With the holidays reasonably in our rearview mirrors and the possibility of summer concert tours mistily ahead of us, I would like to take a moment to halfheartedly exaggerate what I remember about some of the concerts that I have had the good fortune to see in person. Keep in mind that I am aging rapidly, so my memory is selective at best, marginally coherent at worst, and frantically embellished at the best of the worst at best. I shall also include the amount of times I have seen an artist, in the broadest sense of that term, play live in front of crowds that paid superduperüberexorbitant ticket prices.
Also I’ll spare you all by not gushing with orgasmic glee, saying that every concert was the most amazing musical experience from an individual or group at the peak of their abilities. No, I’ve seen some great shows as well as some meh shows. However, the best shows were those that I could con my parents into paying for in the first place. Understandably, those were unequivocally the greatest live performances I had ever seen.
Aerosmith (Saw 1 time live)
Of all the shows in all the nation that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing live, why start with a show that I don’t really remember that much? No idea, really. It is not even an alphabetical choice either because I could have started with AC/DC if wanted that to happen. This show wasn’t all that remarkable either. Oh well, nothing to see here. Go on to the next paragraph if you please, thank you kindly.
Advantageously, I was prescient enough to see them before the major turning point happened with Aerosmith: the release of the song “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” from the classic English sitting room drama Armageddon. Amidst all the other ballads that were flying around like so many musical mosquitos that night, if that song had been in the setlist that night, I would have broken down completely into an even sadder gibbering mess.
This was during the Nine Lives tour, which was an album I liked at the time. (Well, until “Pink” somehow became a hit single, that is. Then I couldn’t turn the CD into a coaster fast enough.) Aerosmith’s older song catalogue was represented, with “Dream On” being the best of a good pre-1980s group of hits. But the aforementioned ballad overdose was a soul crusher. “Angel” and “Cryin’” and “Amazing” and “Crazy” and ARRGGHH!!! Why didn’t they just do “Sweet Emotion” and “Back in the Saddle” on repeat? Hell, I would have been fine with a 3-hour version of “Livin’ on the Edge”, but no, that didn’t happen on that balmy summer night.
I know that I attended with a smattering of friends, at least two of which were female, that were absolutely absorbed in being balladeered by these wandering minstrels of rock. After a while, I was absorbed as well, wondering how to beat traffic in getting out of the wilds of the outdoor Alpine Valley Music Theatre while trying to corral five people of various shapes and sizes back into my two-door 1994 Chevy Cavalier. Thank goodness I drove because that at least I didn’t have to worry about being left behind by me.
Aerosmith performed perfectly well. Joe Perry was great on guitar and Steven Tyler, when not disintegrating into screech-singing, was a fine frontman indeed. They truly are the American Rolling Stones…if the Stones had the cojones to get away with playing that many sappy gushy songs from their discography in concert. No, thank you for being you, Glimmer Twins. But that being said…
The Rolling Stones (Saw 1 time live)
Speaking of cojones, touring in support of a concert album is the cojoniest move ever! This tour was the No Security tour, which was named after the 1998 live album that was culled from the Stones’ previous tour for their Bridges to Babylon album. Leave it to the Stones to milk a cash cow beyond dry. I salute you sirs! Only KISS is as ballsy as you guys. Then again, I was suckered in to see a live show that promoted a live album, so I’m just as much to blame for feeding the fire. But it was The Rolling Stones, man!
My brother and I saw the Stones at the now demolished concrete bunker formerly known as the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. We had the definition of nosebleed seats. The both of us were literally, not figuratively, in the uppermost seats in the uppermost deck in the uppermost last uppermost row. Our backs were against the cinderblocks that made up the wall of the building. The only seats that were higher than ours were either in the maintenance catwalks above or in those perches that could only be appreciated by Batman testing a new grappling hook launcher.
Fortunately, the seats were directly facing the stage or at least that’s what I saw through the telescope we brought along. These seats had some distinct advantages. For instance, it would have been nigh impossible for someone to spill their beer down your back. If you stood up during the whole show, you could rest against the wall rather than on the drunks behind you. But perhaps bestest of all, from that distance, you could never tell for a moment how aged the Stones were. (Remember, the Stones were considered old back in 1999, so I cannot imagine how they do what they do nowadays, given that they remember where they were when Archduke Ferdinand was shot.)
In fact, we were so far away, I don’t even know if it was the real Stones that night. Perhaps I should asterisk this entry with that caveat, to use a word that delight in spelling. However, if the band managed to find Stones impersonators who could either perform at a similar age and/or with that level of applied wrinkly special effects prosthetics, then I still think it was money that was well spent.
