I’ll be attending the Mayhem Festival (or the Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Music Festival, if you must) when it comes to Atlanta on August 1st. The only bands I really want to see are Rob Zombie, Korn, Hatebreed and Norma Jean; but for about thirty bucks I think it’s well worth it just for the first two. I’ve never seen Norma Jean or Korn live and it’s been a while since I saw Zombie. I think more than a decade has passed since the time I saw Hatebreed. It was shortly after Satisfaction Is The Death Of Desire came out.
So anyway, I’m pretty stoked about it. So stoked, in fact, that I’ve been inspired to rack my not-as-reliable-as-it-once-was brain to reminisce about the very best live concerts I have seen.
I’ve seen a whole lot of live music in my time. From my very first concert ever – RUN DMC and the Beastie Boys in Houston, TX at the Astrodome in 1987 – to the most recent – 52 Ways, the Tone Deaf Pig-Dogs and Mourdella at the Clermont Lounge a few weeks ago – each has had something different to offer. Some have been bizarre (Bjork), some have turned me on to new acts (Goldfinger – I was determined to hate them because they seemed to be cashing in on the whole ska/punk thing [and they were] but they were just so damned good live that I couldn’t. I still love their first two albums), some have given me respect for bands I otherwise dislike (Pearl Jam – I still don’t like ‘em but they put on a heck of a live show) and some have literally put me to sleep (Skatellites).
Today I’m going to run down the ten best shows I have been to. I’m not sure what they are as I start writing this, so we’ll see where I end up.
10 – Reverend Horton Heat – The Roxy – 10/11/1996
I think I had already seen them play at the Masquerade, but this show was just outstanding. Balls to the wall rock for almost two hours. I don’t remember who was with me for this one. Even though Horton didn’t make the top of the list, this show features my favorite moment from any show I have seen: at some point during the set, Jimbo – the bassist – lit his upright on fire. AND KEPT PLAYING IT. Then, while it was still on fire, he climbed up the side and balanced there. AND KEPT PLAYING IT. That was one of the most impressive things I have ever seen, and I’ve seen some crazy shit. I’ve witnessed this trick more than once now and it still blows my mind every time.
9 – Rollins Band , Helmet and Sausage – Masquerade Music Park – 7/22/1994
I can’t remember who I saw this with and it’s really bugging me. I want to say it was dan d., but I’m not sure. Regardless, it was a phenomenal fucking show. I’ve seen Primus a few times, but Les Claypool was the best I’ve ever seen him playing with Sausage. Despite the fact they weren’t dressed up as Seminifrious Tubloidial Buttnoids (sorry, embedding was disabled).
The reason I think dan d. was the one with me is that he was the only guy I knew that liked Helmet. Of course, after seeing them rock like mad fucking beasts I decided I kind of dug them, too. There was a brutal pit during their set that I’m not ashamed to admit I didn’t go anywhere near. I had a bad experience with an outdoor pit at Lollapalooza and had avoided them ever since – but that’s another story.
Rollins Band fucking ruled. Henry Rollins – despite what he may say – is an amazing front man and consummate entertainer. He may not sidle up to the guitarist, make an “Ooooh, yeah!” face and scream, “Check him out!”; but his charisma is undeniable. When the Hot Animal Machine is on stage he is the master. To see that crazy motherfucker jumping and flailing and pounding all over the place in just a pair of black shorts while screaming some of the most poignant but simplistic songs ever is kind of breathtaking.
On a side note, I know dan d. was with me when I saw Rollins do his spoken word thing. If you get a chance to see him speak, just go. Seriously. He is one of the funniest and most natural entertainers I have ever seen.
8 - System of A Down – The Tabernacle – 2001
SOAD didn’t really do anything for me the first time I heard them. I saw the video for Sugar on MTV at some point and dismissed it. I was working at Wherehouse Music when Toxicity was released and got a free copy. From the opening seconds of the album, I was hooked. I liked it so much I bought the limited edition version (even though I had a free copy of the regular one) and hunted down the limited edition of their first album.
I don’t remember how, but I ended up with a single free ticket to this show. It suited me fine since I was the only person I knew who liked System of A Down anyway.
