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.