Then-current album: Spooky
Opening act: the Flaming Lips
Back of ticket ad: Fox Photo, eternally hoping against hope.
I sure bought this ticket late, only ten days before the show. I think it was because I wasn’t sure about my schedule on the day, about which more in a sec.
But it was because of my schedule that I sadly missed the openers. There’s a regret.
I’ve talked about Lush before in this series so by now I was a bit of a veteran — this was their third American tour and so I made it three for three. Meantime, by this point they would have had to have been announced as the opening band for that year’s Lollapalooza, so I knew I was going to catch them again at some point. But did I want to see them play a good sized venue headlining for an album I was playing to death at that point? Oh hell yes.
As a quick digression, Lush are definitely getting some new appreciation these days — just the other day the Quietus had a very fine story celebrating their twentieth anniversary, even though of course the band’s existence ended years ago after the utterly tragic suicide of their drummer Chris Acland. The story is more aimed at a UK audience than here, because the core argument — that Lush deserves a higher profile than it does — is not as relevant over here. That may seem strange given that the band were hardly ever chart blockbusters here but as the article notes, “Lush currently have a strong and loyal fanbase, especially in the States.” It’s perhaps the old story — lauded abroad, can’t get the time of day at home.
But better some attention somewhere than none at all nowhere, and in 1992 Lush definitely had that attention. If anything they seemed prime candidates to ride out whatever shoegazing wave they were lumped in with, and at a time where any number of female-led or all-female bands were starting to break out all over the place, their timing seemed especially good. Meanwhile, as noted, Spooky was and remains a great album — Robin Guthrie’s production gave it an unmistakable stamp, certainly, and the ‘isn’t it just the Cocteaus?’ idea was an undercurrent in some criticism, completely inaccurate as it was. I was waiting for that one as much as I was for any album that first half of 1992 and was well rewarded, from the slow build of “Stray” to the final wistful ‘what if’ of “Monochrome,” with plenty of high points in between. (And damn do I still love “For Love” in particular.)
Plus, as mentioned, I already knew they were good live, so I was ready to see them — except something else had come up. For the first but not the last time I was going to something called UCRN, the semi-regular gathering of the UC radio stations to swap ideas, strategies, compare notes. It was never a get-everyone-together affair; most stations only sent a contingent and nearly always the biggest one was the one from whatever station was hosting that edition, by default. I forget how it all came together but basically it was the now-seasoned team of Kris C., Steve M. and myself going not on a concert trip but a road trip up north to the Bay Area.
The whole trip is a blur in my mind and really is a separate story, but it was a notable trip on many fronts — besides getting to visit KALX for the first time as well as returning to the Bay Area for the first time since the family’d left Vallejo and Mare Island in 1981, it was the first time I’d heard about something called Amoeba Records. They still only had the Berkeley store then but we had to go and I remember being blown away not only by it in general but the simple fact that they had not only a Dead C CD section but a separate Dead C used CD section. I really was pretty amazed. Also hit other stores too but my allegiance to Amoeba started there and hasn’t wavered to this day, bless ‘em.
Thing was, we had to get up there, get settled in — and I honestly think we only had about an hour or two of sleep — attend things and then get back on the road down south for class on Monday or whatever. So by the time I was home I was pretty damn woozy and only had enough time to get myself together before heading off to the Palace. Not sure who I was with, I don’t think it was Kris and Steve but I could be wrong.
By the time we got there, though, we’d missed the Flaming Lips. I had only recently become a fan in the past year at that point, and was actually much more of a fan of Mercury Rev, founded by Jonathan Donahue after his stint with the Lips on their previous album. (Also the first time I heard Dave Fridmann’s production to my knowledge; little did I know how much of the future was pretty well being signposted when it came to styles and production techniques and etc.) I also think Hit to the Death in the Future Head wasn’t released until a couple of months after this, though a single had already come out. Either way, they were done by the time I was there and I really, really regret that now — I’ve seen the Lips since then, about which much more much much later in the series, but that was after the departure of their replacement for Donahue, Ronald Jones, whose guitar work pretty much defined the band’s sound for most of the nineties. His greatest work was yet to come but even just to have seen him with the Lips once would have been something.
But that was a retrospective regret more than anything else. At the time I think I probably was just glad to be there in the first place, and given my state of mind (and state of general wooziness after the weekend) it’s not THAT surprising to me that my memories of the show itself are very, very foggy. I mostly remember the bassist, Phil King, because he was new; Steve Rippon had recorded the bass on the album and was still with them when the Black Spring EP had come out the previous fall but by the time of the album release he’d taken a powder. King wasn’t too flashy or anything; he might well have still been finding his feet a bit with the band, and was perhaps by default the most shoegazerish of them all.
But Acland was pounding away and as for Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson, hey, they rocked. I remember this show being a little more animated for them than the last time I’d seen them with Ride, and the venue was mostly full and the crowd pretty damn appreciative, plenty of cheering. It’s a good memory to have because while I did see them again at Lollapalooza, this was the last time I would end up seeing the band on their own headlining a show. I wish it would stick in the memory some more for that reason alone, but wooziness will have its way when you’re running on not much sleep.
And, of course, it was the last time I saw Acland anywhere up close, though I think I was more back on the floor than up near the amps this time. (If anything I was probably propped against something.) I’d like to think that was one of the happiest times I saw him, and I hope it was.