One rather large demerit was that they didn’t play “Satisfaction”. C’mon. You’re The Rolling Stones. That would be like seeing AC/DC and they didn’t play “Back in Black” or seeing Paul McCartney and he didn’t do “Hey Jude” or seeing the Eagles and they didn’t do…uh…um… Hm. Did the Eagles even have a hit that was worth hearing? (By the way, exactly why would you see the Eagles live? Do you hate life or music or both?)
All in all, it was a fine show and the Stones were still a fun live act. I guess. It was hard to see down through the ionosphere at the time.
KISS (Saw 1 time live)
Another show that I saw with my brother, who is admittedly the bigger KISS fan and only he knows why. And yet another show at the currently obliterated not-luxurious Bradley Center bunker in Milwaukee. And yet another band that I can claim I saw and that’s about it. At least with Aerosmith and the Stones, I owned some of their albums and was somewhat a fan. For KISS, I had the Double Platinum greatest hits and Psycho Circus, the album that they were touring in support of at the time and that’s it. And both are long gone from the living archeological dig known as the primitive contents of my CD shelving unit. (“Look, look, Sir Walter! See what I have unearthed? This poor devil owned a Spacehog CD! And look at all the Rush albums! How did he ever marry someone?! Fascinating!”)
Anyway, I’ve never understood the overreaching appeal of KISS. If you close your eyes and just listen to the music, they sound like a run of the mill 1970s rock band. Now if Foreigner had put on face paint and if REO Speedwagon had bothered with the high-heeled boots and sparkly leotards, who knows how differently we’d regard them today.
By the time I’d seen them, KISS had already reunited and toured extensively with all original members, back wearing the make-up. This means that the ideal opportunity to see this band would have been…about two years earlier. Now the novelty had worn off somewhat and in that week of Christmas back in 1998, a lot of us in the Milwaukee area apparently had better things to do. Well, I had better things to do anyway. The fact that it was a Sunday night didn’t help to bring the hordes in either.
Attendance resembled a playoff game for a professional indoor soccer team at best: almost barely sorta kinda half full of fans maybe. The entire upper deck was vacant, save for the few concessions employees and ushers that lucked into one of the easiest nights they’d ever have. The fans ranged from looking tired and bored to looking tired and bored while wearing full KISS Army face paint. With the ennui building to a fever pitch, this promised to be a great show indeed.
KISS thought that doing some 3-D special effects on the screens for each band member would perk us right up. These effects would repeat on a cycle after a while. This meant that we would have to plunk on chintzy cardboard 3-D glasses for these shots. And because the entire show wasn’t in 3-D, we had to repetitively take the glasses off, watch KISS onstage, be surprised at the next 3-D moment came up, and then suddenly flail around looking for our misplaced glasses.
To add even more dimensions to the three already in play, the effects never looked right to me. Our seats proved that not every angle in the arena was effective for seeing 3-D. I also had the awkward problem of having to wear cardboard 3-D glasses over my actual glasses. To add insult to injury on top of my list of visual whinings, I also have astigmatism, which means 3-D doesn’t really fly for me overall. (Astigmatism is so incredibly debilitating, I didn’t even know I had it until I was told about it. Saddest part in all of this: none of these afflictions get me handicapped parking, which is a titanic injustice.)
By the way, before I forget, it wasn’t 1954 at the time which meant that 3-D just wasn’t enough for me to get overjoyed about. I’m sure that for the people lucky enough to fly with Wilbur Wright, 3-D was indeed amazing when it arrived. But I’m a horribly jaded Gen-Xer and the limited thrill of repetitive 3-D at a concert just isn’t enough to cover the sins of a KISS song catalogue.
The dinky, uninterested audience combined with the dulling enthusiasm over the 3-D, eventually became all-too-evident to the band as well. While Gene Simmons was getting done spitting up a mouthful of blood, the crowd didn’t really react as he wanted. Simmons then made a “C’mon guys, what the hell?!”-type gesticulation with his arms and the crowd then cheered cooperatively. Paul Stanley, who usually says that whatever city he’s playing in at the time has the best audiences in the world, said that evening that Milwaukee audiences are the 4th or 5th best audiences in the world. This made my night!
There you have it. My first entry of fantastical live concert tour memories. You see kids, back in my day we had “bands” that “played their own instruments” to display “in person” their hits from the “radio”. I know this sounds not too far removed from the days of prairie schooners, snuff boxes, and saber-toothed tigers for the today’s youthful set, but trust me, it really was like this! And I’ve only scratched the surface. From old school crooners to jazz to prog rock to comedians, my concert attendance background is quite varied. Hey, I wasn’t going to hoodwink my parents into helping to pay for the same old, same old!