My parents took me to my first concert, Prince at Madison Square Garden, when I was two years old. My mom took me to see Bruce Springsteen whenever he played in the tri-state area. There is nothing quite like being surrounded by tens of thousands of people singing along to a song to get a little girl hooked on live music.
As a teenager, I waited all night for Bruce tickets, but I also loved hardcore/punk/ska shows at tiny venues all over New York City. I loved lunging myself into the mosh pits, getting kicked in the face, screaming. I loved being so squeezed against everyone else I thought I might die.
Recently, William Lessard asked our contributors to reminisce about the concerts they were lucky to survive and to experience the revelry, mayhem and fun.
David S. Atkinson
I was at a White Zombie show back in ’94 where the barricade was angled forward. I was at the front and people were basically stomping up my back. Only reason I didn’t go under was because this big ass Australian dude next to me kept grabbing me by the hair and pulling me upright again.
My friend’s older brother had extra tickets to see Lou Reed. When we got to the venue, it was an opera house and everyone was in tuxedos and suits and fancy dresses . We were in dirty clothes and really drunk. Turned out Lou Reed was doing the music for an experimental opera/play that were re-imaginings of six Edgar Allan Poe stories/poems and the actors all spoke in German, of course. Lou Reed was behind a curtain with an orchestra and they were all beating their instruments together and making horrible shrieking sounds. At the end of the show the curtain came up and Lou Reed stood up and waved and the remainder of the crowd yelled, “SWEET JANE!” and, “WILD SIDE! WILD SIDE!” And Lou Reed waved again and took a seat and slowly packed up his equipment.
I almost passed out from heat exhaustion in a mosh pit during Less Than Jake’s set at Warped Tour 2001. I skank hard.
Been a Yeah Yeah Yeahs fan since 2001 or 02, back when they only had the Master EP. Saw Karen O puking in the bathroom before the show, 40 oz of malt liquor at her side.
Sara Finnerty Turgeon
The last crazy concert was probably Arcade Fire at the forum. It was crazy because I had given birth about ten days prior and still couldnt really walk. It was a last minute decision to go. The baby was fed, asleep, and my mom was still in town. Arcade Fire is our favorite band. They let us park in a handicapped spot and security took me to the front door in a golf cart when we told them I couldn’t walk or climb stairs. We got there just as the band went on. My husband was in the bathroom and I waited outside, weeping. A woman asked me if I was okay and I said, “I had a baby two weeks ago and I feel like human being right now.” I cried the whole concert. I felt so alive. So happy. So in love. I had totally forgotten my body was my own. So cheesy to say, but the music helped me to remember who I once was.
1) Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper, Lone Star Roadhouse, NYC, 1989, second set: Mojo got down off the stage to moon people every time someone in the audience fell asleep. Mojo even went all the way up to the balcony while the audience chanted, at his request: “BOOM, LAKA-LAKA! BOOM, LAKA-LAKA!”
2) Agnostic Front & Nuclear Assault, Streets, New Rochelle, NY, 1988: Tiny club. People stage-diving from the stage. People stage-diving from the bar. There was nowhere to stand without someone landing on your head. Ceiling so low that skinheads would graze the ceiling-mounted speakers as they sailed through the air. It was a great show. The club owner must’ve sensed trouble, though, because the cops arrived immediately to stop the fight between punks and skins that broke out in the front of the club at the end. That was the first, and last time I ever saw a black skinhead.
3) Gay Bikers on Acid opening for The Cult, Felt Forum, 1990: The audience just wanted The Cult to come on so Gay Bikers harassed the audience with stuff like, “Oh, so I suppose you want somebody to come out here and read poetry. I suppose you want Jim Morrison out here. Well, he’s dead you’ll have to deal with me.” The crowd wasn’t having it. They started throwing stuff. The singer eventually gave up, but not without gum stuck all over his hair and several face-fulls of beer.
I saw an Elvis Costello show at Georgetown University in about ’87 or ’88. He was in just an awful sour mood. Every time the audience started getting into a song, he’d stop playing out of spite and launch into some slow dirge. The “highlight” was the twenty seconds or so when started playing an impromptu cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire”. The whole audience was applauding. All of a sudden, Costello put down his guitar and said, “F*ck you all.” All in all, it was probably the worst concert I’ve ever seen. Mind you, I’ve seen a few Lou Reed shows where he seemed to hold the audience in contempt for screaming out old VU requests, but at least Reed never gave up on a song because the audience was enjoying it.
