My favourite gigs

 

From ticketcollector.wordpress.com

 

The other day, something made me sit down and compile a list of all the musical acts I’ve seen play live, along with details and dates for where and when I saw them.  I ended up with a list of 153 bands and performers, kicking off with that hoary old Scottish hard rock / heavy metal group Nazareth, whom I saw in Aberdeen in 1984; and culminating with mask-wearing Sri Lankan death metal band the Genocide Shrines, whom I saw in Colombo at the end of last year.

 

Anyway, as my previous blog-post dealt with an utterly depressing topic, I thought today I would write about something happy and imbued with the glow of nostalgia.  Here are the best musical gigs I’ve ever attended.

 

The Proclaimers – Aberdeen Ritzy, 1987

I didn’t know what to expect when some mates got me along to a concert by Craig and Charlie Reid, better known as Scottish folk-pop duo the Proclaimers.  I liked the Reids – their hit song that year, the politically charged Letter from America, was already becoming Scotland’s great anti-Maggie-Thatcher anthem – but I had no idea what they’d be like live.  Also, they were performing at Aberdeen Ritzy, a place I had an aversion to because I’d once worked there as a member of the floor-staff and it was probably the least enjoyable job I’d ever had.

 

Well, I had no reason to be apprehensive.  The gig felt like a giant, joyous football match where the entire crowd supported the same team and that team was winning 10-0.  I suspect one reason why the Proclaimers went down so well that night was because the Aberdonian audience could relate to their song Throw the R Away, which is about the frustrations caused when standard English-speakers can’t understand your accent.  Which of course is a common hazard if you speak fluent Aberdonian.

 

© Chrysalis

 

The Jesus and Mary Chain, Dinosaur Jr, My Bloody Valentine, Blur – the Rollercoaster Tour, London Brixton Academy, 1992

From Craig and Charlie Reid to two more Scottish siblings called Reid.  These were Jim and William Reid of the feedback-drenched East Kilbride noise-niks the Jesus and Mary Chain.  Their Rollercoaster Tour date at Brixton Academy in 1992 offered not only excellent support from American alternative rockers Dinosaur Jr and dreamy, swirly shoegazers My Bloody Valentine, but also a chance to sample a young, up-and-coming band called Blur (though my reaction when I saw Damon Albarn onstage wasn’t that he was destined to be an icon of the future Britpop movement but that he resembled a musical version of Norman Wisdom).  Meanwhile, the headliners blew me away.  Promoting their recent album Honey’s Dead (1992), which was packed with behemoth tunes like Reverence and Sugar Ray, the Jesus and Mary Chain played their set as dark silhouettes against a huge blood-red backdrop and were simultaneously glorious, imperious, uncompromising and terrifying.

 

The Manic Street Preachers – Sapporo Penny Lane, 1993

Welsh rock band the Manic Street Preachers were promoting their album Gold Against the Soul when they turned up in the Japanese city of Sapporo, at whose Hokkai-Gakuen University I worked at the time as a lecturer.  In Britain they had a reputation for being shit-stirring retro-punks, but in Japan they were seen as a sort of Guns n’ Roses-lite, possibly thanks to their then-predilection for wearing eye-liner and glam-ish clothes.  Accordingly, their gig at Sapporo’s Penny Lane attracted a squad of young Japanese ladies dressed in floppy hats and silk scarves who spent their time squealing ‘Rich-ee!’ at the band’s iconic but troubled guitarist, Richey Edwards (who’d disappear, never to be seen again, two years later).  The gig was great, but Edwards was on edge.  At one point he raged against an illuminated fire-exit sign at the auditorium’s far end that he claimed was distracting him.  In a typical face-saving Japanese compromise, the venue manager didn’t turn the sign off – he just tied a big strip of cardboard over it so that nobody, including Richey, could see it, but it stayed switched on in accordance with fire regulations.

 

I bought the Japanese edition of Gold Against the Soul and I’ve always had a soft spot for it – maybe because its sound had a naively youthful quality that gave way to darker, more austere music on later Manics albums like The Holy Bible (1994) and Everything Must Go (1996).  Years afterwards, I listened to Gold Against the Soul again and discovered the CD case had a second tray that I hadn’t noticed before, containing a second, bonus disc – a live one of them performing in Japan.  I played it and immediately felt a nostalgic sadness, for in the crowd I could hear those Japanese ladies shouting “Rich-ee!” again at poor, doomed Richey Edwards.  It wasn’t so much a CD as a time capsule.

