Jeanne’s and my recent vacation could have involved attending a concert by one of two Makers of the Music.
Our getaway unfortunately didn’t include a live show. Tickets for Van Morrison — a major Bucket List performer for me — in Boston were crazy expensive ($400 a pop!), and we decided not to make a fourth visit to the Cape anyway, opting instead for the Oregon coast.
Todd Rundgren in Madison was much more reasonable, but seeing the Wizard and True Star would have upped the price of our airfare, and required more complicated travel arrangements. But thinking about those two concerts inspired me to reflect upon the live Music events I have attended.
Backing up, I’m probably not the best person to rate live concerts — pick any random rock fan, and they’ve probably gone to more concerts than I, for a variety of reasons. (Expense being one of them, although that is hard to believe, considering the relative cost of tickets 40 years ago and now). But I had the good fortune to see some of the greats of rock, in their prime.
Before I start counting down my personal top 10, I’ll kvetch about some of those that got away. I could have seen Janis Joplin in the fall of 1969, but I was chasing the fairer sex in an all-female University of Wisconsin-Madison dorm (kids — there were such things 50 years ago!), and couldn’t pry myself away to go to the Dane County Coliseum. (The female RA who eventually threw us out was seriously enamored with JJ, but we didn’t know much about such things back then.)
Six-plus months after that, I had a chance to see Steppenwolf at the Great Dane. But that was only a week or so after Hendrix played at the same venue — more about that later — and that may have been a function of economics, or the general situation at the time.
I’ll also make mention of a few shows that didn’t make my Top 10. Two of them — both occurring in late winter or early spring of 1969, and one or the other being the first real concert I attended — I can’t find record for online or via Newspaper Archive: Blood Sweat and Tears at the Dane County Coliseum, and Iron Butterfly at (I think) Alpine Valley.
The first of those made very little impression on me. The latter did — but mostly negative; “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” pretty stale by then, was tortured out well beyond its original 17 minutes. REO Speedwagon, the opening act, impressed more.
Then there was a Paul Revere and the Raiders show in the late summer or fall of 1981. Revere himself was the only original member left, the other band members were younger than his oldies, and he was on the verge of being Geezer Tour material; entertaining, but not memorable.
There were also lots of acts that I saw at rock festivals, and the many local shows I saw in Madison in 1969-71. (Oz, Siegel-Schwall and Soup were among the more memorable ones.) And the Peter, Paul and Mary show, held in the campus Catholic center as part of one of the anti-war protests in the fall of 1969.
Because of the length of this list, I will split it into two installments, the second one to run next week.
May 13, 1969
Grand Park, Chicago, Ill.
This was a free concert, a tribute to the protesters at the Democratic National Convention the previous summer. We loaded up a car full of friends and made the two-hour drive from Janesville, Wis. — and got there a bit late. There was no seating, we were a long way from the stage and could barely see the band. But it was an experience, and we head some tunes we hadn’t heard before, including “Good Shepherd.”
Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention
May 27, 1971
University of Wisconsin Fieldhouse, Madison, Wis.
As noted elsewhere in these concert ratings, the UW Fieldhouse is not acoustically great, and our seats were waay back in the back. (I have photos to prove that.) I attended with a group of friends who were major Zappa fans, and as I recall everyone was satisfied with the craziness and the musicianship. (This was the Zappa/Mothers phase where former Turtles Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, as the Phlorescent Leech and Eddie, were part of the act.)
That said, this concert was a bit anticlimactic. We had a pre-game gathering at my apartment, and Captain Garbanzo showed up with something golden from the west of Mexico — and the new Rolling Stones album, Sticky Fingers. We were blown away by both, and the show suffered a bit in comparison.
Zorn Arena, Eau Claire, Wis.
Don’t remember the date of this show, other than the fact that our daughter was early teens or so, which would put it the mid-2000s; can’t find any records online. This University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire gymnasium wasn’t any better acoustically than the Big UW’s Fieldhouse, but Stanley Dural and Co. overcame that handicap. They did a version of the Stones’ “Beast of Burden” that might have sent Jagger and Richards crawling out of the hall with their tails between their legs; the snake dance line, which included my kid, snaked most of the way around the gym.
If you’re wondering what an accordion-fronted band from western Louisiana is doing rated among the rock acts, you’re lumping yourself in with those “boys … in their platform soles” in Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing”: “They don’t give a damn ’bout any trumpet playin’ band/It ain’t what they call rock and roll/And the Sultans, yeah, the Sultans play Creole.” Buckwheat, who passed away two years ago, could definitely “rock”!
The Grateful Dead
April 26, 1970
Sound Storm Rock Festival, Portent, Wis.
I heard a bunch of bands at the two rock festivals I attended in the spring and summer of 1970, and many of them put on good shows. But the Dead kind of took over Sound Storm, playing for upwards of five hours on the final day of the gathering.
I wasn’t anywhere near the stage for their act, though. My friends had a big tent halfway up the bluff, and the sound system was so good that it was like they were playing right in front of us; the Dead wasn’t known for stage pyrotechnics, so close proximity wasn’t necessary.
I think it was a good performance, although GD’s tendency to jam and improvise made it hard to compare what they did on stage to what they recorded. Don’t remember particularly what they played, other than “Dark Star”; a set list I found online shows 10 numbers which — granted, they stretched out their songs — doesn’t seem enough for the length of their show.
But my recollection was affected by a number of factors, some of them “numbers.” Another one was that, after the Dead were done, I had to climb up a scaffolding and run one of the stage lights — old-tech things that burned down their carbon arcs pretty quickly. (I was “employed” by the organization that staged the festival — although not in the sense that I actually got paid for running the lights, wiring the stage, doing stage security, etc.)