Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"If you yell 'PLAY FREEBIRD!' one more time, I'm gonna punch you in the neck!" - Part I

Top 'o the marnin' to ye, Relentless Reader.

So, the Sherlock Holmes-types amongst you may have already puzzled out that I'm kind of a music geek.

Ergo, I'm also a fan of live music.  Having just experienced the second-best concert-going experience of my entire life at the ripe old age of forty a mere few days ago, I thought it time to explore my history with bands in the flesh.

Wow, I  totally just made myself sound like Pam Des Barres there.  Oh well, it's a fair cop... 

It kinda sucks being a music nut growing up in a small town.  You may have found something that you're passionate about, you may even encounter a couple of similarly-minded people to hang out with but the chance of your rock idols playing anywhere close to you live is pretty friggin' remote.

Especially if you live on an isolated spike of rock in the middle of the Atlantic. Remote, indeed.

My penchant for metal saw me hanging out in High School with some guys that were in a band.  We were all identifiable as so-called "Bangers" by our distinctive uniform:

(Preferably Maiden, Ozzy, Zeppelin or Crue)

My first experience with live music was actually courtesy of our school's unofficial metal/rawk mascot band.  I can't even remember what they called themselves; all I remember is being in awe at their bravery and inherent coolness while they played Journey's "Stone In Love" like clockwork at every High School variety show.  

The reality is, they were probably just trying their best not to look and sound too much like Degrassi Jr. High's "Zit Remedy":

When I got to university in the beautiful city of Halifax I completely snapped on live music.  Within the first week my concert-going cherry was broken at one of the Saint Mary's "Bashes" at the Tower,  courtesy of Canadian New-Wave outfit "The Spoons":

I have to confess that I spent most of the show making goo-goo eyes at the impossibly hot Sandy Horne.  Mutter, mutter...stupid restraining order...

I was in lurve.  Not just with a hot professional chick bassist but with the experience.  I began to see concerts, like sporting events or live theater, as a set of particularly unique circumstances that will never happen again.  The memories you generate from events like this become little amber-frozen moments that are precious and timeless.   

Before I grow too maudlin, let me prove my point.  As a fourteen year old squirt growing up in Stephenville, Newfoundland I would never in a million years thought I'd ever see Iron Maiden live in concert.  But on January 13'th, 1991, a young metal-head's dream came true.

Before the show we went to drink over at friend's house.  He'd moved off-campus to a place on Robie Street (affectionately dubbed "The Swamp") to swill a bit of moonshine before the show.  After one blast of this high-octaine space-shuttle fuel I remember thinking to myself:

"Hey, dumbass!  Stop drinking!  You're about to fulfill the dream of a lifetime by seeing Maiden live and what?!...you're gonna get so drunk you won't even remember it?  That's f#@$&^* stupid!"

No amount of coaxing, torment or peer pressure could needle me into another drink.  To this day I never drink before concerts.  Why pay a hundred bucks only to stand around swaying in place, mouth agape, not even noticing when someone hits you in the face with a frisbee?

Anthrax opened up for Iron Maiden and put on a phenomenal show.  I wasn't a fan of theirs at the time because I'd gotten out of metal when it became "thrashy" but Anthrax was flawlessly tight, high-energy and didn't take themselves seriously.  I'm still a fan of theirs because of that night.  I thought my buddy Mike was going to have a conniption during their performance of "Indians".

I myself went totally bat-s$#^ nuts when Maiden finally took the stage.  This was during the "No Prayer On The Road" tour and rumor had it that the show would be very stripped compared to, say, the "Powerslave" tour.  When the stage was revealed I realized they weren't kidding.  All we got was a curtain with the album art back-projected, a modest stage arrangement which still allowed frontman Bruce Dickenson to indulge his penchant for acrobatics and a cameo by mascot/inspiration to all career-minded zombies "Eddie" (The 'Ed).

I spent the entire show balanced precariously on the backs of two chairs so I could see everything on stage.  During the infrequent song breaks Bruce Dickenson apologized for a head cold that was wreaking havoc with his usually operatic pipes and for a more sparse stage set than normal.  At the time he claimed that a cargo ship which was carrying a ton of their gear as ballast had sunk a few days prior while en route to Halifax.

Over the years I'd come to think of this as total bulls#$! until I "Googled" this just minutes ago:


Regardless of the crazy circumstances (and the lack of Adrian Smith's presence) I have nothing but fond memories of the show.  By the end of it I'd screamed my voice into oblivion while belting out such trachea-rending faves as "Wrathchild", "Hallowed Be Thy Name", and "The Number of the Beast".   

Here's l'il sampling.  TURN IT UP!

