmer in the internet's cold, redundant eye, I put together a vanity web page live every other piker out there with a web connection (usually at work). The idea then was to have an informative page with links to anything anyone would want since at the beginning the web was kinda devoid of useful and authoritative content.

One of the other fads was having a "wow" start page, with the intent to get someone to just freakin' click on a link no matter how that was accomplished, because we were counting our page visits donchaknow. Here is the one I had. Trees floating in space. I was going more for a Yes album cover type-thingy, but my limited artistic skills were only able to produce this. The trailing cursor thing was big fad, too (you only see it in MSIE, btw).

Anyway, in the spirit of creating a guide to music, I created this list, which still holds its own, imnsho. (Gosh, I even mention having rock stations programmed on your radio, how quaint, those were the days.) So, if you want a run-down of the basic collection that rockers should (and probably already do) have, this is it. I haven't updated it in a while (like, years), and if I did, I'd add the last three albums of the Flaming Lips, and that's about it. When CDs first caught on, my granfalloon of the time would joke that the CDs in the very first listing should just come with the CD player since everyone buys them anyway.

That list just fills me with weltschmerz, so let me hurry right along to the second topic of this post: live concerts.

Save for little, unknown tiny teahouse or pub performances which basically get their magic from their intimacy, about the only live music act I want to see anymore is The Flaming Lips, because they're supposed to put on a hell of a show, and last year it was the only concert in Denver that sold out moments after tickets went on sale (yet they just don't get on the radio).

Still, I have some very fond memories of some live shows I've seen. Here they are, in order of awesomeness.

Elvis Costello - this was during his identity crisis phase where he changed his name back to his given name, Declan MacManus, and was touring to support the excellent King of America. He strutted out on stage and tore into a vicious set I've yet to seen rivaled in all my days. The musicians did something I'd never seen before (or since); they were all able to play many instruments, and about every other song they'd all change instruments, where the drummer would go pick up a tuba, the keyboard player would sit behind the drums, and so on. It was jaw-dropping. The songs all walked that perfect edge of sounding enough like the record version, but adding enough improv of interest for the live rendering. Sadly, the venue was only 1/3 full - they even let us general admission folks come down and sit in the reserved seating - and it seemed to piss Elvis off. The show was still spectacular, like the one he'd put on for a full house, but at the end of the last song he just turned on his heel and stalked of the stage, and was gone. Yes, Elvis had left the building. I saw him a couple years ago, and he's still that good. He did a couple encores that time, but then the audience earned it.

Joan Jett - best straight-ahead, no-frills rock show I've witnessed. The stage configuration was brilliant, too. When most bands play indoor arenas, they place the stage at one end of the oval, blocking only the small portion of seats on that end. Joan had them set up in the middle of one of the long sides so the whole opposite side all had killer seats. She hit the stage with the Blackhearts and rocked our asses off. At one point, some arsehole in the front pissed her off and she ran over between verses, yelled something at him, horked up a big loogie and spit on him, then got back to the mic in time. It was a magical.

Lyle Lovett - with his very large band. Bass legend Leland Sklar was on the tour with him, so that was an extra treat. The show began unexpectedly with one of his background singers (though that label hardly fits what they actually do in a Lovett show) who was standing in the audience one row down and to my immediate left (I could've handed her my beer she was that close) just pulling a mic from nowhere and breaking into song. Lovett's music is this amazing blend of country, standards, big-band and boogie. His voice thoroughly compensates for that hair (which suits him actually), and he's getting better looking with age. Two separate times he brought a song down to a whisper, and both times there was not a single freakin' peep, cough, whistle or belch from the audience. The effect was stunning. It's one of the few shows that have moved me to tears during a song.

Al Stewart - Mr. Year of the Cat himself once played a double-bill at the local county fair in Minnesota. The other guy was Steve Earl ("Guitar Town"). He had a crack band, and sounded just like he should. The only distraction is that Stewart is so effeminate that your nelliest gay guy would feel compelled to tell him to cowboy up a bit. I secretly wondered at the time if the theme of the double-bill was the extreme ends of the masculinity bell curve (more likely it was "who will do the gig for what we're paying"). The best part of the show was his signature song "Year of the Cat." The sax player had left the stage for a few songs and was nowhere in sight when "Cat" began. They played and played (it's a long song) taking it right up to the moment where that great sax solo hits - still no sax guy - but right on cue the solo started and he came roostering up the back stairs of the stage and planted his boots on the edge of the stage for the whole solo. It was glorious.

