Matter Eater Lad / He constructed a factory / Just because he was hungry
August 27, 2005 6:49 PM   Subscribe

David Segal, former pop music critic for the Washington Post, reflects on his career reviewing concerts and why most concerts leave much to be desired.
posted by Quartermass (54 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Timely. I just went to a James Taylor concert because a friend couldn't go and gave me the ticket free. Big mistake. The music was limp, lame, and it was clear that some musicians didn't even feel the need to tune up before playing.* Why would they? A sold-out crowd had come to see this elevator music live. By and large, they were deliriously happy, no matter the quality of the music or performance. This is what mass media has wrought.

*JT, I'm looking at you.
posted by telstar at 7:03 PM on August 27, 2005

I used to follow a band that would do wild and whacky stuff, off the cuff, in every city. Different songs every night. Elvis covers. Will Smith covers. AC/DC covers. Something off the soundtrack of "Boogie Nights." They'd play a chess game with the audience, they abandoned songs because the drummer forgot the lyrics, and they handed out boxes of mac and cheese for the audience to shake. At one concert, they attempted to beat the Guinness Book record for synchronized dancing. They played on roller blades, on a flatbed truck, in a swamp, in a flying hot dog, and on top of an air traffic control tower. The drummer got naked, but just once. They'd invite P-Funk up on stage, or BB King, or Kid Rock, or Jay-Z, or the keyboardist's father, who did a tap dance routine. They never played the same show twice.

Articles like these drive home just how much I miss Phish.
posted by muckster at 7:16 PM on August 27, 2005

On the reverse side of the author's experience, I've gotten a little tired of indie shows where the lack of set list means half the show is spent deciding what to play next. Impromptu is great, but not if it takes 5 minutes between each song to coordinate.
posted by cali at 7:18 PM on August 27, 2005

I'm talking about total-body bliss, a rush so strong it turns brain cells into Jell-O and, for a moment or two, you sort of leave your skin. Art lovers would probably argue that they get the same feeling by looking at a great painting, but they're fools, and you should ignore them. A good part of what I'm talking about here is sheer volume. A painting can be many things, but it will never make your ears ring.

True dat.
posted by keswick at 7:58 PM on August 27, 2005

this is great, thanks for posting
posted by philcliff at 8:01 PM on August 27, 2005

For me, it's these corporate-named venues, which portend of a sterile, anonymous experience and ever-present branding and marketing. I haven't thumbed through the article but I'm sure the proliferation of "nosebleed seats" and the ridiculous ticket prices have been addressed.
posted by rolypolyman at 8:42 PM on August 27, 2005

Yeah, well, he's wrong about godspeed!11!!!1 They just nailed his ass!

No, seriously, as a fellow music critic I enjoyed that immensly. Thanks for the link, Quartermass.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 8:45 PM on August 27, 2005

Excellent article, thanks.

I agree with him 100% about Godspeed live. Fuck, have they been boring the last 5 years or so. Ick.

My fave concert moments:

1. There's a fellow I see regularly at Toronto gigs--freelance photographer. He's probably 50. I was talking to him before Sweep the Leg Johnny took the stage. He hadn't heard of them but was there to shoot the Constantines, who had opened. I told him to stick around. Halfway thru the Sweep show the bassist jumped off the stage and into the audience. He hung his bass around the photographer's neck and told him to play. He then took the guy's camera and got back on stage and started taking pictures of the photographer and the rest of the audience.

2. In 1993 I hadn't heard of Green Day. I was at a Bad Religion show and they were opening up. They fucking kicked ass. The place was sweltering hot and Billie Joe climbed on the shoulders of a security guard and rode him thru the audience while squirting everyone with water. They finished their opening set and the next band (The Dough Boys) came out and started to play. You couldn't hear them though because everyone was chanting "Green Day!" over and over again. John Kastner (the singer) gave up and left in a huff. I left before Bad Religion started their 3rd song.

