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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Top Ten Concerts I Have Ever Seen

1. Fugazi at the Capitol Backstage
This was, hands down, the most inspiring show I've ever seen. This was Red Medicine era when the art quotient had well exceeded the punk quotient in their formula. I had never seen something so experimental and so accessible at the same time... and underlying it all was this totally manic life-affirming energy. As an Evergreen student first starting to comprehend post-modernism, but turned off by John Cage... I really needed a tangible example of what it could mean to think outside the rules. Cage wanted me to believe that a baby hammering on a xylophone was just as good as listening to Django Reinhardt. I wanted to hear music taken into new realms without completely abandoning structure and theory, to subvert the dominant paradigm without eschewing it completely. Fugazi did all that and more, and I never wanted to go home and play my guitar more than after that show.

2. Low at the Opera House
Part of a Bumbershoot fest... and the second of four times I've seen this band play live. At this particular show, I witnessed the single best stage moment I've ever seen. At that time the band consisted of Alan and Mimi (a married couple who play guitar and drums respectively; both also sing) and Zak the bass player. Alan and Mimi's infant daughter got away from her nanny backstage and rushed, from the wings, onto the stage toward her parents. The tiny girl looked out at the audience and froze. The band kept playing through the end of their song, which was wrapping up in Low's typical languid style. Zak Sally, the bass player, and clearly an intimate part of the family structure around this girl, got down on his knees and nodded for the girl to come over to him. The song had finished but for the final note to be plucked... a final return to tonic to bring it to a satisfying close. Zak held his forefinger on the proper fret and muted the rest of the strings with his other three fingers... he pointed with his free hand toward the fat E string and this 2 year old suddenly had her first performance... she reached out and struck the song's final note. At no point did anyone panic or stop the show. After the applause, the nanny came out and whisked the small child back stage again.

3. The Flaming Lips at the Moe
The Lips were touring in support of their first big WB record, Transmissions from the Satellite Heart. It was the first of three times I've seen them. They were a whole Mardi Gras wrapped up in one little two-hour set. When they first came on, the stage exploded in color; thousands of Christmas lights that had been wound into spirals were all turned on at the same time. These guys have always had a flair for the dramatic and the experimental... but this set was easy to absorb, beautiful to watch and drunk with creative enthusiasm. I remember Julie Fortino, who was at that show with me, regained her faith... she thought maybe the Flaming Lips had sold out when they signed to Warner Brothers.

4. Sigur Ros at the Paramount
I was a complete fool for their Agaetis Byrjun record. By the time they released the ( ) album, they were really mining the Godspeed You Black Emperor! approach... the songs were all 8 to 12 minute build ups from quiet restless energy to booming orchestral crescendos. At this show they were featuring the big build-up tunes, but I was hypnotized by the bowed guitar distortions and ridiculous drama of every track.

5. Tito Puente at the Showbox
I've only had a chance to see a few legends... revolutionary performers well past their prime but still kicking. I saw Pharaoh Sanders, Ravi Shankar and Paul Simon. All good shows, and I was most impressed with Tito. I went to this show with my sister, who said she could see me wherever I went on the dance floor... something about the fact that I was a foot taller than any other person out there. Out on the floor, I remember the feeling of floating in a sea of cleavage... looking down it was impossible to notice anything but the thousands of lowcut blouses moving all around me to the sound of the timpani. And I remember Tito sticking his tongue out a lot... and one time when he introduced a song with, "Este es solamente para los hispanablantes." I smiled thinking that so long as I understood that, I was part of the in-crowd.

6. Giant Sand at unknown Belltown venue
Howe Gelb is a crazed genius. I've seen Giant Sand a couple of times, but the set I remember the most featured Howe climbing all over the speakers, getting the crowd to shout out bizarre syncopated chorus parts, and including everyone in his own eccentric creative process. He had taken dusty country tunes and run them through every sort of distortion lens he could find. He turned the show into something most concerts never aspire to... like we caught a glimpse of what makes a mad genius tick right there in front of us.

7. Mark Lanegan at the Showbox
I ran into childhood buddy Ben Shepherd outside the Showbox before this concert. I had seen him perform before... at a surprisingly lame Hater concert. He saw my mom and me waiting in line and told us, "Good... you've come to the right show." Lanegan had compiled a supergroup backing for his latest tour. He was well into his post-Screaming Trees solo career at this point, but this was the first time I had heard these tracks LOUD. I thought Whiskey for the Holy Ghost and Scraps at Midnight were meant to heard softly, alone late at night, at a time when you've become a bit more inebriated than common sense normally allows. But even fully sober, and jammed into a crowded club, when I heard them launch into Hospital Roll Call, Lanegan's chilling baritone howling "Sixteeeeen", I got shivers. I felt proud that Ben was helping make such incredible music.

