Tom Petty, Shoreline Amphitheater, October 13, 1986. No Heartbreakers, just Petty solo. This was the first annual Bridge School Benefit, which ran from 1986 to 2016. I admit at the time, we thought Petty was drunk, but watching the video now, it seems we were blinded by the fact that we were waiting for Bruce Springsteen.
Guided by Voices, Greek Theater, 7-2-99. It was called "This Is Not a Festival", and was headlined by Sonic Youth. I was there to see Sleater-Kinney. Guided by Voices had (and have) a substantial cult following, and they are extremely prolific ... by the time we saw them in 1999, they were about to release their 12th album, and they'd also already released 11 EPs and a bunch of singles. I don't have much to say about them, positive or negative. Here's "Teenage FBI":
Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Fillmore West, 1968. I think these were the first shows Bill Graham produced after moving from the Fillmore to the Carousel Ballroom and renaming it Fillmore West. I want to say I remember this as a great show, but ... Mike Bloomfield had left the band, and the other acts on the bill (Ten Years After and Fleetwood Mac) featured a lot of showy guitar work that impressed my 15-year-old self, so I didn't appreciate the Butterfield Band as much as I might if I could go back in time. Here's an Elvin Bishop showcase from that time ... he, too, left the band by the end of the year.
Bob Dylan, Oakland Coliseum, Concord Pavilion, 1974, 1978, 1998. If I remember correctly, the 1974 show was the first concert my wife and I attended together (we'd been married about 9 months). This was the tour with The Band, and it was easily the best of the three times I've seen him. 1978 was the Street Legal tour where Dylan seemed to channel Neil Diamond, and 1998 was a fine triple bill with Van Morrison and Lucinda Williams where for my money Dylan came out third.
Here is a decent-sounding bootleg of the 1974 show:
Here is one of the more memorable songs from Street Legal:
And here is an audience video of Bob and Van from the 1998 tour:
Shannon Wright, Fillmore, 9-23-02. She opened for Sleater-Kinney, and I recall her as being very energetic on stage. Can't remember any of her songs all these years later, but at the time, she made an impression. Here she is in 2002 ... not sure this does her justice:
Patti Smith, Boarding House, Winterland, Henry J Kaiser, Warfield, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1996. As you can see, we had a thing about Patti Smith in the late-70s. Here is the audio from the first time we saw her. Horses had come out a few months earlier.
Next was Winterland, truly a colossal show, just after the release of Easter. Here she sings "Because the Night" in 1978:
Our third show was in Oakland, in support of Wave. She went into semi-retirement, surfaced some years later, and we caught her one last time at the Warfield in 1996.
Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Keystone Palo Alto, year?. Don't remember when we saw them. I won the tix on the local college radio station, so probably 1980s. It was a good show ... Southside is reliable. Here they are, having a party in 1978. I love this video. Southside and the Jukes are joined by Southside's old buddies Bruce Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt back when he was still Miami Steve (he produced the first few Jukes albums). Professor Roy Bittan also sits in. If you're a fan of Conan O'Brien, you might recognize a few of the horn players. In the video, you get a real feel for how Bruce and Southside had played together so many times.
Sonic Youth, Berkeley Greek Theater, Oakland Fox Theater, 1999, 2009. I am not their biggest fan. The first time I saw them, they headlined a multi-act concert where Sleater-Kinney was on the bill. The second time, a friend got us tickets, and I'm not turning down freebies.
This is the twenty-seventh film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2020-21", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." This is the 6th annual challenge, and my second time participating (last year can be found at "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20"). Week 27 is called "Concert Movie Week".
As a bit of a cooldown after last week, let's take some time to appreciate the efforts to transport the feelings of a live event into a smaller, more personal medium. Crank up the volume and get out the pyrotechnics.
This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen concert movie. Here is a more focused ranked list and here is a larger compendium.
The kind of concert movie I like is just what the name suggests: a movie of a concert. I like to see the show progress ... think Stop Making Sense. I understand that some concert movies are documenting an event, that the event might be longer than a movie would be, that multiple performers might all want their moment in the sun. In those cases, I at least want to see complete performances of individual songs among the documentation of the event ... think Woodstock for the most part. I'm not a big fan of documentaries of concerts that essentially ignore the music, but I get the impulse to foreground what was happening off stage.
What I hate, though, is when a movie provides incomplete performances of individual songs. If a song is worthy of being included, and that song runs four minutes, I don't want to see only 90 seconds of that song.
