Monday, November 25, 2013


So there was a shark attack last week not too far from where I surf. The guy got away without any injuries though—the big lug just gave his board a little taste-test. I’m sure there’s a wetsuit that got a thorough cleaning this weekend, and for the record, the guy was an out-of-towner. Maybe it was a local shark just keeping the line-up in order.

All joking aside, it keeps you on alert the next time you paddle out after hearing about this sort of thing. That odd swooshing of water a few yards off or the shadow that may or may not have just passed under your board...? You can’t let your imagination run wild but occasionally it does. The worst (or best?) part of it is there isn’t going to be any of that cinematic fin-rushing-up-from-afar crap if a great white does decide to go after you. I’m sure most surfers that have been attacked never even saw it coming. Great whites attack from underneath and it’s usually a case of mistaken identity. Of course that’s no consolation if Jaws takes a bite out of your thigh.

Seals and sea lions are usually on the menu, and incidentally, there’s a seal that frequents my regular break. Whenever I see the doe-eyed little guy it immediately gets my hackles up, especially when he’s closer to the beach than I am: it’s like, does he know something I don’t?
I honestly don’t believe surfing is inherently dangerous. I mean, of course there’s risk involved, but like any sport (and I hate to call surfing a sport) there is definitely a potential for injury. Yet most competent surfers know if conditions are beyond their ability. Sure, accidents happen, but by the numbers, the sheer amount of surfers in the water around the world at any given time compared to the amount of drowning reported, shark attacks, and other potentially-fatal incidents associated with the activity are relatively low.

 And I actually read somewhere that more people get attacked by cows each year than by sharks. 

Of course it’s probably a bit more frightening to have Jaws barreling up underneath you than Lulu the cow giving you a swift kick to the backside. Or whatever it is a cow does when it attacks.

At the end of the day, even though the linked incident took place just miles down the coast from where I usually surf, it won’t keep me from the water. I may pay a bit closer attention to that seal though. If he’s paddling in, I might think about doing the same.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

I'm Still Here...

So I won’t even bother with any commentary on my lack of posts of late. Suffice it to say the work that pays the bills overfloweth. The surf has been great as well, so my, uh, free time has been limited.  Just to let you know I’m still alive and keeping the creative juices flowing (or attempting to at least), I thought I’d share a few things I overheard while out and about in the office over the last few weeks. This amused me.

“…so one day it was raining and she showed up to class with an umbrella in a scabbard on her belt…”

“…they weren’t homeless people back then: they were bums…”

“…that’s one thing about software engineers, not only will they go to the renaissance faire, they’ll dress up in the pirate costumes and talk with an accent and shit…”

I also want to take an opportunity to plug another writer’s blog:

The name says it all… irreverent, shit-talking brilliance. I loves me a potty-mouthed girl.


Saturday, September 21, 2013

An Astronaut and a Rock Star

So an astronaut and a rock star walk into a bar. No, not really.

As it was relayed to me years later though, that’s what I wanted to be when I grew up— an astronaut and a rock star. Sounds like something out of a Japanese manga or anime series. I can imagine it flashing across the screen: “Kazu Starthruster! Interstellar adventurer and rock and roll hero!” Kind of like Buckaroo Bonzai maybe? Damn that was a stupid movie. 

I announced it once over dinner I believe—my intent to be both an astronaut and a rock star. Quite noble ambitions, really, both requiring an exceptional amount of skill, luck, and even charisma. I’m sure there are some billion-to-one odds of actually making it in either profession, but as a kid, I wanted to be both.

My astral aspirations were dashed pretty early on though: I sucked at math. I barely made it through the basic algebra courses and flunked out of geometry in 10th grade. I imagine I grew out of the rocket man dream around 8th grade or so, but if I needed a nail hammered in the proverbial astronaut coffin, sucking at math was it.

That left rock star.

This became the focused career path of choice around the time I started high school. In 9th grade my friend Josh and I started writing what you might call songs on a Casio keyboard and acoustic guitar that rarely had all 6 strings intact. I recall sitting on a beach in Mexico (Josh was usually invited on family vacations with us) writing lyrics. Something about being lost in space and hate and something about blood too. Regular literati stuff. 

By age sixteen I had moved from the Casio keyboard to bass guitar and Josh picked up a Gibson Explorer copy and a cheap amp. We started writing semi-cohesive material and actually filmed ourselves performing (guitar, bass and loads of ad lib dialogue and singing,) replete with cheesy camera angles, strategic lighting, fake blood, and eye-liner that would have made even Robert Smith cringe. Oh and there was a sword fight in there. Thankfully I have the only copy in existence.

