LONDON : 1992
Alex had taken a semester studying in London in 1990 and after visiting him there with my family and hearing what a great time he had when he got home, I thought it would be a good idea to do it too. I was becoming disillusioned with pursuing my major in Psychology and the London trip would have only two teachers, one teaching Economics and one teaching Literature. These were classes I needed to take to graduate anyway and the experience would give me time to weigh my options for school. What was not to like? I’d already lived a year in the dorms and wasn’t ever going back there, but I had one more semester before I would leave. So, I marched down to the Roommate Referral office near Haight Street and rented a room for the next six months with two middle aged men.
Peter was an oil painter and a very friendly man. Dave was a mean, bossy bastard, but ironically, was a sound engineer. He was only into early 20th century jazz, which I grew to appreciate more as time went on, but Dave, not so much. It only added to the anticipation and relief when I finally got to London.
Though my friends and I had the choices of seeing either the Red Hot Chili Peppers with Nirvana and Pearl Jam opening at the Cow Palace in San Francisco or seeing Primus with Fishbone opening at the Henry J. Kaiser in Oakland on New Year’s Eve, we chose instead to hang out in the parking lot of the Grateful Dead show at the Oakland Coliseum. We chose wrong. It rained heavily all night and we didn’t have a chance of hell getting in the show. Ultimately, I was with my friends and it would be the last time I’d see them for six months, so deep down I still think it was the right decision. The horrible weather that night brought on a raging flu that haunted me all through the flight the next day and for several days afterward.
THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS, Bloomsbury Theater, London, UK, February 4, 1992
After a month settling in, I decided to go to my first concert. Though I knew my way around London a little, after visiting twice there before, I still didn’t realize that I could actually go to the venue the night of a show in town and was pretty much assured that I could have bought a ticket at the box office. I’d been used to going to Tower Records back home and getting tickets at their Ticketmaster outlet. So, I found a local ticket broker, a chap in a booth with a shaved head and flight jacket. I went to him enough over the next few months, that he remembered me, though I’m sorry that I never learned his name.
I got tickets for me and one of my flatmates, Steve. Like me, he was a big fan, but had never seen them. It was going to just them playing there that night. We arrived to the Bloomsbury and discovered that, though beautiful and ornate, it was a proper theater, the kind one sees plays in with seats on the floor all the way to the front. We had seats in a small box section stage right and were a little disappointed on how far away we were.
When They Might Be Giants got on stage, John Linell said immediately, “We’re not the kind of band that’s used to a seated show and I’m pretty sure you’re the type of crowd that isn’t either.”, or something to that effect and he invited the crowd to stand and come forward. Steve and glanced at each other quickly, nodded, and bolted downstairs. We beat the surge from the rest of the crowd and got a nice spot dead center in front of the stage. There, we had a perfect show. They were then and were every time I saw them since, a great live act. This show was one of the few times I got to see them as just a two piece band.
LUSH with SPITFIRE & STEREOLAB, Town & Country, London, UK, February 8, 1992
The “shoegazer” movement in music was well on its way in England and one of the bands that I would really take a liking to from that era was Lush. They had just released the “Spooky” album and I bought a cassette of it in town just a week before the show and fell totally in love with it. I remember that I went in the store and asked if it had come out, the clerk asked around and found it, then put it on the store’s stereo and we listened for a few songs before I left.
The Town & Country was an impressive venue, similar in size and appearance to the Warfield back home. It had a huge dance floor, which made it easier to get up close to the band. Little did suspect that the first band on that night would affect me so profoundly.
Stereolab was new back then and I had never heard of them. I sat in the balcony during their set and was hypnotized by their music. Not to say that I was an instant fan, but every once and a while, I’d hear a band for the first time and think to myself, “What the hell kind of music is this!?” I really didn’t know how to react to what I was hearing and it wasn’t until I returned home months later that I would even find one of their albums. Soon after, they’d become one of my absolute favorite bands.