Which is a long-winded way of saying that Festival has two strikes against it from the start, because it lacks complete performances. Think Don't Look Back, which for me works better as a document of Dylan's tour than it does as an example of a Dylan concert.
Festival, which has footage from three separate Newport Folk Festivals (1963-5), has plenty to offer people who want to reminisce. Among the performers (in partial performances) are Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary, Odetta, Judy Collins, Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Howlin' Wolf, Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry, Buffy Sainte-Marie, The Staple Singers, Mimi and Richard Fariña, Donovan, Mike Bloomfield, and many more. But you can sit through the entire 97-minute film without seeing a complete performance of a song.
So OK, Festival at least works as a document, right? Well, yes but. The single most important cultural occurrence at those three Newport Folk Festivals came when Dylan "went electric". Festival comes in about a minute into the first of the electric songs, "Maggie's Farm", and what follows is only part of the rest of the song. Dylan and Mike Bloomfield are so fired up, even a truncated version is impressive, but it's not enough. Besides, while Festival gives a feel for what those events were like, it provides no context. You never know what year it is, which matters, especially when people in the crowd (almost always male) pontificate. And if you didn't already know the legend, all you would think of "Maggie's Farm" was that Dylan did a good job and Bloomfield sure can play guitar. The reality, which I described on Facebook as Bob Dylan opening the door while Mike Bloomfield put his boot to folk music and kicked it out that door, is missing from Festival.
So if it's enough for you to see historic performers in the 60s, either young (look at Judy Collins! look at Johnny Cash!) or old (look at Howlin' Wolf!), you'll enjoy Festival. If you want to actually experience historic performances, look elsewhere.
Festival was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary feature. 40 years later, Murray Lerner released The Other Side of the Mirror, a compilation of Dylan performances, from singing "With God on Our Side" with Joan Baez in 1963 and in 1964, to the cataclysmic "Maggie's Farm". Thus, we can watch Maggie in full glory:
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Oakland Coliseum, July 1974. Another Day on the Green show, with CSN&Y headlining. It was part of an ill-fated reunion tour from the oft-squabbling bandmates, one that didn't go well from their perspective, although it was financially successful (at least before the spending on drugs and the like). From our seats far into the upper deck of the Coliseum, their performance was disappointing, especially the acoustic segments. We preferred The Band, not just that afternoon but in general. Forty years later, they released CSNY 1974, a compilation of several shows from the tour. Here is an entire show from Wembley (I've started the video well into the concert, with "Don't Be Denied"):
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, maybe the Kabuki Theater, sometime in the early 1980s? I include this, even though I can't remember the venue or the date, so I can retell a favorite anecdote. I'd won the tickets on the local college radio station and invited a friend along. This was early in the period when computers became an integral part of band performances, and I admit I was a bit too rockist to appreciate that tendency. So while it put a damper on the concert, I admit I thought it was funny that after a couple of songs, they announced that they would have to stop playing for a bit to fix a computer. In fairness, when they finally returned, they busted their ass to connect with the crowd. But I'll always think of it as the Night the Computers Died. Here is the video from one of my favorites of their songs:
Sleater-Kinney, Great American Music Hall, Greek Theatre, Fillmore Auditorium, Warfield Theater, Masonic Auditorium, Fox Theater, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2015, 2016, 2019. Not sure there's much I can add to all I have written about them in the past ... this link will take you to every blog post with the tag "Sleater-Kinney". As of this writing I have seen them 17 times, second only to Bruce Springsteen. I love them, and I miss Janet Weiss. Here they are in Paris in 2015, a month or so before we saw them for the first time in nine years:
Pacific Gas & Electric, Fillmore West, June 1970. Later known simply as PG&E. They were a little-known band aside from their one hit, relying on the vocals of Charlie Allen. Christgau actually gave their 1969 album an A-. When I saw them, the headliners were Sha Na Na.
Yusef Lateef, Keystone Korner, ???. I probably shouldn't bother including them ... I can't even remember when we saw them (although I'm pretty sure it was late-70s/early-80s), nor can I remember any details of the show other than the venue. But I do remember seeing them, nonetheless, and it's so rare for me to have attended a jazz show, so here is Yusef Lateef, a multi-instrumentalist, perhaps not as famous as some jazz greats, but he recorded for more than 50 years.
