Monday, June 2, 2008

Concert Trek - Episode 13

61) R.E.O. Speedwagon/Cheap Trick/.38 Special (Friday, June 26, 1993—Sandstone Amphitheater) Ticket price: $12.50

If memory serves, this was Classic Rock station KY-102’s “Birthday Bash” celebrating the anniversary of the station’s debut on July 1, 1974.  KY did one of these every year on or around July 1, seemingly alternating between local favorites Speedwagon or Styx (and occasionally Z.Z. Top or Tom Petty) as the headliners every other year.  The birthday thing didn’t make the concert any more special or anything, just an excuse on the station’s part to hype things up.

.38 Special was already on stage when we arrived, and they played a pretty decent set of hits.  I was glad to see guitarist/singer Don Barnes back in the fold after having left the band during it’s “Second Chance” era—a song which they didn’t play that night, not-so-coincidentally.  And they still had Donnie Van Zant singing an occasional song and pretending to play guitar now and then—I still don’t see what purpose he serves in this band, apart from lending it his legendary family name.  Anyway, .38 sounded great during their set, which wrapped up with “Hold On Loosely”.

There are nights when Cheap Trick is the world’s greatest Rock ‘N’ Roll band, and there are also nights when they’re the worst.  This night was in the latter category, as they played a very disappointing and short set of only 11 songs, and they looked very over-the-hill.  Normally rail-thin, guitarist Rick Nielsen looked very pudgy as he stumbled around the stage, and none of the band acted like they gave a shit.  Opening with a very flat version of their concert staple “Hello There”, they stuck to mostly mid-tempo stuff like “Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace” and “Heaven Tonight“, which really bogged things down.  The lone highlight was “Never Had A Lot To Lose”, but they looked and sounded like shit, overall.  I guess a band that tours as incessantly as CT is bound to lay an egg some nights, but they were so much better when I saw them five years earlier at Sandstone.

SET LIST:  Hello There/Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace/ I Want You To Want Me/Ain't That A Shame/Heaven Tonight/Magical Mystery Tour/Never Had A Lot To Lose/California Man/The Flame/Surrender  ENCORE:  Dream Police

Thankfully, R.E.O. saved the day by putting on a fairly energetic 90-minute set.  It had been 11 years since we last saw Speedwagon in concert, and a couple changes had taken place, as drummer Alan Gratzer had retired and was replaced by Bryan Hitt (a man who spells his first name wrong), and former Sammy Hagar cohort Dave Amato took the departed Gary Richrath’s lead guitar spot, and was quite impressive.  As expected, R.E.O. stuck to their big hits, avoiding the flop of an album they put out a couple years prior with the silly title The Earth, a Small Man, His Dog, and A Chicken.  Apart from “Ridin’ The Storm Out” opening the show instead of closing it, I thought it was a fine set, and they even included a personal favorite, “157 Riverside Avenue”, which they omitted in ’82 at Arrowhead.  Singer Kevin Cronin was especially animated on this night, and still seemed very enthusiastic about playing for the people, which is more than I could say for Cheap Trick.

SET LIST:  Ridin' The Storm Out/I Do'wanna Know/Tough Guys/Take It On The Run/Like You Do/Here With Me/Can't Fight This Feeling/Keep Pushin'/Back On The Road Again/Keep On Lovin' You/Don't Let Him Go  ENCORES:  In My Dreams/Time For Me To Fly/Roll With The Changes/157 Riverside Avenue

62) Z.Z. Top/Cry Of Love (Friday, May 6, 1994—Kemper Arena) Ticket price: $25.50

As with Van Halen a couple years earlier, it seemed like I went to the proverbial Z.Z. Top concert well once too often.  Of the seven times I saw them in concert, this was easily the worst show I’d seen Z.Z. Top do.  All the right elements were still there for a great concert, but this was just a very disappointing show.  First off, they were touring in support of a poor album (see my “Rock Bottom” post to view how much I hated Antenna), and it just seemed like they were going through the motions.  The stage motif was a huge radio (a la the album cover), and it featured a large mechanical stairway/platform on stage right, which at one point lifted Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill up and transplanted them to the rear of the stage, for no particular reason.

