Not Just the Ticket — #77, Curve, November 24, 1993

Curve, Palace

Then-current album: Cuckoo

Opening act: Engines of Aggression

Back of ticket ad: AT&T importuning me for my business. Flattering and all, and yet.

So the show that had an opening act that was utterly totally and terribly atrocious. But one which I lucked out on because of the real opening act in a completely different context that evening. To explain:

As you can see from all the recent entries, I was pretty much living the life of Riley with a slew of these great shows happening one after another, and all not conflicting with each other either (it’s entirely possible I missed a few more shows as a result of all these dates up against each other, granted, but I can’t remember them now if so). So the news that Curve were coming through again was about all I needed to know when it came to attending this show – no Sony/Jen V connection this time around, given Curve were on Virgin instead, but my friend Rich A was more than happy to join me on a trip up to LA to see them.

This wasn’t too surprising at all given, now that I think about it, he had been with me and others at the Rollercoaster touring festival show about the same time the previous year, where the Jesus and Mary Chain had headlined but Curve had put on a pretty sharp set. Both bands weren’t goth as such but they were pretty happily adopted by the tribe, thanks to the preferred all black fashion sense; in the case of Toni Halliday, her own clear inspiration in someone like Siouxsie Sioux didn’t hurt either.

The other connection was the sheer volume and rhythm crunch of Curve live and in studio; there was something about the relentless bass-heavy mechanistic grind and punch of the band that was both unlike a lot of shoegaze per se and much more in line with someone like, say, Nine Inch Nails – which made it no surprise at all that when Curve’s first 1993 single “Missing Link” came out there was a remix on the second part of that single which was a remix done by Trent Reznor. That this ended up getting a slew of attention in its own right gives you a sense of how much people were practically slavering over the possibility of something, anything new from him around that time, but The Downward Spiral was still some time to come.

Cuckoo, meanwhile, was Curve’s own second full album, and as accomplished as the initial EPs had been – and as monolithically powerful as Doppelganger was – this was really their high point up to then, at once a more varied album and more powerful one; at times the bass sounded like it was going to rip my floor out. (Actually I think it was either this or the Cure live albums around that time which caused my downstairs neighbor to pound on his ceiling and completely freak the hell out of me.) Even the one out of nowhere acoustic number “Left of Mother” sounded impossibly rich and bottom heavy in equal measure. If Curve had ended up opening for the Depeche Mode tour around then, say, people might still be talking about it.

1993 had also been a year for me really getting into comics for the first time, I should also note – Peter Bagge’s Hate had me rolling on the floor more than once, and friend Eric R. having just begun his first work for Fantagraphics didn’t hurt when it came to getting earlier issues. Rich A. was more of a traditional superhero type of reader – though as was the case with a lot of people then, the true lodestone was anything with the words ‘Neil’ ‘Gaiman’ and ‘Sandman’ on the cover. Point being, we both had a good reason to actually spend some time at the legendary LA comic store the Golden Apple on Melrose before going over to the Palace to see the show.

As we entered, we noticed that there seemed to have been some sort of signing or something that had finished up, but we weren’t too sure what it was or who for. I was wandering over looking for the most recent issue of Hate and, upon finding it, picked it up with some sort of ‘Hey, great, here it is!’ statement, when I noticed someone else standing nearby – and then I figured out who the signing was for. Because you notice when Matt Groening is nearby.

A quick digression – as with anything once revolutionary and now an institution (and depending on how old you are, whoever might be reading this), it’s at once a cliché and totally true to say that if you weren’t there when The Simpsons first hit and became a thing – and then very rapidly became THE thing over the next few years – then you’ll never quite know. It was such a breath of fresh air, and given I had been a fan of Groening’s work since my high school discovery of Life in Hell back in 1986, all the more cool. So I knew enough about Groening to know who he was and what he looked like, as did Rich, who I’d be willing to bet had noticed him first.

I didn’t go and bug him then and there – he’d just done a signing after all – but I admit I was a touch starstruck. Quite happily for Rich and I, we found ourselves in line with him at the register, and we ended up having a brief conversation with him; I figured I could feel free to name myself a fan and we explained how we’d just swung by by chance. It was a great little talk, actually – he complimented me on my choice in comics, always a nice kick, and I remember the two of us talking about music and artistic inspiration in general with him; he was very personable, very friendly, and I came away feeling pretty jazzed, as did Rich. A chance encounter of the best kind, and it still makes me smile to think about it.

What makes it all the better was that it was the complete opposite to our initial experience at the Palace due to the opening act. As mentioned, waiting to see what Trent Reznor was going to do next was on the mind of more than a few people that year, and even before the breakthrough there were enough ‘industrial’ bandwagon jumpers in existence that, like so many other bands out there, adapt themselves to their surroundings in the hope of getting the brass ring. Stabbing Westward had seemed like that just a few days beforehand in the same venue, but Engines of Aggression were the absolute pits.

I vaguely remember standing somewhere on the main floor – or was it up in the balcony maybe, just so I didn’t have to stay on my feet the whole time? – and seeing the backlit spectacle of shouty guys unfold. More a demi-metal band with vague pretensions towards mechanistic approaches – a less varied and interesting Helmet, if that can be imagined (and after said band’s show earlier that year I wasn’t too highly inclined to them any more), Engines of Aggression were laughably horrible and dull, and while specifics are happily blotted from my brain, I just remember the overwhelming feeling of utter, utter suckiness. Turns out everyone I’ve since talked to who was also at that show thought the same thing – they were just simply that horrible. I suppose there was a vague sense in putting them on the bill with Curve if you squinted but in practice, good god almighty. I just invoked them earlier this year as a punchline in an ILM discussion, that’s how bad the scarring is.

Which made Curve all the more welcome, by default, so maybe that was the plan. As was my usual practice when I could pull it off, I floated up near one set of speaker stacks to the side of the stage and was able to enjoy the show in both relative closeness and comfort. Compared to the previous year’s show seen from the back of the Palladium, this was far more my speed. I also liked the fact that, unless my memory is completely shot, they started with the killer song “On the Wheel,” which had only ended up on the “Missing Link” B-side but had immediately become and remains one of my favorite songs they’d ever done. So seeing them rip into the performance, especially with the actually metallic sounding percussion breaks, was a hell of a treat.

Specifics of the show are again less clear than the feelings here, but the images remain strong – Toni Halliday striking impossibly cool and clean poses while in full voice, Dean Garcia absolutely into his guitar playing with obsessive focus, Debbie Smith right along for the ride, a rigorous rhythm section crunch at full volume…pretty damn monstrous. That songs like “Missing Link” and “Superblaster” got played was unsurprising, while older numbers got the nod as well – it was like a perfect summary of everything they had to offer at that point, three full years of viciously perfect and astoundingly beautiful songs.

Which made the breakup the following year such a bummer, and while the reunion and second phase of the band was no less compelling, Butch Vig took the time to whip up Garbage in the interim and they walked off with the headlines and sales, but more on that at a later date. At least I did get to see this stellar show – and meet Matt Groening at that.

And, happily, never saw nor heard from Engines of Aggression ever again. Sometimes it’s the small things.

Not Just the Ticket — #62, The Jesus and Mary Chain, November 21, 1992

The Jesus and Mary Chain, Palladium

Then-current album: Honey’s Dead

Opening bands: Curve, Spiritualized, Medicine

Back of ticket ad: Perfect synergy for once — KROQ sponsored the show and they had the back of ticket ad too. Of course, they weren’t actually playing much of anyone on this bill…

I wonder a bit about the smudge at the bottom of the ticket there, it almost looks like a burn mark more than anything else, though I don’t recall any circumstances involving me wanting to set it on fire.

And this show, the Lollapalooza for the UK that was taken over to the US where the band headlining it had already been on the real Lollapalooza. Allow me to explain.

The ticket doesn’t show it at all but earlier that year when the Jesus and Mary Chain had been gearing up for a tour based around their album that year Honey’s Dead, either they or their booking agents or somebody took notice of the fact that the previous year Lollapalooza had been a thing and all in America and that it might be good to replicate over in their own neck of the woods. Which, considering Perry Farrell got the idea for Lollapalooza from Reading anyway, strikes me as a bit circular in more ways than one. Melody Maker got on board with this big time via a sponsorship, which is how I heard about it, and I admit to being more than a little jealous of UK audiences.

That first Rollercoaster tour, headlined by JAMC, also featured Dinosaur Jr., My Bloody Valentine and Blur — bands I all ended up seeing one way or another that same year but to have them all in the same place at the same time, well, I can only imagine how I would have reacted, and I probably would be talking about the show to this day if so. If you swapped out Blur for, say, Spacemen 3 (if they were still going at that point) and put me at one of the shows I would have been able to pretty readily say in retrospection “Oh right, ground zero for so much stuff that followed it wasn’t even funny.” It still got close — Blur were a bit of a sore thumb there but had their own last laugh soon enough — but the point being, I read about this tour and these shows and went “ARGH why not bring it here” or something similar.

So…they did. They would have already booked this one at some point after the Mary Chain’s own Lollapalooza joint was either about to start or was under way and based on how they were dealing with the crowds at that tour happily abandoning them following Pearl Jam’s stage departure I suspect they couldn’t wait to get into smaller venues and headlining status quickly enough. By that point they had essentially found where their natural headlining level in LA would be at at its height — they’d played the Palladium before, as I said near the start of this series, and they’d play there again. But while they’d be bringing Rollercoaster as a concept or at least an ad campaign over — and Melody Maker sponsored that as well — the band lineup was a different thing altogether, but in retrospect a really wonderful one.

More on that in a second — by this time in that opening quarter of grad school I would have been at least finding my initial feet on campus and in the program and would have recognized something pretty clearly: I was in over my head. I wasn’t drowning but for the first time ever — or so it seemed — I was being challenged in my ability to keep up in classes. Probably a necessary thing to have happen on balance, it helped knock the general drifting sense of ‘oh I can read a bit here and there and write a random paper and whatever’ that I must have figured grad school might be like based on how else I’d been getting along in my school work up until that point. Pretty rapidly I was realizing that most of my classmates knew a heck of a lot more than I did or had been thinking about issues in more cohesive detail or more than likely both — compounded by the fact that I’d ended up at a school that heavily emphasized theory, something I admit I didn’t have much grounding in at all, I felt more like sinking than swimming in that first quarter, which probably continued for the next few years on balance.

But that in turn made all that I did love as an escape valve all that much more important — my newspaper writing work, my radio station work, the new friends I was making and much more besides. Who exactly I went with to this show isn’t clear to me — I think it would have been a couple of the more goth minded KUCI crew, possibly my friend Rich A. and his roommate but I’m not positive. Whatever happened, all I remember is that after another long haul up to LA there I was in the Palladium once more, observing a crowd in black mostly from the back and making sure not to trip over the slightly hidden step down to the dancefloor.

Medicine were opening on this date of the tour — a logical enough choice given the vague shoegaze/psych theme of the whole bill combined with their increasing profile — but by the time we arrived they were mostly finishing up, and I just remember a bunch of seemingly random noise on stage and shadowy figures being shadowy. If Brad Laner reads this he can say more, I’m sure — I was still in my ‘oh yeah, them’ phase and probably tried to find and chat with people at the top of my lungs.

Next up was a band I’d been anxiously waiting to see for a while, though — Spiritualized proved to be the first time I’d see either of the two main guys behind the previously mentioned Spacemen 3, who had pretty swiftly become one of my major musical lodestones over the preceding years. Lazer Guided Melodies had come out some months before the show and I had that thing plastered in my CD player, a know-every-note disc if I ever had one, so I was pretty hyped, to understate. As it turned out, this show ended up being released as a limited edition live album, Fucked Up Inside, so if you want to hear and judge for yourself feel free — like everything else, it seems, it’s out there somewhere online. My impression is more visual, the band standing fairly still, Jason Pierce to the side singing in his usual there/not-there way but still pretty keyed into everything, a controlled chaos at the band’s most raging. I remember the start of “Walking With Jesus” pretty clearly because I didn’t expect him to do that, and I couldn’t not remember that high-pitched tone cycle that I will forever associate with any performance of the group.

Curve were also on my ‘must see ASAP’ list though I’d liked them more for the singles than the Doppelganger album in full. What singles, though — the Horror Head EP was similarly stuck in my CD player that previous summer — and while my impressions of their set are a little more scattershot on balance it was also clear a good chunk of the crowd were there to see them, and they delivered. From the back of the venue and given the Palladium’s sound it was a bit of a muffle but “Sandpit” delivered, “Ten Little Girls” similarly, and they all looked like they were having a blast on stage. It would take a later show for everything to really kick in for me when it came to them live but that will be some time away in this series.

Which left the Jesus and Mary Chain, and I do remember thinking that they were bound to be playing a better — or at least a not as short tempered — set in front of their crowd rather than in front of empty seats in the Irvine sun. I had heard something about how they’d been starting out their headlining sets that year with a pretty extreme audiovisual collage and so it was: with a completely overpowering and seemingly shapeless build of feedback and drums and more (not quite their version of Ascension but one never knows) a frenetic, high-speed kaleidoscope of quick-cut imagery rolled across a screen at the back of the stage as the lights went down. It was a lot of the leather jacket/rock and roll/babe/etc. visual signifier stock in trade they’d happily made their own but at one point it suddenly cut to Malcolm McDowell staring directly into the camera, wearing a hat and some eyeliner as the camera pulled slightly away. The crowd didn’t need to think twice about that one and the calls of “ALEX!” were pretty loud. (Still hadn’t seen A Clockwork Orange at that point myself but I knew who it was — the power of visual icons for you.)

The band came out to play “Catchfire” and it was good enough but I admit after that opening everything becomes a bit of a vague fog for me — aside from “Teenage Lust,” thanks to a rather raunchy tour film, it was just more Reid Brothers and associates making a lot of well-received and pretty familiar noise on stage. No regrets or anything but it’s hard to say there was anything more to come to mind than that.

That is, aside from the visual in the lobby area of seeing stacks of Melody Makers with Wiz from Mega City Four on the cover sticking his tongue out, and seeing said papers being tossed about and trashed with wild abandon. They probably could have done that better.

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