Grandmothers of Invention: 8/11/2012

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This was a really cool show, featuring members of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention. I had seen Zappa many years ago, and he was great, but as my musical tastes developed and expanded, my appreciation for his music grew.

For those of you who have never been to Asheville, the Grey Eagle is a small venue, basically a bar which also serves some food. But the vibe there is great. So needless to say, I had seats quite close to the stage with my friends Bill and Robert.

Musically, this band was incredible. Napoleon Murphy Brock was brilliant as the front man, chatting up the crowd, making jokes, dancing up a storm, and directing the music. They had a young guitarist who looked a lot like Frank and he was scary good on the guitar. But for me, it was Don Preston on the keyboards who stole the show. He was getting ready to turn 80 and he looked and sounded great. Not only was he all over the keyboards, playing incredibly intricate music, but he also performed magic tricks on stage, much to the delight of the audience. And if that wasn’t enough, he took out hi iPhone, opened a synthesizer app, and played a killer solo on his phone. It was impressive… most impressive.

The band returned to the Grey Eagle again the following year, and I went to see them again, convincing my brother (a long-time Zappa fan) to drive out to Asheville for the show. But that’s another stub and another story.

Here’s a video clip that my friend Robert took.

Johnny Winter: 6/29/1991

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I love Johnny Winter. As a guitarist, I am still in awe of his playing. That said, this concert was a bummer.

I went to this show with my friend Jim. We drove up from Miami to Ft. Lauderdale. Summers on the Beach was a club located right on Atlantic Blvd facing the beach and the ocean. Generally, it was a pretty fun place to hang out.

This concert was in late June, and if you have ever been to South Florida in late June, you know the heat is brutally oppressive. There is no way to comfortably exist without air conditioning. This sets the stage for the scene which was to unfold at this particular show.

We all know that club owners are notoriously sketchy, but they were particularly so in South Florida. Anyway, it seems that the owner had a brilliant idea on how to boost sales at the bar—turn off the air conditioning. The packed club turned into a sweatbox. Jim and I stood there, dripping sweat, waiting for Johnny to take the stage.

When he finally took the stage, it was a disaster. Johnny was kind of tall, so his head was right near the low-hanging stage lights, which also give off a lot of heat. He immediately began sweating profusely and cursing, yelling at people about the intolerable conditions. He played a little, stopped, yelled at some more people, then played another song. Finally, in a fit of disgust after playing about three or four songs, he stepped to the microphone and said: “This is bullshit! I’m playing one more song and then I am out of here.” And that’s what he did. It was very disappointing. Thankfully, I would get to see the legend perform another time before he died, but that is a story for another time.

Rock and Roll!

Spirit: 3/31/1981

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Spirit was one of those bands that the first time I heard them, I was floored. I had a friend named Paul and he was excited one day because he had just bought the Best of Spirit. We listened to it and the next day I went to the record store and bought a copy of the album. It basically lived on my turntable for weeks afterwards.

The Agora Ballroom was a club in Hallandale, Florida, which is just north of Miami. The club later became the infamous Button South, but when I went to see Spirit there, it was still the Agora.

Although the band only featured two of the original members, Randy California and Ed Cassidy, they were amazing. Randy’s guitar work and vocals were stellar and the band ripped through almost everything I wanted to hear. The only song that they didn’t play which I would have loved to see them perform was “Mechanical World,” a very dark, apocalyptic anti-war song.

Spirit was one of those bands that never became as popular as they should have. I like to say that they are the best band you’ve never heard of, although you’ve probably heard their songs, like “I Got A Line On You,” “Nature’s Way,” and “Fresh Garbage.” Also, it has been asserted that Jimmy Page stole the main musical theme for “Stairway to Heaven” from Spirit’s “Taurus.” (There is a lawsuit against Page seeking to give credit to Randy California for the song.)

If you’re not familiar with Spirit’s music, I strongly encourage you to check them out. “Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus” is one of my all-time favorite albums. They were so ahead of their time and their music sounds as fresh and exciting today as it did when I first heard them back in the late 70’s.

You have the world at your fingertips
No one can make it better than you
You have the world at your fingertips
But see what you’ve done to the rain and the sun
So many changes have all just begun, to reap
I know you’re asleep
Wake up

(“Prelude” from Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus)

Alvin Lee and 10 Years After: 9/11/1983

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Anyone who has seen the Woodstock movie will undoubtedly remember Alvin Lee and 10 Years After’s smokin’ performance of “I’m Going Home.” For me as a guitarist, seeing that filmed performance was one of those inspiring moments that made me want to play guitar. So when I heard that Alvin Lee was coming to the Button South, a popular rock club in South Florida, I was determined to go.

