Not Just the Ticket — #74, The Boo Radleys, November 18, 1993

Boo Radleys, Roxy

Then-current album: Giant Steps

Opening act: …no clue

Back-of-ticket ad: NOT Fox Photo. A whole new world!

A different back of ticket ad! It’s almost refreshing, if it weren’t for the fact that it’s just something lame from AT&T. Scary thing is that I think I remember the associated commercials all too well since a lot of old MST3K episodes I had were taped during this stretch of time on late night repeats.

And so the Boos, the first in a huge series of shows I attended in the latter half of November 1993. Along with an early interview of mine, which I won’t post here. At least, not yet.

But a little more context – so by this time I was well into my second academic year at UCI as previously noted, getting to grips with my studies a touch more in some ways but finding new distractions – and new interests – in my teaching role, which I would realize more with time was my primary interest and joy during the entire time I was in the English department. I’ve said before that had I ended up going to grad school with a specific focus on teaching writing and composition – something I didn’t realize I had a knack for and a joy in until I started doing it – I’d probably be a writing program employee (or director?) somewhere right now. But that’s a much different alternate history of mine and the part of me that doesn’t like taking work home is rather thrilled I didn’t go that route.

Meantime I was also getting more into my role as both radio DJ at KUCI – not too hard given my KLA work but still it was nice to be regularly broadcasting on actual airwaves – and as music writer at the school newspaper. My friendship with Jen V. meant, as she pursued her work at Sony, plenty of opportunities to see about shows and all – there had already been a slew that summer and fall and more were to come – but it also meant I really had to step up and do a bit more in terms of earning my keep on that front. Which sounds crass but I’d learned a bit more over the years about the nature of the beast – Jen V. was approaching it from a more knowledgeable and more focused point of view since that was going to be part of her field in music journalism in later years where I was still feeling like I was along for the ride.

However, that also meant that when opportunities arose I tried to take them, and so 1993 was when I really started interviewing bands for both station and paper for the first time on a regular basis. I converted a lot of those tapes last year to mp3 and in listening back to them I sound kinda awful, frankly. So I might yet share them – might – but am still working out how best to present them.

Which all meant that when I heard the Boo Radleys were coming through town I wanted to interview them, figured I could do so by asking Jen if she could help with that, and so on and so forth – which is how I ended up sitting around with Tim Brown and Rob Cjeka leaning on the hood of a truck in the Roxy’s parking lot talking for twenty minutes. More on that in a bit, but first a bit more on the Boos:

While they’d been releasing a number of EPs and things by the time I finally got to hearing them in early 1992, it was only at that time that I figured out more about the Boo Radleys beyond an occasional Melody Maker mention here and there. It helped that they were on Creation Records and that more than one reviewer said something like “So Creation have another shoegaze style band now” and I thought “Oh, so I’ll probably like them and I know what they sound like too.” Which was both true and untrue.

In retrospect it might be too easy to overpraise the Boos, and I’ve said some purple prose over time; like much of that period I haven’t really gone back to listening to much of what I was playing at that point and it’s hard to relisten with fresh ears now. Still I’ve been playing their debut Creation album Everything’s Alright Forever as I type this and there’s a little more unexpected variety in here than I realized; they did more later on but the fact that they had a balance between Sice’s sweet, clear vocals and the bigger guitar shimmer and crunch is in retrospect crucial. Sure there’s echo and being lost in the mix but not constantly, and there’s a sense of opportunities being gently tested rather than ‘just’ being another MBV-style band – both bands loved Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth and all but they had different goals in the end.

I missed their previous LA appearance opening for Sugar the previous year – and that would have been a hell of a loud show for sure, friend Stripey went and confirmed as much – but I was determined to see this one, and given it was a small demi-promo show at the Roxy that was going to be simple enough. The Boos had been catching some major buzz given their just released album Giant Steps, signaled the previous year by the “Lazarus” single, but all that buzz was strictly a UK/European one; in the States, they were suffering a bit of the same fate as Jellyfish around that time – an indirect but appropriate enough comparison point, in that both bands loved their studio fetishes and details, thought the Beach Boys and the Beatles had a lot to offer and were defiantly not grunge for all the guitars.

So it’s little wonder that the show was a gently packed one, featuring what by now I’d recognized as my particular tribe of Anglophiles always there to see yet another show by yet another UK press favorite. However, while the show itself is a bit dim in the memory – I was near the back of the audience area, enjoying the performance but not throwing myself into it, and while I remember “Does This Hurt?” and “Lazarus” and “Barney and Me,” that’s about it – what happened beforehand was clearer.

First, a bit like the lunch with Suede, I was along for a meal with the band, in this case a promo dinner at a Thai spot some doors down from the Roxy. I don’t remember much about the food either way – a reasonably well appointed place at least, and I ended up chatting mostly with fellow writers and radio station folks at one of the two tables that were commandeered. I half remember Jen’s boss showing up and enjoying the food and Sice chatting away happily with everyone – he’d shaved his head by this point, beating Billy Corgan to the punch by some years as well as only doing the right thing given his rapidly receding hairline hadn’t been doing his long hair any favors. (Trust me, if it ever happens to me, I’ll do similar.)

