Not Just the Ticket — #27, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, January 17 1992

Ned's Atomic Dustbin, Palace

Then-current album: God Fodder

Opening act: …Dumptruck or Gruntruck or something like that. Too bad it wasn’t Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts.

Back of ticket ad: yes, KROQ, you were always world famous weren’t you. In a strange, unsure world, perhaps.

And ladies and gentlemen, your eyes do not deceive you — a change in the color scheme! It is perhaps representative of Ticketmaster that when they finally decided to change their extremely basic blue/white ticket design in 1992, they did so with a kind of pastel combination that suggested the decade that was already a couple of years behind us at that point. So maybe this was the first example of full eighties revivalism there was. Or maybe they were just plain out of it. I vote the latter.

So, for one last time, as it turned out, the band who I hoped to able to love due to their name. In a way, it was actually a perfect closing of a circle, this third and final time.

As mentioned in previous entries, Ned’s had taken to America with energy and a kind of splash. The first tour the previous summer was a good explosion of energy, their immediate follow-up tour with Jesus Jones saw them pretty readily put on the more energetic show, Mike Edwards’ crew already seeming a bit worn down by their touring work in the wake of “Right Here Right Now.” Perhaps it wasn’t surprising that by this stage, with their third American tour in under a year, Ned’s were now going to find themselves in that spot.

A little stepping back and a bit of reflection isn’t going to hurt at this point — I started this year still unsure of what I would be doing towards the end of it. I’d already mapped out my graduation gift to myself — my first trip to the UK, centered around the massive Tolkien centenary conference in Oxford, where I would be presenting and moderating — but post-graduation was otherwise something of a fog. After a fun holiday season which included a visit up to see our relatives in northern California, I’d returned with only a few things left to really work on at UCLA — my departmental honors thesis (a comparison of John Webster and E. R. Eddison), some last classes to fill out the credits — and had hopes that I might be able to continue on there in grad school, though as anyone can tell you it’s awfully rare, though not unheard of, to be able to do that. So I’d cast my net wider to other UCs as well but I wouldn’t be hearing back for a few more weeks.

Otherwise, I was pretty much wanting to enjoy myself — and as you’ll see from the next swathe of entries, I did that when it came to shows. The roughly six month period between this show and my departure to the UK in late July/early August remains the most concentrated blast of showgoing I’ve ever done, and includes a few shows that I saw but don’t have tickets from, so I’ll try and catch them in these memories as I can. Perhaps inevitably they have a stronger collective glow in the memory as a result — when you’re in a situation where all you can do is wait (and then later, know for sure what you will be doing, but still have plenty of time before you go do it), about all one can do is just try and have a good time. It wasn’t all fun and games but a lot of the more unsettled moments are just that, moments in my head that can stay there.

So this show. No unknown quantity here when it came to the headliner, if anything I was now a very knowing veteran in American terms. If the band’s closest moment to a full American breakthrough had already come and gone they still had some MTV/KROQ support to draw on, though given how strongly ‘alternative’ was starting to solidify — and codify — as a brawling, sprawling and very American thing, it’s almost amazing to realize just how quickly they were eclipsed. (Though they’d actually play to their biggest American crowds the following year — missed those shows so I can’t say anything more than that.) Given how a year later Suede were seen as the alternative to ‘alternative’ it was as if this whole swathe of bands like Jesus Jones, like the Wonder Stuff, like Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, like more I would see later in this year simply did not exist (not to mention the shoegazers, and what was left of Madchester as a perceived scene was already collapsing inwardly — turnaround, how quickly it goes).

This is another one where I can’t remember who I went with, but it was off to the Hollywood Palace once more, one of those venues that also was starting to make me feel like a veteran (and I still wasn’t even twenty one years old at this point). I think the first thing that signaled it would be an odd evening was the massive stage backdrop that the Ned’s had put up — spelled out in the God Fodder font, it read:

BE SILENT

CONSUME

DIE

Which I probably thought was something I would expect to see at a Jello Biafra spoken word show more than anything else.

