Walter Mencken 2:37 p.m., March 1
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My Ten Favorite Local Concerts EVER!
MY FAVORITE TEN LOCAL CONCERTS EVER!!
12-15-78: I saw the Ramones play this Montezuma Hall show. The band was still breaking in "Marky," fresh from Richard Hell and the Voidoids. That night, they played "Rockaway Beach," "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," and "Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue," which Joey introduced as "the one that got us banned in Sweden" (true).
My friend Joe and I were collecting autographs after the show when a guy I later deduced to be Ed Stasium (producer and sometime band guitarist) came up and announced the band's van wouldn't start and the equipment trucks had already left for L.A. Joe piped in that he had a pickup truck, and, the next thing we knew, we were driving north with four Ramones and manager Danny Fields in the truck bed.
The band was due to shoot scenes the next day for Rock 'n' Roll High School at the abandoned Mount Carmel High in Watts. Unbeknownst to us, the guys had some blue Magic Markers, and they spent the trip doing shaky drawings on a grey tarp that Joe had in the truck bed.
After we dropped the band at a roadside motel near Watts, Joe was angry to see the marked-up tarp, but I offered to buy him a new one if he let me keep it. I still have it...don't bother making offers.
When the Ramones returned to town to play Montezuma Hall 10-31-79, they squeezed in a visit to the zoo, where they posed for a photo spread that ran a few weeks later in the short-lived local music magazine Kicks.
5-22-79 – the New Barbarians at San Diego Sports Arena: This was the final U.S. (and second-to-final ever) public concert by Keith Richards's short-lived "community service" band, formed to work off a drug bust. The stellar lineup included Richards, Ron Wood, jazz bassist Stanley Clarke, and Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan. Three weeks earlier, Richards had skipped out on a Milwaukee show, causing patrons to stage a riot, but all were present and accounted for at the Sports Arena.
The high-ticket garage band slammed through Wood solo songs, as well as tunes by Dylan, Chuck Berry, Johnny Paycheck, and of course several Stones standards (though "Honky Tonk Woman" went MIA, despite being played on most of the other 19 Barbarian dates). Wood sang lead for Robert Johnson's "Love in Vain," evoking his old Faces version of the tune (the Stones also covered it), while Richards tickled the ivories for Tammy Wynette's "Apartment Number 9" (?!).
Famed album photographer Henry Diltz (Morrison Hotel, etc.) shot pictures in San Diego, and the band taped the gig (as did at least two bootleggers), but the New Barbarians didn't appear on official record until last year, when Wood released a double CD archiving a 1979 Maryland show.
8-5-79: Cheap Trick, Blue Oyster Cult, Pat Travers, UFO, Shakin' Street - Before Jack Murphy Stadium hosted this all-day show, promoter Marc Berman battled the fire department over attendees being restricted to the stands. The regulation had been circumvented for a 1976 ZZ Top concert by constructing stairs from the field to the plaza level. However, this caused the Sports Arena to sue San Diego on the grounds that the City had promised “no competition” upon the arena’s construction.
For the August ’79 event, the City installed temporary ramps up to the stadium’s plaza level, reasoning the Sports Arena couldn’t sue unless the stadium built permanent equipment for competing events. The concert stage was built in sections on movable rollers, again to avoid “permanent fixture” accusations, at a cost of around $25,000.
I spent the night before the show sleeping in a bulldozer amid parking-lot construction being done near the stadium. Thanks to $15 earned by selling blood plasma the day before, I scored a ticket and walked in just as all 50,000-plus attendees were shouting the chorus to Travers’s hit “Boom Boom (Out Go the Lights),” which KGB was playing at least twice per hour at the time. UFO had just lost Michael Schenker, but they did a decent set that included “Doctor Doctor” and “Too Hot to Handle.”
Cheap Trick’s Dream Police album was about to be released, and they debuted “Need Your Love” and “I Know What I Want” from that record. They stole the show from headliners BÖC, whose laser show had recently been legislated out of existence for purportedly being dangerous.
Nearly 100 people were arrested (many in the parking lot, for trespassing, scalping, drugs, and being drunk in public) and around 300 cars towed away during the concert, according to local newspaper reports. There were also complaints from nearby residents about the fireworks at 11:30 p.m., measured at around 100 decibels. (Local law forbade anything above 40 decibels after 10:30 p.m.)
“Considering the size of the rock concert, however,” said a noise-abatement official at the time, “we did not find the noise levels universally unacceptable.”
11-3-80: The Police, XTC and Oingo Boingo at the Civic Theater: Opening act XTC was riding on the popularity of their Black Sea album. Two years later, they'd play only one date of an American tour, in San Diego, before canceling the rest of the tour due to Andy Partridge's stage fright, essentially retiring from concert appearances forever. Oingo Boingo (with Danny Elfman) had only recently altered format, from a theatrical troupe called the Mystic Nights of the Oingo Boingo to a rock combo; they'd only released one self-titled EP under the shortened name at the time.
