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.