A drummer, singer, and occasional 2nd guitar were added to the mix towards the end of our sophomore year, and by the time we were juniors in high school we had a full-fledged punk/thrash band going. Our name? Subconscious Holocaust (although our singer, Rick, a 21 year-old dropout that found his way into our mix through a mutual friend, decided to tattoo the band name on his leg and spelled it “Subconscious Holocost.” When I pointed out the misspelling he turned the "s" in Holocost into a dollar sign and insisted that was how we spell the band name. The few fliers and cassette “J” cards I have left from back then are all spelled “Holocaust,” for what it’s worth.)

Our first gig was in Josh’s driveway. It was a ½ mile dirt affair that peeled off a quiet road out in the country a few miles from the desert town I grew up in. There were maybe 12 or 15 people there. Our set was so sparse we played it three times through and barely cracked 45 minutes before Josh’s parents told us to cool it. It was a modest start, but the handful of kids that showed up loved us. A dusty mosh-pit erupted in front of our amps as the kids slam-danced and slammed beers. In typical punk-rock DIY fashion, our cobbled-together gear barely functioned and was primarily held together with duct tape. We had no P.A., but rather an old stereo amplifier rigged up to a car speaker box. We probably sounded like shit, but we didn’t care; we were on our way. 

If anything we were persistent. We practiced three, sometimes four or more times a week. We wrote songs, building our paltry set-list to a point where we could rock for at least 30 minutes without playing the same song twice. We even managed to work up a cover of Anarchy in the U.K. It took some practice as Josh couldn’t do much more than power chords. It speaks to the level of musicianship in a band when you have a hard time covering a Sex Pistols song.

Our next gig was a considerable step up—our sound was improving with the addition of Todd, the 2nd guitarist. He could actually play solos.  Around the time Todd was worked into the band on a part-time basis, a kid I had known since elementary school threw a house party and invited us to play. (See imbedded video following the blog).

The back deck served as a stage and overlooked a sweeping yard in one of the nicer areas of town. Our sound check around 6 p.m. the night of the party got the neighbors on alert. By 7:00 p.m. there were at least 50 kids crammed into the yard. We managed to crank out 20 minutes worth of music to a mass of drunk high school kids before the cops showed up and rousted everyone. Josh’s amp fed back horribly the entire set. We couldn’t hear Rick. Ryan (the drummer) and I managed to hold the bottom end together yet really, I don’t think anyone at the party knew any better.

Gig number 3 was similar to number 2 except we never got shut down by the cops. We were tighter and our set had grown exponentially. Our equipment hadn’t improved much but were getting a better handle on making do with what we had, actually turning down the guitars and bass to make up for the crappy vocal amplifier. There was some buzz around high school the following Monday. I got some comments in the halls. We were on our way. Yet before we could rocket into local stardom, things went awry.

At our 4th and final gig we sounded the best we ever had. We played a party with another band that let us use their P.A. For the first time we could actually hear Rick singing during a gig and had actually developed a balanced sound.

Unfortunately there was a bit of a conflict that night.

 You see, it seems some of our friends had a run in with a skinhead at school in the weeks before the party. Even though we (the band) had nothing to do with said conflict, the skinhead and a couple of his cronies decided since our friends had dissed, pissed off, or otherwise insulted him, we, the band, were now a fair target for their displeasure as well.

It so happened these degenerates were at the party.

Halfway through our set one of the skinheads sucker-punched Rick in the gut. As a churning, riotous mosh-pit spun in front of us, the skinhead lunged out and connected a fist into Rick’s stomach. I remember hearing the sickening “oooommmpphhh” reverberate through the P.A. as Rick doubled over and nearly went to his knees.

Rick did his best to finish the set but his heart wasn’t in it. We carried on, and although musically we sounded the best we ever had live, the show ended with a whimper. We packed up our gear (most of which had to be crammed in and on top of my VW Bug) and headed off, drinking a case of cheap beer at Rick’s apartment.  

Soon after, Subconscious Holocaust was no more.

Ryan was the first to go. We got another drummer (coincidentally the kid who hosted the deck party) yet I never played a gig with him.

Todd had never really been a full-fledged member so I don’t know if he ever really officially quit—I think he just stopped showing up.

 I decided to join the Navy and went on delayed entry my senior year and, due to what I can only imagine was seen by the other band members as a lack of long-term commitment on my part, was effectually booted from the very band I founded. 

Shortly after I was ejected, Rick skipped out on probation and went skulking around New Orleans with a group of junkies he had hooked up with.

 I think Josh tried to keep the band rolling for a time, but soon after my departure Subconscious Holocaust (or Holoco$t,) a marginally-talented punk/thrash band from the desert nether-reaches of southern California petered off into an obscure high school memory.