3. Seeiing Jonathan Richman three nights in a row in 1993 and he didn't play the same song twice. Third night he had hung sheets of paper over the urinals with pencils on string asking for requests. We made the set list while we pissed.

4. Smog a few weeks ago. Bill had to be in love as I've never seen him so... cheerful. He actually smiled and did little dances. At one point, long after he normally would have been done, he said, "I'm gonna .... I'm singing really good tonight." and he smiled, so proud as everyone cheered.

5. Pretty much every single moment of any Guided by Voices concert, but especially the times when Bob would play songs that he'd already sung an hour ago because he was so drunk he forgot.
posted by dobbs at 9:02 PM on August 27, 2005

my favorite concert...YES, providence civic center, june, 1976.
posted by brandz at 9:09 PM on August 27, 2005

Ah yes, nosebleed seats. Not precisely seats, as much as tables and mirrors laid out backstage, where the Truly Important People such as roadies, the press and those once referred to as "groupies" gather.

Oddly enough, It turns out, once you look forward enough in history-to-come, that a majority of the human population has above-what-is-now-average skills in music, due to the profligacy of Rock Stars spreading their awesome genes to Impressionable Fans Everywhere.

A little-noticed side effect of this trend (at least in the near history-to-come) is that people get shorter. Most Rock Starz, it turns out, are tiny, tiny people. Eddie Vedder? Short, shy. David Lee Roth? Short, craxy. Paul Simon? Itty bitty. Elvis? A giant of a man in some ways, but eensy-weensy in so many others. Prince Rogers Nelson, aka Squiggy? A tiny, tiny man (albeit blessed with an abnormally sized wazonga). Oh, and a great heart. What a wonderful guy.

But the thing is, we loves our spectacles. Yup. Especially the bifocal ones.
posted by bigbigdog at 9:09 PM on August 27, 2005

I went to a show last weekend, and everyone was sitting on the floor waiting for the first opening act to go on. I'm not sure why, but they were, and we sat down too. Eventually the opening singer came out and started her thing. People began standing up, because that's how you watch concerts. And then someone in the back who was presumably still sitting yelled out, "Sit down!" So they did. Everyone who had stood up got back on the floor. And everyone watched her set sitting down on the floor like we were in grade school. Trippy.

That was a Moment.
posted by smackfu at 9:33 PM on August 27, 2005

Dirty secret about cool jobs: Sooner or later there comes a day -- no matter how cool the job -- where you wake up and go, "aw crap, I gotta go to work." Sounds like this guy is getting out just before he reached that point, which was probably a smart decision on his part.
posted by jscalzi at 9:36 PM on August 27, 2005

2. In 1993 I hadn't heard of Green Day. I was at a Bad Religion show and they were opening up. They fucking kicked ass.
I gained massive amounts of respect when I went to a Green Day/Blink182 concert a few years back (GD blew them out of the f'in water).
Midway through their show, they decided to ask volunteers to come onto stage and play a song using their performance instruments, which I thought was kind of cool in of itself. As they started jamming, Billie Joe started to notice that the guitarist, who looked like he was all of ten years old, was pretty good. Billie told the kid to take on a solo, and the kid started going nuts on the guitar. Billie was also visibly astonished, and at the end of the mini-gig, Billie was so impressed that he gave the kid his own guitar which he was playing with the entire concert. I thought that was pretty rad.
posted by jmd82 at 9:40 PM on August 27, 2005

Articles like these drive home just how much I miss Phish.

Funny, I was thinking the same thing.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:44 PM on August 27, 2005

Favorite Concert Moments:

1. A Greg Kihn show at the Royal Music Theater in Royal Oak Michigan, circa 1979. (This was pre-Our Love's in Jeopardy crapola era) There were some big names at the arenas in town, and only about 50 people showed up. Kihn played like his life depended on it, took requests from the audience, and acted like a madman.

2. A rainy night when I saw the Talking Heads on the Stop Making Sense tour. We went as nuts as the security guards would let us. The crowd was so into it, they came out for an impromptu encore. A song they had already done, but a lot looser and they turned it into a jam session.