Z.Z. opened with several songs off the new album, and it took a long time for this show to really kick into gear and get rolling, especially since they relied on so many slower tunes as opposed to the upbeat ones.  They ignored several classics on this set list, like “Heard It On The X”, “Got Me Under Pressure” and most notably, “Tube Snake Boogie”, although they did revive “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide”, “She Loves My Automobile” and “Fool For Your Stockings” from 1980’s Degüello.  They also did a very flat rendition of “Tush” before the encore (a flat tush is never a good thing!) and ended the show abruptly with “La Grange” without even a “thank you” or “goodnight” or “fuck you” to the audience, let alone a grand finale like Z.Z. usually does.  At best, this was a very subdued performance from a normally enjoyable live act, and most likely the final time I’ll ever pay to see them.

Opening act Cry of Love was fairly forgettable, although their guitar player wasn’t bad and the sound was quite good during their set.  I didn’t much care for their music, tho, and I do remember their song “Sacred Ground” really grated on me, for some reason.

SET LIST:  World Of Swirl/Pincushion/Break-Away/Waitin' For The Bus/Jesus Just Left Chicago/I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide/Cheap Sunglasses/Tell It/Fuzzbox Voodoo/Just Got Back From Baby's/Fool For Your Stockings/Cover Your Rig/Rough Boy/Planet Of Women/She Loves My Automobile/Antenna Head/PCH/Legs/Just Got Paid/Gimme All Your Lovin'/Tush  ENCORES:  Sharp Dressed Man/Viva Las Vegas/La Grange

63) Ace Frehley/Last Laff (Tuesday, May 24, 1994—The Lone Star) Ticket price $9.00

The Lone Star was a small club located in Kansas City’s Westport drinking district.  Not the greatest place for a concert, but if your timing was right, you could weasel your way up pretty close to the stage and get a good view.  The place has changed hands numerous times in the last 15 years, and was converted in a Have A Nice Day Café for a time in the late ‘90s, which became a favorite haunt of mine when I worked near Westport during that time.  Not sure what the place is now, thoughprobably a bloody coffee house now, for all I know…

When I arrived for this show (alone, this time), the opening act, Last Laff was finishing their set.  I could easily hear their music blaring as I stood out front of the club, and they were playing the Beastie Boys’ “You Gotta Fight For Your Right (To Party)”, so that let me know right there that I probably didn’t miss a damn thing.  I entered the club and had a few beers while waiting for the main act.  As showtime neared, Ace Frehley and his band entered through a side door about eight feet away from where I was standing and were quickly ushered into their dressing room.  Never thought I’d ever get that close to a member of Kiss, but wait—this gets better!

Ace and his boys hit the stage right around 11:00 and opened with “Detroit Rock City” with the Spaceman himself on vocals.  Despite some crappy sound at times, this turned out to be a surprisingly good show.  Ace did a fair amount of Kiss tunes along the way, including one I’d never heard live before, “Strange Ways” from Hotter Than Hell, as well as an all-time favorite of mine, “Parasite“.  Of his solo tunes, “Breakout” was one of the show’s highlights, and in a classy move, Ace dedicated the song to the late Eric Carr (who co-wrote it) and added, “He was a great guy and we miss him…”  The band (whose individual names escape me now) wasn’t too shabby, and I do remember the drummer was a real stand-out.  Ace brought some of his toys with him, like his light-up “New York Groove” guitar, as well as his trademark smoke-belching model.  Would have been an even better show if the Lone Star had a stage larger than a postage stamp—it seemed like Ace and his band were playing in a phone booth.

Toward the end of the set, I managed to finagle my way up toward stage right side near the path toward the dressing room.  Meantime, Ace made my day by doing “Deuce” as an encore.  The show ended, and Ace headed in my general direction (along with the other people who had gathered there).  I was hoping for a high-five or maybe even a handshake from Planet Jendell’s favorite citizen, but I don’t think he even saw me as everyone rushed towards him, but I did manage to sneak in a swipe-tag with my left hand on his left bicep.  I couldn’t believe I had just come into physical contact with a member of Kiss—I didn’t wash Ace’s sweat off my fingers for a week!  Okay, just kidding…

After all the years of hearing Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley ripping on Ace after he left Kiss, I came away from this show with the utmost respect for the man, because he could still play like a motherfucker (still does, from what I hear on his current tour), and what a thrill it was to see one of my idols up close like that.  I’d say I got my nine bucks’ worth!

