A few days ago, "Loog", aka Skyler's Dad did a nice post about the five best live shows he's ever been to. I really liked the idea, so I'm blatantly ripping it off.
Somehow, I have a feeling Skyler's Dad will be okay with that.
5. ZZ Top, The "Cheap Sunglasses Tour", The Aragon Ballroom, Chicago, 1980.
In the spring of 1980, I was just finishing my freshman year of college at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. Living with my parents in Western Springs, Illinois, and going to school in Naperville, my life was, in a word, BORING.
I got a call from Cindy, my best friend from high school. She was home from college, visiting her parents, and had tickets to the ZZ Top show at the "Aragon Brawlroom," the nickname for the Aragon Ballroom, in Chicago's rough Uptown neighborhood. It was ironic-- at one time, it was an elegant place, in an elegant neighborhood.
We had to sit through the worst opening act I have ever had to sit through, The Rockets, a crappy band that did a crappy cover of the old Fleetwood Mac song "Oh Well" ("Don't ask me what I think of you/I just might not give you the answer that you wanted to").
Finally, ZZ Top came on the stage. They opened with their cover of the Isaac Hayes-penned Sam and Dave classic "I Thank You," which was the single from their then-current album Deguello.
Then the band played "Waitin' For a Bus/Jesus Just Left Chicago." When the crowd recognized the opening riff, it erupted, and never let up. They band was fun, tight and at their peak. It was one of the best times my friend and I ever had, and just what the doctor ordered to cure my boredom.
4. John Prine, Circle Campus (now Univerity of Illinois-Chicago), May 11, 1979.
In most of the other shows, I can only estimate when they happened-- I know the year and that's pretty much it. This one I remember the exact date because it was on my 18th birthday.
I discovered John Prine with the Bruised Orange album and worked my way back. I discovered a ton of beautiful songs-- Souvenirs, Sam Stone, Illegal Smile, Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore-- the guy has written some amazing songs. This concert was a benefit concert that was held in a room at what was then called "Circle Campus" in downtown Chicago. John was playing with his band "The Famous Potatoes," whose guitarist was John Burns, son of the legendary bluegrass mandolin player Jethro Burns. They played all of Prine's new album, plus a bunch of his older songs.
A year or two later, I was fortunate to see him at Chicagofest with his friend, the late Steve Goodman, but my favorite show of his was this small show on my 18th birthday.
3. The Uptown Rulers, Ted's Warehouse, Charleston, Illinois, 1983
The Uptown Rulers were a ska band from central Illinois. Two of the members, Mike Goodrich and Joe Adducci, were from Charleston, Illinois, the town I went to college in. And the "Rulers" were great.
In the spring of 1983 they played a phenomenal show at Ted's Warehouse in Charleston. They were one of a handful of bands that have ever been able to get me, the whitest of white guys, to dance, and I danced up a storm that night.
I remember them playing a cover of the great Clash anti-imperialism song from Sandinista, "Charlie Don't Surf." The title of the song is a reference to a line Robert Duvall, as the mad Colonel Kilgore, shouts out in Apocalypse Now as he orders a helicopter gunship assault on a tactically useless beach-- he just wants to see a couple of legendary surfers under his command surf. The Rulers used a synthesiser to create the sound of helicopter at the beginning and end of the song. I don't know if I've ever been more swept up in a moment at a show.
By the end of the summer, the band reorganized it's line-up. Their popularity increased, but by the Spring of 1985, they dissolved. I had a lot of great nights in my college years thanks to these guys, but that show really stood out.
2. The Ramones, The Cabaret Metro, Chicago, 1986
When I talked to my old friend and roommate Jim this last Saturday, we were talking about this show, which we attended with a bunch of the people we went to Eastern Illinois University with. We had planned to meet a bunch of college friends next door at the Gingerman Tavern before the show. We had a few libations, then walked next door. As we were about to walk up to the door, a bunch of bouncers pushed us back, an ambulance pulled up and the Ramones ran out past us, and into the club. I'd heard that this was part of their act. It was fun seeing it.
The band played one of the great shows I've ever seen. The Metro is a small venue, so we were right there by the stage. I slam danced ("moshing" to you youngsters) and could hardly walk for two days after the show. But I had a blast.
1. The Blasters, Fitzgerald's, Berwyn, Illinois, November 6, 2002
This was a reunion show, which I referred to recently (I don't think Dave Alvin will ask me to head up his fan club any time soon). The Blasters, who hailed from the blue-collar L.A. suburb of Downey, California, were in their heyday in the eighties. They got filed under the category "roots rockers," which is pretty accurate. But like the Clash, my other favorite band, I'd never gotten to see them. The reunion show allowed that. They didn't disappoint-- they were tight, loud and terrific. And the company was good-- old friends and roomates The Elk and "Atwood." It was a great night.
And on top of it all, the show was in Berwyn, the town I was born in.
One more: Frosty the Snowman, My Son Adam, Apple Tree Learning Center, Chicago, 1996
This was at my son's first day care center. Ms. Flor, the lady who ran it, organized a holiday pageant every year. Adam was 3 at this point. As his group ran through their songs, he had little interest-- until his favorite, Frosty the Snowman came up. When he recognized the song, his face lit up and he heartily sang along. It was pretty amusing.
And yes, he's winking in that picture. His daycare teachers thought it was cute as hell, and when he did it, they'd let him get away with anything he wanted. That was also pretty amusing.