Category Archives: Of Concerts Past

Of Concerts Past: Roxy Music at the Tower Theater, 1983

Too often, especially as we age, the waves of time wash over the sturdy landmarks of our youth like the ocean during high tide; and, when the water recedes, what’s left are merely dull fragments of a once-sharp image. Such is the case with this, the second-ever concert I attended. Much of the night remains a vivid, Technicolor wonder; but much more has been carried away by the receding tide of time.

First: As I mentioned in my remembrance of the previous week’s Kinks concert, the show was originally scheduled for the Spectrum in Philadelphia, but was relocated to the Tower Theater in Upper Darby at some point. I don’t know why, but imagine poor ticket sales were to blame. The Spectrum held upwards of 18,000 for concerts; the Tower fit about 3000. An event isn’t downsized that dramatically except to avoid a sea of empty seats.

The change in venue made the trip to the show that much more arduous from my neck of the woods. In today’s world, one could hop on the turnpike, exit at Mid-County and take the Blue Route and West Chester Pike. Maybe a 45-minute (to an hour, depending on traffic) trip. But back then? I didn’t drive much, and wasn’t behind the wheel – a friend with his father’s car was – but imagine we took 202 to West Chester Pike, with the 202 portion of the ride likely taking forever. Another friend was with us.

I say “likely” because I don’t remember it. What I do recall: Walking into the Tower and being amazed by the decked-out guys and girls milling about. Everyone was dressed to the nines in (stereotypical) New Wave fashion except for the three of us, who wore the typical suburban attire of jeans, button-down shirts and, given that it was a chilly night, light jackets. It was as if we’d stepped into a Duran Duran video, in other words. Our seats were on the balcony, a little less than a third of the way back, where the D-Squared vibe continued unabated.

To the show itself: the British band Modern English, who’d caught fire in the U.S. thanks to MTV placing “I Melt With You” into heavy rotation that spring, opened. My only memory of their set is of that song, their last of the night. The moment it began, many on the floor spilled out from their seats and danced in the aisles.

The reason we’d traveled to the Tower, of course, was Roxy Music. Maybe they had to downsize the venue, but whatever disappointments Bryan Ferry & Company had didn’t show in their performance. The band and backup singers came out dressed like many in the audience, like fashion models, and opened with the funky “The Main Thing” from Avalon

One highlight: “Can’t Let Go,” a song from Ferry’s 1978 solo album, The Bride Stripped Bare, which Roxy had just released on the live High Road EP.

Another: “My Only Love,” which – given that I’d been playing the High Road EP for much of the month – I knew like the back of my hand. It’s still a thing of genius.

Another: “Love Is the Drug,” the band’s lone U.S. hit.

Another: their take on Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane,” which saw a wind machine add to the stormy mood on stage. In its eye: Bryan Ferry, playing it cool; Phil Manzanera, tossing off guitar licks; and Andy MacKay, who wailed away on the sax in lieu of Neil’s swirling guitar solo. The back-up singers provided the proverbial icing on the cake.

“Editions of You” rocked:

The night ended with their cover of John Lennon’s classic “Jealous Guy.” It was the perfect cap to a great concert.

The next morning, in my desk calendar, I noted that “the Musique Roxy were fabulous. It was better than the Kinks!!”

One other memory: After the show, my friend at the wheel inadvertently ran a red light while trying to figure out where he was supposed to turn. Bubble lights from a police car flashed behind us and, within a few minutes, a bulky cop was leaning inside our car with a flashlight, scanning for any signs of intoxication. What he saw instead: three very sober, and very nervous, suburban kids. He let us go with a warning.

The likely set:

  1. The Main Thing
  2. Out of the Blue
  3. Both Ends Burning
  4. A Song for Europe
  5. Take a Chance With Me
  6. Can’t Let Go
  7. While My Heart Is Still Beating
  8. Impossible Guitar
  9. Tara
  10. Avalon
  11. My Only Love
  12. Dance Away
  13. Love Is the Drug
  14. Like a Hurricane
  15. Editions of You
  16. Do the Strand
  17. Jealous Guy

 

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Of Concerts Past: Maria McKee in Philadelphia, 6/10/2003

Our stop at the Boot & Saddle to see Juliana Hatfield two weeks back reminded me of the North Star Bar, where I saw the Absolutely Sweet Maria McKee on her much-anticipated (by me, at least) High Dive tour. The Boot & Saddle, for those who’ve never been there, is your basic bar with a sizable backroom and stage; and the North Star, which closed in October 2015, was your basic bar with a sizable side room and stage. Both fit about the same number of bodies, I think: 150, maybe 200 if the fire marshal’s not looking. The main difference: at the North Star, at least on this night, the sound from the bar bled into the music room.

