Then-current album: The Beast Inside
Opening act: absolutely no idea
Back of ticket ad: yet another offer for a Super Bowl ticket if one would be so kind as to read The National. And my eyes glaze over.
This ticket’s in reasonably good shape and all, but it must be said that it’s not the ticket for the show in question. Well, it is, sort of. However, its intended purpose was to serve as a ticket for Scatterbrain at the same venue, the Palace in Hollywood (now called the Avalon), for the previous October. Now, I had no problem with Scatterbrain then nor do I now, though I haven’t actively thought of them in a while — they were a metal band with an overt, part-of-the-act sense of humor that actually made it work at points, not in a GWAR theatrical sense, more in a self-aware vein, a bit like an American version of Lawnmower Deth, say, though not so much parodying grindcore from the inside as hard rock and metal and classic rock hangovers and the like. I can still hum a few songs from their first album in any event, and that’s more than most bands can manage.
So why this ticket and etc. Well, my friend Dave S. said either in a comment on here or over on Facebook that he was waiting for the time when I would start showing the tickets that were free passes to shows thanks to being a very very small part of the music industry machine, at least inasmuch as any college DJ could be. And here you go.
The way promo works in the music industry (and many other industries in the entertainment sense and beyond) is pretty much a standard kind of exchange in a variety of formats — get free access to something (a show, an album, an interview, whatever) in exchange for being nice about it all in return and therefore potentially encouraging things like, oh, say, sales, that minor point when it comes to capitalism. Such is the wheel, such is the way it is greased, and the trick is to be able to talk about it all in a way that you keep your place in the cycle while still being your own person. Talking about it as something to tsk at or something to try and be superior about or the like is rather pointless, better to simply acknowledge it and live up to a certain deathless line by Cheap Trick: surrender but don’t give yourself away.
The context of this particular giveaway is completely unknown to me beyond the most general, though — presumably Mute and/or Elektra had a few earmarked spots around, they were offered to the station, maybe directly to the DJs or maybe they were unclaimed contest giveaways, who knows. Either way, hey, the show wasn’t going to see itself. So off I went, in the company a fellow DJ or two.
The Palace, like the Palladium, is one of those buildings that’s been around for decades in Hollywood — it’s only a few blocks over — and had a TV-based context I knew nothing about when I went there for the first of what would be a massive series of shows over the next few years. I do remember thinking it was one of the nicer venues I’d been in for a while and while I have no idea what it’s like now in terms of size it remains a good happy medium between club performances and much larger ones — it’s smaller than the Palladium or the Wiltern and much smaller than the Universal Ampitheatre, my main comparison points up until then, but it’s not tiny either, able to hold a big enough balcony area as well as the main floor.
It also had — and hopefully still has — something which immediately distinguished itself from of those other venues as well as more to be encountered later, namely a free and open-to-all drinking fountain. That might not sound like much, but as much as promo is part of the business, so too on the venue level is the need to make money via the consumption of bottled liquids, alcoholic or not. So for the first time to my knowledge (though I’m sure Dodger Stadium was set up for it), if I was hot and thirsty during a show or after it, I could actually just over and simply get a drink of water. Amazing how the small stuff just sticks with you, and over the years I came to rely on it regularly, tucked away to the side of the bar at the back of the floor area. It wasn’t a secret or anything but the management never went out of their way to call attention to it either, unsurprisingly.
There’s much about this show that remains a mystery to me — as mentioned, I don’t know who I was with; also as noted, I have no idea about the opening band. In fact, part of me is completely unsure if there was an opening band at all, perhaps it was just a DJ or someone from KROQ. I do remember picking up one of the band’s legendary/notorious ‘Cool as Fuck’ T-shirts — not the ones with the googly-eyed cow, but a later version showing said cow with shades and smoking a joint, which given that I’d never (and have never) indulged was maybe a little weird but I preferred the words more anyway. In later years I racked my brain a bit when I learned that Noel Gallagher was a roadie for the band at this time, since I wondered if I’d bought the shirt from him, but apparently he wasn’t on this American tour and my memory of the guy selling it was that while he was definitely English and more than likely from Manchester, he was taller than Noel and had reddish hair.
In later shows I ended up having a ‘place’ to see anything at the Palace, when I discovered just the right spot to have good sound, be at the front of the stage and still avoid flailing mosh idiots, but this wasn’t that time yet — still, I remember being up front in any event, and no random fists or whatever landing on me, so that was nice. I don’t recall anything momentous or interesting about the start of the show either, just that at some point they were off.
Talking about the Inspirals now is a bit burdened by history — as mentioned in the previous entry, they were seen as one of ‘the’ three Madchester bands in the press and yet they were if anything even more of a retro-psych-garage band than the Charlatans were, and quite happily proud of it. As with so many performers in so many scenes they were a bit trapped by it all when they didn’t really see themselves as part of that overall grouping to start with (what band in any ‘scene’ does, though?), but at that point they were focused on touring for an album that wasn’t quite out yet, The Beast Inside, their second.
I listened to the album a fair amount at the time, even more so than their debut, but as with so much else it doesn’t fully sit with me any more — songs like “Caravan” and “Further Away” and “Please Be Cruel” ring bells, just, but otherwise it seems a bit overcooked in the memory, the kind-of polished and maybe too-polished-at-points effort that’s a bit of a commonplace for any number of performers. Part of the reason why, though, probably lay in the fact that the album wasn’t actually out yet, or was just about to come out, so I had the memory of the show to rely on instead.
And it was a steady, solid show, at times a very good one. Three bandmembers — singer Tom Hingley, bald bassist Martyn Walsh and inevitably keyboardist Clint Boon with his none-more-garage-sixties hairstyle — stick out as the strong points, Walsh holding things down with a good focus, Hingley doing little but straightforward enough singing but doing it well and Boon looking the part and playing his parts deftly. I remember a moment when a stage invader jumped up alongside Hingley early on and danced around a bit — Hingley was nonplussed and said as much after the song ended, and perhaps happily nobody tried that again.
I remember a lot of the show very strongly thanks to a trick I haven’t seen many bands do but is kinda handy if you can pull it off — each song was introduced by a projection flashing up the title. Presumably they never tried to pull a fast one on their show tech (or vice versa). “Joe,” “Commercial Rain” and “This is How it Feels” were the older standouts but the songs I’ve mentioned above were the ones that worked very well on stage that night, and didn’t quite seem to get the same feeling down in the studio versions to my mind when I heard them. Of course, given the band’s obvious love for a certain style that thrived on do-it-now, do-it-live, perhaps that was just what they wanted.
One thing I definitely remember is the performance of “Further Away,” on album a lengthy number that plays around with faster-and-faster arrangements pretty well, but live became a real monster, all strobe lights and focused singing and freneticism on the part of Boon in particular, but the whole band were burning it up, Hingley almost the calmest in comparison. It might have been the last number but a bit like “Sproston Green” for the Charlatans, if it wasn’t then that would be surprising. Plenty of cheers, all well received stuff, and there you go.
And hey, didn’t have to pay for it either.