The second act was a band called Spitfire. They were good, but I was more interested in the two buxom women in T-shirts and shorts who they brought out to dance for them, one on each side of the stage. With the exception of James Brown, I can’t recall ever seeing a band bring their own dancers. Thankfully, the girls came back to dance for a couple songs when Lush came on stage.
Lush blew me away that night. It was nice to see them in their home town too. Mosh pits, at least in London back then, were different than I was accustomed to. Everybody would cram together up front like penguins and pogo dance in unison, rather than the rather loose free for all one would see in America. These kids would crowd float and stage dive constantly, even during slow songs like “Monochrome”. At one point, a young man got on stage just as a song was ending and asked Miki, the lead singer / guitarist and asked if he could take a swig from her pint of cider. She said yes and the kid drank over half of it. She laughed it off scolding him for, “crossing the boundry a little there.”
This was an important show particularly, because shortly after, I’d visit the massive, sprawling Camden Lock open air flea market in Camden Town. There I would find stands that sold bootleg copies of concerts, many recorded recently in London, tapes mostly, though some had CDs. I found that Lush show and would go on to find copies of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins, and Daisy Chainsaw shows that I also saw when I was in London that year.
ERIC CLAPTON, Royal Albert Hall, London, UK, February 12 – 28, 1992
Mr. Clapton was doing a string of shows in town at the legendary Royal Albert Hall and I was going to be damned if I was going to not go to at least one of them. He had played a bunch of shows there the last two years, releasing the “24 Nights” live album from the recordings of them. Though I can’t rightly remember just how much I shelled out for my ticket, it was far and away the most expensive ticket I’d ever purchased for a show up till then. Not to say it wasn’t worth it. It certainly was, understanding that this was the hottest ticket in town.
Eric Clapton had released the single, “Tears In Heaven”, the year before and it was a big hit, being not only a beautiful song, but a heartbreaking tribute to his four year old son, Conor, who had died that year, accidentally falling out of a window. Clapton would go on to release his “Unplugged” album after I got home in August, and it would be a huge hit as well, selling over 10 million copies and earning him an armful of Grammies.
Upon entering Royal Albert Hall, one stands in awe of its grandure and beauty immediately. No matter who was playing there, one would be moved by the experience. It had seats all the way to the front, but it felt appropriate to sit down at such a place. I will never forget though, at the end of the show, during the encore, a slender, Asian woman got up from her chair and slowly walked down the aisle to the front of the stage and stood there and watched the encore alone. Nobody stopped her and at the very end, Eric Clapton walked over to her, shook her hand, and gave her rose from the decorations on the stage. It was very moving.
SMASHING PUMPKINS, The Astoria, London, UK, February 14, 1992
My roommate Matt had heard of Smashing Pumpkins, was a big fan of “Gish”, their first album, and insisted that I see these guys. Back then they were known and billed as Smashing Pumpkins, not “The” Smashing Pumpkins as they would be known as a few years later. I still think the name sounds better without the “The” and it also connotates the act of smashing a pumpkin, so it works in the noun and verb sense. But, hey, they’re not my band, none of my business.
I like seeing bands on holidays, especially New Year’s Eve and Halloween. Valentine’s Day shows can be lonely if you’re single or away from your girlfriend like I was. I was dating a girl named Jodi at the time and was lonely, writing her every week while I was away. If I knew she’d dump me for another guy two weeks after I got home, I might have been more romantically adventurous while I was over there. Anyway, D’Arcy, the bass player, did wish the crowd a “happy fucking Valentine’s Day” and it made me feel a little better.
Billy Corgan had hair back then, Raggedy Andy-like red curly hair, a little like Carrot Top. It got short a little while, but after Lollapalooza in 1994, he shaved his head and remain bald thereafter. It was a great show, though they had a limited number of songs back then, having only one album’s worth. One of their guitar amps blew that night and there was a little wait while it was replaced. Billy joked, “Don’t buy Marshall”.