Steve Miller - another guy who sounds like he should on stage. A couple times the audience literally sang along so loud, it threw him off. He's a good sport, so the first time he just laughed, refound his place and turned it up. The next time he politely requested that we not deafen him. At the end of the show, he brought out his opener, guitar god Eric Johnson and they had a guitar war. Since Steve's songs are deceptively simple, you wouldn't normally detect the guitar chops behind them. When he and Johnson traded riffs, Miller ran such circles around Johnson that he threw his hands up ("I got nothin'"), laughing, did the "I bow to your talent" gesture, and just left the stage. Steve is a renowned nice guy, and so brought him back and they closed the show together.

April Wine - they opened for Foreigner (whose only memorable moment was when Lou Gramm the lead singer fell over in mid song and dropped the mic because he was so stoned) and stole the show. They were your quintessential 70s band that had chops out the waz and enough tasty tunes of their own to have made a small dent in musical history. The bassist was amazing, and I caught his eye and gave the thumbs up and he flicked his pick to me.

Kansas - another band that could deliver the goods live. Steve Walsh, the lead singer, has an amazing stage presence, and he spends the whole time doing this dance that would wear Mick Jagger out. As musicians I bet they were unrivaled at the time. The song "Dust in the Wind" began as an invention of the guitarist, Kerry Livgren, originally as just a finger warm-up for shows, but Walsh upon hearing it loved it and put lyrics to it. During the show, their virtuoso violinist Robby Steinhardt, who looked like a giant Capn. Ahab with a massive dome of hair, set down his instrument for a song, and apparently was the one elected to bang on the anvil for the center hook/effect for one song. It was hilarious seeing someone so talented being used to only hammer an anvil.

Jimmy Buffet - all his shows are good, but of the ones I've seen, the very first one is the one I remember the most fondly. Someone had brought a huge (say 20 feet long) inflatable shark and threw it up on the stage for the appropriate song (and if you don't know, you are not Parrothead, sir). The roadies immediately dashed out and snagged it, causing a small smattering of boos. Well, these are Jimmy's roadies, and within moments they had rigged it with a pull chord so they could pull it back and forth across the stage during the song. The audience lost it. Since this was Minnesota, the beers were being served in these special collectors mugs that were plastic (quite the bargain and safe for public events). You could interlock them like leggos by stuffing the bottom onto the top of another glass. As the show progressed, folks started holding up huge towers of these things all over the audience until, in a phenomenal instance of synchronicity, they all toppled over, ends landing close to other fallen tower's ends. Folks immediately linked those ends forming an impossibly large circular snake that started getting passed over the audience like a crowd surfer. Buffet broke up laughing at one point, during a song no less, and said, "You should see what that looks like from up here."

I've seen biggies like the Eagles, Pink Floyd, U2, and Bob Dylan, not to mention personal uber-faves like Dwight Yoakam, but the list above still did the best live shows.


Whisky Prajer said...

April Wine, eh? Nice to see a little Canadian content, particularly in contrast to Lou Gramm's stoner-gaff. April Wine is still a regular act at one of the larger peeler bars just an hour's drive from my house. Not that either act is something I'd be driving an hour to see, of course. (Hm, none of this is sounding right...)

I totally agree with you about Lovett. There are some performers who have to be seen to be believed, because who they are on stage transforms the way you listen to them. And clearly in a case like Lovett's, it's not about jumping around and going crazy. It's something else. Bruce Cockburn is like that too, actually.

Great post.

yahmdallah said...


Ok, than Bruce Cockburn is now on the list of two. I've recently caught back up with him and really love his stuff.

And I think he comes around Denver once in a while.

"Wondering Where the Lions Are" is one of my top fav songs ever.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, man. Not dissing any of the bands you've listed, but I've also seen U2 twice (Achtung Baby and Atomic Bomb, 10 years apart) and both shows were awfully damned good. Don't know how you could leave them off the list.

Unless you just need to vent on this site:


Yahmdallah said...

I almost included them, because the zoo tv tour was amazing. Maybe it just didn't have the visceral personal connection the other shows did. Or an explicit "wow" moment - though again most of the show was "wow." I'd still recommend anyone see them if they can.

Thanks for bringing them up.

mdmnm said...

Nothing quite like a really great live show. I've seen good Buffett, but not great Buffett. I'd say my most memorable was one of the Cowboy Junkies shows I was fortunate enough to catch. Free show up behind Durango at a condo development, outdoors and with all those mountains backing up the stage. Beautiful summer evening after a rainy day and a really amazing performance by CJ.
If Lovett, Clark, Ely, and Hiatt come by your way on their "songwriter circle" tour you really want to catch it.

Yahmdallah said...

mdmnm, Y'know, I've heard that about the Cowboy Junkies quite a few times now. I think even though I'm not a rabid fan, I'll have to see if they come by.

I loves myself some Hiatt, and so saw him live - at Red Rocks even. He must've had an off night because the songs just didn't gell. His band just didn't seem to have the chops. So, I'll give him another chance, too, if he hits the Rocks again.