Then-current album: Going Blank Again
Opening act: The Pale Saints
Back of ticket ad: KLSX grinding my motivation to a pulp once more.
Rather a haunting similarity between this ticket and the previous one, I realize.
One reason why I spoke a lot about Slowdive in the previous entry lay in the fact that I knew I would have this entry to talk about Ride some more. Also, to talk about something I never really did — but which a friend of mine did, often. In a way, this is a memorial to her.
She passed away a month back. She was known for many things but perhaps was most well known for her fandom of Morrissey, and had followed him on many tours, many shows, time and again. His open message on her passing is one of the most remarkable things I’ve read this year, and one of the best takes on the nature of how fandom can work, that fine line — I almost said fan line — between the deep appreciation that the artist or creator acknowledges, sometimes with surprised gratitude, and other ways of fan/star interaction that might not be as rich or resonant.
As he notes, she came to some of the most out of the way concerts he’d ever played. In contrast, I don’t follow bands on tour, I’ve never felt that impulse — something like this is the closest I’ve ever gotten, and there have been other examples of it that I’ll get to later in the series. But they’re instances where, instead of going somewhere else to see the band again, I get to essentially sit back and let the band come to me by playing multiple times in the general area, whether it was via a multi-night stand at one venue or at various locations throughout SoCal.
Inasmuch as this reflects a certain settled laziness on my part, well, there you go. But it’s the way of living in a big city area like LA, there’s more of a likelihood one can pull it off, depending on the fanbase. I often imagine it as being generally easier for the bands as well — no all day car trips or the like, you can sleep in for a bit if you’re lucky, take it relatively easy. Not every band really has this luxury even with a multi-night stand, of course, but if one is fortunate then why not indulge?
Ride at this point, as noted, were at a high peak, able to pull off not two shows in a row but three, though the first was actually down in Orange County at the Coach House. I did know people who had gone to that show as well as the two Palace shows, though, and there was little surprise why. Keep in mind this was (unless I’m totally wrong) only the second time that Ride had actually come through the area, and by that time they had five or six EPs and the two albums under their belt over nearly three years, enough time to build up an obsessive fanbase to justify it all, especially after the reports of the previous year’s performances. It was a false dawn in many respects, given how quickly the musical tide in general seemed to turn against them — by the time of their next album, things were about to fall flat in a big way — but then they seemed ready to take over, if not the world, then a good chunk of it.
Part of their cachet lay in the fact that, due to the accident of timing, they could be seen as patron saints for the opening acts each night. On the one hand, Slowdive, as previously discussed. This second night, it was the Pale Saints — and that was a story of its own.
A strange band, the Pale Saints, thanks in large part to the intriguingly strange person who was still leading it but was months — weeks? — away from pulling the ripcord and trying something out. Ian Masters is one of those people who popular music throws up every so often that follows the expected path for a while and then decides, “You know, to heck with this, I’m bored.” That can mean just getting out of music entirely, but in his case it seemed to be more of a frustration with the general tour-release grind — at least in part, I don’t know the full story (though I’m guessing it’s been told somewhere). But he almost immediately sidestepped after this into collaborations, cryptic websites and basically leaving everything that was the Pale Saints completely behind him.
But again, that was the future. For me, appreciative of what I had heard but otherwise not knowing much about the band except what a somewhat curious interview in Melody Maker had told me, which ended with the interviewer talking about how the band collectively regarded him with wary eyes and a sense of a private joke being told — which could say as much about the writer as about the band — I just went in wondering if things would be as reasonably good as they were on their newest album In Ribbons. Uneven but sometimes utterly stellar, it was also one of the first releases of the 4AD label straight up in America, having decided that year to go for a full distribution partnership with Warner Bros. That didn’t last but even so, it was nice to get that album cheaply as opposed to the jacked-up import prices for The Comforts of Madness, their previous release. It might also have explained why I was able to get a clear sense of the tracklisting.
I remember the Pale Saints being somewhere between poised and posed on stage — they weren’t moving much, they seemed very self-conscious about not moving much, and they didn’t mind at all. Mathews was the most active member in that he seemed to be keeping a very close eye on proceedings, either out of a sense of wanting to control it all or just because it was all beyond his control to a degree and he just wanted to make sure he knew where he was, at least. I remember his eyes being almost…not quite unblinking, but giving a look that was always very considered.
Two things I especially remember about his performance — first, throughout the set, he kept turning to the side and indicating that he wanted the monitors to be turned up, often enough that I remember the gesture he made when he did so. He didn’t simply jerk his thumb or shout off stage or even ask at the mike, rather he turned towards wherever the person was, whether it was a member of the building staff or their own crew, and did a little gesture that was a combined quick lick of his index finger and then a pointing upward in the air, all done very fluidly, very serenely. It was as if it was just a natural tic with him, rather than a command or request.
The second came with the final song, which I’m pretty sure was a version of “Time Thief” though I’m not entirely positive. What I do remember was that the band were going all out in a frenetic way — at least, the noise was frenetic, but the band themselves weren’t indulging in rock-out antics, it was again very studious, Kraftwerk goes gaze in a way. At a brief pause in the song, Masters said simply “Thank you” and then the band kicked back in as if nothing had happened. It was all a performance, though in a way that didn’t seem like one in the end.
Which left Ride to come on again and pretty do what they had done the previous night. I’d be lying if I said I can distinguish the shows in my head, for all I know the set list was exactly the same both nights, and I exchanged the thrill of relative surprise with just wanting to hear a good performance, and that I got. Maybe if I had been in the habit of writing down my thoughts after each show I could get a sense of the patterns or changes or those signs that more clearly mark out a good show from a bad one, a great show from a good one. Sometimes the divisions are very clear, but for many less so than might be guessed, seeing only one show out of a tour or a series of tours.
But as mentioned, some do more, and see more. That’s what my friend did, singing her life each day. I know next time Morrissey’s on tour he’ll feel her absence, just as much as those of us who knew her elsewhere will. Rest well, Mel.