I will start by stating the obvious. I love listening to music. I have spent hours sitting around my home listening to vinyl, CD and now iPod versions of albums. There is nothing more satisfying than finding something new to listen to, something that gives me the same thrill as the first time I heard “Some Girls.” As you may have guessed from reading through the posts of B&V, another thing I love to do is go out and see live music. I love watching musicians perform whether it’s a local band in a small bar all the way up to seeing national acts perform at a festival. I think any band that you want to consider “great” has to not only deliver on album, but they have to deliver the goods live. There are some bands I didn’t really like until I saw them live, like say, The Stone Temple Pilots or Bush. When I see a great band live, something just clicks.
Of course, I’ve had the opposite happen too. I’ve gone out with the expectation that I was going to see a great concert, only to come home baffled or disappointed. It’s rare, considering how many shows I’ve seen over the years that this happens, but as I was pondering this I realized there are 10 shows that frankly, I just wish I hadn’t attended. I try to stay positive at B&V but I felt chronicling these misfires was important. Now, there are different reasons for a bad concert. The band may have been tired or indifferent in this small market. There are occasional equipment failures. Sometimes it’s the choice of material performed. And alas, there are those “self-inflicted” wounds, where I was the problem, not the band. Here are my 10 examples, where maybe staying home and watching Kojak reruns might have been a better idea….
The “Self-Inflicted Wound” Shows
- Neil Young & Crazy Horse: This is the show that got away from me. They were playing Kemper in 1986, billing themselves as “The Third Greatest Garage Band In the World.” From all accounts from my friends I attended with, this was a great show. We started drinking in Manhattan, Ks and continued the entire drive into KC. I’m told I threw up and promptly started making out with the girl in front of me… who was on a date. I tried to rush the stage and ran into the barricade, falling face first to the floor where the booze pinned me down. I was rightly shown the door by security. I am not proud of this one…. To describe me as hammered is… generous. I’ve never been that drunk for another show.
- Scorpions/Deep Purple/Dio – This one, I can at least blame on my friend Steven. He and his brother-in-law had been drinking and partying pretty heavily that day. The Rock Chick was pretty excited to see the Scorpions, but I didn’t realize how much she was into them. We fucked around with the 2 drunks so long, I missed Dio. I saw him walk off stage flashing the devil-horns, that was it. Deep Purple came out and I’m not sure what Ian Gillian was celebrating but he was dressed like a gay pirate in capris and a sleeveless t-shirt (not that there’s anything wrong with gay pirates, mind you). The Scorps came out and my two buddies fell apart. They were our ride, yes the drunks were driving, so to the Rock Chick’s never ending scorn, we had to leave.
The Artist Chooses Bad Material
- Boston, in Boston (well, really Worchester): Boston took what, 7 years to put out their weak third album, “Third Stage.” We had all grown up on “Boston” and “Don’t Look Back.” Boston still threw a long shadow in those days. I thought seeing them on their home turf would be fantastic. Boy, was I wrong. After 2 or 3 great songs, they decided to play “Third Stage” front to back, in it’s entirety, like it was fucking “Quadrophenia” or something. I actually fell asleep during that part of the show. Asleep at a concert, while sober?
- Neil Young: I love Neil Young but my luck with this guy has been horrible over the years. I did see him on the CSNY tour and he was fabulous, but solo, I always crap out. I made the mistake of seeing him on the “Greendale” tour. Like Boston, he played the entire album, front to back. Yuck. Can we please leave the “rock operas” to The Who, folks? I made the mistake of taking the Rock Chick, who is not a big Neil fan to begin with… Needless to say, I now have to play my Neil Young when she’s out of the house. The encore was good…
Just Plain Bad Shows
- Joe Walsh, circa 1980: Joe came to KC as a headline act. My high school concert buddy, Brewster, who later betrayed me and took someone else with him to Springsteen’s “The River” Tour, yes that wound still stings, called me and said, “we gotta go, Rocky Mountain Way, man.” Joe comes out and he’s on fire, he’s laying down blistering solo’s, raising the roof off the place. After setting that furious pace during the opening 30 minutes, he said, “We’re gonna turn it down a little bit, but don’t worry we’ll bring it back up…” And I’m still waiting for him to turn it up. He mellowed the place down for the next hour. He came out for an encore and I yelled, “Walk Away” in an attempt to get him to play that wonderful James Gang chestnut… Unfortunately Joe took me literally, and played 1 mellow song and uh, walked away.
- Rush, “Moving Pictures” Tour: My first time seeing Rush was a disaster. They’d incorporated keyboards into their music but were baffled on how to incorporate them live. I did see them a few years later, on the “Signals” tour, and despite it being a weaker album, the show as much, much better. Every time I’ve seen them since, it’s been better than that first one… Wait, we’re still talking about music here aren’t we?
- R.E.M., “Monster” Tour: Again, another great album by a great band and I just felt bored shitless at this show. I think R.E.M. is a band better suited to a club or small theater than a huge outdoor amphitheater. Stipe’s state presence was off this night. He sang one song turned around facing the drummer. I looked around the expansive lawn, where we were camped out in the GA section and small knots of people had gathered where they were all talking. The music wasn’t holding their interest.
- Ryan Adams, “Cardinology”: Ryan played a truncated version of the shows he’d been playing in bigger cities. He game zero fucks about the KC audience… No effort. It’s frankly been hard to listen to his stuff since then without this show shading it. Effort matters, even out here in the provinces people.
- Eric Clapton, circa 2005: Went to Dallas with my buddy Steven to see Clapton. I seem to recall this was a birthday gift from Steven, so I don’t want to be too harsh. Any fire that was in Clapton as a performer or guitarist is completely gone. He ended the show by covering “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Sigh.
- Bob Dylan, circa 2004: Merle Haggard opened this show and I thank God every day I saw ol’ Hags live. He had a voice like smooth whiskey. Then Dylan came out. I’m the biggest Dylan fanatic you’re gonna find and it took me forever to identify the songs he was playing. I still don’t know how a show could go this wrong. His vocals were buried way down in the mix. I had to read the playlist on a website the next day to find out what I’d heard. My buddy Drew has seen Dylan on a night when he’s on and said it was great… I was not so lucky.
I don’t ever want to discourage anybody from seeing a live show. Support live music, folks. These examples serve merely as a cautionary tale about how it can go wrong. Most of these artists I’ve seen again and the shows were better. There’s nothing like the magic that happens when the lights go down, and that first chord gets struck. The anticipation, the presence of truly skilled, great musicians is just amazing. It’s a communal, almost religious vibe… Unfortunately, on rare occasions the sermon gets lost… If you have any examples of bad shows, please share in the comments section.