8. Fields of Mars in Pioneer Square
This was a random chance show. I saw my old friend Josh Dawson's band was going to be playing at one of those group cover clubs down in Pioneer Square, I forget which one. Ivy and I went to see him, and we lucked into an incredible treat. Another case, perhaps, of someone so young and so hungry to express themselves. An image from that show that I'll remember is Josh stepping away from the mic and launching into a frenetic guitar solo... he tossed his head back and was visibly screaming, his mouth wide open and his spit flying, but we could hear nothing... just the roaring of his distorted guitar. Last month, I saw Josh in Sound Magazine, modeling vintage clothing and getting publicity for his current band Slender Means. Dude looked like a rock star.

9. G Love and Special Sauce at Unknown Seattle Club
Back at Evergreen, one of my DJ friends from KAOS got Jim and I to come with him up to Seattle to see this show. G Love had just released his first record, and his charisma was dripping off the stage. He had lesbian couples in the front row inviting him to come make out with them. His career wound up plunging into mediocre crap, the nadir being when he served as the house band for a Ben Stein talk show. But for this night... he was the slickest thing I'd ever seen... like Beck if Beck wasn't really a nerd... Maybe like a young Elvis.

10. Brother Egg at the TESC Community Center
This was the first time I ever saw Adam Goldman's talent. Kevin was playing drums on rigged up suitcases. They had recently recorded their first full length album and were working on songs that would become the EP Lantern Flies (I think.) Given the poor acoustics, jury-rigged equipment and half-assed PA system... the fact that this concert was amazing is pure testament to how much the band gelled right at that time. They play out of Portland now, and have an entirely different make up and sound.

Honorable mentions to:

Reverend Horton Heat at Bumbershoot Mural Stage
Fastest my heart has raced at a concert... purely from listening... not moving or dancing.

Nick Cave and Neko Case at the Paramount
Neko Case, the opener that night, has an incredible voice. The two times I've seen her, she's been mesmerizing... WAY better than her recorded work. And hearing Nick Cave sing his track God is in the House live was hilarious.

Helmet at the Kitsap Fairgrounds - First Endfest
My first, and last experiment with moshing. Who knew getting kicked in the head could be so much fun?

Bright Eyes at defunct all-ages venue in the U-District
Conner Oberst... also incredibly young, and incredibly talented. Like a less stuck-up, emo version of Ryan Adams.

M Ward at The Tractor Tavern
Man puts on a good show.

Yo La Tengo at Town Hall
Went to this show with my friend Danny on Tuesday night. A more tender live show then Yo La Tengo generally puts on... 23 years of musicianship on display. They talked with the audience, inviting suggestions, questions, requests. They were unbearably charming, and effective in their role as improv stand-up comedians. I got such a sense of warmth from their set. They walked a perfect line between irony and sincerity. I was thankful to see them, and it made me dust off my Yo La Tengo CDs today and give them a closer listen.

This funky little video came up when I searched for Yo La Tengo on Youtube. It features one of their more popular songs as the soundtrack, but isn't affiliated with the band in any way.



At 10/31/2007 08:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Led Zepplin at the Rose Palace (Pasadena, CA) 1971. I wore an ankle length paisley print dress I made myself. Steve Miller opened.
Nothing would ever be the same.


At 11/05/2007 11:37:00 AM, Blogger John said...

I saw Steve Miller once. About 15 years after you did. He was playing some huge arena. For whatever reason, the crowd got really excited when he sang "I'm a midnight toker."

At 11/10/2007 08:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pink Floyd, 1974, Dark Side of the Moon...Molly was in-utero. Does that explain anything? Anyway, who IS Fugazi? It sounds like a little old Italian lady who goes to the corner bread shop in a Brooklyn neighborhood every other day to get her ciabatta. I was just wondering.

At 11/11/2007 11:26:00 AM, Blogger John said...

Fugazi is a straight-edge artsy emo punk band out of Washington DC. The main guy used to have a group called Minor Threat. They were known for selling all their CDs for 10 dollars when everyother disc was marked at $15-$17. They had a "tightly wound" kind of energy.

At 11/30/2007 05:12:00 AM, Anonymous freelasabird said...

Cool list and blog.

My top five(to avoid repeating artists):

5. Pearl Jam - University of Montana Theater: My first concert.

4. Sonic Youth - University of Montana Theater: Great Show. Washing Machine tour.

3. Elvis Costello - Bumbpershoot: A couple of years ago. He played at Husky stadium in the pouring rain. Just Elvis Costello and an acoustic guitar for an hour and twenty minutes.

2. Camper Van Beethoven - The Other Side (Missoula, MT): Really cool to see a band I love but was too young to ever witness during their heyday. A very intimate venue.

1. David Byrne - The Seattle Pier: Look Into the Eyeball tour.


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