At the time, the Little Diva and her band were on tour in support of High Dive, her first release since her genre-bending 1996 album Life Is Sweet. Gone, still, was the country-rock overtones of her early days; instead, the CD tempered the glam and glitter of Life with elements of baroque and operatic rock. To quote (and lightly edit) the review I left on Amazon in 2006: “The tracks, in total and apart, have a narcotic-like effect; one listen and you’ll be hooked. ‘In Your Constellation’ has a Neil Young-like vibe, a la ‘Like a Hurricane,’ that sends me flying into the stratosphere and higher; ‘Be My Joy’ is, well, just plain intoxicating; and the dramatic ‘Non Religious Building’ is as potent as songs come. I was hesitant about the remake of ‘Life Is Sweet’/‘Afterlife’ … but, ya know what? It’s as good as the original – and the backing vocals are to die for, both there and elsewhere. My album of the year for 2003.”

As Diane can attest, I played it the way I play most albums I fall for – over and over again. In the month and a half between its April 22nd release and this show…did I listen to anything else? Of my own accord, no. With Diane? Yes. (Such sacrifices are what sustain a marriage, after all.) By the night of the show, I was primed. Bouncing-off-the-walls primed. Maybe Maria’s career hadn’t taken flight in the way she’d hoped since Life Is Sweet, but the new music she was making meant (and still means) as much to me as the alt.country prototype she built with Lone Justice and on her first two solo albums.

Anyway, of the show: Certain memories survive. I remember her guitar soaring through “Absolutely Barking Stars” along with her voice, which – I swear – felt like a ghost inhabiting my body. It was deliciously intense, in other words. Here she is playing it a few months later in Hamburg (from the 2004 Live in Hamburg CD):

“High Dive,” as on album, was brilliant:

“Shelter,” one of my all-time favorite songs, was another highlight. Here she is from a few years later performing it:

“Breathe,” too, was mesmerizing – but when is it not? It was sparse and dramatic, similar to this performance from 10 years earlier…

“In Your Constellation” was simply phenomenal; it swirled like the cosmos through the room. Afterwards, she talked about Bruce Springsteen and his influence on her music, singing a snippet of… “Rosalita,” says Diane…before launching into a dramatic reading of his “Candy’s Room.”

The philosophical “Something Similar” closed the main portion of her set.

Unlike the Boot & Saddle, where the entrance to the stage is basically through the audience, the North Star Bar had stairs with a slight overhang leading off the stage. As Maria and band were leaving, she hit her head – a loud thwack followed by her “ow!” echoed through the room. She returned a few moments later – and sang a song so good she recorded it twice: “Life Is Sweet.” She then left the stage, no doubt making sure to duck before descending the steps.

The (possible) set:

  1. I Can’t Make It Alone
  2. Absolutely Barking Stars
  3. From Our TV Teens to the Tombs
  4. High Dive
  5. Be My Joy
  6. To the Open Spaces
  7. Shelter
  8. Dixie Storms
  9. Breathe
  10. Non Religious Building
  11. I’m Awake
  12. In Your Constellation
  13. Candy’s Room
  14. Something Similar
  15. (Encore) Life Is Sweet

Of Concerts Past: Maria McKee @ the TLA in Philly, 9/18/93

Ah, Maria. Sweet, sweet, sweet Maria. Last night she tweeted a link to a YouTube video of a 1993 TV appearance with the Jayhawks…

…and I was thrust through a time portal to that very year, which is when I first saw her in concert.

Now, regular readers of this blog already know that I became a fan of her old band, Lone Justice, on April 17, 1985, which is when I first heard the “shotgun blast of sonic newness” that was, is and will always be (to me, at least) their self-titled debut LP. Time and circumstance, and a little thing called cash (and lack thereof), kept me from ever catching them in concert, however.