3. Pretty much every moment of every Iggy Pop concert I went to from 1979 to 1983. The moments I can remember anyways. Some of the few nights from that time period I wish I wasn't wrecked.

Nice post Quartermass, thanks.
posted by marxchivist at 10:04 PM on August 27, 2005

Oh, one more thing. Paging jonmc to thread #44629, jonmc to thread #44629.

Maybe he's passed out by now.
posted by marxchivist at 10:07 PM on August 27, 2005

The last Live Concert Moment I had was seeing the Mars Volta at Roseland on their last solo tour. They are a truly amazing band, if only for the fact that Jon Theodore (drummer) played with such intensity for their 3 1/2 hour set that I was tired for him. My girlfriend and I danced the whole set (at least when it didn't sound like spaceships were landing) and it was amazing.

The only thing I couldn't understand was why eveyone else was not dancing. Why is it still uncool to lose yourself to a band? What's so fun about standing there and looking at the band the whole time? I think I might be seeing bands that are too hip. Oh well.

BTW, my first concert ever was GARTH BROOKS! He fucking came down from the ceiling of the Spectrum on a wire! AWESOME.
posted by Mach5 at 10:19 PM on August 27, 2005

Oh, and my last ANTI-concert moment was seeing weezer at Roseland less then a week later. The crowd was the worst ever, as shown when the opening band played some music that wasn't really energetic, and every punk-ass 15 year old started chanting 'weezer!' and being total assholes. WTF!
posted by Mach5 at 10:24 PM on August 27, 2005

i've missed phish since about '94...never was the same after fall tour '93 for me. hours upon hours of XLII-90's lie dormant because they are dated '94 or newer. i'll admit, i missed some moments. hey, my loss. it just didn't feel the same, i didn't get the goose bumps anymore. sorry. i tried and tried, new shows, new tapes...nada. i still love my older tapes old divided sky will still give me chills. i will say there will more than likely never be a band that makes me feel like that again. sad really, don't you think? only thing that gives me even close to that vibe nowadays is a great drum circle...god, i'm such a fucking hippie. i've got to go listen to some swervedriver really fucking loud and quiet the hippie demons in my head.
posted by cloudstastemetallic at 10:30 PM on August 27, 2005

That was a lovely article! Mmm... moments... I saw Sleater-Kinney in Northampton, MA and towards the end a gang of women stormed the stage and started dancing on stage. S-K played a few songs and then Carrie Brownstein asked the dancers to move a bit out of her way for the last song and then she ripped the hell out of her guitar and while the audience, both on and off the stage went crazy. Not a single person in the club wasn't jumping or dancing (that I could see). Another was at a Godspeed You Black Emperor concert. There was no stage per se, it was in a gym in Bennington College, VT. Suddenly, about half-way through the set, people just started dancing. And people (including me) gravitated towards the little mass of dancers who where to the side so that people could see. The members of GYBE, probably unused to dancing at their concerts, smiled when they noticed the dancing. It was a very touching moment, somehow. Yeah, stuff like that is why one goes to concerts. And the thing is, at least for me, is that you forget the bad concerts and just remember the good concerts.
posted by Kattullus at 10:33 PM on August 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

I almost got peed on by "Extreme Elvis" at the Voyeur in Olympia WA. Admittedly in retrospect, that sounds as if it should be a terrible concert moment, but it really isn't.

A 300lb naked fat sweaty drunken Elvis rubbing his shrunken genitalia on scenester girls, downing can after can of PBR, and then attempting to piddle on most of the folks in the immediate viscinity, all while singing "In the Ghetto" is still one of the more memorable moments of my concert-going life.

For what that's worth.

