Ride, Slowdive, The Edge, Palo Alto, May 25, 1992
SETLIST (RIDE) : Slowdive, Spanish Air, Bleed, Catch The Breeze, Joy, Morningrise, She Calls, Avalyn
After my stay in London, I quickly got back into the music scene, having little to do before going back to school in the fall. I was staying at my parents house temporarily while I searched for places and my stepdad at the time was doing business in Russia. He was trying to get a foothold onto new markets that were opening up after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the process of meeting and befriending several Russians, he got to know a pretty young woman named Anya, who was studying at Berkeley when everything fell apart back in her homeland and her plans for the future were up in the air to put it mildly.
Almost immediately upon arriving home from London, I discovered my girlfriend Jodi, who I held a candle for several months while there, had already shacked up with another guy. Heartbroken and horny, I quickly found consolation in the arms of Anya. She was surprisingly receptive to me. I was more accustomed to jumping through hoops to get a date.
But that leads to the Ride show. I was into the so-called “shoegazer” music that was popular at the time and Ride was one of the big ones. Anya had a friend from Pakistan in town and I thought it would be a nice cultural eye opener to take both of them to a show. But the weirdest thing happened. I went to the show alone and forgot completely that I invited them along. I enjoyed the show and went home totally oblivious until I called Anya the next day.
She and her friend waited like brides ditched at the alter. Well, that was a little melodramatic. Anya took it well and I apologized profusely. To this date, I’ve never stood a woman up on a date and I sure as hell never forgot one again.
World Beat : Jimmy Cliff, Burning Spear, Majek Fashek, Les Tets Brulees, The Skatalites, Arrow, Greek Theater, Berkeley, July 26, 1992
My friends and I were still hanging out with Jason and the rastas almost every sunday at the Ashby BART parking lot flea market and Hefe had befriended a local who went by the name of Bill. Bill was at least 60 years old and if he wasn’t, he certainly looked it. He wasn’t a rasta per se, but he could play the conga drums well and was funny guy. He’d always lead off the beginning of a drum session by bellowing, “Uno!… Dos!… Quattro!… Sync it!”
This day, the Greek was having an impressive line up of reggae artists at the Greek and Hefe decided to invite Bill along since I had an extra ticket. We were used to seeing Bill smoke herb. Many joints would get passed around on any given drum session, but this day, Bill was drunk and I mean really drunk. Just moments after I handed him his ticket to get in, he quickly sold it for $25 which was its face value. I was a bit peeved, but wrote it off as a charitable donation to a man stumbling around complaining that he had “brain damage”.
The show was sold out, so Hefe and I just shrugged and decided to go in, but Bill followed us in line anyway. At the head of the line, he attempted to get inside, insisting that he had the money for a ticket and showed it to the ticket taker. Well, that ticket taker wasn’t having any of it, seeing clearly that Bill was three sheets to the wind. Bill accepted defeat and shambled away while Hefe and I went inside the Greek.
It was a good show all around, first time seeing all of them. I liked the way Les Tetes Brûlées played while kicking around a soccer ball onstage at the same time. Jimmy Cliff is always an inspiration. That man will always be in better shape than me, no matter what age he is.
Lollapalooza 1992: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ministry, Ice Cube, Soundgarden, The Jesus & Mary Chain, Pearl Jam, Lush (Main Stage), Porno For Pyros, Cypress Hill (Second Stage), Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, July 18-19, 1992
SETLISTS : (July 18)
RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS : Give It Away, Organic Anti-Beat Box Band, Bullet Proof, My Automobile, Suck My Kiss, Subterranean Homesick Blues, Funky Crime, Nobody Weird Like Me, If You Have To Ask, Stone Cold Bush, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, The Needle & The Damage Done, Higher Ground, Magic Johnson, Under The Bridge, Subway To Venus, Poptones, Party On Your Pussy, Me & My Friends, (encore) Crosstown Traffic
MINISTRY : N.W.O., Just One Fix, Thieves, So What, Hero, Supernaut, Stigmata
PEARL JAM : State Of Love & Trust, Why Go, Once, Alive, Even Flow, Jeremy, Deep, Porch
MINISTRY : N.W.O., The Missing, Deity, Just One Fix, Thieves, Psalm 69, Supernaut, So What, Hero, Stigmata
SOUNDGARDEN : Jesus Christ Pose, Face Pollution, Outshined, I Can’t Give You Anything, Ugly Truth, Rusty Cage, Slaves & Bulldozers, Searching With My Good Eye Closed
PEARL JAM : Even Flow, Jeremy, Deep, Alive, Black, Once, Porch
I missed the first Lollapalooza the previous year, being on an extensive road trip of the United States and being a fan of practically every band on the bill, there was no way I was going to miss this one. Having to drag myself all the way down to Shoreline was a pain in the ass as always, but the blow was cushioned by the fact that I was being accompanied by my friend Jessica. I’d worked with Jessica at school and even shared a Human Sexuality class with her in which we always sat and studied together. Sure, she was beautiful and a great girl all around, but she had boyfriend named Caleb, who was also a friend of mine, so Jessica and I were just friends.
