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 — #70, Catherine Wheel, August 5, 1993

Catherine Wheel, Roxy

Then-current album: Chrome

Opening act: Slowdive

Back of ticket ad: Fox Photo, now and forever. If it was still the summer of 1993.

Maybe my comment about how variable the tickets look really should have applied to this one – I had to hold up close, tilt it and squint before I exactly realized what show it was. I almost half wonder if it always looked like that or if the ink in this batch was just utterly useless. Honestly I’m not exactly sure of the date.

Anyway, shoegazing! Starting to mutate, at least.

Not that Catherine Wheel were ever per se shoegaze, they certainly didn’t identify themselves as that – and then again, barely any band at the time that was tagged with the term did either. I’ve already talked about plenty of bands that came through that either then or even more so later were seen as the first wave, and to an extent that applied to Catherine Wheel…kinda. The trick was – and some of the more thoughtful reviewers captured this at the time, as did the band members themselves whenever they got the chance via interviews – that the group really drew on a lot of different things. Pink Floyd, Neil Young, the Chameleons, the Comsat Angels, Talk Talk (the latter especially due to the first album’s production by Tim Friese-Greene)…it was a much different set of reference points for the most part. Maybe the Kitchens of Distinction were one of the closer ones but they were another case of a band kinda lumped in with something that wasn’t quite them.

I had heard plenty about Catherine Wheel first via Melody Maker, once again, but to my surprise they actually ended up having a radio presence out here in California, helped by the fact that MARS-FM, having challenged KROQ’s dominance for a time, leapt all over “Black Metallic,” which got KROQ onto them as well and then from there it got more involved. I remembered picking up the debut album Ferment on import and thinking it would never get released over here and then lo and behold they actually became something of a breakout star. You can still talk about that song to any number of people and they’ll know it, it’s just one of those things that marked a time and place.

In this case that was also 1992 so a year later, the question was, what next and what now? As mentioned a couple of entries back I had run into their lead singer Rob Dickinson at the Cop Shoot Cop/God Machine show and he had seemed pretty jazzed up – and for good reason: turns out the band’s second album Chrome was even better. You’ll get some people disagreeing on that point but it was actually the album I kept coming back to time and again, much as I liked Ferment; if it felt a bit like a clone of Ferment in points, or an analog, then maybe I just liked Gil Norton’s approach more than Friese-Greene’s in the end, at least with these guys. However summed up it was definitely a big part of 1993 for me, along with Suede’s debut, Verve’s A Storm in Heaven…guitar overdrive, and then overdriven once more.

This was another show where I couldn’t really tell you anything about what led up to it, though – who I was with, what we did beforehand. I half assume it was Jen V. and I and maybe some others, it would make sense, due her connections via friend at Polygram, but I can’t be sure. I do know, though, that I was more than thrilled to learn that Slowdive would be opening. After the eternal jumping through hoops that finally resulted in their playing with Ride the previous year it was once again coming through as an opening act for UK compatriots this time, and if there’s one thing that hits me in typing this up it’s how quickly everything seemed to change. The Ride/Slowdive show of the previous year seemed like another triumphant step forward in something; this show almost felt like a sidestep, or a retrenching, like something else might be in the offing instead but nobody was quite sure yet what.

Alan McGee had decided to come out with Slowdive as well – or if not directly with them, to keep a bit of an eye on things, if only because he had come with another band as well, namely, once again, Ride, or at least Mark Gardener and Andy Bell. Sometime around this show, maybe a few days before or after, McGee, Bell and Gardener ended up on Rodney’s KROQ show and did a few live acoustic songs – I could swear they did a Sonic Youth cover of some sort, “Claustrophobia” I think? Maybe I just fever dreamed that, but they did definitely do their own song “Crown of Creation” which ended up getting released the following year.