 

© Getty Images / NME

 

The Beastie Boys – Sapporo Jasmac Plaza, 1995

I almost didn’t attend this concert, which also took place while I worked at Sapporo’s Hokkai-Gakuen University.  The show was due to begin at 7.00 PM – concerts in Japan tended to start when the tickets said they would – and the same evening I had to give a late lecture until 7.20 PM.  Plus I calculated that by the time I got from the university campus to the venue, the Jasmac Plaza, the Beastie Boys would already be an hour into their gig.  It didn’t seem worth it.

 

However, a few weeks before the concert, it was announced that work had been completed on a new Sapporo subway line, which had a station called Gakuen-Mae directly below the campus where I was working.  I also discovered that the next station along the new line, Hosui-Suskino, had an exit that was only a block from the Jasmac Plaza.  And a subway train left for Hosui-Susukino from Gakuen-Mae every evening at 7.30.  I figured that if I caught the 7.30 train, and moved very fast, I could be at the concert hall in the Jasmac Plaza ten minutes later – hopefully not yet halfway through the Beastie Boys’ set.  Fate seemed to be urging me to buy a ticket, so I did.

 

That evening, I finished my lecture on the stroke of 7.20, ran like hell for the subway station and charged down what seemed like half-a-dozen escalators, descending deeper and deeper into the earth.  The train was already at the platform and I ran and jumped through its about-to-close carriage doors.  At Hosui-Susukino, I sprang out of the train, ran up more escalators, ran along a city block into the Jasmac Plaza and up several staircases to its fourth floor, where the concert hall was.  Live music blasted out of speakers above me.  I dashed into the hall, gasping for breath, my university lecturer’s suit, shirt and tie soaked in sweat…  And I discovered that the Beastie Boys weren’t onstage at all.  What I was hearing was a support act that hadn’t been mentioned on the bloody ticket.  The Beasties didn’t appear until forty minutes later.

 

After that, this needed to be a superb gig to justify all the hassle and indignity I’d suffered.  Which, thankfully, it was.

 

© Mute / Reprise

 

Nick Cave – Edinburgh Princes Street Gardens, 1999

During the 1999 Edinburgh Festival, goth-rock troubadour Nick Cave – sans his backing band the Bad Seeds – performed in Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens, which meant he had the craggy Edinburgh Castle rock, crowned by the battlements of the castle itself, as a spectacular backdrop.  But there was a problem.  Taking place in the castle was the Edinburgh Tattoo, that celebration of tartan-swathed, bagpipe-wailing Scottish military kitsch held every August; and the Tattoo organisers were not happy about having to compete against a concert below in the Gardens.  Indeed, a few evenings earlier, the Gardens had hosted the psychedelic / space-rock outfit Spiritualised and their percussive beats had caused the Lone Piper – the bagpiper who appears on the ramparts at the Tattoo’s finale to play the lament Sleep Dearie Sleep – to lose concentration and mess up the tune.  This evening, to placate the Tattoo, Cave wasn’t allowed to start playing until it had finished, meaning the audience turned up at the time specified on the tickets but then had to wait an hour.  (To keep us entertained, some local performance-poets were brought onstage, including the late, lamented Paul Reekie.)

 

One consequence of this was that when Cave finally did come on, the end-of-Tattoo firework display was erupting above the castle.  Talk about a spectacular entrance!  And the ensuing gig was worth the long wait.  The songs, mostly stripped-down versions of stuff from 1997’s The Boatman’s Call and 1996’s Murder Ballads, were wonderfully enhanced by the gothic surroundings – the rock, the castle and finally a gorgeous full moon ascending into the starry Edinburgh sky.

 

The Waterboys – Newcastle, Tyne Theatre and Opera House, 2003

In the mid-1980s, there was a considerable buzz about the Waterboys, who were expected to go stratospheric and join U2 and Simple Minds as one of the big Celtic rock bands of the era.  Instead, under the leadership of Edinburgh man Mike Scott, they decamped to Ireland and became a folk band for a while and rock superstardom never quite arrived.  Actually, I preferred their folky stuff (like 1988’s When Ye Go Away) to their rather bloated rock stuff (like 1985’s The Whole of the Moon).

 

For this 2003 gig in Newcastle, the band did an hour of gentle, melodic music (kicking off with a version of the Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses, which Scott decided to play because he’d “had it in his head all day”); there was an interval during which everyone enjoyed a pint or four in the Opera House bar; and then it was back into the auditorium for a second hour of up-tempo rock music.  The relaxed and nothing-more-to-prove Scott clearly wanted to have a good time and wanted to give his Geordie audience a good time too – which he did, in spades.

