Some Lasting Concert Memories

Originally posted June 22, 2007

Some time ago, I set down a few words about the concerts I used to go to at St. Cloud State, starting when I was in high school and continuing through my college years. I came to the judgment that the Chicago concert in the spring of 1970 was the best I’d ever heard there.

That got me to thinking about sorting through memories of all the pop and rock concerts I’d ever attended and deciding on one best show. Kind of a tough task, as I was certain I’d forget a show or two here or there. And I might. But the best shows do tend to stand out, even after – in many cases – more than thirty years.

Now, I’ve never been one to go to a lot of concerts. Compared to some of my contemporaries, I hardly went to concerts at all. I knew people in college who hit the Twin Cities for shows nearly every weekend and then doubled that rate during the summers. That left me wondering how they kept track of them: To me, memory is a large part of the concert experience, the ability to sit back and re-experience, as it were, a moment that moved you but that may have taken place years before.

And that got me to thinking. Which moments stand out for me? When I look back at the concerts I’ve been to, what do I recall most clearly?

5.) In the spring of 1972, Elton John basked in the applause as his concert at St. Cloud State neared the two-hour point. Sitting at his piano after one of his quieter ballads, he raised his hands, thanked the crowd and mopped his brow. “We’re gonna have some fun now,” he said, leaving me and my date wondering what we’d been having up to then. He stood up and kicked the bench away from the piano. “I love this song,” he said. Then he bent over the keyboard and ripped into a kick-ass rendition of “Take Me To The Pilot.”

4.) All night long in the summer of 1974, the members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young had traded off being the center of attention, fading into the background as each of the others sang lead on the group’s songs or performed material from solo albums, taking turns adding guitar solos to the performances and generally being very well-controlled. Near the end of the show, all four strapped on electric guitars to perform “Ohio.” As they headed into a long jam, the four of them formed a box on stage, all facing each other, backs to the rest of us in the arena. And it was like a switch was flipped: Suddenly it was the four of them – David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young – and the rest of us could just as well have not been there, as they traded lick after lick for what seemed like a very long time, embracing themselves and their music and giving the 17,000 of us in the audience the privilege of listening in.

3.) The Rolling Stones performed in a small arena when they played Århus, Denmark, in October 1973, doing two shows in a space that, in memory, seems no larger than maybe four basketball courts. I saw the second show with my Danish brother, Ejvind, and we had the best seats I’ve ever had for a concert: fifth row up, no more than sixty feet from the stage. The two images that stay with me from the show are of perspiration: Sax player Bobby Keys, already having shed water during the first show and dripping under the lights as he tore through his solo during the second show’s opener, “Brown Sugar,” and Mick Jagger mopping sweat from his brow midway through the show as he danced through the middle section of “Midnight Rambler.”

2.) In July of 1989, Ringo Starr brought his first All-Starr band to St. Paul’s Harriet Island for an outdoor show. About 20,000 folks came out to see the ex-Beatle, who’d brought along with him folks like Levon Helm and Rick Danko from The Band; Dr. John; Joe Walsh; Billy Preston; Nils Lofgren and Clarence Clemons from the E Street Band; session drummer extraordinaire Jim Keltner; and his own drummer son Zak. There were a number of wonderful moments: Helm and Danko teaming up to perform The Band’s classic song, “The Weight,” and Ringo closing the show as Billy Shears doing “With A Little Help From My Friends” were just two. But the best moment for me came during “Yellow Submarine.” During one of the choruses, Clemons leaned into his microphone and contributed the antiphonal spoken word portions that on the record were done, I think, by John Lennon. As he did so, he beckoned to the crowd to join him. And we did: “So we sailed (So we sailed) . . . into the sun (into the sun) . . . ’til we found (’til we found) . . . the sea of green (the sea of green.)” And so on. But at the end of the chorus, Clemons was silent after “yellow submarine,” leaving the 20,000 of us in the audience to replicate in unison Lennon’s manic “A-ha!”

1.) The best single moment I’ve ever had at a concert took place in September 2002, when the Texas Gal scored tickets for us to see Paul McCartney at the Xcel Center in St. Paul. It started as a good concert and then began to turn magical when McCartney encouraged our ovation for John Lennon before he performed “Here Today,” his tribute to John from Tug of War. He followed that by picking up a ukulele for a performance of George Harrison’s “Something,” which was lovely. And then, as the applause died down, there came from the speakers the sound of an airliner revving up. “Ohmigod, yes!” I hollered as McCartney and his sidemen (who were remarkably good) leaped into “Back In The U.S.S.R.,” quite likely my favorite Beatles’ song of all time. I couldn’t stop grinning, and the memory still makes me grin. I think it will for a long, long time.

So what do I share for a post about my best concert moments? Well, logic would call for McCartney’s Back In The U.S., a two-disc collection recorded during that 2002 tour. Two things helped me decide against it. First, it’s still in print, still easily available. Second, quite a few of the performances on it aren’t as good as the ones we heard in St. Paul that night. Although I enjoy the CD, I don’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would when I got it.

But the 1990 release Ringo Starr And His All-Starr Band, now, that’s a different story! I was surprised to find that it’s out of print here in the U.S. (Used copies are easily available online.) And, to my ears, it provides an accurate and very enjoyable listen, with the performances – recorded during the tour finale at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles – being faithful to the sound of the show I saw during the tour’s early weeks. The only disappointments are the absences – for clearance reasons, I assume – of the Lennon-McCartney tunes, “Yellow Submarine” and “With A Little Help From My Friends.”

Live albums can be a crapshoot, of course. Many of them – and some of these are legendary – have so many studio overdubs added to repair concert deficiencies that they might as well be studio albums. I don’t think that’s the case here. At least, I’ve never read anything about it, as I have in the cases of other prominent rockers and their live albums. It’s a fun album to listen to on its own, and as an audio souvenir of a hot evening in July 1989, it really can’t be beat. (A-ha!)

Here’s the track listing:
It Don’t Come Easy
The No-No Song
Iko Iko
The Weight
Shine Silently
Honey Don’t
You’re Sixteen
Quarter To Three
Raining In My Heart
Will It Go Round In Circles
Life In The Fast Lane
Photograph

Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band [1990]

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