Not Just the Ticket — #58, Lollapalooza ’92, Sept. 12 1992

Lollapalooza 1992, Irvine Meadows

Festival lineup from headliners to openers: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ministry, Ice Cube, Soundgarden, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Pearl Jam, Lush

Back of ticket ad: I suspect KLSX was already looking forward to adding an act like Pearl Jam to their full rotation if they hadn’t already.

I’ve marvelled a bit at the ticket prices I paid before and this really is no difference. Granted these were of course the cheap seats, ie the lawn area at the back of the venue, and there’s always inflation to bear in mind, but that’s still an amazing price no matter what, given what I know of most current festival pricing.

Meantime, welcome to Orange County, welcome to Irvine. Welcome to my now big local venue.

I’d long since bought this ticket earlier that year, of course, up wherever I was in LA at the time. Unlike last year, I knew at least a little of what to expect. Strictly speaking, everyone did — this wasn’t Lollapalooza, the shoot the moon/hail and farewell to Jane’s Addiction, this was the big alternative festival, almost in capital letters at this point. It wasn’t simply huge, it WAS huge, and was almost immediately the focus of all sorts of attention this time out. The other breakout band from Seattle that wasn’t Nirvana was on the bill, plus one other Seattle band to boot. The LA band that wasn’t Guns and Roses that had broken huge over the previous twelve months was headlining. One of the biggest and most avidly followed hip-hop MCs of the time was on the bill. However much this was packaged and marketed and what have you, this was music as larger event than just music in more than a few eyes.

Which probably included mine, I couldn’t imagine not. I had my own reasons for being there — the three other bands I haven’t mentioned yet, actually, being my priority, most especially Ministry — plus I was going with a clutch of friends from LA, replicating and extending the group that went the previous year. Steve, Kris but many others as well, it was a bit of an extended holiday in a way, and an extension of my LA time just a little bit more. Only instead of going down to OC with them they were going to come along and pick me up along the way, being only a few miles down the freeway from Irvine Meadows. The big shift had already begun.

It had already been heralded a bit by the previous month, my trip to the UK for the Tolkien Centenary Convention at Oxford, visiting friends throughout England and Scotland, an absence that underscored the inevitable change upon my return. I ended up not seeing any shows when I was over there, though I remember being tempted at one point to see if I could sneak over to Reading to catch at least part of that year’s festival — with hindsight I wish I had done, but I would have been pretty much on my own and not too sure what to do, a still pretty sheltered 21 year old on his first trip overseas. It may say more about my somewhat unadventurous side than I care to admit, but such is life. I did end up picking up a slew of albums unavailable in the US — including, very crucially, Disco Inferno’s In Debt, the beginning of a fandom that has continued without change to the present day — and I had the fun experience of going to Ride’s stated favorite record store in their area of Oxford. Plus there was also the unique feeling of reading Melody Makers the day they were released, itself a bonus.

But back to the US with me, back to SoCal, and then down to UC Irvine and settling into prep for grad school and organizing my bedroom (the first time I had a bedroom to myself in four years! that was one phase of undergrad life I was more than happy to leave behind me) and setting up my CD racks and figuring out where the radio station and student newspaper was and and and…and then Lollapalooza. I seem to remember watching the car with my friends come driving up and me heading down the staircase of my new apartment building — grad school dorms, in essence — with undisguised glee. A last little bit of hopefully carefree fun before whatever it was I’d gotten myself into kicked into full.

It was definitely another hot, clear if still somewhat sticky day, as almost every day in September around here is like; by the time we arrived at the parking lot we were all probably overheated and about ready to just stake a place somewhere on the lawn and zone for a while. If the location wasn’t a new experience for me at this point some details were, including a slew more of booths and exhibits and what have you all scattered about the concourse area next to the amphitheatre itself, plus a second stage for acts. Apparently my new bete noires Rage Against the Machine headlined said stage and drove the crowd there into a frenzy but I honestly don’t remember the stage or anyone on it at any point, so I can’t have spent much time there aside from grabbing something generic on the food front. (And I can’t have been too exploratory there either — probably the psuedoburgers the official concessions folks sold.)

