Monday, June 04, 2007

Top Five Shows

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.


Skylers Dad said...

Outstanding lineup JY, and I really love you ending with your son.

That's what it's all about man...

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Those really great shows will live in your memory forever, won't they? Especially when your youngun's involved. I'll never forget my daughter's junior kindergarten class production, where her classmates tied his shoelaces together just before they took the stage.

For the record, John Prime still puts on a very fine show, even into his 60s.

Splotchy said...

Man, I wish I woulda seen the Ramones live.

I have talked to more than a handful of people who said that their all-time favorite concert was seeing the Ramones.

I couldn't resist gushing over my own live concert experiences at Casa De Splotchy. Yay KISS!

kim said...

5 Best Shows
Bryan Ferry Vic Theater 2001-2002
Patti Smith Riv Christmas For Kids
Prince Riv 2001
Ringo Star Allstar (Parkwest) 2002
Aimee Mann Skyline Stage Summer 2003

5 Worst Shows
Ramones Riv 1993
Iggy Pop 1st Ave 1990
Boyz II Men, Baby Face Brandy Allstate Arena, 1990
Woodstock II Catskill NY 1993
R. Kelly 1999 Allstate

GETkristiLOVE said...

My college roommate and I used to sing Johnny Prine's Dear Abbey at the top of our lungs.

"You are what you are and you ain't what you ain't..."

Just Married

Splotchy said...

What was wrong with the Ramones show, kim?

Johnny Yen said...

Skyler's Dad-
Thank you, and it sure is, isn't it?

They do. There are bands I regret never having gotten to see: the Clash, Little Feat while Lowell George was still alive and a handful of others.

I loved your typo-- a definite Freudian slip!

He plays at the Old Town School of Folk Music, a short walk from my home, every year. I need to see him again.

Yes, the Ramones were the shit, when they were in their prime. And possibly to answer your question to Kim, when they weren't in their prime they were awful. When I saw them at the Aragon Brawlroom with Iggy Pop and the Dickies, they were awful. It was right before Deedee left, and it was clear that they were going through the motions. If it was that bad in 1988, it must have been even worse in 1993.

"We was sittin' in the back seat just a shootin' the breeze/With her hair up in curlers/And her pants round her knees/Signed, "Just Married"

I think I spewed my lunch through my nose laughing the first time I heard "Dear Abby," on 'XRT, back in the mid-seventies. Were you guys able to get them where you lived? I remember that you could get them south to about Kankakee (as we found out driving down to Eastern). I'm not sure how far east the station went.

kim said...

The amps couldn't take the guitars. They kept blowin' out. Instead of being great, it was just a lot of pausing between songs.

GETkristiLOVE said...

I don't think I heard him on the radio around Penn State - my roommate had the cassette tape that we played and played.

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