First on the bill was Lush, which I was overjoyed to see again, having become quite the fan while I was in London earlier that year. Their music was a little lost on the crowd as most opening acts on a long festival show, but I was pleased that they were getting the recognition I felt they deserved. Apparently, Perry Ferrel was a big fan too.
Pearl Jam was brand new back then, but were quickly making fans with their first album, “Ten”. The mosh pit responded accordingly. I don’t know. Maybe back then the pits were just bigger. Perhaps people weren’t so distracted holding up their cell phones or something. That was the only time to my recollection that people actually climbed the blue steel towers in front of the lawn where the delay speakers and spotlight positions were and attempted to jump off into the pit. And by attempted, I mean, most chickened out and the ones who did jump made damn sure the people below were going to catch them.
The Jesus & Mary Chain were up next and they had a tough time following Pearl Jam. They were always a little aloof and standoffish, even to their own fans at their own shows. It didn’t help that they, along with Lush, were trying to use a fog machine in broad daylight. The effect was a little underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, I love their music, but acts playing in that time slot always had a hard time getting attention at Lollapalooza, especially following Pearl Jam. Folks were more interested in checking out the side stage or grabbing a beer.
Speaking of the side stage, one of the good things about Lollapalooza as a festival is that it only had one side stage. Trouble with festivals with multiple stages these days is that you’re always missing somebody, that and you have to haul ass to get to the other stages because they were a ways away. But the side stage at Lollapalooza was close and even if bands on the main stage were having a set that overlapped with the side stage, you could at least catch the first half of a set on one and the last half of the other.
Cypress Hill was brand new as well and I made sure to catch a few songs of theirs, including their most recent hit, “Hand On The Pump”. Likewise, I made sure to see Perry Ferrel’s new musical project, Porno For Pyros, when they did their set. Like I said, I missed the first Lollapalooza and didn’t get into Jane’s Addiction until it they had already broken up and it was too late.
Back on the main stage, Soundgarden played a great set. Not to say that Chris Cornell has ever lost any quality in his voice over the years, back then he had one of those voices that had so much power behind it, that I wouldn’t be surprised if he could break the ribbon in the microphone with one of his high notes. He hits one of those notes and it makes you feel like you’re in one of those Maxell ads, sitting in a chair and having your hair blown backward.
Ice Cube was the obligatory hip hop act on the bill that year, not to say that he didn’t deserve to be, far from it. I’ve said it before, but Cube’s one of those performers that has that intangible quality which draws all eyes on him the moment he steps out on the stage. It’s a pity that more festivals aren’t more eclectic in the acts they book. Lollapalooza, when the festival was still touring the country before it became a permanent one weekend show in Chicago, at least made an effort to mix up the acts a little stylistically. Cube was raw, too. He was still pretty new as a solo act after N.W.A. broke up and he was making, in my opinion, the best work of his career back then.
Ministry got to take the coveted penultimate spot on the bill and they tore it up to put it mildly. Their set was not only the loudest I think I’ve ever heard music at the Shoreline, but the mosh pit was clearly the largest. The entire center of the lawn, top to bottom, erupted into a huge circular maelstrom. Problem with that is, that the lawn, being on an angle, made the moochers going downhill accelerate so fast that they were falling over themselves and the ones going back up hill struggle a bit and get congested until they reached the top again. Still, things could be worse. I heard at the show at Irvine Meadows, the crowd built a huge makeshift bonfire in the middle of the pit that many moochers narrowly avoided being immolated. It was a great set too. Ministry, being no fan of the Bush, Sr. administration, seemed to hit the nail on the head with their song, “N.W.O.” Sampling Bush, droning the the phrase, “a new world order”, over and over again made a fitting rebuke to the youth’s growing dissatisfaction with his policies.
Finally, the Chili’s took the stage and were in fine form. Although, they would go on to even greater success and even larger crowds attending their shows, this tour will always be to me the highlight of their career. Having the Chili’s headline this tour seemed like a natural fit and a perfect ending to a great day.
