Not Just the Ticket — #47, Ride, May 30, 1992

Ride, Palace

Then-current album: Going Blank Again

Opening act: The Pale Saints

Back of ticket ad: KLSX grinding my motivation to a pulp once more.

Rather a haunting similarity between this ticket and the previous one, I realize.

One reason why I spoke a lot about Slowdive in the previous entry lay in the fact that I knew I would have this entry to talk about Ride some more. Also, to talk about something I never really did — but which a friend of mine did, often. In a way, this is a memorial to her.

She passed away a month back. She was known for many things but perhaps was most well known for her fandom of Morrissey, and had followed him on many tours, many shows, time and again. His open message on her passing is one of the most remarkable things I’ve read this year, and one of the best takes on the nature of how fandom can work, that fine line — I almost said fan line — between the deep appreciation that the artist or creator acknowledges, sometimes with surprised gratitude, and other ways of fan/star interaction that might not be as rich or resonant.

As he notes, she came to some of the most out of the way concerts he’d ever played. In contrast, I don’t follow bands on tour, I’ve never felt that impulse — something like this is the closest I’ve ever gotten, and there have been other examples of it that I’ll get to later in the series. But they’re instances where, instead of going somewhere else to see the band again, I get to essentially sit back and let the band come to me by playing multiple times in the general area, whether it was via a multi-night stand at one venue or at various locations throughout SoCal.

Inasmuch as this reflects a certain settled laziness on my part, well, there you go. But it’s the way of living in a big city area like LA, there’s more of a likelihood one can pull it off, depending on the fanbase. I often imagine it as being generally easier for the bands as well — no all day car trips or the like, you can sleep in for a bit if you’re lucky, take it relatively easy. Not every band really has this luxury even with a multi-night stand, of course, but if one is fortunate then why not indulge?

Ride at this point, as noted, were at a high peak, able to pull off not two shows in a row but three, though the first was actually down in Orange County at the Coach House. I did know people who had gone to that show as well as the two Palace shows, though, and there was little surprise why. Keep in mind this was (unless I’m totally wrong) only the second time that Ride had actually come through the area, and by that time they had five or six EPs and the two albums under their belt over nearly three years, enough time to build up an obsessive fanbase to justify it all, especially after the reports of the previous year’s performances. It was a false dawn in many respects, given how quickly the musical tide in general seemed to turn against them — by the time of their next album, things were about to fall flat in a big way — but then they seemed ready to take over, if not the world, then a good chunk of it.

Part of their cachet lay in the fact that, due to the accident of timing, they could be seen as patron saints for the opening acts each night. On the one hand, Slowdive, as previously discussed. This second night, it was the Pale Saints — and that was a story of its own.

A strange band, the Pale Saints, thanks in large part to the intriguingly strange person who was still leading it but was months — weeks? — away from pulling the ripcord and trying something out. Ian Masters is one of those people who popular music throws up every so often that follows the expected path for a while and then decides, “You know, to heck with this, I’m bored.” That can mean just getting out of music entirely, but in his case it seemed to be more of a frustration with the general tour-release grind — at least in part, I don’t know the full story (though I’m guessing it’s been told somewhere). But he almost immediately sidestepped after this into collaborations, cryptic websites and basically leaving everything that was the Pale Saints completely behind him.

But again, that was the future. For me, appreciative of what I had heard but otherwise not knowing much about the band except what a somewhat curious interview in Melody Maker had told me, which ended with the interviewer talking about how the band collectively regarded him with wary eyes and a sense of a private joke being told — which could say as much about the writer as about the band — I just went in wondering if things would be as reasonably good as they were on their newest album In Ribbons. Uneven but sometimes utterly stellar, it was also one of the first releases of the 4AD label straight up in America, having decided that year to go for a full distribution partnership with Warner Bros. That didn’t last but even so, it was nice to get that album cheaply as opposed to the jacked-up import prices for The Comforts of Madness, their previous release. It might also have explained why I was able to get a clear sense of the tracklisting.