Yet despite the premature demise of my first venture into the world of hedonistic musical indulgence, it certainly wasn’t my last attempt at rock stardom.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Summer is Nearly Over

Our fleeting Oregon summer is coming to a close, and as the collective month of Octembruary closes in with its months of rain and gloom, like any veteran NW resident, I’m cramming as much outdoor activity into the few sunny days we have left as possible.

Some great surfing filled up most of the last weeks of August. A couple of days found me in 5’+ waves at two of my regular spots on the northern Oregon coast. A spot that will remain unnamed was spitting barrels when the SW and W swell and wind mixed up just right. Short Sands was decent the following day and I even found an unknown-to-me break in an area south of there that was throwing out clean, 2-3’ rights for myself and the 4 other surfers in the water later that week. It was definitely a local crowd but I was tolerated; a far cry from what the scenario would have been had I discovered some unknown or overlooked break in California.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve only been surfing again for a few months. My entire psyche has shifted. Saltwater on the brain perhaps, but aside from keeping my day-to-day life in order, paying bills, busting my ass at work, and taking care of the family, I can't think about much more than when I'll paddle out again. All future trips and plans always include at least a passing thought: “will I be able to surf?” 

Luckily my wife is very understanding of my rediscovered passion. She grew up in a surf town and, although she rolls her eyes as I wax poetic of my last ride or scoffs at my attempts to coordinate a sitter for the kids because (fill in the blank spot) "is going off," well, she gets it.

Yes, summer is coming to a close. Yet I look forward to what autumn will bring to the Oregon coast. Bigger waves I hear. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Locals Only

Surfers are an interesting lot. Exhibiting extreme camaraderie one moment yet degenerating into grade school bullying the next, in my 25 years of surfing I’ve seen just about everything. From Baja California to Northern Oregon to Hawaii and Japan, I’ve surfed my fair share of breaks and have witnessed the gamut in regards to behavior. 

The lineup is an equalizer. It doesn’t matter if you’re homeless. The lineup gives no credit if you’re rich. The lineup requires that you follow the rules, and even when you do, it is often not enough to avoid heckling, snakes, and sometimes physical confrontation. Even the most public breaks with the easiest access are rife with localism. Someone grew up at that very public beach, and in the collective mind of the locals, that equals entitlement. 

I’ve seen kids younger than twelve tugging the leashes of other surfers paddling for a wave. I’ve watched on as a 40 year-old insurance salesman exchanged words and eventually took awkward swings at another who snaked his ride. I even witnessed pro Sunny Garcia physically threaten another surfer in a sparse lineup off Huntington Pier for not getting out of his way fast enough in the impact zone. What is it? What causes this degeneration? What makes certain surfers turn into complete assholes when their feet touch the water? 

At most breaks it’s best to stay out of the local’s way—and don’t worry, you’ll know them. They’ll chat it up amongst themselves and blatantly ignore an outsider’s attempt to converse. They’ll whoop it up for their buddies as they take off on a peeling right yet heckle an outsider who grabs the wave of the day. Surfers place ownership on a fleeting commodity Mother Nature creates in an attempt to hoard it like so many gold-stealing trolls. 

It is an aspect of the lifestyle we need not condone. Yet in order to feel the stoke, in order to possess the enlightenment and experience the high that only surfing can provide, we must accept and deal with this behavior. Surfers are not supportive of newbies trying to make their way into the fold. Surfers will take advantage another’s lack of talent to get a wave. Some of us will propagate the more puerile aspects of the culture while others may try to discourage or at least ignore it. However you deal, this behavior is a part of what we are. 

In the end it’s all about you and the wave. And perhaps that’s what creates this behavior—oneness with the wave develops into a selfishness that sometimes rears an ugly head. Like a heroin addict that rips off his own mom to feed a habit, an otherwise decently behaving person transforms in the worst of ways to get that cleanline fix. 

No matter how you feel about localism and the culture of the lineup, it is what it is and it’s not likely to change. Our culture is a unique one indeed, and regardless of those aspects you or I dislike, there’s a reason we keep coming back to the water. Yes, surfers are an interesting lot.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Ten Shows: Part VI

It’s probably (or at least it should be) obvious to anyone that has read just a wee bit of my material that I’m a Deadhead. The Dead have been a part of my life for over 20 years. I was late to the show though, through no fault of my own. Being as how I was born in the heyday of the Grateful Dead’s existence, I didn’t have but a few years to enjoy seeing Jerry Garcia perform live. Yet I consider myself lucky. Even though Jerry was in failing health and battling addiction during those years I feel privileged to have seen him play, even if when comparing those 1990’s performances with previous years there were few nuggets worthy of attention.

