King Koncert: Memoirs of an American Rocker
by Tim Van Schmidt
February 12- Page. Subdudes.
Signing to Atlantic Records in December 1988 touched off a kind of feeding frenzy for Colorado fans of the subdudes. In Fort Collins, each show over a several month period was being billed as their last in the area before they moved on to bigger things. That was the feeling- that once the subdudes were established, they’d blow off our town. (And who could blame them? was another part of the feeling.) But subdude fever subsided somewhat after the first of the year. Another show at the Page in February was not nearly as packed as every other date in the area had been just a month earlier. The band took the opportunity to loosen up and jam with guest musicians from the crowd.
Impromptu versions of “Johnny B. Goode” and “Wild Thing” served to give an unexpected spark to the night as well as to counterpoint the band’s original rock and soul material. The subdudes themselves joked about all the “last chance to see the subdudes” dates and made it known that they would continue to call Northern Colorado home even after they have become major recording artists. However, an ad for the Page in the February issue of the Oracle listed the March 5 date as the “Subdudes last Ft Collins gig” A March 12 show was being called “The ‘Dudes Farewell Party” and featured the Blue Monday Band.
February 21- Linden’s. Joe King Carrasco.
Tex-Mex was a rough and ready brand of rock ‘n’ roll that had been rumbling around in Texas and the Southwest for years. The leading ambassador for Tex Mex, had become road warrior Joe “King” Carrasco and his band the Crowns. This powerful unit from Austin played a fusion of surf, rock ‘n’ roll, and Mexican dance music that, by the end of the night had the audience at Linden’s dancing on their chairs. I had seen Carrasco before- opening a Talking Heads show at Red Rocks in 1982. His energy in the big concert setting had been impressive. But the intensity was much more succinct in the very close quarters of a Fort Collins nightclub.
Party music was the bottom line word for Carrasco and band’s set. The Crowns included three former members of top Mexican-American group Little Joey y la Familia, Tom Cruz on guitar, Robert Ramos on bass, and Javier Zenteno on drums, as well as Marcelo Gauna on accordion and organ. After an opening set by a 100th Monkey-based jam band, Carrasco took the stage with full crown and cape regalia. The props were soon discarded as the band set to business making good time rock ‘n’ roll, such as Carrasco standard “Party Weekend,” a cover of ? and the Mysterians’ “96 Tears,” and songs of party abandonment such as “Tequila Revolution” and “Do It Up.”
While Carrasco did a little bit of perfunctory barwalking during one number, he spent most of the night bouncing and jumping in front of his first rate band, an energetic master of ceremonies of that night’s Latin flavored festival. Cruz’s intermittent outbursts of searing lead guitar in particular whipped up some real power and fury in music that at its best soared.
March 4- Lincoln Center. Suzie Katz, John Prine.
Revered singer-songwriter John Prine was simple and direct in his solo acoustic show at the Lincoln Center in March. Between quick puffs on a cigarette, Prine worked a true troubadour’s magic, telling stories braced with wry, rhyming humor and a touch of heartfelt tenderness. Prine, of course, was known for his sardonic sense of modern living, whether expressed in a sing-song, carefree manner as in “Fish and Whistle” or “How to Talk Dirty in Hawaiian,” or in a sadly ironic way as in “Donald and Lydia” or “Sam Stone.”
At the Lincoln Center, Prine seemed perfectly comfortable singing the same songs he had sung for years already, such as “Hello In There” and “Dear Abby,” and with sharing his whole range of pleasantly slanted views. The audience seemed quite prepared to accept it too, singing along on all the parts they knew. Prine’s independence as an artist not worrying about musical fads was underscored by the fact that Prine was now releasing his own albums on his own label, Oh Boy Records.
Boulder singer-songwriter Suzi Katz opened with a selection of deeply reflective songs, the most memorable being an ode to a street person named “Band-Aid Michael” and a humorous look at “New Age Clones.”
March 9- Boulder Theater. Michelle Shocked.
By this time, it was now standard policy for me to write a preview article for the concerts I really wanted to see. A preview usually meant getting free tickets and that was exactly the plan when I did a preview of Michelle Shocked’s March date at the Boulder Theater. Shocked had just made a big splash with her recent album release, “Short, Sharp, Shocked,” an album that melded folk blues and hard rock.
Shocked, I found out, had left home at sixteen to find her real father who taught her guitar. She had lived the life of a rootless punk, traveling the world. Her first album, “The Texas Campfire Tapes,” had actually been recorded around a campfire at a folk festival and it had reached number one on independent sales charts in England. She also had been politically active and that the picture of Shocked in a choke hold on the cover of the “Short, Sharp, Shocked” album was the real thing- Shocked being subdued by a cop at a protest event.
At the Boulder Theater, Shocked told the audience in one of her many monologues during the evening that living in London was better than living in the States because activist groups there maintained a sense of solidarity among them. Throughout the show, Shocked made it clear that she kept her eye on international political and social issues such as racism, lesbian/gay rights, and the activities of the Greens in West Germany and she certainly wasn’t shy about sharing her thoughts about them either.
Touching down on bluegrass, country, folk and rhythm and blues, Shocked’s set in Boulder drew mostly from the “Short, Sharp, Shocked” album. She played “If Love Was A Train,” “Graffiti Limbo” and “Anchorage” as well as an East Texas trilogy, including “Memories of East Texas,” plus “Well Well Well” and an amusing song about yams. The solo performance was in sharp contrast to the glossy production of the album release itself and, of course, more of the personality of this feisty and energetic performer was revealed on stage.
Shocked also performed one song- the story of a Vietnam War widow who would rather tear up a monthly check than accept money from a bloodsucking government- a cappella. For an encore, Shocked delivered a passionate recitation of a Marge Piercy poem.
March 14- subdudes/Earl King
By this time the subdudes knew I was covering their story in detail, so when a special date came up that they wanted to promote, they got in touch. The subdudes were planning a show at Fort Ram with Earl King, one of the elder statesmen of New Orleans rhythm and blues, and they invited me to come to a rehearsal with King in hopes of getting some advance press.
I went to bassist Johnny Ray Allen’s basement apartment to interview King while they were hanging out and rehearsing a little- it was just me and the subdudes and Earl King. The “rehearsal” was not much more than a little fiddling around, although King did play “C’Mon Baby Let the Good Times Roll,” his most widely recognized song. King also led the group through rough versions of several other tunes such as “Those Lonely, Lonely Nights” and “Trick Bag,” and the subdudes remained attentive to the key and chord changes while appearing to relish every moment.
As the subdudes and King worked over the songs, that distinctive New Orleans magic was more than evident. The younger men played and harmonized while the master made his guitar sing and the room filled with the sweet syncopated signature of New Orleans music. After going through some songs, everybody turned to me to get the interview done. Keyboardist John Magnie called King a mentor and the respect that the subdudes held for him was obvious. Then King talked about New Orleans landmark club Tipitina’s as well as an old time club called the Dew Drop, a place where the locals often would “jam with out-of-towners.” The Fort Ram date was scheduled for March 17.
March 17- Glenn Miller Ballroom. Buck Pets, Jane’s Addiction
Instead of going to the subdudes/Earl King gig- after all, I had already gotten a private concert- I opted instead to go check out a new band called Jane’s Addiction at the Glenn Miller Ballroom on the University of Colorado campus in Boulder. I reviewed the show in the first appearance of my review column, “Afterword,” in the Oracle, but I wasn’t really sure of what it was I was hearing.
I went to the show with the idea that Jane’s Addiction played heavy metal music, but that wasn’t quite right. At this time, the term “alternative rock” did not yet exist and that was exactly what Jane’s Addiction was pioneering- a rock that combined the aggressiveness and sass of punk vocals with the raw instrumental power and punch of metal. But the definition of the music wasn’t what disturbed me about the show.
I found Jane’s Addiction music was technically proficient, but it was self-abusive to listen to vocalist Perry Farrell’s verbal tirades between numbers. He spewed obscenities and constantly provoked the sold-out audience. The intent, however, seemed to be in keeping with the black leather clad audience which showed its desire for self-abusive activity by inhaling huge quantities of cigarettes and forming a slam pit that was more of a free for all fight zone than anything else. Bodies were being handed overhead in front of the stage, beer cups flew in the air from all directions and one lonely stage diver got past security.
Although Farrell confessed to the crowd that he was a faker who wished he could sing better, his vocal style, when the band was playing music, was unique and progressive. The group’s sound was dynamically textured and several times achieved a kind of triumphant hardcore flourish. Jane’s Addiction was on tour in support of their major label debut “Nothing’s Shocking,” an album that would stir up charges of obscenity because of the cover depicting nude Siamese Twins with their hair on fire.
On stage, Farrell would top that. Throughout the show, people threw a variety of things at him so he picked up a tampon from the rubbish and declared, “I’ll bet you would rather see me stick this up my butt than sing.” The crowd cheered and jeered and so that’s exactly what Farrell did. He peeled the wrapping off the tampon, turned around, dropped his drawers, inserted the article, then turned back around to wag his accomplishment in the mob’s face. I had never seen anything like it and it left me shaking my head. The Buck Pets opened the show in support of their Island Records debut, churning out a speedy kind of metal.
Probably like every other city its size, Fort Collins had a pretty active local music scene that was impossible to ignore if you were a music journalist on the prowl looking for new bands to write about. Also, the fact that the shows were usually just around the corner rather than an hour or more drive away made it easier to just drop by and check things out.
At CSU’s Ramskellar, a bar/showroom in the basement of the student center, I went to a benefit for Friends of the Poudre featuring the band Common Ground. The Friends of the Poudre was an environmentally-based group attempting to block the damming of a local river. Common Ground delivered the same honky tonking, electric bluegrass picking, country improv as their obvious inspiration, the Grateful Dead. The band featured two drummers, two guitars, bass and keyboards and they included covers of “I Can See Clearly Now,” the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” a reggae version of Dire Strait’s “So Far Away From Me” and, of course, the Dead.
Washington’s, a college bar in the downtown area that was covered floor to ceiling with various antiques and kitschy artifacts, hired regional bands to play in one corner as a kind of extra treat for patrons. The bands included one that was cleverly named Free Beer as well as another band just starting to make a rumble in Front Range clubs, Big Head Todd and the Monsters.
One night I stopped by to hear the band 100th Monkey, a Fort Collins band that applied a worldly attitude to a wide variety of material. They turned Bob Dylan’s “If Not For You” into a high energy romp. They also covered Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken,” Bob Marley’s “Jammin,” Ziggy Marley’s “Lee and Molly,” UB40’s “Sing Our Own Song,” as well as an English Beat style reading of Smokey Robinson’s “Tears of a Clown.” 100th Monkey also mixed in New Orleans funk, Latin rhythms and rock bravado for an eclectic and upbeat sound. I would see 100th Monkey again on the patio of Avogadro’s Number where they were entertaining a group of footbaggers who were in town for a competition.
One of the key people on the Fort Collins music scene at this time was singer-songwriter Terry Stone, who performed as T. Stone. Stone had made a mark in the city as an activist in several ways. He published his own zine and was the organizer of a series of shows called Music for Folks, concerts held out in Old Town Square featuring various local performers. Writer Kate Caldwell, in her arts society in the local magazine Art Linc, identified Stone as an “anarchistic folk musician” and also reported that Stone was moving to Denmark to “live with his lady love.”
To say goodbye to Fort Collins, Stone produced an intimate concert at the Parks and Rec Building. The show followed two other Stone performances that day on radio station KCSU and at an Earth Day celebration in City Park. The pleasure I took in reviewing Stone’s acoustic folk music came from the fact that he was a genuinely talented noncommercial artist. Like thousands of others across the country who played because they loved music and not because they have to products to push, Stone offered original, handmade songs that were passionately performed. His concerns, as reflected in his original songs, were caught between the struggles of the inner personal life (love songs) and the outer life (politics and social awareness). Each was presented in a clear and meaningful manner.
Stone was joined on stage at various times by friends Glen Ayers, Tony Vandaver, Zelda Menuskin and David Roy, giving the show a warm, family feel. Joe Albanese and Skip Teeple also added percussion to three numbers including an inspired version of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” which prompted the audience to get up and dance. The evening was a testament to a commercially unattached ability to whip up some power and emotion whether coming from a trio, a duo, or directly out of one man’s chest. It occurred to me that Stone exhibited the same integrity that an artist like Michelle Shocked projected, only Stone wasn’t touring and promoting, he was just living and being an artist.
