Friday, March 6, 2015

Best and Worst - The Concert Edition

So earlier today my friend Keith asked us Facebook friends to answer his curiosity question:

“Best & Worst Live band you ever saw? 1,2,3 Go!!”

I thought about it because I’ve seen a LOT of live music over the years.

Since my first concert at age 11 – The Cars where the people in front of us smoked weed during the whole show – to  the last show I’ve been to as of this moment – Banana Gun and Sugar Thieves January 2015 – almost every band/singer/songwriter I’ve seen perform has had a definite impact on my life.

But the reasons are almost as varied as the styles of music I listen to. Because it’s not always just about the music.

Music has permeated every aspect of my life. In fact, that scene in High Fidelity where Cusack’s character is filing his records autobiographically is just about right. So it’s no shock that live music will have an even greater impact on me because of where I am, who I’m with and what made that journey amazing.

Including, but not limited to, the music.

Those songs that remind you of another person can be a blessing or a curse depending on the person in question, am I right?

It kind of hit me that’s probably the real reason Keith and I have maintained such a strong friendship for so many years – we’re both music junkies. Bonding over music is a very powerful thing.

And our tastes, though different at times, are both pretty well varied. As a DJ my friend has to have a healthy appreciation for all kinds of music. Knowing the exact right moment to play the exact right tune is a talent. For me, a writer, I need to feel the music because it helps me with character and story development.

So there was no way my answer to his question would be short. In fact, I opened my comment with:

I could write a book on this (and I've actually considered it)

Starting with the best and then in no particular order, the concerts that came to mind today include…

Best - Jason Mraz at Irving Plaza in NYC 7/21/2006.

He’d been touring his second album, Mr. A-Z, non-stop and Irving was either the last or one of the last tour stops from that year. This was a while before he started getting healthy & quit smoking so the road had taken a definite toll on the poor guy.

I was a Jason live junkie back then – anything and everything I could get my hands on from his live shows I wanted to have it in my music collection. So I knew his usual personality on stage but that night at Irving his tank was empty. He went through the motions but anyone could tell he needed to stop and go home to sleep.

Despite his one big hit, he was still relatively unknown in 2006. There were only about 100 people in the place.

I was 10 feet from the stage, and feeling bummed that the show was so devoid of character, when someone yelled out 'Jason, have my Asian baby!' and he LOST it. He half chuckled then had to turn away from the mic for a second because of laughing. And it seemed to be just what he needed. He finished the set with a little more energy.

I like to think that Asian baby helped get him through when he just wanted to give up.

Because I like to wonder about those moments in an artist’s life. Moments that could have possibly been a turning point whether realized or not. What if that never happened and he barely held on for the rest of the tour, went home and decided it was too strenuous? What if he’d quit music?

That would have changed the material fabric of my life.

People I know as friends wouldn’t be in my life. Life experiences may never have happened – like one of my backup favorite shows when Matt and I went to see Jason opening for Dave Matthews Band in Hershey, PA. And we saw Centralia that weekend too. Would we have never done that either?

It’s crazy to think about but I like wondering the what if’s. Like I said, character development.

My best backup concerts in no particular order:

  • Godsmack in Amherst, MA in 2000 or 2001. I won tix on WAAF and went alone because I was going straight from there up to Waterville Valley, NH where a group of work friends were skiing all weekend. Met a limo driver and convinced him to use my other ticket. We left before the end so he could get back for the clients at the end of the show and we hung out smoking a joint in the limo.
  • Godsmack in Manchester, NH a few days after 9/11, every time a plane flew overhead the whole crowd cheered. It was flipping awesome.
  • Ozzfest June 2,1999 in Charlotte, NC. It was about 115 degrees and I passed out from heat exhaustion, weed and exertion. I laid down on the lawn then woke up during Pantera, asked my friends for the keys and went to sleep in the car. Totally missed Ozzy! I got in a pit during Godsmack and came home with a bruise on my leg in the shape of Martha's Vineyard.
  • DMB in San Diego 2013 . He played “Sister” and in 15 years I'd never seen them perform it before. I danced my freaking ass off all night and it was a really special show.
  • Melissa Ferrick at the MFA. Matt and I met her after the show. I was a total fan-girl!
  • Tony Bennett 8/23/2014 because who knows if that chance could come again, he IS about 1000 years old. But man, he’s still got it!
  • Grownup Noise in Fountain Hills, AZ 2011 (this one is personal because I know the bassist so the band crashed at our apartment that night)

As far as Worst…

Keith knows I was the original Blockhead. New Kids on the Block fan to the nth degree. He even played “Hangin’ Tough” at our wedding. So I knew he wouldn’t believe it but two of the worst shows I ever saw were NKOTB back in the day, at The Garden & Great Woods.

I was 16 years old or thereabouts and getting to see them live was definitely an experience, shows sold out in like a millisecond those days. The problem? That’s 20,000 screaming girls in one place.

Of course they were cute and I was really excited to see them too but that level of squeal is probably the main reason I have tinnitus today.

Even all these years later after endless clubbing, seeing loud as hell bands like Limp Bizkit, Staind, Metallica, Disturbed, Pantera, Megadeath, Godsmack, etc. I have NEVER come home as deaf as I did after a New Kid’s show. Which sucked because I didn’t pay to hear girls scream, I couldn't hear a single thing the band was saying or singing so what was the point? Wasted money.

And the worst backup award goes to Fiona Apple at Jones Beach, LINY in July 2006. One of the reasons I always loved her is her jazz-smooth voice mixed with raw, emotional, angry lyrics. The juxtaposition of those polar opposite things is something few bands can pull off (think: Sublime).

From the opening word Matt and I were shocked and disappointed. She maintained ZERO control over her voice and I don’t think it was because she was sick or anything like that. She was just angry screaming every lyric. No melodic softening. No balance to the torture. It was too much. That was the only time we've considered walking out of a concert we paid to attend.

All in all this is just today’s list. Ask me again in a week, month, year, decade and my answers will likely change!

How about you? What were your best and worst live music experiences?

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