Robin Trower, Oakland Coliseum 8-3-75; Winterland 5-8-76. I liked him enough to have seen him twice. The first was a Day on the Green (called "The British Are Coming") where Trower headlined a bill that included such big names as Fleetwood Mac, Peter Frampton, and Dave Mason. In some ways, he was the artist most suited to those outdoor shows than anyone I ever saw, because his long, distinctive guitar solos wafted above the Coliseum so delightfully. Trower, whose guitar added so much to Procol Harum, had quite a run in the 1970s, with four gold albums, two of them making the Top Ten. At the time, he was often compared to Hendrix ... I had a friend who actually said once that she thought when Hendrix died, his soul entered Trower. He is still at it in his mid-70s, having released an album last year with British reggae artist Maxi Priest. "Daydream" is so much my favorite of his songs that I will stop what I am doing to listen to any version that crosses my path ... I've spent more than a few hours on YouTube listening to one after another. It's still beautiful to this day. Here's one from Winterland in 1975 ... the singer/bass player, James Dewar, was an underrated, soulful vocalist.
In the early 2010s, British blues artist Chantel McGregor included a cover of "Daydream" on her first album, and she played it often enough and well enough (and long enough ... she'd been known to extend the song for upwards of 15 minutes) that I've listened to her versions on YouTube quite often as well.
Some big names this week, although in 3 1/2 cases out of 4, they were opening acts.
John Entwistle, Winterland, February 1975. Or John Entwistle's Ox, which is how they were billed. The Who bass player fronted this band, which included Robert Johnson on guitar (not THAT Robert Johnson). Not a lot of memories on this one ... like most people, I was waiting for the headliner, the J. Geils Band, who I was seeing for the first of four times. Johnson was a guitar wunderkind who had auditioned to replace Mick Taylor with the Rolling Stones when he was 23. I certainly had no idea who he was at this concert, but he blasted his way into my heart with this track from 1978:
Lynyrd Skynyrd, Oakland Coliseum, July 1977. Day on the Green show, headlined by Peter Frampton. I've written about it several times. Here's the song we all wanted to hear, recorded at that show ... less than four months later, the plane crashed.
John Lee Hooker, Keystone Berkeley, February 1980. Tiny club, he opened for Muddy Waters. The man was ageless. He was in his 60s when I saw him, and he lived another 20+ years, still releasing albums into the 21st century. Also in 1980, he turned up in a pretty popular movie, and no, he didn't lip-sync:
The Gossip, the Fillmore, June 2000; Bottom of the Hill, February 2001. When I said 3 1/2 of these artists were opening acts, the Gossip is the 1/2. I first saw them opening for Sleater-Kinney, and their performance, led by the amazing Beth Ditto, was as good as any opener I have ever seen. When next I saw them, they were the headliners.
Dave Brubeck, Concord, 1970s. Not sure if we saw Brubeck more than once. The Concord Jazz Festival started in 1969 ... I believe it is still running. It took place each year in Concord, California (Brubeck's birthplace, along with Tom Hanks, and about 15 miles from where I grew up). My wife's dad was in the newspaper business, so he often got free passes to the Festival, plus the Festival was created by a local car dealer and my dad was in that business, so sometimes he got free passes, too. We went to a few of them over the years ... can't remember when, but in the 70s. Brubeck being a local boy who did good, he was always welcome at the Festival. "Take Five" was that rarity, a jazz track that was a crossover hit. It was written by Paul Desmond, who plays sax. Brubeck is on piano, of course, Eugene Wright was on bass (he was probably gone by the time we saw Brubeck), and Joe Morello was the drummer who does wonders with the 54 time. This recording is from 1961:
Clarence Clemons and the Red Bank Rockers, Keystone Palo Alto, 12-3-82. Clarence put this band together to play with while Bruce was working on something, probably Born in the USA. They released one album, Rescue, which wasn't bad, with a singer named J.T. Bowen who could shout with the best of them. On this date, the crowd spent most of the time waiting for Bruce to show up (he didn't). At one point, Clarence teased us by saying they were going to play "Fire", only to perform the Jimi Hendrix song.
Bruce wrote a song for Rescue, "Savin' Up":
Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Candlestick Park, 9-8-84.I wrote about this a few years ago. It took place after a Giants' game ... CS&N set up on the field and played a set. Don't remember a lot about it, except that it happened, and I was there. You can listen to a show from the next day by clicking this link. Meantime, I'll once again post this, the best song Crosby and Nash ever did:
Tracy Chapman, Oakland Coliseum, 9/23/88.Human Rights Now! was a tour to benefit Amnesty International, with a load of stars: Sting, Peter Gabriel, Youssou N'Dour, Tracy Chapman. Bruce and the E Street Band closed the show. This was his 39th birthday ... as I recall, Joan Baez sang "Happy Birthday" to him. Chapman had released her self-titled debut album that year, featuring the runaway hit "Fast Car".