Second was the fact that, indeed, I was going to be able to do an interview with the band for KUCI. Or at least part of the band – there were only so many of them and a number of us, and I couldn’t get to interview them all. But it’s always unfortunate when the rhythm section folks in a rock band get treated as secondary unless they’re the singers or lyricists or the like, and I had no problem with chatting with either Brown or Cjeka. So armed with my tape recorder and wanting to find a quiet spot, we stood outside the Roxy in their rear parking lot near their tour bus or van. I do remember standing up the recorder on a hood or something like that so I could keep my hands free.

So on a mid-November night – not too cold, I figure, given LA – the three of us chatted away for a while, and as mentioned, when I listened back to the tape last year, I was a bit cringing at myself. Then again, maybe that’s all a good thing – it’s a good reminder as to how far I’ve come, and hopefully how much more relatively confident I am in a lot of things. But I’d like to think I was more enthusiastic in a gawky way than just annoying, and at least having a bit of knowledge about them via the UK press was better than no knowledge at all. I remember asking them both about the tour they had done the previous year with the Pale Saints in the UK and they were at pains to point out that was not a fun-and-love jaunt by any means – the two bands really did have distinctly different personalities, I have to say.

Above all I have to thank them both retrospectively for being chill and taking it easy – both Tim and Rob came across as friendly, thoughtful and funny, and Rob was especially patient with me trying to get the pronunciation of his last name correct. So if that ended up standing out for me more than the show, well, who can blame me in the end?

Though I am glad I was able to get all four of them to autograph my singles and album covers. Yeah, being a hyperfan again. But it was good fun.

Not Just the Ticket — #73, Suede, October 1, 1993

Suede, the Palace

Then-current album: Suede

Opening acts: the Cranberries, the Gigolo Aunts

Back of ticket ad: Fox Photo. Oh the suspense.

So a further word on Fox Photo – what gave, with them? Did they just decide to ad buy for everything sold within a six month stretch there? Did they get any actual business out of it? Did they go bankrupt because of it? (Lord I hope so.)

Anyway, the tour bill that was a bizarre, unexpected mismatch while it was happening, the tour that helped break up the headlining band after the fact, this tour. And this show. Which was great.

So, as muttered in entries not too long ago, I’d fallen for Suede hard, ended up at a promo lunch with them before even seeing them live, and so forth. So the fact that they were coming back through on a tour was not lost on me, as I plunged into my second year of grad school, started getting a little more familiar with the possibilities of e-mail and online existence, prepped up to begin what would be a three and a half year span of teaching of writing…I needed a little distraction and all. And again, my friend Jen V. worked at Sony so getting to this show was not a worry, for which I must thank her again.

It actually also helped that I knew the Polygram promo people well at this time too through her, since they were the ones dealing with the Cranberries. Therein a tale.

I’d actually heard a fair amount about the Cranberries via Melody Maker, they’d gotten a miniature blitz of coverage thanks to their self-released or near-to-it debut EP in 1991. Never had actually heard it, I couldn’t seem to find anyone actually stocking the darn thing, but by all accounts it was all very Sundays-like and that was all I needed to hear. Cocteaus, Smiths, etc., that whole range of goodness, of course I would be well inclined. But again, I didn’t actually hear it and then they seemed to disappear for a while.

Only they ended up on Island and released a debut album that got a bit of initial attention in the UK and none over here, until it too was released some months later. Some people still find the album a step too far after the EP – my friend Stripey says that release was all they ever did that was good, and that they started believing their own good press with a vengeance. (Stripey drew comparisons to Bono’s similar career path from early enthusiastic naivete to bravura wailing – so maybe it’s just something about being Irish and melodramatic.)

But I’ll stand by Everyone Else Is Doing It So Why Can’t We?, especially since I haven’t heard it in about a decade plus. This is because it was so overplayed by so many people that I think there’s a collective amnesia in place now. The singles “Linger” and “Dreams” became massive, massive hits, on MTV, on KROQ, on the actual charts, as did the album. Whatever the promo connections or the radio grease or whatever that was applied, that album began selling like mad, and then started doing so back in the UK as well and elsewhere. Call it another example of that 1993 year of ‘who knows what’ll happen?’ – I ended up writing the AMG review for it and while from a distance it’s something I never need to hear again, hey, I liked it well enough.

Of course, Dolores O’Riordan went nuts after that but that was the future. And at the time nobody quite knew what was going to happen so the idea of Suede and the Cranberries touring seemed like a good one – and keep in mind Sony were pushing Suede pretty damn hard, but couldn’t get much in the way of traction beyond those already inclined to like them. For all that both bands loved the Smiths, say, it was how the Cranberries took the Marr approach that ended up making bank. So by all accounts as the tour went on it was clear that most people were showing up to see the openers – and then, apparently, not sticking around after that.

However, there were exceptions to this and Los Angeles was thankfully one of them. (If not the only one, but I can’t say.) So as I made my way up the again familiar route to LA for a show with Jen V. and a couple of others I didn’t know what to fully expect, though I did figure it would be an enjoyable show at the least. Of course I didn’t know just how badly Bernard Butler was feeling at that point (and let’s face it, if your dad died while you were on tour, you wouldn’t be in the best mood, though I gather this was later on in the tour when it happened). The show being at the Palace promised something, it was definitely bigger than their club date back in summer separate from the KROQ Weenie Roast.

