Thursday, April 27, 2017

Were You There, Too? My Scrapbook of Favorite Live Music Moments

The epic 1987 Joshua Tree Tour
I've spent a good portion of my life flicking my Bic. That is, I've attended a whole bunch of music concerts in large, medium and small venues. It all started in August, 1972, when my parents took me to see The Guess Who at the Iowa State Fair. I was 12, but already a big music fan, a drummer and soon-to-be guitarist who listened to music every day. And night. 

When The Guess Who's lead singer Burton Cummings screamed "American Woman," then whispered "These Eyes," then the entire crowd, us included, clapped along with him on "No Time" during the show's finale', I was hooked. I knew at that moment that live music and I were going to have a lifelong relationship. 

When my family moved to Las Vegas the following year, I got the opportunity to see all kinds of live music with my dad, who was a radio and TV personality who got to go to all the great Las Vegas shows of that town's Golden Age. I was fortunate to see Elvis, and Sinatra, and Sammy, and Dean, and the list goes on. 

And it's never stopped. I still love live music, almost all kinds of live music. Be it in a bar, a back yard or a stadium. And only a small handful were not worth the time or the money. So, after reading some of my friends' posts on Facebook about their favorite concerts, I decided to follow suit -- but without the one lie, without the one concert that I did not attend (what's up with that, anyway?). Yes, I attended all of these below.

Here's a short list of the concerts that have stuck most indelibly in my memory. The ones that come up first when I try to summon up my life of enjoying live music.

These are not in chronological order, they're literally in the order in which I remembered them. And to most of these shows, I went simply as a fan, not as a journalist or critic. Perhaps you saw some of these concerts, too? What concerts entertained and inspired you the most?


Elvis Presley - Las Vegas Hilton, September 1973: Yes, this was the slightly older, less energetic Elvis, but he was not yet visibly ill or grossly overweight. He was still amazing. Elvis was a truly tragic rock and roll figure, and of course an immeasurable talent. He's immortal. And thankfully he's still everywhere.

Frank, Ella and Basie at Caesars
Frank Sinatra - Caesar’s Palace Las Vegas, January 1974: Frank ruled the world. He had lost a bit of his vocal chops and range, but he was still the master, the greatest singer ever to walk the earth. His legend loomed large in the Reno house, where I'd regularly listen to Frank's swing records right alongside the Beatles. I couldn't believe I was actually seeing him in person.

Elton John - Las Vegas Convention Center, October 1975: This was at the height of Elton's deserved mega-fame. His genius for melody writing aside, there was no one in pop music history who had more raw and real energy and enthusiasm on stage. When I saw this concert, Elton was the center of the universe, the biggest thing in popular music since the Beatles. And worthy of it all. I remember when rock was young.

U2 San Diego Sports Arena, April 1987: The original "Joshua Tree" tour, this was probably my favorite concert of them all. The poignance and majesty of this band's music has floored me from the start, and it has never been matched. And "Joshua Tree" remains their towering achievement. Sorry Beatles, sorry Stones, but this is the greatest rock band of all time, and easily the greatest live act on the planet, then and still. No band has stayed this good and this relevant this long. Their last album was my favorite one since "Joshua Tree." No other band has been able to sustain this level of greatness. And the band's current 30-year "Joshua Tree" anniversary tour will be as relevant as if it had been released this year.

Stevie Wonder – Humphrey’s, San Diego, August 2007 : A rare opportunity to see Stevie in a very small venue. I interviewed him in advance of this concert for Newsweek. One of my favorite interviews of my entire career. After about 90 minutes on the phone, he ended up kindly and shockingly insisting that I play him a couple of my songs. Are you kidding me, Mr. Wonder? Omigod, I'm not worthy!

Jackson Browne - Hilton Coliseum, April 1978: My senior year in high school, me and my three buddies Mike Stauffer, Mark Davis and Blake Mishler, drove up to Iowa State University in Ames from West Des Moines to see Jackson's legendary "Running on Empty" tour.  It was the greatest album ever recorded about live music and touring, and the greatest song about same was Jackson's "The Load Out/Stay." Fantastic concert. As good if not better than the iconic album.

Peter Frampton - Aladdin Theater for the Performing Arts, Las Vegas, July 1977: Do You Feel Like I do? Frampton was in his full rock star glory here. The most underrated rock guitarist of all time, Peter has been unfairly lumped in with disco and all the other kitschy 70's trends. He's a rock legend who played lead guitar for Humble Pie, played guitar on such records as George Harrison's epic "All Things Must Pass," toured as lead guitarist for such legends as David Bowie, and was the biggest rock star of the 1970's. Peter, who years later wold be kind enough to play on one of my songs, has never been given his due not only as a rock guitarist but as a singer and songwriter. He deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The late Terry Kath (hat) and Chicago
Chicago - Iowa State Fair, Summer 1974: This was when Chicago, my favorite band since I was eight, was the most popular group in the world. At age 13, I hitchhiked to this show across Des Moines with my best pal Donny Anderson. If our parents knew they woulda killed us. This remains one of the biggest concerts in Iowa State Fair history, with 24,700 people, and in my memory forever, especially because it was the last time I saw Chicago's legendary lead guitarist Terry Kath before his tragic and untimely death. 