None of which, admittedly, has much to do directly with the show in question. It was midsummer, I was once again lazy and just wanted to enjoy myself, and a friend told me that McGee was definitely lurking somewhere at one of the tables when Slowdive took the stage to open the set. I was standing at the center but some layers of people back from the stage, and actually had a good view of everyone. Whatever demi-gothed out look the band had initially had was already starting to mutate into a straightforward sixties revival mode – pretty sure Neil Halstead was already sporting Brian Jones style sunglasses or something close – but musically they were more focused on their own recent album Souvlaki, which was either just about out in the UK or would be out shortly thereafter. Small problem was, though, that it wasn’t out over in the US, and wouldn’t be for some months, no thanks to the SBK label clearly not knowing what the hell they were doing, as had been clearly the case for a while. So while Slowdive happily and sweetly chugged away through “Machine Gun” and “Alison” and also a few earlier songs and I drifted happily through it all, I was hampered by not having heard that new album as well as not being in a position to readily drop a lot of money on the import. At least it wasn’t the last time I caught them but I’ll get to that later – suffice to say this was the least of the three times I saw Slowdive, though maybe it was a great show I wasn’t fully able to enjoy as such.

No question about enjoying Catherine Wheel, though – right from the start I quickly understood why they had been coming back to the US for tour after tour in the previous year, and why the audience was pretty pumped up from the get-go. However soothing and sculpted their albums were, the band were also pretty damn aggressive live, and my overriding memory of the start was Rob Dickinson dressed in a white shirt of some sort getting everyone going with “Half Life,” a song from Chrome that starts sort of calmly, if still with heavy drumming, and that completely cuts loose halfway through into huge feedback and stomp. I was near the front and I was surprised to be there simply because the energy level was barely containable – the complete antithesis to the relaxed feeling throughout the Straitjacket Fits show in the same venue just a few days previous – and when that moment arrived in the performance of the song, it was all heads and arms and cheers and more in the audience for that, lights flashing and Brian Futter’s long curled hair whipping around frenetically under the stage lights as he played. Pure showmanship at least.

After that opening things get murkier for me – a strong show without question, I’m just not all that sure what they played, besides the obvious. So that would have meant “Black Metallic” – they couldn’t have not played it at that point – and a few other choices from Ferment but I have to assume it was mostly Chrome, and what I do remember does come from there. “Show Me Mary,” which ended up predicting the more overtly pop/punk/grunge of sorts Happy Days album two years down the road, definitely was performed; I always thought it was kinda their take on Husker Du, who they’d already covered on a single the previous year, so little surprise it went over well. They definitely did the big “Ursa Major Space Station,” stretched out ending and all, though if they did “Fripp” as well I can’t be sure.

No question that they had to have done “Crank” and “Pain,” my own two favorite songs from the album; if “Pain” really was “Black Metallic” part two to a large extent I also thought it was better, with its cut between melancholic, monstrous overload and solitary singing (and back) all that much more abrupt and moving. Meanwhile, “Crank” just made for a hell of a great lead single from the album and I was annoyed it wasn’t getting as much traction as “Black Metallic” had the previous year; the chorus on “Crank”’s a winner to this day and I more sense than fully remember Dickinson really laying into that one, along with everyone else.

Never did see Catherine Wheel again – but I like to think that was a hell of a high water mark.

Not Just the Ticket — #69, Straitjacket Fits, July 19, 1993

Straitjacket Fits, Roxy

Then current album: Blow

Opening acts: The Bats, The Jean Paul Sartre Experience

Back of ticket ad: Fox Photo once more. Perhaps they held stock.

The quality of ticket printouts from this year was really all over the place. I can only ascribe it to experimentation with different kinds of stock or something similar – maybe they wanted to figure out just the right way to irritate people down the road. Or at least those people who would care about it at all, like myself. Then again I would think like this.

Meantime, all New Zealand, all the time! Or at least for this one shining moment.

This wasn’t the first time I’d seen a band from New Zealand, as my entry in the series about the Verlaines demonstrates, and I’ve said much more about New Zealand and their music, or what I knew of it then, in that entry, so I’ll avoid repeating myself this time around. Suffice to say that by 1993 I was starting to get a better sense of what more there was to offer from the country, helped by the discovery of bands I never did see but fell hard for in 1992 and 1993. A classic example would be Bailter Space, whose Robot World might actually be my favorite release on Matador during that whole time period. Sure it was because of the whole ‘shoegaze sorta’ impact of it, but that definitely wasn’t all that was going on on that excellent album.

