Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Ten Things Tuesdays: Live Music Experiences

It's that time again, for Ten Things Tuesdays.

This suggestion came from a friend who once intentionally smashed himself in the face with a boot (though that's his story to tell), so if you have a problem with the content, you can take it up with HIM. Just look for the guy with the crooked beak.

I was going to do Ten Concerts, but to be honest, when I started thinking about music that I have seen performed live, my mountaintop experiences (or at least, interesting ones) were not limited to what could strictly be called concerts. So I'm going to take a little blogetic license here. Some of this is going to be horrifically embarassing to admit, so please stifle your guffaws and wait for my explanation about how a man in a white cowboy hat and ball-hugging jeans managed to break my top ten. Also, I apologize for the length. I guess I rambled a bit.

And now I give you, in no particular order (though more embarassing entries MAY be found lower on the page):

Ten Live Music Experiences.

1) The Flaming Lips, Hammerstein Ballroom, September 24, 2006
I've written about this before, so you can click here if you want the full experience. Suffice it to say that the moment when the key shift in "Do You Realize" pushed its way through the crowd along with a flurry of confetti shot out of canons, balloons the size of hippos and a daybreak of floodlights into the audience, is one that I'll never forget.

2) Dolly Parton, Irving Plaza, July 10, 2002
My friend Kevin -- who once won the "Miss Hendrix" drag prize at his small private college in Arkansas -- insisted that I attend this show. He's been a Dolly fan forever; I was puzzled at the appeal and knew little beyond "Nine to 5" and the excellent album of fragile classic bluegrass "Little Sparrow." But because Kevin once helped me move all my earthly possessions into a second-floor storage unit in the bowels of Brooklyn using not an elevator but a LADDER, I agreed to go. And am I ever glad I did. Dolly is the consummate performer -- the depth of her musical treasure chest (pun! pun!) was beyond what I could have imagined, her storytelling is unparalleled, and she held what was most likely a bitter, wrung-out crowd of New Yorkers in the palm of her slim-wristed hand. There were hipsters and middle-aged suburban fans and the drag queens were out in full force. Her ability to pull them all into her world for two hours was unlike anything I've ever seen -- she talked about her daddy and Jesus and growin' up in dirty rags and everyone ate it up without nary a shred of irony. Verily, it felt like a religious experience.

3) Indigenous, Shine, May 24, 2000
Indigenous, for those not in the know, is a group of siblings from an Indian reservation in South Dakota that play (although that word seems a heinous underestimation) the blues. As my favorite journalism professor once described them, they are "Red people who play black music for white folks." And really, that's what they do, considering that they primarily perform in the Midwest, where diversity is more or less nil. During college, I'd frequently go see them at the Zoo Bar in Lincoln, where they threatened to blow the doors off the place. And when I heard they were coming to New York, I knew I HAD to see them. I begged my friends (not that I had many, having only lived here a few months) to go but no one wanted to go with me -- they wanted little to do with a band from South Dakota, my home state. So I went alone. When I got there I met a roving group of fans who follow them around the country. One of them was a skinny, long-haired, middle-aged hippie with a dangling fish earring. He shared his flask with me all night and I danced with abandon. Mato, the lead singer and guitarist, plays in a way that you can feel in your guts. It was an amazing taste of home and powerful music at a time I was feeling very, very low thanks to the fact that the love of my life had recently turned very, very gay.