The Police's Zenyatta Mondatta (and its first single "Don't Stand So Close to Me") was in the U.S. top ten. The concert was sold out, with ticket sales reported at 14,585. I had a second-row seat, and the statute of limitations now allows me to admit that I broke that seat while dancing on it to "Walking on the Moon." The Police were reportedly so exhausted by this show that they canceled their next gig in Las Vegas to recuperate.
After the concert, gate-crashers were found to have gained entry via an ingenious route. On the roof of the theater, a vent duct had been disassembled, and an unknown number of ticketless patrons apparently climbed into the hole to enter an elevator shaft, open a trap door, and drop in. The elevator faced an administrative area leading directly to the concert hall itself. The breach was discovered later, as the gate-crashers neglected to reclose the elevator ceiling's trap door or return to the roof to reattach the vent grate. The illicit access was soon curtailed by pouring cement over the roof's vent bolts.
8-14-83: Peter Gabriel, SDSU Outdoor Amphitheatre: When Peter Gabriel performed at SDSU’s outdoor amphitheatre, the Call was his opening act.
Though battling marital problems and dealing with financial trouble due to his failed Womad festival, Gabriel pulled off a set that I cited for years as the best concert I’d ever seen.
The most memorable moment: just as Gabriel was singing the chorus of "Here Comes the Flood," it started to rain!! Only for a moment, but what a transcendental moment ----
The show was "state of the art" - the SDSU date was one of his final concerts with Nektar keyboardist Larry Fast, whose advanced computerized setup (for that era) included a Fairlight CMI digital synthesizer and Memorymoog programmed presets. Backstage, the band used their Radio Shack TRS-80 model 100 portable computer to correspond electronically on what was then the beginning of the internet, an online network known as IMC Dialcom64.
During one song, Gabriel approached the front of the stage, turned his back to the crowd, and fell backward into the audience, not even looking to see if he’d be caught (he was). Then he was passed around by the uplifted arms of audience members, traveling the entire width and length of the amphitheater infield before being returned to the front of the stage.
At one point, Gabriel passed directly over my girlfriend and me. I could see he was wearing no shoes and only one sock, which hung loosely three-quarters of the way off his foot. As I noticed this, my girlfriend reached up and yanked the sock off his foot! Gabriel’s face being turned upward, I did not see his reaction.
My reaction was to scold her: “What the hell?!” During my time with her, she never looked so happy and satisfied as she did when holding on to that sock.
Whenever I think of this concert, I always think of Peter Gabriel’s sock, which I made my girlfriend keep in her purse on the way home so as not to stink up the car (it was pretty funky).
8-6-84 – Spirit at the Rodeo: The reunion of Spirit's classic lineup should have finally earned them the fame and acclaim they'd long deserved. Guitarist Randy California and drummer Ed Cassidy had been calling their band Spirit, but this date at La Jolla's defunct Rodeo was the group's first performance in nine years to also include original members Jay Ferguson and Mark Andes (who were having hits as Jo Jo Gunne) and John Locke. It was the opening date of their first tour together in 14 years.
Cassidy was 61 years old, Ferguson and Andes had tasted considerable post-Spirit success (Andes had also played with Firefall and was still with Heart), and California had clearly taken his version of Spirit in a more hippie-jam direction since the original lineup fractured.
My balcony seat afforded me a great view of both the band on fire and a wildly enthusiastic audience stoking the flames. Even if it weren't a historic occasion for Spirit (in my opinion the best and most underrated band ever to emerge from L.A.), I'd still rank it among the top fives shows I've seen. However, despite the five-album deal they'd just signed with Mercury Records, and regardless of the demonstrative sellout crowd in San Diego, the reunited Spirit only played a handful of subsequent gigs.
Members soon went their separate ways -- again -- leaving only core members Ed Cassidy and Randy California to carry on the name. For a while. California drowned in 1997, while saving his son from an ocean riptide in Hawaii (his son survived). Locke died in 2006 from complications due to lymphoma.
(Wild Man Fischer at Comic-Con, with Carnal Comics artist Holly GoLightly, aka Fauve)
8-5-88 – Wild Man Fischer at the San Diego Comic-Con: Moving around between low-budget downtown hotels in the mid-'80s, Frank Zappa's one-time protégé Larry "Wild Man" Fischer quietly became a San Diego street fixture. In 1988, his friend Bill (Lost in Space) Mumy came to town for the San Diego Comic Convention, along with a few comic-creator musicians who'd formed a band called Seduction of the Innocent.
Fischer told the Reader: "Billy said, 'Why don't you sing with us? You'll have a good time!' It'd been a long time since I'd played live." Was he nervous about the prospect? "I'm always nervous," he says.