In any event, we ended up at the Polygram headquarters where I chatted with Jen’s friends and at one point I was invited to snag some promo copies of new releases, which I didn’t mind at all. I remember I was looking over a copy of Redd Kross’s still-underrated Phaseshifter in a side room with everyone else when I heard a ‘hello!’ or something similar. We all turned around and by god if it wasn’t two of the Cranberries – not Dolores, and so help me I can’t remember who was who in the rest of the band, but there was the one guy with long hair and glasses so I guess I remember him by default. Both of them were pleasant Irish guys and we all chatted a bit, they seemed reasonably unfazed by everything, so gotta give ‘em credit.

After that I’m not too sure what occurred except we all got over to the Palace, finding myself up front for the first band on the bill, the Gigolo Aunts. I was essentially neutral on them in that I think I was kinda drowning in pleasant power-pop bands who loved their Big Star and cheery but melancholy but poppy but etc. take on things, but hey, name yourself after a Syd Barrett song and that’s something to take away. Actually they might have been having the best time out of everyone there – being the openers, not having any sort of corporate expectations or pressure either way, just trying to keep us all entertained, and they did have a small clutch of fans up front. So hey.

I don’t remember much about the Cranberries’ actual set at all, in comparison. It was like there was the Gigolo Aunts, then an infinitely short gap and then the Cranberries were doing their thing. Now they definitely had a lot of cheers for them and all but not in a crazy explosive way, more gently appreciative, which was definitely different from what Suede got later – something that I gather was pretty much the reverse of a lot of crowd reaction elsewhere on the tour. Dolores just sang away and played guitar and all that, no bad dancing or speeches about whatever or however she was dealing with things in later years, and while I remember one song that was sort of a proto-“Zombie” it was much better than said song so maybe they should have left it at that when it came to the follow-up album. Never saw ‘em again so that was that.

Which left Suede to do their thing. Compared to the Weenie Roast show this was much more like it – a smaller venue didn’t hurt by default but everything felt much more like a show, the kind of self-willed theatrical stardom that was essentially part of their whole appeal to start with. The big red curtains at the back of the stage helped, it was all self-conscious but damned effective. I can’t recall if any new song was played beyond the debut album and the initial B-sides, but the whole place felt unstable to start with, like the floor was constantly titled. It was an interesting energy to be a part of, something unlike seeing Nirvana in the same venue two years previously. That was more some focused amazement, this was more fluid, unsettled.

Having floated around the venue for much of the Cranberries set I was back near the front for this, but not too close, it was already beyond crazy up there. The images I have for this one in my head involve things like Mat Osman almost seeming to play while slowly swaying and collapsing with a smile on his face, like he couldn’t quite believe it was all going down like it did. It felt strangely giddy, and I was just an audience member.

Then again, as mentioned, knowing that Bernard was feeling increasingly cheesed off with everything puts a retrospective light on it all – still, he seemed less out of it than when I saw him at the promo lunch, I think there were some smiles to be seen as well, if only maybe as a slight mask for his feelings or maybe just to lose himself in the music. Simon Gilbert again bashing away and Brett being Brett, a lot of swanning around to be had.

Great stuff. Glad I got to see them again in later years but glad I did get to see them once with Bernard up close and all. And, rightfully, as the headliner. Even just a year later the roles would have had to be massive reversed but thankfully that nightmare situation didn’t occur and Dolores could go off and be horrible. (Yay?)

Not Just the Ticket — a ticketless special on Mark Burgess, summer 1993

In thinking about the summer of 1993 shows I realized I was on the verge of forgetting about an important one I saw during that season, probably around July or so. No ticket at all for it — I guess they weren’t being sold via Ticketmaster, and I have vague ideas of me either adding myself to a list via a phone call or just purchasing it at the door, and perhaps there was never a formal ticket stub at all. It’s been far too long now and I’m not positive either way.

It definitely was one of the most anticipated shows I ever saw, and one of the first times I saw this performer, who had led and would again yet lead a band that I once considered my absolute favorite after My Bloody Valentine. So I am a little surprised that I’d almost forgotten this show — and then again, maybe that just reflects where I’ve gone in the years since.

The Chameleons were a band I’d heard about without having had heard, thanks to Trouser Press and Jack Rabid, who I think turned on most of the band’s American fanbase to them over the years. It wasn’t as if the Chameleons hadn’t had their supporters eager to see them and they did tour America for what at the time was their final studio album Strange Times — they even played San Diego on that tour, I gather, which meant I would have been around, but totally unaware of them. While U2 was breaking out big time, the Chameleons, almost near exact contemporaries and similarly possessed of a bent for serious themes and seriously surging, beautiful guitar riffs and a feeling of the epic, were playing clubs still. Such is life and all.

