Lineup (not in specific order) — Terence Trent D’Arby, Dramarama, Gin Blossoms, The Lemonheads, Suede, The Posies, Rocket from the Crypt, Bettie Serveert, Stone Temple Pilots, The The, X — the last two definitely closed the show but beyond that it’s all up in the air a bit.
Back of ticket ad — …whoops, forgot to check this. But doubtless generic.
I like the hubris of them just flat out calling it their first one with the assumption that there would be more — not too hard a thing to conclude, admittedly, but even so. The ‘sing-a-long concert’ subtitle seems to have been forgotten by history.
And there’s apparently tons I don’t remember about this show — but there’s a lot of it that I do.
So, KROQ. I’ve talked about them before plenty of times and all but maybe not in the full detail it deserves at this stage of the game. Once I started working at KLA in 1989 I had a different kind of radio home, but in the half year up until that point I had been occasionally listening to KROQ in my freshman year of college — but never to the point of completely following along with it. It was always this sporadic thing, and something about the station or the approach or more never quite worked for me. So from that point forward I encountered it more by accident or as part of a larger group, going somewhere to a show or just hanging out. It was enough, but sometimes it was more than enough.
The whole idea of the Weenie Roast, as mentioned in the previous entry in the series, was pretty obvious — the Acoustic Christmas concert/broadcast had been established for some years at this point, as well as being copied out by the incipient national network-as-such of alt rock, and of course the idea of radio station concerts featuring bands on its playlist was hardly an old one. But the impact of Lollapalooza was clear as well, and you could pretty easily sense both station and labels going “Well we don’t need to be kissing Perry Farrell’s ass each time, do we?” Okay so maybe not entirely like that, but close.
Coachella was also some years off so as with many things in life this was a case of fortuitous timing, opportunity and the chance to invent a tradition. Which is now is — a lot of attendees this year weren’t born when the 1993 version occurred — and while like the station itself it pretty much has long since devolved into a ‘dudes with guitars’ model over and again, for the first few years there were attempts…vague attempts…to work around that model. But only pretty vague. Thus the lineup, which is mostly dudes with guitars to be sure but with some noteworthy exceptions.
I actually missed one of them by the time I got to Irvine Meadows, two actually. The Posies would have been fun to see — Frosting on the Beater‘s opening three songs remain a trio of ‘okay NOW I get why everyone goes on about Big Star’ perfection — but such is life. Bettie Serveert is my greater regret, if only because the combination of an understated Dutch quartet and the KROQ audience hordes was doubtless a little mindboggling. But I heard that they actually did a pretty good job under the circumstances, and I’m still a little surprised at this remove that “Palomine” and “Tomboy” received the airplay it did.
So whenever I finally got to the show with Jen V. and whoever else was in our group, I had the good luck of knowing I got to be in the seats this time at Irvine Meadows rather than the grass section — a minor detail perhaps but I always enjoy the exceptions to experiences like that. I think we were about two thirds of the way up from the stage off to the right a bit, clear enough view, and all I had to do was hang, occasionally get some food and see how it all unfolded.
Since I don’t remember the exact order of the bands, things are a bit jumbled in my head. I’ll start with the Lemonheads, who were one of those bands that were crazy huge for a lot of my radio station and friends peer groups but which I was pretty indifferent towards. It was pleasant and all but it was only that, and I had been hearing about them for a few years thanks to earlier releases, it wasn’t like they were out of nowhere at that point, not after the success of It’s a Shame About Ray and the “Mrs. Robinson” cover and all. The title track of the album is actually all I remember from the show, Evan Dando singing along pleasantly enough on the big stage with the other two band members set up wherever they were. (In fact I want to say this was the first time I saw a rotating stage set but I can’t be sure — seems right, though.)
I’ll talk about the Gin Blossoms next because I don’t remember them. In fact, this kinda bugs me a bit — it’s not that I’m a huge fan, I’m essentially indifferent to them entirely outside of the chorus of “Found Out About You.” But the Posies and Bettie Serveert were always the two I remembered specifically missing that day, as friends were telling me about them when they arrived. Which meant I saw everything else…but I have no memory, not a single visual smear or impression, of their set. This might say something about them in the end.
Rocket from the Crypt I definitely do remember, as that was the first time I had directly encountered the glory that was and is John Reis. I first heard of Rocket thanks to the Paint As a Fragrance album a couple of years before but Circa: Now! is what made everything click for me and I figured they would put on a show. And so they did, having by this point embraced the unified fashion sense approach that would define the rest of their days together, John in full, complete flow as both singer and absolutely hilarious between song MC. My favorite moment — him pointing at the stage backdrop, where video of the performance was interspersed in between songs with footage of grilling hot dogs, in keeping with the putative theme of the show, and half shouting, “Now I don’t know about you all but I just gotta say that those things look fucking foul!” Hero.
Dramarama are one of those bands I totally adored at one point and now regard a bit askance now — some groups fill a void or just scratch an itch you have there and then that disappears with time. Funny thing is that I didn’t even think “Anything Anything” was their best song, or even the song I wanted to see the most at this show, the only time I’ve ever seen them after all these years though John Easdale keeps plugging away as he does. Clem Burke from Blondie had joined on drums at this point, nothing wrong with that, and I remember the set being okay enough, but the real reason I was interested was for their then recent single “Work for Food,” which actually might be my favorite of all their singles in the end. You couldn’t help but feel that they, more than the rest of the bands, were already shifting into yesterday’s-men mode as you watched. But they weren’t the only ones on the day.
