It seems every year, when the announcements of the amphitheater schedules come around, it's like a trip down memory lane. Sometimes it's a nice trip, though often it's an embarrassing one. Usually you're left wondering, "Are they still alive?"
This year, once again, the summer tour schedule is packed with nostalgia acts, including many more recent artists who are just coming into their own oldies phase (B-52s, Go Go's, Missing Persons, etc.).
Knowing that music has always been one of the most important things in the lives of the CityBeat music staff (at least that's what their résumés said), we decided to ask them to pick a few shows from this summer and relate them to specific events from their past. (Tickets for these shows are available through TicketMaster. Call 513-562-4949 or check KW)
The Ohio Players
(July 29, Coors Light Festival, Cinergy Field)
Leroy Sugarfoot Boner — the man who reinvented the post-modern wah-wah sound and gave Earth, Wind & Fire's Maurice White a run for his "ow, gal" — Benjamins was born and raised in my hometown of Hamilton, Ohio. Around the corner from my Fourth Street house on Charles Street, in fact. Although the Players, as they're also known, claimed Dayton as their home base, when Sugarfoot rolled through in his purple Eldorado with the chrome pipes running down the side, I'd run around the corner just to stand on the sidewalk in front of his mother's house and stare at his HUGE pompadour Afro that gleamed in the summer sun like freshly laid black tar. Even at 9 or 10 years old, I knew this man was a star. To have him standing just feet away and then be able to go home and look at my mother's copies of the albums Honey (1975), Skin Tight (1974) and Fire (1974) was absolutely mind-blowing. (KW)
(July 30, Coors Light Festival, Cinergy Field)
My oldest brother, Randy, is sick with Chaka and always has been. It's infectious. When we were teen-agers living with my bachelor father in a cold, unfurnished house Randy used to turn off all the living room lights except for one strategically placed spotlight and dance to the albums Rufusized, Rags to Rufus, Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan and Ask Rufus.
I would sit on the floor and watch him exorcise his adolescent demons for hours on end while Chaka wailed her Soul for his soul. We got a chance to experience Chaka live together for the first time when she appeared at the Aronoff in 1998. I lost my voice, threw my back out and finally figured out what his love affair was all about. (KW)
(August 1, Riverbend)
This is a wee bit embarrassing, but I used to be a hair farmer. It's true. I used to sport a Heavy Metal hair-don't that would make Dee Snider of Twisted Sister weep with admiration. In my defense, I was going for a kind of Marc Bolan/Noel Redding look, but in the Glam/Metal '80s, that look was easily misinterpreted. And nowhere more so than on the night I went to the Enormo-Dome to see Def Leppard with special guests Tesla. Maybe it was the hair, or maybe it was the black nail polish and eyeliner, but as I was standing around after Tesla's set waiting for Def Leppard to take the stage, I was approached by a group of kids who had mistaken me for a member of the opening act. "Why aren't you backstage?" they asked. Seizing my moment of fame, I told them about how life backstage wasn't all it was cracked up to be and that I had to get out front because I was hot to see the Leppard. Before long a crowd of about 15-20 kids had gathered around. Fortunately none of them asked me for an autograph, as I did not then and still would not know a member of Tesla from a doorjamb. But had they asked me, I was prepared. My signature would have read "Vinnie Tesla" — It seemed like a safe bet. Fortunately, just as soon as I started getting a little uncomfortable with my act, Def Leppard hit the stage and the kids lost interest in me. Though throughout the show, I would occasionally catch one of my fans pumping his fists at me in the popular head-banger fashion. But enough about me. This blurb is supposed to be about Def Leppard isn't it? Guess what? They sucked. (BQ)
Red Hot Chili Peppers
(August 3, Riverbend)
As a high school junior, I met a group of guys that needed a guitarist for their band. I'd seen them play before and was intrigued with their odd Funk/Rap/ Punk mix, something I'd never heard before. I played bass pretty well and knew about five chords on guitar. So I lied and said I could play. Fortunately, the band wasn't as musically sophisticated as I thought and they fell for it (a couple of Sex Pistols riffs did the trick).
Hanging out with my new band, I began to learn the source of their seemingly unique mix — an insane L.A. quartet called the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I soaked myself in their music. We covered "Police Helicopter" from Freaky Styley and we tried to match, both musically and stage-wise what the Peppers did. We did OK, thanks to an equal influence of Black Flag, Black Sabbath and Milwaukee's Best in our bloodstreams.
I remember thinking at that time that the Chili Peppers would never grow old, never sell out, etc. I couldn't imagine a time when I didn't love them. I saw them numerous times, specifically in the early tours behind Uplift Mofo Party Plan and Mother's Milk. They were some of the best concerts I've ever seen.