The full story of the Chameleons would take far too long to tell — lead singer Mark Burgess has done his own version of it via the book A View from a Hill, one perspective out of four in the band alone — and it’s one of losses, regrets, might-have-beens, mixed in with the fact that they still did it regardless — three albums, a slew of singles, radio sessions and more aren’t things to be sniffed at, as any blog trawl these days through the story of bands who could only manage a single or a comp appearance at best. My own story in terms of being a fan was pretty simple — having read about them through Trouser Press as mentioned, I finally stumbled across the original CD release of What Does Anything Mean? Basically in early 1992 and bought it sight unseen. From the sweeping synth instrumental “Silence, Sea and Sky” that opened the album, I was completely, totally sold — oddly enough given that it was in many ways the most un-Chameleons like song of all, not a guitar to be heard. But “Perfumed Garden” changed my impression of the band on that front and I was off to the races.

Hearing about anything any of the bandmembers were doing was next to impossible in 1992 — there didn’t seem to be any fanclub as such and again, pre-widespread Internet things were a little harder to track down in general. I had somehow gathered a near complete discography by the following year, thanks to a sudden rush of reissues and new releases of old or otherwise unheard material. It seemed like every month there’d be a new radio sessions disc or live album or something similar, and pretty soon all I needed was a CD of Strange Times.

Which, conveniently, was being released by Geffen in the summer of 1993, perhaps due to all the implicit prompting. At the same time, reports via Melody Maker indicated that Burgess, having lain a bit low after his immediate post-Chameleons band the Sun and the Moon had broken up, was due to release his first solo album under the name Mark Burgess and the Sons of God, Zima Junction. The album name was a bit prepossessing — I just kept thinking of malt liquor ads — but at least it was something new, and while it’s certainly far more restrained all around than the Chameleons by default, it’s a pleasant little joy to listen to still.

The real kicker, though, was that he was going to play a couple of brief American dates — no band or anything from what we heard, just himself. So a few of us started making some immediate plans — Rich A., who as mentioned was I think the person I went with to see Cranes later on in the summer, mutual friend Misty, at least a couple of other folks. It was a show at the Whisky, an easy and familiar enough location to get to, and not too far down the way on Sunset from the Geffen label headquarters, which I remember Mark saying something a little snarky about during the show.

But that’s jumping ahead a touch in the evening — it was a lovely summer night in LA, almost as per usual, and I remember us parking down on Doheny (where it was free) and walking up the hill to Sunset, most of us charging ahead and Misty following at a nicely regal pace. I don’t have much in the way of clear memories of the rest of the crowd at the show, but I’m sure there were more than a few goths, even though the Chameleons were never a goth band as such – but for whatever reason, they seemed to be the core of the fanbase in America, so go figure. Given my own sympathies I wasn’t exactly surprised (nor out of place).

I’m not positive but I’m pretty sure – reasonably – that one opening band was Super Thirtyone, the almost but not quite answer to shoegaze in the LA area at the time. They weren’t the only one by any means but they were the major one in terms of what they were after and what they wanted to be (not for nothing did they package their debut EP to even look like an import on something like Creation or Dedicated, for instance). There was definitely another set by a fellow Manchester musician friend of Burgess’s who had played on the solo album, singer/songwriter vocal/guitar, all straightforward enough. It was pleasant stuff but more than anything I was just thrilled to finally be able to see any member of the Chameleons do their thing – sure, it had only been a little over a year since I had learned about them but I had fallen and fallen hard for the band, completely and totally. If it wasn’t MBV-level fascination it sure was close.

I don’t remember anything momentous about him coming onto the stage, but I do remember a sense of warmth, of real appreciation. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen such a thing at a show, it would hardly be the last, and my own thoughts were certainly coloring the experience, something that replicates itself in many different contexts and places every day. It was still something to behold, the more so because even though there would be new songs and all, there surely would be plenty of Chameleons numbers, but heard in a way that we hadn’t quite yet before, just one guy and his acoustic guitar. A simple enough thing, it seemed.

I’ve heard a bootleg of the San Francisco show he did either just before or just after this particular performance, the general setlist was about the same from what I can remember, including the one fellow from Manchester joining him on stage for a song from the solo album and maybe one other one. I remember everyone was locked in, not completely hushed in reverence but sometimes barely restraining their silence as the performance continued. Lots of cheers between songs, plenty of comments from Burgess, who I’ve found to be a pleasantly garrulous fellow in the times I’ve briefly spoken with him over the years here and there.

Hearing songs like “Mad Jack,” “Tears,” “Soul in Isolation,” “Paper Tigers,” “Perfumed Garden” and more was just this constant thrill for me, I admit. Why do some bands simply entertain and others completely possess, well, who can say in the end, but if I was swept up in a romantic impulse I was loving it. His version of “Caution” was in many ways the mindblower, building up to the last frenetic howl and stop followed by the audience cheering like they could be heard across the basin. Mesmerizing.

But not as mesmerizing as the real highlight. As he performed “Second Skin” – possibly my favorite Chameleons song of them all in the end – suddenly a long haired fellow jumped on stage from the audience near to where the microphone that the other musician had been using still remained. This was well into the song, nobody moved to get him off stage, Burgess kept playing. As far as I know to this day, he was just a pretty intense fan – I’d say he was Indian in background but beyond that, couldn’t tell you a thing about him.