Another kind of homemade power was evident during a set by Great Caesar’s Ghost’s at the Ramskellar. The Fort Collins band played a fierce country-flavored hardcore mixed with a hard-driving rock ‘n’ roll. Great Caesar’s Ghost played the show in preparation for a three and a half-week tour to Texas, Minnesota and Kansas.
Linden´s had also become the scene of a new Monday blues jam, under the name of the Northern Colorado Blues Society. The Society promised a super low cover (a buck) as well as offered t-shirts, a membership card and discounts on future cover shows. On the occasion that I checked it out, the bandstand was warmed up with a set by members of J.D. and the Love Bandits, with front man J.D. Kelly playing a mean, electric trombone. One of the other lynchpins of the local music scene, soulful keyboardist Walt Jenkins, joined the others on stage. Together they covered tunes such as “Compared to What,” T Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday” and Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.” The second set featured other guest performers.
April 7- Boomer’s. Bonedaddys.
The April 1989 issue of the Oracle was the first time my music articles were presented on a single page under the banner of “The Scene.” Until then, “The Scene” had been the double truck inside pages that featured a calendar of events and several choice pictures. My review column, “Afterword” was positioned on the backside of The Scene, so my features on music became the front side, creating a solid music information source. I used the full page to my best advantage, featuring Lou Reed, the Bonedaddys and the Untouchables.
The Bonedaddys were stopping in at Boomer’s for a two-night stand and I used the information I had collected the time I covered the Bonedaddys for the KTCL paper- also a first in terms of recycling what I had already learned. At Boomer’s, I approached the band like a friend. After all, I had partied briefly with them upstairs in the dressing room at Linden’s. But the reaction was lukewarm at best, indicating to me that in the world of rock ‘n’ roll, memories of names and faces didn’t last long,
Just like at Linden’s, the Bonedaddys were nearly too powerful for the little room. But within the jet engine volume there was everything from Afro-beat rhythms to rumba rock. The band, identified in the Boomer’s newsletter as “a loosely organized underground network of L.A. musicians conspiring to re-funkify the face of pop music,” was pared down to seven players from the previous year’s unit of eight. Missing was my interview contact last time, guitarist Paul Lacques. Still, the group had polished the music from their “A-KOO-DE-A” album into a well-seasoned act. This was a hard working band playing long dance grooves flavored with everything from whistles and bells to African talking drum and jaw harp. Quick transitions between numbers and a professional lighting set up made the Bonedaddys’ set slickly tailored for the communal dance party that ensued. Particularly awesome was the elongated rap section of vocalist Kevin Williams’ “Dumpster Girl.”
April 8- Moby Arena. Delivery Boy, Untouchables.
Another LA band, the Untouchables, proved to be full of big stage energy at Moby Arena, on the CSU campus. Moby Arena had been the site of several locally legendary concerts, including a 1969 date with the Rolling Stones. In this case, the arena was hardly full, though a good-sized crowd was packed up against the stage on the floor. Showcasing material from the new “Agent Double O Soul” album; the seven member power band worked mostly reggae (“Education”) and a revved up soul (“Shama Lama” and “Let’s Get Together.”) The set list also included the tune “I Spy.”
Jamaican Eclipse opened the show. The Delivery Boys played the middle set, placing New Order, OMD, and Cure techno rock covers beside a little bit rougher versions of Faith No More’s “We Care a Lot” and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Fight Like a Brave.”
April 9- Lincoln Center. Bruce Cockburn.
At the Lincoln Center, Bruce Cockburn toned down the political soap box hype of a few years earlier and pretty much just played music carefully drawn from his extensive catalogue. Cockburn, of course, included favorites such as “Wondering Where the Lions Went” as well as standards from the “Stealing Fire” album (“If I Had a Rocket Launcher” and “Lovers in a Dangerous Time”) but the most lively numbers were those from his most recent album release, “Big Circumstance.” Cockburn and band, consisting of a drummer and a “stick” player, particularly hit stride just before intermission with “Tibetan Side of Town,” when the muddy sound seemed to magically clear up and the music clicked with inspiration.
While the audience was more than appreciative of Cockburn’s efforts, there was a clockwork feel to the show, and other than a polite group of dancers at the back, the crowd pretty much took the performance sitting down. This perhaps indicated that the true strength of Cockburn’s work was in the words and not the arrangement or the beat. Bigger and louder was not always better for a man whose best music was thoughtful and sensitive. The set list also included the sarcastic “Sunny Side of Life,” “Radium Rain” and “Stolen Land.”
May 5- Azatlan Theatre. FIREHOSE, Fishbone.
A meeting between what I considered two of America’s best underground bands at the Azatlan Theatre in Denver prompted me to call it “The Concert of the Decade.” Whatever you called it, it was a truly powerful- and exhausting- night.
Firehose opened with their intense mixture of jazz and rock that lurched, spun, swirled and blasted. The band consisted of former Minutemen Mike Watts on bass and George Hurley on drums with newcomer Ed Crawford on guitar. It was my opinion that Firehose was making some of the independent music movement’s most progressive music at the time. Watts would pound his bass for chest-thumping effect then nimbly work through complex, sensitive lead lines. Hurley’s controlled drum flourishes went from soft to loud in the blink of an eye, while Crawford’s skilled guitar mechanics and vocals fleshed out Firehose’s intricate sound. The set list included “Free Way” and “The Candle and the Flame.”
Fishbone, riding a crest of popularity from the release of their “Truth and Soul” album, then came on to make the theater churn with a mass of athletic slam dancing. While this first rate show band whipped up their amphetamine rock and soul, the crowd amused itself by bashing into each other and by getting up on top of the crowd, being passed overhead by dozens of hands, then finally being dumped head first to the floor. The sound was loud, of course, but not as deafening as it had been when I saw Fishbone at the Casino Cabaret the previous year.
Including some of their own classics (“Bitch” and “Give It Up” but not “Party at Ground Zero,”) Fishbone spent the rest of the show on newer material while maintaining an insane balance between promoting anti-racism and deep, nasty sex. True to Fishbone form, the band exhibited plenty of uncontrollable energy, bouncing and sliding all over the stage at a breakneck pace, as well as diving into the audience themselves.
During the song “Change,” both the vocalist and the trombone player dove into the audience. I watched as the trombone player suddenly started bashing somebody underneath him with his horn in obvious irritation. Despite the seemingly unflagging energy, the band ended the show with a soothing acoustic guitar piece- certainly a surprise for Fishbone.
May 9- Auditorium Theater. Steve Forbert, Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians.
Meanwhile, back in the mainstream, Edie Brickell’s show at the Auditorium Theater in Denver seemed to be everything the audience had come for. After a full evening of hits from Brickell and the New Bohemian’s debut album, “Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars,” as well as new material, the audience response was literally deafening. The show was what uncomplicated rock ‘n’ roll dreams were made of- an attractive girl singer, a letter perfect band that knows all the musically emotional tricks, and a fluffer-nutter, vaguely positive philosophy. There were moments that packed a punch, even a little frenzy, but this was generally a very tightly controlled music, mixing drama with a professional coolness. At the end of one tune, a business man a few rows in front of me stood and yelled at the top of his lungs, “Edie, you’re so cute!”
In contrast was opener Steve Forbert, a rocking singer-songwriter with plenty of muscle and intelligence as a solo act. Forbert didn’t sound like Prine or Dylan but more like Springsteen or Bob Seger. His roots rock ‘n’ roll music had guts. Forbert was a confident guitar strummer and his voice itself rocked. He had also developed a real comfortable relationship between himself, his guitar and his harmonica.
May 19- Boulder Theater. Radiators.
The Radiators brought their own unique take on New Orleans music- something they called “Fish Head” music- to the Boulder Theater in May. This band had the same deeply rooted rock integrity as the Little Feat band of the 1970s, pumping out skipping rock grooves for over two hours. Here the guitar was still king, each tune punctuated by plenty of guitar solos, and a little bit of rhythm and blues went a long way. Though promoting their new album, “Zigzagging through the Ghostland,” the music from their debut “Law of the Fish” remained the most distinctive in the brutally crowded theater. One of the Radiators’ guitarists, David Malone, was the older brother of Tommy Malone of the subdudes.
May 23- Linden’s. Matt Guitar Murphy.
Linden’s was the scene of a very pleasant surprise as guitarist Matt “Guitar” Murphy and band offered a full taste of the best in modern blues. Murphy was known as the guitarist for the great blues spoof act the Blues Brothers and just like that unit, his smooth and tasteful delivery explored much more than just standard blues, but also soul and even jazz. Murphy was a master of blues emotion, building things up and breaking them down with dramatic effect. He also gave his crackerjack band equal solo time throughout the evening, developing blues-oriented music into a fine art.
Standing ovations occurred between practically every song and heads were bobbing with the friendly rhythms even outside the club. Blues are for doing away with the bad and Murphy blew it all out the door with fresh readings of “Kansas City,” “Stormy Monday,” “Knock on Wood,” and “Midnight Hour,” as well as Blues Brothers versions of “Soul Man” and “Messin’ With the Kid.” It was ironic that a Blues Brothers banner hung on one wall near the stage in Linden’s, as part of the blues decorations.
May 24- Paramount Theatre. Wailers, Third World.
Third World’s show at the Paramount in Denver demonstrated that even though the band was known for a kind of pop oriented reggae, it had also developed a very eclectic and exciting kind of world music. Using reggae as its anchor, Third World included soul and rap in their repertoire, turning in sweet, multi-layered vocal harmonies, and even delving into a hint of classical music as the band matched cello and keyboards in a rousing finale. The set list included the band’s classic songs such as “96 Degrees in the Shade” and “Now That We Found Love,” as well as newer stuff such as “Serious” and “Reggae Ambassador.” But what was most exciting was the band’s smooth concoction of a variety of sounds.
The Wailers opened with a full helping of Bob Marley’s music (“Exodus,” “War,” and “Natural Mystic.”) The band maintains the same bottom heavy, searing lead guitar pose developed with Marley and, since everyone knows the music by now, the band could be considered one of the world’s best reggae warm-ups. They especially provided an excellent counterpoint to Third World’s efforts at going beyond Marley-inspired reggae stereotypes.
June 6- Boomer’s. Little Charlie and the Nightcats.
In the Fort Collins Coloradoan, writer Sally Norman explained the music of Bay Area band Little Charlie and the Nightcats this way: “the band plays blues, rhythm and blues, swing and rockabilly with unpredictable rhythms and tongue in cheek lyrics.” The band’s return to Boomer’s offered another prime opportunity to watch Charlie “Little Charlie” Baty display his extensive musical vocabulary.
At Boomer’s, Baty was again in top form particularly during an extended instrumental section in which he easily worked over a half a dozen different guitar styles. Nightcats vocalist and harp player Rick Estrin also demonstrated amazing sonic control over his harmonica and his cool stage presence proved a perfect match for Baty’s instrumental prowess.
June 13- Mishawaka. Blue Monday Band, Billy Preston.
The Mishawaka Inn got positively funky when keyboardist Billy Preston played with a full band under the moonlight in June. Preston was known for several catchy pop hits from the 1970s, such as “Will It Go Round in Circles” and “Nothing From Nothing,” as well as working as a sideman for both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. His show at Mishawaka was a happy retrospective of his past work including “I Wrote a Simple Song,” “Space Race” and “You Are So Beautiful” (a song written by Preston and made a hit by Joe Cocker) as well as rocking versions of “Get Back” and “Jumping Jack Flash.” Preston also performed the Beatles’ “Let It Be.”
Despite his former stardom, Preston did not draw very well. There were only perhaps a hundred people or so in attendance, including the members of the subdudes on a rare night off. The most thrilling moment for me was while dancing to the music next to the stage I inadvertently became part of the show. Preston was playing the old Sly Stone song “I Want to Take You Higher.” Every time Preston sang the work “higher,” he leaned over the edge of the stage and shoved the microphone in my face. I, of course, responded with my own “higher.”