Other highlights from my memories of the Peppers' early years included a show at the University of Kentucky, one of the first shows with new, still lively guitarist John Frusciante, one of my favorite guitarists to this day. A blazing, life-affirming show. In contrast, I witnessed Frusciante in Columbus on the Blood Sugar Sex Magic tour, skeletal in appearance and visibly bored during the entire set. Oddly enough, when that tour hit Riverfront Coliseum a month later, a spark was re-lit under Frusciante's ass, due, likely to the anarchy that ensued during openers the Smashing Pumpkins set (and continued through the Peppers set), as audience members literally ripped out the seats on the floor of the arena to create a pit. It was as if Frusciante remembered why he loved playing with these guys, and he was nearly as animated as he was at that early U.K. gig.
At a Bogart's show, openers Faith No More (pre-Mike Patton) stretched out their set to over an hour, explaining bluntly that the Chili Peppers were broke down on the highway and not showing up. We laughed it off and to our delight (after guitarist Jim Martin scraped the bottom of the barrel with an extended "Star Spangled Banner" solo) Flea and Anthony bounded into the club's front door and jumped on stage with FTM, bouncing like superballs. (It wasn't until years later that I realized they were likely scoring drugs in their tardiness — guitarist Hillel Slovak died not long after from a heroin overdose). I delighted in seeing their touring vehicle in Bogart's parking lot — a beat-up VW van with a bull's skeleton on the front grill.
Frusciante quit the group but is back now, saying that after his own drug problems, he realized he missed making music with his pals. Unfortunately, quite a bit of damage had already been done — we've suffered through waaaay too many "Under the Bridge" re-writes from the band and their latest, Californication, isn't quite the return to form hoped for (at least by me). They got older. But so did I and my musical tastes have shifted far from that Punk/Funk/Rap hybrid, perhaps because of all the current practitioners who've bastardized the spirit. Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock owe these guys big time, but in many ways, so do I. Thanks for the good times. Now please stop sucking. (MB)
(August 4, Fraze Pavilion in Dayton)
"The river is full of crocodile nasties." That's just one of my favorite Jethro Tull lyrics, the band who started it all for me when I saw them live in 1975 on the War Child tour. Not that they were my favorite group or anything, but they introduced me to live Rock & Roll shows, which continue to bring me, though at a somewhat diminished clip, a great deal of pleasure. Snicker if you must, all you New Wave Daves, but Jethro Tull in '75 rocked out in a big way. Plus they had a great stage show, which included a string quartet, the maniacal, flute-wielding Ian Anderson in a cod piece, giant balloons and a shitting zebra. Yes, that's right kids, a shitting zebra. You'll never see anything that good at a Smashing Pumpkins show. In retrospect, my only disappointment about the concert is that The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, who were scheduled to open, cancelled at the last minute. And from all reports, they were a dynamite live act as well. Today, there is little Tull that I care to listen to. Their first LP, This Was, still stands up pretty well, as does Benefit and maybe a few others. But I'll always think fondly of them no matter how long they stick around. God bless Jethro Tull. (BQ)
(August 8, Riverbend)
If there's a better Heavy Metal album than Black Sabbath's eponymous debut, then my name is Queen Latifah. Unfortunately, Ozzy Osbourne is a whole other ball of Satan's earwax. When I was 16, my little two-timing tart of a girlfriend was all fired-up to see the Oz-man. He'd just bitten the head off of a bat about a week before, so it was definitely a hot ticket. I was — I would like to think — a little too sophisticated to be taken in by some booze-addled limey with a taste for flying rodents. But, as they say, the promise of teen-age poontang is a powerful motivator, and so off I went to the show.
To be fair, Ozzy had a crack band: Rudy Sarzo (later of Quiet Riot) on bass, Tommy Aldridge (formerly of Black Oak Arkansas) on drums, and, of course, the dazzling guitar-technics of Randy Rhoads on guitar. Still, to me, it meant absolutely zero. Although it's not very nice to say, I don't recall ever being surrounded by so many morons in my life. But as you know if you've seen Ozzy's installment of VH-1's Behind the Music, this is a fellow who can barely string two sentences together. It's no wonder that he should rate so highly with the Camaro nation. (BQ)
(August 12, Riverbend)
So much of my musical and emotional past is wrapped up with Santana. Getting my heart broken and listening to "Samba Pa Ti," the mournful flip side of "Oye Como Va," about 400 times in my grandparents' basement by the flickering light of a candle stuck in a Mateus bottle. Spending a sick day in high school on the couch listening to the new Caravanserai album (and Captain Beefheart's Clear Spot) over and over and over. The first time I heard Abraxas all the way through.