This wasn’t a show I remember seeing from upfront, tucked away near the monitors as I would often do time and again. I think I was hovering back near the bar, if not at it, and the memories are slightly disoriented for that reason, like I was out of place or out of sync somehow. The prevailing feeling that comes back to me was a kind of enervation, an exhaustion. Just a few months after Ned’s had owned a crowd at a much larger venue, it felt a bit like a Pyrrhic victory here and they hadn’t even hit the stage yet.

Whoever did hit the stage first didn’t help. As mentioned in the note at the start, I honestly can’t remember who these goofs were, except that they were a local band, I’m pretty sure, they had a name like Dumptruck or Gruntruck, both of whom are actual bands or were, but I don’t think it was either of them, honestly. It might have been and maybe that would make more sense than I knew, but it was a classic out-of-place scenario — or maybe it wasn’t. They were maybe hardcore punk in a baseball cap wearing way, or maybe they were a final spewing of whatever could be called punk/funk at that time period, or maybe they were something else, but they feel like irritants in my head, not actively stupid or moronic enough to hate but not pleasing me by their continued presence on stage either. I almost remember back and forths with the audience and general dumb-assery more than anything else.

So that left Ned’s and while the crowd cheered them on, I remember seeing Jonn appear on stage with much longer hair than I’d seen him wear before and walking almost in a lope. If they were pepped up for the show they weren’t exactly showing it, and that sense of exhaustion really came to the fore at this point. For all that I knew the songs by heart now, they weren’t prompting me to cheer much, and again everything seemed squashed flat, like America and all the touring had sat on their head so completely they didn’t know what to expect. There’s a shirt I still have — probably one I picked up at this show — that was a specially made shirt for their end of year UK tour the previous month, which summarized everything they’d done that year in terms of shows and releases and more. It made for a lot of fine print on one’s back, and while there have probably been more punishing tour schedules I’ve noticed since, I wasn’t surprised that they seemed like they were going through the motions more than anything.

Perhaps it was the venue, perhaps they weren’t ready to headline a spot that large (and again, they were headlining bigger spots the following year). Perhaps it was something else, perhaps I was just tired in turn. It was an inadvertant farewell to a band who I did really love for all that this show was a damp fire. After all, I can hardly knock a band who came up with a T-shirt that read “I know the way of Ned.” And you can darn well guess I bought that one as soon as I could.

Not Just the Ticket — #18, Jesus Jones, Sept. 6, 1991

Jesus Jones, Palladium

Then-current album: Doubt

Opening act: Ned’s Atomic Dustbin

Back of ticket ad: oh 97.1 KLSX, you and your classic rock ways, because it was ‘real’ music and because it would last, and it wasn’t like you were ever going to play any new stuff that might come out from bands from, say, Seattle any time soon. Not at all.

Sometimes the thing that surprises me the most about the individual tickets are the prices of the shows on them. For the life of me, this far away from it, I can’t tell if $19.50 was too cheap, too expensive or just right for the time.

Meantime, the show of repeat performances, but on different — arguably brutally different — arcs.

This could I suppose be considered a sequel to both the earlier entries on these bands, on both Jesus Jones and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. The time of the show tells me that this was *that* month — something with both preordained returns to the charts and the unexpected first time appearances soon to follow. Released that month: Guns’n’Roses’ Use Your Illusion, Nirvana’s Nevermind. Released just before it: Pearl Jam’s Ten (with Metallica’s Metallica not far behind). Released just after it: Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger. RAWK, the month of RAWK, lots and lots of RAWK, etc. etc. etc. Etc.

