The Younger J and I are true believers in the live show—when it is possible nothing matches the experience of seeing a band perform. Now, while at times the experience is sublime, at other times, it can also have a deleterious effect on your view of a band. Despite the outcome, however, the experience of witnessing a musical performance and, more importantly, absorbing the reaction of other audience members as well, alters your relationship with the music irrevocably.
(I was not a Bare Naked Ladies fan (back in the Gordon days) until I saw them live; their energy and improvisation made me respect a band I would have otherwise ignored. Conversely, my heart was broken at a Dandy Warhols show, but that is a story for another time…)
These days, I leave most of the concert going to my brother. I am old an ornery: most good shows start after my bedtime . (Old, Old Man.) But I do have some experience to draw on: my first show ever was Jerry Garcia; my last concert was the Austin City Limits. There are many and varied acts between.
But this post isn’t about how many shows I’ve seen, instead, I want to lament the shows I haven’t seen—both those I could have seen but never did and those I would need a time machine (which scientists now say cannot exist) to attend.
Why write about the shows I missed out on? Life isn’t just about what you see—you are shaped as much by what you don’t see or don’t experience. We are especially influenced by what we want but never have. The lack, the hole inside of us we always want to fill, helps to shape the way we see the world because it is a constant and undeniable presence. Once a desired is fulfilled, it becomes forgettable.
So, my theory for today is that while I spend so much time talking about what I remember of what I experienced and the impression what was had on what is, I am missing an important aspect of my relationship by skipping over what wasn’t, what could have been and how my idealization of these moments distorts what may be called the truth.
I’ll start with the shows I could have seen but didn’t; then go on to those I couldn’t have but would love to have had the opportunity. I am sure that both lists will be imperfect and deserve revision in the future. I am sure that my brother will have some other suggestions to improve upon these.
The Could Have Beens
- They Might Be Giants—1992
I have written about this before. The story is simple. TMBG came to play at the local college near where I grew up several months before John Henry was released. A large group of my friends, including the Lead Singer, attended the show and it was, by all accounts, awesome. I didn’t go? Why didn’t I go? It was late at night. I had school the next day. King of the mountain called Lame.
- The Cure 1994
More often than not it is better to avoid seeing a band past their prime, but during the terribly named Mint Car tour the Cure scheduled a date in the only large city near my sylvan home. The Mix Tape Girl and I, teacher and student at this point, bought tickets the day they came out. The show was canceled several weeks later because too few tickets were purchased. The sorrow! This is probably one case where the imaginary experience far outclasses what would have been.
- The Dirty Three
The Dirty Three is an instrumental band from Australia. I know, that doesn’t sound exciting, but the guitar and violin playing on their albums is otherworldly. If you want raw emotion and brilliant but diffuse song structure that is somewhere between classical music and alternative rock—then the Dirty Three is for you. I lived off of the Dirty Three for years—their albums wrote innumerable papers for me including theses, my dissertation and articles.
This is also a band that does not tour. In 2001 or 2002 I opened the Village Voice in New York to learn that the Dirty Three was in town and was playing the next night. I almost soiled my pants; I pretty much did when I looked at the cover and realized I was reading the previous week’s listings.
Either/Or after or even before Nick Drake’s A Way to Blue was one of my depressive affectations in the dark state of NYC after 9/11 and the self-indulgent and cloistered world of graduate school. There is no one else who sounds like Elliott Smith. In 2002, a colleague told me that he was playing downtown on a weeknight. My friend went to see the show; I did not. Why? It was too late at night, I had to go to school in the morning. Lamer than lame. Two years later, Smith was dead—of a self-inflicted stab wound.
- Iron and Wine 2004
After I got over the depressive mode of graduate school, I still found myself in a contemplative even maudlin state—which is why the Younger J, fairly or not, hurled the appellation ‘emo’ at me. I became quite taken with Iron and Wine one year—one of those phases where I had to have everything he put out. During that year, I had subletters living in my apartment, the Giants from Minnesota.
The male giant, who could play guitar like Jose Gonzalez without thinking about it, was an intern for a record label. He had free tickets to an Iron and Wine show. I did not go. Why? The show was late. I had to teach early in the morning. WAH!
I regret this one less than most. Iron and Wine did not age well for me—each new recording seemed excessively produced and cluttered with noise. Still, that show was right before the apex of his stardom. To have been there and not to have been so…Lame.
The Never Would Have Beens
There could probably be at least a dozen if not more entries in this category. I just thought of the first five that came to my mind—shows that would be impossible for me for one reason or another. This is a fun game. Try it yourself. (There are also fewer ways to realize how lame you are in this category.)
- Talking Heads-CBGB
The Iconic club, CBGBs has closed down forever. (Isn’t it a Bed Bath and Beyond or something? What does it say about me that I shed a tear for a club I never entered?). To have been there in its heyday when The Talking Heads were just figuring things out? To have been there for the first performance of “Psycho Killer”? I don’t think words can adequately express the depth of some desires.
- U2—Live at Red Rock
This one is a cop out because I don’t need to imagine it—I have seen the concert video. Even if you despise what U2 has become; even if you find the band’s music annoying and overrated; even if you despise Bono—how could you deny the beauty of this performance in this venue. Then, U2 was just becoming something, or more so, the thing. The band had just discovered its political vocal chords and was testing its lungs. Watch the concert, look and the crowd and tell me you wouldn’t want to be there.
- The Pixies—Boston Club Scene, c.1987
Lots of bands are far better in a small and intimate setting than in a stadium or large theater. I cannot say for sure that this is the case for the Pixies, but I imagine when daydreaming that when they were first playing out in clubs, even into the beginning of Surfer Rosa that the band was dynamite in close-person. That’s it. This is my most self-indulgent of self-indulgent selections.
- Mike Doughty-Smofe and Smang Recording
I saw Doughty, the former lead singer of Soul Coughing during this era at a show in Williamsburg where he was charming, energetic and genuinely open and funny. If you listen to his limited release live album of a performance in Minneapolis it sounds like the show I saw was only a small sample of his charisma. Seriously, listen to this live album if you can. I have. At least a 100 times. Now I picture myself in the crowd (even though I have never seen a show or even the inside of a venue in Minnesota)
- The Postal Service
The Postal Service was never really a band but did put out one of the best albums of the past decade. I cannot think of an album (of recent vintage) that I have listened to so many times and shared with so many people who grew to like it as much as I did. The reverence that this album elicits is nearly religious in tone. I can only imagine what a live performance would be like—part worship, part reverie and all dream. (That’s my fantasy at least: when I saw Ben Gibbard perform live with Death Cab for Cutie this dream took a heavy hit; but that is asl story for another time.
So what do you say, mein broder? Is this a thread interesting enough for your time? Have a made terrible choices? I am sure you’ll put the Grateful Dead on your list. If only you had been old enough to see Jerry with Dad and me.
Which is another thread for another time, perhaps: people you would have present (or absent in some cases) at shows throughout your life.