The Blue Monday Band, featuring two guitarists, sax, trumpet, bass and drums- some of the best in local musicians- opened with hot blues and rock. The weather, iffy at best when I went up the canyon, had cleared and a beautiful half moon rose over the mountain peaks.
June 14- Linden’s. Little Women.
The band Little Women brought their low slung country and rock influenced reggae to Linden’s in June. This band stoked up a smoldering heat with music that tended to build on itself rather than rely on flashy intervals to carry the night. In this context snippets of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore,” played with a reggae beat, had a more dignified sound than just a campfire sing-along and the Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B.” easily slid into David Lindley’s “Pretty Girls Rule the World.” Little Women proved to be a solid club groove band. A full night of their music revealed much more of Little Women than when I saw them open for David Lindley at Fort Ram in 1986.
June 15- Boulder Coast. Tony Brown, Mighty Diamonds.
Jamaican reggae filled Boulder’s Coast when the Mighty Diamonds brought their sweet, honeyed harmonies to the Front Range. By this time, the Mighty Diamonds, fronted by Judge, Bunny, and Tabby Diamond, had been presenting their special reggae worldview for twenty years and at the Coast, they applied this experience with amazing lightness and ease. The trio was supported by a solid backup band that could have been turned loose a little bit more, but, after all, the Mighty Diamonds were the stars. American reggae folksinger Tony Brown opened the show and proved to be a master vocal stylist with a voice that dynamically swelled and punctuated the evening.
In between sets by Brown and the Mighty Diamonds, I noticed that the guy sitting on a stool nearby was familiar looking. I recognized him as Justin Mitchell, the music writer for the Rocky Mountain News. I took the opportunity to introduce myself and to say that I had read his stuff often. I knew that was a stupid thing to say and that Mitchell probably heard that from a lot of people. But then I went on to explain that I was also a music writer. Mitchell was friendly and receptive and that evening started an acquaintance that would be renewed each time we bumped into each other at concerts.
June 16- Boomer’s. CJ Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band.
CJ Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band filled Boomer’s with perhaps the most authentic zydeco in the country in June. After all, CJ was the son of zydeco’s founding father, Clifton Chenier, and the band had been Clifton’s longtime back-up unit.
At Boomer’s, the rolling quick-step rhythms of Cajun folk mixed with roots rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues for an exceptional musical treat. The seven piece band played everything from jangling triangle and harmonica to the sharp clicking high hat sound of the washboard to get the crowd up and dancing, which they finally did by the second set. Chenier was especially proficient on his daddy Clifton’s mellowed, yellowed accordion keys. I bought a vinyl copy of the band’s independent release and in between sets joined the band out behind the club to get autographs and watch them party.
June 17- Fiddler’s Green. Neville Brothers, Jimmy Buffet.
Jimmy Buffet, standing in front of a ten-person band and a stage setting full of white palm trees, had every reason to be a happy man at Fiddler’s Green. The venue was packed with “parrothead” fans, all extremely happy to look for that “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and to wallow away just a little more time in “Margaritaville.” And wallow they did.
In my years of going to concerts I had seen a lot of messed up people, but this Buffett audience was the most drunk collection of people I had ever seen. People were yelling and screaming their heads off, spilling drinks and falling over in their seats. However, despite the sloppy audience, it was hard not to like the lighthearted and feel-positive show that Buffet offered because just plain fun remained at the heart of his music.
The ad in the newspaper revealed that Buffett’s two night stand at Fiddler’s was a part of his “Off to See the Lizard Tour 89” and it included a photo of Buffett at an old drive-in theater with Godzilla on the screen behind him. This was Fiddler’s Green’s second season and the advertising supplements in the major papers all claimed that Fiddler’s had attracted 300,000 patrons in its first season. Things got kicked off for year two on June 1 with The Beach Boys and Chicago and this Buffett show was the first of his two scheduled dates.
One of the great things about Fiddler’s was the hospitality area. With the proper pass, you could go back and get free beer and hang out in a relatively private area before, during and after the show. The head publicist during those first years at Fiddler’s was Judy, who often provided media info sheets including start and stop times for the groups on stage as well as a complete list of band personnel. (Buffett’s band included Roger Guth on drums, Rufus Mapp on percussion, Jim Mayer on bass, Robert Greenidge on steel drums, Peter Mayer on guitar, Mike Utley and Jay Oliver on keyboards, Greg “Fingers” Taylor on vocals and harmonica and Dena Iverson and Cynthia Curry on vocals.)
The Neville Brothers opened, strong and professional as ever, but this time armed with the awesome new material from the “Yellow Moon” album. That included the title track, “Sister Rosa” and “My Blood.” The Nevilles, including Art on keyboards, Charles on sax, Aaron on vocals, Cyril on percussion and Willie Green on drums, Austin Hall on bass and Brian Stoltz on guitar, didn’t get an encore.
I went to the show with an associate from the Oracle, ad sales manager Mike. Unfortunately, we also took a friend of his along- a woman that was already raving drunk when we picked her up. I was driving and this woman spent most of the ride down to Fiddler’s babbling in the back as well as screaming at me to get moving faster. She didn’t calm down much at the show, until she finally passed out in her seat- a big relief.
This was the first time that I had gotten up the nerve to use a photo pass. A photo pass was usually a sticker, either provided by the concert company or through the band, that allowed a photographer the permission to take shots from the security pit at the front of the stage. The general rule was first three songs, no flash. I had already been covering shows that included photo passes with the press credentials, but I had always given them to other photographers, because I honestly didn’t feel like an adequate photographer. I had taken a photo class once and even had my own darkroom for a while, but I didn’t feel confident about it enough to push through a crowd of people and do it at a concert. I had photographed Yoko Ono and artist Peter Max, but those occasions were in an art gallery, far from any kind of raving crowd.
Still, I got a photo pass for the show and Mike and I ended up sharing it. I went up and tried photographing the Neville Brothers. When I returned to my seat, Mike wanted to try it, so I gave him my jacket with the sticker on it and he approached the stage. I was shocked when Mike all of a sudden was photographing two ecstatic young women, standing up by the security railing with the Neville Brothers in the background. I was uptight about taking advantage of the pass in the first place and then here was this guy making a scene with strangers. During the break, I started fiddling with the camera and judged that something was wrong. So what did I do? I opened up the camera with the film still exposed, ruining the roll and ending my first photo shoot.
June 23- Red Rocks. Public Image Limited, New Order.
New Order churned up their mesmerizing Eurobeat disco music to a sold out Red Rocks crowd who braved a damp evening. The group´s music was a sophisticated sonic mesh of guitar and effects aided by hypnotic visuals and an all-enveloping beat. That beat echoed up the rocks on either side of the amphitheater while the electric music mesh throbbed. Despite its loudness, however, New Order’s rock was almost understated, so fully were all the parts melded together. Especially further up in the amphitheater, some of the power of the music was lost.
The Sugarcubes had opened the show. We could hear them playing as we waited in the long line to get in. We got up to the top just as Public Image Ltd. was taking the stage. Rocking accessibility and a cynical use of the form, mostly expressing disdain for modern living, was balanced eloquently in Public Image´s set. But it was the electricity of watching legendary anti-hero Johnny Lydon prance and dance around the stage while taunting the crowd with artsy lyrics that made this memorable. Still, in the mountains above Denver´s sprawl, the band was able to whip up some kind of ecstasy above and beyond Lydon’s fan baiting antics. The set list included “We Want Your Money” and “Rise.”
I took a friend to the show as a photographer. I had received a photo pass, but after my goof at the Jimmy Buffett show, I was not up to it. But I did manage to wait right at the front of the stage for the beginning of Public Image’s set, while my friend shot pictures. Lydon was dressed in a bright yellow/green suit, his hair close cropped around the sides and the rest sticking straight out. The rest of band was wearing bright suits, with plaids and stripes- all bright colors. The keyboardist had a riser with a colorfully designed backing and the speakers and drum riser also had designer touches.
As I watched Lydon’s maniacal performance- truly a riveting character- a girl behind me screamed “He’s so cute.” I turn around and looked at her like she was crazy and she held her hand to her mouth, embarrassed. Lydon was charismatic, but he was anything but cute. Meanwhile, the performer was up on railing, inciting the crowd. The crowd was responding with a kind of happy glee. Like the Westword ad supplement for the 1989 Red Rocks season said, Lydon was as “a snide, vicious, scabrous and exhilarating frontman.”
Mammoth Events Center. Sister Carol, Andrew Tosh.
New Order’s music just wasn’t connecting with my friend and I up at Red Rocks, so we decided to blast down into Denver to try to check out a reggae show at Mammoth Garden. When I had interviewed guitarist Robin Campbell of UB40 the previous summer, he had highly recommended checking out Andrew Tosh, Peter Tosh’s son, if he ever came around. Tosh was headlining the reggae show and I was feeling bold enough to try to get in under the pretext of being a reviewer.
All the doors were locked when we got to Mammoth, however, and ticket sales had been shut down. A security guard suggested through the glass of one door to try talking to concert organizers at the back door. While walking down the alleyway toward the door, a hotel shuttle bus pulled in and started unloading Andrew Tosh and his band. The timing was such that we smoothly joined Tosh’s entourage while heading for the entrance. With a silent look between my buddy and I, we decided that instead of trying to talk our way in, we would just try walking in with Tosh’s band. The back door bouncer did an obvious double take of these two white guys swimming in a sea of Jamaicans, but he let us proceed nonetheless. Inside, we simply peeled off from the group and proceeded down to the dance floor. Sister Carol was on stage, rapping long and sassy.
Sister Carol, billed as the “Black Cinderella,” was enjoying some recognition for her bit part and closing credits performance in the film “Something Wild.” On stage, her sonorous voice was in constant motion against the reggae beat. Then Tosh and his band took the stage.
Like his father, Tosh, was confident and strong throughout the set, suggesting that the power of music truly crossed the lines of generations. Dressed in a white suit and sporting a red beret, Tosh and band played a generous amount of his father´s classics, including “Equal Rights,” “Downpressor Man,” and the show stopping “Get Up, Stand Up.” But even better were original numbers from Tosh´s first album, including “Original Man” and “Things I Used to Do.” This was not the ghost of a dead man’s former band but a vital rocking reggae force. Tosh also included a version of “Johnny Be Good.”
June 29- Old Town Square. Guanella Pass, Queen Ida and the Bon Temps Zydeco Band.
Old Town Square was becoming a popular concert spot in downtown Fort Collins- mostly because to produce a show there, it had to be open to the public for free, Fort Collins’ favorite price for entertainment. Early on, local and even regional bands recognized Old Town Square as an opportunity to be heard, so musicians like Terry Stone would occasionally organize public concerts. Others, like the Downtown Business Association, saw producing Old Town Square events as an opportunity to draw crowds into the downtown area and bolster the economy there. This was partially the reasoning behind bringing one of zydeco’s most popular performers, Queen Ida and her Bon Temps Zydeco Band, to Old Town for a free public event.
I wrote a preview of the show- the first of six “Concerts Under the Stars” planned in Old Town Square for the summer season- in the Fort Collins Coloradoan, published with a simple headline: “Mighty Ida.” I didn’t get to interview Ida herself, but ended up talking to her manager. I found out that Queen Ida, aka Ida Guillory, had been working on a rice farm in Texas, driving trucks and cooking, previous to starting her music career. She also had driven school busses in San Francisco. She was a native of Lake Charles, Louisiana and had become the reigning matriarch of zydeco, fronting her Bon Temps, or “good times,” band.
I discovered that zydeco was a happy melting pot of rhythm and other styles developed primarily by the Cajun-Creole cultures in southern Louisiana. Identifiable musical influences included Cajun swamp music, American country and western, and Caribbean rhythms such as calypso and reggae. Adding the important German folk influence of an accordion and some strong African rhythmic roots meant that you had a strange hybrid music that nonetheless stood on its own.
Ida’s manager, Ullman, also added a personal note: “None of this makes sense until you see her live.” Ida had been busy touring the United States, Europe and Japan and would be touring the United States later in the year with Nashville musicians Eddie Raven, Doug Kershaw and other closet Cajuns in what was being called Cajun Fest ’89. Ida’s most recent album was “Cookin’ With Queen Ida,” introducing new songs by Ida’s son, Freeze Guillory. There was also a cook book in the works.