Up in the lawn area I can’t remember too much of us doing anything big besides sitting around with the scattered crowds waiting for Lush to kick things off. This ended up being the last time I saw one of my hands down favorite groups of those years; they did tour America again for further releases but somehow I kept missing those shows until it was too late, when Chris Acland’s suicide ended the band on a tragic note. It would have been nice to say that they absolutely killed it at this show — and funnily enough it wasn’t the first time they’d played this venue, having ended up on a mixed bill headlined by the Sisters of Mercy the previous year that I had to miss. But whatever familiarity gained by that didn’t quite translate here; while they weren’t bad or anything they were stuck being the opening band on a long hot day in a venue that they wouldn’t’ve been able to fill even a tenth of on their own, however strong their fanbase was at the time. Miki wore white I think — a sensible decision — and their combined sound of sonic cathedral reverb and sharp hooks felt pleasant instead of truly crushingly big. The applause was polite and a lot of people were waiting.

What they were waiting for happened almost immediately afterward and I’m still a bit stunned by it. That Pearl Jam had become huge I wasn’t surprised by, that they had become THAT huge in the space of nine months, when I had last seen them for the Fugazi-headlined Rock for Choice show, was almost stunning. Their position on the bill had long been locked down but in terms of where they should have gone they might as well have been headlining — the parking lot was already full and so was the venue, every seat filled and the lawn area similarly packed too. It was the last time I would ever see the band — and while I think this was the legendary show that Chris Cornell joined them for to do Temple of the Dog songs, I’m not sure (the festival was there for two nights), it was already clear that the obsessive fan relationship with the band was getting well and truly established. Not only were some utterly unknown songs to me getting sung by nearly everyone around, at one point Eddie Vedder invited some kid up front to trade off verses on either what was a new or obscure number. Beyond that I just remember a lot of hair and jumping around a bit.

Which made the contrast to what happened next the most inadvertantly funny — and hilarious, and telling, and much more — thing that entire day. It was a little over two years since I’d seen the Jesus and Mary Chain on what had been a strangely magic summer night in LA, and they’d been top dog on the bill there at the Palladium. Here they were midrange in the bill — and like Nine Inch Nails the previous year, seeing JAMC in this kind of mid-afternoon light and weather really didn’t work. But more to the point, this unquestionably great band, touring on a partially great album with Honey’s Dead, had to be feeling like yesterday’s news in the worst way when they came on stage to a now nearly empty amphitheatre. Not stark empty, but everyone who had been there to see Pearl Jam could, it seems, care less about them and had headed off to mingle or eat or see the other acts or just talk about the great set they’d seen.

This had to have been the case throughout the entire tour, I’m guessing, but the setup of this venue maybe made it worse, who knows. I certainly was there to see them and from my perch in the lawn section it was a good enough show. But at some point, I forget when, Jim Reid had finally had it, seeing a constant stream of people heading out or milling about or probably just ignoring him in the pit. So between two of the songs he looked out at some bunch down front or around the area in particular, pointed and, in the broadest Glaswegian I’d heard to that point in my life, shouted into the mike, “LOOK! THE WAY OUT’S OVER THERE, YOU FOOCKIN’ COCKSOOCKERS!”

We all sympathized with him up top but there wasn’t much we could do except laugh at his frustration, which I’m sure we did. Sorry about that.

Soundgarden were up next, the third time I’d seen them that year and by virtue of my distance from the stage and general familiarity with their performances on this tour it was the least of those shows, but still pretty good by any other standard. I seem to recall Chris Cornell looking or sounding a little tired — the tour as a whole was about to wrap up and maybe he just wanted to go home after what had been a busy as hell year for him — but they did pretty well demonstrate why they were so unimpeachably great before stepping aside to let Alice in Chains rule the next twelve months (after which is when Nirvana and Pearl Jam both came back and…well, you get the drill; Seattle really did seem like the center of a rock universe then).

Ice Cube’s performance is one that I should remember better than I do. It’s frickin’ Ice Cube, after all, and I am absolutely sure he started with a blistering version of “The Wrong Nigga to Fuck Wit.” The Predator was either just released or about to be and “The Wicked” had to have had an airing for that reason as well but beyond that it’s a bit vague in my head. I wonder what he was thinking as he saw the end of this tour coming up, especially since Dre was about to take over the airwaves with The Chronic and further introduce the world to a guy called Snoop Doggy Dogg…but speculation is just that, and all I was was the random dude who knew about him but honestly didn’t know his work all that well. Seems like strangely ancient history now, that mindset, that time.

