Every time I force my loved ones to do their best imitation of Jacob Two-Two I'm reminded of the sheer scale of abuse I've put my ears through over the years.
If I had a time machine I'd do a lot of cool, responsible and awesome things. Like go back and force Spielberg and Lucas to shoot Frank Darabont's original script for "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" versus the decoy script that obviously got filmed by mistake.
Oh, and the second thing I would do is warn "L'il Dave" about the dangers of not wearing earplugs at concerts and standing adjacent to a floor-level stack of Marshal amps.
So, in the spirit of fair warning, here's "Dave's Top Five Concerts That Led To His Currently Shameful State of Hearing":
5. WILCO March 3'rd 2010. Y'know, after some of the other cochlea-stripping shows on this lists, the Gods were soon screaming in my ear to wear plugs for every show. But since I was partially deaf by then I guess I couldn't even hear the booming, Laurence Olivier-esque delivery of the Gods anymore. By rights, if they had really intended for me to get the message, they should have used telepathy. Like in that episode of "W.K.R.P. in Cincinnati" when God talked to Johnny Fever.
"DAVE, I WANT YOU TO BE A GOLF PRO! OH, AND START WEARING EARPLUGS TO CONCERTS, YOU SILLY B!%$#."
Anyhoo, I didn't wear earplugs to this Wilco show 'cuz I thought: hmmmm, nice little alt-country band...it'll be okay. WRONG! These f#@$%&^ were loud! Maybe it's because I was wedged into the crowd, shoulder-to-shoulder mere meters from the stage and the Halifax Forum Multi Purpose Room is a pretty teeny place, comparatively speaking. Whatever it was my ears were a-ringin' for days.
The show itself was fantastic. It was a real mix of modern faves and selections stretching all the way back to the beginning of their prolific careers. At one point during the show lead singer Jeff Tweedy stopped the show so we could sing "Happy Birthday" to a member of the merch crew. He then tasked the audience to deliver a "Superstore" slab cake intact from the stage to the back of the venue, passing it above our heads like a crowd-surfing edible oil product.
If you don't know anything about Wilco, by the way, here's your chance to become informed and enrich your life. Also if you think I was hedging my bet regarding the show's potential volume, just watch this clip of them performing the beautiful "War on War" on Letterman's show and then try and convince me that I had to roll a hard "6" that night to avoid a punctured eardrum...
Peppy, but not exactly "Slayer" is it? Tha's what I'm sayin', G!
4. DINOSAUR JR. SEPTEMBER 4'TH, 2006 Well I was positively pickled tink when one of my fave defunct alt-buzz rockers from the late-Eighties/early Nineties reunited for a series of small club gigs. By this time I'd smartened up a bit and was habitually wearing earplugs to live shows.
Unfortunately I was also in the habit of tearing the earplugs in half for fear of not getting the "full concert experience." After the Dinosaur Jr. show I was also made painfully aware that earplugs had a decibel limit. The band's sound system would have tested the structural integrity of the heartiest earplug at the best of times, let alone a pair that had been ripped in half (?!).
I always tell myself before a show: "Y'know, it's okay. You don't have to go to the front of the stage. You can hold back and enjoy yourself from a distance."
Yeah, I can't even keep a straight face as I type that. I never listen to myself. I always wanna be as close to the s#!% as possible. I want the visceral experience of being perspired upon by the performer.
This usually means that I find myself standing next to a stack of amps as the bass slowly turns my major organs into pudding like some sort of Congo-spawned audio-virus.
Regardless of the fact that I had to use a pair of tweezers from the game "Operation" to fish the plugs out of my inner ear canal at the end of the show, it was still pretty impressive. I'm convinced to this day that J. Mascis and company had no idea that a crowd had actually gathered to watch them play. They didn't do much to engage the audience but were forced to acknowledge our presence a few times when the appreciative crowd went feral between each impeccably delivered tune.
They played a set almost entirely composed of tracks from their first three pre-original member breakup albums. That was fine by me since each and every song was a flawless storm of distortion, melody and infallible musicianship. Usually when bands use feedback live it's as irritating as f#@$ but Dino Jr. make it a fourth instrument.
Oh, and drummer Lou Barlow is a friggin' god.
Despite the ear injury this is a gig I'll cherish forever.