The Queen Ida concert was being produced in association with Dutchman enterprises, a company run by a familiar character in town named Henk. Henk had been a fixture in town as a nightclub doorman at bars like Friends (closed down because of the Old Town project) and the Page. He had since become the manager of the Bar Bazaar, hiring bands and keeping track of business there. I would become friendly with Henk in the process of covering local music events and he would regale me with stories of his years in Europe. He claimed to have run a pirate radio station from a tanker in the North Sea and had been the first promoter in Europe to bring in Bill Haley and the Comets and the Shirelles.
A local duo called Guanella Pass opened the show, featuring harp player Steve Garel and guitarist Bob Schmidt. The pair had recently returned from touring in Arizona and was celebrating the Colorado debut of their first recording. Their music was a gritty, pumping folk blues.
By the time Queen Ida took the stage, there were an estimated 3000 people packed into the Square, which was being controlled under very tight security. By the second set, the crowd had thinned out enough to give the dancers in the audience some room to move. The set list included versions of songs such as “Jambalaya” and “Bad Moon Rising” in what turned out to be a handclapping, hip shaking good time. and made the summer night happily rock.
Jonie and I were still working our independent ceramics business and one of the people who worked with us had a nephew who was learning to play the accordion. The young man knew who Queen Ida was and revered her as a musician, so our friend asked us if there was any way the youngster could meet Queen Ida. I talked to Henk and he did better than just that. When Ida took the stage, it was his plan to have a local youngster appear on stage with the band to give Ida a bouquet of flowers. Henk enlisted my young acquaintance to do the job. Afterwards, I accompanied the fellow in a brief meeting with the Queen. I also got an autograph from Queen Ida- on a copy of the Coloradoan that included my article. She wrote: “Thanks for the article. Love, Queen Ida.”
July 11- Linden’s. John Bayley
The one man reggae maestro, John Bayley, showcased his light-hearted approach to covers such as “The Harder They Come” and “Red, Red Wine” at Linden’s in July. Since seeing Bayley open for Peter Tosh at the Lincoln Center in 1981, he had become Colorado´s best established reggae musician. But more than just covering material such as Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” and Tosh’s “Get Up, Stand Up,” Bayley applied an exuberant attitude to each and every song, bringing a smile to listener’s faces and filling the night club with a truly positive vibration. When he wasn’t playing music, it seemed that Bayley was always laughing, which in itself was infectious. Particularly impressive on stage was Bayley´s reggae scat singing on the old calypso tune “Day O” and his use of harmonic and vocal effects.
July 17- Fiddler’s Green. The Replacements, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
Guided by a cool wind and an almost full moon, rock prince Tom Petty and the band the Heartbreakers took an ever-enthusiastic crowd for a tour of the best of contemporary rock music. The stylized psychedelia of “Don´t Come Around Here No More” and a cover of the Clash´s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” sat next to the Georgia Satellite’s “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” and a full assortment of jangly Petty classics (“American Girl,” “Breakdown,” and “Refugee.”) The stage was set like a weird kind of living room decorated with a bear and shield, a skull, a suit of armor, Egyptian symbols on the risers and an African shield. The lighting included strobe effects. Petty’s band included lead guitarist Mike Campbell, drummer Stan Lynch, keyboardist Benmont Tench and bassist Howie Epstein. The Replacements opened, featuring Paul Westerberg on vocals and guitar, Tom Stinson on bass, Chris Mars on drums and Slim Dunlap on guitar.
I did get a photo pass for the show and this time I did not open the camera up and ruin the film. I went up and shot a few frames of the Replacements, though I had no idea who they were. But photographing Petty was a whole different deal. Dressed in patched jeans, Petty not only was a striking and even charismatic figure, but he also seemed to be aware of the photographers. It seemed to me that he consciously presented himself to the media by coming right to the edge of the stage and taking various guitar hero poses. I got the impression that he was posing for me and it was thrilling.
I managed to shoot a whole roll of film. When the pictures were developed, however, the obvious fact that I was an inexperienced photographer became clear. I didn’t know anything about setting the exposure. I didn’t know how to focus on an active subject like Petty and I didn’t know anything about framing up a shot up. The contact sheet was full of photos that were overexposed, blurry and lacked any artistry altogether. It looked like I just swung my camera around the stage and shot haphazardly. The Oracle didn’t use any of my shots, but at least I had successfully completed a photo shoot.
July 19- Red Rocks. Indigo Girls, 10,000 Maniacs.
Two nights later, I had another photo pass for a show by the new Canadian music sensation, 10,000 Maniacs. Bolstered by the thrill of shooting Tom Petty, I approached the front of the stage at Red Rocks with more confidence. When the band came on, I thought I was ready. Vocalist Natalie Merchant was dressed in a kind of matronly, calf-length dress with polka dots and she moved freely around the stage. I thought that that meant that I should move too, so when Merchant sidled over to the opposite side of the stage from where I was positioned, I hurried over to where she was singing. This must have pissed her off because she looked right at me with a scowl, wrinkled up her nose and made a face of disapproval. I was stunned, mostly because I didn’t know that I had done anything wrong.
Almost to underscore her seeming rejection of my action, Merchant approached another photographer, sedately positioned in the middle of everything, and invited him to sing along with her on whatever tune the band was playing. I felt reviled and the experience deflated my dreams of being a rock and roll photographer. Again, I must have opened the camera without rolling the film back up, but this time, the images weren’t totally ruined. However, they were also poorly executed, Merchant’s face washed out due to bad exposure and my focusing was ineffective. Again, the Oracle didn’t use any of my shots.
Meanwhile, 10,000 Maniacs was pumping out their ethereal folk rock, staying within a fairly narrow musical range, but with strength and clarity. The music had a strange and swirling quality, focusing of course, on Merchant’s robust vocal abilities and underscored particularly by the keyboards. Merchant did her best to admonish the crowd for their adoring exuberance, but earned deafening applause nonetheless.
Tim Finn opened, followed by the Indigo Girls, whose straight to the heart harmonies and impassioned delivery exhibited rare sincerity. 10,000 Maniacs had used the occasion to distribute a handout to audience members arriving for the show. The handout supported the activities of the Campus Outreach Opportunity League, which helped “kids looking for a big brother or sister,” lonely senior citizens, and “adults who cannot read” by connecting concerned people “with local agencies which can use your help this summer and in the coming year.”
In between the set by the Indigo Girls and 10,000 Maniacs, my associate from the Oracle and I decided to try to go backstage and see what was happening. We had no idea that a photo pass was only good for shooting pictures and not for going back stage, but then again, neither did the security guard at the door we approached. We went back stage and were walking down a short hallway when we ran into Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls. She was wearing a Husker Du t-shirt and seemed to be pretty pumped after her set. She stopped to talk to us briefly- some chit chat about the set she’d just played- then we continued on to what appeared to be a hospitality area.
At that point, the publicist for the concert company saw us and immediately approached, telling us to leave immediately or get thrown out. We didn’t have the proper pass and we just weren’t welcome, so we got hastily hustled out a side door. I was embarrassed and sorry we had created a scene. Then I offended Merchant while trying to take pictures. That’s rock ‘n’ roll.
July 22- Estes Park. Dottie West, Eddy Raven.
My mother-in-law was visiting from New Jersey and since she identified herself as a country music fan, I arranged for tickets to a country concert up in Estes Park. Estes was a mountain tourist town that served as the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. The town itself was fairly small, but sported an active strip of gift and knick-knack shops, ice cream counters, caramel corn makers and restaurants.
The town also had a fairground that acted as a home for special events. Raven’s appearance was the grand finale event for the annual rodeo held in Estes Park. My mother-in-law had heard of him and so had I. In the research for my recent article about Queen Ida I found out that Raven was not only known as a country star, but also as one who was proud of his Cajun roots. So our whole family drove up to Estes Park, booked a motel room, spent the day hiking and went to the show that evening.
Indeed, Raven ended up proving that country music can most definitely go beyond heartfelt steel guitars and songs about cheatin´. After brief, business-like readings of funky country pop hits, Raven finally led his six piece band into Cajun territory and stoked up some fresh, foot stomping dance music to end the show in high style. Dottie West opened with her own versions of New Orleans bump, country blues, and mellow country pop.
July 25- Old Town Square. Sam Bivens’ Denver Jazz Orchestra
The next Old Town Square concert was with Denver trumpet player and bandleader Sam Bivens and his Denver Jazz Orchestra. I did a preview article in the Fort Collins Coloradoan. In our phone interview, Bivens, who first went on the road as a professional musician at the age of fifteen, defended his horn-based music as a reflection of “happiness and fun” and that popular music like rock “says nothing.” Bivens’ orchestra had 19 pieces and included two vocalists, Ed Battle and Gloria Holliday. Bivens himself played a trumpet with the bell pointing up at an odd angle like Dizzy Gillespie.
In Old Town Square, Biven’s music seemed crafted for the gentle but energetic soul. The orchestra offered a full program of swing music including new arrangements of classics by Basie (“Backstage Blues”) and Ellington (“Satin Doll”) as well as a Bivens penned arrangement of the Batman TV theme song that offered some hot solo room. Bivens´set required a love and passion for horn music and as such was a classy and joyous event.
Since the concert series in Old Town was a new idea, the crowd of Big Band fans were able to comfortably spread out in their lawn chairs. We took my mother-in-law and as we sat waiting for the concert to begin, we talked. I wondered aloud at whether many people actually read my articles and just how many in the crowd came to the show because of the information I provided. As if on cue, the elderly woman sitting in front of us turned around and said, “I came because of your article.” I was delighted and proud because here was proof positive that I was making a mark on the community with my music writing.
July 28. Libido Boyz.
In total contrast to Sam Bivens´mellowness in Old Town was the powerfully electric performance by the Libido Boyz at the new home of hardcore shows in Fort Collins- an empty storefront on busy College Avenue. The flyer had a picture of the landlord laying down the number one rule- “No booze!”- and the room was left baldly unadorned. Still, the Libido Boyz turned in a set exhibiting a good, healthy synthesis of punk and rock styles, touched with a little funk, all delivered with the exciting ability to change rhythms and styles midsong. Their set included originals such as “Reason to Believe.”
The show was one in a series produced by a new company called Surge Productions and was sponsored by Front Range Records. Also playing were the California straight edge bands Instead and Upfront. Straight edge was a new movement growing out of the independent punk movement that subscribed to a no drugs philosophy. Indeed, the Libido Boyz were also on the straight edge bandwagon. One of the songs they performed that night was titled “Don’t Need Drugs.”
July 29- Mishawaka. Blue Monday Band, Jerry Jeff Walker.
The roar of the Poudre River mixed with incessant raindrops while Texas song man Jerry Jeff Walker played a rugged and rowdy solo set at the Mishawaka Inn. A good number of dedicated Walker fans came prepared with slickers and cowboy hats and did not seem to mind the weather at all as Walker cut through versions of classics such as “Mr. Bojangles,” and “LA Freeway.”
Walker proved to be a strong solo performer, balancing songs about trashy women with others that mixed sadness with wisdom. Walker joked with the crowd about the mud, and there was a healthy bounce in his guitar work. Other tunes on the set list included “Armadillo” and “Pissin in the Wind.” Walker was eventually joined on stage by the Blue Monday Band for a rousing finale for what was left of the rain-drenched crowd.
August 13- Folsom Field. The Who.
I had seen the Who play only once- at Anaheim Stadium in 1976. In 1978, drummer Keith Moon died of a drug overdose and the band was hurtled into a period of redefinition that ended in 1982 when the group announced that they were done touring.
Seven years later, however, the Who were back for a reunion tour that ostensibly celebrated their 25th anniversary as a music force. The news was greeted with a rush of excitement. The ads in the newspaper warned that Colorado fans should get their tickets promptly because the new Who tour had sold out quickly in other cities: “record setting sell-outs: Boston 2 hours…Toronto, 3 hours…Oakland, 3 hours…New York City, 2 hours…Philadelphia, 2 shows in 6 hours…Washington DC, 2 shows in 6 hours.” The Boston Globe was also quoted: “Stadium concerts just don’t get any better than this.”