I remember the Pale Saints being somewhere between poised and posed on stage — they weren’t moving much, they seemed very self-conscious about not moving much, and they didn’t mind at all. Mathews was the most active member in that he seemed to be keeping a very close eye on proceedings, either out of a sense of wanting to control it all or just because it was all beyond his control to a degree and he just wanted to make sure he knew where he was, at least. I remember his eyes being almost…not quite unblinking, but giving a look that was always very considered.

Two things I especially remember about his performance — first, throughout the set, he kept turning to the side and indicating that he wanted the monitors to be turned up, often enough that I remember the gesture he made when he did so. He didn’t simply jerk his thumb or shout off stage or even ask at the mike, rather he turned towards wherever the person was, whether it was a member of the building staff or their own crew, and did a little gesture that was a combined quick lick of his index finger and then a pointing upward in the air, all done very fluidly, very serenely. It was as if it was just a natural tic with him, rather than a command or request.

The second came with the final song, which I’m pretty sure was a version of “Time Thief” though I’m not entirely positive. What I do remember was that the band were going all out in a frenetic way — at least, the noise was frenetic, but the band themselves weren’t indulging in rock-out antics, it was again very studious, Kraftwerk goes gaze in a way. At a brief pause in the song, Masters said simply “Thank you” and then the band kicked back in as if nothing had happened. It was all a performance, though in a way that didn’t seem like one in the end.

Which left Ride to come on again and pretty do what they had done the previous night. I’d be lying if I said I can distinguish the shows in my head, for all I know the set list was exactly the same both nights, and I exchanged the thrill of relative surprise with just wanting to hear a good performance, and that I got. Maybe if I had been in the habit of writing down my thoughts after each show I could get a sense of the patterns or changes or those signs that more clearly mark out a good show from a bad one, a great show from a good one. Sometimes the divisions are very clear, but for many less so than might be guessed, seeing only one show out of a tour or a series of tours.

But as mentioned, some do more, and see more. That’s what my friend did, singing her life each day. I know next time Morrissey’s on tour he’ll feel her absence, just as much as those of us who knew her elsewhere will. Rest well, Mel.

Not Just the Ticket — #46, Ride, May 29, 1992

Ride, Palace

Then-current album: Going Blank Again

Opening act: Slowdive

Back of ticket ad: KLSX, still trying. Again.

I was actually up near the Palace — well, the Avalon now — the other week, and was amused to see that the nightclub nearby that burned down a while back has become just a parking lot. Somehow it seems fitting.

This show, meanwhile, which was actually one where it was all about the opening act — finally.

Not to undersell Ride, of course, and more on them in a bit. But at the same time, I’d already seen Ride the previous year, so they were a known quantity for myself and most of those who I went with, who had also seen them then. And we’d all gotten Going Blank Again by that time and knew the B-sides for the singles and so forth, so again, it wasn’t like we weren’t huge fans already.

But Slowdive was opening and THAT was a tale long in the telling.

Of course, it’s a tale whose importance depends on what else is happening in your life, and as noted in the last entry in the series there were lots of other things that could take up time for thought then, and did. Nonetheless, in a time where a bunch of us had been mainlining everything that had been lumped together, however haphazardly, under the shoegaze rubric, we had eagerly been awaiting a chance to see each act as we could and by that time we had seen most of them. My Bloody Valentine, of course. Ride, as noted. Lush, several times at this point. Swervedriver, similarly. Chapterhouse had swung through too. You’ll find all the entries on them earlier in this series.

And then…Slowdive. Where the HECK were Slowdive.

From a distance, it’s a little clearer — all too clear, in a way. If you read Dave Cavanagh’s book on the Creation label, My Magpie Eyes Are Hungry For the Prize, you’ll get the story of how an enthusiastic fellow at the rather jury-rigged SBK label set up via EMI in the US had been looking for some good UK bands to add to the roster. One was Blur, and the other turned out to be Slowdive. Unfortunately, said fellow’s enthusiasm didn’t match with what the label was expecting, and they weren’t necessarily expecting a seemingly cryptic quintet from the middle of England with a propensity for hushed, half-hidden vocals and huge swathes of reverb and feedback.