Except he did the most amazing thing, really. As the song concludes in its studio version, Burgess sings both a beautiful closing verse and a line he repeats almost as a rhythm, “Someone’s banging on my door,” the one overlaid over the other. Obviously he can’t do that live. But whoever his fan was, he just quietly – and not too badly, really – sang that “Someone’s banging on my door” part just at the right spot each time, as Burgess sang the concluding verse. The cheers at the conclusion of this one were even bigger in my memory, Burgess quickly hugged the fan and said a few words to him and said fan got back down off the stage without a care.

It was a kind of perfect moment, a perfect fannish moment perhaps and yet. The whole show didn’t feel like a show so much like this kind of get-together, like we were all at someone’s house somehow. It was radically different to all the other shows I’d attended at the Whiskey up to that point, and I don’t know if I’ve been to one there since that’s quite felt the same way.

As we were all leaving the area Burgess appeared on Sunset in a car being driven somewhere by a friend. Misty shouted out “We love you Mark!” and he waved at us as he passed by. And why not?

Sunday morning after the week’s rain

…looks like this:

Trees, sky...

Off to LA with some friends to see the La Brea tarpits. Because why not? Hope your day is good!

Squash and kale risotto

Squash and kale risotto

Hadn’t done a risotto in a while and I was wondering what to do with the winter squash and kale I had around — so there ya go! Recipe was from here and proved pretty nice…

Not Just the Ticket — #72, Cranes, Sept. 16, 1993

Cranes, Whisky

Then-current album: Forever

Opening act: don’t recall

Back of ticket ad: Fox Photo, never say die! I take that back, please die.

And after the unreadable Catherine Wheel ticket and the too quirky by half message on the Lollapalooza one, a nice straightforward stub. The color scheme has long become hypnotic for me, as I keep going through this stretch of time.

So this show, and Robert Smith and goths. The former wasn’t here, the latter were, and that wasn’t surprising at all.

Cranes were not a new thing to me at this point, in fact if everything had long since gone as planned this would be my third time seeing them instead of my second. That would have seemed a little more appropriate, if only because they were always a band that made the most sense in a venue that felt more like you were in on a secret of one kind or another. The long ago tour with Slowdive that they’d done in Europe had never made it to the States despite plans for same and so I ended up seeing Slowdive for the first time opening for Ride and Cranes opening for the Cure. A slight difference in terms of crowd size.

But it also illustrated the slightly unexpected path that Cranes ended up taking. The Cure fan love was something that Ali and James Shaw had never hidden even if their music was more tangentially connected than immediately – their era they most clearly loved was the Pornography one, all extreme drumming and black, looming despair. It wasn’t the only element by any means but given their equal love for Swans and Einsturzende Neubaten and all, little surprise it was that era that was the big one. So while the band had had to deal with being bizarrely lumped in with the shoegaze crowd it was drawing on a much different set of reference points.

Then again the Cure kind of was the overall reference point for just about all those bands aside from MBV itself, from what I could tell at the time – in any event, the last time I’d seen both Cranes and the Cure was the massive Rose Bowl show the year previous. It was in retrospect the Cure’s commercial high-water mark as they proceeded to disappear for four years, soundtrack contributions and random covers aside, while Cranes did an admirable job of striking while the iron was hot with Forever. Another Cure reference there, in that the album was titled after a legendary enough Cure song that had never been formally recorded or released (still hasn’t been, I think), while the bandmembers were thanked individually on the sleeve.

The position of the handpicked opening act for a massive band is a fraught one in many respects – just because a massive band likes you doesn’t mean you’ll be liked just as massively, an obvious lesson but there it is. It so often seems like you think a group’s on an upward arc and then you only ever see them again at the kind of places they’d either already played or would have been playing anyway. Cranes theoretically never ‘should’ have been playing arenas but there they were, travelling the world and having a blast by all accounts, and more to the point, kept their head on their shoulders afterwards – if they found a slightly gentler path to explore after that, it was still recognizably them, down to Ali Shaw’s singing voice.

But the kicker came after Forever came out – the second single from the album, “Jewel,” ended up with a Robert Smith remix and became a hit. Well, a hit of sorts – more so in the UK than here, but it did end up getting some KROQ airplay, a further example of the ‘try again, see what sticks’ ethos defining a lot of that year. I remember being a little baffled when I heard the remix randomly once while at a friend’s place or in a car or something similar – I’d already heard it by that point, so that wasn’t surprising at all, but just the fact that it really did get some airplay was at once thrilling and deeply weird.

It’s also interesting because – in its own isolated, one-off way – a sign of just how readily remix culture becomes a thing, becomes essential in reception. After its prominence over the last fifteen years in terms of the charts, a part and parcel of hip-hop’s triumph and much more besides, this one little example is no harbringer of the future but it is a random outlier. The key reason is that Smith so clearly put his stamp on it – that guitar part he added really couldn’t have been from anyone else, it almost screams him. In another time and place, another musical context, he’d be namechecked in additional lyrics, or we’d be talking about how it was clearly his production style more than simply a guitar line or whatever, but that’s not his context and this was what it was. Again, random rather than a monumental note in the history of the remix in the public eye, but still interesting.

