A list of live shows that (good or bad) were unforgettable.
- Los Lobos at the Wiltern in Los Angeles, New Year’s Eve. I think 1986? 1987? I’m bad at years. Holy crap that was an awesome show. They’re one of the best live bands in the world, and they were at their best that night. Los Lobos can stand completely still on stage concentrating on their music and make five thousand people dance like maniacs.
- The Minutemen at the Anti-Club, Los Angeles, July 1985. I think I sweated out and replaced my entire liquid volume. They played one of their classic tight tight fast fast sets. D. Boon was the flying fat man, like a blurry Sta-Puft dude with a guitar. Mike Watt’s bass was coming from inside me. They closed with “Substitute”, my favorite Who song. I remember walking out afterwards into the cool air realizing how wet with sweat I was and how happy.
- The Toy Dolls at the Concert Factory, Costa Mesa, 1984. I think this was the first time I saw a punk show indoors at night in a real nightclub. I still can’t believe how tight and fast and hilariously fun they were. Olga didn’t touch the ground for 90 minutes straight. The crowd was slamdancing but in that cooperative, friendly OC Punk way where anyone who fell down got picked up and everyone was just having a great time. My ears rang for two days. I was hooked.
- The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, at their namesake church, London, 1980. This is where I fell in love with baroque symphonic music. They did a lot of Bach that day. It was partly a memorial service for a cellist of theirs who had recently died, and they did several pieces from The Art Of The Fugue, which is a favorite of mine, and their version is my favorite. It ends poignantly with his playing, since that piece was never finished. I can still see this entire concert in my head like a film.
- Pre Turkey Blowout, just before Thanksgiving, Stardust Ballroom, Los Angeles. This was one of those cattle call 5 punk bands for $8 things. The headliner was Samhain, which was Glenn Danzig’s thing between the Misfits and Danzig. I went with my friend Dan because he was a Misfits fan. Because the show was billed as a Pre Turkey Blowout, some genius had bought a bunch of turkeys and hacked them up and thrown them around on the floor, so there were chunks of bird lying around. While Dan and I were waiting for things to start, a huge spherical skinhead guy walked by, stepped on turkey guts, and fell on his ass. We had to run away because we were laughing so hard we thought he’d kill us. The actual show was horrible. I couldn’t stand Samhain, the sound was muddy, it was boring and loud, and I wanted to go home. They did look cool though. I saw the video of this same exact show for sale at Tower last week and laughed.
- 54.40 at Club Lingerie, Los Angeles, 1986. They’d just put out a new album and the song “Baby Ran Away” was doing well. I knew I liked the songs, and they had a really different sound from a lot of white-guy-with-guitar bands. I wasn’t prepared for how fucking awesome they would be. I was already excited just watching the setup because everyone clearly knew what they were doing, and that usually means good music. But they had such incredible performer charisma. That club was a real scenester asshole joint, where no one would admit they really enjoyed the music and everyone hung out in back sipping drinks and networking. But the band came out and hit it really hard and tight and well, and just as they were getting us all really interested the singer came on stage and just held up his hands in a welcoming gesture and picked up the mike and I swear every detached, ironic, cynical insider in the room just rushed the stage and went nuts. We were all singing along and dancing and looking at each other like WOW THIS IS GREAT the whole time. Oddly, that same record has “I go blind” on it, which Hootie covered to great effect a decade later. Can’t stand Hootie but glad those guys got paid.
- The Dream Syndicate, Safari Sam’s, Huntington Beach, 1985. Holy shit they were on that night. Somehow they could have not a note out of place and still sound raw and unfiltered. They seared my face off with noise and I couldn’t stop jumping up and down and singing along. I especially remember their cover of “Cinnamon Girl” that night, which they also recorded later in the studio where it sounded flat. Paul Cutler became my guitar hero forever that night.
