The Rock’n’Roll Concerts That Got Away

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Like Sinatra when he sang, “Regrets, I’ve had a few, ” I’ve had a few regrets when it comes to concerts I could have attended. Well, that and a few women I’ve known, but those records are sealed. But I feel like Frank when he went on to sing about those regrets, “But then again, too few to mention”. But then again, here I am on a Saturday night, brooding and mentioning those regrets. AC/DC is in town this weekend and I didn’t even make an effort to attend, something 13 year old me would have been pissed about, but I digress. The shows I missed out on aren’t concerts like, “Oh, I wish I’d seen Hendrix in Golden Gate Park…” I wasn’t even “potty trained” at that time. These are shows I could have actually attended without the miracle of Time Travel. These are the 6 shows that I missed by sheer stupidity. I think we’ve all been there… the chance to see a show, the ticket in our hand or dangled in front of us, but for some inexplicable reason, we didn’t go… Here’s a tribute/list of shows that I could have seen…. oh, if only, as the Faces sang, “I knew then what I know now…”

  1. U2, The Joshua Tree Tour, 1987. Arkansas Joel and I were in Atlanta for some corporate training and it just so happened U2 was playing there. Arkansas Joel and I were big U2 fans, but Joel knew more than I did that they were a band for the ages. He wanted to go down and get tix. I wasn’t familiar with Atlanta and was worried about the price. More embarrassing, I was in “love” with a girl in my class… It was a lot like that scene in ‘Good Will Hunting’ where he said, “sorry boys, I’ve got to go see about a girl.” HUGE mistake. U2 actually dressed in disguise and opened for the opening act as a country band. This may be the greatest concert I ever missed. The girl and I dated for a year. That concert would have stuck with me for a life time.
  2. The Who, Face Dances Tour, 1981. ‘Face Dances’ was the first Who album I bought. It’s a much maligned album but it still resonates with me. You can hear Pete struggling with drug addiction. My friend Brewster and I spent every dime on our tickets. We were supposed to go with some buddies of ours, Steve and Evan. We didn’t have enough money to fill up Brewster’s gas tank to get to the show. It was our ill-advised idea to siphon gas from several folks in the neighborhood… (Crime does not pay kids). We actually snuck out at 2 a.m. to do so… Brewster’s dad caught him on the return, sneak-in to the house which led to a 3 a.m. call to my folks. “What mom, I was asleep, what are you talking about gas for…” Needless to say, no Oscars were awarded that night. My dad was so mad he grounded me and forbid me to go to the concert. Like Brewster I gave my tix to Evan and Steve who sold them and used the cash to buy weed instead of reimbursing us. Douche bags. At least that led me away from the life of a miscreant… well, sort of.
  3. Neil Young, Life Tour, 1986. Neil Young’s most troubled decade was the 80’s. He finally reunited with Crazy Horse for the tepid album ‘Life’. They went on tour billed as “The Third Best Garage Band In The World”. As “Third”, there was no pressure. First place has the pressure to defend the throne. Second place has the pressure to take over first place. But in third place, you were just cool and didn’t have anything to prove. I started drinking before we left for the show, which was a two hour drive. By the time Neil took the stage I’d already thrown up and made out with the girl in front of me. Thankfully her boyfriend didn’t notice. She was pretty wasted too. I was at the show but couldn’t tell you a thing about it. I rushed the floor, from the lower deck, but actually fell over the barricade and was led out by security. I couldn’t face Drew and Dennis, my comrades that night for weeks. They continue to rave about that show but they might just be fucking with me out of spite.
  4. Queen, The Game Tour, 1980. Matthew’s beautiful high school girlfriend actually sang “Another One Bites the Dust” directly to me to entice me to go to the show with them. She ended up going to Michigan or Ohio State to study brain surgery. I know she wasn’t hitting on me, but sweet Jesus, what if she was, but I digress. Queen at their last real high point. What was I thinking? It’s not like I was a homophobe. At the time none of us believed Freddy Mercury was gay, we just thought he was British, Monty Python in drag and all of that…not that there’s anything wrong with being gay. How did we not know? Anyway, people talked about that show for weeks.
  5. Led Zeppelin, In Through the Out Door Tour, 1980. They announced the US leg of their successful comeback tour of Europe in support of ‘In Through…’ There was a guy in my high school who was arranging to charter a bus and get a group of us up to Chicago for that show, they weren’t coming to KC. I was already working the, “Mom, I’m a straight A student” angle when John Bonham died… So, this one isn’t explicitly my fault…
  6. Springsteen, The River, 1979-80. Springsteen was playing Kemper Arena in KC in February of 1980. ‘The River’ was my first Springsteen album I purchased with my own money. It was a double album which took a lot more of my lawn mowing salary. I thought Springsteen was a secret I alone held. Unfortunately my pal Brewster was also a huge fan but kept it to himself. He went to the show with some dude named “Mack” and never considered inviting me. It was February and the KC Star said, “without a doubt, this is the concert of the year.” FUUUUUCK. You just can’t get some things back.