I was now completely addicted to the live music experience, which was further intensified by seeing bands in smaller venues.  Diverse, exciting and eager-to-please domestic acts like The Barenaked Ladies (detailed here: http://emblogificationcapturedevice.blogspot.com/2010/07/clothes-make-man.html...yer humble host), The Doughboys, The Grapes of Wrath, The Pursuit of Happiness, Sloan and The Watchmen all impressed me to an extent.  

The amazing Leslie Spit Tree-O, for example, did a series of very wild and interactive shows.  I remember standing by the stage quite often with Mike and lead vocalist/free spirit/interpretive dancer Laura Hubert who often would humor our requests for songs.  

Well, here's a request I'll expect to have honored when I become Emperor of Canada: I decree that Leslie Spit Tree-O will promptly drop everything their doing right now, re-unite and perform the song "Falling Star" live on a constant loop until I demand otherwise!

*Hurm*, I couldn't find "Falling Star" but this will nicely exhibit their prodigious harmonic talents:

To drive home how important it is not to drink too much before a concert, I must tell the sorrowful tale of my friend Mike.  In the early Nineties, we were all collectively (and somewhat inexplicably) fans of "Bootsauce", Canada's answer to the "Red Hot Chili Peppers".  In fact, if memory serves, it was actually Mike who first introduced us to them.  Here's a sample from the "Much Music" video archives: 

Anyway, every member of my inner circle just loved these guys to death and it took forever for them to come to Halifax.  When the announcement came that they were to finally going to pay a visit to the late, lamented "Misty Moon" on Barrington Street, we were on the cusp of major upheaval.  

This came at the end of a school year and just before we all moved out of the house we shared together.  This was to be more than a mere concert.  It was a signpost, an exclamation point, a sure omen that a glorious era was coming to a close.  There was no better time nor occasion for one last big group hootenanny.

We counted down the days before the show.  Finally the big night came and most of us got psyched by playing the band's albums incessantly.  Mike, however, decided to prepare for this auspicious event by getting completely obliviated drunk.  

Even to this day we still struggle to convince Mike that he was even at the show.

"Dude, trust me!  You were there!  You had the time of your life!"

"Nope!  Didn't happen!  Never saw 'em!"

"But you and Colin sang 'Love Monkey #9' with the lead singer, for f#@$%'s sake!"

Word to the wise, kids: heed me on this one!

And now I'm gonna contradict myself a bit.  One time drink saved my life, but it wasn't because I drank before the show so much as during and immediately after.

We'd seen Toronto Ontario's King Apparatus before and had a blast with their quintessential brand of punk, ska, energy and witty lyrics.  When we learned of their return to our fair city at the late, lamented (I grow weary of writing that) "Double Deuce" our presence was not so much suggested it was required.  

There was just one little thing standing in the way: the weather reports were reporting b-a-a-a-a-a-d s#!%  that evening and threatened to derail our fun.  Well, it almost did for about five minutes, but we quickly decided "f#@% it" and went anyway.

Undaunted by the weather warnings and doomsayers we grabbed our long-sleeve shirts (jackets were a pain in the ass to check in, sometimes costing half the price of a drink, fugedabouddit!) and made our way to the "Deuce" during blizzard conditions.  Despite the terrible weather, a rabid little crowd had gathered to watch the band bounce through their modest catalog of grooves like "Hangin' On", "Five Good Reasons", "Made for T.V." and this appropriate ditty:

The show was a blast.  Me, Mike and our unlikely-but-stalwart ally Colin sang, drank, bounced, shouted and danced (read flailed, moshed and pogo-ed about spasmodically) until the end of the set, totally oblivious to the dangerous, whiteout conditions just outside the door.  After the show I bought a concert shirt (likely where my penchant for such things first started) and settled in for an evening of heavy libations.

Eventually we closed the place down and got kicked out into what has since become known as:

That's right, folks, we staggered home during the gale that sunk George Clooney's boat.  Mercifully it did grow relatively mild somewhere along the trek, but it left two or three feet of packed slush to swim through, since we could all barely walk. 

I'm not exaggerating here, Incredulous Reader, we swam most of the way home.  Which is pretty incredible since I really can't swim.   With my blood steam awash with enough alcohol content to paralyze a gazelle, I was well insulated against the elements but I seem to recall that Colin prevented me from drowning a few times by hauling me to my feet using my belt.  At one point in time Mike picked up my t-shirt which I'd lost and was now adrift a few yards back.

I still remember us crawling up the steps of our rented townhouse on Lucknow like exhausted survivors on a desert island and a housemate slowly opening the door to appraise as if we were nuts.

Good judge of character, that one. 