I digress so much at this point because this is a case where there’s a lot about the show I’m not sure about. If there was an opening act, well, I’m drawing a blank, and who I went with, couldn’t tell you that either. Might have been my friend Rich A. now that I think more about it, it seemed like the show we’d both be interested in. All I can say for sure is that we were down in front of the stage for this one, or at least to the side of it – I have this distinct memory of almost looking across at the band, with the stage stairway up to the upper level on the opposite side from where we were.

Beyond that, though, this show is actually something of a strange blank to me – weird given that they were at what turned out to be their own highest profile point in ways (though they ended up performing to larger crowds here at a much later date). It was still the do-nothing summer of 1993 for me, nothing really major had been happening beyond gearing up for what being a TA for a writing class would be all about…I just remember I liked the show but that really is about it. It’s as if it’s just a souvenir and nothing more, this ticket – I don’t think I even have a T-shirt still from this one, or if I even got one in the first place.

But yeah, goths were definitely at this one. For reasons already noted.

Not Just the Ticket — #71, Lollapalooza 1993, August 6 1993

Lollapalooza 1993

Lineup: Primus, Alice in Chains, Dinosaur Jr., Fishbone, Arrested Development, Front 242, Tool, Rage Against the Machine

Back of ticket ad: …look, Fox Photo, it’s just not working

Seeing a quote that I will always associate with Buckaroo Banzai printed on this ticket bemuses me. Was it meant to be a reference to the film? Would they have done something from Repo Man instead of that? (Actually, it would be great if it had just said ‘Plate. Shrimp. No explanation.’) Was it something that some guy in Goldenvoice heard Perry Farrell saying and thought was appropriate? An eternal mystery.

But anyway, this show, which almost killed all of us. Sort of.

So by this time Lollapalooza was well past the ‘neat idea’ stage to an institution of sorts. A bit much to claim into only its third year, obviously, but compared to other ideas there seemed to be actual legs with this thing – that it all turned out differently in the end was well down the road but then again, now that it’s fulfilled its destiny as being a brand for a fixed-location summer festival, maybe it was just a matter of it coming full circle via Farrell’s inspiration at Reading 1990.

In any event – summer 1993, another Lollapalooza, announced well in advance, etc. By this point I’d also figured out what exactly the general lineup would be by the time they announced it – not specifically by any means but I had a few guesses at work and, pretty much, bullseye. I even wrote this fake article about it which thankfully never got published anywhere, but based on the previous years I’d figure there’d be an LA funk/metal band, an industrial act, a hip-hop performer or group and so forth. So when bands like Rage Against the Machine, Front 242 and Arrested Development were confirmed I was all ‘well, there you go.’

The big change was in location – Irvine Meadows would have done me just fine as before, especially given its nearby location to where I then lived, but whether it was because of some sort of glad-handing deal or an attempt to be different or who knows what, the location this time around was…Irwindale. Specifically their recreational park, associated with this Santa Fe Dam printed on the ticket. Now, Irwindale I had only ever heard of as a possible location for the Raiders when they weren’t sure if they were staying in LA or not, so hearing that they’d be at this spot was more than a slight surprise. Nobody I talked to remembered ever having been there or at this alleged recreation area so there was much scratching of heads and shrugging.

Still, it was Lollapalooza, so we dutifully went. And it did feel like a combination of excitement and duty at this point – while there were rumblings of other similar tours kicking in, they weren’t exactly exciting us. (To think there was a time when a major summertime festival tour could come into being thanks to frickin’ Blues Traveller…) Also, in classic ‘New! Improved!’ style we were hearing about a greatly expanded side stage setup, where the more ‘indie’ in the broad sense of the word acts were going to be playing, some of which I was all about (others not so much but hey).

The group of us that went consisted of fellow concertgoer Steve M. from UCLA days and a clutch of mutual friends – and one thing I remember either about this weekend or time was that had I timed it better I would have also been able to catch Adorable and Underground Lovers at a small show a day or two later or something similar. Still regret missing that one, especially not getting to see Underground Lovers touring off of the should-be-much-more-famous Leaves Me Blind but what can you do. In any event, I ended up in LA and our group set out to get over to Irwindale from the Santa Monica area – a bit of a trip in and of itself.

I remember I went with friend Randy B., a garrulous and friendly sort I’d always gotten along with during our UCLA days of radio station work and/or RPG gaming. He had recently heard about this group Moxy Fruvous so I remember listening to what I guess was their still-Canadian-only release and thinking “King of Spain” was kinda fun, and otherwise we talked and joked our way out to Irwindale, along with whatever directions we had scrounged up and/or used a Thomas Bros guide for. (Good lord, it all sounds so distant now. Mapquest, Google Maps, standard GPS guidance…none of it to hand.) So by whatever means we ended up driving the two way, single lane either way road up over an artificial wall or loop of white rocks and looked down into…

Well, if it was a recreation area, it was kinda depressing. I assume it was all totally artificial, I couldn’t imagine it being anything else. There was a ‘lake’ which I suspected wasn’t there to start with, plus a large enough green area with trees next to it where the stages and show would obviously be, plus a huge parking area that was essentially nothing but flat gravel plus some lightstands here and there (it might have been better than that but I can’t say for sure – it doesn’t feel like it from this distance). The San Gabriel Mountains in the background looking north made for a dramatic view, though the inevitable summer smog didn’t help it any. The whole thing felt a little weird, and it was already a pretty hot day by the time we got out there in the early afternoon.