Folks, if you have a chance to see a show but have to scrape the money together. If you have to take a bus. If you have to skip school. No matter what you have to do, trust me, I know what I’m talking about here – do it and GO TO THE SHOW. Always, always, GO TO THE SHOW. If you have to steal a car, well don’t do that or anything else illegal, trust me again, I know what I’m talking about, but try to get to the God damn show. You’ll regret it if you miss it.

Sigh… I’m glad I got that off my chest. I can now put the cork back in the bourbon and sleep. Advice, Free.

Cheers!

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My Father’s Birthday Sushi, A Bit of Humor

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 It’s always been a tradition in my family, on your birthday, to pick the restaurant where the family goes to eat together that night. When I was a kid I’d pick one of my favorite burger joints – I only ate burgers and peanut butter, no veggies please. My brother invariably picked whatever Mexican place was currently popular. He liked a place named Taco Villa that we went to a lot, probably because he knew I hated Mexican food and especially Taco Villa. Like I said, I was a picky eater. My mother always picked a modest, affordable restaurant. My father always chose to eat at home because it was cheaper. Ah, growing up.

When I met the Rock Chick and her daughter I expanded the tradition to my new family. My wife took the reigns on that one and started picking whatever the newest, trendiest, most expensive restaurant in town was. I am pleased to report that over the years she has modulated her choices and backed away from some of the Birthday Dinner excesses of our early days together. This was a woman who ordered steak and lobster on our first lunch date… I don’t think she thought she’d see me again so she was intent on milking the lunch for all it was worth. Her daughter always chose, and continues to choose, a local Japanese steak joint. It’s probably the funnest of the Birthday Dinner traditions. Even my wife’s sister shows up for that one, although only my daughter and I agree to catch the flying shrimp.

With the introduction of the Rock Chick and her daughter’s Birthday dinners, my parents stepped up their game. My mother started picking nicer restaurants around town and my dad would choose a different BBQ joint every year. Kansas City has a lot of BBQ joints to choose from so it worked out pretty well. After the holidays, things slow down for everybody so by February, when my dad’s birthday is, we’re all ready to get together and get out.

So it came to pass this month, my father made a rather startling selection for his Birthday Dinner. He called up and said, “Ken, I don’t want BBQ this year, this year I want to go down to the Kona Grille.” Hmmm, I had to ask him if he realized that the Kona Grille is a sushi place? “Ken, I’ve eaten there plenty of times before I retired. We used to go there for lunch.” This was news to me. Have you ever ordered the sushi? “Well, no, but now is the time.” I was proud of my father for getting outside his comfort zone. I enthusiastically reported the news of his Birthday Dinner choice to the Rock Chick and my daughter, who laughed and said, “Senior is going to try sushi?” My whole life my father treated sushi as a trick the Japanese were playing on us in retribution for World War II. He felt the same way as Robin Williams who once joked, “I imagine the Japanese staff in the back room, laughing and saying, “we got them to eat the raw fish, let’s see if we can trick them into drinking hot wine too.” That pretty much summed up my dad’s opinion of sushi.

The night of the big Birthday Dinner, we all rode down to the sushi place together. My father sat next to me as we dined on the appetizers and drank the warm wine. He kept elbowing me and pointing to different rolls on the menu. “How about that one, huh?” as if I’d sampled every roll on the menu. “Mmm, crab, that sounds good…” I am not a sushi expert by any stretch of the imagination. “Yes, dad, try the Dragon Roll, by all means, give it a shot.” I just kept nodding and trying to encourage him.

