Category Archives: Of Concerts Past

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!

 

Of Concerts Past: The Kinks @ the Spectrum, 5/21/1983

My first concert was supposed to be Roxy Music with Modern English on Saturday May 28th, 1983. I was 17, about to graduate high school and, as I’ve written before, somewhat of a music-obsessed geek. Two friends and I had tickets for the show, and all systems were a go despite a last-minute change in venue (due, I believe, to poor ticket sales) from the Spectrum in South Philly to the Tower Theater in Upper Darby.

The rest of that specific memory is for another post, however. The reason I start with it is this:

One of those same friends came to me the week of the 16th: Would I like to see the Kinks on Saturday with him and a mutual friend’s older sister? I don’t remember why the mutual friend (who was more of acquaintance to me) couldn’t go or if he even wanted to go, just that the ticket fell into my lap because of his absence. It’s possible that he was a casualty of the concert having been rescheduled – the show was originally slated for March, but pushed back to May for reasons unknown. In fact, the sister – who was a few years older than us – may have originally intended to attend the March fest with her friends only to see those plans wrecked by the date change.

Whatever.

All I knew was: the Kinks! Yes, I wanted to go! I liked them. Many of their songs were standard fare on Philly’s two rock stations, WMMR and WYSP, so even though I didn’t own much by the British rock group, I was familiar with all their classic tracks; and “Come Dancing,” their latest single, was getting much airplay – especially on MTV. (And when I say “I didn’t own much by them,” I mean it quite literally. The double-LP One for the Road live album, which I bought in late 1980 after reading a review of in Rolling Stone, was it.)

To the night in question: The ride to the Spectrum was far simpler and straighter than the ride to the Tower Theater would be the following week: a straight shot down I-95, off at the proper exit and…there we were, ready to rock. I remember our seats as being first-level, but I doubt they were – and no seating chart that I can find dates back to the early ‘80s. Wherever Section R was, that was us. I do recall we had a good view of the stage, however, and that our section was sparsely filled.

Oh, and the sister was annoyed most of the night – not with me, but my friend.

According to Doug Hinman’s The Kinks: All Day and All of the Night, the Maryland hard-rock band Kix opened, but I have no memory of them. None. Nada. Zip. What I do remember: the arena going dark, spotlights skipping across the crowd while ambient noise cascaded from the sound system – and then the killer chords of “Around the Dial” spiraling from the suddenly well-lit stage. Ray looked dapper in a sport coat and tie; I’m not sure about the rest of the band.

One other memory: “Destroyer.” The drum-and-bass intro lasted a tad longer than on record; and Ray sang-spoke to the beat in his pre-rap rap, “Met a girl called Lola and I took her back to my place/Feelin’ guilty, feelin’ scared, hidden cameras everywhere/Stop!” The arena went pitch-black – well, as pitch-black as it could get. The band went silent. The audience roared. Maybe 30 seconds. Maybe less. And then the lights doused the stage again. “Hold on,” Ray spoke-sang. “Stay in control…”

What else? I’m afraid my memories have become intertwined with the audio from One for the Road, which I still listen to with regularity, and my second time seeing the Kinks, at Penn State’s Rec Hall in late 1985. So when I hear “Lola,” I hear Ray teasing the audience – and, according to the set list below, he did it this night, too. And when I think of “Come Dancing,” I see lights swirling and twirling across the crowd. The same with “Celluloid Heroes…”

In my desk diary, I noted that the show was “excellent” and referenced “Lola” and “You Really Got Me” as being high points.

Anyway, I searched the ‘net for more information about this concert and came away with only this blog post, from which I’ve borrowed the set list; it may or may not be accurate. I should also mention that State of Confusion, the album-home of “Come Dancing,” had yet to be released – that would come in June – so the title track, “Don’t Forget to Dance” and “Bernadette” were not known entities at the time. (Wikipedia pegs the release as the 10th, but I record buying it and Stevie Nicks’ “Stand Back” single on the 2nd in my desk diary.)

What else? I picked up Give the People What They Want the week after the concert. It was a great show.

The set:

  1. Around the Dial
  2. Definite Maybe (intro only)
  3. State of Confusion
  4. The Hard Way
  5. Destroyer
  6. Yo-Yo
  7. Come Dancing
  8. Don’t Forget to Dance
  9. (Lola intro)/Lola
  10. (Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman
  11. A Gallon of Gas
  12. Art Lover
  13. Till the End of the Day
  14. Bernadette
  15. All Day and All of the Night
  16. Pressure
  17. Low Budget
  18. Celluloid Heroes
  19. You Really Got Me