But what was happening on this show I went to was something else – and it was a total New Zealand fest for sure, in fact specifically a Flying Nun package deal of a kind, for all that all three bands were on different labels in the US. But they’d all started with Flying Nun or were still on it and when I heard about it I knew I just had to get there if I could. Happily there was a fairly big crossover of appreciation when it came to SoCal musical types and New Zealand – or more specifically Inland Empire musical types, people who either recorded for the Shrimper label or knew people who did or otherwise were hanging around and performing on a seemingly constant level. Franklin Bruno, Peter Hughes , John Darnielle, many more besides, and that included KUCI DJ Steve Cronk, who I’m pretty sure I went to see this show with, probably with some other folks as well.

It’s not totally clear to me, the circumstances around this show, simply because it was a bit of an unclear summer in the best way. I actually took the whole summer off, having crunched through a year’s worth of classes that had provided the strongest form of academic challenge I’d yet encountered – no surprise, after all, it was grad school, but throughout the whole year I sure felt better that I wasn’t paying for any of it thanks to that fellowship. So catching my breath and doing next to nothing all day was a hell of a relief and if it was pure selfish laziness…well, why not? It may not be the best defense of myself I’ve ever mustered but hey, the things you do when you’re twenty-two and carefree.

So this like the previous show and more to come were in this blissful time of letting the cross breeze come through the windows and fighting off the ants that seemed to constantly explore new ways of making their way into my apartment, meaning I could also laze around KUCI and explore more music, which is how I started to get a little more familiar with all three bands that played. I’d already heard them by name but the only one I’d actually heard much of was Straitjacket Fits after they’d signed to Arista for Melt back in 1991. It was an okay enough album and they gave some good interviews in 1992 but I can’t say I was a hyperfan for them, though I did like the story lead figure Shayne Carter told about some guy in the (very English) Mighty Lemon Drops mistaking him for an Australian and, upon being corrected, adding “Australia, New Zealand, it’s all the same thing.” Carter in immediate response: “Fuck off you Irish git.” Sounds about right.

In comparison I knew a little more about the Bats due to Robert Scott, though I didn’t fully know about their music aside from the Fear of God album the previous year. The Clean are now a band that deserve all the genuflections they get and they were already getting them pretty well back in 1993, but again in my case I was just still putting two and two together and thinking “Well ‘Tally Ho!’ sure sounds good.” The Jean Paul Sartre Experience were mostly a name but a great name and I hadn’t heard anything by them at all by the time of this show, though you’d’ve thought I’d have dug out some sort of EP in the KUCI holdings by then. Must have been too busy scrounging the world music section given my show at the time (true!).

So with all this under my unsure belt I went up to the Roxy with Steve C. and whoever else. A total blur at this point, I have no idea if we did anything beforehand or just went and hung out – whatever false jaded veteran feelings I was having at this point (having only started regularly going there for shows two years previously!) were as shallow as you might guess.

The Jean Paul Sartre Experience were good – and that’s about all I can say because that’s about all I can remember. I don’t even have a half clear visual in my head of their performance, not the slightest thing, just that they did perform. I have no idea if they played “Flex” or not – possibly my favorite song by them now, not something I even knew about back then. History seems to have done them poorly but then again having to shrink their name down to JPSE after various complaints from France couldn’t have helped. Definitely a set where I would have liked to have gone back in time and smacked myself a bit so I could remember more.

The Bats I do much more clearly remember, as I do Robert Scott. From where I was standing he was over towards the opposite side of the stage from me, that or I was just unable to get any closer to his location. It was hardly a mosh-addled crowd at this show, as one might guess; I suspect most everyone there was in fact like me, a college-radio friendly type who felt happy as heck not to deal with big drunk sweaty guys. Given that Robert himself looked like someone who would be equally happy in that situation, clearly much identification was at work.

