This list was something I was thinking about the other day while chopping the stumps out of the front flowerbed, listening to the radio on the Scout and thinking about live music. What are the best ten shows I’ve been to see, when was it, and why? So, here goes.
1. The Scofflaws – 8×10 (1999 or so): This one bookended a huge part of my life in a lot of ways. At some point early in my junior year, a friend of mine from the design department and I were in the computer lab, and he offered me his Walkman to listen to a song: a ska version of the Pee-Wee Herman theme. We got to talking, made some plans for the weekend, and he later became one of my best friends and roommates. Fast forwarding to 1999, on the eve of his departure to San Francisco, we were out celebrating in Federal Hill. Splitting up early and on our way back to our cars, he heard the sounds of ska coming from the 8×10 and ran over to investigate. Running after us (we were almost in the car), he told us the Scofflaws were playing THAT VERY MINUTE. We all bought tickets and caught the end of the show.
2. Soul Coughing – 8×10 (Irresistable Bliss tour): I remember this being on a Sunday evening, tickets being around $15, and having an absolutely incredible time. the 8×10 holds about 175 on a crowded evening, and there were about 100 tops, so we were right up on the stage. The band played a fantastic set.
(Interestingly, the Soul Coughing Underground site has no mention of this show; they do list the Bohagers show I saw in 1997, however).
3. Lungfish – West Side Firehouse (unknown date): My memory of this is a little hazy. It was held on the top floor of a studio doubling as a performance space. The stage was set up at the back wall, and people sat on the floor and mingled before the show started. The guitarist quietly plugged in, tuned up, and then started noodling a repetitive, hypnotic riff. The bassist followed him, and built on the riff. The drummer came on next, and joined in, and finally Daniel Higgs came onstage. By this time we were all standing, swaying in time with the music. They built to a thundering crescendo and then he started singing; we were hooked. The cops came after about an hour to shut the show down, and he calmly walked over and talked them into letting the band finish three more songs. THAT is showmanship.
4. Billy Joel – Madison Square Garden (1986, The Bridge tour): Hate all you want; he put on a fantastic show. This was the first big arena show my parents let me go see, with two of my sister’s good friends from high school. I remember standing on the seats singing along to just about every song he played, and both encores.
5. The Sundays – JHU (1992, Blind tour): What can I say; I’ve always loved Harriet Wheeler’s voice. The band was tight and the sound was beautiful.
6. Unnamed Blues Band – Danbury (1995?): This was the best cover band I’ve ever seen, hands down. Probably fifteen members–an R&B rhythm section, five horns, keys, percussion, three backup singers and a short frontman in a three-piece suit who was able to channel Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, and Wilson Pickett at the drop of a hat. I kept returning to our table to do shots so that I could return to the floor and keep dancing.
7. Smashing Pumpkins – WUST Music Hall (Mellon Collie tour): Before Billy got really really annoying, and before the album had exploded the way it did. Their set was loud and fast and tight and he blessedly kept his annoying stage banter to a minimum.
8. Fugazi – Steelworkers Hall (1992): My knowledge of Fugazi at this point was minimal, but the set was good and tight and the energy was high. I caught a boot to the nose in the pit and had to head to the bathroom until it stopped bleeding. On my way back to the floor, the clot fell onto the back of my tongue, so I spit it out into a garbage can next to two goth chicks sharing a cigarette, who screamed and ran away.
9. Almighty Senators – MICA (1989): The school put on a show at some point my freshman year in the big studio at the back of the Main Building. They came prepared. They had a projectionist showing art-films, live dancers, and a good sound system. It was like nothing I’d ever seen or heard before, and it opened up my eyes to the possibilities of what you could do vs. what everyone else was doing.
10. Buddy Guy – Philly Jazz Fest (1995?): The band was on stage, waiting. In the center sat a chair, a guitar, and a highball glass filled with brown liquor over ice. He shuffled out, sat down, sipped on the drink. His band tensed, waiting. He picked up the guitar, strummed some chords, and launched into “Boom Boom Boom”. What followed was a master class in the blues, accented with the scent of marijuana smoke wafting out of the audience.