SET LIST:  Detroit Rock City/Shock Me/Snow Blind/Breakout/Shot Full Of Rock/New York Groove/Strange Ways/2 Young 2 Die/Cold Gin/Rock Soldiers/Strutter/Shout It Out Loud/Rip It Out  ENCORES:  Parasite/Medley: Deuce-Day Tripper-Communication Breakdown-Tush-Kansas City-Deuce (reprise)

64) Jackson Browne/John Hiatt (Saturday, August 13, 1994—Sandstone Amphitheater) Ticket price: Free

A little background here:  My friend Tom and I and another friend originally had tickets for the Elton John/Billy Joel concert scheduled in Ames, IA on the same night as this concert that cost like 50 bucks a pop.  Meanwhile, I was in the midst of becoming a huge convert to the music of John Hiatt during the summer of ’94 after buying his Perfectly Good Guitar CD, and somehow or other, I was able to come upon free tickets to this show with him opening for Jackson Browne.  As it turned out, our other friend backed out on the Elton/Billy road trip anyway, and I so badly wanted to see John Hiatt, so we decided to sell the EJ/BJ tickets.  Luckily, I was able to put an ad in the paper and even recoup most of our money, so no big loss.  My one regret about it all is to this day, I have yet to see Billy Joel in concert, but oh well…

John Hiatt hit the stage as the sun was going down, opening by himself on the acoustic guitar on “Through Your Hands”.  The rest of the band joined him for “Drive South”, a Country-tinged song that was also a hit for singer Kelly Willis.  As I found out later, Hiatt likes to change musicians for each tour he does, and he always gives his backing band a new name for each tour (the Goners, Nashville Queens, etc.), so this time he was touring with the Guilty Dogs, thus explaining the plastic light-up fire hydrant in front of the drums.  In that band was standout guitarist Michael Ward, and he woke the crowd up a couple times during songs like “Lovin’ A Hurricane”, “Something Wild”, both from Perfectly Good Guitar, as well as the title track itself.  Hiatt immediately established a nice rapport with the crowd and had great stage presence—he was almost Bill Cosby-like with his facial expressions and mannerisms.  Prior to playing his signature song “Thing Called Love”, John thanked singer Bonnie Raitt for “keeping fresh tires on the tour bus” via royalty checks from her hit version of it.

“Slow Turnin’” ended the set, and before the encore, I made a quick run to the latrine, and overheard someone in the john say, “Does anybody even care about Jackson Browne?”  Obviously, I wasn’t the only one in the house who was there to see Big John.  Hiatt returned for an encore that included a song I was not familiar with at the time, but has become one of my enduring JH favorites, “Tennessee Plates”.  For a little taste of what Hiatt sounded like live during this period, I highly recommend the CD of his performance on PBS' "Austin City Limits".  Too bad John wasn’t the headliner here—he played like one!  He certainly blew Jackson Browne off the stage, as you’re about to read…

Browne came on about 9:30 and proceeded to reel off nothing but slow mushy love songs that were about as aimless as your average Edie Brickell record.  He constantly fidgeted about with his shirt and some intrepid insect that was incessantly pestering him, and even though he maintained a dialogue between songs with the crowd, he sure didn’t have much stage presence, and seemed very disorganized.  The crowd started getting restless after about 30 minutes, and after an hour, some people were fleeing for the exits—thus giving you an idea what a snoozer this show was.  Browne finally got around to playing songs people wanted to hear, starting with the Eagles’ classic “Take It Easy” that he co-wrote, followed by “On The Boulevard” and “Doctor My Eyes”, but it was too little, too late to save this turkey of a show.  He ended his set with “Running On Empty”, and even Tom and I gave up as Browne began playing “Loadout/Stay” for an encore.  I hadn’t seen so many people walk out on a headliner like this before (or since).  This spoke volumes for John Hiatt too, because I think about half that crowd came to see him instead of Jackson Browne.  And hell, it was free, so I got my money’s worth, either way…

SET LIST (John Hiatt):  Through Your Hands/Drive South/Loving A Hurricane/Straight Outta Time/Something Wild/Have A Little Faith In Me/Lipstick Sunset/Thing Called Love /Slow Turnin'  ENCORE:  Perfectly Good Guitar/Tennessee Plates

65) Rolling Stones/Blind Melon (Sunday, September 18, 1994—Faurot Field, Columbia, MO) Ticket price: $50.00