4) Rigoletto, Metropolitan Opera House, New York, March 12, 2004
As I said, not all of my great live music experiernces have been concerts, per se. Rigoletto at the Met was the first opera I ever attended, and it was a hell of a way to start. It's kind of like starting to climb in Yosemite, or starting to snowboard in Vail (both of which I did, for the record). Anyway, back then I was still working at a newspaper. My boss had very recently, via a big promotion, become NOT my boss. He knew that I was interested in seeing an opera, and he had season tickets. He asked me to accompany him, forked over a 200-dollar orchestra seat ticket, and met me in his tux. I wore a floor-length, backless, black dress and fishnets, and we drank expensive champagne before the show. The Opera House is one of my favorite spaces in New York, and I drank in every inch of it and the people in it. I was blown away by the space, the sets, the precision of the orchestra, the power of the opera singers, and the entire experience. The opera, which I have seen quite a few times since, always reminds me of the main reason I love to live in New York -- it is full of amazing people doing amazing things at a level that's just not possible most anywhere else. Nothing ever happened between me and my ex-boss, and I was never quite sure why he took me to the opera. My best guess is that It is pretty amazing to take people to their first opera. Last year I took my parents to their first opera -- Carmen at the Met. And they were blown away, too. It was an incredible experience to share, to see the excitement other music lovers feel, especially if you have some idea of what classical music requires of the people who perform it (and being a 12-year veteran of violin lessons and orchestra, I do). If you've never been to the opera, make it one thing you do while you have a chance. Plus, you will TOTALLY get laid if you bring a date.

5) Yonder Mountain String Band, State Bridge Lodge, Colorado, July 15, 2001
During the summer of 2001, I was dating a man in Colorado. A JEWISH DOCTOR. God, I bet Jewish mothers all over America were incensed that I was keeping him from dating someone in the tribe (namely, their daughters). But anyway. That summer I was out there visiting. One day we went on a long hike, made love near a stream on a mountain, and afterward met a bunch of friends at the State Bridge Lodge on the Colorado. State Bridge, near Steamboat, is an outdoor music venue next to an old log-cabiny thing where you can get stout Colorado beers and burgers and the like. YMSB is kind of a crazy hippy speed-bluegrass band that can do nothing but make you smile. Partly because my brother plays the banjo (which I'll get to later), but also just because it's incredibly good-natured and intricate, I have a particular affection for bluegrass. It was the perfect day under the sun and sky and mountains, with someone I loved without question and was always happy to have next to me, drinking good beer and dancing with friends. It's a fantastic memory. Four days later I was in New York. It was my birthday. I went to see YMSB play at the Wetlands in New York. There were fewer hippies dancing around in stupid patchwork pants, but probably just as much weed. I remembered my time in Colorado, and smiled.

6) My brother (on banjo), Trail Ridge Retirement Community, South Dakota, May 2005
I come from a fairly musically inclined family. I started taking piano lessons at 5 and continued through age 17. I started taking violin lessons at 7 and continued taking lessons, or playing in community or college orchestras, through age 20. My sister still plays violin in a symphony in Colorado. My brother was in the marching band at the University of Nebraska (on trombone) and later in college took up the banjo. He got quite good and started his own bluegrass band. A few weeks after his baby was born, we were all home in South Dakota to visit my parents. We made a stop one day at my grandmother's retirement community. We had promised them a family concert. My brother told a few vignettes about each piece he played. He sang in a high-lonesome voice that I never knew he had. The residents of this place were all looked kind of beatific as he sang and played. The buttons of my grandmother's cardigan nearly popped with pride. It was a touching family moment, I guess.

7) Garth Brooks, the Iowa State Fair, 1991
Yup. Here's where it starts to get embarassing. Growing up, I listened to: 1) 70s classic rock 2) the Humpty Dance 3) power ballads and 4) country music. What do you WANT? I lived in the middle of a corn field in South Dakota. I had no options. There was none of this mysterious "Interweb" that we know about today to enlighten me to Morrisey or The Cure or what have you. There was no alternative radio. For fuck's sake, we didn't even have MTV, which was banned by our local cable provider. Faster Pussycat was as crazy as it got. Garth Brooks' "No Fences" was the first CD I ever bought for the first CD "boom box" I ever owned. And come on. It was catchy. Right? Anyway, we listened to this shit nonstop and in 1991, as high school sophomores/juniors, for some reason our parents let our 15-year-old selves drive a state away to go see him at the Iowa State Fair. Say what you will about him, but he was at the top of his game. No Fences had just come out. He was on fire. And he put on a great show. We got to see someone who at the time was kind of like our Beatles. We screamed and went hysterical and jumped up and down and pushed our sweaty, teased bangs off our foreheads as we wailed for more. It was fucking great.

