Jack Merry here. I've been thinking 'bout concerts that I've seen over the years; John O'Regan, our staffer who's also a crack journalist for the likes of Irish Music Magazine, will very soon be reviewing -- rather fittingly for an Irishman -- both the new Horslips release and the Thin Lizzy concert he saw recently, so I moseyed down to the Pub late one evening when I expected many of our staffers to be there. Over a few rounds, I asked some of them what their favourite concert memories were.
Brigid Dubhthach, his wife, speaking. He's a musician. Going down to Pub for a few rounds is for a musician akin to bears shitting in the woods. They just do it. I still love him.
Kelly Sedinger leads off the Pub conversation with a story that Berlioz would've appreciated: 'I attended a concert of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra at which Dvorak's 'New World' Symphony was on the program. The second movement of that symphony is the 'slow' movement, with the gorgeous melody later immortalized as the faux-spiritual 'Goin' Home', and much of that movement is very soft and quiet. Unfortunately, the audience that night must have included a convention of bronchitis sufferers, from the sheer volume of coughing and throat lozenge-unwrapping that went on during this movement. (If you've ever been in a real concert hall, you know that a single cough can be heard pretty much anywhere in the auditorium.) Finally, when the second movement had come to an end, the conductor -- Semyon Bychkov -- turned to the audience and proceeded to lecture them on how what is being performed is not mere entertainment but art, and that all the coughing signifies a lack of respect. When he decided that he had the audience sufficiently cowed, Bychkov turned back to the orchestra -- but then turned to the audience again, this time to say: 'For those of you who missed the second movement the first time we played it, we shall now play it again.' And this they did. After the concert, I went backstage to get Maestro Bychkov's autograph. I found him in his Green Room, sitting on a couch and smoking.'
Robert Tilendis chimes in with two classical music concerts he remembers as particularly memorable: 'The first that comes to mind is at Orchestra Hall in the late 60s -- the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under its Acting Music Director (whose name, after all these years, I've forgotten -- this was in the days before Sir George Solti) turned out a perfect Brahms First Symphony, at least to my mind. I've always thought that most conductors tried to race through the first movement, but this one was flawless, with all the majesty and passion of which Brahms is capable. I almost fell out of the gallery at the end (yes, the prototypical starving student, who, incidentally, is not good with heights) jumping up to applaud. Fortunately, a friend had the seat behind me and kept me from going over the rail -- it's a long drop to the main floor.
Another, from roughly the same time period, happened at the Ravinia Festival. The program was to have been Christa Ludwig and Walter Berry doing Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde, but Berry turned up with a sore throat. Ludwig did Die Kindertotenlieder, and I had seats at fourth row center. It was beyond my ability to describe -- as though she were singing for me and only me. It was heart-wrenching and completely absorbing. When the piece ended, no one moved for what seemed like eternity -- it was that riveting. Then, of course, the pavilion went nuts.'
Kim Bates says 'One of the best shows I ever saw was a warm night at the Winnipeg Folk Festival when Richard Thompson came on, and the Northern lights promptly came up and added a spectacular light show to his solo act. And my first time up there, Oysterband put on a great show at about 2 in the morning -- they really rocked. That was in the Deserters era. I've got more, but you'll have to give me a day or so to add to that. But it's why I love the festival -- when the weather is right and the crowd is there, it's really magical. Or it can be. You're sitting there on your blanket, perhaps after dancing in the mud (with its peculiar smell) and some performer will come out onto the stage and just blow you away when you think you're done for the evening. It's wonderful.
The second time Danu played the Winnipeg folk Festival, we were absolutely too tired to stay until the end, and my companion was not fond of the lineup in the parking lot. So we took off, but just as we turned the corner from the Festival Lane to the South Highway on our way to the Provincial Campground, we realized we could hear the band perfectly, and that the mist was coming up off the meadow underneath a full moon. We pulled over and listened to the rest of their set. Magic.'
David Kidney has a recent memory to share: 'In 2004 I saw some outstanding concerts, Eliza Gilkyson, Tom Russell, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, but node made quite the impression that Ron Sexsmith did. When I first heard Ron Sexsmith I didn't like him. I wanted to. All the people I admired liked him... raved about him. But to my ears he sounded like Tim Hard in, mixed through those musicians who admired him so... McCartney, Elvis Costello... there were echoes of all of them in his songs, and voice. Then the Retriever album came out and things changed. He clicked. I have played that album more then any new recording I've heard in years. Then he toured Southern Ontario. We bought tickets to see him in the Studio Theatre of Hamilton Place. An intimate, and cozy setting. It was the first show of the Canadian Tour, and he warned that his voice was a little rough as he was just getting over a cold. He was personable, friendly, and whatever voice problems he thought he was experiencing...well...he sounded better live than on disc. His band is tight, and although they don't play on the recorded versions...they certainly own the tunes. They worked their way through much of the Retriever a material, and interspersed many of his best songs from the rest of his albums. There was even a surprise or two. A Jackie DeShannon tune. A month and a half later we saw him again, on the last day of the tour in St. Catherines. Again an intimate setting, and this time in front of a loving home crowd. His grade one teacher sat in front of us. He played a similarly constructed set, but this time adding a rendition of an Elton John song, and a new totally unplugged song, for which he and the band stepped over the monitors, to the front of the stage and just depended on their own skill, and the gorgeous acoustics of the theatre to carry the sound to the audience. Tremendous. The best concert experience I had this year? Ron Sexsmith and Band.'