Flash-forward to 1993 and life was different. I was married, had a decent job and, best of all, had a wife who was (and is) as much of a music freak as me. By then, of course, Lone Justice was done and Maria was on her own, having released a stellar self-titled solo debut in 1989 and an even more stellar sophomore set, You Gotta Sin to Get Saved, in June 1993. In the weeks (months?) following that second album’s release, she made a series of in-store appearances promoting it and, on an unknown afternoon that month or the next, she stopped at Tower Records on Philadelphia’s famed South Street (aka “the hippest street in town”) to perform a few songs and meet-and-greet with fans such as myself. It’s when she autographed my Lone Justice CD cover. (it’s times like this when I wish I’d never stopped notating such stuff in a desk calendar.)

What I remember: She plugged in her guitar and ripped through three songs, including a kickass rendition of “Sister Anne.” As in, the MC5 song. And she literally kicked out the jams, ripped it to shreds, made it her own. What were the other two songs? Was she by herself or accompanied by others? Both fair questions, and questions I can’t answer. Only “Sister Anne” has remained lodged in my memory. (Diane says they were “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” and “The Way Young Lovers Do.”) Perhaps the mini-set ended similar to this clip from the Forum in London that same year, where she played “Sister Anne” back-to-back with the album’s title track (though, if Diane’s correct, there was no title track).

Anyway, she returned to South Street (the TLA, to be specific) in September to headline a proper concert—and again proved her mettle. Or is that metal? Granted, it was a too-short set of 75-80 minutes, but while she was on that stage, she commanded the audience’s attention. I seem to recall that “East of Eden” opened the show, but that the bulk of the night was devoted to her solo work.

That last clip mistakes the year – it’s from Maria’s 1993 appearance on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. (Side note: I’ve always wondered if “Why Wasn’t I More Grateful” inspired “Life Is Sweet.”) The night also featured a sublime performance of “Breathe,” one of my all-time favorite songs. Here she is from a few years earlier performing it on the Night Music TV show:

In short, it was a raucous, rockin’ set intermingled with moments of high drama via her operatic ballads; and at the end, in a dramatic flourish, she slammed the microphone stand down before stomping off stage.

The set was similar to this, though I believe I’m missing a few songs.

  1. East of Eden
  2. I Can’t Make It Alone
  3. My Lonely Sad Eyes
  4. Goodbye
  5. I Forgive You
  6. My Girlhood Among the Outlaws
  7. This Property Is Condemned
  8. Breathe
  9. Nobody’s Child
  10. The Way Young Lovers Do
  11. Why Wasn’t I More Grateful
  12. You Gotta Sin to Get Saved

Other memories: It was general admission; we were at the foot of the stage; and, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s review, it was sold out. (I’d link to the review, but unfortunately the Inky now charges for its archives.) What else? A fan beside us had traveled from New York City, where he’d seen her the night before, and used his knowledge of opening act David Gray’s short set to sarcastically call out for his closing number several times, as he wanted him off the stage. (In a serendipitous moment, we ran into that same guy a few months later in NYC while we were there to see…I think it was Laura Nyro’s Christmas Eve show at the Bottom Line, but I may be mistaken. We bumped into him in a diner.) Back on point: the reviewer for the Philadelphia Inquirer mistook those jibes for enthusiasm.

Update 4/10/2017: I found this set list for the concert online, though I have doubts about its accuracy – 

  1. East of Eden
  2. I Can’t Make It Alone
  3. My Lonely Sad Eyes
  4. I’m Gonna Soothe You
  5. The Way Young Lovers Do
  6. Panic Beach
  7. This Property Is Condemned
  8. Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye
  9. Nothing Takes the Place of You
  10. Breathe
  11. Why Wasn’t I More Grateful
  12. Sister Anne
  13. Soap, Soup & Salvation
  14. You Gotta Sin to Get Saved
  15. Ways to Be Wicked

My doubts: I remember being surprised that Maria didn’t perform “I’m Gonna Soothe You,” which Christopher confirms in the comments below, and I recall “Nobody’s Child” (though that could be a memory from one of the other times I saw her). And I also recall “You Gotta Sin…” as the last song of the night. Oh, and “Sister Anne” again?! I hope I’d remember that… 

What I do remember: It was a great show!