Here's a tasty tidbit:
3. SHADOWY MEN ON A SHADOWY PLANET, 1991. Canada's early-Nineties surf kings who were renowned for providing the theme song and transition music for "The Kids in the Hall". Long before Jersey Shore's "The Situation" was invited by the "Pacifico" to pollute the downtown core the same space was used by the "Pub Flamingo" to exhibit real, live talent in an intimate cabaret setting. And when I mean intimate, I mean very intimate. I mean being crammed into an elevator with a three piece band and fourteen people intent on moshing. And no one is wearing pants.
I'd played SMOASP's album "Savvy Show Stoppers" incessantly in preparation of the gig, oblivious to the fact that the bands all-instrumental, surf music would be amplified exponentially in the small club. The result was that every note, every riff was the equivalent of having "Animal" from the Muppets use your ear drums to beat out a particularly frenetic version of "Wipeout".
Oh, and instead of drumsticks, someone's given Animal a pair of railroad spikes to use.
At the time I was totally oblivious. When asked I characterized their sound as "sharp and flawless". A bit too sharp and flawless perhaps? Not only were my ears adrift in a "COME IN TOKYO" sea of static for days, this one actually physically hurt me.
Here's a sampling of their amazing sound. After you listen to this I'm sure you can see the potential of grievous bodily harm if it's cranked up to "11" and contained in a space the size of a phone booth:
2. MOTLEY CRUE November 16'th, 2006 This was the show that convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that earplugs would need to become a default component of my concert-going uniform.
As a concert goer, I've actually been pretty lucky. If you were to take that oft-mentioned time traveling device back to 1983 and ask L'il Dave what his three favorite musical acts were at the time he'd tell you (with voice a-crackin' like the pimply-faced teenager from "The Simpsons"):
- Ozzy Osbourne
- Iron Maiden
- Motley Crue
When me and three fellow fans caught the Crue (I hear there's now a shot you can get for that, by the way) we had no expectations whatsoever. But the boys came out like a house on fire, like they'd just piled out of a van, were pointed towards the stage and then played as if they were trying to earn new fans for the first time ever.
There were elaborate stage sets, pyro, video screens, gratuitous boobage, drums on risers, wire acts, a high-flyin' Tommy Lee and of course, prodigious amounts of of bone-shattering vollume.
Here are a few typically tranquil moments:
During the early goings of the show the band actually blew out a fleet of speakers and had to pause momentarily before the back ups kicked in. Co-incidentally they also obliterated what was left of my ragged eardrums.
1. Gowan 1990 You read it correctly here first. The "Strange Animal" himself. Lawrence friggin' Gowan.
That's right, folks. Wee little be-mulleted, Peter Pan booted Larry Gowan almost single handedly cost me one of my five senses.
Now, I know what you're thinking..."Gowan? Go onnnnn!"
Geddit? See what I did there? Gowan? "GO ON!" Funny, huh? Funny cuz it sorta, y'know...sorta sounds the same. Kinda. *Ahem.*
Actually it's much more my fault than his. Me and two other university buddies saw him at "The Palace". This was back in the day before tech crews elevated the stacks so that the sound dispersed into the ceiling rather than through the bodies of unsuspecting concert-goers like s#!$ through a goose.
So, like complete idiots, the three of us stood there next to the monolithic wall of speakers by the stage for the duration of the entire show, oblivious to the fact that the din was stripping the cilia off the inside of our ears as expertly as a sandblaster attacks graffiti.
Despite the impending life-long handicap the show was terrific. The funny thing is I'd gone that night not because I had some sort of fetish for Gowan, but mainly because it was something to do. We kinda went as a lark.
But THE MAN shut us up pretty quickly. Gowan was a friggin' dynamo, a human whirlwind, a little Scottish Bono-clone prone to fits of prancing, split-dives, fist-pumps, Spring-Heeled Jack style vaults, scissor kicks, spins, and whirling keyboards.
Don't believe me? Check this s#!% out...
I'm tellin' you man. Respec my boy. He was the Mac Daddy. Or the Daddy Mac, I'm not sure which.
Gowan: the only live act to dissuade my temptation to heckle by performing like a house on fire and rendering me deafer than Marlee Marlin.
Watch the volume kiddies and wear yer 'plugs!