 

From rescuerooms.com

 

Alabama 3 – Newcastle, University of Northumbria, 2005

This was the best blues / country / techno / electronica / indie / trip-hop / acid-jazz gig I’ve seen, courtesy of the best (and possibly only) band in the world whose music ticks all those boxes, the Alabama 3.  Eccentrically, they’re not from Alabama, but from South London; and there aren’t three of them, but eight or nine.  With so many band-members onstage, producing such a stew of sounds, this gig at the University of Northumbria was inevitably a bit of a shambles – but, God what a glorious shambles.  Particularly epic was their rendition of the track Woke Up This Morning, which at the time served as the opening theme for The Sopranos (1999-2007).

 

Primal Scream – Norwich UEA, 2009

In 2009, I didn’t expect a great deal when the Bobby Gillespie-fronted alternative rock band Primal Scream turned up at the University of East Anglia, where I was in the middle of a full-time MA.  Feeling creaky and long in the tooth by then, too old for the mosh-pit and for jumping around, letting myself go and getting into the swing of things, I assumed my best gig-going days were behind me.  Meanwhile, I’d seen Primal Scream a few times before and found them hit-and-miss.

 

But I ended up really, really enjoying this.  I managed to snag a position right at the front of the stage, giving me a perfect view of Bobby and the boys.  And they were in blistering form.  Primal Scream concerts can feel schizophrenic because their music veers between harsh, experimental electronica (like 2000’s Kill All Hippies) and loose-limbed, traditional Rolling Stones-style rock ‘n’ roll (like 1994’s Jailbird), but tonight, somehow it didn’t matter.  They alternated, doing one hardcore electronica number (accompanied by a brain-frying lightshow), followed by a Stonesy number, then another electronica one, then another Stonesy one, and so on – and it worked brilliantly.

 

From nme.com

 

Adam Yauch / MCA: 1965 – 2012

 

 

One Thursday evening in early 1987, I sat down in front of my television to watch Top of the Pops, which at the time was the most popular showcase of popular music on British TV.  Come to think of it, it was almost the only showcase of popular music on TV at the time – this was before most people had access to satellite or cable television, which could pump 24-hour-a-day channels devoted to various genres of music into their living rooms.  In fact, most of the music shown on Top of the Pops was bland, middle-of-the-road, non-threatening, cheesy or plain terrible and I tended to sit through the programme in a semi-doze.  But, as I said, it was almost my only opportunity each week to see musicians performing songs that were currently high in the charts.

 

Anyway, I was suddenly jolted awake this evening when an obnoxious American voice yelled, “Yeah!” and then, “Kick it!”  This was followed by a chugging and wonderfully-stupid heavy-metal riff and a funny Three-Stooges-like video in which a trio of young hooligans invaded, disrupted and eventually destroyed a boring, preppy house party being held in New York, whilst continually shouting the refrain: “You gotta fight… for your right… to paaa-aaarty!”

 

Top of the Pops received complaints from concerned parents about the video and, typically timid, promised never to show it again.  However, the damage had already been done.  Fight for your Right to Party – for that was the song – was seared into my brain forever.  The Beastie Boys – Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz), Mike D (Michael Diamond) and MCA (Adam Yauch) – had arrived.

 

Alas, it now looks like the Beastie Boys have departed, for yesterday it was announced that Adam Yauch has passed away from cancer of the salivary gland, a condition he’d been suffering from since 2009.  This came only a month after they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland – to date, only the third rap act to have been given this honour.

 

Despite the impression of the 1980s you might get now, from watching populist and nostalgic TV documentaries about the decade, or from listening to nostalgic collections harvested from the decade’s singles charts, there was actually a lot going on during the 1980s musically.  It wasn’t just about unspeakable New Romantic bands in eyeliner and shiny suits pratting around to neutered sub-funk guitar licks, dinky-sounding synthesisers and even dinkier-sounding drum machines.  A couple of years in, the 1980s had produced not only rap music, but house music, goth music, several new and more lethal brands of heavy metal and a slew of great indie bands.  Meanwhile, interesting things were starting to stir in northern cities in both Britain and America – Manchester in the former case, Seattle in the latter.  However, not being the musical anorak that I am now, I wasn’t aware of this diversity.  Getting my information from the mainstream newspaper press in Britain, and from Top of the Pops, I assumed that all that was happening music-wise were Duran bloody Duran and Spandau bloody Ballet.

 

Therefore, hearing Fight for your Right to Party and the Beastie Boys’ debut album, Licensed to Ill, on which it was the seventh track, was something of an awakening for me.  It made me realise that music was getting exciting again.