Finally the waitress came to the table to take our orders for the main course. I watched as she went around the table, first to the ladies and then to my father. When she got to my dad, I thought, this is it, the old guy is going to try something new. I couldn’t help but think of it as a big moment for my dad, who is rather stuck in his ways. When the waitress said, “What can I get you, sir,” my dad said quickly, with great conviction, “I’ll take the pork tenderloin, well done.”

Oh, well. Maybe next year.

Black Sabbath Live & The Four Horsemen of the Salinapocalypse

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There’s never a better feeling than waking up in the morning with your ears ringing after a great, great concert. I could do without the headache from mixing beer and bourbon but we take the bad with the good in life. I saw Black Sabbath last night at Kansas City’s Sprint Center (pictured above by yours truly) and I can only describe it this way: Black Sabbath rained fire on Kansas City last night. The show took me back to high school… when a concert like this rolled through town it’s all anybody was talking about.

About a month ago, my good pal SB (name concealed to hide the guilty) asked me if I wanted to see Sabbath. The Rock Chick gave me a flat out “no” which I must admit surprised me. I even felt myself vacillate a little bit. When it came to Sabbath I was more of a Dio-era fan than Ozzy-led Sabbath fan, which I know is blasphemy. Sure, I own ‘Paranoid’ on vinyl but that’s only a sliver of their vast output. Luckily, about two years ago, I started purchasing their catalog, album by album. I was inspired by their late career gem, ’13’ which was produced by the intrepid Rick Rubin. That guy can coax the best out of any band/artist he’s working with. Don’t believe me? Just listen to what he did with Mick Jagger on ‘Wandering Spirit’. But when SB asked me if I wanted to check this band out, I had to ask, “Are you sure?” Sabbath isn’t a band that had “hits” in the conventional sense. They were hard core metal. Who could we get to go with us? SB smiled, “don’t worry, I have some friends in Salina who would love to go.”

Around 6 last night SB and I jumped in the Uber (don’t drink and drive kids) and headed down to Kansas City’s famous Drum Room to meet the Salina 4. These guys had driven in that morning from Salina, and from the appearance of things had been drinking since they’d arrived. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but these guys were some of the greatest students of rock and roll I’ve come across. These were some heavy weight rock dudes and I was wondering if I was going to be able to keep up. Within minutes we were discussing the lineup changes in the Scorpions. One of these guys had the temerity to ask me if I liked Thin Lizzy. Who doesn’t like Thin Lizzy? When the subject of my blog came up and the word bourbon was uttered, the next thing I knew I had a tumbler of Four Roses in my hand. If Sabbath wasn’t going to burn KC down the Apocalyptic Four Horsemen of Salina were. I couldn’t help but think, “buckle your seatbelts boys, these cats ain’t takin’ prisoners.”

The warm-up band was a new outfit, Rival Sons, out of California. One of the Four Horsemen assured me that they were “Zeppelin-esque”. He wasn’t lying. Great vocals, very Robert Plant-ish, coupled with some great bluesy rock guitar. I don’t know much about them but I will be perusing their catalog soon. I was surprised but they kept everybody in their seats, something that rarely happens with an opening band.

Finally the lights came down and the power and majesty of Black Sabbath was revealed. They opened with their eponymous song, “Black Sabbath”. Someone, somewhere needs to erect a statue for Tony Iommi. The guy is simply one of the greatest guitarists I’ve ever seen live. The solo he played on “War Pigs” would melt the face off even the most ardent rock fan. All night long he filled the hall with loud, thick slabs of metal riffs. I left the show a true believer in Tony Iommi.

The unheralded hero of the night for me was Geezer Butler. I knew he was a good bass player but he shredded last night. His bass guitar was the driving instrument in a number of songs. He plays fucking heavy, heavy bass. His bass solo, before the awesome “N.I.B.” entitled creatively, “Bassically”, was awesome, truly one of the highlights of the show.