But perhaps the clearest and most powerful memory I have is of meeting Carlos Santana at Bogart's in the fall of 1983. I was working at the club then. We had booked Santana for two shows in a single night and had set it up as a mail-order-only show. Of course, both shows sold out in a matter of days. The first show was a marvel, as Carlos blew through a set that encompassed his entire career to that point, and he and the band brought the crowd to its feet for the duration of his last encore.
The problem was that the first show crowd wouldn't leave after the encore. They banged chairs and tables, stomped their feet and screamed at top volume for Carlos to return. We stood backstage, listening to the mayhem, and debating what should be done. Stage Manager Mike Kelly rightly observed that anyone who went out and told the audience they would have to leave was going to be lynched. We finally concluded that Carlos was the only person in the club who could get away with the announcement without sustaining serious damage. Even Carlos balked at the idea, until he and Kelly went out together, and Carlos did one last song solo with the crowd's promise that they would leave and let the people outside on the sidewalk into the club to hear the same show. Thankfully, the first audience took the deal, and we emptied the place and let in the second show patrons, who were then treated to a similarly spectacular show from one of the greatest guitarists of all time. (BB)
My former stepfather, Bill, was the man when it came to music. When I was growing up he was the only black man I knew who was unafraid to listen to any kind of music and give it a chance. He and one of his many brothers, Lumpy, were into Santana and I got turned on to Santana the man and the band through Bill via the songs "Oye Como Va" and "Black Magic Woman." Fast forward to 1987 and Blues for Salvador, and I was continuing my own exploration of Santana's music. It must be noted that what also gets me off about Santana is his love for authentic Jazz and Blues and the fact that he pays homage to the practitioners of those genres whenever he can. He's one of the few remaining honest musicians we have. (KW)
(August 12, Riverbend)
I must admit that when I reviewed Macy Gray On How Life Is I was a little harsh and didn't give her or her music nearly enough credit. The problem was this: Who was she trying to be, to sound like? Billie Holiday? Erykah Badu? Who? I now know, from seeing her on several talk shows (she appears to be quite the smoker, if you know what I mean), that she is her own woman and, upon closer listen, her lyrics are observations of life, love, betrayal, trust and, yes, murder. This isn't supposed to be a review, so I'll just say that I slept on Macy Gray, and I'll make it up to her by buying a concert ticket this summer and screaming my head off when she comes on stage. (KW)
(August 27, Riverbend)
My Mötley memories are a little more recent. As a teen, I had buddies who loved the glammed-up early period Crüe. But, unlike Brad Quinn, I was never much of a "metalhead" — at least until years later. I eventually had some Metal friends who turned me on to Guns 'N Roses and Bang Tango, but the Crüe always seemed a little too much like poseurs to me (unlike, you know, Bang Tango).
A few years back, when Vince Neil rejoined the band, I had the brilliant idea to go check out the boys, but do it in full Metal regalia. Old-school Metal. So me and my "old lady" did ourselves up as best we could — black concert T-shirt, black panty hose and a miniskirt, teased hair. And that was just me. You should've seen my gal.
Suprisingly, despite my own snarky arrogance, I actually kind of enjoyed the concert. There's something to be said for flashy, pompous showmanship and big, bad-ass 'splosions. There was the drum cage (a crowd favorite) and Nikki Sixx's inexplicable bass-and-sample solo tribute to how much he hates his dad (don't ask). There were those simple but catchy songs. All the Rock clichés. All the sexist video and quasi-rebellious stage banter. I still don't much like their music, but let's just say you wouldn't have to pay me to see the Crüe today. (MB)
(September 3, Polaris in Columbus)
Being a music critic, you get some nice perks. Namely, free concert tickets. Sometimes, it's for good shows that you actually want to see. A lot of times, you turn down the offer politely (which I've done every year to Jimmy Buffett's "people").
And sometimes the offer is just too dumb to turn down. So, earlier this year I took a publicist up on Britney Spears tickets. Now, I'm not, I swear, the leering old man that this makes me sound like. I just thought it would be funny. And, boy, was it.
I knew Britney drew an audience of little girls, but it was still kind of odd (and a bit disturbing) to see so many 6- and 7-year-old girls decked out in Britney-styled hussy garb. The show itself was pretty much what you would expect: dance numbers, huge stage sets, shilling for the camera company sponsoring the tour and lots of between-song playfulness, like bringing up a guy from the audience for Britney to croon to. She even floated over the crowd on a flying carpet. Yup, that was something. Like a PG-13 animated Disney movie come to life.
My favorite moment came when my friend and I decided to cut out early and, because we're such nice guys, reward a pair of fans stuck up in the nosebleeds our 20th row seats. You'd think we were trying to sell crack to them. Parent after parent turned us down, saying they were fine where they were. Finally, a couple of pre-teens reluctantly took them from us. I think we just scared everybody.
This Columbus show happens to fall on my birthday, if any readers are feeling generous you know how to reach me. (MB)