The last show of the Human Rights Now! tour, in Buenos Aires, was the last time Bruce toured with the E Street Band for more than a decade. The crowd in Argentina was bonkers:
Foghat, Winterland, 1-16/17-76. Foghat was a popular arena rock band in the 1970s who are still plugging away all these years later. They were formed when several members of Savoy Brown left that band and formed their own. They were known for their live performances, and hit it big in late 1975 with the album Fool for the City, which included their biggest hit, "Slow Ride". We saw them a few months later on a show headlined by the J. Geils Band. No disrespect intended, but if you were on a bill with J Geils, I probably don't remember much about your own set.
Rod Stewart, Cow Palace, 12-19-77. A disappointment, one I have written about before. His first solo albums, from 1969-1972, were masterpieces, and his simultaneous work with Faces was sloppy rock and roll fun. Then he got even more popular and famous, and it's simplifying things, but it was all downhill from there. (In 1980, Greil Marcus famously wrote, "Rarely has a singer had as full and unique a talent as Rod Stewart; rarely has anyone betrayed his talent so completely. Once the most compassionate presence in music, he has become a bilious self-parody – and sells more records than ever ." At his best, Rod was able to pull off softer music with literary touches, and balls-out rockers. In his greatest song, "Every Picture Tells a Story", he managed to work in a line about "Dickens, Shelley or Keats" without sounding dumb. In 1977, he was touring behind his recent release Foot Loose & Fancy Free, which was one of those self-parodies that sold a lot of records. The big two-sided hit from that album was a perfect example of where Stewart had gone: the stoopid raunchy "Hot Legs" backed with one of his most poignant ballads, "I Was Only Joking".
At that concert, he came out to "The Stripper" by David Rose, and finished with a snippet of "Every Picture Tells a Story". It was never more true, or more sad.
Robin Lane and the Chartbusters, Keystone Berkeley, 7- 2-80. I wrote quite a bit about Lane a few years ago ... you can read it here. Meanwhile, here's one of her songs from back then:
(She opened for The Undertones at that show. We exchanged emails awhile back, and I told her about that show. She replied, "Boy did the Undertones hate us. We liked them a lot though."
The Black Keys, GAMH, 2-3-03. Yet another band I saw when they opened for Sleater-Kinney. They only had one album out then. They were a cult band that made it big, winning several Grammy awards along the way. A guitar-and-drums duet, I didn't connect with them at the time. They played a lot of covers: The Beatles, The Stooges, "Have Love Will Travel".
I think I know now what's making me sad It's a yearnin' for my own back yard I realize maybe I was wrong to leave Better swallow up my silly country pride
Going home, running home Down to Gasoline Alley where I started from Going home, and I'm running home Down to Gasoline Alley where I was born
Dave Mason, Oakland Coliseum, August 1975. This was a Day on the Green, headlined by Robin Trower. Mason was second-billed, even though Fleetwood Mac and Peter Frampton were also on the bill. I loved (and continue to love) his solo debut, Alone Together, but his output since then has been hit or miss. Here he is in 1974 ... this set includes his version of "All Along the Watertower".
The Sex Pistols, Winterland, January 14 1978. What more can I say about this show that I haven't already written? It was the band's last concert with Sid Vicious, and in fact their last concert until much later, when they started played reunion shows. Here is the whole show:
John Hiatt, Warfield, May 1982. Hiatt has never quite made it as high as his fans think he deserves. At this show, he was opening for Graham Parker. Hiatt may be best known for the songs he wrote which were recorded by others, most notably Bonnie Raitt with "Thing Called Love" from her breakthrough album Nick of Time. Hiatt was featured once on the late-great TV series, Treme.
John Prine, Concord Pavilion, October 1991. Speaking of Bonnie Raitt, she and John Prine had a nice partnership over the years, with their duet on Prine's "Angel from Montgomery" being most memorable. Prine opened for Raitt at this show, which turned out to be the only time I saw him. One of the greats in my book. His most recent album in 1991 was the excellent Grammy-award winning The Missing Years. Here he is in 1992, performing the title song: