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Ladies and gentlemen, The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones are playing in Orlando tomorrow (Friday, June 12). I love the Stones, they were the first rock band that I really got into, but I never had any inclination to go see them live again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it will be a really great spectacle (I hesitate to use the word “concert,” because Rolling Stones shows have been more spectacle than concerts for years now), but I have seen them once, I don’t need to see them again. For one thing, I’m just not into paying top dollar to see 70 something year olds play music, but for another, I have no real desire to deal with that many people in one place unless it’s really something special. The one time I did get to see them, it was indeed something special.

I saw the Stones on the Steel Wheels Tour in 1989, playing the football stadium in Clemson, SC, and it was absolutely packed (So that means 70, 80K). My friend and later college roommate Tommy and I camped out overnight outside of the venerable (and by venerable I mean “absolute dump”) Greenville Memorial Auditorium to score tickets, paying what was then a kings ransom of $45 (45!) to sit a few rooms from the top of the stadium.

Even though we camped out, I remember that we were still pretty far back in line, and we were worried that we weren’t going to actually get tickets. Then, for reasons I still haven’t quite figured out, the line in front of us started to move, slowly at first, but soon it was a full gallop sprint. We were kind of slow getting up and moving, which was good for us, because all these people ended up doing was running in a circle around the building and losing their place in line. Some how, some way, the rumor had started that the tickets were going to be sold at a different window, and literally hundreds and hundreds of people ran themselves into a place at the back of the line. And I’ll always thank them, because I’m pretty sure more than a few of them walked away empty-handed the next day.

Fast forward then to November 29, 1989, as we begin the climb to our seats. If you’ve been to a football game at Clemson’s stadium and have sat in the upper deck, you’ll know that it is a steep climb. The deck angles basically straight up, so making that climb is more than a little daunting when your ticket is row “Double Letter.” The first thing we noticed on our climb is that our section was stage left, and by “stage left” I mean so far to the left of the stage that the only time we saw drummer Charlie Watts was at the end when he walked to the front of the stage to wave goodbye to the crowd. The other thing was how big the stage was. Where we were eventually sitting was pretty much eye level with the top of the stage setup, which (I may be misremembering this but it sticks in my mind) had warning lights on the top to warn low-lying aircraft.

Living Color opened the show, and I’m sure they were good but we didn’t make it into the stadium in time to see much of their set, but I do remember how good they sounded on our trek into the stadium. You know how at a lot of outdoor shows the sound is pretty terrible and actually gets worse the closer you get to the stage? Not at a Stones show, my friends. The sound setup was like nothing I’ve ever heard since, and it sounded like the band were playing in your living room no matter where you were within about a 1/2 mile radius of the stage.

The Stones kicked things off with classic track/eventual Windows 95 theme song Start Me Up, which was memorable from out vantage points because Keith Richards boot appeared out of the smoke and haze of the front stage fireworks about the same time as the riff from his guitar reached us. I remember it being a pretty great set, if a tad but heavy on the album they were ostensibly touring behind. A quick search of the Google tells me that 6 of 25 songs in the main set were from Steel Wheels, which in retrospect isn’t that bad at all (the ratio of songs, not the album Steel Wheels – that was a dud).

I remember the highlight being toward the end of the set with Happy (Keith on vocals!), Paint it Black, the underrated 2000 Light Years From Home (one of the few bright spots of the Stones short-lived psychedelic phase), and Sympathy of the Devil. Towards the end of 2000 Light Years most of the house lights went down and the stage was basically dark as the band faded out of the song, before the spotlight revealed Mick Jagger on a platform at the top of the stage, more or less parallel from us, as the opening percussion of Sympathy sounded. The entire audience went apesh*t and drowned out the band completely. It was AWESOME. Easily one of the best concert moments of my life, and I’m sure in a lot of people’s lives. This video from the Cotton Bowl in Dallas doesn’t do it justice, as you don’t get the perspective on where Mick was to start the song, but it basically took him the entire guitar solo to make his way back down to the stage mid-song.

Moments like that are why you pay the money, brave the crowds, and go see what even then was a band threatening to reach self-caricature status – not to go see a band play only their hits for the millionth time. The Stones back catalog is unfathomably deep, so that for every Satisfaction and Jumpin’ Jack Flash, you’ll get to hear songs like Midnight Rambler and Dead Flowers as well. I doubt they let Mick journey to the top of the stages any more (probably for a litany of insurance reasons), but you’re guaranteed to see something amazing, no doubt. I just never need to see it again. I do hope everyone going enjoys the show, regardless.

Editor’s Note: I fully stipulate that I am old and there was enough marijuana smoke gathered in a haze in the upper stratosphere of the stadium where we were sitting to give everyone in the upstate of South Carolina a contact high that night, so I may have misremembered and/or hallucinated some or all of the details described here. The important thing though is that this is how I remember it, so that’s just as good as it actually happening. Caveat emptor though, just in case.

Cheers.

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Comfortably numb: Roger Waters The Wall in Orlando 6/16/12

This review of the Roger Waters show in Orlando is a tad bit late, but I was traveling for work last week and didn’t get to it until this evening.  I probably have a fairly unique perspective on this show because, unlike the thousands of other people who were there, I’m fairly ambivalent about Pink Floyd in general and The Wall in particular (in fact, I much prefer the insane, psychedelic Syd Barrett era Floyd over the more familiar 70/80s output). I had, however, heard pretty amazing things about this show, so when my friend and Floyd superfan Nick asked me if I wanted to go, I agreed (plus, Mrs. Lo is a fan so I scored some points there as well).

I can honestly say, it was an amazing, amazing experience, though I wouldn’t really call it a rock concert per say (though the music was performed flawlessly and with consummate skill). This was much more akin to a Broadway show, with every move choreographed and every note tied to mind blowing visuals, dominated by the ever present titular Wall, which rose and fell along with the show (along with constantly changing lights, costumes, a children’s choir, a dive bomber that flew across the arena and crashed in a fireball, massive puppets, the floating pig, and enough flames and pyrotechnics to make an 80s hair metal band jealous). I could try to write more about it, but I am just better off showing you some of the crappy iPhone pictures that we took. As always, these photos don’t really any justice to the spectacle, but it should give you an idea.

Pre-show, The Wall partially built. We purposely sat towards the back on the rec of a veteran of several of these shows to get the best view.

Show opens! Big fire.

Search lights and smoke.

Little blurry, but that’s Rog donning the Nazi style dictator uniform and basking in the glow. If you don’t know anything about this show don’t be fooled by the costume, this wasn’t a massive Klan rally or anything. The show is very anti-facist/statist (as Nick was quick to assure us multiple times). More to come on that.

Evidently the circle in the background was a big middle finger to other members of Pink Floyd who toured without Roger some years back and used a similar backdrop.

Changing colors, and notice the Wall is getting bigger. The system they had set up to build this thing during the performance was pretty amazing.

Big Brother is watching.

Giant puppet in the house.

This was pretty cool, Roger singing a “duet” with himself from 30 years ago during “Mother.” It was flawless.

Getting bigger, Wall’s almost done.

Just before intermission. Another giant puppet in the house.

Intermission, and the Wall is complete. The faces on the Wall were “victims of state violence,” including Roger Waters’ own father, who was killed in action during World War II. Do the math and you can figure out that Roger is pushing 70. He had the energy level and enthusiasm of a much younger man though. You could tell throughout the performance that this is a piece that he’s proud of and actually enjoys performing these days (unlike his rather horrific reputation from the past).

The band played several of the songs after intermission (after the record was figuratively flipped) completely obscured behind the Wall. The pictures start to run out here because my battery was going dead. It’s a shame though, because there was some really crazy visuals going on. Go rent the movie The Wall to get a better idea. Much of that was reproduced here, including the “flowers,” which scarred me permanently as a youngster.

The double hammers are out! I think Nick may have accidentally joined some type of national workers party during this part.

And, skip to the end. (Bonus points if you get that reference. Anyone?

Encore, The Wall has fallen, and all kinds of crazy stuff happened not pictured here. Sadly, I was not able to get anything from Piper at the Gates of Dawn played.

So there you go, 15 subpar photos documenting what was a pretty phenomenal experience, even if I’m still fairly “meh” about the music. I will admit though, that the performance of Comfortably Numb was one of the best “rock” moments I’ve seen. That was top shelf, and probably wouldn’t have been better if David Gilmore had appeared at the top of The Wall to take his guitar solo and vocal (though Nick would have totally lost it.)

If you get a chance to see the show I do recommend that you do so, regardless of how you feel about Pink Floyd. You won’t regret it. If nothing else you’ll be wowed by the visual spectacle and Roger Waters enthusiasm. I was. And maybe I’ll even go back and give the record itself another listen now, you never know.

Cheers.

Radiohead in Tampa 2/29/12: Drums not dead

Mrs. Lo and I headed to Tampa yesterday to catch the second show on Radiohead’s North American tour. This would be the third tour I’ve seen them live and they always put on a phenomenal show but I was especially curious this time around since the album they were supporting, The King of Limbs, isn’t exactly the stuff that massive arena shows are built around. Plus, at my advanced age I’m always a bit skeptical about going to rock shows held in hockey arenas. It does, though, lead to some interesting juxtapositions.

Stamkos, St. Louis, Yorke?

We were able to get floor seats (general admission)  through the Radiohead website pre-sale, but fortunately for us we weren’t particularly concerned with getting as close to the stage as possible, because by the time we got there an hour before show time the GA line was a couple of thousand people long and stretching around the arena and down the street. We walked past that line of diehards, some of whom had claimed their tickets and place in line much earlier that afternoon, went to grab a bite to eat at the Marriott across the street, met up with our friends Nick and Molly just before showtime and walked into the arena and down to the floor.

Ah, presale buy = no $$$ for Ticketmaster/Live Nation.

After a pretty good set from openers Other Lives, Radiohead hit the stage around 8:45 one a stage that was bathed in a constantly changing lights and colors with King of Limbs opener, Bloom. The stage setup featured a series of shifting screens in front of an amazing LCD display; taken together it was one of the most impressive stage shows I’ve ever seen. Deceptively simple, but an extremely entertaining complement to the band’s performance. We started the show off about halfway up the floor, but quickly fell back to near the sound board to better take in the visuals. Good choice on our part indeed. Unfortunately, my poor, washed out photos don’t really do the stage setup justice, but they’ll give you an idea at least.

The band takes the stage and launches into Bloom.

Radiohead in purple.

A better view of the full video setup.

I think this was taken during Reckoner, but am not sure.

Two things were obvious from the offing: 1.) this was not going to be a favorite show of those who don’t like the band’s post Kid A output. The opening set was taken almost exclusively from The King of Limbs and In Rainbows, so anyone hoping to hear multiple tracks from OK Computer and The Bends was going to be to left wanting. 2) the band was intent on playing to the back row of the arena and the operative word of the night was PERCUSSION. Portishead drummer Clive Deamer joined the band to fill out some of the intricate rhythms of the King of Limbs tracks, but was just as often deployed as a muscular, blunt force addition that gave tracks like Myxomatosis (still the best song ever named after a deadly disease in rabbit) an added boost that transformed it into thumping cousin to Kid A’s The National Anthem. The approach also elevated my least favorite track from King of Limbs, Morning Mr. Magpie, which became a real punk stomper with the twin percussive propulsion.

Drums were so much the word of the night that during There There there no less than 4 drum kits on stage. This added muscle wasn’t always so successfully wielded, however, as the percussion completely overwhelmed the intricate guitar playing on Bodysnatchers, and it is never a really good idea to hear less of guitar wizard Jonny Greenwood’s work. A minor misstep but a misstep nonetheless.

Another thing that became obvious pretty quickly was that this was a band brimming with confidence and having a great time plying their trade. Thom Yorke, bearing a striking resemblance to Mick Fleetwood with a vest and ponytail, danced and shimmied and worked the crowd with a large grin on his face more often than not. While he’s never going to be the most talkative front man, it was striking change from the miserable, pained Yorke so often on display back in the 90s. The confidence that the band exuded was palpable: the vibe of a band that has a live show second to none and the talent to play just about anything they wanted. You want intricate, flamenco-influenced dance tunes? Here’s Bloom and Staircase. Electronic, thumping rave ups? How’s Idioteque and Everything In It’s Right Place treat you? Slinky, funky dance numbers? All I Need and OK Computer era instrumental Meeting in the Aisle will fit the bill. Oh yeah, and piano-driven sing-along ballads that must make Chris Martin sob with inadequacy? The Daily Mail and Karma Police. It’s the kind of confident “we can play any style you want and do it well” vibe that reminded me of listening to London Calling by the Clash for the first time and it’s a heady thing to witness in person.

After nearly 2 hours of the music, the band finished by finally dropping a couple of tasty morsels from their early catalog, the aforementioned Karma Police, and, most unexpectedly, Bends closer Street Spirit (Face Out) to bring the night to an end. The crowd lapped both tracks up, singing along with full throat, and it was powerful reminder that, behind all the electronics and dense layers, Radiohead has written some of the best guitar pop ever, and, if they want to, can do it again. If they feel like it.

Some video from the show that has popped up on YouTube already. Immerse your soul in the love. (Credit to the tapers.)

Cheers.

Meeting in the Aisle

There, There (bang a drum or four)

Pyramid Song (so, so good)

Idioteque

Weird Fishes/Arpeggi (“Weird Fishes! Weird Fishes! Whoooooo!”)