Fischer was coerced onstage long enough for an incandescent set that included his doo-wop ditty "The Taster" and an a cappella rendering of "Merry Go Round." ("I'm getting a little sick of that song," he says now about his best-known tune.) The crowd was rowdy and responsive, even those unfamiliar with Fischer. His ever-increasing volume, enthusiasm, and spasmodic onstage body language proved infectious, and the audience handed "Wild Man" the most sustained applause of the evening. I was lucky enough to catch this rare show, one of only two dozen or so gigs Fischer can recall performing (struggling with schizophrenia, he'd backed out of many performances). Video clips from this performance appear in a new documentary film about Fischer, DeRailroaded.
9-19-93 – Jethro Tull at SDSU Outdoor Amphitheatre: The band had canceled an earlier local show due to singer Ian Anderson's throat problems. This concert (the final date of a U.S. tour) got off to a rough start, with Anderson verbally berating an audience member near the front for smoking a joint. He later gave a short speech about how the stage pulls smoke past him and how this affects his singing. "He mentioned he had been taking amoxicillin and joked he was receiving it anally," according to Reader reviewer Allan Peterson.
The upside to the vocal problems was that they played unusual instrumental versions of songs normally sung ("The Whistler," "Sossity, You're a Woman"), as well as added numbers rarely performed live, like Andy Giddings's "Parrott" and a lengthy flute solo that included bits of "In the Grip of Stronger Stuff" (unreleased until two years later). Peterson describes the latter as "an untitled jazzlike instrumental that seemed free of any historical expectation and actually flew on its own."
Opening band Procol Harum pranked the headliners by showing up onstage while Tull played -- for the only time that tour -- in drag!
(Me backstage for Pink Floyd at Jack Murphy Stadium - mock if you must my fanny pack, stone-washed jean jacket, jogging pants, and mullet, but they had a killer catering tent and I was having the time of my life!)
4-14-94 – Pink Floyd at Jack Murphy Stadium: "I could easily smell the burning stench of our failed drug laws," wrote Reader columnist Allan Peterson about Pink Floyd's first San Diego concert in 19 years. The immense scope of the elaborate show, with all its effects, movie screens, inflatable animals, and (excellent) quad sound, is not what ranks this show (sans the "real" Pink, Roger Waters) among great and historic local events.
Rather, it was the stirring performance of "The Great Gig in the Sky." Peterson says, "Singer Durga McBroom's take on that classic piece was seamlessly compelling and contained all that one could hope for -- longing, sadness, acceptance, raw beauty...the terrifying immediacy of mortality, the telling reality of loss." I felt the same chill down my spine during the rendition, and over a decade later, that's "the moment" everyone I know who was there still raves about.
Bootleg aficionados apparently agree, usually ranking this date -- and that performance of "Great Gig" -- among the best of the entire U.S. tour.
THE DAY NIRVANA PLAYED OFF THE RECORD: 10-24-91 - Detailed feature on Nirvana playing a tiny local record store, just as their first album was hitting the charts, featuring interviews with OTR staffers, rare video footage of the event, and more... http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs/bands/2007/sep/03/the-day-nirvana-played-at-off-the-record
THE DAY JIMI HENDRIX CAME TO TOWN - 5-24-69: From my extensive interviews with Hendrix bassist Noel Redding, here's the inside scoop on a legendary (and highly bootlegeed) local concert... http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs/bands/2007/sep/03/the-day-jimi-hendrix-came-to-town
THE DAY BEACH BOY BRIAN WILSON GOT BUSTED IN BALBOA PARK: In June 1978, Brian Wilson - without telling his wife or fellow bandmembers - decided (inexplicably) to escape his life entirely and hitchhike to Mexico. He wound up in San Diego a few days later, mentally fogged, barefoot, and unwashed. “He was on a binge," according to Stephen Love, brother of Beach Boy Mike Love and sometime-band manager..... http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs/bands/2007/sep/18/the-day-beach-boy-brian-wilson-got-busted
THE DAY THE MONKEES TURNED DEL MAR INTO CLARKSVILLE: 9-11-66 - <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />
WHY MEXICANS HATED ELVIS: May 1959: While Elvis Presley’s popularity in the U.S. was arguably at its all-time peak, Mexico was in the midst of a huge anti-Elvis backlash. Tijuana tabloids called him a racist and homosexual, after the singer reportedly told gossip columnist Federico de León "I'd rather kiss three black girls than a Mexican." A Mexican woman in the same column was quoted saying "I'd rather kiss three dogs than one Elvis Presley”..... http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs/bands/2007/sep/13/why-mexicans-hated-elvis-plus-celeb-sighting/
Like this blog? Here are some related links:
OVERHEARD IN SAN DIEGO - Several years' worth of this comic strip, which debuted in the Reader in 1996: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/photos/galleries/overheard-san-diego/
FAMOUS FORMER NEIGHBORS - Over 100 comic strips online, with mini-bios of famous San Diegans: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/photos/galleries/famous-former-neighbors/
SAN DIEGO READER MUSIC MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/sandiegoreadermusic
JAY ALLEN SANFORD MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/jayallensanford
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