Friday, August 6, 2010

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

Welcome, Curious Spectator.

WOOO!!!! HOOOOT!!!! HOLLA!!!!  Sorry, I'm just kind of excited to talk about these next few shows.

In 2003 Tragically Hip frontman Gordon (nee Gord, sorry...I always wanted to say "nee" ) Downie played a small, intimate show at the Paragon (a.k.a. the club formally known as "Marquee"), pitching his second solo album backed up by an eclectic assemblage of musicians collectively known as The Country of Miracles.

Sometime you attend rough gigs that you expect to be rough, so you're kinda prepared for it.  But sometimes you can really get caught completely unawares if you get stuck with the wrong crowd.

The funny thing about Gordo and The Hip is that they inexplicably seem to appeal to a certain segment of drunken date rapist, polo-shirt/truckers cap wearing asshole frat boy types just as readily as the thoughtful, intelligent and contemplative fan.  Now, that's not a slight against the band.  Morons can watch the movie "Fight Club" and enjoy the dust-ups while someone with some cranial capacity will understand it on several fronts.  

Anyway, guess what heavy percentage showed up at this gig?  Crowd surfing at a Country of Miracles show?  What are you, on dope?

Oh, yes...I see. 

Ironically it was one of the nuttiest shows I'd been to since I got trapped in the organized riot that was the Foo Fighters mosh pit.  Gord, being the consummate pro, recognized the periodic chaos and tried to calm the great unwashed masses down by interspersing some quiet tunes.  Here's a clip to illustrate just how ludicrous this whole story is:

Wow. What a difference seven years makes in a video channel, huh?  Can you imagine "Much Music" doing an "Intimate and Interactive" like this now?   Do you think that one day they'll have an epiphany and realize that people, even young people, want to see good, real, live music and not crap?

Of course not.  That's crazy talk!  

Sorry, I digress.  Soooo, that was pretty tranquil, right?

Anyway, despite (or because of) all the insanity, the show was a real barn-burner.  It was great just being that close to a Canadian musical icon.  I don't know if it was his proximity to the crowd or the general insanity, but Gord was relatively sedate.   Relatively sedate in an intense, slow-burn and completely hypnotic sort of way (of course).

Songs like "Chancellor", "Pasquale's Submarine", "Vancouver Divorce", "We're Hardcore", "Christmastime in Toronto", "Figment", "The Never Ending Present", "Canada Geese", "Lofty Pines", "Yer Possessed", and "Trick Rider" were rendered with appropriate elan or tranquility, depending on how the band wanted to bend the mood of the crowd to their will.  I still believe that they would have played longer if not for the pronounced hooligan factor.

I remember walking away from the stage and nearly tripping and falling in the nearly ankle-deep pool of beer and shattered glass underfoot.  Friggin' nuts.

2005 brought some pivotal concert-going memories, including my favorite show of all time (thus far).  First and foremost, The Rolling Stones brought their Bigger Bang tour to Moncton (undoubtedly de-consecrating the Magnetic Hill Pope site in the process.) 

Some concerts I see because I've heard good things about an up-and-coming act.  Some concerts I see because I'm completely emotionally invested in the performer.  I saw The Rolling Stones for a completely different reason:

They're the friggin' Rolling StonesC'mon, people! 

I didn't own any of their albums at the time, a major failing on my part.  I've since come to the conclusion that I'm not so much a fan of their hit singles as their "B"-side stuff.  For example, I love, love, love this tune, but they rarely play it live:

After a welcome set by "The Hip" and a completely disposable showing by vapid pop pretty-boys, Moroon 5, darkness began to claim the concert site. Appropriately cloaked, the band hit the stage with the energy of kids half their age.

Kicked off the by the no-brainer "Start Me Up", the band proceeded to deliver a massive rock spectacle of the highest order.  Everything was as you might expect it to be.  Keef was cutting some tasty riffs, striking his characteristically vacant detox rock star poses.  Mick pranced and minced around the stage like a leathery, flamboyant harlequin.  Ronnie Wood rocked a mean bass grove, blew kisses to the audience and played off of his band mates with typical aplomb.  And finally the always-stalwart Charlie Watts, clad in his white uniform t-shirt, drummed away like an older brother bemused by his crazy siblings. 

The stage was insane with its nine tiers of elaborate lighting, a network of ramps that Mick could do laps around, three massive video screens and, of course, a ginormous set of inflatable lips and tongue.  Wisely, the band also invested in a rising secondary stage which was used mid-show to turn the massive rock extravaganza into the equivalent of an intimate club gig.  Brilliant! 

By the time the lights and screens went blood red and nearly the entire stage erupted in columns of fire, we knew what we were in for.  The band clobbered the rabid crowd with a one-two punch of  "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Paint It Black".    I can't explain this sensation to someone who hasn't experienced it but it's a real trip to sing a legendary rock song in unison with 80,000 music fans and the actual band that wrote said classic!

This was truly a stellar show.  Along with what I've already mentioned, we were also were treated to classics like "It's Only Rock & Roll", "Tumbling Dice", "Ruby Tuesday", "You Can't Always Get What You Want",  "Miss You", "Midnight Rambler", "Honky Tonk Women", "Jumping Jack Flash", "Brown Sugar" and an "extended dance mix" version of "Satisfaction" as an encore.

Needless to say, with this being my first big arena rock experience, the bar had been set pretty friggin' high for any future pretenders to the throne.    

But this was still not my favorite concert of all time. What could possibly top this you ask?

The event in question occurred mere weeks later on September 22'nd that same year.  It was Pearl Jam live at the Metro Center.

