Unreal(istic) Live Shows
To complete a trilogy of entries on live music, I want to write about some shows I was not able to attend because of not being alive. I won’t wax poetic on about how music in my generation isn’t as cool and all that(….but it isn’t). Maybe it’s because it actually it isn’t as cool or more aptly, there hasn’t been the time to create the mythology around the music. Oh yeah, and I cannot forget the fact that the bands of today are alive and generally still perform while all of these bands do not or can not. We all want what we can’t have.
The first show I will never be able to see is easy: Hank Williams Senior, sometime in the mid 1940’s and with a good pedal steel guitar player. Old timey honky-tonk music may be the music closest to my heart for a myriad of reasons that warrant their own entry. But, to sum it all up, I think that type of music is as real as it gets and Hank is the godfather of it all.
Towards his death, a few years after my desired time-frame, Hank’s show quality suffered which is why I picked an earlier time. They used to do this big traveling revue type of shows with many of the time’s country stars and I envision giant smoky rooms packed with people singing along and dancing. My friend recently went to the Hank museum and he said he imagined some of the local spots were just like walking into one of his shows.
Country music has become a slick plastic pop machine, like most music, and bears no resemblance to the honky tonk music of my grand parents and this more than anything fuels my desire to go back in time. I know old timey music does exist, but it’s hard to find and not popular. What a bummer.
I’ve tried to narrow down my unrealistic shows to ones I wasn’t even alive for. There are many but I’ve tried to bring it down to just a few and none is the number one because isn’t everything number one in fantasy world? Jerry Garcia in his prime, say the shows recorded and released as Ladies and Gentlemen in 1971 or thereabouts. This is before the heroin/crack binges that would eventually kill him…actually way before when it appeared his drug consumption was limited to L.S.D., alcohol, marijuana, the occasional speed pill and I am sure cocaine when available. Jesus that is still a lot of drugs.
When the band was hot in the early seventies, they put out some of the best music coming from America at the time, regardless of what scores of haters seem to think. Their ability to improvise was at times absolutely amazing. It always annoys me that the Dead don’t get the respect they deserve for their musicality. It’s often narrowed down to stupid drug music by some people and endless jams, which it can be sometimes. But, if you really try, you can find the diamonds in the rough and really see why this band was awesome.
They say there’s nothing like a Dead show and after seeing all the offshoots and bands with one or two members over the past five years, I will probably agree. I have retired myself from this scene but for those of you who’d like to try and capture something of the feeling, try the Dark Star Orchestra. They play live shows from certain dates and do a damn fine job of it.
I’m heavy on the 70’s because for some reason, many of my favorite bands were at their peak in that decade so why don’t we lump them both together? Black Sabbath did a series of dates for their Master of Reality tour with Yes opening several of the shows, as documented in Almost Famous with the fake band being the first opener for this tour.
I love both bands immensely, Sabbath for their strict badassness and their basic creation of the heavy metal genre and Yes for their mind-bending music and existential lyrics. Both are mainstays on my personal play lists and I probably listen to both bands almost every day, at least for one song. It’s funny too because in the liner notes of Black Sabbath, Vol. 4, you learn that Yes keyboardist Rick Wakemen actually played on the album.
In 1972, both bands were in their artistic primes, right before the excesses of the 70’s would topple and implode both bands. Still, the live stuff from this era is unreal. Just listen to the out of character jazz jams from Sabbath on Live at Last and the space rock of Yes in Yessongs. I cannot imagine seeing a duo of bands like these all in one night and I am sure it was an atmosphere that could be only be described as bacchanalian. Alas, I can’t go back, but I do visualize these two favorites of mine in their prime. I have seen Ozzy in the 2000’s and he was way better then expected. I recently watched a 35th anniversary Yes concert DVD and it also was awesome. But, nothing would equal what I’ve described here and again, what a bummer.
To keep with the seventies vibe, my last wish would be to have been able to see the Talking Heads at the beginning of their career playing alongside punk bands at the legendary CBGB’s. Their first gig was opening for the Ramones at the famed club which must have been very interesting due to the very different styles of music that I’m sure created some awesome energy.
I like this idea of a show I couldn’t go to in a different way then the bigger shows of the Dead and Yes/Black Sabbath because of their intimacy. This is similar to how I’d imagine a Hank show, very small and up close so you actually experience the music with the band as opposed the other audience members. Arena shows are great but nothing will ever beat a small venue for a band you really like. I got to meet people like Mike Doughty through this type of show and I highly suggest anyone to try and see their favorite bands in this manner….but I digress.
Talking Heads are amazing because their sound is so unmistakable, so unique. Seeing them in this manner and so early in their career would be an invaluable experience. An ex-girlfriend’s father saw Pink Floyd in a club in the U.K. in the late 60’s, or least said he did, and I would feel the same about seeing that. It’s before the band got big and what they played was what they came up with in their homes and basements. Raw, unapologetic, and indicative of what was to come. Neither C.B.G.B.’s nor the Talking Heads exist anymore so my nostalgia for shows I never could have gone to is even stronger.
So are there more shows? Of course, I could go on forever with shows I would have liked to have seen and it might even warrant multiple future entries. Bad Brains the early 80’s, the Rolling Stones in the late 60’s, and a bunch of different jazz guys from the 40’s and 50’s are the first ones that would be good fodder for future entries. I’ve tried to pick things for this entry from different sides of popular music and, except for the majority being from the same decade, I think I’ve done an alright job but I could do better.
That’s life. Much like these shows I want to see that are impossible at this point, we always want what we can’t have. I can dream, listen to live recordings, and maybe some day I’ll feel the same about some concerts I’ve talked about here and ones I haven’t seen yet. I can only hope.