The Concert Experience

I have never seen a meme spread as quickly as this week’s concert guessing game where you list ten acts you’ve seen but readers have to guess which one is a lie.

It did get me tripping down memory lane, thinking about all the shows I’ve seen through the years and consider myself fairly fortunate to have seen many of the major acts in rock and roll and beyond.

The first such show was Led Zeppelin at the Nassau Coliseum in 1973. I was a fairly recent convert to their music, having discovered them along with FM radio not long before. Back then we had WLIR on Long Island and WNEW in New York City as our gatekeepers and we were fortunate. My friend Jeff and I sniffed the air that night and concluded it had to be the sweet smell of marijuana, a first for us ninth graders.

Over the next few years, we’d return to the Coliseum and start tramping into New York to see performers at Madison Square Garden. In time we’d add Roslyn’s My Father’s Place and we went so often, I was keeping a list (long since lost) and it filled quickly.

Jeff and I made many a foray into New York for concerts, invariably raiding the newsstand at Penn Station since they got comics ahead of our newsstands. We loaded up on the latest DC and Marvels for the train ride home.

For two years running, we saw the New Year’s Eve show at the long-gone Academy of Music down on 14th street. Both nights the headliner was Blue Öyster Cult but one year one of the opening acts was this new band of made-up rockers named Kiss. They fired off some pyrotechnics towards the end of their set and someone in the front rows got hit in the face. They were followed by Teenage Lust (I can’t remember a thing about them) and then Iggy Pop, who was so drunk or stoned, he kept falling in the orchestra pit and cut his set short. To kill time until midnight, someone imported the Royal Bavarians, an oom-pah band from the famed German restaurant Lüchow’s next door. The audience adored them and their lederhosen.

The Talking Heads playing in SUNY-Binghamton’s Social Room in 1978

We were fortunate to see the Rolling Stones and the Who at their peak and were present at the beginning of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, catching them at CW Post in 1975 just as he was bursting into the American consciousness. Similarly, at college, Iris Clapper, who was magical at booking acts at The Other Place, a bar at the edge of campus, introduced us to a new act she found called The Talking Heads. A year later, they played on campus and opening for them was comedian Richard Belzer. Some jerk threw something at him, striking Belzer’s face, and he cursed out the audience and rightly stormed off stage.

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes

While working for the school paper, we spun off a monthly music paper, Jukin’, and two years running I had the pleasure of chatting with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes (yes, there’s a connection) before their burned down the gym. I also got to interview, for the second time, Harry Chapin, who I first met when he played a benefit in my high school a few years earlier.

My biggest interview get was Dean Friedman. I had gone to My Father’s Place during Spring Break to see Aztec Two Step, but opening for them was Friedman who had come out of nowhere and topped the charts with his single “Ariel”. I found someone on to staff to see if Friedman would consent to an interview and sure enough, he came off stage, I was ushered to the dressing room and we chatted so long, I missed some of the main act. He was high at the time and made for a funny conversation. When I got back to campus, Arts Editor Ken Cohen was lamenting he had nothing to lead the section for our first issue. I told him about the Friedman piece and he lit up with joy.

Dean Friedman, circa 1977, at the height of his short-lived pop fame.

When we moved to California, I finally caught Elvis Costello and the Attractions and was stunned at how laid back the audience was. A few weeks later I caught Springsteen and again, I was on my feet, in full concert mode, while most everyone around me remained unmoved. It was a cultural disconnect for sure.

These days, we still catch Springsteen and the BÖC when they’re around but our concert going tastes have gone from rock (Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull) to more Great American Songbook (Audra McDonald, Kristen Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, and Idina Menzel). Still, I relish those concert-going memories.

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