LUSH with PULP, New Cross Venue, London, UK, February 28, 1992
Two weeks after I got to see Lush for the first time, they were playing again at a smaller club on the east side of town called the New Cross Venue. Around this time as well, my roommate had a small sheet of LSD sent to him the mail and all in our flat were finding time to enjoy it. And what better way for me than to drop one at a Lush concert in London.
Unknown to me at the time, Pulp was the opening act. They’d been around in the UK for a few years by then, but wouldn’t get known in the states till a few years later with their big hit, “Common People”. The acid was beginning to kick in during their set, but I was lucid enough to pay attention and enjoy their music. I liked that they had a violin player, a rarity for bands of any style, except maybe bluegrass.
I was fortunate enough to see them during the brief time when Jarvis Cocker had a mustache, sort of a stringy, Fu Manchu looking thing. Halfway through his set, he asked the audience if they liked it and they responded with about a 50-50 for and against reaction. Jarvis then very slowly took out and held up a disposable razor and asked if he should shave it off right then and there. The crowd’s reaction was mixed again, so he put it away and said he’d think it over, though he didn’t do it that night.
By the time Pulp got off stage, I was almost peaking on the acid. I managed the courage to walk up to Russell, their guitarist / violinist, and congratulate him on a job well done. I’m sure what I said was only barely coherent, being high as hell and it being loud in there from the DJ playing between sets. He smiled widely though and shook my hand anyway. I still can remember that his hands were very tough for such a well groomed young man.
By the time Lush got on stage, I was peaking and right up in the front row of the crowd. They pretty much played the same set as I remember they played at the Town & Country, though I never managed to find a recording of it later at Camden Lock. Like the last show they had fog machines, but the New Cross Venue being much smaller, it got foggy in there pretty thick. Lush always opened with “Stray”, the short sort of introduction song to their second album, “Spooky” and went straight into “Bitter”. Halfway through the show, between songs, Miki complained that she shouldn’t of eaten curry chips before the show. Whoever was controlling the fog machine decided to be cheeky and let out a stream of fog right behind her. She laughed, shook her head, and pantomimed sticking her finger down her throat.
RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS with ROLLINS BAND, Brixton Academy, London, UK, March 13, 1992
The Chilis were no longer my little California band. With the release of “Blood Sugar Sex Magic”, they were big worldwide. It was still brand new, but I was able to find a cassette copy in London and was listening to it regularly through my Walkman. I remember taking a bus ride up north to visit Edinburgh and meeting some chain-smoking teenage girls at a bus station up there while I was listening to it. One asked me who they were and I told them.
“So there good, huh?” she asked between puffs.
“Yeah, they’re great” I nodded back.
“Do you like Patsy Cline?” she asked.
I knew the name, but couldn’t remember what she sang. I pretended to know anyway and agreed she was good. I made it a point to get a Patsy Cline album when I got home to America and indeed, she was good and I liked her.
The time came for the Chilis to play in London and I was lucky to get a ticket. By the time I was able to get one, they only had seats in the back row of the balcony. The Brixton Academy, like the Town & Country, was a huge theater, and though I was relegated to the nosebleed section, the sight lines were still pretty good and I definitely didn’t have any trouble hearing up there.
Rollins Band was a loud band to begin with, but it was excruciating! Without earplugs on me, I improvised, tearing my ticket stubs in half, wadding two pieces up best I could, and stuffed them in my ears. Even that didn’t help much. I still count that show as one of the loudest I’ve ever heard. Rollins was great that night and I’ve always felt he didn’t get enough credit for his music. To this day, he’ll sell out huge crowds for his spoken word, but only gets a fraction to see him with his band.
John Frusciante was still playing with the Chilis and sounded fine that night, though he’d go on to quit the band before a show in Japan that May and be replaced by Arik Marshall. It was good to finally hear the new material live. Midway through the show, Anthony Keidis asked a couple girls up front if they had a request.
“Oh, shit! They want us to play ‘Under The Bridge’. We’re playing that tomorrow night.” he told them. “You coming tomorrow night?”