And that’s why, when I had to consider the best show I had ever been to, I didn’t pick a Grateful Dead show. I went to some good Dead shows in the 90’s, and as you can read on my previous blogs I did include a performance from the 90’s. There were fine moments in all the shows I attended, but no, the best show I ever attended wasn’t a Grateful Dead show.

It was a Jerry Garcia Band show. 

And I’m going to break the rules here, because they are mine to break. The best concert I have ever attended was a 2-night run of The Jerry Garcia Band at the Starlight Bowl in San Diego, CA, May 17th and 18th, 1994.

There’s a lengthy side story that goes along with these two shows. It involves my date both nights: a ½ Thai girl I took to the shows, the commander of a SeAL team in San Diego, a one-eyed Volvo, and coffee at 2:00 a.m. Stay tuned for that one.

For this final installment of 10 Shows, we’ll just stick to the concert—2 nights with JGB at the Starlight Bowl.

This was my first experience with what was essentially a scaled-down version of a Dead show. Granted the Starlight Bowl was no small venue, when compared to the monstrous scene that surrounded the L.A. Coliseum, Cal Expo, or the Silver Bowl, this was a very intimate experience. Nestled in the hills of Balboa Park above downtown San Diego, the venue and lot scene overlooked the city lights through groves of trees that ringed the parking area.

 The crowd in general was much mellower than what I’d experienced before; they were more familiar and friendly. Although Dead show lots were always a fun scene, full of festivity and mostly goodwill, there always seemed to be a dark undercurrent lurking about. Whether it was the presence of undercover cops, heavy handed hustlers, or other nefarious folks that had intentions other than just having a good time, there was always a sense of needing to watch out for yourself in the lot of a Dead show. I felt none of that here.

 Along with the more intimate vibe there even seemed to be a minimum of super-desperate fans cruising about and hanging by the gates, begging for an extra as the column of ticket-holding fans filed in. Only a few bedraggled-looking hippies held a finger aloft, waiting and hoping that someone would give up a miracle ticket. My date and I went inside and found our seats, about 1/3 down from the back of the venue and slightly stage left. As with most amphitheaters designed with the sole purpose of music in mind, there really wasn’t a bad seat in the place. 

As the sky was nearly darkened the house lights came down and the crowd became jubilant. Garcia and the band came on.
“Jerry’s got purple pants on!” someone to my right screamed. 
Jerry was known by this time for wearing almost exclusively black sweats and a black shirt. For whatever reason he mixed it up that night, the astute fan making note for any who didn’t notice Garcia’s change in attire. Jerry smiled sheepishly as the crowd went crazy, giving a restrained wave as he unceremoniously doffed his guitar and picked and strummed a few chords before breaking into a classic Jerry tune, Cats Down Under the Stars.

Jerry’s performance was far and above anything I had seen previously with the Dead. Soulful, engaging, and even a bit animated at times, Jerry was a completely different performer with JGB. Playing mostly rhythm and blues standards, old soul covers, and a smattering of his original work, JGB put on a show that effectively rewrote the book of what I thought I knew about live music. The interplay between he and John Kahn, the bass player, sounded as if the stringed instruments were conversing of their own accord, unaware that their strings were pulled and plucked with such mastery and precision by their owners.

The crowd continued its mellow demeanor in that it was completely entranced with Jerry’s performance. I scanned the crowd occasionally. There was nothing but smiles. A vibe that literally exuded peace and love flowed about, sent forth from the amplifiers to waft and weave and manifest exponentially throughout the venue. Someone in the upper reaches of the crowd meticulously blew up balloons, the kind party performers make animals from. Instead of poodles and giraffes he created complex geometrical designs that, once set aloft, maintained a steady height above the crowd, floating and bobbing and seeming to hover on the energy the crowd and band created. 

Even the cluster of trees at either side of the stage seemed to bend and move and meld with the music, uncannily creating a heart shape over the stage as a light wind blew up the stands and through the crowd.

Garcia was on that night. The crowd was on. Everything about that show titillated my senses. As Jerry closed with the upbeat tune, Midnight Moonlight and exited the stage I realized something: I get to do this all over again tomorrow night.

Night two had the same vibe. We didn’t partake in much lot-cruising but instead headed into the venue straight away. Our seats were in roughly the same area and we sat and discussed the merits of the show the night before with those sitting around us. Everyone agreed that last night’s show was stellar. Everyone was hopeful for a comparable 2nd night.

We were not disappointed.