By now it had to have been getting plenty dark, and from where I was that was perfect given who was about to appear, and who I was finally getting around to seeing. Ministry had been a band that had in some ways defined a lot of my UCLA time — I first heard them a few weeks after starting there when The Land of Rape and Honey came out and had been impatiently waiting on the release of Psalm 69 earlier that year, grabbing it the day of the release, and then there was everything in between. But I’d still not seen them, and given that we were still two months away from the election of Clinton they still, as I would see it in retrospect, made sense, a sprawling, angry rampage against the previous decade-plus’s wound up mess of institutional hypocrisy thanks to the right. I overstated the exact politicized nature of Al Jourgensen and company in my head, perhaps, but they still made a perfect soundtrack for my angrier moods that year.

Which is why when Al came out on his cowboy hat and started speaking in a George Bush impersonation about the ‘new world order,’ with the band pounding into the melodramatic introduction of “N.W.O.,” everything felt just perfect. The combination of light show insanity, skulls on stage and on the mic stands and the overdriven metal/electronic fusion that I’d learned was ‘industrial’ in my first experience — and finally seeing it live — was manna from heaven for me. It all careened along from there, marred only by the weird fact that while Gibby Haynes joined them on stage, they didn’t in fact do what I was most wanting to hear, “Jesus Built My Hotrod” — instead, he took over Chris Connelly’s part on “TV Song,” saying something about ‘Bain de Soleil tans’ and the like. Figures.

One other thing of note, though — at one point, standing where I was in the lawn area, a body flew past me. A little startling, you might agree. It wasn’t a dead body or anything, it was quite alive, if somewhat out of control as it plowed across in front of me by a couple of inches from my right to my left and then down the hill. Curious, as you might guess, I turned my head to the right. It was then I discovered not merely the many fires that had been started in the lawn section — a tiny touch of what was already becoming Burning Man, I guess — but that huge moshpits had been created, one of which had already taken up a lot of the central area. Which I was now bordering, as I realized with due concern seeing as a slew of people were hurtling along at less than an arm’s length from me. I found it in myself to ask Steve, a former high school linebacker, to switch places with me.

That left the Red Hot Chili Peppers to close out the night, and I have to say it was a bit exhausting. I had never been much of a fan either way outside of a song or two and had regarded their ascent to commercial godhead with a certain indifference — didn’t seek them out, didn’t ask that the radio be switched over or off when they came on. I don’t remember any big sense of megaanticipation, more than anything I was kinda wiped by the day, but they kept at what they were doing energetically enough. John Frusciante, who later became my hands down favorite member of the group thanks to his varied if sometimes upsetting solo work, had already left that year for his extended hiatus, but whoever it was standing in for him did well enough, I guess. Anthony Kiedis did a lot of prancing around, Flea was, well, Flea (no animal pants this time out) and Chad Smith played drums as he does. Yay rock, I guess.

I remember bits and pieces — a rampage through “Magic Johnson,” the title track to BloodSugarSexMagik actually feeling pretty sweepingly powerful, and so forth. Oddly enough I don’t remember “Give It Away” or “Under the Bridge” at all but I half suspect that I was slightly distracted by Kris’s friend Amanda at this point, given that she had decided to take off her top and wear only her bra in response to an invocation from Anthony to the crowd. She wore it well.

I do remember the flaming helmets for the encore when they busted into some Hendrix — not “Fire,” I think, but “Crosstown Traffic,” a good enough version. The whole thing must have seemed a bit like a crazy homecoming for them, the hometown (well, LA area rather than OC) kids made good and happy to be the new funk/rock/metal/whatever gurus with Jane’s gone. I think I was mostly out of it but happy to have been there, part of it all, whatever it all supposedly was. But eventually I was mostly happy to get to my new home and sleep.

Not Just the Ticket — #38, Lush, April 12, 1992

Lush, the Palace

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.

Not Just the Ticket — #11, Lush/Ride, April 11, 1991

Lush/Ride/Roxy

Then-current albums: Gala/Nowhere

Opening act: well, none per se, it was a coheadlining tour, but this night Lush went on first.

Back of ticket ad: a return to the sanity of…75 cents off a NEW Old Fashioned Patty Melt from Jack in the Box. “An American favorite.” Debatable.

This run of tickets shows up where the thumbtack held it to the bulletin board pretty clearly – a pale blue circle surrounded by browning paper. The impermanence of time, etc.

This show, meanwhile, marks the first time that I went to the Sunset Strip that I can think of. Into the chasm, gaping — whee?