It took me 15 years of concert-going, but I finally bagged that one big fish which had eluded me that I dearly wanted to see in concert, the Rolling Stones.  When the Stones played a two-night stay at Kemper Arena in ’81, we were shut-out for tickets in the mail-order lottery.  When they played Arrowhead Stadium in ’89 on the Steel Wheels tour, I was unemployed and broke, so I was screwed then.  This time, there were tickets a-plenty, and I didn’t mind the two-hour road trip to Columbia one bit.  This concert actually would’ve most likely been staged in Kansas City proper, but this was the year that they righted an egregious wrong at Arrowhead by replacing the evil Astroturf with natural grass.  It was still baseball season, so neither Kauffman Stadium or Busch Stadium in St. Louis were options, and the Ram Dome in St. Louis was still a year away from completion, thus the Stones met everyone halfway, so to speak, at the University of Missouri’s Faurot Field.  Turned out to be a great move, as the home of the Tigers had excellent sightlines for a concert.

Tom and I were shocked to find plenty of open space near the top of the stadium on the sides—the assholes at TicketBastard lied to me when they said there were no more $25 tickets left!  Oh well, we were able to spread out on the bleachers with our $2 rented chair backs and enjoy the show, all the same.  Blind Melon was already on-stage when we arrived and they were abysmal, at best.  I couldn’t tell most of the time whether they were actually playing a song or just fucking around.  Late singer Shannon Hoon, who would O.D. barely a year later, was your basic snarky smart-ass throughout their set, and BM didn’t even bother to play their big hit, “No Rain”.  The crowd was just as unimpressed with them as Tom and I were.

It was a perfect night for a concert, weather-wise, and just around 8:30 (not Midnight, sorry!), the Stones came on with a blazeliterally!  The stage was huge, with this humongous dragon-like arm hovering overhead, which spewed forth a flame to begin the proceedings.  They also had flashpots scattered about the stage and behind it on the grassy area of the stadium that went off throughout the opener, Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away”.  The video screen was sharp too, and it offered great animation and visual effects.  And then there was the light show.  To paraphrase comedian Tim Allen:  Hell, they had lights to light up the lights!  This was far and away the best concert light show I’d ever seen.  About midway through the show, Mick Jagger took attendance and inquired if there was anyone in the crowd from St. Louis, and about a third of the crowd roared.  Columbia? About a quarter of the crowd roared.  Kansas City?  Another third of the crowd roared, to which Jagger added, “They’re always a vociferous bunch up there.”  Vociferous?  That sounds like us...

The sound was excellent too, and Jagger, Keith Richards and Co., gave a very energetic performance.  High points included “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”which sounded better live than it had in years from these guys“Sparks Will Fly” (they literally did!) and “Honky Tonk Women”, which featured a hysterical video collage film of numerous women (of varying degrees of beauty), getting it on sexually.  They also played the better tracks off Voodoo Lounge, which was their best album in many years, although they omitted my favorite, the Chuck Berry-esque closing track, “Mean Disposition”.  Meantime, “Start Me Up” and “Brown Sugar” cooked, and a dandy fireworks display ensued after the encore, “Jumping Jack Flash”.  If nothing else, I was impressed with their stamina by playing such a high-energy show for over two hours at their advanced agesI remember some folks questioning whether that ‘81 tour might be the Stones’ lastha!  An outstanding concert, indeed—one of the better ones I’ve ever been to.

It took us over an hour to get out of the parking lot, so ironically, we weren’t able to head for home until “just around midnight”!  Didn’t get home until nearly 3AM.  I had to work early the next morning, and I was running on fumes, but it’s only Rock ‘N’ Roll (and I like It)…

SET LIST:  Not Fade Away/Tumbling Dice/You Got Me Rockin'/Shattered/Rocks Off/Sparks Will Fly/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/ Beast Of Burden/Memory Hotel/Live With Me/I Go Wild/It's All Over Now/Miss You/Honky Tonk Women/Happy/The Worst/Love Is Strong/Monkey Man/Street Fighting Man/Start Me Up/It's Only Rock 'N' Roll/Brown Sugar  ENCORE:  Jumping Jack Flash


Anonymous said...

Jim Dandy "pushing 50" no he was about 60 at this time. I saw BOA recently and I was actually shocked at how much energy he still has. As for aging gracefully, once a rocker, always a rocker. Age doesn't matter

Brian Holland said...

Beg to differ, but JD was 47 years old in 1995. He was born in 1948. The man will turn 62 on March 30th.