(I also saw Nirvana at the Capitol Theatre backstage in Oly when I was in middle school, and they sucked. so, uh, meh.)
posted by stenseng at 11:22 PM on August 27, 2005

That's a pretty good piece of writing about music - thanks Quatermass for posting...
posted by benzo8 at 11:52 PM on August 27, 2005

Dirty secret about cool jobs: Sooner or later there comes a day -- no matter how cool the job -- where you wake up and go, "aw crap, I gotta go to work.

Kinda. But only because some days I'd rather write or nap.

--or make hella cash. Cause that'd change everything.
posted by sourwookie at 12:12 AM on August 28, 2005

If you're lucky enough to live in a big city, your favorite bands should always be local bands, so that you can get to know your heroes, you can make requests that are taken seriously, and you can have input on their tourdates, much lest their set list.

posted by tarintowers at 12:59 AM on August 28, 2005

Rephrase: If you live anywhere big enough to have four people on stage at one time.
posted by tarintowers at 1:00 AM on August 28, 2005

I'm losing my edge.
I'm losing my edge to the kids from France and from London.
But I was there.

I was there in 1968.
I was there at the first Can show in Cologne.
I'm losing my edge.
posted by Hat Maui at 1:00 AM on August 28, 2005

Wooooooo! G-B-Fucking-V!

Sorry, probably not enough to contribute to a thread, but man, they are the best thing I've ever seen live. So from the bottom of my soul I must reiterate (in my best concert bellow):

G-B-V, G-B-V, G-B-Fucking-V!
posted by Jezztek at 2:57 AM on August 28, 2005

I remember seeing a lot of yer-basic-arena-rock-concerts in high school - this would be 1978-82 - but my concert-going experience changed forever in 1981, when I saw the Dead for the first time. New Year's Eve, 1981, was definitely my first Live Concert Moment. The concert started at 7pm (with the Flying Karamazov Brothers' juggling troupe) and ended sometime after 4am, when Bill Graham fed everyone breakfast. The Dead played four sets that night, including one set where they backed Joan Baez, and it was as full a concert experience as one could hope for: folk, country (the New Riders also opened), rock, and some mind-wrecking psychedelia. Hell, at midnight Ken Kesey came down on a fucking trapeze and led the whole auditorium in deep breathing exercise designed to rattle whatever brain cells weren't already floating in the soup. I can go back and listen to this show today and STILL get off on it! This was Big Fun -- a cooking band in a room full of people who were entranced by the music and having one hell of a party at the same time! After that show, it was pretty hard to go back to the arena scene and take it seriously. I had found what I was looking for in live music, and was fortunate to see the Dead another couple of hundred times before years of neglect finally caught up with Jerry. Those were definitely some Real Good Times, and I'm glad I was able to dance my ass off in appreciation.

What I think David Segal really nailed in his article is this: once you learn how to appreciate live music for what it can be, it becomes very hard to sit through a concert where the music takes a back seat to the show. The unfortunate corollary of having had the Live Concert Moment is that other musical experiences become pallid by comparison. It's hard to go back to the farm once you've experienced Paris.
posted by mosk at 3:18 AM on August 28, 2005

If I could give one bit of advice to performers, it would be: DON'T WEAR BLACK. Wear something bright so people can see you.

I went to see Tina Turner on her farewell concert tour:a black woman, dressed in black, on a dark stage, at night. She completely faded away. She had a few white backup singers that were even worse- all you could see were faces and hands bobbing around in the darkness. It was creepy.
posted by Jatayu das at 4:36 AM on August 28, 2005

That was a sweet article and one I identify with far too much.

I've had a few Great Concert Moments... the one where Katie Jane Garside leapt from the stage and landed right on top of me being one of my most fondly-remembered. Lordy.

