Opening act: Soho
Back of ticket ad: did The National spend all their money on these Ticketmaster ads? Does that explain why they’re not around anymore? (At least, I assume they’re not around anymore…)
Another browning ticket, another hole punched through it, it’s almost like a pattern. It also reminds me of the fate of the Martians in Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, though perhaps more appropriately it should be Shelley’s “Ozymandias” I’m thinking of.
Meantime, a show by the group that had the song that invented the nineties and created alternative as we know it today. Bear with me.
I love contrasting then and now sometimes. Jesus Jones seem so utterly of their time that it’s almost befuddling now, and yet there they were, there I was, once again at a show at UCLA’s Ackerman Grand Ballroom but this time right near the front with a crowd going crazy, once again at a show riding a massive feeling of success, and if it wasn’t anything like Depeche Mode’s firmament-destroying impact it was still a hell of a feeling, with a song whose sentiments seemed to be keyed in to just that kind of feeling, however much of a statement about the state of the world it professed to be. (And give Mike Edwards this much, in writing a song about sitting around and watching things unfold on TV he pretty much described how ‘events’ happen for a lot of us, endlessly mediated.) They wore (and in Edwards’ case endlessly talked about) a rhetoric and style of how rock and roll had to be updated and electronic and of the now in order to survive, which was true enough on the one hand but which was about to be undercut on the other, so as with all other futurists they ended up becoming pretty dated pretty quickly.
There are two arguments that I’ll forever make, though. The first is the one that I need to do a little more research on, but it was advanced by a few people in the industry in contemporary articles over the following year — as well as Mudhoney, in at least one interview — and it runs something like this: “Right Here Right Now” was a crossover hit from the ‘Modern Rock’ charts, and such a big hit that it couldn’t be ignored. Almost immediately on its heels and following a similar path was EMF’s “Unbelievable,” even more of a confection and an earworm, sold as if a version of Jesus Jones’ aesthetics had been welded to the Beverly Hills 90210 version of rave and the last hangover of New Kids on the Block’s popularity. The end result was that a lot of radio programmers around the country thought to themselves “Hey there’s something going on here in this ‘modern rock’ thing and we shouldn’t miss out” and thus were a little more open to the idea of at least test listening to things that they wouldn’t have touched otherwise.
Which proved to be extremely convenient for DGC a couple of months later when they sent around a slew of copies of a song called “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Talking about all that some more would require another essay and a lot more research. Suffice to say the other thing that I’ll always tell people was that this show was really, really good. In fact it remains one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, a slam-bang, busy from the get-go, entertaining as all hell concert from a bunch out to entertain without apology. Perhaps perversely, there’s almost nothing I remember about it in terms of the specific details. Though I’d argue that kinda helps in the mind’s eye, it all becomes this big huge thing in my head that I had a great time at. Plus, being another UCLA show, I could just walk to the show and back as I did with the Charlatans. Can’t go wrong.
I had missed their show the previous September — I was out of town and felt annoyed I couldn’t make it, and apparently they’d previewed “Right Here Right Now” there as a new single, though still months away from any American release. Would have been fun to hear and judge that at the time, but I was at least already a fan of the band, having played Liquidizer to death in the months beforehand. So the fact that they were playing UCLA was something I took as a very good omen, and like the Charlatans while I could have snuck in to hide at KLA I ended up going the regular ticket route as before. And as before I remember a bunch of people crammed into the station waiting for enough people to be milling around outside so they wouldn’t be noticed in the crowd.
It helped too that there was a small screen of plants (artificial? maybe) in a planter that blocked the door into the station from general view, a kind of lobby of sorts with a bench. Being able to just sit there while everyone else was crammed at the other end of the ballroom proved pretty handy — nobody thought to wander over there much and we could all chat a bit and kill time.
I went up close for Soho, who were a real one-hit wonder thanks to their song “Hippychick,” which notably (and for a lot of people at the time, notoriously) sampled the opening guitar from “How Soon is Now” by the Smiths. Arguably even more than Jesus Jones, that song — thanks to it getting a fair amount of KROQ and otherwise related airplay — helped get people just that more used to the idea of sampling, remixes and more besides, only this time in an explicitly ‘modern rock’ context, the equivalent to the previous year’s omnipresence of “U Can’t Touch This” and “Ice Ice Baby” in terms of the (over)familiarity of the main riff. Keep in mind that Morrissey was at one of his own high points in LA around this time too — he either had just played or was about to play the Forum — and the clash of his rock purism with Johnny Marr’s dance experiments in Electronic as well as the use of That Riff in “Hippychick” was emblematic of a larger split that would intensify with the debut of MARS-FM in coming months, and even that was just a hint of how rave had fully started to lock down into LA in general…but again, another essay, perhaps.
The Soho set was fun, two singers and the one dude doing their thing, while two of the Jesus Jones folks ended up onstage for “Hippychick” itself, dancing and playing along, it was all good fun. Again, it’s all a feeling of a moment in history looking back at this whole show, something that was so itself. Similarly when Jesus Jones took the stage and, as mentioned, everything went nuts.
Mike Edwards was, of course, up front and center, and it seems now that I think he was almost stolidly planted there, guitar in hand and singing — well, rasping — away. Meantime, his bandmates were living up to an image that was running rampant in UK band circles around then — it was the antithesis of shoegazing, instead being a lot of leaping about and jumping in place and otherwise being as active on stage as the audience was (or hopefully was) in turn. In retrospect one almost wonders how much all the instruments were plugged in but it all seemed to work, and after all, why not? A couple of specific songs stick in the memory — “Welcome Back Victoria,” “Stripped” (not the Depeche Mode one, but imagine if…) — but otherwise I just remember being massively entertained, not caring about the eternal memories or anything. I am pretty positive that they kept being called back for multiple encores as well, not something I’ve seen with most bands — there might have been at least three?
I mentioned in the Charlatans entry about ‘that’ KROQ haircut that I seemed to see everywhere, long/bushy on the top, shaved at the back and sides, and it was definitely everywhere here. There was definitely a LOT of day-glo color in the audience as well. Add it up and the show is all the more emblematic of this time that is the nineties that is conveniently forgotten, the nineties that isn’t ‘the nineties,’ in the same way that the earliest part of the eighties isn’t ‘the eighties,’ and so forth, a time when there’s no codification yet of what’s going on, at least consciously. The stereotypes of easy cultural memory are handy precisely because they are so convenient and lazy, they allow for a summing up that is widely understood. Almost everything about this show — the bands involved, the looks of the people in attendance, the presumptions about where things would go from there — is far more lost to time than any overall decade’s portrait, real or imagined.
But a great time was had in the moment and at the moment. Who needs a greater justification?