Not that Slowdive were out to confound, they were just following their own clear muse. I actually came late to that particular party in that the first thing I heard from them was Just for a Day, their full debut, where friends had already been playing the earlier singles to death. I swiftly got those as well, though, and all in all I was a pretty damned happy camper. Still am, even or maybe especially because they turned out to be the most influential shoegaze band in the end. Don’t get me wrong, MBV has the broadest reach of them all but they’re not shoegaze by intent, they just pursued a sound that everyone really wanted to get their own piece of and one thing led to another and here we are (an oversimplification but not by much). And Slowdive weren’t just trying to be MBV, they had their own massive Cure and New Order and related fixes (gee, wonder why I liked them so much…).

A while back, my friend Stripey, a fellow fiend for all of this music, said she had always figured that Slowdive would be the guiding light of the sound in the end because of their perfect balance between accessibility, mystery and a sense of what it could or should be with that kind of approach, something overwhelming but yet beautiful. As with many of her judgments, she was spot on there — but at the time, all I really wanted was just to finally see them at long last. Because what had happened was that first they were supposed to open for their American labelmates Blur at a showcase show the previous fall — however, they had to cancel, so the Supreme Love Gods opened instead. Then they were supposed to play a co-headlining show with another band that I also had rapidly come to adore, Cranes — only that had fallen through instead. So by the time the Ride shows were announced, a bunch of us were feeling a little punch drunk and wondering if we’d ever get to actually see them at all.

Third time was the charm.

I want to assume I went to this show with my fellow gaze freaks Lauren A. and Derek from KLA — that would seem right, not only for who was playing but because I am positive this was the show where on the way over I was reading through an issue of the LA Weekly, saw a musicians wanted ad for a band that clearly was looking to be an American take on gaze sounds, noted this to everyone in the car and should have guessed from the looks that passed between them that, in fact, they were the ones who had placed the ad. (I only figured it out later — par for the course, really.) Whatever exactly happened, all I know is that we were at the Palace, piled out and I found myself in the middle of the floor more or less and then, finally, on stage, Slowdive.

Anticipation was full to overflowing at this point, as indicated, so I don’t think anyone could be blamed if we seemed especially explosive in the introductory cheers — the Palace wasn’t fully packed out but it was a good size crowd already. What I remember of the set — and this would be the first of three times I ended up seeing the band over the next few years, so there’s always the risk of things blending together — is that it matched with a description I’d read of them live, that far from seeming shy, diffident or retiring onstage given what their songs and performances might suggest, they were intensely energetic. It was an energy focused on a slow unfolding of many songs, certainly, but it was nonetheless present, and live was probably just automatically that much more intense — the drumming was suddenly bigger, louder, the guitar parts a huge, monstrous wave, taking the ending of a song like “Catch the Breeze,” where the cascades are overwhelming but still controlled, and then letting them loose. It’s no surprise that among Slowdive’s later impacts were in metal, because as more bands figured out exactly what a lot of the shoegaze groups were actually doing, their eyes lit up.

I also especially remember one song that had no name — it was introduced as a new one and almost felt like Slowdive goes early Siouxsie, with an emphasis on bass and drums and a semi-whispered but intense vocal from Rachel Goswell. I don’t think it turned up on any future release, but then again you hear a song once and it’s not always going to fully stick in the brain. It’s enough to say that it was a nicely unexpected turn on what, on balance, had been a wonderful show well worth the wait.

And then it was Ride’s turn, fully set as conquering heroes. It was their high water mark in the US when it came to venues and performances, perhaps perfectly emblematic of what became the cresting of the collective wave. While Going Blank Again was hardly a Nevermind or anything, it had been heavily anticipated on the one hand and a reasonable surprise on the other — their Association harmonies meets feedback overload approach was essentially unchanged but they brought in some new tricks and twists, more overt hints of a sixties pop/rock fetish without replicating it completely, a gentle flirting with keyboards and machine generated beats on the other hand. So all that the band had to do was just go ahead and play it all, or as much as they wanted.