On the other side of the coin, I have only walked out of a concert once in my life. It was God Speed You Black Emperor (and fuck their ridiculously-placed exclamation mark, too). I had to leave or I'd have started throwing things.
posted by Decani at 6:30 AM on August 28, 2005

Hat Maui, you can't say you were at the first Can show and not tell us the story. I'm dying to hear it...
posted by lovejones at 7:14 AM on August 28, 2005

lovejones: it's an LCD Soundsystem thing ;)
posted by dhoyt at 7:55 AM on August 28, 2005

Perhaps this betrays my age, but I saw the Eagles on the Hotel California tour at the Rochester War Memorial. The Eagles, sadly, sucked trucks. Don Henley's voice was a mess and the rest of the band were like robots. It was almost note-for-note the same as the album. Only the Joe Walsh numbers had any spontaneity. Luckily, Jimmy Buffett was the opening act. His band was incredible, full of fun and energy. You couldn't ask for a starker contrast to the Eagles. It was festival seating and my date and I ended up sitting on the wall for the hockey rink. It didn't matter when Jimmy was playing because we were dancing, but with the Eagles, we ended up with creases in our butts from the slot used to hold the plexiglass.
posted by tommasz at 9:06 AM on August 28, 2005

and everyone was sitting on the floor waiting for the first opening act to go on.

ugh. Stamp this shit out ASAP. This was a "thing to do" at Toronto concerts a few years back. These people are fucking annoying. The proper response to the people yelling "Sit down!" from the back is "Stand up!".

And that reminds me of seeing the Jesus Lizard. David Yow is a one man mosh pit. Everybody was up and moving except one chick who refused to get out of her seat. Yow told her to stand up and she gave him the finger. He leapt off the stage and ran to her and sat on her and refused to get up (he was still singing from sitting on top of her). He sat there for the rest of the song while she tried to wriggle free underneath him. Obnoxious? Maybe. But the crowd loved it--and who the fuck in their right mind goes to a Jesus Lizard show to sit down?

re: GBV... any man who can do this for 2-3 hours night after night...
posted by dobbs at 9:56 AM on August 28, 2005

What dobbs said. I am baffled by these kids who go to a rock show and then sit on the fucking floor. What the hell is up with that? The only thing to be said for it is it makes it much easier for me to get to the front. I just step over them. Jesus... what are they, hippies? Get on your feet, for Christ's sake. This isn't a bloody old folks' picnic.

This is why you need good raucous music being played over the system before the bands come on, as opposed to "Endless dub volume 3, 245" or "My Three-Hour Techno Hell Mix". It didn't used to be that way. The inter-act music should get people hopping, not make them catatonic. A few mad-eyed leapers would soon sort these lazy-arsed slackers out.

Christ, I'm old.
posted by Decani at 12:38 PM on August 28, 2005

Dobbs: I was reading this, thinking about my Jesus Lizard story. When I was an impressionable youngster, Jesus Lizard played at Lollapalooza (early in the day, on the main stage. The bands went: The Boredoms, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Jesus Lizard. Odd set up.) Anyway, throughout the show, Yow is playing with his crotch through his pants. Then, from my lawn seats, I startedseeing all these girls streaming out of the pavillion, though you couldn't tell what was going on. Then I realize, through the jumbotron screens, that Yow has his cock out and is jerking off into the front row, which is totally crushed to the stage (you couldn't get out of there if you had wanted to).
Yow managed to squeeze one off right into the crowd, or at least simulated that well enough that the people up front got hit with something vile...
posted by klangklangston at 12:41 PM on August 28, 2005

I think I know what he is saying. I went to a Placebo concert about two years ago, and I could have had the same experience if I had hung out in a smoking bar and listened to two of their CD's. On the other hand, it was great watching the Dandy Warhols play where the singer used his voice to mimic a trumpet that's on one of their ablums.

I don't mind shows being pre-planned. I just like them to sound different in some way from the recorded ablums. Give me a reason to be there.
posted by Hactar at 3:51 PM on August 28, 2005

The low for me was seeing Rolling Stones twice on the same tour in the mid-1990s. The first show was an unpublicized show staged for MTV in a small concert hall in update New York. The Stones played a whole slew of great songs, including an acoustic Sister Morphine, but would completely stop for 5 minutes between each song as MTV took commercial breaks. About the only thing that felt spontaneous was when Keith went over in the middle of some song and started playing the keyboards. The crowd dug it and for a brief second they seemed like a cool band.

