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Live(d) Music

During the pandemic I went for a walk downtown and found myself in Hutchinson Field in Grant Park, where in summer 2001 I saw Radiohead play for 25,000 fans along the lakefront in Chicago. Long before Lollapalooza parked itself downtown, a concert like this was very novel. Recently some friends reminded me how hot it was that night, but I have no recollection of that. To the left you could see the Chicago skyline blinking white and amber, and to the right, Lake Michigan in its inky blackness. I had been lucky enough to see Radiohead 2 times before this: once at the Riviera on August 7th 1997, shortly after OK Computer was released; then again on the OK Computer tour in 1998 at Rosemont theater.

In 2001, Amnesiac was their latest release and they played an amazing set that covered their whole career up to that point. I've seen them another two times since then, for In Rainbows and A Moon Shaped Pool. I have cried at every one. I've cried at a number of concerts actually. I cried 3 or 4 times when I saw David Bowie in 2004. There's no way to remember all the shows I've been to. I wish I'd kept a good log. But in the middle of the pandemic, with the opportunity I had to be the lone person in Hutchinson field, quietly drifting through my memory, I reflected about the hiatus from live music and all that it has meant to me in my life.

One of the main reasons I wanted to move to Chicago in 1995, was for live music. College was on the priority list too... In Kalamazoo, MI where I'd gone to high school, we actually had a decent spread of venues to see live music: Wings Stadium for arena shows, Miller Auditorium, Kalamazoo State Theater, and Club Soda - which was a semi-legendary small dive venue that hosted Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, The Jesus Lizard, Sunny Day Real Estate, and more. My own high school band was lucky enough to be able to play there a number of times. My dad took me to see Bob Dylan at State Theater in 1994, where I also saw Weird Al Yankovic and They Might Be Giants. I saw Love & Rockets at Miller Auditorium in 1989, with The Pixies opening up. At Wings Stadium I saw a range of concerts from Chicago, to Beastie Boys, to Metallica.

The first ever concert I went to was The Beach Boys at Bronco Stadium on the Western Michigan University campus. It was 1984 and my parents had just moved us from Federal Way, WA. I was 8 years old. There was an afternoon football game, followed by the concert. I remember the band drove out to the stage in an iconic Woodie. Later, in 1987 my dad took us to the Paul Simon "Graceland" tour at Pine Knob in Michigan. It was an outdoor amphitheater and we had lawn tickets. I remember two things from that concert: the solo bass lick from "You Can Call Me Al" got a real rise out of the crowd, and it was the first time I ever smelled marijuana. There was a nearby blanket of "young people" smoking out of a pipe that to my eyes looked like a small, hardened snail.

The following year in 1988, I got my dad to take me, my brother, and my friend Doug to see Poison open up for David Lee Roth at the Ionia Free Fair in Ionia, MI. I was crazy about Poison at the time, C.C. Deville being my favorite guitar player and pretty much the inspiration for me to start taking guitar lessons when I was 11 years old; although learning to play "Hot Cross Buns" on one string was a far cry from "Talk Dirty to Me." I remember Poison being a great live band and a perfect opener. David Lee Roth might have been the bigger name, but he was kind of a lousy that night. I doubt Ionia was a tour hot-spot and Roth was definitely phoning it in. At one point he remarked into the microphone "Oh man, I forgot the fucking words..." Had I been older or more sophisticated in my knowledge of the band, I'd have been pretty excited to know I was watching Steve Vai with Gregg and Matt Bissonette. The visual highlights were Steve Vai's 3-neck heart-shaped guitar and DLR riding a surfboard on a wire out to the boxing ring he'd set up in the middle of the crowd.

The next concert that I begged my parents to go to was the Ice Cube Death Certificate tour. It's laughable to me that they let me go, just me and my friend Joel. I was 14 years old. We were likely the only two white teenagers in the crowd, standing center in the front row of the balcony. I was crazy about the Death Certificate album and had little awareness of my surroundings. I used to mow the lawn with my Walkman blasting the tape over and over. Also on the bill were WC & the Maad Circle and Del tha Funkee Homosapien. In addition to that, there were about a dozen local acts, music or dance, that were given time on the stage and introduced by a local DJ. It felt like 3 hours before Ice Cube went on, but he did not disappoint. The stage set was a prison wall, complete with barbed wire, and two patrolling armed guards. In the middle was a giant skull with Cube's DJ performing atop. He also had a small graveyard on stage with his former NWA bandmates' names on tombstones. During the infamous diss song "No Vaseline" he kicked them over in disgust.

When I got to Chicago in 1995 and moved into my dorm room at Sheffield and Fullerton, I met a small group of friends with whom I would go to countless shows that first year. We went to Metro and Fireside Bowl, where we could attend concerts without being 21 years old. In my first year of college I saw: Flaming Lips, Henry Rollins, 311 w/ No Doubt, Blur, The Amps, Sonic Youth, Jawbreaker w/ Jawbox, Fugazi w/Shellac & The Make-Up, Rocket From the Crypt, De La Soul, Face to Face, Brainiac, Tracy Chapman, The Promise Ring, Smashing Pumpkins, Neutral Milk Hotel...and all the Chicago bands of the time - Lustre King, Braid, 90 Day Men, Sweep the Leg Johnny, Trenchmouth, Wesley Willis Fiasco, Joan of Arc, Lake of Dracula, Sarge, The Dishes, and many more. I really couldn't stand The Get-Up Kids though, and they seemed to be on so many bills I went to. Not sure what it was that bothered me so much about them, maybe I thought they were like "emo-turned-up-to-10."

Extra note: After that Radiohead Riviera show in 1997, Billy Corgan ran across the street in front of the car I was in, while being chased by two teenage girls. He ducked into some dive bar on Lawrence Ave. What struck me as particularly hilarious was that I had once seen Corgan on MTV say that he it would be ironic one day to see a Smashing Pumpkins tribute band with someone like "the singer from Radiohead." He was imagining his own future legacy where Thom Yorke will be a has-been and he'll be revered like Robert Plant or Mick Jagger. That moment in time, however, was when Radiohead shifted to no longer being able to play in 3,000 seat theaters; and would be headlining Bonnaroo to 80,000 people less than a decade later. The Smashing Pumpkins went the other direction, playing modest theaters and never being able to rekindle mainstream interest. Ironically, they titled their 2007 album Zeitgeist, when Billy Corgan was certainly on the outside looking in.


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