I’m lucky to have a close-knit family and we often find excuses to get together, whether it be for a holiday, a birthday or just to visit my parents for dinner on a Sunday afternoon. Our discussions run the typical gamut from job-related woes to sports to politics and, of course, music. Yesterday we were celebrating my Aunt Loll’s birthday over dinner when the topic turned to “best show ever.”
The top of the list for my brother-in-law Anthony was seeing Elvis in August 1976—one year before The King died, and though he was well past his prime, the performance still made quite an impression.
My other brother-in-law, Dan, saw Elton John at the Nassau Coliseum on November 30, 1974, and placed that one atop his list of best shows. As we went around the table, my Dad, now 91, said that for him it was probably Lena Horne, and my Mom (age not to be mentioned if I value my life) told us the story of how my Uncle Joe took her to see Frank Sinatra with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra when she was a teenager. My sister Alison gave Celine Dion a five-star rating, and Aunt Loll saw some really cool acts like Tom Jones, and The Temptations (when they really were The Temptations). Great stuff.
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My sister Janet said that her most memorable show was probably Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden in June 1980. I was with her for that one and can attest that it was indeed spectacular. I can still picture the ‘Garden exploding when his band kicked off the show with “You May Be Right.”
Janet and I went to countless shows together when I was in my teens and early 20s, and I often took my girlfriend. Here’s where I sound like a cranky old fart: we could get tickets for less than ten bucks. One summer in the early 1980s, my girlfriend and I literally went to a show every week for the entire summer. Dr Pepper sponsored a summer series on Pier 84 in Manhattan, and GA tix were something like $7.50. I was quite the big shot.
Janet made an interesting comment about how much she liked seeing Journey back in the day, and it’s funny how differently we responded to that show. I recall it vividly because it was so utterly boring to me, yet she loved it. It’s funny how people experiencing the same event can have such different reactions. I guess it depends upon mood, expectations, the set list, and the phase of the moon.
It’s hard for me to cite one standout show. My first concert was KISS at MSG but I don’t know if that counts because it was more like going to the circus than going to a concert. Billy Joel in December of 1978 (my second concert) made way more of an impression. It was so pure. It was all about the music, and drummer Liberty DeVitto blew me away. There was the time my friend Ralph and I snuck backstage between sets to see Buddy Rich in his dressing room at the Bottom Line. In spite of stories you may have heard, Buddy was very gracious to a couple of kids (both drummers) who were humbled in his presence.
I could easily run down a list of standout performances: King’s X at the Roseland, the Yes Union tour, countless times I’ve seen Rush. When I saw Elton John, I was bewildered, not only because he was such a great performer, but because he practically played the soundtrack to my life. Hit after hit, song after song, melodies that intertwined with memories of my childhood. I must have thought, “Oh I forgot about that one…” about ten times. I left some of those shows exhausted, some exhilarated. I left all of them inspired.
I think that one of the reasons we do what we do is to try and give people an experience they’ll never forget, to send them home with a smile, maybe tug at their heart strings when they hear a particular song, or walk out the door with a few pounds lifted off their shoulders. A concert gives people a place to go where they can get away from the rest of the world for a few hours and have a memorable, personal experience that they can keep for a lifetime. Every once in a while, the universe aligns and it’s magic.