Just as well. Although it was their big hit single from the album, I never really liked that song.
TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS, Wembley Arena, London, UK, March 23, 1992
By this time, I was seeing any and all concerts of significance, perhaps having the subconscious foresight that my time in London was short and that I should see everything I had time for. I was not particularly a fan of Tom Petty at the time, but like most Americans, was at least familiar with a handful of his songs. This being my first time check out Wembley too, it was nice coming in with a blank slate.
The first Gulf War had been over for almost a year, but resentment towards Bush there was just as palpable as home in San Francisco. That war didn’t help out John Major in the long run either. This being the case, it was relieving to see Tom Petty on stage when being chased around by guys in Bush and Reagan masks during “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, stop them in their tracks with a giant peace sign and chase them off stage. Few bands had stood up against Bush around this time, bands that weren’t rap artists anyway.
Tom Petty won me over that night. He and the Heartbreakers always play seamlessly, consummate professionals all. Halfway through the show, Tom opened a trunk on stage and took out his black, wide brimmed hat that he was a bit of his persona up till then, getting a roar of cheers of approval from the crowd. That was the only time I’d ever see him wear that hat or any hat on stage. Just as well. I always liked his hair and having blond, fine hair myself and been fond of wearing small, round sunglasses for a time in high school, the jocks on the football team back then would call me “Tom Petty”. So after that night, I felt better about that, though I wish I was as skinny as Tom Petty.
LOU REED, Hammersmith Odeon, London, UK, March 26, 1992
Like Tom Petty, Lou Reed was one of those big names I’d heard tossed around for years, but knew little of his music, apart from “Walk On The Wild Side” which everybody knew. I’d heard that his latest album, “Magic And Loss” was good, so I picked it up on cassette, got to know it, and liked it. I’m usually wary of so-called “concept albums”, but this one was well done and genuinely moving.
This would be the only show I’d see at the Hammersmith Odeon while I was in London. It was a huge place, clean, and nice seats. Playing mostly stuff from the new album, the show leant itself to the sit down, formal feel of the place. The surprise of the evening was when Lou brought out Little Jimmy Scott to sing on “Power And Glory”, the track he sang on with Lou on the album. I’ll never forget the sound of his eerie yet hypnotizing contralto voice of his. I could see why David Lynch used him on “Twin Peaks”.
DAISY CHAINSAW with Sheep On Drugs, ULU, London, UK, March 27, 1992
The next day, I went to quite a different show. I always enjoy seeing shows with radically divergent genres back to back and this one was a doozy. “Love Your Money” was a catchy punk tune that I’d heard around and when Daisy Chainsaw came around, I decided to check it out.
Nothing could adequately prepare me for the experience that is Sheep On Drugs. They being King Duncan, the lithe, bald singer, Lee or “Dead Lee”, the scary looking guitarist – DJ with long, bleached hair, and they had a drummer with them too, who looked relatively normal. I loved them right away. They truly believed they were the greatest band in the world and they made you want to believe that too. After hearing “Uberman”, I decided that from then on, Duncan was the rightful King Of England. He’s got my vote.
Years later, my cousin Mike was living in Washington D.C. and though he liked music, didn’t really go to concerts. Of all the bands he would see while he was living there, it was Sheep On Drugs at the 9:30 Club. I suppose if one would have to see one show all year, you could do worse.
Not to say Daisy Chainsaw was upstaged that night, far from it. Katie Jane Garside, the singer took crazy to a whole other level. Wearing a soiled, white dress and drinking from a baby bottle, she sang like she was having a psychotic tantrum. That kind of emotional commitment to a singing performance, like James Brown, David Yow of the Jesus Lizard, or Lux Interior of the Cramps, I have rarely seen. Like those examples, it only makes them seem crazier when the rest of the band is emotionless. Katie could have shot a machinegun in the air and the rest of the band wouldn’t have even flinched.