At one point Rodney ambled out and therefore that could only mean Suede. So coming off the previously discussed lunch I was all amped up to see what the show would be like, though given Mat’s comment it sounded like he was aiming to chill a bit through it all to beat his nerves. Whatever slightly fractious air was at work between Brett and Bernard wasn’t immediately apparent on stage, though given its size and given that the amount of primed Anglophiles in the audience (and they WERE there — they were sure audible) was still swamped by the crowd at large, it was probably a bit of a losing effort in the end. Still, Brett did his best to shake his moneymaker and swan about, as well as being in pretty good voice to my memory, and the whole thing was okay enough. I am glad I saw them a number of other times after that, though.
Stone Temple Pilots…yeah. There’s some critical kool-aid that’s been drunk about these guys since then, though I do understand there’s probably something generational, just, going on (if I was in high school rather than grad school in 1993 I might well have thought differently). But I failed to hear anything in them at the time other than post-Pearl Jam yarl and by the time they supposedly became enjoyably trashy glam I couldn’t care either way. At the time, though, they were definitely the one band at the show that I could feel an actual sense of anticipation for — the place was essentially packed the whole day but it seemed even more so at this point, and I remember talking with a couple of dudes in a concession stand line who were clearly there for them above all else. (One guy was this friendly dude in his forties with his wife comparing them to what he loved as a seventies teen so hey, more power to him.) But aside from “I’m Half The Man I Used to Be” and “Sex Type Thing” and Weiland flailing all over the place…yeah, never mind.
Terence Trent D’arby, now that name I didn’t expect. That was high school come back with a vengeance for me for sure, though in an indirect sense — my sis was the one who had picked up his album and played it quite a bit, though “Sign My Name” and “If You Let Me Stay” had been played often enough in general on the radio/MTV/etc that I remembered them well and enjoyed without being greatest-thing-ever about either. His follow-up album I barely noticed and by the time of whatever it was he’d released this year I was all “Wait, what?” when he was announced as playing so high up on the bill (and he was — I think he was one of the last three or four acts). I actually remember it being a pretty good performance by him and his band, though, not least because his evident Sly and the Family Stone jones (and, yeah, Prince too) gave so many different reference points than most of the performers that day. Oddly enough Suede might have been the one closest to them — or maybe not so oddly seeing as D’Arby and Brett Anderson later did a TV performance together. So credit to him for throwing down with a good show, the performance of “She Kissed Me” was a highlight of the day and my general ‘hmm, you know, maybe there’s more there than I thought’ impression of him started that day.
The The’s appearance was even more of a surprise to me, and like so many of the earlier performers helped underscore the stop-start nature of the entire day — the station that had gone on about being the rock of the 90s in the 80s was now in the 90s with an actual legacy now from the 80s, and you could keep seeing the join throughout the day. I remember wondering how many people in the audience even really knew or cared about The The, and to be honest I felt the same way — Matt Johnson’s work in general has always been scattershot to me (and sometimes given to shock value for its own sake; my friend Dan P. has always had it in for him on that front), and it was only with his 45 RPM compilation years later that I received the best sense of his strengths.
So it has to be said that his performance, while really only containing two truly best moments, were both firecrackers. By this time the sun was pretty much down or almost down, the stage lights were on, another warm June night in SoCal and another view across Irvine towards Mt. Saddleback, seeing the occasional planes land at El Toro as the freeway traffic continued, all silent but seen in the distance. With a rumbling punch, Johnson and his band took the stage to “Infected,” but as a slow, evil grind, with all the best red-lit impact you could want. Equally impressive later in the set was “Love is Stronger Than Death,” a single that year and performed pretty much as a solo number from what I remember, vocals and acoustic guitar only under a spotlight to the crowd. In its own way, quite moving, and for a glimpse I got a sense of what was claimed for the guy.
Which left X. I still like the fact that it was X which headlined — sure they had a new album out, Hey Zeus!, and “Country at War” had been played quite a bit that year on KROQ from what I could tell, but they didn’t strike me as a natural headliner by any stretch of the imagination. It was definitely a legacy performance, even more so than The The’s, but it was one that made perfect sense, after all — they had been played on the station pretty much from the get-go and the fact that the place was pretty well still packed, or at least majorly so, indicated that it wasn’t like they had been written off. It’s another thing to chalk up for 1993 being this strange little year, this interregnum previously mentioned, where — at least in the world of rock-as-such — nobody quite knew what was going on or what was going to happen.
So X charged on into their set with “In This House That I Call Home” and it was all good times from there, in a seasoned ‘hey we’re still at it!’ sense — it wasn’t the return of Billy Zoom, that was a few years to come, but it was Exene and John and company and they were all fired up nicely. A nostalgic set in large part, though “Country at War” and some other new songs were played, but it was “Los Angeles” and “Nausea” and more which which got everyone really going. It was a fun way to end, really — for all that it was a different kind of agenda at work it was still different from Lollapalooza, and if it’s a case of a narcissism of small differences (and it is) it still had its points.
All that and it was an easy ride home.