Jerry opened with a stirring rendition of How Sweet It is (To Be Loved By You,) which was standard Jerry-fare for the time period but a great song and opener regardless. This got the crowd smiling and spinning as the band segued into a reggae-tinged version of Stop That Train. The first set was shaping up nicely, and as it wrapped with an up-tempo Deal, a Grateful Dead staple, I collapsed to my seat and looked about the venue.

 I got the Grateful Dead. I remember the moment they grabbed me. Unless you’ve been pulled into the fold it’s difficult to understand. Yet at that moment, between sets at the 2nd night of Jerry’s show at the Starlight Bowl in San Diego, my level of awareness and relationship with the music of the Dead, and specifically Jerry Garcia, went to another level. It was enlightenment.

The 2nd set rolled to a start with Shining Star, a cover I wasn’t expecting but spun expertly in Jerry’s unique way. The set was soulful and refined, running through Garcia’s songs and an assortment of covers before finally settling into the same closer as the night before—Midnight Moonlight. It was hardly disappointing to hear the song again- it was a fast-paced gem that roused the crowd and brought the energy to a zenith. As Jerry walked off and the house lights came on my first thought was when will I get to see him play again?

It was just weeks away luckily, and my summer was full of Grateful Dead-centric adventures. Yet no shows before or since could compare to those mid-week concerts in San Diego by The Jerry Garcia Band. Perhaps in the greater scheme of Jerry’s canon they are fairly insignificant performances: just an entry in Deadbase or a CD label tucked between the spring and summer Dead tours. 

No matter. I realized a previously unidentified connection between music and the soul those nights; it is something that has remained with me since, and to this day, when I hear the soulful rasp of Jerry Garcia’s voice, more than a little something stirs inside me. 

So that’s all folks- the 10 (well, okay, 11) best shows I’ve ever attended. Up next: I don’t know yet…

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ten Shows: Part V

Holy-long-gap-between-posts, Batman! I'll try not to let it happen again. Well, here's the 2nd-to-last post for the Top 10 shows I've attended series. This went on way longer and is much more verbose than I intended. I should have taken Faulkner's advice. Oh well...

Phish, Irvine Meadows Amphitheater, Irvine, CA 9-19-1999
As I’ve stated in a previous blog, I never quite got the whole anti-Phish sentiment that a lot of Deadheads maintain. It’s funny, because from an outside perspective, had you walked the parking lot of a Dead show in the early-mid 1990’s or a Phish show from 1995-on, well, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the two as far as the look and feel goes. Many Phish fans branched off and dropped the Dead scene due to the overwhelming popularity of the Grateful Dead and the massiveness of their shows. Phish was more intimate and was still the fans band in a way.
That all changed. Even more so after the Grateful Dead was no more.
Although I’ve never researched any exact numbers (nor do I plan to,) there was a huge spike in Phish show attendance after Garcia’s death and the demise of the Dead: this likely led to some of the conflict. I’m sure the “old-school” Phish fans resented the influx of Deadheads. The first time I saw Phish I recall a couple of hippies arguing over who was the bigger fan.
“Well I saw them back in ninety-four at” such-and-such venue.
“Yeah, well, I was going to shows in ninety-three…”
Ridiculous, really, but that’s not what this post is about.
I saw Phish for the first time in the summer of 1999. My wife and I had been anticipating the show for some time—we had been going to as many of the post-Jerry incarnations of the Dead as we could manage yet were ready to experience something new. I had a grasp on their repertoire by then as I had collected a fair amount of bootleg shows in addition to their studio releases. Like the Grateful Dead and many other jam bands, Phish allowed taping at their concerts so long as they were not used for commercial profit.
Irvine Meadows was a short distance from where we were living at the time. As we tooled south on the 405, the freeway became thick with vehicles sporting the “Phish” emblem. The logo was a clever take on their name designed in such a way it resembled the outline of an actual fish:
As we approached the exit for the amphitheater and made for the parking area I noticed no discernible difference between this lot-scene and that of a Dead show.  Drum circles were pounding away, every 10th head was a mop of dreads, marijuana smoke wafted about, mixing in with sage, patchouli, and grilled cheese. Vehicles ranged from wildly painted school buses to brand-new SUVs. Everywhere you looked were hippies on skateboards and bikes, college kids partying, and the occasional dog wandering that may have been named Cassidy or Althea (or Trey?)  It really was just like a Dead show.
 Yet upon settling in and walking the lot for a bit the differences became more apparent. The crowd was generally much younger; not as many crusty hippies left over from the 60’s lurked about. The general mood of the fans wasn’t quite as “peace, love, and happiness” either. Being as how Phish first gained traction close to their roots in Vermont, a large contingent of their fan base was East Coast. And with that came a more stand-offish attitude. I’d come to find out (or heard) that East-coast Phish fans selling stuff in the lot were much more apt to rip you off.
Regardless, the general mood was still festive—generous amounts of drugs and alcohol changed hands and everyone was partying. We got primed for a couple of hours and filtered into the amphitheater to find our seats, stage right, just a section or two in front of the general admission lawn. The sun was disappearing behind the hills to our back as the venue lights came up and then dimmed again. The sell-out crowd was building with an intense anticipation I hadn’t experienced since seeing the Dead for the last time almost 5 years previous. As Trey and the band stepped out, the crowd absolutely erupted and was sent into a frenzy of whirling, wild dancing as the band opened with the song NICU.
As the late summer California day fell dark, a strange thing happened. The band launched into the 3rd song, an instrumental called First Tube, which has an awesomely complicated polyrhythmic structure to it. At the same time a car dealership down the hill and across the freeway lit up their huge spotlights to attract would-be buyers to their lot. The spotlights shifted across the sky and fell into rhythm (a polyrhythm mind you) with the song. It was as if the entire city, as well as the venue, was pulsating and became one with the band—the energy surged and suddenly everything in our extended space was absolutely electric and alive and was in tune and rhythm with the music.
A hippie to my right turned and said:
“Can you feel it, man? Can you feel it?”
Yes, as a matter of fact I could.
The band played on for two sets and an encore which totaled over two hours of music. As the band built into an intense jam during the second set droves of fans began twirling glow necklaces and bracelets—the kind you get at the fair or around Halloween. As the song reached its zenith, the band and crowd entwined in a rapid crescendo, everyone began throwing the glowing jewelry, the stadium exploding into a psychedelic glow-stick battle that continued for most of the rest of the concert.  The band truly played to the crowd and the crowd to the band. There was a oneness at that show that was unlike anything I’d experienced before.
I understood then why so many Deadheads jumped ship for Phish. Being a Phish fan in the 90’s could be likened to seeing the Dead in the 70’s. You were a part of an exclusive subculture that was still somewhat new and unique that the world hadn’t yet fully discovered or understood.
I was absolutely enthralled with Phish after that show and saw them several more times through the years, including a recent solo show by Trey Anastasio here in Portland (which almost made this list actually.) Phish is a fantastically talented band, and although I never grew to love them as much as the Dead, they are among one of my favorite bands and are one of the torchbearers from that fire on the mountain the Grateful Dead ignited so long ago.