I didn’t have any sense of romance as such for the Strip as this legendary place to be in the sixties — how could I, really, I was born in 1971, and by the time I got to college what full classic rock hangover I’d had was done and gone. As with so much else that music and culture in general had established, I often felt like I was in an already comfortable space, which the lazy part of me tends to appreciate highly. So ending up here at last wasn’t out of a sense of ‘AT LAST!’ as it was ‘oh, so the show’s there?’

I’m a little surprised in retrospect that I hadn’t been to either the Roxy or the Whisky by this point, though, if only because of the place of both venues as the regular stopping points for out of town, usually major-label connected bands — especially UK ones — on their introductory tour through America, even if said tour was only a clutch of New York and LA dates. So I’m sure I’d missed a few shows in the previous couple of years that I’m kicking myself a bit for now but hey, miss some things, catch others.

At the same time, most of what those two venues — and perhaps more notably, Gazzari’s — were showcasing was something I wasn’t exactly following at all. Now I really wish I had seen Pretty Boy Floyd in their pomp, still amazed as I am by the ridiculous pure pop insanity of their one major label album, and other examples could be made, but at the time LA glam metal was creating a ‘can’t see the forest for the trees’ situation — there was so much useless bunk, as with any style that gets established and sells well enough to either inspire untalented dreamers or spark up dull careerists, that the whole thing was seen as an endless dull wash of ‘let’s see who can clone the Crue/G’n’R/Poison more.’ (I was amused when LA Guns later tried to rectify the goth/glam split, I admit. But Christian Death it wasn’t.)

I have no first memory of arriving in the Strip or anything, but I’m sure our group all did the same thing most people do when getting there — look for parking, and fail. I should restate: FREE parking. Sure you can pay to park at various lots — and the parking lot owners know it. The old story but I think rates sometimes fluctuated depending on who the bands were, perhaps. So we probably ended up somewhere and walked a bit and behold, the Roxy. It was the smallest place to see a band I’d been to yet, an actual club, and the whole ‘get through the lobby into the main area with the wedge-shaped floor and the two seated areas’ drill had yet to be dulled by familiarity. That would come soon enough. As would my realization that the bathrooms were kinda best avoided when possible.

As for the show, no guesses as to what was riding high on CMJ import hype fumes at the moment. Shoegazing, the in-thing. At this point I was really starting to mainline whatever I could — it helped as well that I had just discovered the whole Spacemen 3 family tree thanks to Sonic Boom’s debut album Spectrum — so Creation was starting to ring more bells as a label name to note. Lush, who opened on this night as noted, were on 4AD and that led to more of a Cocteaus association, as noted in the entry on that show from the previous December. Seeing them again in the Roxy was much more intimate by default but I also remember the band being a little more…I don’t want to say staid, but a touch less exuberant perhaps. I have visions of their stagelighting playing behind them, lots of silhouettes, as well as the silhouettes of everyone watching them in turn. It was an appreciative but not a hyperactive show, and perhaps the most memorable thing about it in the end was that it was the last time I saw them with their original bassist Steve Rippon. Wouldn’t be the last time I saw the band by any means, though.

And then there was Ride. I think the audience excitement had to be more for them anyway since Lush had already been through once — two to one says that nearly everyone in the club was at that Cocteaus show to start with — whereas Ride, having made their initial splash with what was already becoming a common ‘release three EPs and then an album’ pattern, were visiting LA for the first time. I certainly wasn’t alone in playing the American-only Smile compilation (mastered from vinyl! what the hell was that all about, anyway?) and the Nowhere album to death by that time — hooks, feedback, noise, harmonies, it’s almost a stereotype of what a shoegazing album was except, well, they helped invent it by default, so you couldn’t exactly accuse them of bandwagoneering too much.

Not that they weren’t formed out of nowhere and hadn’t played their own Jesus and Mary Chain and House of Love and etc. albums to death. And of course they had a huge ace-in-the-hole courtesy of Mark Gardener, co-lead vocalist/guitarist and the man with The Fringe and The Lips. More than one female friend has confessed, then or now, that they were crushing out over him big time. He definitely photographed well, as smudgy memories of Melody Makers past come inevitably to mind.

So things were pretty pumped up in the audience waiting for them and unlike Lush’s relative calm on stage, I remember Ride being more ragged, loose. Their own bassist Steve Queralt — wait, were all shoegazing bassists named Steve or something? — took the role of quietly anchoring things down but everyone else danced or moved or otherwise couldn’t quite keep still, even if it wasn’t hyperactive jumping around — though I’d soon see a few bands for whom that was their raison d’etre. It helped that the audience was swaying, dancing, cheering, in a calmer rock and roll way perhaps but there was definitely a charge one could sense, a slightly heightened experience.