I hate to talk about the Bats without reference to the rest of the band, seeing as it was hardly just Mr. Scott himself. The whole performance was a sharp, focused charm and if there was a feeling that the Bats’ albums could tend towards a series of soundalike songs at points there were always great individual moments – “North By North,” “Courage,” “Sighting the Sound,” all of which got played unless I’m totally wrong. “Afternoon in Bed,” perhaps my favorite song still by them, was a couple of years in the future, but no complaints at all about what we did get.

That left the Straitjacket Fits – and this was the era that those in the know still talk about as being when Carter started thinking of himself as a rock star and carried himself accordingly on stage. I didn’t quite see it myself but then again I hadn’t been following the group from the start, and neither had I been surprised by the general idea of that arc, I had already encountered it a number of times in the previous years. I do recall a bit of posing by Carter here and there but in a sort of self-consciously melodramatic and swoony way rather than lighting his tongue on fire or the like. Compared to, say, where Billy Corgan was rapidly headed, he was the very model of restraint.

Not much else remains with me from that show aside from a curious personal epilogue – around this time Melody Maker, which I was still reading assiduously, said something in response to a letter writer that they were always happy to hear from potential writers if they wanted to submit something. Taken with this, and not knowing if this was pro forma politeness or something serious, I gave it a shot and wrote up a review of the show. It wasn’t very good, at most enthusiastic fannishness, or so I figure – I never kept a copy of it for myself and I either sent it off via regular mail or, of all things, fax. While I had my first e-mail accounts by this time I don’t think Melody Maker did, so if I had to get their attention I’d have to go this route. I wasn’t expecting any sort of response, but I figured, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

So when a review did run some weeks later of the tour but from a New York date and from one of their regular writers, well, I wasn’t surprised. Doing more than campus newspaper record reviews was still some distance in my future.

Not Just the Ticket #60 — Therapy?, October 19, 1992

Therapy, Whisky

Then-current album: Nurse

Opening act: Naked Soul…but not at the same show.

Back of ticket ad: Fox Photo, 50% off! If I had any random unexposed rolls of film around maybe I could send it to them as a lark…

As you might note, I’ve included the questionmark at the end of the band’s name in the title of this post where it’s not there on the ticket itself. A minor detail but it does make me wonder exactly how many ticket misprints are out there in general, and if any of them are particularly hilarious, which this misprint is not.

Meanwhile, a tale of two shows but one ticket.

Talking about Therapy? first, however — like so many bands they’d come to my initial attention via Melody Maker throughout late 1991 and most of 1992, as they’d been getting a fair amount of attention from writers I liked such as Cathi Unsworth for being loud, catchy and generally thought to be a cut above a lot of generic indie rock of the time, due in large part to frontman Andy Cairns being an open metal and techno freak. By the time they ended up over in the US Cairns had chopped his hair short but until just a few months beforehand he’d been rocking a full-on mane and then some, and not a mullet either, so I had to sympathize.

In retrospect the group didn’t make me a fan for life but they were a great listen for the time, a classic kind of niche rock in a way — if you were kinda sick and tired of what metal had seemed to become in a warped-through-the-LA-lens way then it wasn’t any surprise I had no problem ranking them up alongside, say, L7 in terms of regular listening. There was a sense of ‘oh okay, they’re not openly moronic, in fact they’re pissed off at morons, and they actually like cool stuff’ at play. I still remember one of my first professors at UC Irvine, Robert Newsom, laughing with delight at hearing about their song “Potato Junkie,” an aggravated rant against soppy Irish nationalism in general punctuated with the lyric “James Joyce is fucking my sister.” So I’m not at all surprised I got into them quite a bit, and I still think “Innocent X” might be the secret keeper of their earliest songs, one of the few times a guitarist got close to the impact of a “Mentasm”-style riff if not exactly there.

So when they finally came along to town I was up for the show and happily found a way up there — but I wasn’t going to go there first. In fact I was just a couple of blocks up at the Roxy rather than the Whisky because of one of the first stories I ever did as a writer for the New University at UC Irvine. They had received a mailout regarding the debut EP, Seed, by a band called Naked Soul, I’d given the disc an ear and either I’d come up with the idea of doing a profile or was assigned it, so I ended up meeting the band’s guitarist and bassist for an interview. Which is how I first met Mike Conley, at that time much more well-known for his work leading the punk group M.I.A. and now exploring something else.