Somehow all our group members got together and we ended up in the line to get in – and that’s when we should have known that this was not going to be the best of days. Again, summer, hot, not a formal arena as such in the slightest, so a lot of folks had brought water and/or food along. It was after all just a huge picnic area so who could blame people? So the fact that the ticket checkers and security people were confiscating ALL the food and water as we came in was not exactly cheering us up. Even less so when it was being consumed in front of us as they laughed. Thanks a lot. (The following year the PR announcements for the festival took great pains to underline that there would be free water, so you can imagine how many complaints were received.)

Once we got in, everything actually calmed down a bit – for all that we had to buy our overpriced and no doubt not very good amenities, the basic layout of the park was actually conducive to chilling. The stage was set at the opposite end of the park from the entrance at the edge of a huge flat grassy area; in between was, well, about what you would expect in such a park spot, with a lot of shade trees under which you could spread out towels or the like and relax. (The security folks did not confiscate the towels, at least.) Also, the second stage was nearby and far enough away from the main stage that they weren’t being drowned out.

The whole course of much of the afternoon into early evening consisted of a cycle of going back and forth from the main stage area to back under the trees where we’d staked out a small spot and where at least one of us held down the fort the whole time. (I forget the exact size of our group – five, six people? More?) And there was a lot of just relaxing in the shade out of the heat, which would have been a good idea on that day anyway but we normally wouldn’t have paid so much and driven so long in order to do only that. Couldn’t begin to tell you exact chronology here but I remember a few things:

Rage Against the Machine started the main stage performance so of course I ignored it. I’d had plenty enough of them in my life already and wasn’t about to waste any more of my time. So Tool was the first main stage group I remember seeing, though I didn’t actually see the whole set. Much as I already liked them and their Undertow album I really didn’t become a hyperfan for some years down the way, so my impressions are a bit dim – huge contorted balloon figures hanging above the main stage as seen from a distance, everyone wilting in the heat. That might actually be the closest experience I’ve had yet to what Coachella is probably all about.

Front 242 was next unless I miss my guess – and I was definitely front and center for that one. The great thing about this, my favorite main stage set of the day, was a simple one – the way the stage had been set up, with towering light rigs and shade and everything else, combined with where the sun was at that point in the afternoon, meant that the entire part of the ground area in front of the stage was comfortably in the shade. Further, since they weren’t anywhere as big a draw as some other bands on the bill, pretty much anyone who wanted to go up front could without getting squashed by big sweaty dudes being assholes. So all of a sudden the tribe of black-clad goth/rivethead types previously scattered throughout the crowd all coalesced in the same spot, without fear of sunburn. A fine thing.

It was the first time I’d seen 242 and they pretty much killed it from the opening beat. Their two albums that year remain favorites of mine, an adaptation of what they had been doing to the transformed ‘industrial’ world that was still very much them (“Religion” didn’t sound like any other band then trying desperately to sound like Mr. Reznor). I just remember a lot of Jean-Luc de Meyer leaping around on stage, sunglasses now making perfect sense, the whole group up front going nuts for “Headhunter” and “Welcome to Paradise,” about what you could all expect. Probably still my favorite set of the whole day.

The other time and place that the black clad types gathered that day was back on the second stage, where I ended up spending a good chunk of the later afternoon and early evening. This was due to Ethyl Meatplow, who I hadn’t seen in a year and a half since they’d opened for Nitzer Ebb. They were still at it in full industrial stomp and sleaze mode – they’d finally released their debut album Happy Days, Sweetheart, and while it wasn’t as great as the live shows it was still a treat – and Carla Bozulich was on fire throughout. As were the two female dancers in cowboy hats, piercings, leather chaps and not much else, who were going at it with each other as much as dancing per se. Nobody minded, as you might guess. (But there was a separate show of theirs later in the year that was even crazier…)

I don’t specifically recall who exactly was booked at the second stage; Ethyl M was the only band I saw a full set by but I ended up chilling with all our stuff under the trees, eyes half-closed and listening as much as anything else. I know there was a great Dos set, one of several I’ve seen Mike Watt and Kira do over the years – they have and will always have a wonderful dynamic on stage, it’s just a perfect treat and they get so easily lost in their music without losing focus. Sebadoh put on a show of some sort but I think I ignored that completely, while Thurston Moore did a solo set as well and he did a version of “Catholic Block” I rather enjoyed. Beyond that…just images of sunlight through leaves and trying to stay hydrated.

At some point I remember in the various trips back and forth between the shaded area and the main stage grounds I left Steve M’s backpack sitting somewhere – he was not pleased. Thank god I found it right where I had left it in the middle of everybody, though.