Donna Bird comments 'I worked as a radio disk jockey at college and commercial stations from the late 1960s to the late 1980s, so I got to attend a LOT of live shows with complimentary passes AND great seats! I also followed the common practice of that time, using various recreational substances to enhance my concernt-going experiences. So, it's HARD to find one clear memory of a show. But here goes... Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, New York -- one of those outdoor amphitheaters with a roof to protect you from rain but open on the sides, so you could smell and hear the night around you---and occasionally get bitten by the local mosquitoes. I went to see Peter Gabriel with my friend Adrian, a singer in a local rock band. I had been a fan of Peter since his days in Genesis, and routinely bought his solo albums. This was the U.S. tour to support 'Security,' which was released in fall 1982. Since the Saratoga concert series happened during the summer months, I figure it would have been 1983. Tony Levin was in the band, playing his distinctive stick bass -- you couldn't miss that. I had seen Tony with King Crimson a couple of years earlier. The piece I remember most clearly from this show was 'Lay Your Hands on Me.' Peter got the audience singing that refrain. He gestured to us to raise our hands over our heads, which we did. Then, he dove into the crowd and rode belly down over our outstretched arms. He passed literally right over us. We almost fainted. It was one of the most powerful and beautiful collective experiences I've ever had.'
Lars Nilsson notes 'While in London in the summer of 1977 I went to the now defunct Southwark Folk Festival and for the first time I saw Martin Carthy in action. The festival was held in a teacher's training college and the evening ended with Martin performing in the middle of the floor in an assembly room. We were just over a hundred sitting on the floor in circles around him. No stage, no microphones, no spectacular lights, just a man, his voice and his guitar. Pure magic. Do not expect me to tell you which songs he sang. I only remember a powerful 'The Famous Flower of Serving Men'. But I have been a fan ever since.'
Cat Eldridge says his favourite concert memories all involve various Nordic groups he's seen: '...seeing Vasen perform at Bowdoin College in Kresge Hall a few years back was simply amazing. The band was sans drummer who apparently doesn't travel outside of Sweden so the music was quietly Nordic in nature like a gentle snow falling...' Another concert that he remembers fondly was 'Swedish group Frifot at the CCE here in Portland. Not nearly as quiet as Vasen was as Lena Willemark, the lead vocalist for them, has a voice that'd do a banshee proud! The crowd, almost all of Swedish ancestry, the women wearing traditional dress, and many speaking Swedish, were quite pleased at the traditional songs they did that cold winter evening.' A future concert memory he anticipates will be fondly remembered is the upcoming concert at CCE of Aly Bain and Ale Moller!
Gary Whitehouse waxes nostalgic: 'Concert memories ... I didn't realize until you asked the question that I have so many of them... ...the night Taj Mahal sat at the piano and played song after song for a dancing, swaying crowd in the park, long after the performance was officially supposed to end; the night I saw the Meat Puppets in 1994 at the height of their game, just before they disintegrated; the American Fiddle Festival one August at the Cuthbert Amphitheater in Eugene, which ended with BeauSoleil, Darrol Anger, Mike Marshall and Vassar Clements jamming before an ecstatically dancing crowd; John Doe, former frontman of X, in a solo acoustic performance in a tiny bar; Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men in that same bar, blowing all the fuses in a scorching version of 'Long White Cadillac'; Richard Thompson at the Aladdin Theater in 1996, playing a version of 'Put it There Pal' so full of fury and venom I feared for the people in the first few rows; and a gig aptly titled Fiddle Heaven in the North River Centre for the Performing Arts at the Celtic Colours festival in Cape Breton Island, featuring Liz Carrol, Jerry Holland, Kyle MacNeil and Tove de Fries -- a converted church lit entirely by candles and packed to the rafters with adoring fans -- followed by yet more fiddling and dancing in a nearby community hall. ...There are many more, many more, but neither of us has all day 'n' night.
Joel Boyce has fond memories of a Canadian group and their antics: 'The Headstones came to town some three years ago. This was just after releasing their Greatest Fits album. I recall at one point the lead singer cleared out his nose by plugging one nostril and spraying snot all over the stage and all the people that were nearby. It was a great show. They're awesome live.' A charming group I see!
Chris White has a choice memory: 'Fall of 1969, the gym of Drew University in Madison, NJ. Tim Buckley was touring following the release of Blue Afternoon. I was a big fan. So were loads of self consciously 'sensitive' sorts. Buckley had been known for his poignant singing style and lyrics. He played acoustic guitar, both six and twelve string. Years later it would be revealed how, during the preceding year, his creative arc had made a giant leap his folky beginnings to his unique, jazzier, funkier, mature style. But the audience only had released albums to go on and were expecting a sensitive folky. And there was Tim Buckley on stage with the likes of Ruth Underwood and Buzzy Feiten from Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention along with Lee Underwood on electric guitar. The material was loud and funky and jazzy and wild. Buckley yowled and cried and whispered as much as he sang sensitive songs of love and loss. Sensing the restive nature of the crowd, Buckley started to talk to the audience. He blended two of Ken Nordine's 'word jazz' pieces, 'Miss Jones' and 'Sit Down Shower' into a marvelously surreal tale. As he rambled on, a good sized minority of the audience walked out while many of us moved to better seats. Looking around at the end of this diversion Buckley said, 'Well, now that the math majors have left....' and stomped out the count with his engineer boot. The band responded and were off on one of the most amazing shows I've ever seen.'
Robert reminded us that there's more to live performances than just concerts: 'Speaking of which, even farther off to the side, and perhaps not strictly on point, many years ago the old Goodman Theater did a production of Henry V, Part Something-Or-Other, with live musicians on stage -- it was spectacular, sort of Harry Partch meets The Bard – the instruments were Partch-type invented things, largely percussion -- lots of cowbells and things that went tinkle and tat-tat-tat and boom-boom -- the music was original, and it was just amazing -- color, activity, abstraction, earthiness, great performances by actors and musicians, total theater: as though Barnum & Bailey had crashed the Stratford festival, and maybe what theater would be like if the Globe had been in Bali.'