Beastie Boys, House Of Pain, L7, San Jose Event Center, San Jose, August 4, 1992
SETLIST : Posse In Effect, Shadrach, Pass The Mic, Shake Your Rump, Time For Livin’, Egg Raid On Mojo, In 3’s, Pow, Live At P.J.’s, Jimmy James, The Sounds Of Science, The New Style, Stand Together, Hold It Now, Hit It, So Whatcha Want, Paul Revere, Lighten Up, Something’s Got To Give, Groove Holmes, Gratitude, Transit Cop, Stand Up, The Maestro, Mark On The Bus, Michelle’s Farm, Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun, Rhymin & Stealin
I was late getting into the Beastie Boys. Everybody heard “Fight For Your Right To Party” and funny and catchy as it was, most people I knew around that time dismissed the Beasties as an immature novelty act. That changed quickly. My first indication that there was something more to them happened accidentally. My friends and I were fans of animation of all kinds and back then, there was a festival of animation shorts that would come to town every year called “Spike & Mike’s Sick & Twisted” show. They’d show all kinds of hilarious stuff at midnight showings at the Palace Of Fine Arts, including the first “Beavis & Butthead” cartoons. In the last one I saw, there was a great animated music video and I thought the song was excellent, but had no idea who it was until the end. It was the Beasties, and the song was “Shadrach” from “Paul’s Boutique”.
I wasn’t the only one who completely missed hearing “Paul’s Boutique”, but as soon as the “Check Your Head” album exploded on the charts, I made sure to check it out too. I’d missed seeing the Beasties when I was in London too. They played the Astoria, a very small venue, for a band of their new level of prominence. I remember my friend and fellow student, Frank, also the son of one of our instructors in London, tried in vain to convince me to go that night, but I didn’t. He came back from that show walking on air. So when I got my chance to see them at long last, I didn’t hesitate.
The trouble with this show is that it was way out at the San Jose Event Center located on the campus of San Jose State. Every time I go to San Jose, I always get lost even to this day. I made sure to leave early with my friends, just to be sure, but we got a little lost anyway. What made matters worse is that we had to meet my brother before the show and he was late too. It gave us a little time to orbit around campus, drinking from tall cans of beer we brought with us. Alex finally made it, and helped us finish the beer before we went in, but we were too late to catch L7. We got in just as they were finishing their last song. The House Of Pain were hot then, riding on the popularity of their hit, “Jump Around” and they got the crowd pumped up.
I’d managed to get up to the front of the crowd, getting crushed against the crowd barricade and did my best to breathe. The Beasties came on and I was face to face with MCA, sporting a head of neon green hair. It was a great show and I’d see the Beasties at almost every bay area show they’d go on to perform thereafter. Little did my brother Alex know that in that crowd was his future wife, Kerri. They’d meet and get married 26 years later.
Faith No More, Warfield, San Francisco, August 19, 1992
SETLIST : Caffeine, Death March, Land Of Sunshine, The Real Thing, Midlife Crisis, As The Worm Turns, RV, Surprise! You’re Dead!, Be Aggressive, Crack Hitler, Easy, We Care A Lot, Jizzlobber, Woodpecker From Mars, Epic, (encore) Introduce Yourself, Mark Bowen, Why Do You Bother?, Edge Of The World
Alex was already a fan of this band before they got their new singer, Mike Patton. But their new single, “Epic”, was hot and Faith No More was elevated to larger venues like the Warfield. I had heard that Mr. Patton was a weird duck, but he seemed clean cut and professional when I watched him that night. Little did I know what lunacy would lay in store when I’d see him perform with Mr. Bungle. Though “Epic” was their only real mainstream hit and I never really caught onto their music the same way Alex did, I, like many others, appreciated their musicianship and originality. That’s why it is rare to find music fans who don’t respect their talent.
Eric Clapton, Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, September 3, 1992
SETLIST : White Room, Pretending, Anything For Your Love, I Shot The Sheriff, Running On Faith, She’s Waiting, Tears In Heaven, Before You Accuse Me, Old Love, Badge, Wonderful Tonight, Layla, (encore), Cross Road Blues, Sunshine Of Your Love
Yes, only a couple years prior did I eat my hat, missing Eric Clapton at the Shoreline in lieu of going to my Senior Ball. So, when a group of us had the chance to get together when he came around again, I took the chance to redeem myself. Though the show was practically identical to the one I’d seen in London earlier that year, I had no complaints, except for the massive traffic jam getting out of the parking lot that night. The percussionist solo, performed by Ray Cooper, a bald man whose chops are only matched by his hysterical enthusiasm, was a crowd pleaser.