My full story on Mike that I posted on this blog after his untimely passing goes into further detail about him and my memories so I won’t repeat it here; suffice to say that I did want to make sure I caught them as I could, and it turned out they were playing a show up in LA as a bit of a Scotti Bros. showcase. Weird Al wasn’t around (what might have been), but they were going to be opening for Mother’s Finest. At some point I put two and two together and thought, “Hey wait, I can go to the Naked Soul show first, see their set, then go down the street and catch Therapy? and it’ll all be good.” After that it was just a matter of getting tickets or making arrangements or whatever it was I did.

Pretty sure I went up to the show with my friend Jen V. and possibly a couple of other folks — I think (maybe) I was on the guest list for one or both of these shows. I don’t have a ticket from the Naked Soul one so I suspect I was just waved in after an ID check, while my friend Kris C. could have added me to the Therapy? list at any point. Then again it sure seems like I bought this ticket at a nicely cheap price so who knows — whatever the explanations or reasoning, I was wandering around the Roxy once more waiting to see what would happen.

I don’t know if this was the first time that I’d ever seen a band where I’d met the members beforehand, but it feels like it was — while I’d encountered a few folks here and there after a show or in another context entirely, most times bands just appeared on stage via separate entrances and the usual show business palaver and approach, it wasn’t like they were sitting around beforehand. Not very punk rock, I guess, but then again, I never claimed I was. So seeing Mike and Jeff, the band’s bassist, kicking it off onstage where not too many days beforehand I’d been casually chatting with them at a cafe across from UCI was a bit of a thrill, in its own way — a sense of how it all ‘really’ worked, in a way, that musicians are people you can be talking with, sensing their own personalities and quirks, even in a formal interview situation (and both of them had been very relaxed in that interview anyway), and then they’re up there making all that sound that’s been mostly intermediary in one’s experience, via recordings. Or can be intermediary, since others have different preferences; I always tended to go to the recordings first and foremost.

It wasn’t a crowded floor, but it wasn’t empty, and I was nearish the front without being crushed up close to it — I don’t know how many folks were there specifically for them or because they were M.I.A. fans or something else entirely, though it was a bit light overall. Label showcases have their own pitfalls sometimes, and if anything there were far more Mother’s Finest fans around. (I remember suddenly passing by their lead singer in the hallway to the restrooms — she was pretty hot, I remember that much!) It was a short set and I remember three songs in particular — “Lonely Me Lonely You,” which was more or less the single from Seed, and two covers. “So Sad About Us” had also turned up on Seed but the rip through the Replacements’ “Answering Machine” was otherwise unrecorded to my knowledge, and was something that has stuck with me more than the original in the end. Which sounds unfair to Paul Westerberg perhaps but then again, call it a gentle clinging on to a distant memory for someone not around anymore.

All I definitely can say is that after they had finished up I headed down to the Whisky to see Therapy? — pretty sure that Jen and others were waiting at the Roxy to hang out Naked Soul and chat a bit, could be wrong. In the days before widespread cell phones and all I suppose we just figured out that we’d meet up somewhere afterwards, I can’t say for sure. If there was an opening band for Therapy? that night I completely missed them, and in fact my only real memory of the set beginning was that it felt like I was almost immediately there, standing not too far from the front of the stage and watching Andy and bassist Michael standing close to stock still in black T-shirts and firing it up.

Sometimes the sound mix for a band can just throw things off for all involved and that might have been half the case with this show, yet another ‘get a UK act over here for a quick introductory tour with a performance at the Roxy or the Whisky so the label folks can see what they’ve got’ type of concert, I guess. There was another show like that in that fall at the Whisky I still regret missing — David J solo as the headliner with PJ Harvey as the opener, what a combination — and I’d been to a number already so this was in respect nothing new. But there were barely any excited folks at the show and I almost seem to sense frustration as being the main sense of atmosphere that evening, that something should be firing off but wasn’t quite, not immediately.

