Primus, The Limbomaniacs, 4 Non Blondes, Warfield, San Francisco, February 14, 1991
SETLIST : Sgt. Baker, To Defy The Laws Of Tradition, Spegetti Western, American Life, Pudding Time, Groundhog’s Day, Eleven, Harold Of The Rocks, Jerry Was A Race Car Driver, Grandad’s Little Ditty, Tommy The Cat, Fish On, Those Damned Blue Collar Tweekers, Mr. Knowitall, Too Many Puppies, In The Flesh, Is It Luck?
It was official that Primus was big, at least in America. “Fizzle Fry” had been out a year and we fans were eagerly awaiting the next one. Being Valentine’s Day, Primus made a special red T-shirt with their mascot Skeeter holding a bloody human heart on the front and the date and location of the show on the back.
Opening were the Limbomaniacs. This would be the only time I’d see them before the members would go on to form M.I.R.V. and the eponymous singer would shave his head. That night he had long blond hair which he whipped around in a very metal fashion. Then came 4 Non Blondes, who were quickly making a name for themselves with the song “What’s Going On”. That song was catchy, but always annoyed me.
Elvis Costello & The Rude 5, Greek, Berkeley, May 31, 1991
By this time, I was big into Elvis Costello and determined to see him live. Unfortunately, Jane’s Addiction was playing in Sacramento with the Pixies and Primus as well. Naturally, I’d take any opportunity to see Primus, but I was unfamiliar with the other bands, and the journey out to see them at Cal Expo was just too far. I’d of reconsidered if I knew it would be the last time I’d be able to see Jane’s Addiction with their original line up and wouldn’t be able to see them again for six more years. The Pixies was even longer for me, I not being able to see them until 2004.
Elvis was going through his “beard” phase, growing it out along with his hair until he looked a little like John Lennon back when he was shacked up in the Amsterdam Hilton with Yoko. One can’t blame him for tinkering with his original look, but he soon gave it up and shaved again. I’d bought his new album, “Mighty Like A Rose”, one of the first few CDs I owned and enjoyed it. He played a handful of songs from it, but satisfied his fans with songs from throughout his career through the night. His fans were pretty white and nerdy, but what the hell, so was I. I remember one tall, skinny nerd in a button down shirt in front of me pumping his fist in the air to the beat of “Radio, Radio”.
Primus, Tad, Warfield, San Francisco, August 3, 1991
Suffice to say, I was seeing Primus a lot back in these days. They were playing a lot. Everybody loved the “Sailing The Seas Of Cheese” album and my friends and I, felt vindicated in our obsession over the band. Opening that night was Tad, a grunge band from Seattle, one of many emerging from that region at the time. Tad, the lead singer and guitarist, was an obese man dressed in black and he sweat while he played that night quite profusely, soaking him head to toe. He did get a chuckle when he told the girls in the crowd that there was a spot you can touch on him that would, “turn him to jelly.”
Primus, Warfield, San Francisco, August 24, 1991
Eric Clapton, Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, August 29, 1991
Jesus Jones, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Warfield, San Francisco, September 7-8, 1991
My brother Alex was a big fan of Jesus Jones’ first album, “Liquidizer”, and was playing it non-stop around this time and I caught on too. Bands like them and Ned’s who played with them that night were big back then. Along the likes of the Soup Dragons, EMF, Pop Will Eat Itself, and Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, they played loud rock with synth beats, stuff you could dance to, but still made your eardrums hurt. It was a new sound in music, but quickly faded as heavier, grungier stuff was edging out of style.
Part of that sound’s demise was I believe Jesus Jones’ second album, “Doubt”. Don’t get me wrong, it was a well produced album and the songs were just as catchy as the last one, but “Right Here, Right Now” felt corny. By then, I think we all knew it and discretely put our Jesus Jones albums on the shelf and left them there. I do miss Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, though. Their music was a little tougher than the others.
Paul Simon, Shoreline, Mountain View, September 29, 1991
There’s nothing quite like seeing a musician or band with someone else who positively worships them. That was the case this time, being one of the only times I ever saw a show with my friend from the dorms, Scott Meyers. He was a folk singer/songwriter himself and sang to me and friends with his acoustic guitar at parties and open mics and he wasn’t half bad. Scott was Jewish and proud, so it came to no surprise that Paul Simon was a big influence on him.
So, with Scott in tow, we took a bunch of us down to Shoreline and got a spot on the lawn. It was an evening with Mr. Simon, so no opening act. He played a long time, at least two hours, covering a lot of the golden oldies from his years with Garfunkel, solo stuff, and the most recent stuff from the “Graceland” album, which won him an armful of Grammies and whole lot of money.
He had his band with members from around the world and they were tight, especially the bass player from Cameroon. Scott was predictably elated. When you are next to a fellow like Scott, adoring every second of what he’s experiencing, it’s easy to have a good time. There really only are a handful acts out there that inspire this kind of adoration. Off hand, I think of Ronnie James Dio, Tenacious D, Slayer, The Grateful Dead, Sinead O’Connor, Iggy Pop, Pato Banton, and David Bowie. When you’re at one of their shows, you are among the converted.