- Tones on Tail, The Music Machine, Los Angeles, 1984. This was the only tour this group did to my knowledge. It was a post Bauhaus but pre Love & Rockets band with Daniel Ash and Kevin whassisname the Bauhaus drummer, with a bassist and lots of electronics. I’d never seen an E-Bow used before, or been to a show where a 4-track was used to such great effect. It was magical. Ash is a fine guitar player and very inventive, and they were all such experienced musicians that the weird little noises and effects came out clear as day.
- Agent Orange and the Brat, The Music Machine, 1984. I saw Agent Orange a few times at this club. They were the loudest fucking punkass fucking punk band in fucking punkass loud punkland. Loads of fun and perfect for me at 19. Every time we went there, sadly, someone had some horribly shitty luck, but it was worth it. The Brat totally blew me away, too. They were an east L.A. punk band with an incredibly charismatic and hot lead singer. I remember them playing “High School” and everyone skanking like crazy. “Didn’t learn a fucking thing / Didn’t buy the goddamn ring”.
- R.E.M. + Natalie Merchant + a whole load of other people I don’t remember, McCabe’s Guitar Shop, Santa Monica, 1986 or 87. This was on the tour for Document which I still think was their height. They did a benefit for Texas Records, a local label and store, whose owner was Stipe’s lover at the time. It was one of those semi unannounced things. It was a kind of all star post punk jam. Natalie Merchant wasn’t yet annoying in those days, and Stipe’s voice was beautiful. My friend Geoff played guitar on “The One I Love” and that version ended up on a 12 inch import. The whole thing closed with a group cover of Gang of Four’s “Damaged Goods” which is kind of the “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” of post-punk kids. Magic evening.
- T-Bone Burnett Christmas show, McCabe’s, 1989? 1990? T-Bone did a variety show over three or four days there which was broadcast on NPR. I saw one night of it. The night I saw he brought in Booker T., Jeff Bridges, Edgar Meyer, Jerry Douglas, Al Kooper, Joe Henry, others I can’t recall just now. Booker T. did an amazing acoustic version of “Dock of the Bay”. Jeff Bridges did some piano reminiscent of his Baker Boys stuff, and then got out a ukulele and sang “The Sunny Side of the Street”. Joe Henry did “A Short Man’s Room”. They did a fair amount of Christmas music. McCabe’s is a no-alcohol venue where you sit on folding chairs in a guitar storage room, and there are tea and cookies at intermission. That plus T-Bone’s friendly presence made it feel like we were all in his living room and various geniuses were just wandering in to pick a tune or two. This show is one of my Happy Places to go back to.
- Sonic Youth, The Meat Puppets, Psi-Com, Redd Kross, White Flag, way the hell out in the desert past Victorville, January or February 1985? 1984?. “Desolation Productions” put on these things without permits out in the middle of nowhere. This one was around the time Sonic Youth put out Bad Moon Rising, so the desert setting was perfect. It was a night show and it got cold as hell quickly. I think almost everyone there but me was on acid, since most people came by bus where that was the thing. There were worrisome events around the bonfire but no one was injured. The Meat Puppets played totally wrapped up in winter clothing with only their mouths and eyes showing. Sonic Youth was perfect. I remember Lee Ranaldo with an acoustic guitar he’d stuffed a pickup into, running towards the amp to get feedback and then running away again, and you couldn’t see him when he ran away because it was too dark. Death Valley ’69 indeed.
- Savage Republic, downtown Los Angeles somewhere, 1985. This was Bruce Licher’s wedding and a special show, and you got a neat shirt (I lost mine) if you went, etc. The awesome and bizarre neo-surf band Lawndale opened. It was in one of those classic art space warehouse things in the industrial part of downtown. Savage Republic live is this mix of Joy Division ish guitar and loud clanking sounds and yelling and Eastern rhythms and surf sound that is unique. And Bruce, one of my musical heroes, got married! So totally awesome.
Okay I’m going to do more of these some other time, out of space.