Some friends who saw the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” were talking about how much they wish they’d been able to go to a Queen concert at the height of the band’s popularity. That led to a discussion of which acts from the past we each would have liked to see.
Atop everyone’s list was The Beatles, but I had to add a caveat. I would not want to have been there when they were playing Busch Stadium or Shea Stadium or The Hollywood Bowl because it would have been impossible to hear them over the crowd noise. Back then, those large venues were not set up to handle the acoustics of a rock concert. Instead, there were microphones in front of the band’s on-stage amps and the sound was then fed through the stadium’s public address system — the sonic quality equivalent of rocking out through a bullhorn.
If I could have been atop the Apple Building in London when The Beatles did their final live gig, that would have been a treat. Or perhaps in one of the sweaty, raunchy clubs they played in Hamburg before Beatlemania took over the world. The ultimate, of course, would have been a seat inside the Abbey Road studio while they created their masterpieces. But anything else, I’d pass.
So, if the Beatles and Queen aren’t on my list, who is?
I’ve been pretty fortunate to attend dozens upon dozens of concerts in my lifetime and see most of the bands/performers I most admired, including several bucket-listers I’ve only caught in the last few years (e.g. Rod Stewart, Joe Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Steve Winwood), but there were some that came and went before I was old enough to experience them in person:
- James Brown and the Famous Flames. If you don’t understand why, go rent “The T.A.M.I. Show” (here’s my piece on that remarkable performance).
- Both Joni Mitchell and Linda Ronstadt at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, just as their careers were starting to take off in the late 1960s.
- Blood, Sweat, and Tears in the David Clayton-Thomas years, with that phenomenal horn section and hits like “And When I Die,” “Spinning Wheel,” and “You Make Me So Very Happy.”
- Little Feat with Lowell George at the microphone. I’ve seen the rest of the band work with other lead singers, and though they’ve been good, there’s something magical about the sound George created with them.
- Marvin Gaye, not just for the perfection of his voice, but to witness a roomful of thousands of women swooning simultaneously.
I would have included Talking Heads, but their 1984 concert movie “Stop Making Sense” fulfills that need nicely. I showed it to my wife and daughter recently and as we were all mesmerized by the performance of David Byrne, it occurred to me that performers like him have no chance in the modern star-making machinery of TV shows like “The Voice” and “American Idol.” Despite his undeniable abilities as a songwriter and front man, the judges would no doubt consider him an out-of-the-mainstream weirdo with no chance of success. They’d be wrong, of course, as this performance of “Life During Wartime” proves.
Who do you wish you’d seen?