Remembering First Concerts

Greatest Stories Ever Told

Jul 30, 2010 Issue #32 - Summer 2010 - Wasted on the Youth Photography by Daniel Krall (illustration by) Bookmark and Share


"We were so excited. I still, to this day, remember the sensation of complete bewilderment when they walked out onstage. I couldn't fathom that they really existed. Seriously, I'm eight years old, and I remember them walking out onstage and it just blowing my mind that these people existed. It was crazy."

It seems to have taken little for Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara to dial up her recollection of seeing New Kids on the Block and to convey a sense of that original enthusiasm. Whether or not a musician's first concert ultimately ranks among the best they've seen, the significance of that rite of passage cannot be denied. In recollecting one's first show, memories of youth, a newfound community, and developing musical taste collide at a crossroads of the psyche.

Everyone's story is different. In some cases, a line can be drawn from that first show to the work eventually released by an artist. Considering the soul/funk recordings of Jamie Lidell, his first concert couldn't have been more appropriate. "It was a bit hip, I suppose," remembers Lidell. "I went alone to a James Brown show in London at Wembley Arena. It was the fairly dodgy 'Living in America' tour. I could barely see James through the glistening thighs of the cheerleaders that seemed to dominate the stage."

Tracyanne Campbell of Camera Obscura found an early trigger for her pop sense in seeing Belinda Carlisle live. "I loved Belinda Carlisle when I was a teenager, obsessed," Campbell reveals. "She was my favorite pop star. Something like that, when you go to your first concert, you just can't believe it. I was bowled over. And when I was older and I started going to concerts more regularly, I remember seeing groups like The Pastels and The Lemonheads and Belly, and just thinking, 'Oh, I want to do that. That's what I want to be. I want to do that.'"

At his first concert, Gregg Gillis of Girl Talk found a newly broadened sense of community. These days, he strives to create a similarly positive atmosphere as a DJ. "The first show that I paid to see was Hole in Pittsburgh," he recounts. "Madder Rose opened. It was 1994 at a venue called Metropol. It was a mind-blowing night. I had been into alternative rock since I saw Nirvana on MTV sometime in 1991. By the time of this show, I was 12 and really diving into that whole world. So it was amazing to me to be surrounded by all of these people who had similar musical and style interests. There were only a handful of people at my school who were into that sort of thing."

In some cases, the personal connection with the live music experience was all that mattered at the time. Stuart McLamb looks toward early pop as a touchstone with his band The Love Language, but he fondly recalls the excitement of going with his friends to see a local jam band in Raleigh, NC called 1.5 (named after the size of rolling papers), during what he refers to as "my hippie past."  

"We're thinking this is like some big deal, and we ended up taking acid before the show," McLamb recounts. "I think we had had much grander visions of what this night was going to be, but we get there and it's in this seedy bar in the middle of a strip mall in Raleigh. We walked in and there's hardly anyone there. I guess, looking back, it was an all-ages show, but not many people showed up. And we were just tripping balls, and I think we just freaked out in the corner for about the first 30 minutes. They were one of those bands that had the cheesy, homemade light show with one of those disco balls. All I remember was that me and two or three of my buddies just doing this creepy lurk tripping dance on the dance floor for that whole show. We were about the only people there, so I can't imagine what this band saw...with four whacked-out teenagers lurking in this hunched-over dance, but I'm sure they got a kick out of it."

Owen Pallett was already playing his own shows around the time of his first concert, when he saw performances by Hayden and the Canadian band Treble Charger. "They played at my high school gymnasium when I was 14 years old," recalls Pallett. "I don't think I've ever seen a show as loud as that show. I'm sure my memory of how loud that show was is actually quite a bit quieter than, say, a My Bloody Valentine show. But I remember standing at the far back of the gymnasium and feeling like my ears were being gouged out by Hayden's acoustic guitar. It was a beautiful, full sound. I don't remember it being, like, an ugly sound, but it was just so loud. And a friend of mine, Cam, was doing the sound, and I was just like, 'Cam, this is the loudest thing I've ever heard in my life.' And he just gave me a big smile and said, 'I know, right?'"