The second show was a few weeks later at Giant's Stadium. To the smallest minutiae, the show was identical: The staging, the things they said to the crowd, I think even the set list. But what nailed it was when Keith went over and started playing the keyboards. That's when I really realized how intricately scripted it all was. I'll never go see the Stones again.

Great post.
posted by huzzahhuzzah at 4:05 PM on August 28, 2005

In 1990 or so, I went to see a John Lee Hooker tribute show at Madison Square Garden. I was 19. It was star-studded: Greg Allman, Charlie Musselwhite, Albert Collins, and tons of others. I was in the 15th row.

Through most of the show, though, people stayed seated except for the occasional yowl from the seats as if they were at a museum instead of a concert.

About midway through, Bo Diddley came on stage, surveyed the crowd, then barked like a drill sergeant, "Everybody get up!" then hit the opening chords of "I'm A Man," with the force of an oncoming train. The place fucking exploded.

I'm seen lots of shows since by unknowns and some of my favorites, too, but that was the most memorable moment.
posted by jonmc at 4:33 PM on August 28, 2005

second memory: Ramones at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York, my second time seeing them. Late in the career, but hey it's still the Bros. They brought out a much more diverse crowd than other punk shows-aging CB's vets, pierced dye head teens, metal kids, bikers, and just plain music geeks, everybody slamming up a storm. Near the end of the show, they kicked into "Beat On The Brat," and they guy next to me, some muscled up tattooed dude in a wife-beater, jeans and Docs, began shouting the words into eachothers face for the whole song. Then we high-fived bumped chests and yowled. I never saw him again. Cool moment though.
posted by jonmc at 4:41 PM on August 28, 2005

Wow, someone else has seen Extreme Elvis.... But two LCM's to relate. Van Halen, '81. Band starts a song, stops. DL Roth says, "I'd like you all to give a big Florida welcome to Alex Van Halen's drinking problem."

Also, U2, Easter Sunday, '01. Before singing "One," Bono announces that Joey Ramone had died that day. News to me, and seemingly to most everyone else. As Bono related, The Ramones were huge influences on U2 in the band's early days. Bono said he'd sing "One" for Joey. Say what you will about the band and song, but if ever a band or person has performed a song and meant it, that was one of those times. Noticed that Bono changed "sisters, brothers..." to "Joey Ramone, my big brother."

That was followed by Bono singing "Amazing Grace" acapella, then Edge on acoustic guitar and Bono singing a Ramones tune. The title escapes me, but lines like, "I remember you..." and "Things don't last forever, somehow, baby, they never really do."
posted by ambient2 at 5:34 PM on August 28, 2005

I saw one U-2 show that was unique. It was in Worcester, MA., probably in 1983 or '84 (Jesus!) and in the middle of the show Bono came to the front of the stage and asked everyone to be really quiet. I was expecting some b.s. Bono moment but he told the crowd that the supports for some huge speakers right above the center of the floor were slipping and he wanted everyone to very calmly move off the floor. Sure enough, some speakers up in the rafters appeared ready to drop. Everyone reacted calmly, people moved out of the way, the show stopped while the crew fixed the speakers, and after this unscripted pause the show resumed. I thought Bono handled the situation pretty well.
posted by Man-Thing at 6:21 PM on August 28, 2005

Stamp this shit out ASAP. This was a "thing to do" at Toronto concerts a few years back. These people are fucking annoying.

Well, that's the difference between a Moment and an annoyance. It was the first time I've seen it so it was neat. It wasn't actually comfortable though -- the floor is hard -- so I can see it getting old really quickly. (Also the floor was really gross at the end of the night so I'm sure it was pretty dirty the night before too and when I sat on it.)
posted by smackfu at 8:57 PM on August 28, 2005

Reminds me of an amazing account about Crash Tribal. I need to see a show like that some time.