Another seminal act that we took in without fail was Saskatoon, Saskatchewan's Northern Pikes. You may laugh now, but back in the Early Nineties, these guys could do no wrong.  Their song "Girl With A Problem" was like the de facto theme song for half the girl on our sister floor in residence:

I recall nearly dying of heat prostration when we illegally packed like lemmings into the "Misty Moon" to see these guys entertain about a hojillion crazed fans.  The crowd was sweating, the band was sweating, the glass work in the place was sweating.  I'm sure I lost four pounds on average during every one of their shows.

Sadly nothing stays the same, which proves the old adage: see your favorite bands now, folks!  Don't wait 'til it's too late.

We now know that internal strife within the band soon caused trouble in paradise for the "Pikes".  The last Saint Mary's "Bash" we saw them perform was pretty mournful.  It's as if all the life and joy had been sucked right out of them.  Things hit rock bottom years later, when in 2001, I saw them play a spirited but slightly pitiable show at "Key Largo's" in Lower Sackville for a small handful of fans, slack-jawed yokels and overweight families too distracted by their chicken wings to even pay attention.

Also during this time Metallica's self-titled "Black" album was swiftly becoming one of our soundtrack discs.  I had the privilege of witnessing them destroy our Metro Center on February 10, 1993 with the following unrelenting set:

    Enter Sandman
    Creeping Death
    Harvester of Sorrow
    Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
    Sad But True
    Of Wolf & Man
    The Unforgiven
    Justice Medley
    Through the Never
    For Whom the Bell Tolls
    Fade to Black
    Master of Puppets
    Seek & Destroy
    Nothing Else Matters
    Wherever I May Roam
    Am I Evil?
    Last Caress

I still remember just how flawless their sound and presentation was.   They used their diamond-configured stage to entertain the audience of ten-thousand as deftly as if they were playing a small club.  They were like perfectly programmed metal monster machines who's only function was to blast your face off and leave you bludgeoned, pantless, deafened and whimpering for your mommy. The pyro alone was enough to ensure your head was completely devoid of eyebrows by the end of the show.

Here's some proof:

Ahhhh, I long for the days when Metallica didn't suck.  

I also had the privilege of seeing my life-time favorites "The Tragically Hip" go from cultish club darlings to consistent arena-packers.  Their tour in support of the "Fully Completely" album was riveting.  The band used beautiful and evocative back-screen projected art to keep the audience wired.  At one point during the song "Courage (For Hugh McClennan)" the band threw up the house lights and I distinctly remember entering some sort of weird concert nirvana.  I looked up and for one amazing moment it seemed as if  I could clearly see the faces of every one of  my fellow revelers around me, bullet-time style.  It was a fantastically communal and borderline tribal moment.

Alright, I know what you're thinking: (best read in voice of Phil Hartman as Frank Sinatra)  "You may not have a meetin' with the minds with Jack Daniels before a show, but you're smokin' somethin'!  Lay off the funny stuff, Ringo!"

You can think this all you want but I maintain: it's all natural baby!  That's concert magic in action!  Or it could have been a contact high...

The experience with "The Hip" was also aided considerably by Gord Downie's constant stream-of consciousness ramblings.  I still remember his first words to me as an audience member.  At one point in time between songs he just looked down at the roiling sea of humanity below and calmly observed:

"I like to think of all of you as the sperm and I'm the ovum."

One of my favorite concerts to this very day also occurred during this era.  It was Dread Zeppelin at the "Misty Moon".  For you poor uncultured bastards out there who don't know who Dread Zeppelin is, here is their Wikipedia entry:

"Dread Zeppelin is an American band best known for performing the songs of Led Zeppelin in a reggae style as sung by a 300 pound Vegas Elvis impersonator." 

And let me tell ya, baby, this is just as awesome as it sounds.  Here's a vid:  

We got ready for the show by renting dread lock wigs from "Boutilier's Costume Shop" in Dartmouth, which was kind of an unfortunate choice for me because the black wig with the red bows I got stuck with sorta made me a dead ringer for comic book scamp Little Lulu.

We also procured some "Rick's Fine Foods" pre-cooked hermetically sealed hamburgers using our meal cards as a gift for lead singer Tortelvis, who had a penchant for munching on such offerings mid-concert.

The place was packed and we managed to weasel our way next to the stage.  We were nearly crushed by the throng of Zep/reggae/Elvis crazed lunatics.  At one point one of our numbers got up on stage, flailed around a bit like Kermit the Frog on crystal meth and than promptly dived back into the audience, which promptly parted like the Red Sea.  He was nearly killed in the process.    

Good times.

Stay tuned folks, more concert tales are a-comin'...

Live After DeathUn-Led-EdLive Between UsLive Shit: Binge & Purge (CD & DVD)King ApparatusHits & Secrets

FAIL: http://annistonotr.blogspot.com/2007/09/worst-concerts-ever.html

1 comment:

Brodie said...

Awesome entry, as always Dave. Will we get to hear what your favourite concert experience was? These all seem so great, it'll have to be amazing!