Then-current album: Automatic
Opening bands: Agent Orange and some bunch of anonymous people that were never heard from again, I think. But more on that later.
Back of ticket ad: Pirate Radio once more. Yet somehow more shlockier for having been reencountered this way.
Rather a more ragged and faded ticket, this one, even if it is of the same stamped-type variety as the rest so far. Must have been a fairly hot night in the Palladium or something, given that there’s still warps and bends in it.
And yes, this show. The one where I got slammed in the face.
The Jesus and Mary Chain vaguely came to my attention at some point during the previous years but it was definitely Automatic and especially “Head On” that did the trick for me. Sure it might have been far more of a slick beast than Psychocandy was — and that turned out to be my favorite of the albums over time — but “Head On” and its industrial/electronic rigor thanks to the synth bass and stiff drums set against the surf twang and Jim Reid’s moaning/yearning sneer remains a winner, and I’ll stick by “Makes you wanna feel/makes you wanna try/makes you wanna blow the stars from the sky” as a line that sums up that feeling perfectly, whatever you want to call that feeling.
What prompted going to this show…I’m not sure. I think I was starting to shift from a sense of shows as big and somewhat rare events to something along more of a ‘hey that seems pretty good’ deal. Entirely possible someone had seen them on the previous go round for this tour in late 1989 — opening act being some band from the Midwest that had just put out a debut single and album, led by one T. Reznor — but it’s fuzzy stuff. I do remember it was as part of a small group that I went — there might have just been three of us — and that one was someone who thought was pretty cute and nice, a fellow UCLA student. So why wouldn’t I go, after all.
So, my first show at the Palladium, my first show on the Sunset Strip, my first show in Hollywood itself I guess — how very LA. But it had to happen at some point, given my interests, given where the shows would be held, the same way that people my age in New York would remember shows at Irving Plaza and London would remember the Brixton Academy. At some point or another you end up at certain places and you’re just one member of one crowd at a venue that thrives on received history, that has no other history much beyond the fact that they are what they are and that a slew of famous bands have played there over time (even though an even bigger slew of anonymous or now-forgotten bands have also played there, though given the size of the venue that’s definitely less of an imbalanced percentage than it would be if it were a club).
Not that I cared much about that, though there were other firsts like the fact that this was the first time I’d been at a show where there were essentially no seats — sure, there was the balcony area (or rather, the one half of the balcony that was open — the other half, every time I was ever there, was always the VIP area), but I think one sat there if one was leaning up against the wall, completely lacking any view of the stage itself, and feeling bored. I stayed on the floor the whole time and doubtless did what most people did, milled around and/or watched the stage and/or chatted with friends.
Another first was the opening act — not Agent Orange, but the band before them. I hadn’t yet seen an opening act that wasn’t some sort of national act on their own, out on a tour, handpicked by the headliners, at the least famous locally or whatever else might have gone into it. Even Xavion, the Hall and Oates openers from 1984, were on a major label, on a national tour and all. Instead for the very first time I got to experience that other kind of opener, the local act that’s added to the bill for no immediately discernable reason. Some bands are rote, others are pathetically bad, others are simply just there — and whoever they were, they were indeed, just there.
But that might be why I have a clear picture of them in my head. A five piece, all male, and performing music that made me think they were out of place, out of time. They made me think of acts like Anything Box or, later, Cause and Effect, that end of eighties/early nineties synth/rock/’new wave’ feeling that felt like a sound and a time dying out even while the initial foundations of a revival were quietly being planted elsewhere around the world, though not for some while to come. KROQ sponsored this show and with a farrago of random sonic impulses floating around during this retrospectively up-for-grabs time, before the ‘nineties’ were codified thanks to Nirvana, Dre/Snoop and so much more besides, it was understood that there were bands still trying to make it in a way that grew out of how KROQ had defined itself all those years before it too started to shift-shape and reinvent.
It was a weird feeling, seeing this band, but also a definite sign of the arrogant critic at work, at the age of nineteen, thinking to myself that this band was already out of place somehow, dated. Enough cycles of time and fashion have gone through now that I see that for the limited approach it is — it’s not that the band were secretly good (at best they were formalized and obvious, descendants of late Roxy Music and Ure-era Ultravox and Duran Duran and other things that I perfectly enjoy but which this bunch used as templates all too closely, and lacking much in the way of any real kick or spark), but that their choice of instruments and arrangements and all that were no less dated than anything else. It’s all in how it was used. Perhaps hearing them now I might think on them much more kindly.
The Jesus and Mary Chain themselves were immobile, loud and pretty good — crowd was happily going crazy for them. I do remember “Head On,” just, but I mostly remember “Just Like Honey” because it became a false start and they had to begin again. But that false start, with those Ronettes/Phil Spector drums pounding out the simple but effective intro, that got a huge, huge cheer. It was one of those ‘so this is what the shouting is all about’ realizations, in a literal sense.
Then there was Agent Orange — and they were good too, though I didn’t know anything about them at the time. Think I had heard something about how they were some legendary local punk band, and in later years I realized just how fantastically great the early recordings were in particular. At this time, Mike Palm was fitting in more with the hair metal empire in terms of looks — as might have been at least one of the others he had on board with this incarnation of the band — but the choppy riffs and son-of-Dick Dale melodies weren’t any less sharp.
As mentioned, though — first time at a show with no seating, open floor area, and there I was near the front of the stage. I had to have heard the term ‘slam dancing’ at least before then — ‘mosh’ was a little ways off still for me — but I guess I never thought I’d actually be in one or that people might act the way they did.
Don’t think the guy, if it was a guy, meant to do anything, at least in his mind — this is just, you know, what you did, at a gig, if you were him, or in his experience, or whatever. I just remember the face slam, a huge numb feeling creeping outwards from my nose, a deep sinus ache, and feeling pretty woozy. I can’t recall a nosebleed much, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I had one. Vaguely remember withdrawing from the area and looking around for where my friends had gone, or perhaps walking away with them — it didn’t ruin the evening but it bring me up pretty sharp about what could happen at shows.
Yet there was a nice counterbalance after the show — one of this small group lived in an apartment building south of UCLA that had a nice rooftop pool and hot-tub for tenant use, and we all ended up there just chilling in the water on a hot summer night, talking and relaxing and enjoying life. It’s almost more vivid still than the show itself, the bonus for attending it in a way — and I do remember looking up at the stars in the sky, as could be seen through LA light pollution. I might not have wanted to blow them from the sky at that particular moment but I was sure glad that they were there.