Wilco, Les Schwab Amphitheater, Bend, OR 8/23/2008
Someone burned me a couple of Wilco CDs back in 2001 or 2002. I gave them each a partial listen without too much interest and they were shuffled into my CD collection, perhaps never to see the laser on my CD player again. It doesn’t surprise me, really. I was pretty snobbish about what I listened to then. The reasons are ridiculous in hindsight—I was very centric to jam bands then and was trying to make it as a musician myself. For a time I was fairly narrow-minded music-wise, listening only to those I wanted to emulate.
I came to my senses eventually—I should have much sooner, especially in regards to Wilco.
It wasn’t until 2005 that I realized what a great band Wilco is. A friend I worked with at the time mentioned them once. I recall telling him I had a few CDs. He asked if I had heard their live stuff. No, I hadn’t. Well, they are all about their live stuff.
And that’s when I got Wilco—after listening to Kicking Television, a live recording they did at the Fox Theater in Chicago.
I hadn’t had an album grab me like that since listening to American Beauty and Wake of the Flood by you-know-who. I was a Wilco fan overnight. I found my copies of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born. The albums lay dormant under a stack of garage demos by bands you’ve never heard of like Television Child and 2 Tone Turtle. Within a month I had bought just about everything in Wilco’s small catalog and soon discovered they allowed taping at their shows—just like the jam bands—and  that there was a fair amount of bootleg material out there for free trading on music swapping sites.
My first opportunity to see Wilco got nixed. They played McMenamin’s Edgefield just outside of Portland in the summer of 2007, and due to a last minute babysitting debacle we had to cancel. The following summer they came to Bend, Oregon and with a bit more planning time ahead of us we were able to go. We arrived in Bend just in time to have a late lunch and catch Wilco’s sound check from the patio of the hotel restaurant. In fact, after checking in, we realized we wouldn’t have needed tickets at all. Our balcony looked directly over the amphitheater, and was likely a better seat than some of the concerts I’d been to with nosebleed tickets.
But of course we were going to be on the grass for this show. We got to the amphitheater just as the opener— Fleet Foxes—came on stage. We found a clear spot on the field just to the left of the soundboard. The day was warm, the crowd mellow, and the booze cheap. In fact, they sold wine by the bottle. Ah yes… by the bottle.
Wilco fans are not hippies, nor are they hipsters. They seemed to be just an average lot of late 20 through 40-somethings. There were lots of families but it didn’t have that Oregon Zoo Concert Series feel to it where you expect the Wiggles to come on stage instead of Matisyahu.
Wilco’s heart and soul, Jeff Tweedy, engages, occasionally teases, and even taunts audience members—especially if they are drunk. He’s a very interactive performer yet is sometimes moody and even gets surly on occasion. That night he commented on the amount of marijuana smoke wafting his way “oh yea… we’re in Oregon.” Cranking out tunes that lay somewhere between Americana, alternative, and a bit of psychedelia, Wilco’s sound is unique—it has elements of pop without being shallow or trite—the songs are well-crafted and engaging yet not overly preachy on any particular subject. Tweedy writes about life—simple things that catch his attention or musings on relationships or his kids.
Wilco pays homage to their forbears without sounding like someone else’s song.
That night we danced and drank and sang along and laughed and had the most fun we had had in years—period. Wilco rolled through their repertoire, 2 sets and an encore that included members of the Fleet Foxes coming out to do a cover of Dylan’s I Shall Be Released, Tweedy even indulging in a falsetto for the last verse.
As the concert wrapped we stumbled back towards the hotel and collapsed under a tree for a time as one of our friends went shopping for a concert shirt near the exit. The night was warm; my head buzzed from the music and wine. The crowd hummed and laughed and chatted as they went their respective ways.
Wilco is just a damn good band.  They write great songs, put on an entertaining and energetic concert, and I really believe I caught that first show at an opportune time in my life. I was a fairly new parent and had moved well beyond the desire to follow bands up and down the state or across the country. I was becoming much more grounded in many ways. I finished college just a week previous (I didn’t start until I was 28) and was ramping up for a new career and essentially, a new life. I was in a good place that summer weekend, and Wilco provided a proper soundtrack to what was really a turning point in my life.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Ten Shows: Part IV