The presumption that history has now forced on the time is that of the great readjustment, the perceived recognition of ‘oh wait, there’s also this going on too.’ That said the real shock that month came courtesy of what happened at the end of it, when Garth Brooks’ Ropin’ the Wind crashed in at number one; following NWA’s Efil4zaggin earlier that year also topping the charts — and lest we not forget, Skid Row’s Slave to the Grind similarly going straight to number one soon afterwards — it was the clearest success of Soundscan as some sort of barometer of measuring taste via immediate fan reaction and ‘actual’ sales, as well as the first full validation of what is now considered clear orthodoxy in some corners: that American popular music (English language division) can be essentially defined by shifting hierarchies within country, hip-hop and metal/hard rock, plus the mutable category of pop as the overarching field that draws on all three, its own open sense of what a hook can be, and goes to town. An exaggeration, hyperbolic, but not too far removed from a perceived truth.

Not that I cared about that at the time. I was just a college student who DJed on campus radio and read Melody Maker. What was I supposed to take away from all that, beyond judgments from thousands of miles away?

I think I had suggested to Angela — my date at past shows like the Kitchens of Distinction and Tin Machine — the idea of seeing Jesus Jones a while beforehand, having enjoyed that first go-round that year very much. She knew who they were and was up for it; not sure if she knew about Ned’s Atomic Dustbin but they were only just starting to get a little more traction. And that is indeed exactly what they were getting; “Grey Cell Green” was — just — mentioned in similar contexts as songs like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at times that month because it was starting to get KROQ and MTV attention to a larger degree. Within a couple of weeks the comparison would seem ridiculously absurd and from the vantage point of history completely unbelievable and yet, there it was.

I was all jazzed up, no question — both bands had put on great shows that year, Ned’s not just six weeks before this date, and by this time I knew the drill with the Hollywood Palladium as a venue, so with whatever else I had on my plate at that time — the start of my senior year at UCLA, planning my applications to grad school, much more besides — I think I treated this show with less overt anticipation and more ‘hey, bring it as it comes’ attitude. So the time swirls by and a couple of weeks after Tin Machine’s promo show here it was back to the salt mines of long waits outside, getting frisked by security and making sure not to trip on the sunken step on the way down to the main floor.

The first sign I knew something was up was the appearance of a slew of people wearing Ned’s shirts around me — more, in fact, than I recall seeing of Jesus Jones. Perhaps not too shocking but I think at one point I asked myself if everyone who had attended their previous show had come to this one, because it sure seemed like it — the memory of three guys moving their way up to the front of the crowd, hands on each other’s shoulders in a line so they could keep together, all wearing individual Ned’s shirts, sticks with me. Bromance before its time or at least the coining of the word, though I’m sure the three in question would have reacted badly to any term applied, even if it was as simple as ‘male bonding.’

They were there to mosh, though, that much was clear as soon as Ned’s took the stage. Arms and legs and bodies once again, and if it wasn’t the first time I’d seen it it was definitely one of the most frenetic. Something tells me that enough people had might have already seen the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video, but I’m not sure — it had just been released to radio a week beforehand — and something might have carried over from that. Might — again, it wasn’t like everything was suddenly invented right around that time, but things were about to be codified and presented to a much wider audience, and such behaviors were going to be not merely expected but somehow required.

That all said, though, the other thing that was apparent was that Ned’s were on fire — they absolutely KILLED. I’d seen plenty of good opening bands before but this was the first demonstration of the principle that the opening band should go out there and win people over as if they were the headliners, to not take the job of opener lying down or too politely. It wasn’t like they were trashing Jesus Jones over the mike or anything, but it clicked — they had a friendly crowd, it always helped, but they played damn well, put on a show, “Grey Cell Green” had the place going completely nuts. Angela and I were watching from the center of the floor at a safe distance from the flailing limbs and had a great time with the show, all the thunderous applause and cheers at the end well deserved. We wondered if Jesus Jones were going to be able to top that, but I had to have said something about that killer show they did at UCLA — we decided to watch from the public balcony and decamped there.