The date in Colorado- on August 13 at Folsom Field in Boulder- was special not only because it was a fresh chance to experience the Who live, but it also became a massive promotion effort for Boulder radio station KBCO. I did an article for the Fort Collins Coloradoan on the situation, explaining that KBCO had “bought” all the tickets to the show and that they were the acting agent in distributing them.
I interviewed veteran Denver promoter Barry Fey who admitted that the arrangement was “quite unusual. But KBCO has wanted to do a show for a long time and this was the right one.” I also interviewed KBCO’s promotions director, Dave Rahn, who told me that “it’s not every day you are involved with a show of this caliber.” Rahn reported that KBCO had purchased all 60,000 tickets to the show and planned to “do unique things” which included offering a special commemorative ticket for those who bought on the first day as well as lots of on-air giveaways.
Ticket sales were being conducted with a wristband system and the random calling of numbers, a method Fey claimed was the best option for the expected rush for tickets: “we did this to assure people that they don’t have to camp out to get seats. It equalizes everyone’s chances of getting tickets.”
The Boulder stop for The Kids Are Alright Tour was indeed fantastic. Framed by shifting canvasses of pop art and enhanced by huge video screens, the Who put on a performance that was befitting one of rock music´s most enduring legends. Far from being a cheap, nostalgia-ridden reunion effort, the Who turned loose over three hours of pure rock theater and music magic. The song list for the show read like an essential anthology of the Who´s best work, including a condensed “Tommy,” “I Can See for Miles,” “Substitute,” “Who Are You,” “Magic Bus” and “Love, Reign On Me.”
Bassist John Entwistle sang “Trick of the Light” and “Boris the Spider” while guitarist Pete Townshend directed the 12 piece backup band through a sprinkling of his solo work including “Face the Face,” “Rough Boys,” “Let My Love Open the Door” and “Just a Little is Enough.” Vocalist Roger Daltrey swung his microphone and pranced like an ageless stallion. He also growled his way through a version of “I’m a Man” and sweetly crooned on “Behind Blue Eyes.” Playing drums was Simon Phillips, a session musician who has recorded with Townshend. The band also included keyboardist John “Rabbit” Bundrick.
While the songs were mostly old, the messages they conveyed were still poignant. Railing against old age in “My Generation” became more of a philosophical boost than a punky rebuke. “Baba O´Reilly´s” line, “Let´s get together before we get much older,” had a greater urgency. And when the show’s grand finale, “Won´t Get Fooled Again,” rocked Folsom, its political irony was even more glaring. What the grand and highly dramatic Who music created was the feeling that some heroes, musical or otherwise, could still raise a strong, clenched fist against the tide of time and get away with it.
The “Tommy” portion of the show included “Overture,” “21,” “Amazing Journey,” “Sparks,” “Acid Queen,” “We’re Not Going to Take It,” “Pinball Wizard” and “See Me, Feel Me.” Other tunes on the set list included “I Can’t Explain,” “Dig” (from Townshend’s new concept album, “Iron Man,”) “My Generation,” “Join Together With the Band,” “5:15,” “Goodbye Sister Disco,” “You Better, You Bet,” “Eminence Front” and “Twist and Shout.”
The August 14 issue of the Rocky Mountain News had a full color photo of Townshend, wearing a blue bandana tied around his neck, on the front page. The caption for the picture revealed that 46,300 fans had attended.
Inside was a review written by Mitchell, accompanied by a large black and white photo of Daltrey singing into an upraised mike; a Union Jack design visible in the background. Mitchell noted that “Pinball Wizard” “featured an enormous inflated silver pinball balloon launched into the crowd for some touchy-feely bouncing around.” He reported that the Boulder version of Townshend’s solo song “Face to Face” was “spiced up with some wonderfully goofy ersatz tap dancing by Townshend and a jazzy punch courtesy of the three-man horn section,” and called Entwistle’s “Boris the Spider” a “vintage bit of cartoonish gothic horror.”
The Fort Collins Coloradoan also put a color shot of the Who on the front page. Daltrey was playing a ripped tambourine, displaying a big smile and a clear hint of those blue eyes. Inside, the review by writer Kathleen Halloran was framed by two big bold red stripes and several black and white photos, including a head shot of Townshend, Daltrey straining up into his upraised mike and a good stage shot detailing the pop art backdrop including Union Jacks, panels with arrows, pin ball bumpers, “Pow!”, targets and other designs. The headline read: “Who boy! The kids are all right at Folsom Field.”
Halloran reported that the Who performed three encores, “the last of which was the Beatles’ tune “Twist and Shout.”” and that the core group “had the help of a large entourage onstage, including a woman drummer in a spangled dress that stole a scene or two with her gong playing.”
Only three days later, Townshend would puncture his right hand with his whammy bar while doing the windmill strum in Tacoma, WA during “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” A report in the Fort Collins Coloradoan described the incident: “Townshend grimaced, set his guitar on the ground and walked off the Tacoma Dome stage…The other band members checked up on Townshend, and lead singer Roger Daltrey announced to the crowd that Townshend had been taken by ambulance to St. Joseph Hospital in Tacoma.”
August 16- Fiddler’s Green. Diana Ross.
Soul queen Diana Ross demonstrated an ageless vigor in her upbeat set at Fiddler´s Green in August. Fronting a letter perfect twelve piece band that included the excellent vocal duo of Bobby Glenn and Rocquel Cox, Ross took an enthusiastically adoring audience through readings of many of her most famous hits. A medley of Supremes songs including “Baby Love,” “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “You Keep Me Hanging On,” mixed with songs from her films “Mahagony” and “Lady Sings the Blues.” In between her obligatory nods to the past, Ross showcased numbers from her most recent album “Working Overtime,” a work written and produced by Nile Rogers. The title tune in particular was funky and snappy, just the right ingredient to round out Ross’ show.
Ross left the stage several times to change gowns but always returned to work the crowd with a laugh and a smile and a friendly, easy manner. She even invited men from the audience to come on stage to dance with her, although she found it was difficult to get rid of them once they were there. One guy literally clung to the star before being escorted away. Despite a twenty-minute rain that soaked the amphitheater during the performance, Ross’ efforts were met with a warm ovation finishing off a night of slick, upper class soul.
The set list also included Lionel Richie’s “Missing You,” “Touch Me in the Morning,” the sweetness of the theme song from “The Land Before Time” and the bouncy “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” Ross’ band included keyboardist and musical director David Goldblatt, guitarist Michael Warren, trumpet player keyboardist Walter Fowler, drummer Robert Shippley, bassist John Pena, keyboardist Mark Stephens, ewi (horn) player Albert Wing, guitarist Kevin Chokan, saxophonist Norbert Statchel and percussionist Ron Powell.
This particular night was also my ninth wedding anniversary with Jonie. I figured what could be more romantic than to see a first rate soul concert. However, I also tried to mix business with pleasure. I had been given a photo pass for the show, but when I approached the front of the stage at the beginning of the set, I was stopped by a big, beefy security guy traveling with the show. The guy didn’t care what kind of pass I had and he physically pushed me out of the way. I went back to my seat embarrassed, frustrated and fuming. The Fiddler’s Green publicist appeared a few minutes later and apologized and offered me a photo vantage point away from the stage, but I declined, figuring enough was enough.
August 18- Old Town Square. Blenders, Box Tops, Drifters.
Nostalgia was unashamedly the object for the Drifters and the Box Tops in another free concert in Old Town Square. But the Fort Collins mainstream audience had an appreciative appetite for the familiar songs as a 1980s version of the 1950s vocal pop group the Drifters sang everything from their own classic tunes, such as “Under the Boardwalk” and “Up on the Roof,” to the Temptations’ “My Girl.” In many ways, the songs themselves were the stars of the show.
I had written a preview for the Fort Collins Coloradoan and reported that the Drifters had originally been formed in 1953. The current group was led by Kell Osborne, who, as a young singer, had worked with Clyde McPhatter and the original group. Osborne had also sang for the Primes, a group that included Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks. The Drifters also included J.B. Williams and Phil Young, both alumni of previous incarnations of the Drifters as well as Marvin Gaye’s band.
The Box Tops, a contemporary touring band made up of associates of the original 1960s group, acted as the backup band for the Drifters as well as turned in their own set of more grittier rock. Their set included versions of Box Tops originals “Cry Like a Baby,” “The Letter,” and “Choo Choo Train,” as well as covers of “Satisfaction” and “Little Sister.” For my Coloradoan preview, I had interviewed the Box Tops’ lead singer and keyboardist Ron Hillman on the phone. The Box Tops had originally formed in 1966 and featured guitarist and vocalist Alex Chilton. ”The Letter,” one of my favorite songs thanks to Joe Cocker’s version, came out in 1967. “Cry Like a Baby” came out in 1968. Hillman joined the Box Tops in 1968. The group was based in California and also included Hillman’s wife Sandy on drums, Scott Ellison on guitar and Roy Heinrich on bass.
An a cappella group from Denver called the Blenders opened the show with a full complement of 1950s favorites including Sam Cooke´s “Chain Gang,” the Tokens’ “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” the Clovers’ “Love Potion #9” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” A cappella was a mild contemporary rage, thanks to the popularity of the Nylons. But the Blenders spent more time telling jokes about themselves and their tacky suits than providing dynamic vocal harmonies.
This was the inaugural year for the NewWestFest in Fort Collins, a community street festival designed to bring more business into the city. The commemorative program explained that “’New” suggested progress, “West,” indicated history and “Fest” suggested “the celebration of those two.” The program listed events all over the city- from art shows to antique car shows to a “mountain man mallfest.”
August 24- Fort Ram. Lonnie Brooks, George Thorogood.
For those who like the very basics of rock ‘n’ roll, blue denim, black leather and a floor so wet with spilled beer that the place has to be hosed out, George Thorogood´s show at Fort Ram in August was a feast. Big and beefy, Thorogood pulled out versions of Chuck Berry´s “Reelin’ and Rockin’” and “No Particular Place to Go” as well as his own standards such as “Bad to the Bone.” Despite the a tough looking five piece band- Thorogood had a bandana tied around his head for a sweat band- the music was somewhat perfunctory and predictable. The audience, however, did not seem to care as they got more than their fill of brew. The set also included the Bo Diddley beat of “Who Do You Love” and “Born to be Bad.”
Opener Lonnie Brooks offered a hard edged, funky blues and rock that ignited fully more than a few moments in the set. Brooks played the guitar with his teeth, demonstrated a funky rhythmic strut, and mixed a thick Hendrix-like tone with hot organ. After his set, Brooks came around to the pool table area where my companions and I were waiting out the set change. We ended up getting into a game of pool with Brooks and he proved to be a friendly, amiable man, and a very good pool player.
August 27- Boomer’s. Big Twist and the Mellow Fellows.
Strong stage presence was not a problem for Chicago based blues band Big Twist and the Mellow Fellows at Boomer’s. The six piece Mellow Fellows, led by guitarist Pete Special, played their own funky warm up numbers then backed the star, Big Twist, with tough thumping and bumping blues shuffles such as the group’s signature song “300 Pounds of Heavenly Joy” or a jumping version of “Sweet Home Chicago.”
A particular treat was vocalist Larry Williams’ warm up work for his boss, taking full advantage of an extensive range and dynamic expression. Added to the excitement was some hot jamming between the Mellow Fellows and locals Mark Brown on sax and super trombonist JD Kelly from JD and the Love Bandits. Earlier in the day, some friends had gotten married and they stopped by Boomer’s during Big Twist’s set to get a wedding dance to the blues before moving on into the night.
August 31- Fiddler’s Green. Steve Earle and the Dukes, Bob Dylan.
Bob Dylan´s show at Fiddler’s Green in August was definitely raw and electric. It had been ten years since I had last seen Dylan perform at the University of Arizona in Tucson and he had developed the ability to change his song arrangements to a fine art. Dylan and his bottom basic three piece band, featuring GE Smith, Tony Garnier and Christopher Parker, warmed up with some almost unrecognizable tunes such as “Stuck Inside of Mobile.”