The frenetic energy from the previous year’s show wasn’t entirely here, or rather wasn’t entirely able to be replicated at this point, the Palace just being too big for the Roxy’s relative claustrophobia. It was still a pretty amped up crowd, though, and I remember both Mark and Andy singing as if there was a huge wind blowing in their faces, looking up and out almost as a challenge to it all. Songs don’t completely stick with me here aside from the newest ones, with “Leave Them All Behind” and “Twisterella” perhaps unsurprisingly the standouts due to their use as singles that year. (Actually seeing and hearing Andy deliver the final two lines where on CD they were barely audible was a nice touch.)

A heck of a night all around, lots of cheers, a feeling that it was great to finally see one band and to get charged up once more on the appearance of the other.

Which is why twenty four hours later I did it all over again. But not entirely. But that’s the subject of the next entry.

Not Just the Ticket — #11, Lush/Ride, April 11, 1991


Then-current albums: Gala/Nowhere

Opening act: well, none per se, it was a coheadlining tour, but this night Lush went on first.

Back of ticket ad: a return to the sanity of…75 cents off a NEW Old Fashioned Patty Melt from Jack in the Box. “An American favorite.” Debatable.

This run of tickets shows up where the thumbtack held it to the bulletin board pretty clearly – a pale blue circle surrounded by browning paper. The impermanence of time, etc.

This show, meanwhile, marks the first time that I went to the Sunset Strip that I can think of. Into the chasm, gaping — whee?

I didn’t have any sense of romance as such for the Strip as this legendary place to be in the sixties — how could I, really, I was born in 1971, and by the time I got to college what full classic rock hangover I’d had was done and gone. As with so much else that music and culture in general had established, I often felt like I was in an already comfortable space, which the lazy part of me tends to appreciate highly. So ending up here at last wasn’t out of a sense of ‘AT LAST!’ as it was ‘oh, so the show’s there?’

I’m a little surprised in retrospect that I hadn’t been to either the Roxy or the Whisky by this point, though, if only because of the place of both venues as the regular stopping points for out of town, usually major-label connected bands — especially UK ones — on their introductory tour through America, even if said tour was only a clutch of New York and LA dates. So I’m sure I’d missed a few shows in the previous couple of years that I’m kicking myself a bit for now but hey, miss some things, catch others.

At the same time, most of what those two venues — and perhaps more notably, Gazzari’s — were showcasing was something I wasn’t exactly following at all. Now I really wish I had seen Pretty Boy Floyd in their pomp, still amazed as I am by the ridiculous pure pop insanity of their one major label album, and other examples could be made, but at the time LA glam metal was creating a ‘can’t see the forest for the trees’ situation — there was so much useless bunk, as with any style that gets established and sells well enough to either inspire untalented dreamers or spark up dull careerists, that the whole thing was seen as an endless dull wash of ‘let’s see who can clone the Crue/G’n’R/Poison more.’ (I was amused when LA Guns later tried to rectify the goth/glam split, I admit. But Christian Death it wasn’t.)

I have no first memory of arriving in the Strip or anything, but I’m sure our group all did the same thing most people do when getting there — look for parking, and fail. I should restate: FREE parking. Sure you can pay to park at various lots — and the parking lot owners know it. The old story but I think rates sometimes fluctuated depending on who the bands were, perhaps. So we probably ended up somewhere and walked a bit and behold, the Roxy. It was the smallest place to see a band I’d been to yet, an actual club, and the whole ‘get through the lobby into the main area with the wedge-shaped floor and the two seated areas’ drill had yet to be dulled by familiarity. That would come soon enough. As would my realization that the bathrooms were kinda best avoided when possible.

As for the show, no guesses as to what was riding high on CMJ import hype fumes at the moment. Shoegazing, the in-thing. At this point I was really starting to mainline whatever I could — it helped as well that I had just discovered the whole Spacemen 3 family tree thanks to Sonic Boom’s debut album Spectrum — so Creation was starting to ring more bells as a label name to note. Lush, who opened on this night as noted, were on 4AD and that led to more of a Cocteaus association, as noted in the entry on that show from the previous December. Seeing them again in the Roxy was much more intimate by default but I also remember the band being a little more…I don’t want to say staid, but a touch less exuberant perhaps. I have visions of their stagelighting playing behind them, lots of silhouettes, as well as the silhouettes of everyone watching them in turn. It was an appreciative but not a hyperactive show, and perhaps the most memorable thing about it in the end was that it was the last time I saw them with their original bassist Steve Rippon. Wouldn’t be the last time I saw the band by any means, though.

And then there was Ride. I think the audience excitement had to be more for them anyway since Lush had already been through once — two to one says that nearly everyone in the club was at that Cocteaus show to start with — whereas Ride, having made their initial splash with what was already becoming a common ‘release three EPs and then an album’ pattern, were visiting LA for the first time. I certainly wasn’t alone in playing the American-only Smile compilation (mastered from vinyl! what the hell was that all about, anyway?) and the Nowhere album to death by that time — hooks, feedback, noise, harmonies, it’s almost a stereotype of what a shoegazing album was except, well, they helped invent it by default, so you couldn’t exactly accuse them of bandwagoneering too much.

Not that they weren’t formed out of nowhere and hadn’t played their own Jesus and Mary Chain and House of Love and etc. albums to death. And of course they had a huge ace-in-the-hole courtesy of Mark Gardener, co-lead vocalist/guitarist and the man with The Fringe and The Lips. More than one female friend has confessed, then or now, that they were crushing out over him big time. He definitely photographed well, as smudgy memories of Melody Makers past come inevitably to mind.

So things were pretty pumped up in the audience waiting for them and unlike Lush’s relative calm on stage, I remember Ride being more ragged, loose. Their own bassist Steve Queralt — wait, were all shoegazing bassists named Steve or something? — took the role of quietly anchoring things down but everyone else danced or moved or otherwise couldn’t quite keep still, even if it wasn’t hyperactive jumping around — though I’d soon see a few bands for whom that was their raison d’etre. It helped that the audience was swaying, dancing, cheering, in a calmer rock and roll way perhaps but there was definitely a charge one could sense, a slightly heightened experience.

Most of the night is in this kind of blurry state for me but I do remember a really monstrous version of “Nowhere” — hearing when the guitars fully cut loose in that spot was wonderful — and “Vapour Trail,” still the song of theirs that comes back to me the most (smart of them to name a song after something one can see in the air around here every day of the year, admittedly). It was just a really fun night from a band I thought were the bee’s knees, and would for a while yet.

One other point of the evening stands out, going back to Lush a bit, though it’s more to do with the audience and one person in it. At a certain point if you start going to enough shows featuring bands of a type, real or imagined (more often the latter), you inevitably start encountering or at least noticing people where you go “hey I’ve seen him/her before” — friends of mine have already noted various shows that we were all collectively at before we knew each other and more examples are to come, but when it came to anything UK/indie and especially shoegazing there was one person in particular I’ll always remember.

Don’t know his name, but what I remember was his age — he couldn’t’ve been more than twelve or so, surely still in middle school. Either his parents were very indulgent or he was persistent because god love him, there he was in the thick of this show and yet other shows in the future. Somebody I knew knew his deal and told me the story but it’s slipped my mind. I admit to being more than a little envious — he was barely older than I was when I first got really dedicated to pop and music in general, and to have these kind of shows as your own ‘first concerts’ to talk about seemed pretty cool to me.

Anyway, after the show a few of us noticed that Miki from Lush was sitting at one of the tables and was chatting with fans and signing an autograph or two. I think I urged whoever I was with go over with me to say hi, but he chickened out, I believe. (Indie guys getting tongue-tied around a female musician? Perish the thought.) So I went over, eventually got the chance to say hi, chatted for a bit and had her sign a flyer for an upcoming appearance at Hyde Park Records down in OC (she was rather amused by the name of the store). Just a brief fan encounter, nothing more.

Sitting with her the whole time as all the fan signings and chatting was going on…was that twelve-year-old or whatever age he was.

I think a LOT of guys there that night were mad at/supremely jealous of him.

(I admit, I was.)