Sting, The Squeeze, Concord Pavilion, Concord, October 7, 1991
Like Paul Simon, I attended my first Sting show with a friend who was a big fan. Damon was an interesting guy for a teenager, very erudite, well dressed, a hard alcohol enthusiast, and chain smoker. He listened to instrumental soft jazz mostly, that “quiet storm” shit. Sting was one of the musicians he enjoyed who actually sang. Naturally, I had heard of Sting through his work with The Police, but his solo work was still fairly new. The easy listening, jazzy quality of the “Soul Cages” album hooked Damon and since it was a very rare occasion to even get Damon out of his house, much less a concert, I decided to tag along.
The Concord Pavilion was the closest amphitheater to where my friends and I lived, though you wouldn’t guess it by taking the seemingly endless winding Ygnacio Valley Road that led us there. Once there, you have to climb a rather steep grade up a hill to get to its entrance, then another steep paved path until you reach the lawn. The good news is that once you had reached the lawn, you had a great view of Mt. Diablo, fresh air, and good sight lines of the stage. Back then, the lawn took up the entire rear half of the entire audience. You could easily go up to the front edge of the lawn and had a great view. The sound was loud and clear too.
Unfortunately, some smart ass got the idea years later to redesign the place, effectively cutting the lawn to half its size, replacing its front half with more seats and luxury boxes. To make matters worse, they extended the roof over the stage farther out, which further truncated the view of the stage from the lawn and adding hard reflective surfaces in the roof, which made the sound worse. What a pity.
Regardless, it was a good show. It was the first and only time I saw Squeeze and they had recently gotten popular again when their song, “Tempted”, was in the indy film hit, “Reality Bites”. Sting was good too, a class act. He covered a lot of Police tunes as well as his new solo stuff. Though I’d see Sting again, it would be 16 years until I would get a chance to see The Police together again.
Nirvana, Sister Double Happiness, L7, Warfield, San Francisco, October 26, 1991
SETLIST : Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam, Aneurysm, Drain You, School, Floyd The Barber, Smells Like Teen Spirit, About A Girl, Polly, Breed, Sliver, Lithium, Love Buzz, On A Plain, Negative Creep, Blew, (encore), Dive, Rape Me, Territorial Pissings
Despite my ravenous appetite for music, some great bands will pass you by unnoticed, until somebody points them out to you. That was the case with Nirvana and it was my buddy, Jeff Pollard, who enlightened me. I heard, like most people, the hit single and seen the music video for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” maybe once or twice, but the Nirvana fever didn’t make much of an impact on me. I didn’t even know they were in town when Jeff invited me to come along to check out the show.
I will always be eternally grateful that he asked, since obviously it would be one of only a limited number of appearances they would perform in the Bay Area before poor Kurt’s suicide three years later. Not only that, but this would be the one of the only times I’d see Sister Double Happiness before the members went their separate ways and joined other bands of note. Thankfully, it was the first of many times I’d see L7, who made a big impression on me that night. I bought one of their stickers at the merchandise booth and it still adorns my guitar case today over twenty years and counting.
This show also has the dubious distinction of being one of only a handful of mosh pits that I felt compelled to retreat. You see, that night was one of the few general admission shows at the Warfield, meaning patrons could go up to the balcony or the floor regardless. Nirvana, being the hot ticket as they were at the time, ensured that everybody in the place would try to cram onto the dance floor in an effort to get as close to the front of the stage as possible. So, I endured the constant pressure of the bodies surrounding me, keeping my arms in front of my chest so I could breathe, until the band graced the stage.
Once the started playing though, the crowd went absolutely apeshit. There wasn’t a single soul down on that dance floor who wasn’t being hurled about in a maelstrom of flailing limbs. More specifically, it was elbows that got me. I admit, I’ve always been a stocky fellow and in some periods of my life, downright fat, but these waif-like kids in the pit that night were so lightweight, that their bodies would fly through the air like bullets and their boney elbows hitting my ribs and other places felt like bullets too. After four or five songs, I reached my breaking point and shouted, “Fuck This!” over the deafening music and bladed my way to safety.
After catching my breath, I went up to the balcony to watch the rest. The good news about it being a general admission show was that there was hardly anybody up there and I, having long lost my companions in the pit downstairs, was alone. I got a great seat right up front with a perfect view of the concert below me. Having only two albums under their belt, the set wasn’t that long, but the sheer energy of that show haunts me to this day. I’ll say it once and I’ll say it again. Kurt played literally like he had a gun to his head. I’d never seen before or since a performer how played with such a raw sense of urgency. It felt like every song was to be his last and how terrible it turned out that in 1994 it would end for good.
