In my youth I was never the kind of music fan who attended a lot of concerts, frequented local scenes, had the money for tickets to arenas or stadiums, or had friends who invited me along to any of the above. My rock intake chiefly came via radio or physical media, very little in the way of firsthand experiences with a professional band standing and/or jumping around in front of me. As the years rolled on, isolated opportunities popped up here and there that got me out of the house and in the presence of live jamming. Eventually I learned the joys of an energetic crowd, an imperfect performance, and blessedly temporary tinnitus. It didn’t take long to learn that in-person rock acts were a vastly different experience from the three years I spent in junior high band playing bass clarinet.
I’ve been meaning for some time to compile those nights into a single chronological list for my own handy reference and sharing and whatnot. Over the past few days this has been on my mind for a couple of reasons I’ll get to at the end of this miniseries — to wit: my life at concerts over the past 25 years, mostly but not entirely rock-based, including a smattering of stand-up comedy and a pair of classical orchestras in more recent times. That number of years might sound impressive if I were a 30-year-old roadie and if the results were novella-length. As a 45-year-old introvert, I’m surprised they add up to as much as they do.
For clarification before we proceed: the list does not contain any of the following:
* Any events involving schools or churches, which would be too numerous and/pr pedestrian to count.
* The one time I paid to watch a local stand-up comic that a local radio station loved but who only brought one joke.
* Another local comedian and part-time DJ who amused me on the air but bombed at one of my employer’s holiday parties.
Final caveat: all of the following gigs were in Indianapolis. Maybe someday I’ll feel motivated to travel elsewhere to see an awesome band, much as we do for our geek conventions, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Onward with the history and memories and nostalgia and so forth!
7/22/1992: Guns N’ Roses and Metallica, with Faith No More
A good friend/coworker invited me, along with two of his other buddies. I have no idea what became of that pair, but he’s now my brother-in-law. The three of them were major metalheads agog over this epic bill. We had nosebleed seats in the way, way back behind a pair of portly young ladies who at one point got bored and fired up the first joints I’d ever seen in person. Our separate rows left each other alone.
I was most excited about opening act Faith No More, who had just released Angel Dust, their defiantly anti-commercial follow-up to their zillion-selling The Real Thing. FNM started at 7:30 sharp, put in a workmanlike 45 minutes of exactly two albums’ worth of tunes (nothing from the pre-Mike Patton era) without one word of stage banter, then clocked out.
An hour after FNM left, Metallica eventually took the same stage and brought down the house for two solid hours, making us all forget about the wasted hour. I’d only heard a couple of their albums, not the entire catalog. but it didn’t matter. The set list spanned their entire career up to The Black Album, whose singles were on the radio in super-heavy rotation over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. I thought I was tired of them, but the live versions were another angrier beast altogether.
Then ensued a 90-minute wait, possibly longer, much of which was uncomfortable and boring. After a while the cameramen began aiming their lenses at various attractive ladies in the crowd, broadcasting their images on the big stage screens for all to see, and just lingering on them in anticipation. Most laughed and hid. Some smiled back and waited for the attention to stop. At least one flipped off the camera. A few subjects gave the cameramen what they wanted: free topless shots. I understand that used to be an occasional thing at the Indianapolis 500 infield, and may still be today for all I know, but no one ever told me that was also a thing at arena rock concerts.
An eternity later, someone forced GnR onstage and got some music out of them. Axl Rose, seething with unresolved bitterness from his Indiana upbringing that apparently went far worse than mine, devoted most of his stage banter to trashing our state in every way he could imagine. An hour into his haranguing punctuated with occasional songs, we got bored and walked out while Matt Sorum tried to drown him out with a minutes-long drum solo. One of our local music critics later wrote a scathing review, to which Axl responded with a snotty, self-congratulatory fax in which he declared it was about time someone “woke us up”. And then he got the last laugh by releasing fifteen more albums over the next 25 years that all sold five million copies apiece. Oh, wait…
And that’s the up-‘n’-down night that was. My first bout with tinnitus took at least two days to fade away. I also came away with a Faith No More souvenir cap, which at $23 seemed extravagant but necessary. I still have it in a drawer, along with a memory some years later of wearing it to a clinic’s waiting room where one of the other patients, an indignant middle-aged lady, declared it the stupidest band name ever. It took me several more years before I finally understood what her comment meant deep down.
10/25/1994: Violent Femmes, with Drunken Boat
Officially this outing was a “wedding present” from two fellow McDonald’s managers in honor of my recent (first) marriage. My wife wasn’t invited but didn’t mind, and trusted me to hang out with these two single-but-attached women. In retrospect this intro sounds like I’m foreshadowing regrettable acts to come, but not quite. Either this was merely the initial high level of the new bride’s commitment to me, this showed how well she knew the three of us, or this was merely the harbinger of her oddly uncaring acts that would follow and escalate over the next nineteen months total of our marriage. For some reason we also brought a fourth — one of our non-management employees, a 16-year-old space-case kind of dude with strict parents and mosh-pit experience.
We came in just at the end of the opening act, presumably Rimbaud fans. We gathered we didn’t miss much. The Femmes, touring in support of New Times, weathered fifteen minutes of rabble-rousers throwing shoes at them while they played, then walked out. The big bald angry biker-looking theater manager came onstage, screamed at all of us to knock it off. The trio returned and rocked the remainder of the night, albeit a bit more perfunctorily than before.
Almost every New Times track sounded 200% better performed live, especially their first encore, “Machine”, which they turned into tripped-out industrial-esque performance art. I was also privy to the amazing sight of the first and only mosh pit I’ve ever witnessed to this day, a whirling dervish of a spectacle during “Gone Daddy Gone”. Our tagalong ragamuffin dove in, had a blast, and came away with no new visible scars.
8/15/2001: REO Speedwagon, with Kansas
(Indiana State Fair Grandstand)
The only time I ever took my mom to a concert before her anxiety issues intensified in later years, to say nothing of the complete lack of nearby performances by any bands she ever liked. If the surviving Beatles or the Grass Roots ever grace the Hoosier State for an affordable price before they die off, maybe I’ll treat her again.
The Indiana State Fair typically invites only country acts or Top-40 headliners to perform, which largely shuts me out. One year Marsh Supermarkets (R.I.P.) gave away free passes to any and all comers to go see REO Speedwagon live at the Indiana State Fair, with special guests Kansas. For classic rock-‘n’-roll acts, playing a free concert at the State Fair pretty much means their career is 100% certifiably over. And the fact that the once-beloved Kansas was the opening act can only guaranteed it would be a matter of time until they all moved to Branson to live out the remainder of their days doing three shows a night for Midwest senior citizens too cheap to fly to Vegas.
Despite the ignominy of it all, and despite the fact that the average age of the crowd was about 50, REO held up pretty well for a bunch of potential and actual AARP members. “Time for Me to Fly”, in particular, was suitably tender and bombastic in all the right spots. Singer Kevin Cronin, noticeably but boastfully blonder than ever before, had a blast poking fun at the band’s episode of Behind the Music, which had just premiered two days earlier. Kansas tried their best but probably would’ve been more content if their roadies had fetched them more prune juice and One-A-Day capsules.
6/27/2003: Bob Newhart
A birthday present from Anne, though we had to wait an extra six weeks before redeeming. Newhart performed his trademark stand-up for less than an hour, but if you’ve ever heard any of his old comedy albums, you heard what we heard, diminished not one bit by age. We’re pretty sure I wrote more about this show at the time, but can’t find it at the moment.
To be continued!