And frankly, when the announcement came, the show worried me a bit.  In the early Nineties Pearl Jam was renowned for producing some of the most electric and dynamic live shows ever.  Lead singer/human spider monkey Eddie Vedder would often risk life and limb by crowd diving, climbing to dizzying heights atop a pinnacle of speakers or swinging around in the rafters.

But when Pearl Jam literally turned their back on the spotlight in the mid-Nineties, Vedder and company became kinda sullen and morose, as if rock stardom was an albatross hanging around their collective necks.  What band would show up on that appointed date?

Tickets sold out within an hour.  I barely managed to snag four seats on the far side of the arena, so, thinking myself clever, I brought along a small pair of binoculars to use during the show.

During the check-in, a security guy who'd obviously been born sans penis declared that my binoculars could be "used as a weapon" and threatened to confiscate them.  Stunned with having to choose between losing an expensive pair of Bushnell's or doing a "Chariots of Fire" sprint back to where I'd parked the car (and risk missing the start of the show), I begrudgingly took the latter option.

I was hella-pissed by the time I got back.  To reward people who'd shown up early, Eddie Vedder himself had wandered out on stage to do a solo acoustic version of "Drifting" and give a boffo introduction for Sleater-Kinney.  I'd missed this awesome moment and Sleater-Kinney's first two songs!

I tell ya right now, if I could just have that tool from security right here right now I'd beat him to death with a pillowcase filled with rusty doorknobs.  

I really liked (and still dearly miss) Sleater-Kinney so I'm still quite vexed that I missed their first few tunes.  "I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone" is one of my favorite tunes!

As I settled into my seat, a friend and fellow attendee told me that he'd had a similar run-in with security.  They'd ordered him to surrender a $100.00 set of pro bike pedals he'd just bought a mere two hours ago because they "could be used as a weapon" as well.  I can imagine the headlines now:


Like me, rather than risk loosing them he'd been forced to run back to his wife's place of employment, leave the bike pedals in her desk and beat feet all the way back again!

All 13,000 seats in the Metro Center were filled with the bums of Pearl Jam fans that had waited fifteen years to see their beloved band live.  By the time they came onstage and eased into their historic set with a haunting rendition of "Hard To Imagine" it quickly became apparent that everyone in attendance knew every line to this song and were all singing along without any prompts!

Duly impressed, the band launched into "Animal": a pure blast of cutting guitar, primal howls and rollicking drum and bass lines.  It was soon glaringly obvious: everyone under the roof of that building that evening seemed to be in perfect universal harmony.  I sensed immediately that this was sure to be the concert of a lifetime.   

Now Pearl Jam isn't like some other bands I've mentioned that refuse to acknowledge the presence of a crowd.  The boys were constantly toasting the city of Halifax, making reference to our local "Keith's" beer, and bantering with the audience.

The attention was returned triple-fold.  The gathered broke into spontaneous beat-claps, shouted screams of bliss, bellowed tributes to keyboardist Boom Gaspar ("BOOOOOOOOM!"), provided unflagging vocal back-ups and served up thunderous ovations which sometimes impeded the band from moving on to the next song!  

The sound was immaculate.  Every note from lead guitarist Mike McCready and Stone Gossard was distinct.  The percussion provided from ex-Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron was nothing short of awe-inspiring.  Bassist Jeff Ament was also relentless, periodically pogoing around the stage and risking whiplash by headbanging like a speed-metal freak.

And we were also lucky enough to have the Eddie Vedder of yore in attendance.  Sporting a black t-shirt that said "SHOW ME YOUR RIFFS" he lurched all over the stage, balanced a can of beer on his head during the entire duration of "Down"and held an intense command like a musical Svengali.

After raising hackles up our collective backs with an amazing rendition of "Dissident", the boys threw us a rare treat by playing both "State of Love and Trust" and "Breathe" from the soundtrack of the movie Singles.  The infrequency of the band ever playing these songs in recent concerts can be highlighted in this audio clip from "Breathe" in which Vedder actually forgets the lyrics at the 1:14 mark and substitutes a salty epithet.

P.S. Stick around at the end of this for Eddie's priceless banter about small towns...

Wow, I think I can actually hear myself screaming lyrics at the 3:17 point.

At the end of the first thirteen song first set (!), the band rewarded our unquestionable devotion by blowing the dust off of "Jeremy", a tune they'd virtually mothballed since the matching video produced at the time drew put a bit too much emphasis on the look of the band versus the sound.  Again, this is what I'm talking about when I rant about the historic significance of live performances.  When the Halifax setlist got posted on fanpages, people just couldn't believe Pearl Jam had actually played some of these tunes for us.  

Y'know, I could go on an don about every song in this amazing show but the real  moment of transcendence occurred in the second (yes, I said second) encore when the entire first verse of "Betterman" was co-opted by the audience and sung without Vedder's participation.  Here's that magical moment captured right here:

I actually tear up like a weepy little b!@#$ when I hear this.  How sad is that?

The whole magical event was nicely capped off with an off-the-hook cover of Neil Young's "Rockin' In the Free World" which saw Sleater Kinney's return to the stage for one big final monster jam.  All 13,000 people in attendance that night stumbled out of the Metro Center completely worn out yet very aware of the importance of what they'd witnessed.

More to come later.  Have a great weekend, peoples!  
EPIC: Here's a link to the entire Halifax/Pearl Jam show for your listening pleasure...

FAIL:  In the immortal words of Johhny Rotten: "Ever get the feeling that you've been cheated?"  Bad tumble, tho.

1 comment:

Brodie said...

That's what I call a hometown Halifax campfire sing-a-long.

PJ was already one of my all time favourite bands, but that show definitely cemented it! I got married 2 days later.

Thank you for the memories!