Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Ten Shows: Part I

For the next few posts I’m going to engage another aspect of my music experience through the years: concerts.

A smattering of memory lurks about from the first show I ever attended: The Beach Boys at Universal Amphitheater in Hollywood, CA. I was with my parents and older sister and likely 8 or 9 years old at the time. I recall beach balls being bounced about throughout most of the show and what may have been an inebriated Brian Wilson saying he “forgot the goddamn words” to a song he was trying to pound out on the piano. It also may have been the first time I smelled marijuana—I vaguely remember a group in front of us sharing (what I thought at the time was) a cigarette, my parents likely looking on in dismay as an unfamiliar scent wafted about.  

Overall a pretty respectable experience for my first concert.  

How many shows have I seen since? I have no idea. I kept track for many years, collecting ticket stubs and making scrap books, happy to shell out $20-$30 on a shirt to add to my ever-expanding collection. Concerts were a package deal in my teens and twenties—you partied in the parking lot, you saw the show, you got a shirt, and in rare cases you could score a recording of the gig at some point to preserve the memory for a lifetime. 

The older I got the less important the mementos and parking lot-partying became. Bordering on snobbery now, I am fairly particular about the shows I’ll attend. Put simply some artist’s whose albums I enjoy are just not all that great of a live act. Sure, the concert “experience” is just that, an experience, but I just won't cough up $30-$100+ on a band that has some great albums but puts on a so-so live show. 

Segue to my subject—the 10 best concerts I’ve attended. I’m going to blend some criteria (performance, overall experience, etc.) for this one due to cloudy memories and the less-discerning ear of my youth. I don’t think I knew a bad performance from good one as a teen, thus what I thought was an amazing performance by, say, Pearl Jam at Lollapalooza in 1992 may have been mediocre at best. Regardless, a great time at a concert is just that, even if performance-wise a band was lacking.

I’m also going to diverge from my usual modus operandi and split this list up over several posts to keep from losing those of the shorter attention span. I know how it goes...

 Again, in no particular order, although I will save the best few for last:

Phil Lesh & Friends/Bob Dylan & his Band—Ventura County Fairgrounds, CA 6/30/2000
This was the 2nd show of a run of concerts I hit with my wife and some friends in the summer of 2000. Making good money and having no kids yet, we were free to indulge in impromptu just about anything back in those days. With a couple of weeks of vacation to burn, we drove up and down the state of California, camping, partying, and doing what all twenty-somethings should get an opportunity to do.

 We had hit the first of two Lesh/Dylan shows in Irvine and puttered up Pacific Coast Highway in my ’73 VW bus to catch them in Ventura. A literal caravan of vehicles with a cadre of friends snaked its way up the California coast from L.A., one in our entourage picking up a few hitchhikers near Rincon as we made for a campground not far from the concert venue at the county fairgrounds in Ventura. 

After setting up camp, everyone piled into my van and we headed to Seaside Park.

Sufficiently primed in the parking lot after partaking in the usual pre-show reverie, we headed into the venue. The place was certainly more suited to hosting a demolition derby than a rock concert. The stage sat in the middle of a dirt rodeo/race track surrounded by a rickety grandstand. A plume of dust kicked up as a hoard of Deadheads filtered down towards the stage. 

Dylan went on well before sundown and delivered a respectable set, actually annunciating more than he’s known to and picking mostly well-known songs from a hit-rich repertoire while mixing in just a bit of newer and more obscure material.

 The show overall was fantastic—Phil jammed well into the late hours, noodling away and sounding fluid and comfortable with his then-incarnation of ‘Friends.’ The music was cerebral and psychedelic, hitting song after song from the Grateful Dead’s vast catalog. Phil’s band took the tunes to a level that, at times, sounded like a reborn version of the Dead circa 1969.  Much to everyone's surprise, an Amtrak train roared past outside the grounds just behind the stage sometime during Phil's set, adding an exceptionally surreal, if not storybook quality to the concert. If only they had been playing Casey Jones… 

After the show we crammed back into the bus and I eased it slowly back towards the oceanfront campground. Working my way through the finicky gears we buzzed along, covering the short distance without incident only to find the entrance to the campground blocked and locked. Apparently (obviously) no one noticed the overly-conspicuous sign posted both inside and outside the campground that stated no entry after 11:00 p.m. Shit. 

Yet the exit was unfettered save for a row of those tire-puncturing retractable teeth that of course had their business-end facing our direction.  Not to be put out so easily, we managed to strategically jam branches and rocks into the teeth and depress them just enough so that I was able to squeeze two of the VW’s wheels along the non-booby-trapped edge of the exit while the others rolled harmlessly over a pile of rocks and sticks. 

Much to our neighboring camper’s displeasure, victory (and a roaring campfire and plenty more booze) was ours.