Special Beat, Warfield, San Francisco, October 6, 1992
My brother once said one of the great things about playing in a ska band was you got to play along side some of the original bands. In 1992, most of them were alive and well. I don’t believe the Dance Hall Crashers got to play with either the Specials or the Beat, known as the English Beat in America, but they did play with practically everybody else in the genre. Felt good to see these guys, a hybrid band of the two, playing both their hits. Ranking Roger of the Beat was playing a lot back then in town. It was a great line up that night too, with the ska pioneers, the Skatalitles, The Selecter, and The Toasters. I remember being impressed with the lead singer of the Selecter, Pauline Black. She had a great voice and the physique of an Amazon, especially her biceps.
B-52’s, Violent Femmes, Concord Pavilion, Concord, October 18, 1992
I had been a fan of the B-52’s for years by the time I got to see them for the first time, owning every album they had released up to that period. Around that time, I was consuming a lot of psychedelic mushrooms too and I set aside a whole bag for that show, at least five grams worth. Now I admit, in hindsight that going alone to this show and having to drive under the influence of these mushrooms wasn’t a very bright idea, but I was only 20 years old, a good age for doing stupid, reckless things. I still think that driving on mushrooms is safer than driving drunk, but I digress.
As luck would have it, I caught the one tour they did when Cindy Wilson was taking time off from the band. Julee Cruise, who would later gain fame from singing songs on David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” series, filled in, sporting a a beehive blond hairdo, assuming she was doing her best to look the part.
Opening were the legendary Violent Femmes, a band I was familiar with, but didn’t follow closely. “Blister In The Sun” was a big hit and everybody knew it. I was impressed that they made their music with a rather humble collection of instruments and not many bells and whistles. The drummer played standing up, mostly doing his work on a single snare drum, playing with fans. I was tripping, yes, but I was coherent enough to appreciate the quality of their songwriting and skill with their instruments.
The B-52’s were likewise as skilled, though they clearly were making a big show out of it, lots of flashing lights and dance moves. They knew how to have a party. They played all the hits, including the obligatory, “Love Shack”, their big hit that would be destined to become the karaoke flagship song around the world. Funny, I still remember Kate between songs saying she wanted to give everybody a big hug, followed by Julee saying she wanted to french kiss everybody.
At the end of the set, I tried to make my way to the stage to see if I could snag a setlist, but was stopped by an usher. I know she was doing her job, but there was no reasoning with her and as I turned away disappointed, I scoffed, “Enjoy your job.” Little did I know, that I would be an usher for years to come.
Jerry Garcia Band, The Affordables, Oakland Coliseum, Oakland, October 31, 1992
SETLIST : (Set 1) How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You), Stop That Train, The Maker, You Never Can Tell, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Lay Down Sally, Deal, (Set 2), Shining Star, And It Stoned Me, No Bread In The Breadbox, What A Wondeful World, Tore Up Over You, Waiting For A Miracle, My Sisters & Brothers, Tangled Up In Blue, (encore), Werewolves Of London
Though I’d already seen the Dead a few times, this was the first time seeing Jerry do his solo thing. I went to hang out in the parking lot of one of his shows at Concord Pavillion before, but didn’t go in the show. I’ll never forget seeing one of Danville’s only notable drunks, Woody, there too, stumbling around as usual. For some reason, I had a glowstick attached to a length of string, and I was twirling it in circles, which hypnotized him and put a big grin on his face, watching the light trails. Woody was probably on LSD or mushrooms at the time and we thought the same thing of a playful german shepherd dog who came over to watch the glowstick too. That dog was just a little too interested.
Anyway, Jerry had just recovered from a bout of ill health. Lingering problems from a diabetic coma he suffered in 86’ forced him to drop out of touring with the Dead that summer. Deep down, we all knew Jerry was going to die soon, but that made this show all the more poignant, being his first bay area show after his recovery. Deadheads got a sneak preview of what the world would be like to them with Jerry gone and we all were keen on seeing him as much as we could while he was still around.
Vince Welnick’s cover band, the Affordables, opened up and it being Halloween, graced the stage dressed as clowns. I don’t think I or any of my friends dressed up that night, but there were no shortage of costumes to be seen. When Jerry came on, I felt a genuine feeling of relief to hear his voice again. The love in the Coliseum that night was palpable, especially when he sang such sentimental numbers as “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”, “Shining Star”, and “What A Wonderful World”. His encore that night was “Werewolves Of London” by Warren Zevon, a fitting end to a Halloween show and it felt good to howl along with the crowd.