Natalie Cole - Anthology, San Diego, September 2009: Rest in peace, Natalie, you were the greatest female singer of them all. Natalie sang jazz better than Ella, she sang soul better than Aretha, and she sang pop better than Whitney. And the sadly now-defunct Anthology, the classy old-school nightclub in San Diego's Little Italy, was the perfect venue for her to show off her inimitable talent and charisma. These kind of classy nightclubs don't exist any more, and neither do singers like Natalie.

Pink Floyd - San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, 1994: A mind-blowing night, even without Roger Waters, that left me "Comfortably Numb."

Guns N' Roses - Jack Murphy Stadium, 1992: Welcome to the Jungle. These guys were a bright spot in the 90's, which was easily the worst musical decade for rock music. It's heartening to see this band (mostly) back together and touring again after so much vitriol over the years.

Rolling Stones - Jack Murphy Stadium, 1994: The legendary Stones, in peak form on this tour. But then when are they not? Still, I wish I could see them in an intimate venue. How cool would that be?

Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Don Henley, Timothy Schmidt, Chris Hillman  - Santa Monica Civic, 1991 - Poetic and powerful night of acoustic music that I reviewed for the old San Diego Tribune (can't find a link).

The Clash, Men At Work, Oingo Boingo, Flock of Seagulls, English Beat, INXS, Stray Cats - US Festival, near Los Angeles, 1983: It was called "New Wave Day," I recall. Amazing lineup in the early 80's, my college years. I attended with my childhood friend Kelly Noble Vukovich. Men at Work were the highlight. Eternally underrated band with a truly great singer-songwriter in Colin Hay.

Paul McCartney - The Pond in Anaheim, 2002: I've seen Sir Paul several times, but this somehow was the most memorable. When he sang "Fool on the Hill," well, it remains the most beautiful, transcendent musical moment of any concert I've attended. 

The Eagles - Hell Freezes Over Tour, San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, June 1994: Had a front-row seat for the concert that I had dreamed about for years but never thought would happen. It did and it was even better than imagined.

Simon and Garfunkel - Dodger Stadium, August 1983: Musical perfection, even in an awkwardly shaped, clunky baseball stadium venue. 

The Who - Jack Murphy Stadium, August, 1989: Long Live Rock!

Brian Wilson - Del Mar Fair, Pet Sounds Tour, 2016: My preview of this concert above was pretty laudatory, but this show lived up to and exceeded my hype. It was Brian Wilson, happy, and with his full genius on display. An amazing survival story for a man who was down and out for so many years. It touches my heart every time I see him walk on stage, but especially at this show, with the ocean in view and with Brian singing cuts form arguably the greatest rock album ever.

The Guess Who - Iowa State Fair, August 1972: My first concert, as I mentioned, was the Guess Who, the Canadian rock hitmakers whose lead singer Cummings is simply the best rock singer of all time (sorry Robert Plant). I had just turned 12. And yes, I had a date... but my mom took us and picked us up. 

Yes - San Diego Sports Arena, The Union Tour, May 1991: Another of my very favorite bands, led by the angelic, ethereal, brilliant Jon Anderson, who finally got his overdue love at the Rock and Roll Hall Fame. This concert was fantastically weird, and weirdly fantastic, with members of each of the Yes incarnations jamming happily together. We can all get along! 

Dire Straits - Open Air Theatre, San Diego State University, the Brothers in Arms tour, September 1985: Catching another great band on the top if its wave of fame. Too bad Dire Straits founder, lead singer and lead guitarist Mark Knopfler now stubbornly, selfishly, preposterously refuses to play Dire Strait songs in his concerts. 

Other favorite shows include James Taylor, with the San Diego Symphony at Copley Symphony Hall, November 1995 (America's finest singer-songwriter with a fine symphony orchestra, what's not to love?); Steely Dan, L.A. Greek Theater, 1993; Jim Messina, Arlington Theater Santa Barbara, 1980; James Cotton Blues Band, Blind Melon's, San Diego, 1995; Randy Newman, Humphrey's, 1985; David Crosby, The Bacchanal San Diego, 1986; Peter Gabriel, L.A. Forum, 1987; Hall & Oates, Humphrey's, 1998: Everly Brothers, Humphrey's, 2005; Kenny Rankin, Elario's La Jolla, 1993; Roger McGuinn, Bacchanal, 1988; Smokey Robinson, Sycuan Casino, 1998 (Smokey just kept singing, in a torrential rain); Dan Fogelberg, Humphrey's San Diego, 2000 (rest in peace to the guy who more than anyone else, sparked my interest in writing songs and playing acoustic guitar); Cheap Trick, Bacchanal, 1987 (nothing like seeing this band, finally Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, rockin' out in a cool, small venue like the Bacchanal. Does anyone remember the Bacchanal?

There you have it. There are about 1,000 more about which I could write. But I don't have time, I'm headed to a concert. See you in the aisles!


  1. If you're looking for a venue for a small event in this area, you may want to stop by and check it out. The staff at LA venues is very friendly and the food is great. We preferred this place because they are all-inclusive, so you don't have to worry about chairs and catering because it's all part of the package.

  2. I'd been in a youth choir production in my Toronto days, playing the role of the pompous Lord Mountararat.