I don’t know who the drummer was but he filled in admirably for the MIA Bill Ward. I hate when bands reunite and leave a member or two out (talking to you Eddie Van Halen) but this kid was a great drummer. Ozzy was his usual maniac self, despite putting on a few extra lbs. The way Ozzy lumbers around clapping always calls to mind the actors from “Planet of the Apes”… there something very chimpanzee about his movements. But the Ozzman was in good voice and he did a nice job inciting the crowd with his usual, “Go, fucking, crazy”.

The setlist was pretty amazing as well. It’s as if the band said, fuck the fan expectations, we’re going to play what we want to play. Sure they did “Paranoid”, “War Pigs”, and “Iron Man”, but with a band like Sabbath, after those three well known songs they are literally free to play anything they want. They dug deep into the catalog for “Dirty Women” from ‘Technical Ecstasy’ and it was a true high point in the show, despite having lyrics that could have been written by my pal Matthew when he was 13…but I digress. They played a lot of stuff from their heavily Cream-influenced first album. I was thrilled they played “Into The Void” and “After Forever” from ‘Masters of Reality’ but I was hoping for “Sweet Leaf”… and I think most of the crowd was hoping for that one too, based on the smell of the arena. My only disappointment was the absence of any of the newer material from ’13’, which I’d have loved to hear live… “End of the Beginning” or “God Is Dead?” would have been a great add to the setlist.

After a fantastic version of “Paranoid” SB and I wandered out of the arena, drained. We’d lost the Salina Four Horsemen somewhere in the crazed exodus. Unfortunately SB left his bag of concert t-shirts under his seat, it was just that kinda night. The Sabs giveth, the Sabs taketh away. We were worried about the Salina 4, when I turned to SB and said, “Dude, I know where they are, they’re in the bar at the Drum Room…” And, naturally that’s where we found them with a table full of bourbon. The next thing I knew, I was drinking an Old Fashion. Things were just starting to get out of hand when I realized it was past midnight… as my dad used to say, “Son, nothing good happens after midnight…” Heeding those words, SB and I jumped into another Uber and escaped into the night. I can only surmise what damage the Salina 4 did last night… But I know one thing, and it may sound crazy…. I wanna party with those cowboys again…

 

The Return of My Turntable

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Last year, my wife’s company was bought out by their fiercest competitor. By summer my wife could brook no more of the jackbooted oppressor’s bullshit and she “retired”. My wife is not an idle person nor retirement age, so I knew this would not bode well for my sedentary, settled life style. I was hoping she’d settle into an “arts and crafts” phase. I even suggested we turn the spare room into her “sewing room”. My wife doesn’t sew, she’s the Rock Chick. Before I knew it, we were moving. We (she) decided it was time to leave the leafy suburbs and move back downtown. Well, I knew she needed a project but moving? I will now be able to add “aging hipster” to my resume. If I grow a soul-patch and start wearing funny porkpie hats with little brims my wife has vowed to divorce me.

We had about a month to move out of the old place. One of the first things the wife decided to disassemble was the basement. The basement was my ultimate “man cave”. Instead of having a sports theme with Chiefs memorabilia (I typically try to hide the fact that I’m a Chiefs fan) I chose a musical theme. My basement was the “Rock and Roll Basement.” My box sets were proudly displayed alongside album covers hung on the wall. We had giant murals of the Rolling Stones and U2 hung in the bar (yes I had a bar, Bourbon is in the title of this blog). I’m not sure what’s going to happen to all that rock art, but I fear a bonfire is in my wife’s future plans.

A sad by-product of the basement tear-down was the break down and movement of my stereo. Oh sure, we had a radio and iPod docks upstairs but it’s just not the same. By the time I had the stereo disassembled and moved over to the storage area of the new place, it looked like C3PO after the Stormtroopers shot him up on the Death Star. Wires were sprawled all over the displaced components like electronic spaghetti. Atop it all was my beloved turntable (not pictured above, I took that image from the inter-web). I had to admit to myself the ol’ turntable hadn’t gotten as much use in the “Rock n Roll Basement” as it once did in my old bachelor pad. My wife had designed the cabinets so the turntable was down below. I had to pull out a rolling shelf to get to it. Pretty soon I just stopped trying to pull it out. I’d play my music in other formats.