Bridge School Benefit 1992: Neil Young, Sammy Hagar & Eddie Van Halen, Pearl Jam, James Taylor, Shawn Colvin, Shoreline Amphitheater, November 1, 1992
NEIL YOUNG : Sugar Mountain, I Am A Child, Heart Of Gold, From Hank To Hendrix, After The Gold Rush, Harvest Moon, Unknown Legend, Love Song
SAMMY HAGAR & EDDIE VAN HALEN : Give To Live, Baby What You Want Me To Do, Amnesty Is Granted
PEARL JAM : Footsteps, Jeremy, Black, Alive, Daughter, Angel, I Am A Patriot
JAMES TAYLOR : Something In The Way She Moves, Copperline, Riding On A Railroad, Milworker, Carolina In My Mind, Sweet Baby James, Love Songs
This was my first Bridge School Benefit, but certainly not my last. Frankly, I’ve lost count, but I think I’ve seen at least 14 of them. The Benefit is for a school for kids that have severe developmental problems, including Neil and Peggy Young’s son, Ben. This show is unique in that the Youngs get together a collection of artists who would rarely if ever play on the same bill and get them to play acoustically to boot. Good luck trying to see bands like Ministry, Metallica, or Green Day play acoustically anywhere else.
One thing all the Bridge School shows I saw had in common was that I saw almost all of them with Jeff Pollard. This is a man who will live and die at the command of Pearl Jam and that goes double for Neil Young. Putting these guys together is dream come true for my man, Jeff.
Pearl Jam was still a fairly new band, but the collaboration they would go on to have with Neil felt right, a real marriage made in heaven. Eddie Vedder was proud to admit that he was conceived while his parents were listening to a Neil Young record.
U2, Public Enemy, The Sugarcubes, Oakland Stadium, Oakland, November 7, 1992
SETLIST : Zoo Station, The Fly, Even Better Than The Real Thing, Mysterious Ways, One, Until The End Of The World, New Year’s Day, Dirty Old Town, Tryin’ To Throw Your Arms Around The World, Angel Of Harlem, When Love Comes To Town, Satellite Of Love, Redemption Song, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Bullet The Blue Sky, Running To Stand Still, Where The Streets Have No Name, Pride (In The Name Of Love), I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, Stand By Me, (encore) Desire, Ultra Violet (Light My Way), With Or Without You, Love Is Blindness, Can’t Help Falling In Love
This was to be the first, and alas, the last “Day On The Green” concert I would ever see. It was a great concept, opening up the field of the ballpark to all those willing to stand and work their way up front while everybody who wanted to sit could find plenty of seats up in the stands. This was the antithesis to the now all too familiar amphitheater setting we were stuck with at places like Shoreline, where they had it ass backwards. But like I said, this was the last one, so I’m glad I caught it.
I was eager to finally see U2. They were big, stadium big obviously, and after seeing the film “Rattle & Hum”, I found their music was growing on me. “Achtung Baby” had just came out and Bono and the gang brought their huge stage production, the “Zoo TV” tour to the ballpark.
Immediately, what caught my attention was the opening acts, both of which I was dying to see. In fact, I was a little more interested in Public Enemy than the others. It should be noted though that Primus wasn’t on the bill, they having opened on the tour earlier, which upset us locals. Clearly, there was nothing personal in the snub, scheduling difficulties, etc. Primus was headlining their own tours and doing quite well, but still, feelings were hurt. I even saw somebody unfurl a small banner up on the second tier stands saying, “Where’s Primus? Fuck U2!”
Nevertheless, it was good the see the Sugarcubes, since that would be the only time I would catch them before they broke up, though I’d go on see Bjork several times in the years to come. The crowd was just coming in and I think they were having a hard time getting attention, even with Bjork dressed head to toe in bright red, singing her head off with that unearthly voice of hers. Einar, the other singer looked a little pissed, but then again, bands break up for all kinds of reasons and it felt like this band was at the end of its rope.
Public Enemy on the other hand had its shit together, that’s for sure. This is a band that commands a stage. They definitely had an almost military like presence, their members standing barrel chested at attention in uniform while Chuck D and Flava Flav would do their thing. They got the crowd pumped up big time. Say what you want about U2, they have good taste in their opening acts and I appreciate that. It shows they not only have good taste too, but are modest enough to have people come on before them that can go toe to toe with them, even blow them out of the water on occasion.