Well I’m getting down to the final few shows on this series of music blogs: 10 of my all-time favorite concerts. As I stated previously, these have been presented in no particular order. I tried to draw from the wide variety of shows I’ve seen while considering everything from the quality of the performance to the overall mood and experience of the show. The final three concerts (coming soon) are a culmination of these qualities and therefore I’m saving the best for last. 

But, again, to continue the list in no particular order:

Lollapalooza I, Southwestern College/Devore Stadium, San Diego, CA 7/20/1991

I decided to include only one of the two Lollapalooza shows I attended in the 90’s; it was a difficult choice when deciding between the first and second incarnations of the travelling rock and roll circus.  Line-up wise Lollapalooza II was definitely chock-full with bigger names: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Ministry, Ice Cube etc. Additionally, they had quite a side-show going on in the concession area of Irvine Meadows which included a set by Rage Against the Machine. A line-up like that wasn’t something you could count on every summer.

 Yet I settled on Lollapalooza I for my top 10 for many reasons. It was my first festival show; it was the first show I went to where my parents or friend’s parents didn’t drop us off/pick us up. Most of my extended circle of high school friends were there and throughout the festival, whether in line at the concessions or crammed against the stage, I ran into people I knew, giving the entire event a strange sort of familiarity. The entire day had the feel of the keggers we’d throw in the orange groves or at the house of whoever’s parents happened to be out of town for the weekend.

And let’s not forget the line-up. Although not nearly as full of household names as Lollapalooza II, there were some great bands there, all of which I had at least an interest in seeing:

Jane’s Addiction
Siouxsie and the Banshees
Nine Inch Nails
Butthole Surfers
Living Color
Ice-T and Body Count
Violent Femmes
Rollins Band

Rollins opened the festival. We had crammed up towards the front of the stage and could see Henry off behind a stack of amplifiers, jumping up and down and throwing punches, obviously psyching up for the set. A dozen or so hapless concert goers had set up blankets right up next to the stage, unaware of the fracas that would ensue as soon as Rollins took the stage. And ensue it did.  The crowd went ape-shit when Rollins got on the mike. Droves ran in horror from the pit as blankets went aloft and the crowd degenerated into an old school punk rock free-for-all. 

What a way to get the party started.

I wandered about the venue during the Femmes set. I recall a drunken Gibby Haynes from the Butthole Surfers going on an intelligible rant. Siouxsie Sioux, still the sexy beast, pranced about the stage in the same goth-style she helped create along with Robert Smith of The Cure in the early 80’s.