My personal moment is a tie between seeing St. Germain live or a George Clinton show a few years back.
posted by coiled at 11:27 PM on August 28, 2005

Doh - Crash Worship. Sometimes even the preview doesn't help.
posted by coiled at 11:28 PM on August 28, 2005

Jon Pareles loves Korn?
posted by Vidiot at 12:22 AM on August 29, 2005

Y'know, something that this article reminded me of is that it's been years, years, years since I've seen anything at an arena, or even a really huge touring band. And I work as a music critic.
I almost saw the Stooges when they had reunited, but that was when there was the August blackout, and they rescheduled the date when I was out of town.
Before that, it was, believe it or not, Poison (along with Dokken, Slaughter and Cinderella). That was a great show, but mostly because of the extreme solidatiry of the audience: you were there to see their favorite fucking band in the world, man, so you must be their friend. Everyone (except me, who had gotten the tickets for free and was going as a larf) knew every word to every song by every band, and everyone was singing along (in the beer lines, in the bathroom lines, in the pavillion, on the lawn). The people who were sitting next to us bought us $8 beers and wouldn't take a cent (we were underage at the time), and it was just the most unified I've ever seen a group of people. I'm sure they did the same set night after night, but no one cared (and they put on a pretty good performance).
On the other side, I remember seeing Sloan at a free show around the same time (Detroit's Tastefest), where they brought a kid from the audience up on stage and taught him the bass part (or tried to). When I got home, my roommate asked me if they had brought a kid on stage, and I was surprised that he asked, since it had seemed spontaneous. He said that it got pretty damn obnoxious when they had done it the last three times they played around here.
But really, I go out and see live music about eight times a month, and it's almost always local or regional artists, and it's great about half the time. If you ever get a chance, go see The Paybacks or The Dirtbombs. They're fuckin' genius onstage.
posted by klangklangston at 1:00 AM on August 29, 2005

I've had two moments that were great to the point of almost mystical.

1. Nashville Pussy. They were opening for the Rev and the lead singer, Blaine Cartwright, comes out, surveys the audience, throws off his ratty cowboy hat, revealing a balding mullet redneck and proceeded to give one of the best experiences I've ever had the chance to see. The more he played, the more we responded, which made him play more. It was such raw synergy, one where everyone won. I thought i was going to pass out the energy level was so high.

2. Spinal Tap. This was for the Break Like The Wind tour and the great thing about it was, everybody acted like Tap were the rawk gods they pretended to be. Everyone bought into the Lie. When Nigel took out a suction cup gun and shot it at a plugged in guitar and it hit the strings? We all acted like Jimmy Hendrix himself had been reborn in Nigel's body. Only time I walked out of a concert laugh for all the right reasons.
posted by Dagobert at 7:01 AM on August 29, 2005

For someone whose been going to concerts for over thirty years, it's hard to pick a favorite moment. From bar bands to indies to Springsteen to a Scandinavian folk band that nearly caused a riot. But my iconic concert is still Zeppelin in '77. They show up an hour late due to weather, walk slowly onstage like they're punching the clock, and then wham, the hammer goes down! Three and a half hours later, we're drenched with sweat, ears are bleeding, throats are sore, and Plant says into the microphone "Minneapolis, it is now tomorrow, good night." Still the standard I judge shows by.
posted by Ber at 9:42 AM on August 29, 2005

ambient2: I was at that U2 show also. It was weird to hear nearly the entire crowd gasp when Bono said that Joey had died. And, yes, the song they sang was "I Remember You".
posted by turbodog at 10:14 AM on August 29, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm with Ber above; it's really hard to pick a favorite "live concert moment" after many years and some really good shows. The only thing I can say is that I haven't had such a moment at an arena show in years: there's too much money at stake in those venues to allow for any real spontaneity; still good music, but scripted shows. All my "moments" in the past decade have been at smaller venues. Just to mention a recent one, seeing Sean Nelson (Harvey Danger, The Long Winters), Bill Herzog (Citizens Utilities, Jesse Sykes & the Sweet Hereafter), Darren Loucas, and John Hollis do the complete Tommy at the Crocodile [teeny-tiny Seattle rock club] (in a benefit gig for a local music dude with health problems) was a truly great moment. Makes one really appreciate people really playing for the love of it (also makes one appreciate Roger Daltrey's voice for being able to sing those songs night after night).
posted by croctommy at 12:36 PM on August 29, 2005