There are only a handful of acts that really can put on an outdoor stadium show this audacious, such as the Rolling Stones or Pink Floyd. The cost, for starters is astronomical, and the logistics are mind boggling. U2 had set up Trabant cars, a model popular in East Germany, on hydraulic cranes, using their headlamps as spotlights. They had erected an elaborate myriad of video walls, a very expensive, heavy, and fragile set piece to show graphics mixed with their live feed from stage. Between songs, Bono would take time to show, “confession booth” testimonials from fans, including one where a man said he was a lesbian trapped in a man’s body. That got a big cheer.
But I think the icing on the cake that night was this was the first show after the national election and everybody in the bay area breathed a collective sigh of relief that George Bush the Elder was finally gone. Bono mentioned that he read a headline from a local paper on Castro Street that said, “Ding dong, the witch is dead.” The band played a lot of stuff from the new album, but did a few covers, including , “Satellite Of Love”, “Redemption Song”, ending their main set with “Stand By Me”, and finishing their encore with “Can’t Help Falling In Love”.
Joe Satrioni, San Jose Event Center, San Jose, November 13, 1992
I always wanted to see Joe. We’re born on the same birthday. I’m glad I got to see him at least once before he shaved his head. There was an opening act composed of a bunch of pre-teen boys, but for the life of me I can’t remember their name, nor find any record of them in my research. I think they were called Bad 4 Good or something to that effect. These kids played instrumental rock n’ roll like Joe and they were tight, especially the guitarist. I bet that kid took lessons from Joe. He sounded a lot like him.
This kid had a wireless transmitter for his guitar so he could move around freely with no chords. Wireless stuff for instruments was pretty unusual for back then, didn’t see them too often. During one of the songs, this kid ran up and down the aisles of the arena floor, noodling notes at lightning speed. It was pretty impressive.
Joe Satriani in my opinion makes the silliest faces while performing than any musician I’ve ever seen or probably will see. Don’t get me wrong, his music is explosive. There are very, very few guitarists that can match his skill, but seriously, when he plays, his eyes bug out, and his mouth opens in sort of an oval shape. It’s kind of like he’s making an “Holy Shit! Listen how awesome this is!” look on his face. It is awesome regardless, so I don’t fault him for it. Many musicians subconsciously make weird faces when they play, sometimes make weird noises too.
The Jesus & Mary Chain, Curve, Spiritualized, Warfield, San Francisco, November 20, 1992
OK, I know in this year, I’ve been saying that this is the first time I did “blank” a lot, but this show is an important one. For this show, the Jesus & Mary Chain at the Warfield was the first show I ever ushered. Yes, prior to this show, I was just a civilian, but one day, I was working at the coffee shop at the Student Union of San Francisco State, when the concept of ushering was imprinted in my brain.
There once was a guy named Jim Bianco, a friendly man who wore colorful shirts, had round John Lennon glasses, and talked loudly. He mentioned that the Warfield had a volunteer usher system which allowed folks to work through the opening acts, then are let loose after a couple songs into the main act with a free drink ticket. It seemed like a good deal, so I thought I’d give it a try.
Jim gave me the number to book myself on an answering machine voiced by Tina, the head usher. Her message listed the rules of ushering and the shows available to book. It would be a recording I’d come to know well, to be etched into my brain, to be heard hundreds of times when I’d call in to book for shows. She would say, “Welcome to Warfield usher line. If you want to work a show, leave your name, phone number, and day of the show you want to work. There is a dress code here at the Warfield. We want you to wear dark, neutral colors, and no jeans of any style or color and it is important that you bring a flashlight. Peace! Don’t forget to leave your phone number.” That was the just of it, with very little variation in its delivery over the years.
Every show was available to book exactly one month prior to the show, so many of the popular ones were filled up the first night it was available, many folks calling at exactly midnight. The only other way to book a show was to be at show at the Warfield and book in person when you were done ushering and after every volunteer was done turning in their badges. Thankfully, this show wasn’t booked up yet, so I left my name and said I wanted to work the Jesus & Mary Chain show and that was it. It began.
I showed up to the Warfield the night of the show at 6 PM and was let in with the other ushers and we all lined up in the lobby as Tina checked our names off on a list. Tina was still fairly new to the gig as head usher, taking over for a lady named Jillian, who I never got to meet. I waited patiently in the lobby with the others until Tina led everybody upstairs into the lounge of the women’s restroom to give the usher meeting. Tina, a blonde, svelte Texas transplant to San Francisco, had a sweet, motherly quality about her, not to say that she was old. She was only a few years older than most of us, but she had a dignity and maturity about her that made her a natural for the job. There was something soothing about her voice and I liked the way she called me “Nicky”. That was a nickname I had as a boy, but then grew to despise as a teenager. It took me long time to train my own mother not to call be that, but when Tina said it, it made me feel all warm inside, forever curing me of the ill will I bear that nickname since.