Arrested Development I half-heard from a distance, Fishbone were great but I have only slight memories of their set. For me it all got a bit more in focus when Dinosaur Jr. took the stage – it was starting to head towards dusk but wasn’t totally dark, and I ended up being somewhere next to the central sound/light desk setup in the middle of the field facing the stage. (Not a bad place to be in any event at these things; you only have to worry about random people flying in your direction from one side of you.) It had been just over a year since I saw them last opening for the Cure and they’d had their own breakthrough that year with the Where You Been album and singles like “Start Choppin’” so the crowd was more active by default than the Rose Bowl’s. Good enough set, easygoing, don’t remember much more than that and I haven’t seen them again since. Oh well.

I haven’t seen Alice in Chains again since that night either but c’mon, no Layne Staley? Again, a year had passed since the first time I’d seen them, headlining the Medicine Show acoustic benefit deal, so this time around it was rather nice to see and hear the full-on sludge version of them – the Dirt album ended up getting a hell of a lot of time on my stereo during the intervening months, much more so than their debut, and even the slightly capering activity of new bassist Mike Ynez wasn’t too distracting. I forget what they started out with but the crowd went berserk – well, Steve M. didn’t, he still hated ‘em – and it actually became a bit of a jam session for the rest of the bands on the bill. A couple of Fishbone dudes joined them for “Them Bones,” Maynard from Tool duetted with Layne on a hellishly creepy version of “Rooster” – the part of them that was always theatrical goth draped in Black Sabbath’s robes made perfect sense there.

Which left Primus. I always liked Primus, nerd rock of the most obvious kind, which was part of the appeal. You easily got a sense of how Les Claypool came to be – of course someone growing up in the East Bay and loving Metallica, Rush and the Minutemen would sound like that! Bring on the bass! Throw in the covers of songs by the Meters and the Residents and Peter Gabriel and XTC and well, there you go. Still love “John the Fisherman” from their first studio album above all else, it’s kinda exactly them at that time pureed, reassembled and summed up.

So Steve M. and I and others were all about their headlining set, which in retrospect seems kinda crazy – they were big but that big? But the place still remained pretty well packed and the Pork Soda album had a top ten debut not that long beforehand so hey. (I still remember the crowd chanting ‘Water! Water!’ at some point during the set – I told you that was an issue, after all – and Les going “Need some water? Well how about something else for ya.” Cue “Pork Soda” the song itself.) “Those Damn Blue Collar Tweakers” was my favorite song of the set that evening, it just felt good to stomp around and mosh a bit, really. Well, in my own polite way.

Now – if this had been the end of the evening, then, well, aside from the annoying foolishness when getting in it might not have been that bad. Still obnoxious around the corners and I couldn’t say in retrospect any one of the sets was some sort of see-the-light revelation, Front 242 coming close maybe, but in all, an enjoyable enough way to spend time with music and friends.

But then we tried to get out.

Finding the car might have been the first problem. I think getting out and away from the park area on foot was vaguely painless but then Randy and I had to search for the car a bit – first time in that parking lot, night, what are you going to do. But we did find it, got in…and then we realized what the real problem was.

As mentioned earlier, the way in to the Irwindale Recreation Area was a two lane road, one lane in, one lane out. During the day people kept arriving as they did so while I’m sure there were tie-ups it probably all evened out in the end. But after Primus it seemed like everyone had hung around and wanted to leave at once.

All at once.

We saw the crush from the distance and thought “Uh…let’s wait this out.” So we did. For about an hour or longer, it seemed. We weren’t the only ones by any means – tons of people were sitting in their cars thinking the same thing, and while the parking area had thinned out, it was still going to be a lot of people waiting for the even greater amount of people to make their way out. Exactly how much this was anticipated or planned for by the organizers is beyond me but there it is. Randy and I also had no idea where the rest of our group was – cell phones in 1993 weren’t quite yet widespread, shall we say.

So we waited and talked and waited…

After a while, either Randy or I noticed that in the opposite direction from the exit, across the parking lot area, a vaguely steady stream of cars seemed to be taking off beyond the lot…somewhere. There were enough of them that we decided that we had nothing to lose by following them, if only because we figured somebody had to have figured out something. Perhaps a foolish impulse but we were getting a bit stir-crazy. So Randy drove over – there wasn’t any formal lineup or anything, it was always a case of there being just enough space for any new car to arrive and head out.

So we essentially ended up in the demi-desert of Irwindale that surrounded the recreation area. To this day I would not be able to tell you exactly where we went for about the next half hour or so it seemed. There did appear to be a dirt track of some kind, so whoever got the bright idea either just knew the layout of the place or had been tipped off or something similar, but it wasn’t a finished road by any means, and where we were headed we had no idea. There was the car in front of us in our headlights, kicking up dust, and the car behind us following patiently, the scrub plants on either side and that was simply it.

The whole experience was surreal – this wasn’t true wilderness or high desert isolation, but it sure felt like it, and we clearly weren’t anywhere near a recognizable road. Essentially it was all down to frustration and trusting that somebody somewhere knew what they were doing. We hoped. The tape player and our vaguely tired mutterings to each other were the only soundtrack aside from the car noises.

Somehow, at some point, we got to the end, and it turned out we were lucky – it did indeed dump onto an actual road and after a little driving around to get our bearings we found ourselves heading for the highway back to LA. Randy shook my hand and said, “My friend, we have passed through the devil’s armpit.” He got that right.

Lollapalooza did not appear at Irwindale the following year. Wonder why.