The concert blew my mind. It was so much more than I expected. SOAD is one of those bands that gives you so much more in person than you get from their albums. They would weave songs together – starting with Sugar, going into Psycho, veering off on some kind of jazz-metal improv and then finishing Psycho. Six songs later they might finish Sugar in the middle of Snowblind. It was just crazy like that. You were really rewarded for being a fan and knowing their music.
7 - KMFDM – The Masquerade – 1998(?)
I don't have a ticket stub, a shirt or any pictures, so here's a video.
KMFDM are just fucking great live. I wasn’t the biggest fan of industrial music, but they definitely got me more into it than I had been. It was one of those spectacle show that is just as much about the presentation as it is the music. Lights, dancers and just how much the crowd was into it made for a great experience. The music was so energetic and skillfully played that you just couldn’t help getting caught up in it.
That, and I nailed my girlfriend right in the middle of Heaven. Kind of gross, but kind of awesome. What can I say? KMFDM is great music to fuck to.
6 - They Might Be Giants, Freedy Johnston – Variety Playhouse – 7/26/1992
This is another show from early in my experiences. I’ve seen They Might Be Giants at least ten times now and they’re always great, but this first one is still my fondest memory of them. I saw it with Dan W. – not to be confused with dan d. – and it was just amazing seeing these guys play those weird songs live. They closed with a cover of Edgar Winter Group’s Frankenstein because, as they claimed, no show is complete without Frankenstein. I wanted every shirt they had available, but could only afford one. Being wiser than I was at previous shows, I got the one with the tour dates. It has long since disintegrated.
We also got to see They Might Be Giants earlier that same day at the Turtle’s record store downtown. It was just John and John with an acoustic guitar and an accordion. Pretty cool. I bought Apollo 18 that day and still have the same copy. I have no idea why I didn’t get something signed.
5 - nine inch nails – The Omni – 1/24/1995
The show was tremendous, even from the nosebleeds we were sitting in. I had enjoyed nine inch nails before, but this show made me a fan. The performance of Hurt - an already powerful song – is one of the most haunting things I have ever seen. The whole show was just very affecting.
4 - Ben Harper, Spearhead, The Roots, Pharcyde – Masquerade Music Park – 8/6/1995
That's just a Googled picture. I don't have a ticket stub because I think we just paid when we got there.
This show is special not just because of the amazing acts, but also because of who I saw it with. She was my first real love and the memories of the times we spent together are all better just because they were with her. That’s probably one of the corniest things I’ll ever say here, but it’s the truth.
Regardless of that girl’s enhancing effect, this was going to be a killer show. Pharcyde had been around for a little while at that point and were definitely the draw for the show. Spearhead was Michael Franti’s (Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprosy) new band, and their debut album Home had been out long enough to have a single. I had never heard of Ben Harper or these kids calling themselves The Roots (even though the phenomenal do you want more?!!!??! had been out for almost seven months), but I was eager to hear some new music.
Ben Harper was awesome. His music is a little more mellow than I tend towards, but for sitting on a lawn with a lady and getting ready to enjoy some great hip-hop it was the right thing at the right time. He did this cover of Voodoo Chile that was just awesome. I think it’s what he closed with, and it went a little something like this:
“She seems to like you guys. You mind watching her for a minute?”
“Oh, sure! No problem.” (meanwhile I’m thinking this guy must be out of his mind to leave his kid with a couple of strangers)
I looked at the wide-eyed girl (the older one) next to me and said something about a peach.
“No, the guy from Arrested Development!”
I thought for a second and avoided saying “Holy shit.” In front of a toddler. It was Speech. For you younger folks, Arrested Development was a band before it was a show.
He came back a couple of minutes later, thanked us and picked up his daughter. I’m not going to try and claim that was any kind of great moment in race relations or anything, but wouldn’t it be nice if shit was like that all the time?
The Roots came on next and they blew the joint up. It’s a good thing we were outside because those motherfuckers were throwing awesome bombs all over the place. I had never seen anything like them. They played hip-hop like a rock band. I can’t really explain how amazing they were that day. At the time, it felt like the most wonderful thing I had ever seen. I talked about that set for years.
Pharcyde were fun and solid, but nobody should have had to follow what The Roots did. If we hadn’t already been familiar with them, I’m pretty sure we would have left. Pharcyde definitely weren’t bad, they just had the unenviable task of following the greatest hip-hop act I have ever seen live.