The meeting, much like the answering machine message went the same every time as well. Tina split up the ushers into various positions in the house. Most of the ushers with the most experience went to work the dance floor, where although clearing the aisles could be stressful, it was the best spot to see and hear the bands perform. Others went to the balcony, where it was easy to hear and see, but you had to lead patrons to their assigned seats, which is distracting to say the least, not to mention tiring, marching up and down the balcony steps. Finally, a handful of ushers worked outside positions, some keeping stairways clear, and some leading patrons in to the coat check to turn in things they weren’t allowed to bring in like cameras.
I was in the balcony that night. I remember that it wasn’t that well sold, so seating folks wasn’t that difficult. The goth crowd is pretty quiet and well behaved, so they pretty much stay where you tell them to stay. The most notorious crowd are the hippies, who for various reasons I’ll explain in the future are the most difficult.
The first band I would ever usher turned out to be Spiritualized. In a way, they were ideal. Their music is so meditative, it made other shoe gazer bands sound like speed metal, so it was pretty easy. Many years later, Matt Thayer, a friend and fellow usher, found me a bootleg copy of their set that night and it was nice to hear it again. I’d gotten so preoccupied with my own recordings, it skipped my mind that these early ones should be in my collection as well.
Next up were Curve. They were a big attraction to me for this show too. I’d been in love with their first album, “Doppleganger” and would get anything of theirs that I could get my hands on, including a sticker that still graces my guitar case to this day. They, like Spiritualized and the Chain, had a very loud wall of sound style. Pity anybody who weren’t wise enough to wear earplugs that night.
The Chain did a great set as they had the other times I’d seen them that year. This was the American leg of what they were calling the “Rollercoaster Tour”. It was good to see them so much that year, though I regretted missing the tour when I was in London, especially since Dinosaur Jr., Blur, and My Bloody Valentine were on the bill for that one.
After a few songs, a senior usher came by where I was and gave me the “cut” pantomime, crossing the hand over the neck in a chopping motion. It was always the best way to convey the message, especially that night, since the music was so loud. I’d grow to understand over the years that half of ushering is done with hand signs and body language. It is essentially the human herding.
The volunteer ushering system was clearly a good deal for me, but I wouldn’t do it again until over six months later when Porno To Pyros came to town. That would be the first show I would bootleg as an usher and from then on out, I was totally addicted.
Ministry, Helmet, Sepultura, Bill Graham Civic Center, San Francisco, December 23, 1992
MINISTRY : N.W.O., Deity, Hero, Psalm 69, Just One Fix, TV II, So What, Thieves, Stigmata, (encore), Scarecrow, Supernaut, (encore), Breathe
SEPULTURA : Troops Of Doom, Inner Self, Murder, Clenched Fist, Beneath The Remains, Drug Me, Dead Embryonic Cells, Arise
I’d just seen Ministry for the first time at Lollapalooza that summer and I’d been listening to the “Psalm 69” album a lot, as well as picked up a few of their earlier albums. I didn’t want to miss this show, that was for sure. But something happened at this show that has never happened before or since, which makes this one unique.
I’d taken my share of LSD by this time and had some leftover from the last time I’d seen the Grateful Dead, so I decided to drop some to see Ministry. I ate the tab just an hour before I left to go to the show, anticipating that I would peak by the time Ministry got on stage. To my horror, when I arrived at the Civic, I discovered that I got the date of the show wrong and it wasn’t to take place until the next day! Yes, I admit that I was starting to panic a bit, but I soon calmed down and concentrated on what was to be my next step.
Suddenly, I had the idea of going to see a movie at the historic Castro Theater, just up the street off of Market. I didn’t care what was playing and I knew I could get there pretty quickly. Thankfully, the film that was playing was “Casablanca”, which I’d never seen in its entirety. I cooled off there and went home.
The next day, I went to the show. I was packed up in front of the Civic’s huge floor. When you’re packed in like sardines on a floor that size, you’re pretty much stuck, surrounded by hundreds of bodies and knowing full well that if you break free and head to the back, you’re not getting back to where you were again. I remember that I ran into my friend Conrad Mueller in the pit that night, one of only a handful of shows I’d even see him attend. We stuck together through Helmet and Sepultura, both of which I liked, and it would be the only time I’d see Sepultura with Max Cavalera, their original singer.