We’ve been in the new place for about a month and I have to admit I’ve struggled with this move. I was not enamored with the old house, or the old neighborhood. I’m not a neighborhood kind of guy. I’m more of a “pull up the drawbridge”, “fill the moat with alligators” kind of guy. Since we’d moved out to the suburbs I kept running into people from my sketchy past which was always a bit un-nerving. I really had no explanation for this odd feeling of displacement. I couldn’t get myself settled in the new place. As I told a friend recently, just once I want to reach for a light switch in the dark and have it actually be where I thought it’d be.

The AV situation at the house was a mess. The old owners left all their old, crappy stereo and TV equipment. Beyond that it was more complicated than my minimal AV skills could manage. I quickly hired some folks to come in and set the whole thing up. The very skilled and competent folks were booked up until mid February. This would mean going without music for quite some time. It is what it is.

As a kid, when I got my first stereo, and it was a combined system – radio, turntable, and cassette deck all in one, I was thrilled. My first album was “Some Girls” by the Rolling Stones. I can remember gingerly putting it on the turntable for the first time. I nervously dropped the needle onto the vinyl… there was a pop and a small hiss until the needle finally found the groove. When the needle finds that groove its like a needle hitting the vein. The endorphins raced into my brain. I’ve never felt a high quite like the moment the music starts. I remember my father asking me a short time later, why I owned all those “different” records. Apparently my father was under the impression each record contained the same songs. As if an AC/DC album was like a ZZ Top album. After “Some Girls” I was a hooked, avid collector.

The AV guys finally showed up yesterday and set up all my stuff including my turntable. The head guy knows more about music than I ever will. We had an amazing conversation about Little Feat and Lowell George. Before I knew it, over the speakers downstairs I heard my music playing. Not the radio, finally it was my music playing. It’s amazing how much more settled I suddenly felt now that I had access to my music. The AV guys randomly grabbed an album to test the turntable. It happened to be Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’, not the most joyous album. I was standing in the kitchen, trying to stay out of the AV guys’ way (I admit, I was hovering, excited like a kid on Christmas) when I heard that familiar sound of the needle finding the groove. Just like that I was back in my bedroom in my folks house. I could smell the carpet and see he wallpaper. The warm analog sound of the album embraced me like a mother holding a new baby. ‘Nebraska’ may not be the most joyous album, and my wife was hating it while it played, but I was ecstatic.

I knew, finally, I was home.

The best news, or perhaps it’s bad news for my wife, is that my turntable is now much, much more accessible. I think my vinyl is going to come back into my life in a big way, like a long lost friend. I’ve already played ‘Some Girls’ and the Allman Brothers’ ‘Idlewild South’… this could go on all weekend. If you’re out there and you don’t have a turntable, or perhaps someone has convinced you to put your turntable in mothballs in the basement, take my word for it, you need to set it back up. Vinyl has become hipster territory. The last time I was in a record store I was the only person there without a “man-bun”. It’s time the rock and rollers took it back. Get your turntables out people, it’s time.

Actually, joyful, it’s also time for me to go turn a record over. God that feels good.

Cheers!

Review: The Cult, ‘Hidden City’, A Late Career Gem

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I must admit up-front it was my wife, the Rock Chick, who turned me onto the Cult. I don’t know how I completely missed them in the ’80s. We bought a compilation of their videos and I did recognize a few of them. So I couldn’t have been in that much of a stupor, although it was the ’80s. My first experience, other than their Greatest Hits, was ‘Beyond Good And Evil’ which was a criminally overlooked album. It’s a late career masterpiece. I loved that album. I got the opportunity to see them on that tour in a small theater and it ranks amongst my favorite concerts. If you can find the bonus track from ‘BG&E’, “Libertine”, buy it immediately.

After ‘Beyond Good and Evil’, I was hooked. I started buying Cult albums immediately. I started with ‘Sonic Temple’ and worked my way back. My favorite Cult album has always been ‘Love’. I’m probably swayed by the fact that “She Sells Sanctuary” is on that record. That song never gets old. I’ve instructed my wife to play that song at my funeral, followed by 12 bag pipers and perhaps the firing of a cannon. My funeral plans get more elaborate as I age but I digress. ‘Ceremony’ was another criminally discounted record. If Nirvana hadn’t come along and changed everything, I think ‘Ceremony’ would be looked at in a lot different light than it was upon it’s release. Astbury’s newly found sobriety brings an energy to that record that is magnetic.