As Eddie Argos of Art Brut describes it, the visceral impact of his first concert was probably the most memorable aspect of the show. "The first concert I ever attended was for a rock group called Thunder," he recalls. "I think they are some sort of supergroup. Their big hit is a song called 'Love Walked In.' My dad took me to see them. I think he thought I was a bit of a rocker at the time because I had long hair. I wasn't, though; I was just 15 and hadn't decided on a style yet and was too lazy to get it cut. Thunder didn't really play the sort of music I liked, but it was rocking and I enjoyed it anyway."

There are instances when the acts who performed those first concerts no longer command the same affection, yet the excitement of the occasion still resonates through the years. Quin's aforementioned NKOTB show points toward boy bands and their Beatlemania-type fan hysteria, where just getting inside the venue was a separate adventure. "I remember, it was a really big deal," says Quin. "The tickets sold out. I remember my dad waited in line for tickets, and he couldn't get tickets, and we were devastated. And right before the concert happened, through somebody at his work, we got tickets, and we just went bananas."

"My first show was Styx at the St. Paul Civic Center, the Kilroy Was Here tour," remembers Craig Finn of The Hold Steady. "I was in sixth grade. It was totally overblown. It began with a film, and then a play, and then the band played. It was really awful, but, at the time, I loved every minute of it. I think I was most affected by the audience. The way people came to experience something together, party, sing along, et cetera. I thought that was really cool."

Other musicians reminisce about how they lucked out and managed to see a show that they would still pay to see today. "I remember my dad's cousin took me to see Adrian Belew, who was the guitar player in King Crimson, and he played the Talking Heads stuff," says Ben Goldwasser of MGMT. "I was pretty young. That was probably the first loud concert I went to. It was a lot of fun."

Mayer Hawthorne still can't believe his good fortune in stumbling upon the 1996 Tibetan Freedom Concert. "I actually didn't even know it was going on and was just in San Francisco on vacation with my family," he recalls. "It was Red Hot Chili Peppers and Beastie Boys and Smashing Pumpkins, a lot of my favorite groups. I convinced my parents to let me go. It's still one of the best concerts I've been to. It was super memorable."

Pallett found himself in the rare situation of meeting the band at his very first concert. His friend played bass with the aforementioned Treble Charger, and Pallett wound up backstage for an experience that left him with mixed feelings. "When a band makes a record, it's almost like they're presenting this mysterious object to you," explains Pallett. "But then, whenever you see the band live, or even more so when you get to know them, you lose a bit of that suspension of disbelief. It isn't to say it's a good or bad thing; it's almost like you watch the movie and then you watch it with the commentary track. That's something that has kind of stuck with me.

"And I'll still hear friends of mine that are well into their 30s talking excitedly about some musician that they've never met and never seen live, and you can still hear that magic sort of thing before the veil drops, where they're just excited about this person that lives in a basement and does nothing but record. And then you see them live and then meet them, and you're just kind of like, 'Oh, you're just a normal guy!'"

When musicians perform live, there is always the possibility that their first concert experience might come full circle, as any of their performances could be the first concert for someone in their own audience. The prospect of this can be unnerving, thrilling, and humbling.

"I can never take myself that seriously," says Campbell. "I can never think that there's somebody in the audience with their knees knocking the way that my knees were knocking when I went to see Belinda Carlisle when I was 16. But it's kind of nice to think that somebody's excited to have seen their first concert, which makes them get into music more and broaden their horizons."
    

"I really love seeing young people in the audience," says Finn. "I want people to understand that there is tons of positivity in rock and roll. I hope kids can understand that."

"I think it's something that's kind of hard to come to terms with, what that really means," says Goldwasser. "And especially for me, try not to be jaded in any way. I've had a couple kids come up after we played and say that was the first concert they ever went to and it really changed their lives. That's pretty amazing. As much as I could ever hope for is to get someone into music from a young age and show them something that's really special. That's great."

More Artists on Their First Concerts

!!!'s Nic Offer: Depeche Mode with OMD opening (Sacramento Cal Expo Amphitheater, CA)

Ariel Pink: New Kids on the Block (Age 12, 1990, Los Angeles)

The Big Pink's Milo Cordell: Rage Against the Machine (Age 13, 1994, Brixton Academy, London) "Ended up in Rages' dressing room at the end of the show, where Zack [de la Rocha] said I had a radical haircut!"