Like I said, we were packed in, and I was beginning to feel a little claustrophobic, but I was determined to stay up front. That was, until Ministry got on stage and opened with “N.W.O.”. Now I’d always prided myself on my stoic nature, but after a couple songs into the show, I decided to bug out. That pit was more than just a pit. It was bodies being flung and churning in every conceivable direction at full force at high speed. I made it out and thanked God Almighty that I wasn’t peaking on LSD for this one, got out of that pit unharmed, and had the wisdom to bring earplugs that night.
Ministry was beyond loud that night. The Civic is essentially a giant plaster box with a metal ceiling. There was nowhere to hide. I took out my earplugs for a few seconds to hear what it was like, but it was excruciating. I even had a couple fellas stumble up to me and plead for me to tell them where they could get some. It was great show all the same. It doesn’t get much heavier than Ministry. After every one of their shows, I always felt pumped up, like I’d been lifting weights.
Primus, Mr. Bungle, The Melvins, Bill Graham Civic Center, December 31, 1992
PRIMUS : Spegetti Western, Here Come The Bastards, Groundhog’s Day, Seas Of Cheese, Mr. Krinkle, Jerry Was A Race Car Driver, Fish On, Bob, My Name Is Mud, Those Damned Blue Collar Tweekers, Pudding Time, In The Flesh, The Pressman, Nature Boy, To Defy The Laws Of Tradition, Hello Skinny, Constantinople, Sinister Exaggerator, Eleven, Hamburger Train, Too Many Puppies, John The Fisherman
MR. BUNGLE : Love Is A Fist, Slowly Growing Deaf, The Stroke, Travolta, Everyone I Went To High School With Is Dead, You Don’t Know What Love Is, The Thrill Is Gone, My Ass Is On Fire
Though I had been one of their most devoted fans, I failed to appreciate just how fast my little band had grown until that night. I doubt anyone there that night, even Mr. Claypool, would anticipate that playing New Year’s Eve in the bay area would become a habit either. As of today, he’s performed that night for the last 26 years and I have had the pleasure of seeing quite a few of them. There are nine by my count, five as Primus, three with the Frog Brigade, and one known as the “Hatter’s Ball”. Though one of the Primus shows was on New Year’s Day, the only time I’d ever seen a show on that day.
This was the largest show I’d see them do as a headliner too. I and some of my friends ran into Herb Alexander, the drummer, at a show a while before that night and he mentioned that they’d be playing some new songs. The album “Pork Soda” wouldn’t be released until four months later, but we got to hear, “Mr. Krinkle”, “Bob”, “My Name Is Mud”, “Nature Boy”, and “Hamburger Train” for the first time. They played “The Pressman” too, but that was song was on their first album, “Suck On This”.
Before Primus, I heard the Melvins and Mr. Bungle for the first time. I had heard of the Melvins before, but didn’t know their music. They are one of those bands that was respected by other musicians and would be brought along to open up with both up and coming acts then like Nirvana as well as veterans like Rush. Primus was a fan too, and I would see them open for Primus again the next year at the Greek in Berkeley. But the Melvins, even though their music was original, hearing them live back then, tested the patience of even the most open minded music fan. Granted, it didn’t get much louder and heavier than their sound, it wasn’t fast enough to dance or even bob your head to. All I could do was just stand there and watch them like a drooling vegetable. Thankfully, the Melvins would become one of those rare bands that actually continuously became better and better in their career. I’m happy to say, hearing them live today is an unforgettable experience.
Buzz Osborne, the singer/guitarist, would go on to join Mike Patton and Trevor Dunn of Mr. Bungle in the band the Fantomas in 1998. Bungle was new back then. Patton had pulled the plug on Faith No More and was looking to try something different and different they were and that’s putting it mildly. Their music was the craziest stuff I’d ever heard back then. It was unique, leaving me wondering what the fuck kind of music I was hearing. I remember that they all wore orange jumpsuits and one of them his head all done up like Pinhead from “Hellraiser”. But nothing could prepare the audience for the sight of Patton urinating into his own shoe and drinking it. Say what you want about Mr. Patton, pee shy he is not.
Difficult as it was to follow such an act as Mr. Bungle, Primus didn’t fail to impress that night. We all knew by the end of that show, that Mr. Claypool had an undeniable talent of ushering in a new year. That show would be the first of many shows that I would attend on New Year’s Eve and it remains my favorite thing to do on that holiday.