April 18, 2008
Friday random ten: Live in concert

After the great experience of Monday's Springsteen concert, I thought I'd try a little something different for this week's random music selections. Here's a list of ten memorable live music performances I've seen:

1. Maynard Ferguson, Snug Harbor, Staten Island, summer of 1985. I saw him again a couple of years later on the Trinity campus. He had a traditional big band with him the first time, and a stripped-down fusion-oriented band, which featured the multi-instrumental Dennis DeBlasio, for the latter. Of the two, I preferred the first show, but the second was in a smaller and more intimate setting - the '85 show was outdoors - and was still an awesome event.

2. Rush, San Antonio HemisFair arena, spring of 1986. The first rock concert I ever attended. The tickets fell into my lap via a friend who couldn't use them on the day of the show. They were touring in support of Power Windows. I wound up seeing them on the next tour in San Antonio, and the two after that in Houston. They're great live performers, but their opening acts always sucked - usually it was some Grade Z heavy metal band, with the lone exception being former Styx man Tommy Shaw on a solo tour. All of it was eminently forgettable.

3. James "Blood" Ulmer, Caravan of Dreams, spring of 1987. I was in Fort Worth with the Trinity wind symphony and jazz band, which did a tour of its own every spring break while I was in college. My buddy Steve Smith had heard that Ulmer, a blues guitarist he loved, was performing the night we were in town (we had our concert in the afternoon, so our evening was free). He persuaded David Raitt and me to accompany him to the Caravan of Dreams to see him play. It was a little too avant-garde for my taste, but the coolness factor in being able to say I did this makes it memorable enough to include.

4. The Who, with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Astrodome, September 1989. All summer long that year there were these obnoxious Miller Lite commercials in which they touted this "big party" they were gonna throw in Texas. This was the party, which also had the Fabulous T-Birds on the marquee. Needless to say, Stevie Ray was the best opening act I've ever seen, and the only one I've seen get called out for an encore.

5. Jethro Tull, The Summit, 1990. They were touring in support of Rock Island, their Grammy-winning "heavy metal" album; they made several wisecracks during the show about that classification. I don't remember what inspired my buddy Matt and me to get tickets for this one, but it was a lot of fun - Ian Anderson had some of the best stage patter of any performer I can recall.

6. Pink Floyd, Rice Stadium, April 1994. I remember driving home from work that evening and hearing a weather forecast that called for storms later on. So I made a detour to Academy and bought a six-dollar rain poncho. That was one of the best decisions I've ever made, for midway into the second set, a thunderstorm of Biblical proportions hit the area. It got so bad, that they cut the show short, while performing "Pigs (Three Different Ones)" - some water had accumulated at the top of the stage set, and it all dumped on them during the song, which led to the cutoff. Even with all that, a good time was had by all.

7. Blue Oyster Cult, Rockefeller's, mid-90s. I don't remember the exact date of this one. As with Rush in '86, it was by chance that I went, as my friend Stephen wound up with an extra ticket. We sat right up by the stage. The two of us were probably the only non-smokers in the place, and it was incredibly loud - I felt like my ears rang for days afterwards. And it was without a doubt the most kickass show I've ever seen. I still measure rock concerts by this standard.

8. Marcia Ball, Pat and Pete's Bon Ton Room, mid-90s. Another one whose exact date is lost to me. Looking back at this list so far, I see that it's one of five shows that were at venues that don't exist any more; six if you count the Astrodome, which isn't really the Astrodome in any meaningful sense these days. That's a little depressing, isn't it? Anyway, this was my first exposure to the Austin blues diva, and she brought that cramped little house down. Big arena shows have their place, but you just can't beat that kind of closeness to a performer.

9. Ceili's Muse, McGonigel's Mucky Duck, April 18, 1997. There was nothing particularly memorable about this show - I must have seen Ceili's Muse fifty times at the Duck back in the day. What makes it a keeper for me, and the reason why I can recall the exact date, is because it was at this show that I met Tiffany. We had our first date the following weekend. That was eleven years ago today. You may now say "Awwwwwwww".

10. Bonnie Raitt, with Keb' Mo', Aerial Theater, 2000. Back before Pace Promotions was assimilated into the Clear Channel vortex, Tiffany's sister Pamela was the manager of what is now the Bayou Place theater. She'd departed for business school by this time, but we were friendly with her successor, who helped us score sixth-row center tickets for this show. Those were the best seats I've ever had for a big-venue concert. And Keb' Mo' was the second-best opening act for any show I've attended.

So there you have it. What's the best live music performance you've ever seen?

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 18, 2008 to Music

Charles, that's a darn good list and I don't have near the pedigree among my most memorable performances.

Here are four of my favorites.

1. Nickel Creek, The Birchmere in Alexandria, Va, New Year's Eve 2000. We were visiting some friends and had convinced them to try a young newgrass trio. The opener was a local band of middle aged guys that had a solid gig doing mainly train songs. The seemed a little miffed that these kids were the headliner. It took less than 3 songs to determine that they were light years ahead of the old guys. It was an electrifying show that included their own stuff mixed around covers from Dylan and Toad the Wet Sprocket. At midnight only 1 guy in Nickel Creek was old enough for the Champagne toast and after the show, they hung out in the lobby for a half hours chatting with the crowd.

2. The WAiFS, Tower Records, Vancouver, BC, July 2001 It was just a quick set done at a CD launch party for an obscure Australian country rock trio, but man tthey were good. We wore their CD out driving around the following week.

3. Emmylou Harris, Counting Crows, Chris Thile, Guster and Sarah Jarosz at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, 2007 Warm sunny days and cool nights with Bluegrass pros playing around rock bands trying to "go Bluegrass" in front of a mostly stoned crowd of old hippies. Guster was great, Counting Crows had a lot of fun but my favorite moment came when 16 year old Texan Sarah Jarosz came out for her encore and did a tripped out version of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" on the mandolin. She brought the house down.

4. What Made Milwaukee Famous and The Long Winters at Walters on Washington, Sept 2006 Normally, this is not a concert we'd attend. But Trish's cousin is the keyboard players for WMMF and we thought we'd go support the band. They'd just gotten their record deal after being perhaps the only unsigned band to perform on Austin City Limits. They were really good. Really loud in such a small venue, but really good and I know Trish was proud to see her young cousin play so well. And even though we didn't stay too late for the Long Winters, John Roderick's solo acoustic version of Ultimatum was fantastic.

And BTW, I was an usher for that Maynard Ferguson concert at Trinity. Big fun...and a paycheck.

Posted by: Patrick on April 18, 2008 2:34 PM


How could you forget the Austin Lounge Lizards at Rockefeller's in 1994? Wotta show!


Posted by: MartinHajovsky on April 22, 2008 11:38 AM