I take some consolation that I’d get to see him two more times before that fateful day when the world would hear the news of his tragic passing. But I, so young and naive at the time, hadn’t even considered that the great artists I was seeing might not be around some day.
Grateful Dead, Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, October 27, 1991
SETLIST : (Set1), Sugar Magnolia, Sugaree, Walkin’ Blues, Althea, When I Paint My Masterpiece, Candyman, Cassidy, Touch Of Grey, (Set 2), China Cat Sunflower, I Know You Rider, Samson & Delilah, Ship Of Fools, Iko Iko, Hey! Bo Diddley, Mona, Drums, Space, The Wheel, I Need A Miracle, Wharf Rat, Good Lovin’, (encore), Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
OK, first off the bat, I’m gonna say I’m not going to talk much the Grateful Dead in this book for several reasons. First and foremost, despite the fact that I saw them at least 20 times, I never recorded them. I didn’t see the point. For starters, they already had a legion of people taping every single show already. The quality of their stuff was infinitely superior to mine. Between me and my friends, we had more bootleg Grateful Dead shows to listen to than we knew what to do with. Unless you were a die hard fan and the Dead was all you listened to, then maybe, but I wasn’t.
Secondly, everything on Earth that can, was at the time, or will be ever again is covered ad neauseum. So, I decided long ago not to even try, or at least not try very hard. There were a few funny stories here and there and I’ll interject a few when I think they’re interesting enough.
Lastly, something personal inside me wanted at least one band I didn’t have to tape. At the Dead shows, I could run around with my friends and be a true patron again. The taping, like ushering, ensured that no matter how are going, part of you will always be slightly distracted by the job itself. Besides, knowing the amount of herb, psychedelics, and beer we were all imbibing, our brains needed all the help they could get to retain any real memory of the shows.
That being said, at least half the times I “saw” the Dead didn’t involve seeing the show at all. The parking lot, especially the shows at Oakland Coliseum since it was so close to us, was a virtual playground for me and my friends. Remember that back then, we had to buy marijuana on the street mostly. We had a friend or two up in Humboldt we could get it from once in a blue moon, but the Dead parking lot ensured that there always was a steady supply available and the quality was good.
That really was the only reliable place to get acid or mushrooms too. When Jerry died, the supply dropped to next to nothing. Just as well, by 1995 I was finishing school and decided that psyches would only be a thing to do very rarely, like for New Years Eve or something. One thing I didn’t have out there were those God forsaken balloons filled with nitrous oxide. I had enough of that stuff after working at the SF State coffee shop in the Student Union where we had an unlimited supply of rechargeable whipped cream bottles. I used to take long hits under the counter and rise up and serve the next customer. I can still hear myself saying in slow motion, “Caaaan Iiiiiii Heeeeelllllppp Yoooouuuu?….”
But I digress, all drugs aside, I still loved the Dead. The bay area’s married to them. No doubt about that. Sure, there were nights when they sucked, when Jerry was on the nod and Bobby sang too many songs. But when they were good, they were very good. Being in the bay area too allowed the occasional guest like Carlos Santana pop on stage and do a song or two. We were spoiled out here and fans around the rest of the country were jealous. Guys out in Buffalo were lucky if they came by once a year and we would get to see them at least 3 or 4 multiple run shows a year.
Even then, that wasn’t enough for many. Yes, I hold the dubious distinction of one of those fans that drove to another state specifically to see them play. They are the only band that I’ve ever done that for to this day. I saw them once in Eugene in 1994 and twice in Las Vegas in 1992 and 1993. As adventurous as they were, it’s totally insignificant to the years of devotion that their hardcore fans have paid tribute. We’re talking hundreds, even thousands of shows.
The Dead always played New Year’s Eve at Oakland every year, at least every year I was seeing them. Unfortunately, the New Year’s show itself was always quickly sold out, tickets having to be ordered through a tedious mail system. The tickets were always too expensive for me and my friends anyway. Still, they played a few shows before that night that all could attend with relative ease, so at least I saw one this run.
It was New Year’s itself that was memorable not only because of the show I went to and didn’t go in, but for the shows I passed up as well. Wouldn’t you know that all of my friends absolutely insisted on hanging out in the Dead show parking lot that night, despite the fact that none of us had tickets. But there was not one, but two shows that would of rocked if we went to them instead.
First, was Primus. They were playing at Henry J. Kaiser Auditorium in Oakland too with none other than Fishbone opening. That would of been great alone, but the big one we were missing was the Red Hot Chili Peppers at the Cow Palace with Pearl Jam and Nirvana opening. That one was for the ages, never to be repeated, once and lifetime. But I loved my friends and had to let that one go.
Not to wallow in self pity, but it gets worse. It was freezing cold that night and it poured rain on us constantly. To add insult to injury, I flew to London bright and early the next day to start a semester abroad and the whole experience made me come down with one of the worst cases of the flu I’ve ever suffered. But looking on the bright side, I’d made it to London and had a New Year’s tale that was impossible to forget.