I was living with a Latin woman at the time, so of course, she was coming to the concert with me. I thought it would be OK, since she did like rock and roll, but unfortunately, she did not appreciate Alvin Lee’s long and energetic guitar solos nearly as much as I did, and after they ended the first set with a 10-minute version of “I’m Going Home,” she was ready to leave and letting me know in no uncertain terms. I was annoyed, to say the least. So I had to decide what was more important, standing my ground and stubbornly demanding we stay for the second set, or going home and maintaining a sense of harmony at the abode. I opted for the second choice, placating myself by focusing on the fact that I got to see the song that I wanted to hear most of all.

Sadly, Alvin Lee is no longer with us (he passed in 2013), so the fact that I didn’t stay and catch the second set is one of those rock and roll regrets. But I did get to see him, and the one set that I saw certainly inspired me.

Jack White and Alabama Shakes: 5/19/2012

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This was one of those rare concert opportunities. Two great acts in one small venue. The Orange Peel only holds about 1000 people, and there was a huge demand for tickets. Knowing that it would sell out fast, my friend Arwen and I took turns waiting outside the Orange Peel box office. We were lucky enough to get tickets, and yes, it sold out within 30 minutes.

Now, there was a potential conflict. During this time, I was a member of a glam rock band, The Glampas, and we had a gig scheduled for that night. And while I am not one to miss a gig, there was no way that I was going to miss this concert either. Luckily, it was an early gig and we finished our last set around 8:00. My band mates agreed to take my equipment home for me, so I was able to rush straight from the gig and made it to the Peel in time for the concert.

My wife and daughter were already there, and my daughter had a friend with her who was a huge Jack White fan. So the two teenagers made their way up front, while us older folk hung back.

I had heard that Alabama Shakes were good, but at this time I was unfamiliar with their music; but wow, was I impressed. They came out and ROCKED the house. High-energy performance, very tight musically, there was no doubt in my mind that they would be very successful.

Then Jack White came out and the crowd exploded. He had a great band backing him up and while most of the show was his new solo material, he did play some White Stripes and Raconteurs tunes as well.

After the lights came on and the show was over, my daughter and her friend returned from the front. My daughter’s friend’s face was streaked from tears of joy at having been so close to her favorite musician. I could relate. There have been times where live music has touched me that deeply. And that’s what makes going to concerts such a great experience. You will never feel that connection and energy from watching a screen. So go and check out some live music soon!

TV on the Radio: 5/11/2015

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I was between jobs when this concert came about, so my budget did not permit me to buy a ticket, even though I wanted to go. But I suppose I was fated to attend because I got a call from my friend Arwen who said she had an extra ticket and invited me to go with her. Of course, I could not pass on the opportunity.

I had seen TV on the Radio once before, with Arwen, now that I think about it. It was at a big festival and they played late at night, and were good, but not great. Arwen assured me that they were better other times she had seen them. So, I was looking forward to seeing them in an intimate venue like the Orange Peel.

We got there early enough to catch the first act, Bo Ningen. I have to say I was not impressed with them. We ended up going to the private lounge downstairs and hanging out there until their set was over.

TV on the Radio was great this time. The energy was much higher and they really connected with the crowd in the smaller venue. I confess that since I was not very familiar with their music, I could not name a single song that they played. But that didn’t matter. They were high energy, they sounded great, and I had a fun time dancing my butt off. I don’t need to know the songs to appreciate the music.

Want to thank my friend Arwen again for taking me to this show. It was just what I needed—some great live music to pull me out of my bad space.

New Pornographers: 10/28/2007

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I went with my wife to this concert, and we were both really excited because we both really liked this band… a lot.

For those of you not from Asheville, let me take a moment to describe the Orange Peel. It is a small but great concert venue, holding only about a thousand people. I seem to recall Rolling Stone magazine ranking it among the top 10 small concert venues in the country.

Anyway, the concert was amazing! Neko Case sounded so good, and the whole band was really tight. We danced and rocked until we were sweaty, loving every second.

I don’t have much more to share about this concert. There were no wild stories or unusual encounters; it was just a fun and thoroughly enjoyable evening of live music with the person I love. What could be better?

Here is a clip of the band performing “Bleeding Heart Show,” which is my favorite song by them and was definitely the high-point of the concert for me.