Thursday, February 09, 2006

See Them If You Can

Some concerts are so disappointing that you have to see a band once more to give them another chance, and some are so good that you can never see that band again. I’ve had both experiences with Built to Spill, so I can’t attend their tour this spring (they'll be promoting You in Reverse, which is due in April). For those of you who can go, good news: They’re traveling all over the damn place.

In March 2000, I had tickets to see them at the Gypsy Tea Room in Dallas. There were two wrinkles: It was a Sunday night performance, and I hadn’t found anyone to go with me; and I was flying back to Dallas early that night from a few days in Las Vegas. Still, I dragged my lonely self to the club, because Perfect From Now On, the band’s most recent record at that time, was and remains one of a handful of my all-time favorites. Obviously, the deck was stacked against my having a good time – I didn’t mind the solitude so much (it beats bringing someone who’s reluctant and then monitoring their mood while trying to enjoy the show), but I was pretty exhausted, and the din of slot machines hadn’t quite left my ears (not that I play slots, but they’re the soundtrack in Vegas). It was an OK show, but I was hoping for transcendent, and it fell pretty far short of that.

I got my wish in September 2001, though. They played Irving Plaza in New York about 10 days after the attacks, and yes, the somber circumstances made witnessing a great show feel, even more than usual, like church. (And yes, the somber circumstances are what elevated it from one of the best shows I've seen to I-better-never-taint-this-by-seeing-them-again status.) But they also just sounded terrific, and tore through a few priceless covers, including George Harrison’s “What is Life” (complete with a horn section) and a spirited “Free Bird” during the encore (Built to Spill is the only band I can think of that could turn that choice from an initial tongue-in-cheek moment into an authentically great performance).

The point is this: I can't see them. If you can, do. It might be only decent, but it might be so good you'll never do it again.


Blogger Dezmond said...

Cool post. I'd be interested to hear other peoples' great concert moments. I've got a couple...

Dire Straits, Astroworld, Houston, 1984. My first concert. I had never heard of them, my sister took me. Still one of the greatest shows I've seen and heard (I know this isn't mere nostalgia, I have a bootleg of the show I saw, and it still kicks ass).

Bruce Springsteen, Texas Stadium, Dallas, 1985. The 'Born in the USA' juggernaut. This show felt more like an "event" than any other show I've ever seen. And the Boss delivered, getting even the upper deck people totally into the show. I've never been in a group of people so large that was so into why they were all there. Festival atmosphere.

Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, Rockefeller's Club, Houston, 1992. The best "surprise" show I've ever seen. Small club in Houston, me and my buddies went as a fluke for the hell of it because it sounded like it might be interesting. We were blown away. One of the few shows I've ever left literally shaking with excitement. Their shows have gotten routine nowadays, but it was still fresh at that point.

U2, Houston, 1988. Seeing U2 on the "Joshua Tree" tour? 'Nuff said.

Neil Young, Houston, 1989. Right before his big 1990's renaissance, so he was still considered washed up. He was touring behind a big band blues record, but got frustrated with his band and fired them all right before the show. The paper had been saying stuff like, "don't expect any of the familiar tunes, it is all horns and blues now with Neil". So, he shows up and does a killer hour long solo acoustic show, takes a break, and then comes out with Crazy Horse and plays every big hit he ever had at a volume of 11. My ears rang for days afterwards. It was worth the loss of hearing.

Those would be the top 5 (in no particular order).

Another fun question: if you could see anyone at any time in history, who and when would it be?

I'd pick The Police on the 'Synchronicity' tour, Springsteen circa about 1975-78, and The Kinks between 1980-84. Oh, and Men At Work.

10:21 AM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

Crap. I forgot these guitar god shows...

Eric Clapton, Houston, around 1990 or so. Right before he became a total AOR bore. We had 5th row seats, center. He tore it up that night.

Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bud Lite Festival, Houston, 1990 or so. Great festival. We pushed our way to front row, center to see SRV do his thing. It is even more impressive watching him. Great day for music. We also saw Fabulous Thunderbirds and Omar & the Howlers during the day, then at night we saw the Fab T-Birds and Stevie Ray play again to open for the main event, The Who. Great day for music, but SRV outside during the day was the highlight.

Finally, the greatest guitar show ever...

Jeff Beck, Austin, around 2000. I saw him at a relatively small venue that was basically a warehouse (The Austin Music Hall), I pushed my way up front. There is no guitar player better than Jeff Beck. Period.

Funny enough, back around 1989, I also saw Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jeff Beck on a double bill. Great show too, although at the time I did not understand guitar playing enough to understand why Beck was so amazing. I thought SRV blew him away that night, but I bet I would think differently now. SRV was more obvious and in your face, Beck was still in your face, but a lot more subtle about what he was doing. Beck is one of the few guitar geniuses we've ever had. He may be the only one to compete with Hendrix for greatness (well, and maybe Duane Allman).

10:30 AM  
Blogger JMW said...

dezmond, my readers must be wondering why you don't have your own blog, and I have no good answer for them.

That said, the best show I ever saw, hands down, was Prince in December 1998 in Dallas. It was a basketball arena, and we were in the upper deck, but it didn't matter. The Built to Spill show I mentioned would be up there. Radiohead opening for REM on the Bends tour...definitely up there. The Jayhawks at the Gypsy Tea Room in Dallas...I expected it to be good, but it was great.You don't like him, but Ray Lamontagne put on an amazing show last year at the Bowery Ballroom (the crowd was respectfully quiet for the most part, which was necessary). Lyle Lovett in San Antonio (thanks to you). And the Innocence Mission both times I've seen them -- beautiful stuff. Elliott Smith at Trees in Dallas. And Whiskeytown at the same place, just because Ryan Adams was a drunken jackass in the classical rock tradition, and nearly killed several patrons with beer bottles he tossed into the balcony. Good times.

10:43 AM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

Interestingly, a couple of those Lyle shows we attended in San Antonio at the Majestic Theater can be purchased on CD. His "Live in Texas" album was taken mostly from those San Antonio shows we were at.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Leonatus said...

I saw The Pharcyde in Amsterdam in 2000. It was transcendent because a) it was the first -- and remains the only -- hip-hop show I've ever seen, and b) because of the location, it meant they could get high before AND DURING their show. Good times. Most disappointing would be have to be Cat Power last year. I don't know who her producer is, but I assume he could make a vacuum cleaner sound like Beethoven's 9th.

Saw a great B.B. King show when I was 14, before he'd totally calcified into a cliche. Saw the Dirty Dozen Brass Band at a ridiculously small venue during a blizzard in Rhode Island. There were maybe 50 people at the show, which should have meant a no-energy, depressed evening but they basically turned it into a private show.

2:46 PM  

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