8) 311, The Ranch Bowl, Omaha, winter break,1994
By college, I had alternative radio. I had heard of the Pixies. And 311, well, they were still a Nebraska band -- not an "L.A. band." "Music" had just started to take off and they were on the beginning of a groundswell, but they were still a band I used to see in the student union for three bucks, and Peanut's sister was still in my aerobics class. In short, they were not yet lame. During that Christmas break, my friend Marie and I went to see them at The Ranch Bowl, an Omaha venue that is a bowling alley upstairs and a music venue downstairs. It was bone-cracking cold outside. The kind of cold that makes your snot freeze, which is not something you understand unless you live in one of the Dakotas, or Maine. The Bowl was packed wall to wall. I am not a moshing kind of girl, hell, more than 10 years later I am still, occasionally, forced to shop at Ann Taylor Loft. But Marie and I found ourselves in an honest to goodness mosh pit, getting joyously and surprisingly smacked around and crowd surfing -- which is almost as amazing a feeling as attending an opera in black tie. Wait...moreso. Anyway, at some point Marie got dropped during a crowd surf and was getting trampled on the floor. I reached down, grabbed a handful of her hair, and yanked her to safety. I thought she might bust my lip, but instead, she hugged me and said "Holy shit, thank you!" We went outside and smoked a cigarette, and the steamy sweat was rising in a mist off people's bodies in the frozen parking lot, and turning into clouds.

9) Ryan Adams (and secret performance by Elton John) Irving Plaza, Oct. 3, 2001
Ryan Adams is kind of a dick to his audiences. So as much as I like his music, he's not really the reason I loved this concert so much. I've been an unashamed fan of Elton John for years. How can you beat "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues"? OK, but back to the matter at hand -- I was planning to attend this concert. And then a (Canadian) coworker told me that Elton John might make a guest appearance. How did he know? His best friend from high schools' younger brother is Elton John's lover. And he tipped him off. Still, I couldn't expect anything. But halfway through the show, EJ walked on, played the piano, and sang his ass off for three pieces. People started jumping around and screaming, and it was a great moment. And I saw Elton John for fifteen bucks. At Irving Plaza. Holy shit.

10) Wilco, Radio City Music Hall, Oct. 6, 2004
In the fall of 2004, I saw a show by what is probably my favorite band of all time, Wilco. I loved them when they were twangy simple alt-country, when Jeff Tweedy was expected to go nowhere, when they went to experimental noise, when they sang lyrics that made me believe they foresaw everything that happened on 9/11. They've been with me for years. What made this show memorable was, well, I guess...weed. I attended the show with a friend a mutual friend who is a music critic. He is, or at least was, also a huge fan of weed. He had a steady supply of government weed from California, and we smoked some before the show. It resulted in all the great things weed does -- an opening of the mind, a happy fuzzy feeling -- but none of the bad things (unignorable munchies, paranoia, the need to have sex RIGHT NOW). I sat in the balcony in a chair, which would normally annoy me. But I just sat back, watched the weirdo psychadelic images behind the band on the screen, didn't worry about anything, and enjoyed my favorite band.


Blogger Guy said...

g-d-damned hippie

2:06 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Believe it or not, my first opera was ALSO Rigoletto at the Met, at about the same time of year in 1999. I don't remember if I was wearing fishnets, though.

2:44 PM  
Anonymous todd said...

For the record, it was a steel toed work shoe, not a boot. And you call yourself a journalist. Really liked your analysis of the Garth Brooks experience. The Humpty Dance was a phenomenon to say the least and I'm still pissed at my aunt for confiscating my "Sex Packets" tape.

11:59 PM  
Blogger jared said...

MTV...banned by the local cable provider!?...*shakes head in sorrow*

9:43 AM  

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