Dylan’s acoustic set, which featured “Mr. Tambourine Man,” then became more focused and provided a good taste of harmonica and Spanish flavored guitar. Then Dylan proceeded to whip up scorching versions of “I Shall Be Released” and “Like a Rolling Stone.” At this point the crowd was pretty worked up and the security guards circumspectly went row by row for the first ten rows or so and invited the fans to go ahead and pack around the stage. My companion and I saw what was happening and though we were further back than the tenth row, we managed to join the crowd and get within twenty feet of the stage. The encore then rocketed from “Baby Blue” to a jumping, rocking version of “Maggie´s Farm.” The crowd in front of the stage exploded with celebration.
Dylan’s set list also included “Simple Twist of Fate.” Longhaired Texas rocker Steve Earle and his six piece, hard country band opened with a set that included the hot title song to Earle´s latest release, “Copperhead Road.” Earle’s vocals were distinctive- rough and ready like other country rockers such as Guy Clark and Jerry Jeff Walker.
September 4- Fiddler’s Green. Shelleyan Orphan, Love and Rockets, Pixies, Cure.
The Cure, on “The Prayer Tour,” brought their highly sophisticated mope rock to Fiddler’s Green on Labor Day, turning the stage into a dreamy lighting landscape. The band played plenty of their very slow, methodical and introspective music but were savvy enough to also include some of their popular quirky dance tunes, such as “Why Can’t I Be You” and the very funky “The Walk,” when the gripping theatrics started dragging. The whole package however- pink, blue and green lights penetrating thick stage fog while the guitar parts reverberated and the Robert Smith’s vocals wavered- combined mightily for a strong effect. The set list included also “Just Like Heaven”
The Cure’s performance capped off a day that began with the light, soul-tinged music of Shelleyan Orphan. The Pixies followed, making a dark and driving Denver debut. Pixies screamed through tunes such as “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” “Gouge Away,” “Tame “ and “Debaser,” displaying a kind of pop song sensibility with a raw hardcore edge. They were loud and dissonant, demonic vocalist Black Francis wearing a BAD shirt and bassist Kim Deal calmly balancing on high heels.
Love and Rockets also played a set of their very loud and ethereal dance music. Love and Rockets had crafted a deep, low rock, laden with various psychedelic sound effects. The set list included “American Dream” and the band members experimented with feedback, played on the floor and dry humped their amplifiers.
In Denver’s independent weekly newspaper, Westword, writer Gil Asakawa, published a review of the event headlined “Black Plague.” He took a cynical view of the Cure and their audience: “At Fiddler’s Green, the fans were mostly kids showing off their rugged individualism by dressing exactly alike in black-on-black ensembles.” Asakawa, always ready with a sharp-edged wit, reported that the Cure’s latest album was “Disintegration” and concluded by taking a fashion oath: “One thing’s for certain: Thanks to the Cure’s legion of fans, I won’t be wearing all-black outfits for a long, long time.”
September 9- Fiddler’s Green. Elvis Costello.
Elvis Costello opened his September show at Fiddler’s Green with “Accidents Will Happen,” then proceeded to showcase the fact that he had developed into a very gripping songwriter as well as a top notch bandleader.
In 1978, I saw him twice. The first time, at the Santa Monica Civic, he kicked over his amplifier and stalked off stage before hardly beginning. But his set a few days later in Robertson Gym in Santa Barbara was incendiary and succinct. The last time I had seen Costello was for a short and furious set at a bar in a renovated church in Tucson in 1979. His attitude seemed surly and spiteful.
More than ten years later, however, Costello was much less of a hothead and much more of a performer. Besides that, his catalogue of original songs had grown considerably.
His show at Fiddler´s was perfectly paced, balancing Victorian vamps such as “Let ‘Em Dangle”- featuring a tuba/trombone duet- with rock ‘n’ roll jewels such as “Loveable.” Costello included a version of Van Morrison´s “Jackie Wilson Said,” played an acoustic version of “Radio Sweetheart” and performed “Red Shoes” on a twelve string guitar.
The set list also included Nick Lowe’s “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding.” Then he added show stopping rocker “Mystery Dance.” Costello finally treated fans out in the late summer cool to three encores, including “Alison” and “Watching the Detectives,” wrapping things up with “Pump It Up.” His band, the Rude Five, actually had six players: drummer Pete Thomas, bassist and tuba player Jerry Scheff, guitarist, mandolin and trombone player Stephen Soles, keyboardist Larry Knetchel, guitarist Mark Ribot and percussionist Michael Blair.
The results of using a photo pass were again negligible. I hadn’t gotten close enough, the exposures were wrong and almost every picture I took was with the microphone right in the middle of Costello’s face. I remained unpublished as a rock ‘n’ roll photographer.
September 10- Lincoln Center Mini Theatre. Celtic Elvis, Spirit of the West, Yolocamba Ita.
Most of Fort Collins must have been sleeping or watching TV when an exhilarating and fascinating folk package, including Celtic Elvis, Spirit of the West and Yolocamba Ita, played the Lincoln Center Mini Theater. The show was criminally under attended and what unadventurous music fans missed was a full night of diverse and powerful acoustic-based music.
Celtic Elvis opened with a precise, quick moving vocal lashing of life in modern times. The band had a kind of beatnik style, but with a showy polish. Doo wop and even barbershop quartet vocals mixed with snide social observations on original tunes such as “High on Stress,” “Friends as White Noise,” “Green Pictures of Dead Presidents” and “Robot for Jesus.” The evening’s program called Celtic Elvis “the anti-folk” or “the ultimate party band for people who think too much.” The group featured founder Jim Ocean on vocals and acoustic guitar, Rich Wecott on bass and vocals, and vocalists Marcy Straw and Randy Anger.
Canadian band Spirit of the West then took the stage to reveal strong Irish influences. The group featured co-founders John Mann and Geoff Kelly as well as bassist Linda McRae and multi-instrumentalist Daniel Lapp and was identified in the program as the “toast of the Canadian Folk Festival Circuit.” Spirit of the West included Irish reels and twisted sea shanties in a high-spirited and riveting set that featured original tunes such as “The Crawl,” “The Hounds that Wait Outside Your Door” and “Run Boy.”
Boulder singer-songwriter Jon Sirkis acted as the MC for the evening as well as played a few songs himself. Those included pieces from Sirkis’ debut album “A Few Less Colors” which featured guest artists such as Windham Hill’s Scott Cossu and Tim O’Brien of Hot Rize.
Finally, El Salvadorian band Yolocamba Ita took the stage to treat Fort Collins to a brief Latin American music festival. The five musicians were also representatives of the Democratic Revolutionary Front- a coalition opposed to the government in El Salvador. According to the program, Yolocamba Ita’s music described “the struggle of the Salvadorean people to liberate themselves from a long history of brutal and repressive governments…The name Yolocamba Ita comes from the extinct Lenca language once spoken in the Salvadorian region. It means “rebellion of the sowing.”” The members of the band had been forced into exile in 1980 and they had performed the soundtrack music for Oliver Stone’s film “Salvador.”
Particularly interesting was Yolocamba Ita’s use of native Latin American instruments that included a long wooden tube called a “rain stick” which, when upturned, allowed dried seeds to settle slowly down the tube, making the sound of a gentle rainfall. By the end of Yolo´s set, all those in attendance were on their feet dancing. It was sad that the theater wasn’t packed for this special event. But it sure was good to have plenty of room to dance.
September 19- Fiddler’s Green. Edie Brickell, Don Henley.
Eagle Don Henley and his very slick band came out in the late summer cool at Fiddler’s Green to prove that LA rock is not totally dead. Sure, the emotion wrenching ballads like “Desperado” wore a little thin after a while but they were necessary padding for what Henley was really good for- some great catchy dance tunes like “All She Wants to Do is Dance” and high powered rockers like “Boys of Summer” and “Building the Perfect Beast.”
For his “I Will Not Go Quietly Tour,” Henley included Eagles classics “Hotel California” and “Life in the Fast Lane,” but it was “Dirty Laundry” and his choreographed showbiz approach that made the night a triumph. Henley’s band included Jennifer Condos on bass, Frank Simes and John Corey on guitars, Ian Wallace on drums, Scott Plunkett on keyboards, Timothy Drury on piano and Dollette McDonald, Sheryl Crow and Lynn Maybry on vocals.
Edie Brickell and New Bohemians opened with a little extra weight added to the fluffiness I saw in their show at the Auditorium Theater earlier in the year. Brickell had developed some extra vocal power and the band seemed to be enjoying playing their own music tremendously. The group included guitarist Kenny Withrow, drummer Matt Chamberlain, percussionist John Bush, guitarist Wes Burt-Martin and bassist Brad Houser.
September 20- Northern. Blue Monday Band, subdudes.
Despite the excitement of their first album coming out on Atlantic Records and all the “last” subdudes shows in town, the group continued to play various venues in Northern Colorado and I would often go check in with my favorite band. The subdudes weren’t just my favorite band, but also the favorites of everybody at the Oracle, so when the Oracle moved its location from the mid-town area of Fort Collins, to the downtown area, it made sense to produce a celebration concert featuring, of course, the subdudes.
The Oracle had moved into a storefront that was part of the old Fort Collins landmark, the Northern Hotel. The owner of the hotel was interested in anything that brought more business into the crumbling facility, so the subdudes set up in the lobby of the hotel and the crowd filled the floor and the stairway going up to the second floor. The summer ended, almost to the day, with the group’s rollicking and soulful rock ‘n’ roll.
The Blue Monday Band opened the show bringing almost all the rest of the best musicians in town to the Northern. After the show we partied in the Oracle office and I snagged one of the posters for the show that had been signed by all four subdudes.
October 5- McNichols Arena. NRBQ, REM.
American modern rock outfit R.E.M. finally hit the arena-sized big-time when they brought their multi-media “Green World Tour” to McNichols Arena in October. Opening with “Stand,” R.E.M.’s show touched down quite purposefully, making sure to include such band hits as “To the One I Love,” “Orange Crush” and “Get Up.” A huge screen behind the stage flashed softly focused film clips of fish and flowers, shadow plays and audience instructions while distinctive vocalist Michael Stipe augmented his vocals by singing through a bullhorn. Stipe also used an industrial strength chair for a percussion instrument. Strobe lights flashed and Stipe flailed like a scarecrow, looking like a young David Byrne or Peter Gabriel on speed. Stipe’s voice, however, was being lost in the muddle of the sound.
It wasn’t until the second encore, however, beginning with some Stipe a cappella, then plowing into the awesome “Begin the Begin,” that some kind of perceptible balance was struck in the show that allowed the band to shine. The sensitivity of “Ten Thousand Birds” set against the sincerity of “Finest Worksong” finally succeeded in making R.E.M. click into focus. The appreciative crowd, which only half filled the hall, didn´t seem to mind that it took so long for the band to come across and the evening ended in quasi-triumph. The set list also included “I Believe.”
NRBQ opened the show with some quirky but totally endearing slices of disjointed jazz, country stomps, and anything goes boogie. This was their debut performance in Colorado and was particularly highlighted by the belch-on-command funkiness of “White Lightning.” Their set list also included “Me and the Boys” and “Wild Weekend” and the mad cap unit even dared to whistle a tune.
October 6- Mammoth Events Center. Warlock Pinchers, Butthole Surfers.
The Butthole Surfer´s return to Colorado at the Mammoth Events Center was pretty much a disaster due to sound and power problems. The Buttholes walked off stage twice while complaining about the equipment the rest of the time. In between, however, they played some incendiary music.
One of the trademarks of a Butthole show was the combination of raw, intense music akin to white noise, and a chaotic stage setting. At Mammoth, the Buttholes performed under flashing strobe and police lights, billows of smoke looking like exhaust from a badly tuned car, and an ever-shifting collage of imagery projected onto two big screens behind the group. Their performance was quite literally on the edge of total breakdown and when they were able to lurch into their electric cacophony, it sounded like a music from the far end of Hell.
The concert poster promised “a mind blowing multi-media event” in this all ages show and what the Buttholes delivered was a few chunks of electric mayhem and films of a penis reconstruction. The annoyingly disrupted set prompted one member of the audience to encourage others around him to “get drunk and vomit.” Others started chanting “bullshit.” Someone else lit off some fireworks right in the middle of the crowd.
The Warlock Pinchers opened with an abysmal sounding beat box driven hardcore rap that featured the muddy unison recitations of two vocalists who were constantly on the move on stage.