Broken Social Scene's Brendan Canning: Teenage Head with Santers, Teenage Kix (Age 13, Whitby Civic Auditorium, Ontario) "I paid $10 for a t-shirt that was made of the flimsiest poly-cotton known to man, thus it ripped the next day.... At the end of the show the whole crowd was on the stage, which was kinda scary but really just so exciting as all 95 pounds of me got tossed around."

Class Actress' Elizabeth Harper: Cocteau Twins (Age 13, 1996, Lollapalooza)

Club 8's Johan Angergård: Happydeadmen (summer of 1988, Hultsfredsfestivalen, Sweden) "I went to release Happydeadmen with my first label Summersound-they were the first release there."

Club 8's Karolina Komstedt: En Regnig Dag (A Rainy Day) (1989, seventh grade, Gymnastics hall, Sweden) "That was Johan [Angergård]'s very first band and I was very impressed."

The Dears' Natalia Yanchak: The Beach Boys (Age 13, 1990, Grandstand in Toronto) "I remember it was a pretty low energy, afternoon event and I felt like I didn't 'get' what the big deal was with rock concerts."

The Drums' Jacob Graham: Joy Electric (1997, Akron, OH)

The Drums' Connor Hanwick: Bad Religion (1999, Jones Beach, NY)

The Drums' Adam Kessler: MXPX (Water Street Music Hall, Rochester, NY)

The Drums' Jonathan Pierce: Joy Electric (1997, Lancaster, PA)

Ed Harcourt: The Lemonheads (Age 13, Brixton Academy, London) "I crowd surfed. It was pretty amazing."

El Guincho's Pablo Diaz-Reixa: Juan Luis Guerra (Age 5 or 6, 1988/1998, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands)

Field Music's Peter Brewis: Joe Satriani (Age 14, Newcastle City Hall) "I dragged my brother to Newcastle City Hall to hear one and a half hours of very loud guitar noodling. I was probably 14. Poor David might only have been 11."

Fuck Buttons' Benjamin Power: Michael Jackson (Age 9, Wembley Stadium, London) "It took about an hour for my mother to convince me that one particular MJ lookalike wandering around before the show started wasn't MJ himself, and stop me from running over to get a snap.... I sat on the shoulders of an Australian stranger, in a soporific daze, way past my bedtime, on a school night. To a 9-year-old, seeing Michael Jackson leave Wembley Stadium on jetpack really is some spectacle, make no doubt."

Kings of Convenience's Eirik Boe: The Cure (Age 16, 1992, Oslo Spektrum)

Le Loup's Sam Simkoff: Raffi or The Grays (Music Millennium, Portland, OR) "[The Grays] was one of Jon Brion's old bands...and Jon Brion's a pretty big badass."

Mew's Jonas Bjerre:
My Bloody Valentine (1992, Copenhagen) "On a whim during the day we had bought spray-can hair dye, mine was bright red, [Mew's] Bo [Madsen]'s was a harsh green.... Towards the end of the show our hair-dye had dissolved onto our faces and clothes. I was orange like a carrot for days after."

Plants and Animals' Matthew Woodley: The Dream Warriors (Age 12, Pink Flamingo in Halifax, Nova Scotia) "The opening band was called Organized Rhyme, and they had a really goofy 18-year-old frontman named Tom Green. A couple years ago I realized it was that Tom Green."

Radar Bros.' Jim Putnam: The Cars (Age 13, 1980, LA Sports Arena)

Real Estate's Martin Courtney: Weezer (Age 15, 2001, Irving Plaza in New York) "I saw them with [Real Estate's] Matt [Mondanile] and Alex [Bleeker], also Julian Lynch."

Superchunk's Jon Wurster: The Carpenters (1973, Allentown Fairgrounds, Allentown, PA)

Telekinesis' Michael Benjamin Lerner: The New Radicals (1999, The Summit at Snoqualmie Pass, WA) "I got right up front for their first song, and the bass was shaking my stomach so much I thought I was going to throw up all over everyone."

The Thermals' Hutch Harris: Depeche Mode (Age 13, April 30th, 1989 Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, CA)

These New Puritans' Jack Barnett: The Magic Band (reformed) (London, 2002)

Titus Andronicus' Patrick Stickles: Barenaked Ladies (Stunt tour) (Age 14, 1999, Holmdel, NJ) "I had just turned 14-the ticket was a birthday present from my sister."

Vivian Girls' Cassie Ramone: No Doubt (Return of Saturn tour) (Age 14, 2000 New York)



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