It turned out, that tangled head of blonde hair she had was a wig too and she took it off halfway through the set. Between songs later, she took a toy mouse out, put it on top of her head, and quietly went, “Squeek! Squeek!” into the microphone. Pity that Daisy Chainsaw would break up a couple years later, but maintaining that kind of intensity for even one show is impressive enough.
This would be the only show I’d see at ULU, though I did try to see one more there a few weeks later. Robyn Hitchcock did a show there and it was sold out. I waited around from a while with assurances that I’d eventually get one from a scalper who was lingering outside with me. “Oh yeah, we’ll get you in to see Alfred Hitchcock, son”, he said. Alas, it didn’t happen. It would be the only show I couldn’t get into while I was in London, apart from the big Freddie Mercury Tribute at Wembley, which I didn’t even try to get tickets.
Rush, Primus, Wembley Arena, London, UK, April 17, 1992
SETLIST : Force Ten, Limelight, Freewill, Distant Early Warning, Time Stand Still, Dreamline, Bravado, Roll The Bones, Show Don’t Tell, The Big Money, Ghost Of A Chance, Subdivisions, The Pass, Where’s My Thing?, Drum Solo, Closer To The Heart, Xanadu, Superconducter, Tom Sawyer, (encore), The Spirit Of Radio, 2112 Part I: Overture – Finding My Way – La Villa Strangiato – Anthem – Red Barchetta
Rush was one of those bands that up till then was in the general rotation of what my friends and I had listened to growing up and I was glad they were still touring with their latest album, “Presto”. All my friends back home caught this show when they played at Oakland Coliseum and in a way I felt like they were there with me that night. This would be my last show during my stay in London.
What made this show especially important was that Primus was opening. My friends said at the Oakland show, Les confessed to being quite wasted when he saw them there way back when during the “Moving Pictures” tour. It seemed like a perfect pairing for a show. “Sailing The Seas Of Cheese” had hit the charts and my little band back home wasn’t so little anymore. However, the folks in London hadn’t caught on and most didn’t know them from Adam.
So, when they got on the stage, wouldn’t you know that I’d be the only person standing and cheering in the whole place. I was in the twentieth row, pretty close for such a large place, smiling, singing, and cheering through their whole set. I remember people behind me sheepishly asking to sit down under their breath, but I refused. I knew I was being rude, but I didn’t care. They meant that much to me. Years later, when I was an intern for Primus’ management, I told Trouz, their tour manager about it and he smiled and said, “Oh yeah, I remember you.” He was just fucking with me, but part of me wanted that to true.
Rush was great, my waiting through high school finally over. They played a long set as they always do of their hits and a few from the new album. During “Show Don’t Tell”, they had a couple ten foot inflatable bunnies come out of giant top hats on the side of the stage. Their talent as musicians was undeniable that night. To this day, I can think of only a handful of acts that can make music that powerful with only three people.
On a side note, though Rush was to be my last show in London, I wanted to go to one more, yet was powerless to do anything about it. Yes, I’m afraid Freddie Mercury died while I was there and now famous “Freddie Mercury Tribute” show played three days later at Wembley on the 20th. I didn’t have a prayer in hell getting a ticket and although I can’t remember exactly how high the scalped ones were going for, clearly it was too much. Instead, I went to see a production of “The Reduced Shakespeare Company”, a comedy troupe who acts out all of the Bard’s plays in two hours. Even during that play, one of the members being acting upset about having to do Hamlet, runs away at intermission and is caught attempting to “crash the Freddie Mercury Tribute”.
Every person I know addicted to seeing shows always laments about the ones that got away. Be it work, family, girlfriend, laziness, forgetfulness, or having to go to a different show on the same night, there will always be ones you’ll miss. You’ll miss ones of bands you’ve never heard of that you didn’t even know even happened. So, I learned to accept that. It makes it all the sweeter when the bands you’d always miss come back again and you finally get to see them. I call those “Redemption Shows”. Alas, I’d never see Freddie Mercury. When they’re dead, you gotta wait to get to heaven or invent a time machine.