But Jesus Jones never quite got it going. It was a good enough show, but something of the unhinged, of the moment edge when they had performed earlier in the year, riding the wave of the number one song placement and all, had perhaps understandably dissipated. It was a little too slick perhaps or, more likely, the band were just a little too tired. The punishing nature of touring — especially if you’re either still scrabbling on the way up or just trying to maintain at a certain level — may be its own cliche several thousand times over but it’s still no joke when you’re trying to get from one side of a big country to another and back again, and maybe Ned’s were able to combine being the new if temporary chart wonders with an inevitable freshness to their advantage — something that came to mind at a later time when I saw Ned’s yet again, but that’s for the future.

So in the end the show wasn’t either a splendid success nor a washout, however much it was biased more to one group’s advantage in the end. It was ‘just’ a show of the time, one of the many I’d attended and yet attend, taking place during the month when the musical world changed or seemed to but which didn’t seem that way to me. I couldn’t be surprised by either band’s set any more except in terms of energy or intensity or whatever it could be called, but I could at least say it was an okay night out with someone I liked. Talk of musical revolutions and all that aside, that’s all that one really needs.

Not Just the Ticket — #17, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, July 25, 1991

Ned's, Roxy

Then-current album: God Fodder

Opening act: Swervedriver

Back-of-ticket ad: 97.1 KLSX, “The Classic Rock Station.” An incredibly logical sponsor for a tour featuring two bands that weren’t more than a couple of years old each.

I like how the ticket promises an ‘open dance floor.’ It is the Roxy, so that it is true and all, and yet something about the idea doesn’t quite work.

So, the band that I had to hope would be good just because of their name.

I think I first heard about Ned’s Atomic Dustbin through one of the Melody Makers I irregularly purchased in 1990 — somewhere in one of them was an ad for a UK tour and, well, of course I would notice the name. I couldn’t NOT notice the name. I had no idea that the band had taken it from an old Goon Show episode — the first part’s here, and the rest is online as well — and for all I knew it was some joking reference to a friend, or there was a guy named Ned in the band or who knew what else. As up to then the only Ned I knew of at all beyond myself was Ned Beatty the novelty of the band being called that was more than enough.

Around March I read a review of God Fodder in another Melody Maker and completely missed the joke of the album name. Completely. COMPLETELY. In fact I think it took me years to realize what the joke was, which somehow makes sense with a lot of things in my life and how I completely zone out and miss them (and I’ll have the ultimate concert story about just that in a few entries from now — and trust me, that one will have you wondering if I’m just insane). But the review made the band sound good and gave me some sort of context to deal with, but beyond that, I either hadn’t seen their earlier singles or things around or if I had I didn’t recognize them for what they were. It took the American release of the album a little while later, along with the domestic release of the “Happy” single, for me to finally get around to them and listen and go “Hey, that’s not bad. Pretty fun, actually.”

Which it is, still. I haven’t listened to them in years upon years, but then again you could say that about a lot of the bands I’ve been talking about, memories all inculcated and burned into permanence, however fuzzy with time. What the band did seemed randomly fun and jumpy and all over the place with a weird lineup featuring two bassists that only sounded like one bass and a whole quick fuzz/pop/punk/whatever thing that was all kinda goofy. Jonn, the lead singer, might actually have been the secret weapon in plain sight the whole time — his low, almost flat but still engaging singing was the kind of thing you could call conversational and have it meant, it sounded like a guy talking about whatever in a fashion that wasn’t artless but wasn’t demonstrative either, an unlikely guy for anthems who sang them anyway (which is what “Grey Cell Green” sounded like then and now, so there).

So the point was that they seemed worthwhile to check out, and it also helped that Swervedriver were opening — by this time I was fairly conversational with the whole ‘Creation = shoegaze’ supposition, and even though Swervedriver were approaching it much more from a reworked Dinosaur Jr. context, drawling vocals mixed with a romanticized Americana, it made sense to hear them through that lens. I’m not sure if I had actually heard them yet, though — Raise was a little ways off from an American release still and I’m not sure I’d heard the early EPs yet.

Nonetheless, another show at the Roxy, a nice nighttime show instead of an all-day roast in the sun, two bands I was up for, the rest had to follow and so a few days after surviving Lollapalooza there I was in much more confined surroundings. Steve M. was with me again, as well as EJL and maybe Kris C. and a few other KLA folks, not sure. That and a bunch of people in extremely bright T-shirts, but more on that in a bit.