Most of the night is in this kind of blurry state for me but I do remember a really monstrous version of “Nowhere” — hearing when the guitars fully cut loose in that spot was wonderful — and “Vapour Trail,” still the song of theirs that comes back to me the most (smart of them to name a song after something one can see in the air around here every day of the year, admittedly). It was just a really fun night from a band I thought were the bee’s knees, and would for a while yet.

One other point of the evening stands out, going back to Lush a bit, though it’s more to do with the audience and one person in it. At a certain point if you start going to enough shows featuring bands of a type, real or imagined (more often the latter), you inevitably start encountering or at least noticing people where you go “hey I’ve seen him/her before” — friends of mine have already noted various shows that we were all collectively at before we knew each other and more examples are to come, but when it came to anything UK/indie and especially shoegazing there was one person in particular I’ll always remember.

Don’t know his name, but what I remember was his age — he couldn’t’ve been more than twelve or so, surely still in middle school. Either his parents were very indulgent or he was persistent because god love him, there he was in the thick of this show and yet other shows in the future. Somebody I knew knew his deal and told me the story but it’s slipped my mind. I admit to being more than a little envious — he was barely older than I was when I first got really dedicated to pop and music in general, and to have these kind of shows as your own ‘first concerts’ to talk about seemed pretty cool to me.

Anyway, after the show a few of us noticed that Miki from Lush was sitting at one of the tables and was chatting with fans and signing an autograph or two. I think I urged whoever I was with go over with me to say hi, but he chickened out, I believe. (Indie guys getting tongue-tied around a female musician? Perish the thought.) So I went over, eventually got the chance to say hi, chatted for a bit and had her sign a flyer for an upcoming appearance at Hyde Park Records down in OC (she was rather amused by the name of the store). Just a brief fan encounter, nothing more.

Sitting with her the whole time as all the fan signings and chatting was going on…was that twelve-year-old or whatever age he was.

I think a LOT of guys there that night were mad at/supremely jealous of him.

(I admit, I was.)

Not Just the Ticket — #7, Cocteau Twins, Dec. 6, 1990

Cocteaus, Wiltern

Then-current album: Heaven or Las Vegas

Opening act: Lush

Back of ticket ad: “$.75 off NEW Sirloin Cheesesteak Sandwich.” And yet the prospect of consuming such a thing from Jack in the Box is somehow resolutely untempting.

The tradeoff for switching from the typeset machines to the inkjet/laserprint approach was that while the lettering tends to be clearer, the paper itself browns pretty quickly. Not that I think that Ticketmaster was overly worried about it.

Thinking about the Cocteaus is a bit hard now. More to say about that in a much later post when it came to the second and last time I saw them, but while some music and some bands you can easily get to grips with and think about regardless of the personal problems and screwups and more behind the scenes, in some cases it’s a little too much. Definitely would be the case with the Cocteaus for me, simply because — like so many people — they meant that much, something very special, something seemingly unique and strange that should not have been and that you’re glad was.

With that as a prelude, though, it’s easy to talk about the show and the lead-up to those specific memories. The Cocteaus were one of the first bands that college radio specifically turned me on to, thanks to working at KLA, and I rapidly became an obsessive fan at some point in late 1989 or early 1990. The very first issue of Melody Maker I picked up in what would be an instructive, inspiring and often frustrating four years of regularly reading and thinking about music through their collective lens to a large degree was due to them having a cover story for the release of “Iceblink Luck” as a single and Heaven or Las Vegas as an album. So when the show was announced, no hesitation there.

But, maybe for the first time outside of Depeche, I was a bit worried about getting tickets. The Wiltern was years away from having their current open-floor plan and while I knew from my first Peter Murphy experience that I could see and enjoy the show well enough from the very back of the balcony as needed, I didn’t want to go through that again. Not too sure who I went with this time around, but we plotted away and I figured the thing to do was a classic line-up-in-front-of-the-ticket-window deal at the nearest possible outlet.

This was actually on campus itself, at UCLA’s general ticket box office which also functioned as an outlet for Ticketmaster. God knows what time I got up but I remember getting up VERY early — 3 am, 4? — and leaving my apartment to walk over and camp out in front of the window and wait for it to open and the tickets to go on sale.