Nine Inch Nails “performed” a terse, 20 minute set… that is Trent Reznor proceeded to destroy all of the equipment on stage due to technical difficulties less than 30 minutes in. Guitars went flying, the keyboard was chucked into the drum kit, and Trent cursed and belittled the sound crew before storming off stage. 

After a handful of his “traditional” rap songs, Ice-T brought out his metal band: Body Count. An epic moment and one of the first rap-metal crossover attempts, Body Count nearly stole the show. 

Lyrics from the song, There Goes the Neighborhood summed it up: 

Don’t they know rock’s just for whites? Don’t they know the rules?

All the aforementioned bands put on great sets, yet the absolute pinnacle of the show was Jane’s Addiction. As much as I hated sharing my favorite band, Jane’s had brought alternative to the masses. They had perfected the gritty, sardonic sound the Seattle bands came to be known for when members of Pearl Jam were still mucking about in Mother Love Bone. Jane’s had more polish and finesse though. Riding high on the success of Ritual de lo Habitual yet technically on their farewell tour, for a group of guys who, as I understand it at the time actually hated each other, well, Jane’s Addiction would of tore the roof off Devore Stadium had it had one. Go-Go dancers in gold lame body suits graced the wings, and, unlike their Seattle counterparts, Perry Farrell actually embraced the rock star persona. 

I saw them over 20 years after Lollapalooza I, and save for a few wrinkles and a different bass player, it was the same intensity, stage presence, and unabashed rock and roll.

Driving home from San Diego north on Interstate 15 after the show, my friend Mike fell asleep at the wheel. Without warning he jerked the car towards the shoulder, yelling that a mattress had fallen out of the truck (there was no truck) in front of us. We talked Mike into letting me drive (I was the only other licensed driver in the car.) I took control and continued on without incident, Mike snoozing away in the passenger seat of his mom’s Sentra. I steered us home and relished in the fact that I had just seen the best concert of my life. That and I got to drive on the freeway for the first time. 

And honestly, for a 16 year old, that was almost as exciting as the show.

Alice in Chains, Hollywood Palladium, Hollywood, CA 12/16/1992

This was probably the 3rd or 4th show I had seen at the Palladium. At age 17 I considered myself a seasoned pro as far as concerts went. In addition to shows at the Palladium, I’d caught gigs at the Palace, Irvine Meadows, Universal Amphitheatre and many other clubs, theatres, and stadiums throughout L.A. and Southern California.  Usually overloaded with whichever friends were along for the show, I pushed my beat-up 1970 VW to its breaking point, navigating any number of southern California freeways depending on the venue.

Supporting the album Dirt, Alice in Chains was rising fast on the new popularity of the Seattle sound—a fluke in popular music that combined some of the anti-establishment sentiments and rough edges of punk rock with a traditional 70’s hard rock sound. Evolving somewhere between punk, hard rock, and metal, it was distorted guitars, combat boots, and long hair without any of the glam: better known as Grunge.

The lights came down and a huge banner behind the stage was subsequently back-lit. It depicted a Cheshire cat perched in the branches of a tree, a malevolent grin upon its face.  Poor Alice was hanging from her neck by the feline’s tail. The twisted spin on the Lewis Carroll tale brought uproarious cheers from the crowd which escalated exponentially as the band stirred in the wings.
I managed to wiggle, squeeze, and worm my way up to the very front of the stage just as Alice in Chains came on.  It was the closest I’d ever managed to get to the stage during a concert. Mere feet from now-deceased front-man Layne Stayley throughout most of the show, I absorbed the rock and roll aura that emanated forth. I banged my head of curly locks and was the epitome of a concert-going, shirtless tattooed youth—a generic caricature of the kids you see at concert films the world over. 

Stayley was an engaging performer—at times he looked me straight in the eyes. Just inches from my face I could smell liquor and cigarettes on his breath as he belted out the tunes. I got several high-fives from him and Jerry Cantrell throughout their performance and just missed catching both a guitar pick and a drumstick that were chucked into the crowd towards the end of the show. The bean-pole behind me had a bit longer reach… dammit.

After an hour-plus set the band stepped off stage for a moment. Upon their return Stayley addressed the crowd:

“What do you guys want to hear?!”

With all my might, I screamed “Rooster! Rooster!” repeatedly. I loved that song. It wasn’t the hardest song in Alice’s repertoire by a long shot, but the insightful lyrics that mused of Layne’s dad’s time in Vietnam struck a nerve with me for some reason. 

Layne looked straight at me.

“This kid wants to hear Rooster!” The crowd roared and he nodded at Jerry Cantrell. Thus it was decided. Thus I had decided the encore at the Hollywood Palladium that night.

Damn I love rock and roll.