For Swervedriver I remember sitting back with some of the folks I was with at a table and just watching and getting the sense of them. Sure in retrospect I should have gone up front but hey, I was saving my energy, I figured. I remember being impressed by the general shagginess of them all — I don’t think they were the hairiest band I’d ever seen but they were up there, dreads and all. “Deep Seat” is the song I remember most from the performance, just the elegant way that everyone in the band seemed to tradeoff and cycle through their parts, each guitar bit, each time the bass came to the fore, a gentle cycle.

There’s somebody I remember more, though. Where we were sitting wasn’t at the edge of the open floor but further back, so there were a few tables in front of us. At one of them were these three people, two guys and one woman, pretty unremarkable and for all I know they were just out like us for about the same reasons, into music, into UK bands, whatever. But this one guy of the two, whoever he was — didn’t look out of place or remarkable or anything — had this bizarre, stupid habit. It seemed like every two minutes or so, more for himself than who he was sitting with — maybe — would break into this ‘yeah, smooth drums!’ air routine where he would close his eyes and drum along with Swervedriver, no matter the pace of the song. In fact, he wasn’t really drumming along with Swervedriver at all, but he was just doing his tasty drum lick in the air or whatever it was meant to be.

Now this wouldn’t have been remarkable at all if he only did it a couple of times, and god knows I must have my own unconscious habits at shows. But this guy wouldn’t seem to stop, he was addicted to this weird move. Maybe he was a real drummer and had to do that, maybe he was a frustrated drummer and could only do that and nothing else (and maybe not even that). Maybe his friends humored him. Maybe they weren’t his friends. I do remember pointing him out to my tablemates and none of us being able to figure out his deal. Whoever he is, I hope he is happy wherever he’s at now, drumming away to the heavens in those random competitions you see on YouTube.

That left the Ned’s show and the T-shirts. For all that pretty much every band had their own merchandising down by that point, whether on club level or arena, there was this subset of current British bands that were seen to be defined by a few things: T-shirts, strange haircuts and leaping around a lot (see also Jesus Jones as discussed earlier, and we’ll yet see them again). Ned’s pretty much had that down to a science, and if I had every T-shirt they put out my closet would probably be full. (I did order a lot of their T-shirts over time, though — again, the name. I HAD to, me being me.) I’m pretty sure I somebody wearing the shirt that read, in this format:

ABC
DEF
UCK

One of their best, “FREE PEE-WEE HERMAN,” didn’t come out until a certain arrest a few weeks later. I ended up picking up a fairly basic shirt that read “DID YOU MISS” at the top of the front, followed by the band logo on the rest of the front. If your answer was ‘yes,’ the back of the shirt provided the answer: “THEN YOU FUCKED UP.” True. Impudent admittedly.

So I went near the front of the stage for the show and they all bounded on stage and everyone in the audience started bounding about and pretty much it was nothing but flailing and legs and hair for the next hour. Perhaps strangely, perhaps not, the song I remember most of all was “Terminally Groovie” thanks to its frenetic stop-start pace and the way that Jonn would beckon the audience into screams and cheers at the end of each chorus — all worked nicely enough even as I was looking around to make sure I wasn’t clocked in the head by a random body or three.

At some during the show a woman who was out with her friend somehow glommed onto me as some sort of guard against all the chaos. Why she thought I was much of a guard I’m not entirely sure, given I’m not exactly built like a linebacker, but we ended up talking in bursts a few times during pauses in performance. Friendly person but that’s about all I can recall, except that her friend seemed a little frightening and surgically enhanced so I was glad I was talking with her instead.

And from there to the end of the show home, sweat-soaked and smoke in my hair from all the cigarettes, the usual feeling I would have coming back from shows for the next few years. It was about this time I definitely learned how much of a smoke trap long hair is — something nobody tells you before it happens to you for the first time.

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