So the performance was good enough if not great, maybe a bit muffled, I just think of bright lights at points behind the drummer and feedback and riffs and the whole thing was…polite? That’s not quite the word, and it’s not meant to be an insult on the band, maybe it was a great performance that didn’t feel like a great performance in retrospect, something that avoided connecting properly as it should. As it turned out there was a chance for the band (and maybe their audience) to make up for that the following year and I’ll get to that.

But for now, I think I remember little more than leaving to meet up with the OC crew and getting ready for yet another long drive south.

Not Just the Ticket — #59, Kitchens of Distinction, Oct. 11 1992

Kitchens of Distinction, Roxy

Then-current album: The Death of Cool

Opening acts: Bleach, Kingmaker

Back of ticket ad: Fox Photo, eager for my developing business.

Back to a pretty faded set of tickets here for the next few ones, browning and almost flaking away. It’ll all go grey at some point, I have to think.

Meantime, the three band show that was the one band show, by ill luck.

The run-up to this show was also that of my first ‘return’ to LA following the move south. It was a mental adjustment as much as a physical one, and also one of new contexts and connections being formed. There were the initial courses, but there also was getting to know my grad school colleagues and the professors in the department, my neighbors of course, my new apartmentmate Dave (good guy, hope he’s doing well!), and, especially important, people at the radio station and newspaper on campus. Many of the people I met there in those first weeks I’m still friends with, most importantly one fellow in particular. The story, as best I remember, goes something like this:

So I found out where the radio station was located — one building over from where I currently work, as it happens, but the station itself has long since moved — and got myself over there after checking in at the department for the first time. Came in through the then-main door and quickly introduced myself to a number of folks around, many of whom were managers of departments there, an easy going conversation as I asked after what was needed in terms of training, initial work and so forth — since I’d already been doing some radio I was pretty quickly assigned an early morning spot for fall quarter shortly thereafter and I was on my way.

It was also pretty natural I would ask to have a quick tour of the premises, including the DJ booth. So I was shown in and met a friendly looking fellow then on the air; we introduced ourselves and started to chat a bit. Such was the introduction to my friend Mackro, scholar and gent then and now, truly one of the best friends I’ve ever had and still have. I’m sure we would have met soon enough even if we hadn’t met on that first day of mine there but nothing like getting off on the right foot.

Mackro’s tastes were similar — not exact, by any means, but close — to mine and so besides other connecting factors like humor, general attitudes and outlooks on life, we pretty quickly figured out that we could rely on each other’s tastes. At some point within those first few months we determined we had been to a number of the same shows, including the opening set of My Bloody Valentine when they played two sets at the Roxy as well as the astounding Mr. Bungle show in Anaheim. Turned out one of the things we were also completely simpatico on was the ever great Kitchens of Distinction, though I can’t immediately remember if he had been to one of their earlier shows like I had. So in some way, shape or form we ended up being part of a group going up to see them as they came back through town following a year and a half away.

My love for the Kitchens had only grown with time since that show, and while I initially thought their album from this year The Death Of Cool seemed a little understated in comparison to Strange New World, I now feel it’s the stronger album as a whole, subtler singles balanced by greater consistency and impact. It had come out before my trip to the UK and I had taken it with me over there as one of my passel of CDs to listen to, and I have a distinct memory of playing it while on some of my train journeys all over the country. I didn’t have a chance to go to Tooting Broadway Station itself until years later but I’m glad I finally did; even if the reference wasn’t originally theirs, it’ll always be more associated with the song than the poem in my mind.

Of course the Kitchens now found themselves on the ‘wrong’ side of things — textured if powerful guitar overload and mature reflections on relationships, meditations on societal homophobia and the complexities of desire, all fantastic stuff and all the richer with time, all up against The Alternative Nation, Dude. Such was the case with a lot of bands in terms of approach and marketing, and the Kitchens, precisely by being so clearly and directly themselves, determined neither to compromise nor simplify, weren’t going to be introduced by Kennedy much on MTV at the time, or any time.

But the fanbase that would turn out to see them at a club was already well established and so off we went to the Roxy; I’m sure my friend Kris C. was there given she worked at A&M, the Kitchens’ American label, at the time, quite possibly others as well. So that was a bit of a reunion; there’d be others. I think because of that we were able to get good seats in the demi-reserved section of the place — nothing hyperspecial but the view was good. It’s a small club show, there’s no real bad spot in there beyond thinking about all the bad bands that had performed there over time with the good ones. (As a random glance at some of the photos in the lobby area could remind you.)