My LCM was at H.O.R.D.E. '97, when Neil Young and Crazy Horse -- not by any means my favorite band -- kept playing even as a summer storm crept in and swept the amphitheater, becoming a squall of wild winds, lightning, and rain in sheets that drenched the hilltop behind the seating and ran down the aisles. The main power blew, and the band never missed a beat, continuing acoustically and then with just the sound of the monitor amps. Water lapped at the edge of the stage as they launched into "Hurricane", to broad cheers and impassioned singing along. I don't see how that could ever possibly be topped, and it hasn't been.

I'd almost believe that I imagined the whole thing if somebody else hadn't written it up.
posted by dhartung at 5:04 PM on August 29, 2005

Mine - New Model Army at the (now defunct) Town Pump. I think it was for the Thunder and Consolation tour - they had Ed Alleyne-Johnson on electric violin. Small club, so it was all tight and personal and full of high energy. Front 242 at the Commodore Ballroom (Vancouver Canada). Four people on stage making a sound so big and powerful everyone was moving in syncopation like being plugged into some massive primal force. A friend of mine who was there said it rivalled the best one he'd seen - Rank and File. Apparently they kept coming back, encore after unscripted encore until they finally stood on stage and said "We don't *know* any more songs!" They then launched into their theme song 'Rank and File' for the second time that night and every single person went wild and danced like the world was ending.
(NMA are on tour and playing here next month. Naturally I'm on tenterhooks waiting for them to come, hoping they'll invoke the same magic...)
posted by Zack_Replica at 9:24 PM on August 29, 2005

I do think the band -- or any performer, especially one you pay to see -- owes the audience a performance. They paid, they showed up, now they're looking at you. Do something!

(Bass players are excused, in most cases. They describe a different phenotype. The exceptions are rare and notable, but bass players invented shoegazing.)

Bands since the 80s have learned some really bad habits; let me take that back -- bands started acting weird and not doing much and not looking at anybody when the Beatles were put on Ed Sullivan.

1. In order to fit the entire band into one TV camera lens and thus show everyone at once in your living room, they have to stack the band pretty close together.
2. People assumed that's the way bands wanted to play, so they started building stages a lot smaller.
3. The Beatles were directed, as all non-actor TV appearing people are, to a. not look at the camera unless the director signalled to do so and to b. stand still so you don't make everyone seasick from the chasing camera, and we don't have to spend all year editing the guitar player back in (or out).
4. Bands who saw the Beatles on TV thought all rock bands stood stock still while they played.

Anyway, it is hard to run around on a tiny stage, but at the very leat the lead singer should be interacting with the audience, and the band should be interacting with each other, and the more fun it looks like the band is having, the better the show usually is. Most of the bands Segal referenced would have been playing in venues with sizeable stages, but once you hit the point where you have a budget for sets and lights, it's difficult not to let them do more work than you do.

Performing live, especially on tour, especially on a tour longer than a couple of weeks, is grueling, disorienting, and only intermittently satisfying. If you're promoting a product, you may be playing the same songs in the same order every night.

However, that's your job -- not just to sell the T-shirts (the only profitable arm of the business of being in a band, most of the time, is non-music band-branded merch), but to keep your fans fans. If you rock the fuck out of a midsize venue like the Fillmore, people may remember it as one of the best shows they've ever seen. PJ Harvey, X (reunited), the Billy Nayer Show, and Luscious Jackson are some of the fiercest touring acts I've seen, and they all did without sets and held the audience in the proverbial vest pocket.

posted by tarintowers at 5:39 AM on August 30, 2005

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