I was 14 years old the last time Van Halen toured with David Lee Roth. I mean the real David Lee Roth. Not the botoxed, balding, shaky voiced version you see now, but the real hairy chested, karate kicking, screaming showboat called Diamond Dave. You can find him on you tube, belting out Unchained in his fringed red and white leather pants, leaping around like the larger than life God that, for a time, he was. You know you’ve reached rock superstardom when there is an equal balance of males and females fighting for position in the front row, screaming in admiration, lust and pure unbridled concert adrenalin. Now that is the Dave I want cemented in my memory. I like my Dave cocky, and with a full mane of glorious flowing hair. So over the top that he actually transcended cheese right into pure awesomeness. He was wearing those feather armbands before the Ultimate Warrior ever stepped into a wrestling ring. But mostly, I want to remember him for hitting those high notes and trademark haaaaaah yeeahhhh yeaaaaahhhh’s. Listen to Runnin’ with the Devil if your memory needs a refresher. So…in the first of a list of missed concerts experiences, I’m putting down Van Halen, circa 1984.
Next on my list is The Police from a couple of years earlier. I’m thinking 1983 was probably the last Police picnic in Toronto, if you remember those affairs. Eighth grade for me. Not old enough to attend a concert unsupervised but old enough to appreciate tales of glory from those who were older and lucky enough to have attended. That was the Synchronicity Tour and they were really firing on all cylinders. Sting and Stewart Copeland were at each other’s throats the whole time, and I think they must have channeled all their rage into the music because the live stuff from that era is absolutely crackling with energy. I did catch The Police on their reunion tour several years ago, and it was perfectly fine. A medley of greatest hits and a nice evening of music, but it just wasn’t the same. It was three professional musicians getting by on talent and experience, not three guys ripping a new one into songs that were still on the charts at the time of the tour.
The next one is easy. AC-DC with Bon Scott. For this we have to go back to Highway to Hell in 1979. I don’t actually know anyone who saw them back in the day, but I have seen lots of footage and it blows my mind. A shirtless Bon with his old school sailor tattoos and crooked teeth grinning like the Cheshire Cat. There was no spectacle in those days, no pyrotechnics or giant Bells descending from the ceiling, just loud guitars, a strutting vocalist and a tiny, sweaty Australian madman running around playing riffs that turned three chords into a wall of sound. Check out the “Let There Be Rock” DVD if you want to see them at their peak.
There is the category of surprise guests and unannounced concerts which is probably on everyone’s list. The Stones showing up at the El MoCambo in 1977 or more recently Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson coming out to jam with the Foo fighters in Toronto to name a couple. It goes without saying it would have been great to see the big three, Janis, Jimmy and Jim Morrison before they were lost to self-destruction. I was only two when all that went down, so it seems all the more mythical to me. So far in the distance it’s unreal, similar to how I picture Patsy Cline or Buddy Holly.
There have been so many spectacles, festivals, and concerts that made music history over the last 50 years that it would be nearly impossible to choose even a top ten of what I would wish to see. Ramones at CBGB in the mid-seventies, Little Feat before Lowell George died or the late great Bob Marley. A very subjective matter depending on your tastes I suppose.
I do have one particular concert near and dear to my heart where if I could go back in time, I would pick above all others. I have watched “The Last Waltz” about 600 times and have pretty much committed it to memory. It’s not just the guest list which included Neil Young, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters to name but a few, and it’s not just The Band themselves. It’s the whole of collision of everything coming together like the perfect storm. It’s scripted yet it’s improvised, the playing is tight but everyone seems relaxed and they kill it on every song. That’s the moment in time, the lightning in a bottle that I would choose if I could. The Band of course came back a few years later sans Robbie Robertson but whatever they had once did not fully return. The Last Waltz shows them at the peak of their powers. If you’ve never seen it, first person to ask gets my extra copy. I would be happy to mail it tomorrow. Seriously.