October 27- Boomer’s. Evan Johns and the H Bombs, Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper.
Mojo Nixon brought his real rambunctious rock ‘n’ roll revival to Boomer´s in October. In the process, he proved that, at least to a cockeyed loose cannon performer, nothing is sacred anymore- not George Bush, Jim Bakker or Geraldo Rivera. Well, a little sacred time was reserved for Elvis Presley in a demented and twisted kind of way. But in this otherwise total lack of reverence some fine roots rock ‘n’ roll was laid down which made the crowd shake, scream, boogie and bounce. Nixon came on like some kind of impudent prophet who gave his audience a chance to laugh in the face of the bizarre and random absurdities that seem to rule our lives.
Opening with “Gin Guzzling Frenzy,” Nixon whipped up a good natured rowdiness, fantasizing about impregnating pop singer Debbie Gibson with his “two-headed love child” and getting stuck in an awkward position he called the “Louisiana Liplock.” Where even a belch raised a cheer, Nixon led the crowd through a particularly happy sing along version of “This Land is Your Land,” then ranted and raved about a place he called “Mojo World,” where if you’re old enough, you get your beer for free.
Nixon then became a “Mushroom Maniac,” bouncing a five gallon water bottle off the walls, the ceiling and even the heads of the crowd. He gleefully presented himself as a mutton-chopped geek who evoked Elvis the King by playing hot rocking acoustic guitar to partner Skid Roper´s amazing washboard and cymbal rhythm gymnastics. Nixon wore a busted out TV set on his head while raking MTV over the coals in the song “I Am Alive” and swore that when he was elected president he would make toad licking legal.
Vocally, the set was chaos, Nixon leading some call and response nonsense over the term “poop chute,” calling for freedom for James Brown- and to burn the prison down- pleading to save vinyl records from obscurity and boldly stating that “Wall Street can eat my meat.” Nixon expounded on “Elvisness” and wondered how the Dalai Lama might enjoy visiting Debbie Duz Donuts, the shortlived Fort Collins donut shop that featured topless waitresses. Nixon’s music, however, was dead on serious boogie woogie. The set list also included “Riders in the Sky.”
Evan Johns and the H Bombs opened with some delightfully grungy electric raunch ‘n’ roll. Too heavy to be country and too funky to be trendy, the group was joined on stage by Nixon and Roper for a roots rock ‘n’ roll reading of “Rock the House.”
October 30- Lincoln Center. Joan Baez.
Far from being wild and irreverent, Joan Baez turned in a performance at the Lincoln Center that was meant more for armchair thinkers than for bar stool hoppers. Baez thoughtfully entertained the sold out house with mellow restraint and a catalog of songs reaching back to the beginning of a career that started in 1959. She included several Bob Dylan songs, including “Forever Young,” “Ring Them Bells” from “Oh Mercy,” and “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts.” This included some vocal mockery poking fun at Dylan’s singing style.
Baez also performed Peter Gabriel’s “Biko,” perhaps harkening back to her stint on the Amnesty International tour in 1986, as well as an easy-listening reggae tune called “Warriors of the Sun,” which raised the ghost of Martin Luther King Jr. The first set was highlighted by the plaintive and touchingly nostalgic “Diamonds and Rust” and the title song to her new album “Speaking of Dreams.”
The second set began on a rousing note with “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” then proceeded to tour the world with a Baez original about China, a 16th century Irish folk song, and a Chilean song of thanks for everything titled “Gracias a la Vida.” Baez rocked a little bit with George Michael’s “Hand to Mouth,” but mostly remained reserved throughout the performance, allowing her voice to grow and swell only a few times. It was when Baez stepped away from her mike during the a cappella encore, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and sang to the hall without amplification that a true sense of the singer’s vocal power became clear. The move was unexpected and completely impressive. Baez finished the evening with a full band reading of Paul Simon’s “The Boxer,” leaving Fort Collins satisfied with a light sprinkling of music for the head and heart.
In the issue of the Oracle that included my Baez review, there was an ad for an upcoming date by the Fort Collins band Rigid City. The ad contained a slug reading “see first self-tuning guitar.” This was the first mention of an innovative guitar invention that was being developed in Fort Collins- a guitar that could automatically tune itself. The inventors had a band, Rigid City, and they were anxious to try it on stage.
November 3- Holiday Inn. Billy Karr, Moonlight Rhythm Band, Dave Mason.
When Dave Mason took the stage at the Holiday Inn ballroom in Fort Collins in November he didn’t make any excuses for being a middle-aged rocker whose huge concert hall days of performing seemed to be well over. Instead, he launched into a strong and funky version of “Feelin’ Alright” that set a celebrative tone for the rest of the evening.
Far from being a ghost of former stardom, Mason exhibited plenty of musical muscle. His guitar solo- complete with wah wah effects- during “Dear Mr. Fantasy” soared and the melody and rhythm changes of “Look at You Look at Me” remained very powerful. “All Along the Watchtower” was the showstopper, as always with Mason, but he couldn’t help but try to take things even higher with the rocker “Only You Know and I Know.” Mason let the crowd off easy in the end with a mellow reading of the Eagles’ “Take it to the Limit” as an encore. The set list also included “Pearly Queen,” “World in Changes,” “Let It Flow” and an unrecorded tune called “Lover’s Lane.”
Mason’s band seemed young when matched with such a venerable figure as Mason. But the enthusiasm for the music was clear. Back in the 1960s, the old bluesmen had been the inspiration for a whole generation of rockers. Now there were old rockmen doing the same thing.
Preceding Mason on stage was the Moonlight Rhythm Band featuring the talented new Fort Collins singer-songwriter Liz Barnes. Rob Solomon played bass and Don Cordes played a light and snappy guitar in what turned out to be the debut gig for this combination of local musicians. The performance couldn’t have been sweeter as the band showcased several Barnes originals as well as John Prine (“Angel From Montgomery”) and Delbert McClinton covers. Particular highlights of the set were a couple of subdudes bassist Johnny Allen’s songs (“Couldn’t Stand Another heartache Now” and “Can’t Find Me”) and particularly Barnes’ own “Blue Skies.”
Barnes’ vocals were sweet and clear with an unmistakable similarity to a young Bonnie Raitt. This, in combination with original music, Solomon’s delicate backing vocals, and Cordes’ great jazz chording made the band a delightful discovery. Shortly after this debut show, Barnes changed her stage name to “Barnez,” and she would become one of Fort Collins’ favorite musicians.
Western ballad man Billy Karr opened the show with the heart and soul of an acoustic Bob Seger, exhibiting dramatic, heartfelt songwriting with an occasionally jazzy bounce thrown in for a difference.
After the show, a group of us followed the band “backstage” to get autographs. I had interviewed Mason and previewed the show, so I also thought I would deliver my article to him personally. The backstage area was really a kitchen and we stood there for a few moments chatting with Mason and the group amid the spotless stainless steel. The band was still pumped and Mason wiped the sweat from his forehead, then it was on to the next gig.
November 4- Boomers. Moonlight Rhythm Band, Subdudes.
The subdudes returned to Fort Collins for one night at Boomer’s in November after completing their first national tour to promote their debut album for Atlantic. Boomer’s was packed and smoky for the event. The subdudes included most of the songs from their album, including “One Time” and “Need Somebody.” But there were plenty of unrecorded originals, such as the awesome “It’s So Hard,” that indicated the band’s next recording would be as strong as the first. Other tunes on the set list included “I Want You to Tell Me” and “Light in Your Eyes.”
As though to underscore their fine debut at the Dave Mason show, the Moonlight Rhythm Band opened for the subdudes at Boomer’s. Barnez, it turned out, was also from New Orleans. In fact she was a close associate of the subdudes. So for the next few years to come, Barnez and the subdudes often joined forces for local shows, creating a powerful combination indeed.
November 12- Marriott. Darryl Gleason, Chris Wall, Jerry Jeff Walker and the One Shot Deal Band.
In the relatively comfortable, plush environment of the Marriott, cowboy hats bobbed happily as Jerry Jeff Walker led a full backing band through an evening of whooping, hollering, yodeling and just plain, down home country rock. It was the older, more familiar tunes, such as “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother,” that got the crowd in gear. The band’s power was especially felt during early highlights, “LA Freeway” and “Mr. Bojangles,” which remained heartwarming and effective. The set list also included “Armadillo.”
While the performance was full of people-pleasing fun, Walker’s solo acoustic performance up at Mishawaka earlier in the summer was somehow more preferable. Solo, even in the dripping rain, Walker was far more personable and he revealed a much more intimate side of himself. At the Marriott, Walker was more content to step back and become part of the band.
Chris Wall preceded Walker with a batch of grittier, more hardcore numbers. Darryl Gleason, from the Illustrious Illustrated Men, opened with an acoustic set, sounding like a young Springsteen or Mink Deville while singing originals such as “Pick Your Poison” and “Third Planet from the Sun.”
November 16- Boulder Theater. Souled American, Camper Van Beethoven.
When Camper Van Beethoven opened their show at the Boulder Theater in November with “All Her Favorite Fruit” from “Key Lime Pie,” the band exhibited a stalwart grace that was to propel the rest of the evening into an exceptionally timed and passionately executed performance. Some old hits such as the simple yet soaring “Take the Skinheads Bowling” worked their way into the show that otherwise became a tradeoff between the best of “Pie” and last year’s “Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart.” “Sweet Heart” provided upbeat numbers such as “Turquoise Jewelry” and the bouncy romp “One of These Days” and “Pie” gave just the right amount of gravity with “When I Win the Lottery” and “Flowers.”
This was the new American folk rock and vocalist/guitarist David Lowery was armed with a full rocking band. Particularly impressive was just how possessed violinist Morgan Fichter seemed to be by the music, putting herself literally into the full swing of things. “Matchstick Men” was awesome, “(I Was Born in a) Laundromat” intense, and the gypsy/reggae beat of “Tania” was celebrative.
The band had the guts to go totally acoustic in the middle of the set, which made the whole theater thump with happy footstomping and handclapping- would you believe to “Hava Nagila?” Camper Van Beethoven’s show was a triumph, their encore of “Borderline” mixing with a cover the Grateful Dead’s “Deal.” Chicago band Souled American opened with their version of Grateful Dead rock, providing solid grooves with a country feel, all presented in a laid-back fashion.
November 21- Boomer’s. Crazy 8’s.
The Crazy 8’s put on the funk in style at Boomer’s in November. This seven piece band from Portland provided some real horny reggae with new single, “Knock Me Down,” calypso, soul rock and some tongue-in-cheek paranoia (“Nervous in Suburbia,”) but the best moments occurred when the group got down to the soulful slap of bottom basic funk.
The Crazy 8’s were fronted by a sax-playing vocalist who stayed in close touch with what the accomplished trombonist was doing. The keyboardist would also double on sax, making for hot, tight, and very precise horn work. Trumpet player Rolf Reitzig from Boulder also sat in, adding even more muscle to the proceedings. This was underscored by bass and flaming guitar as well as drums and percussion.
One outstanding cover was of the Beatles’ “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road.” Their encore began with the sing-along silliness of “Gilligan’s Island,” but then launched into a medley of funky 1970s disco hits such as “Shaft,” “Get Down Tonight,” and “Shake Your Booty,” showing perhaps where the band’s true roots must have been: jumping dance music. The Crazy 8’s finally shifted into a roof raising version of “Wild Thing.” The Crazy 8’s show was most definitely a treat, basically positive but tough at the same time.
November 29- McNichols Arena. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. Jeff Beck.
It was a guitar lover’s dream when Stevie Ray Vaughan joined Jeff Beck for the evening’s final encore, “Going Down,” at McNichols Arena in Denver. Here was the grittiest contemporary bluesman trading solos with one of rock’s genuine master stylists on a classic rocker, all fueled by the fiery drumming of wildman Terry Bozzio.
The evening began with a set by Vaughan that was based in the blues but meted out with a heavy handed rock approach. I had seen Vaughan before- opening for Berlin at Red Rocks in 1984- but this may as well have been a different performer. At Red Rocks, Vaughan couldn’t even seem to hold his head up, even though his fingers were busy.