 

A loud, fast, brash and bratty confection of metal riffs (largely sampled from Led Zeppelin) and some pretty-obnoxious raps, Licensed to Ill quickly became the soundtrack to a million beer-fuelled fraternity parties in the USA and a million similarly drunken student parties in Europe.  It didn’t in any way suggest, however, that its three authors would be more than one-hit wonders.  Consequently, when its 1989 follow-up Paul’s Boutique failed to achieve anything like the same sales, music critics were happy to write them off.

 

In fact, Paul’s Boutique was a savagely underrated album, full of funky sounds that suggested the trio were willing both to experiment beyond the adolescent parameters of their first album and to do some serious growing up.  1992’s Check Your Head brought another new development – the Beastie Boys had learned to play their own instruments! – but it was the 1994 album Ill Communication that marked their comeback in the popularity stakes.  In fact, by now equally capable of serving up fuzzy, trippy guitar-instrumental tracks, short, shout-along thrash-metal standards and indescribable but fascinating items infused with samples from old blaxploitation-movie soundtracks, the Beastie Boys had become one of the coolest and most unpredictable musical acts on the planet.

 

Also by now, Yauch had converted to Buddhism and was shoehorning Buddhist themes into the Beastie Boys’ lyrics and Buddhist sounds into their music.  Some critics sneered at this, but the Buddhist dimension added to the bands’ ever-increasing palette of colours.

 

Later albums Hello Nasty (1998), To the Five Boroughs (2004) and Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (2011) all had their moments, but in retrospect it’s clear that Ill Communication was their high-water mark.  In 1999 the band also found time to put together a hits-and-oddities anthology The Sounds of Science, which is as interesting for what it leaves out as for what it includes.  For one thing, the absence of Fight for your Right to Party shows how keen Yauch, Diamond and Horovitz were to write their frat-brat origins out of their band’s history.

 

I got to see the Beastie Boys live only once, in 1995, but I’d rate their show as one of my top five gigs ever.  Ironically, I almost didn’t attend the concert.  They were performing at the Jasmac Plaza in the Japanese city of Sapporo, in whose Hokkai-Gakuen University I was working at the time as a lecturer.  Unfortunately, the show was due to begin at 7.00 PM – concerts in Japan tended to start when the tickets said they would – and the same evening I had to give a late lecture until 7.20 PM.  Plus I calculated that by the time I got from the university campus, which was in a district south of the city centre, to the Jasmac Plaza, which was downtown, the Beastie Boys would already be an hour into their gig.  So it didn’t seem worth it.

 

However, a few weeks before the concert, something odd happened.  It was announced that work had been completed on a new Sapporo subway line, which had a station called Gakuen-Mae directly below the campus where I was working.  I also discovered that the next station along the new line, Hosui-Suskino, had an exit that was only a block from the Jasmac Plaza.  And a subway train left for Hosui-Susukino from Gakuen-Mae every evening at 7.30.  I figured that if I caught the 7.30 train, and moved very fast, I could be at the concert hall in the Jasmac Plaza ten minutes later – hopefully not halfway through the Beastie Boys’ set, if they indeed started performing at 7.00.  Fate seemed to be telling me to buy a ticket, so I did.

 

That evening, I finished my lecture on the stroke of 7.20 and, once I was out of sight of the departing students, ran like hell for the subway station.  It seemed to have half-a-dozen escalators, descending deeper and deeper into the earth, and I charged down all of them.  The train was already at the platform and I ran and jumped through its about-to-close carriage doors like a fugitive being pursued by the police in an American urban crime thriller.  I sprang out of the train at Hosui-Susukino, ran up more escalators, ran along a city block into the Jasmac Plaza and up several stairs to its fourth floor, where the concert hall was.  I heard live rap music blasting out of speakers above me.

 

I ran into the hall, gasping for breath and leaking sweat down my university-lecturer’s shirt, suit and tie.  And I realised that the Beastie Boys weren’t on stage at all.  What I was hearing was a support act.  The trio themselves didn’t appear until forty minutes later.

 

But what the heck?  As I said above, it was a superb gig.

 

Thanks to Yauch’s passing, this video on Youtube will no doubt be viewed a zillion times this weekend.  It’s for Sabotage, their big hit off Ill Communication, and probably the song that will do for their memory what Smoke on the Water did for Deep Purple or Stairway to Heaven did for Led Zeppelin.  (As if already aware of this, on the night I saw them in Sapporo, the Beastie Boys worked the Smoke on the Water riff into their performance of Sabotage.  But I always thought Sabotage was vastly more entertaining than that clumping Deep Purple dirge.)

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z5rRZdiu1UE

 

And just in case you’ve forgotten it, here’s the video accompanying the song that awoke me from my Tops of the Pops-induced stupor in 1987.  Yeah!  Kick it!

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBShN8qT4lk