I’ve seen the Cult on every tour since ‘Beyond Good and Evil’. If you haven’t seen them, do yourself a favor and get to a show. They’ve done a couple of “album-centric” shows where they play a complete record followed by a short set of tunes. They did it first for ‘Love’ which was amazing for me. The second one they did was for ‘Electric’ which I saw with the Rock Chick and my good friend Stretch in Denver. To this day Stretch says, “I’m an Electric guy, Ken, I’m Electric,” and then he smiles knowingly. I get it Stretch, oh I get it.

My buddy Steve always counts as one of his favorite experiences, touring Versailles with head phones on, listening to “Sun King”. “Won’t you share my throne…” What can I say, my buddy Steve just knows how to live.

After ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ the Cult released ‘Born Into This’. I liked ‘Born Into This’. I didn’t feel it had the focus or the punch of ‘Beyond Good…’ but it was a solid album. I would have preferred to hear a little more of Billy Duffy’s White Falcon guitar on that record. “War Pony Destroyer” and “Sound of Destruction” are stone cold classics. The next record “Choice of Weapon” was a good record but it seemed a bit disjointed. They released a few of the songs early in what they called “Capsules”. “Every Man Every Woman Is a Star” was a great song but it got lost in the shuffle. “Lucifer” was a bit baffling for a first single. “Honey From a Knife” and “For the Animals” were very strong. I just felt like they were all over the place in terms of focus, much like this blog.

All of this leads me to ‘Hidden City’. I certainly can’t criticize their focus this time out. This is, by far, the strongest thing they’ve put out since ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ and perhaps since ‘Ceremony’. Billy Duffy’s mad guitar is all over this thing, dive bombing in on solo’s and then back out to add thick layers of rhythm riffs. The unsung hero on this album is drummer John Tempesta. His drums drive the opening track/single “Dark Energy”. As always Ian Astbury is in strong voice. His baritone is like a fine wine, it only gets better with age. The focus on this record is amazing. The album is like an onion, there are a lot of layers here. The music is intricate and the lyrics are heavy. All the tunes hang together. There are even some keyboard textures that I’d never heard on a Cult record before. All told, it makes a rather amazing record, what I’d call, a late career gem, a true work of art.

The first three songs they put out on prerelease, “Dark Energy”, “Hinterland” and “Deeply Ordered Chaos” have been reviewed already on BourbonAndVinyl. Of those, “Deeply Ordered Chaos” may be one of the greatest songs they’ve ever done. It’s been in high rotation here at the house since I got my hands on it. “Dark Energy” gets stronger every time I hear it. You have to spend some time with that song but it’ll grab you. Check out the video for “Hinterland” on YouTube. The Cult can pull off the visuals.

“G.O.A.T.” is a great rock song. The swagger in that tune gets me jumping to my feet. “Dance the Night” is a song that should be blaring out of cafes in Paris – “dance the night on the boulevards…” I love that song. “Birds of Paradise,” a song that has some surprisingly effective keyboards, is the Rock Chick’s favorite so far. For her, and for many, this album is gonna be a grower – it will only reveal itself through repeated listens. Thankfully I’m OCD and have been doing just that, listening nonstop since yesterday but again, I digress. “No Love Lost” is another fabulous rocker. “Avalanche of Light” might be Billy Duffy’s best guitar work here. “Lilies” is one of the Cult’s most tender love songs I’ve heard since “Edie (Ciao Baby)”. “In Blood” is an epic, epic song… “5 a.m. on the tile floor…” I think we’ve all been there.

In terms of records this year, other than ‘Blackstar’ by Bowie, ‘Hidden City’ is the strongest album I’ve heard. The Cult have really knocked it out of the park here. I can not wait to hear some of these songs live when they tour. They’re going to translate very well to the stage. They do virtually everything they do well on this record, from rockers to ballads. Its a true tour de force. I’m putting this album on the “must-have” list. But you have to remember, “I’m Electric, baby”…

Enjoy!

Cheers!