At McNichols, Vaughan was talkative and dynamic. With a little bit of smoke and some guitar fire, Vaughan covered Buddy Guy, received a standing ovation for playing guitar behind his back, and did rough and tumble versions of “Superstition,” “Texas Flood,” “Crossfire” (from his newest “In Step) and “Let’s Go Shopping.” It wasn’t until Vaughan took the time to throw in a little jazz during a sensitive instrumental section that he demonstrated horizons beyond the well established blues rock genre. But finally, it was Vaughan’s excellent study of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” that offered the best glimpse of this man’s talent.
Jeff Beck followed with a tour de force instrumental set that was an ever changing tapestry of electric guitar style. Beck was superbly supported by Tony Hymas on keyboards and modern superdrummer Terry Bozzio, and offered heavy rock, jazz (“Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,”) a dash of reggae, as well as some ethereal, meditative music and modern techtronic funk. Beck’s guitar sound was in fine shape and he himself circled the stage like a fierce cat, often ending numbers with clear gestures of triumph.
Bozzio, with his hair gathered up to the top of his head and a chain swinging between an earring and a nose ring, traded riffs and sparred with Beck throughout the show in what was a brilliant pairing of talent. Hymas skillfully kept things tied down in what turned out to be a good, old fashioned, no nonsense performance. No special effects, just music. Beck proved to be a master of dynamics and, of course, Vaughan’s appearance for “Going Down” finally was an extra special treat. At one point, Beck used some prerecorded vocals and the set list also included “Nothing is Being Done.”
More than ten years later, I was visiting a friend and he was playing a re released version of Vaughan’s album “In Step.” The version he had purchased included some live bonus tracks. When I looked at the date I realized that these had been recorded at the Beck/Vaughan show I had seen at McNichols. The recordings revealed Vaughan at a very strong point in his career indeed. His playing was clear and expressive and his vocals were strong and confident. The tracks not only showcase some of Vaughan’s best qualities, but they also exhibited what it was that his backing band, Double Trouble added to the mix.
The first bonus tune from McNichols, “The House is Rockin” is short and sweet, getting right to the business of rock ‘n’ roll without fanfare. Vaughan uses a sharp guitar tone while the rolling piano fills echo just how much the piano has contributed to rock ‘n’ roll. The drums also answer Vaughan every time he mentions knocking at the door.
Tune two is the Buddy Guy song, “Let Me Love You Baby,” a track that had appeared on “In Step.” Before it gets rolling, Vaughan explains that the song is about the fact that a man sometimes has to speak up in the presence of a woman who makes you feel “all shaky inside.” Vaughan’s guitar peels into the groove and he easily slides up and down the fret board. His vocals also exhibit an energetic vigor. Here, the bass is the star in the background, adding a nimble little hop to the rhythm. In this tune Vaughan starts with a clear, high tone, but then switches to a broader palette and lets loose. Then the vocals kick in to make a powerful impact.
The next bonus track, “Texas Flood” begins as a low swinging blues and the partnership between Vaughan’s guitar work and his vocal becomes clear. But then he gets down to business making the guitar notes buzz, hop, slide, skip and swirl until they were all jumbled up in one powerful sound. In the background, the drums add occasional flourishes to heighten the tension. At the end, Vaughan tells the crowd “I like doing Texas blues.”
But the last track recorded at McNichols is a definitive showcase for Vaughan. The twelve and a half-minute version of “Life Without You” is touching for several reasons. That includes the long spoken word section towards the end of the piece where Vaughan talks directly to the crowd about taking the time to take care of yourself and your loved ones. Vaughan thanked God he was “here today” and that reflecting “does me good.” He recounted how in the past he would run from himself- often to “the party”- and that finally one day he nearly died. The experience woke him up to the fact that it wasn’t “the right thing to do.”
Framing the heartfelt speech were guitar solo sections that define the awesome guitar talent Vaughan possessed. The soulful song begins with a low key simmering tempo, a mellow organ underneath, but when Vaughan digs into his guitar, the song reaches a whole different orbit. Vaughan uses a very thick guitar tone and his musical phrases seem to melt into each other, the tone gluing it all together. The solo continues, reaching higher and higher, then Vaughan kicks in with quick strumming, sending it into a dizzying climax. But the song breaks down again and this is where Vaughan speaks to the crowd. The guitar kicks back in, approaching an electric grandeur, so intense that it finally dissolves in feedback. The song had been a tremendous workout.
December 3- McNichols Arena. It Bites, Jethro Tull.
I hadn’t seen Jethro Tull since 1975, so when I wrote a preview for an upcoming date at McNichols Arena for the Oracle, I took the opportunity to flashback to the shows I had seen: Phoenix in 1970, LA in 1973 and Tucson and Seattle in 1975. But I was especially struck by an experience I had had recently at the local shopping mall. I passed some teenaged boys who were wearing some standard black tour t-shirts and was surprised to see that they were Jethro Tull shirts. Usually you saw kids in various heavy metal shirts, but Jethro Tull? How could teenagers be interested in such an old warhorse like Jethro Tull? It became clear to me that it was time to check in on an old favorite. That included reviewing the latest album, “Rock Island.”
Jethro Tull’s performance at McNichols was as strongly theatrical and rocking as you might ever have wanted from this veteran English outfit. Vocalist Ian Anderson remained quick with the flick of a wrist and the snide turn of a phrase and Martin Barre’s electric guitar still howled loud and clear. Two screens projecting timely silhouettes and slides and a few weird people walking around with lit miner’s caps provided ample theatrics as the band offered a show fronting their newer “heavy metal” material, but ultimately relying on older Tull standards to pull the evening through.
Tull opened the show with “Strange Avenues,” an odd meditative piece from “Rock Island,” moved through “Steal Like You,” then rocker “Big Riff and Mando.” English folk flavored oldie “Thick as a Brick” (an abridged version, of course) gave way to the powerful “Rock Island,” then a lengthy Barre guitar showcase. Anderson then offered an acoustic solo “Mother Goose” from “Aqualung” and couldn’t resist including the rousing new “Another Christmas Song.”
“My God” remained a touch of class, offering Anderson the opportunity to once again blow his nutty flute solo through to and including “Bouree” from “Stand Up.” New stuff, “Whaler’s Dues,” “Hot Night in Budapest” and “Kissing Willie,” then set the stage for golden nugget oldies such as “Nothing is Easy” and their well worn finale “Aqualung.” The band encored with “Locomotive Breath” and left the crowd celebrating with huge Tull balloons.
While the show was primarily geared to satisfy Tull fans of all ages, some bits of sexism- especially a moment when the silhouette of a nurse appeared to be giving oral sex to Anderson- perhaps indicated that the band was all too conscious of its teenage male audience and purposefully pandered to their more base interests. It Bites opened the show with a kind of melodic heavy metal offering epic arrangements with that soaring, anthem-like feeling. Their current release was “Eat Me in St. Louis.”
December 13- Linden’s. Clarence Gatemouth Brown.
The independent publishing business is tough and the owners of the Oracle were feeling the squeeze. The paper was still coming out, but the grumbling of change was becoming more frequent. By now I was used to being able to write and publish articles pretty much at will, so I sought out some new outlets. One was publishing a new zine devoted just to record reviews- “Discus.” I wrote the first issue myself, then others- record store clerks and radio DJs- also contributed. Another was a new monthly newspaper out of Denver called On Stage.
On Stage was an entertainment publication that carried an extensive regional events calendar and filled editorial space with mostly canned biographies and press releases about performers. I approached them about reviewing shows and the publishers were open to trying. On Stage was a nice alternative to the Oracle because it had regional distribution, all over Denver, Boulder and northern Colorado. One of my first review for On Stage was about a Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown show at Linden’s in Fort Collins in December.
Brown, sporting a big black hat, took the stage at Linden’s after being properly introduced by a short instrumental warm-up by his three-piece backing band. Brown came on to a funky shuffle, which in no time turned right into the lowdown blues. A Texas original, Brown often switched from guitar to violin and back again. He also proved to be a master of style- also playing some talking blues, some swinging jazz and good, lean rock ‘n’ roll. He also had full control of dynamics, at one point bringing the proceedings down to a whisper, then building them back up again into a light and easy jazz.
Brown’s delivery was cool and smooth, whether revved up into the rock ‘n’ roll of “Louisiana Zydeco” or swinging fully on “Take the A Train.” A dash of calypso (“Jamaican Farewell”) and some New Orleans boogie (“Big Chief”) mixed with more jazz and even a foot-stomping country hoe-down. The set list also included “Ain’t That Dandy.” All the while, Brown maintained the precision and invention of a mature jazzman. When Brown finally encored with some clean and jumping jazz exploration, he had treated the near full house- somewhere between 110-120 fans- to a full gamut of American music styles served up with a light touch of class. Dallas band, Mike Morgan and the Crawl, opened with some basic swinging blues, competently served.
December 14- Lincoln Center. Nightnoise, Phillip Aaberg, Liz Story.
By this time, Windham Hill Records had become a leading force in the new age, instrumental music movement. Like the artists on the ECM jazz label in the 1970s, Windham Hill musicians were a defining stable of talent. Not only did they release individual albums of note, but the company also released compilations such as the “Winter Solstice” and “Winter Solstice II” albums. To promote both the artists and the compilations, Windham Hill organized a tour of some of the artists as a natural extension of the project.
The Windham Hill Winter Solstice concert at the Lincoln Center in December ran a gamut of musical styles and dynamics in a gracious and purposeful fashion. Pianists Liz Story and Phillip Aaberg and the Irish/American band Nightnoise, presented a full program of music inspired by the holiday season, offering both original music as well as renditions of more traditional fare.
The entire ensemble opened the concert with the plaintive strains of “That Very Night in Bethlehem,” then left Story and Aaberg to duet on the piano on some short pieces derived from 14th century French carols by composer Peter Warlock. Nightnoise flutist Brian Dunning and guitarist Michael O’Domhnaill then produced a light and airy version of Van Morrison’s “Moondance.” The rest of Nightnoise, Triona Dhomhnaill on keyboards and Billy Oskay on violin, then joined them for a set of three songs, including the Dave-Brubeck influenced piece “After Five” and an original tune, “At the Races.”
Story followed intermission with a set of piano solo pieces including “Enter the Stable Gently,” Gipsy Kings-influenced “Escape of the Circus Ponies,” “Forgiveness,” from the film “Worth Winning,” “Inside Out” and the celebrative “Things With Wings.” The clear sentimentality of Story’s piano made her performance the most touching of the evening, despite a few missed notes. Nightnoise then returned for “Outgoing Tide,” a song sporting Gaelic words, followed by the self-described “jazzy Irish chamber music” of “City Nights,” then the band’s gorgeous title song “Nightnoise.”
Aaaberg then appeared to add some raucous boogie piano and a relieving sense of humor to the evening. While a more lively and percussive player than Story, Aaberg did play some more introspective pieces such as the cold “High Plains” and the slightly bluesy “The Gift.” He also performed “Every Deep Dream.” But it was the showstopping breakneck pace of “The Nutrocker” that got the audience on its feet cheering. The whole ensemble then returned for a finale and the Gaelic-influenced encore “Bring Me Back A Song.” The attentive and appreciative audience seemed satisfied that they had gotten plenty of the thoughtful music that they had come for, as they were turned out into the new fallen snow.
December 29- storefront. DI
Somehow it was comforting to see the storefront hardcore punk venue in Fort Collins crammed with hot bodies for a punk rock send off to the decade. Hardcore, I realized, had been an inspiring factor in my development as a writer and as a music fan. As a writer, I found out that I could write about anything I wanted and get it published as long as, if nothing else, I was willing to take it all the way by myself. As a music fan I discovered that the primal strength of music could be found in VFW and rented halls as well as in the big concert arenas. Somehow the raw power of local punk at times matched the best of what happened on the big stages.
DI’s music was angular, time capsule punk, smoothly executed. A pit- full of people certainly living on the edge- churned tightly around a post in the center of the room while the band played hidden away back in a cubicle. From California, DI’s music was precise but wild, full of calculated rawness. The sign on the door read “No booze, no drugs, no fighting” and there was an explosive tension in the air. Still, the scene held together without incident. Social Joke opened. The 1980s came to a close with the roar of electricity and a bead of sweat.