I saw the Sex Pistols. Say no more.
Shane Jesse Christmass
ZZ Top – 1987 – my first big concert. I grew up in Perth, Australia. Look at where it is on a map, it is the most remote capital city in the world, which means, moreso in the 80s, no touring act went there. My Mum’s boyfriend at the time was called Big Al. Big Al was the President of the West Coast car club. So ZZ Top’s management wanted a 50 car convoy from the airport to their hotel. Big Al organised this. Everyone then got a free double pass. I was, and still am a big ZZ fan – so naturally I got to go. GREAT tickets. Our seats were in front of two rows of Coffin Cheaters (motorcycle club). The bikie behind me put his big black boots on the chair behind me, funny, fun intimidation thign going on. I didn’t mind, so they thought I was cool enough. I also heard the crack open of a bottle and then smelt reeking bourbon. Some usher came over with his little torch light and said, “Excuse me you can’t drink in here.” All I heard from one of the bikies was, “FuCK ORFFF!” Usher switched off his torch and left. He thought better of it. Anyway – one of the best gigs I been to, mainly because I was only familiar with the MTV-era of ZZ Top, and they played heaps of that, but I also heard their dirty, grungy 70s stuff for the first time. Texas Punks…. I got a bit sad when Mum broke up with Big Al.
Dancing like a maniac to Bow Wow Wow in London, crying during “Beauty Queen/Horses” at Tori Amos’ Boys for Pele tour, faggot dance party pit at Kylie Minogue, seeing Bat for Lashes play amongst the trees of Golden Gate Park, coming down while Joanna Newsom plays the entirety of her record Ys accompanied by the Chicago Symphony.
When i was in 8th grade, (~2008) my dad took me to see re-reunited Van Halen with David Lee Roth & Eddie Van Halen’s son Wolfgang on bass. It was at some stadium in Hershey Park. We drove like 4-8 hours to get there and it was half-empty. It was my Dad and I and a bunch of white people. There were these two guys in front of us smoking weed and during “Ain’t talking ‘bout Love,” one of them turned around to me and said, “HEYYY KIDDDOOOO U FEELIN THIS ROCK N ROLLLLL. U LOVIN THIS ROCK N ROLLLLLL. THIS IS THE REAAALLLL DEEAALLLL.” Then I got a band tee for like 40 bucks.
Saw Nick Cave at a small venue that turned out to be surprisingly intimate since the audience were sitting almost on the stage, with Cave on the piano and Blixa Bargeld and some other Bad Seeds playing in the background. Cave was in a really good mood and chatted with the audience, did several encores and let the audience suggest them. When he forgot the lyrics to one song, an audience member shouted out the words to remind him and he sang on. It wasn’t wild but it was definitely unforgettable, like being at a small prewar cabaret with Cave and Bargeld singing Mackie Messer.
Butthole Surfers show in ‘87 that ended in a full riot.
I went to a TMBG concert once at run-down theater called the Modjeska here in Milwaukee and two-thirds of the way through the concert they play their polka song and invited everybody up on stage to polka, and many people took them up on that. And the part of the stage that covered the orchestra pit collapsed. Whoomp, down almost everybody went.
One of the coolest shows I saw was a Jim Carroll poetry reading in the late 1980s at DC Space in Wash DC. Maybe 150 people showed up. This would have been many years after the Jim Carroll Band disbanded and it was mostly spoken word gig, but he sang, unaccompanied, several songs– “I Want the Angel,” included. I was thinking about this the other night. Also was thinking how cool it would be if he were still alive.
I saw some memorable shows as an undergrad at the University of Oklahoma. For instance, there was the time that Ben Folds was scheduled to play, but he refused to do the show because he didn’t like the piano that they provided him. This isn’t my experience, but my bro saw Shane MacGowan in concert, which is about as crazy as it gets. Apparently, he kept forgetting the lyrics to his songs, so he’d just stop in the middle and go to the next one. Or he’d curse at the audience and walk off stage for 10 minutes at a time until one of his handlers coaxed him to play some more.
Two come to mind. 1) Peaches, in full-on Acker-esque confrontational performance art flagrante, opening for Queens of The Stone Age. A heat and consternation (metalneck prudery!) I’ve not otherwise experienced. 2) Olivia Tremor Control, opening for Stereolab at a club show, members and instruments almost literally spilling off the too-tiny stage.
Thanks to William Lessard for help in compiling this list. Follow him @YoDollaBill.