I have, as I grow older, few priorities that can compare to listening to live music. Sure, my wife and kids top that list. There’s also my home, my health, my business, my vinyl collection, a good day at the beach, a favorite episode of Seinfeld, and almost anything written by Philip Roth. But tagging just behind, within eyesight (or earshot), is live music.
I can say with certainty that this passion began to develop listening to live albums, and specifically (i.e., ad nauseam), Rush’s Exit Stage Left (1981), U2 Live at Red Rocks (1983), and Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense (1984).
But this all went next-level on March 27th 1984.
I was 13 years old meandering about at a younger cousin’s birthday party when my aunt and her oldest daughter approached me and said, “Hey, we have an extra ticket to the Duran Duran concert, wanna come?” Three hours later, I was sitting at the edge of my ticketed seat at the Hollywood Sportatorium when the lights dropped and in the dark, with the crowd noise rising, the band harmonized the lyrics, Please Please Tell Me Now (from Is There Something I Should Know). Then all at once, the lights returned, the drum kicked in with the bass and the guitar, and Simon LeBon, John Taylor and Andy Taylor sprinted to the edge of the stage. Bam! just like that, I was hooked.
In my lifetime, I’ve attended over 60 concerts. It’s not a record for the record books but that’s a lot of live music. So when my wife heckled me one night late last year that we didn’t attend any concerts in 2015 (an absolute rarity in my house), I set upon a mission to get to as many shows as physically possible this year.
The first couple of months of 2016 were silent. Then it started in March.
When New Order released its compilation album Substance in the summer of 1987, I took hold of it and played it on my Sony Walkman till my ears popped. The band’s up-beat, industrial sound knocked the 80s melancholy genre (e.g., The Smiths) on its ass. I saw New Order in concert in 1989 in Miami but was underwhelmed (the lead singer Bernard Sumner was way off his game; one rumor circling about was that he was on drugs, but then again it was the 80s in Miami so anyone physically and/or audibly distorted at any given moment was shrugged off with a “yeah, he’s just high on coke.”
New Order returned to the Fillmore in Miami Beach this past March. (My wife missed the show. It was Spring Break week and she had traveled with the kids to visit family in Bogota). I cut off work early, picked up my brother in law and we headed to the Fillmore, and found an open spot among the standing room general admission crowd.
New Order appeared a little past 9:30 PM silhouetted by a flood of technicolor. But the band, off the heels of a new album, started with songs that had most of us perplexed and antsy with anticipation for the songs we came to hear. About halfway through, lead singer Sumner sensed the fading enthusiasm:
I think this is the 1st American show that no one is smoking pot.
Not that I condone smoking pot. (ahem)
Then they played their hit song Bizarre Love Triangle. At which point I wrote a note in my iPhone: “Crowd erupts, lights up, and so begins the rest of the show.”
Perfect Kiss, Truth Faith, Temptation, the hits kept coming. The first set ended around 11 PM. A minute later, they returned and performed back-to-back tributes to their older sibling, Joy Division with Atmosphere and Love Will Tear Us Apart.
When it ended with their 1983 hit Blue Monday, I was numb with a nostalgia for my teenage years that I had long ago forgotten.
Sometimes fate is your best friend for an afternoon.
Four days after New Order (my wife still away), through the power of Facebook, I scored a one-day pass to the last day of this annual EDM festival in downtown Miami.
The very long, dizzying arc of that afternoon’s narrative can be summed up like this: big crowd, young crowd, elated crowd, sweaty crowd, dancing crowd, and repeat in a perpetual ebb and flow of drum beats, sun glasses, furry back packs, flags, leather, lace, skin, hair, colors, sounds, sun, moon, stars, and magic.
I bought a hat. I drank lots of Heinekens. And I rode the heart thumping and mind blowing experience that is Ultra all the way back from where I was.
(Bucket list item checked off).
In the 90s there were two rock bands: Pearl Jam and Nirvana. The path of one of those bands was cut short. Another one survived and endured.
My wife and I caught Pearl Jam’s second show of their 2016 tour at the American Airlines Arena in April, and damn were they good. We didn’t know all the songs but the ones we knew we sang the shit out of them. Among the countless highlights were [a] during the encore when Eddie Vedder said the last time he saw Pink Floyd was in Miami (March 30th, 1994, to be exact), honored Roger Water’s dedication and contributions to war veterans, and then, gifted the 18,000 in attendance with an inspiring rendition of Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb that had everyone feeling just like two balloons; and [b] the band roaring through Neil Young’s Rocking in the Free World, a banging show-closer when they were joined onstage by wheel chair rugby player Richard Shupan.
When the singing stopped, Vedder didn’t drop the mic but slammed it on the stage floor as if to say, Miami, Thank You, We Are Done!
One additional highlight: the closing minutes of Jeremy.
Around 2004, a taco shop opened on the corner of Biscayne Blvd and 64th St that sold among its menu items an outstanding fish taco made with beer-battered tilapia. I love fish tacos and it turns out that so does Iggy Pop. He was a regular there. But for a fleeting moment when I watched him drive away in his Cadillac, he and I never really crossed paths. Either too late, too early, I always missed him.
So when it was announced that he would be touring for his most recent album Post Pop Depression with a stop at the Fillmore in Miami Beach, missing him was not an option. I bought two tickets for a Tuesday night show.
We arrived at the venue with few expectations except that my wife was a little nervous. Iggy Pop shows from the 70s and 80s were once wild and bordering on violent, so said the internet.
They opened with the brilliant Lust for Life.
Here comes Johnny Yen again
With the liquor and drugs
And a flesh machine
He’s gonna do another strip tease
Watching Iggy Pop move is dazzling; jerking his aging body around the stage like a ragged doll being shaken by an invisible hand. But this is no puppet. In fact, he’s pulling all the strings and drawing the crowd towards him. You just can’t keep your eyes away.
When he was ready to greet the audience, he said:
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck…
The crowd chanted along.Talk about breaking the ice.
You’re a good-natured crowd.
If you want to bum rush the stage, I certainly will not object.
Through the next two hours the band performed a non stop string of new music and old classics including China Girl, Repo Man, The Passenger, and one of my personal favorites, Night Clubbing.
Past the halfway point of the show, he murmured, fuck it, I’m going in, and stepped down onto the floor. He weaved through the audience with a spotlight trailing him. We were in the mezzanine section and had to stand on our tippy toes to get a peak at the diminutive (5’6″) punk rocker dancing through the crowd.
Suddenly, to my surprise, he re-appeared and worked his way towards our section. Those times I missed him at the taco shop were long gone. Here he was. What did we do? – bum rushed the Godfather of Punk as he sang Fall In Love With Me.
That’s it for this long post. Part 2 will be written at a future, to be determined date, and will include, but not be limited to, The Cure.
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