That girl and I would have a lot of good times and see a lot more shows. I think this might have been the first thing we did together that was just us. Things never quite worked out how I wanted them to, but looking back I see that was for the best. I don’t have a single bad memory of her or the times we shared.
It wasn’t until I met Mrs. Troublemaker that I finally let her go.
3 - Prince, Funky Bald Heads – Atlanta Civic Center – 199X?
I saw this one with East Side Paulie. He had previously used his Paulie Penis Powers to get free tickets to Skynyrd from some of the band’s, er… lovely backup singers. No such luck this time. We had to pay to get in just like everybody else. The Funky Bald Heads were actually pretty great, and Prince came out at one point to play a song with them. I have never in my life been in a room when so many panties were simultaneously moistened. I swear on my mask that the Atlanta Civic Center got tangibly more humid when that little man took the stage.
After the Bald Heads finished up we had a minor intermission.
And then The Purple One descended again from Heaven to bestow his Mighty Funk upon the multitudes. He may or may not have had a backup band. I couldn’t say for sure. It is entirely possible that he produced all of the magic we heard that night from his own otherworldly orifices. I think he used a different guitar for each note he played. And there were many notes. The Diminutive Dynamo played the Purple Rain album in its entirety, as well as a few other Paisley Park classics; he paused in between songs just long enough to bless infants, cure the deaf and make love to every female in the auditorium. I believe when Prince was created, Jesus said, “Just watch this guy until I get back.”
That was a really good show. The above paragraph doesn’t do it justice. Also, I bought a shirt that I was too fat to wear until I lost all that weight last year, but I had already given it to T’Nisia.
2 - Metallica – The Omni – 3/28/1992
On a side note, I still have the shirt I bought at that show. It has no tour dates on it, because my dumb ass didn’t want tour dates on a t-shirt. I still can’t explain that one.
1 - Faith No More, Limp Bizkit – The Masquerade – 9/12/1997
There was no way I couldn’t make this number one.
Faith No More were awesome this night. I want to make that absolutely clear up front. But I have to be honest and admit that my judgment about the quality of this show is being heavily influenced by several things
-Faith No More is my very favorite band of all time and has stayed that way since I decided that, probably around the time Angel Dust came out in ’92.
-This is the only time I have seen them live.
-I got to watch the entire show sitting on the stage in front of Roddy Bottum’s keyboards because I was working security.
-I got to meet the whole band and had a thirty minute conversation with Mike Patton – one of my heroes - on the subject of food.
-I got a guitar pick and a set list. Patton signed the set list and it is one of my most prized material possessions.
Even if Limp Bizkit had been the worst band ever – and they weren’t at the time (or even now, that would be Nickelback) – this show would be near the top of this list.
A note on Limp Bizkit: I liked them back then. I still like 3 Dollar Bill, Y’all. They played a kickass set that night, but were absolute rock star douchebags backstage.Also, the girl that went to the Pharcyde show with me knew the non-Durst members of Limp Bizkit in Florida before they were rock stars. She swore they weren't douches before they hooked up with the red cap. I'll take her word for it.
I started to put a Lollapalooza in there, since I attended every year from ’92 to ’95; but when I looked back on the lineups there wasn’t a single year that was totally solid for me. Each iteration featured at least one band – if not more – that I can’t stand. They were still amazing experiences, but I can’t rightly list them among the best ever.
Also, as sort of an afterthought, here’s a list of bands that I really want to see live but just haven’t for one reason or another:
-Anthrax (I've seen them with John Bush, but I want the REAL Anthrax - with Joey Belladonna)
-Hank Williams III
-Pigface (but I have seen Meg Lee Chin and Martin Atkins play a show together)
-RancidThat’s not a bad list, really. I’ve accepted that I’ll never be willing to pay what it takes to see KISS or Crue and The Cramps are obviously out, but as of right now I still have a chance to see the rest of them in one form or another. I’ve also seen several acts that I think are quite special to have witnessed live. But that’s another list for another day.
UPDATE!: I just found out that Slayer, Anthrax (the REAL Anthrax - with Joey Belladonna) and Megadeth are playing together here on October 1st! Holy fucking shit! It’s the Clash of the Titans tour all over again! That takes care of two on my list. Maybe they’ll add OutKast and make it a trifecta. Or maybe Kittie would be more likely…Here's one more video for the road: