What do we look for when we go to concerts? Does it depend on the artist or genre? Is it just a matter of wanting to hear some good music, played live? Or are we hoping to be part of something? I think there’s a lot to be said for the importance we put on saying we were there. It’s a chance at vicarious immortality, maybe. I don’t know. But whether or not that show, that moment, will be historically relevant is no guarantee, so that may not be it at all. All I know is there is something about the energy at a good live show, when the performers are on top of their game and the audience is right there with them and it’s the perfect venue. History or not, there are some artists that make me wish I had a time machine. And I’m not even talking big events like Hendrix at Woodstock or what have you. I love Hendrix, but a big festival event is just not my thing. I tend to like intimacy.
Before they were the mop topped boy band pop stars that made all the young girls scream over their music, they were savage. They were young. They were somewhat dangerous, playing small clubs in Liverpool, like the Cavern Club. Those are the Beatles I would hop into Doc Brown’s Delorean to see. Leather. Boots. Crowded nightclubs on sketchy English streets. That’s how I imagine it, anyway. I’d probably stick around this era for a while and maybe follow them to Hamburg where they developed their skills further. That vibe is something I think would need to be lived to be understood.
Best live album of all time, if you ask me, is James Brown’s Live at the Apollo Vol II. Sure, I could easily switch this out with volume I, but that one was a bit earlier in his career. Volume II was recorded in 1967, arguably, his prime. All one has to do is listen to side 2 of this double album to understand what the fuss was about. That nearly 15 minute medley/jam of “Let Yourself Go,” “There Was a Time” and “I Feel Alright” leading into “Cold Sweat” is what funk is all about. I can only imagine the way the bass must have been hitting that crowd in the chest, in the gut, in the soul. That’s the show I’d most want to be at, all sweaty and lost in the groove. I’m not putting this list in any particular order, but this would likely be number one.
Growing up I was constantly hearing stories about how great Cuba was back in the day. These were stories that usually involved music and nightclubs and chief among them was Benny Moré. It may just be in my blood to be a fan of the greatest Cuban big band singer of all time, but beyond that, his talent, energy and charisma just can’t be denied. It all comes through in his music. Big arrangements, large voice and improvisational Cuban Son eventually influenced Salsa, but this was more in line with Cab Calloway style nightclub swing. Yet, as all Cuban music does, it has a country flair as well. Benny brought that to the high class clubs of Havana, Mexico and eventually back to Havana. Like the Beatles, he went to another country to hone his skills, playing with the likes of Pérez Prado. When he returned, he was larger than life. I don’t even know what era or show of his I’d like to visit, but pretty much any would do.
Rock n Roll, at it’s most basic, is equal parts rebellion, danger and sex. Early punk rock, for the most part got it right, at the right time, except for the sex. Mostly, punk replaced that with anger, which also works. But then along came Blondie, with a front woman who not only brought the sexy, but kept the tough, the danger, the rebellion and the power. Debbie Harry was the model for countless others from Madonna to Gaga, but none of them come close. It helps that Blondie, as they liked to remind people, was a band, and not just Debbie. It wasn’t about her. Well, not all about her. It was about the music and those early records are up there with anything else from the period. So, I’d want to see them before they completely blew up. This is pre “Call Me” and “Heart of Glass.” And that would have to be at CBGBs in the mid to late 70s. There are videos on YouTube of this, but as great as they are, I doubt they do the vibe justice. I might have to stay at CBGBs for a while, just hoping to meet Debbie after the show.
When MTV started doing Unplugged in the late 80s, I immediately thought of one thing: Elvis. His 1968 Comeback Special, particularly the sit down portion of the show, is legendary. It’s impossible to not think of this when you see any episode of Unplugged. I first saw the special, thanks to my uncle who was an Elvis fanatic and had it on VHS. He had all of the concert films, but his one I played to death. Elvis and his band, sitting around with guitars, just jamming, apparently whatever came to mind. All the old classics from “One Night” to “Trying to Get to You” sung by the King, in his prime, away from the screaming and the chaos, just stripped down and raw. That’s rock’n’roll, baby! It turns out the show was taped 4 times, with different audiences each time, over one night. I guess I’d be ok with being in just one of those audiences, but really, I’d try to pay someone off and stay the whole time.
So if any of you have a flux capacitor handy, let me know. In the meantime, what shows would you go back in time for?