Probably because it was the first time I’d done anything quite like that — again, there was the Depeche show but that was almost a force of nature, whereas here I was on my own — I do have some specific memories of watching the daylight brighten around me, of wrapping up warm against the night chill, and of reading a book. In fact I know the exact book I was reading, Roland Huntford’s history of the Scott and Amundsen polar expeditions The Last Place on Earth — I still have it around and dip into it every so often.

For a while there it was just me and I’m sure I thought to myself more than once that I was probably worried over nothing. But as the on-sale hour got nearer an honest to god line started to form, and I was at the start of it. It wasn’t a huge monster around the block and down the street line but it was pretty clear the show was a draw — in fact I think there were two separate shows announced. I could be wrong but I believe the Cocteaus hadn’t played LA for something like six years at that point — doubtless there’s some tour listing somewhere which would disabuse me of that assumption — so that could explain it, but more to the point, it was the Cocteaus, period. You had a sense with them that if you loved them you practically worshipped the records from the Vaughan Oliver cover designs on down. (They probably knew that as well, which probably explains why the later albums used other designers, a way to claim a bit of independence perhaps.)

Tickets bought, all that had to happen was for time to run down to the show, with a further bonus to be had in the opening act. For the second night, I think Mazzy Star did the honors, and a part of me does regret that as I never got around to seeing them otherwise. But I’d only just heard about them and all of what David Roback was up to whereas Lush had already turned into another big favorite of mine — the Scar EP was probably the first 4AD import I ever bought, and the Gala compilation pretty much ended up as my soundtrack to the end of 1990. The fact that Lush clearly had their own Cocteaus jones in place didn’t hurt, but they had their own tart, taut take on things, a dynamic that was actually only similar to the older band in terms of surface sheen rather than arrangements, lyrics and more besides.

So the first thing I can recall about the show is just sitting in the audience in the reasonable enough seats we had and watching Lush play a set which — once again — I’m now lucky enough to have a recording of, and which I’m listening to as I type. The performances aren’t all that far removed from the studio versions, even in the precise levels of the mix, which on the one hand might make it less exciting than it sounds but on the other hand, great performances all. Miki Berenyi’s famously flame-red hair was the most immediate visual hook but I also think back a bit on a slightly wide-eyed look to hear as she performed, on Emma Anderson being a touch more withdrawn in comparison. In a weird way, hearing the recording doesn’t supplement the memories but nor does it entirely complement them — it’s a sense that, yes, this is pretty much how it was for the band then, for me as a listener. It’s a sonic marker more than anything else, outside maybe of remember Chris Acland’s rollicking drum stomps on “Bitter.” But there’s more to say about Lush at a later time.

And then, the Cocteaus. They started with the title track to Blue Bell Knoll and the feeling was momentous, a sense of the curtains literally and figuratively drawn back. I remember a big question I had in my head would be how the band would look, as they were famously drummerless, relying on beatboxes and tapes. So too did Depeche but I’d already had a sense from videos and films how they staged their appearances, so I had no such question in my head when I saw them. The Cocteaus instead were, literally, a line — Liz Fraser might have stood out at the center of the line a bit, but otherwise it was a straight line of guitarists and one bassist, five all told. It was a very unusual but still arresting image, no staggering of locations on the stage, no immediate sense of precedence. I think Robin Guthrie was at the end of the line nearest to where I was but I can’t be sure.

And from there, again, it gets hazy, unusual. The sheer static sense of the presentation meant that I don’t recall anything odd happening after that initial appearance, it just all seemed to continue from there — and I’m sure I was happy as heck. But it’s an aural memory at best otherwise, a feeling of being lost in all the sonic cathedrals of sound and all the other cliches that the band had collected over the years. At most I remember the lighting being appropriately moody, of Liz being lit just so.

But I do remember one moment very clearly, the encore — it was the politest stage rush ever. I can’t recall whether it was after they’d left following the main set or when they came back, but I have this impression of a rustle of black fabric and veils all around me, like all the goths who I knew were there the whole time but who I hadn’t fully noticed somehow appeared from and boiled out of the rows and seats to swoop up to the stage front. Of course, I joined them. (No veils, though.) Seeing everything up close didn’t really change the experience all that much, but I’m pretty sure they saved “Heaven or Las Vegas” itself for the encore, and I sense a piercing, faraway look in Liz’s eyes and Robin’s hands nimbly calling up the arcing guitar parts during the break and end of the song.

It’s all blank after that. Except I likely went home and played the album yet again.

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