One thing I do remember is that we ended up missing both of the opening bands, which bummed me out a bit. Kingmaker less so, really — to my slight surprise now (but it made perfect sense then…kinda) I had their first and only album to that point and liked it well enough in its ramblerama UK-indie-of-its-day way. They got lumped in with bands like Carter USM and the Neds and especially and understandably the Wonder Stuff, and all for good reason; the fact that I can remember a number of their songs even now I don’t think of with regret but I am surprised I even cared much.

Bleach, though, I’m still regretting having missed — I even picked up one of their last releases from the following year just the other week. While they paralleled what was happening with a slew of shoegaze bands and were vaguely lumped in with them especially with the release of the Killing Time album — their only full length, I’m pretty sure, though they had plenty of EPs before and after — they were a far sonically meaner prospect. It made perhaps inevitable sense, given their lead singer Salli’s vocal style as well as the overall sound, that a logical comparison point was Curve but even more sense that another one was the Charlottes, all tracking further back to the earliest days of a band like Siouxsie and the Banshees, a mix of unalloyed anger and cool focus. By all accounts they killed, but they never came back to America — a chance lost for me.

So that left the Kitchens to actually see and I remember it being a good show, though a lot of the details are lost on me with this one. For the most part, I don’t remember any song standing out from the set, instead it was just a case of a really good performance of many great songs, Patrick Fitzgerald singing his heart out, Julian Swales going understatedly crazy on guitar, Dan Goodwin holding down the drums. I was plenty happy and so was the crowd.

I do remember one thing towards the end, though, which Mackro admitted to me later he was totally fine with — the set, for the most part, did focus on the extremely detailed work of their more recent releases, rightfully so. Either with the encore or right at the end of the set, however, some of Julian’s pedals gave out or there was some sort of glitch — at one point, while he was working on that, the other two did a bass/drum take on the instrumental “Three to Beam Up” which Patrick rightfully described at its end as “Two to Beam Up.” Eventually, after a quick inter-band discussion, Patrick announced that because of it they switch to playing some of the older songs, which tended to have much more straightforward guitar arrangements and performances.

With that Julian ripped into the opening notes of “Mainly Mornings,” one of their best songs from their debut album Love is Hell. I don’t exactly remember what else followed — pretty sure they did “Hammer,” the monster of a conclusion to said record, as well as something else from that one. They had to have been a touch frustrated, I’m sure, simply because they were otherwise keeping focused on their newer work, but it was a great moment and they didn’t act as if it was a burden — it was simply a very handy fallback for them and a wonderful treat for a lot of us who had never seen them do those particular songs. How a band deals with technical adversity is one of those things that tells you a bit about them in general, I’ve found, so it was gratifying to see that their response was top level.

Beyond that I couldn’t tell you about the rest of the evening except that it was now taking a lot longer to get home from a show when it ended. And that was just the start of that phenomenon for me…

Not Just the Ticket — #30, My Bloody Valentine, February 4, 1992

My Bloody Valentine, Roxy

Then-current album: Loveless

Opening act: Babes in Toyland

Back of ticket ad: uh-huh, like KROQ ever put MBV into regular rotation. Probably Rodney played them here and there and that was it.

Hmm, $12. That’s ALL I had to pay for my sensibilities to be completely reset and my bar for music as overwhelming experience to be permanently raised? A bargain!

Which is one way of saying that a number of people will have heard me talk about MBV before. A few times.

And I’ve already talked about this show in some detail so I’ll be getting to that in a bit — but I might as well set up the context of this show, because I don’t think I’ve talked about that too much.

Now by this time I had to have long met and chatted with folks like Lauren A. and Derek V., both of whom have been comparing notes with me on Facebook as this series has run in order to figure out which shows we had or hadn’t attended together. Wendy F. as well, she had to have been there. Steve M. and Kris C., not entirely sure, they’ll have to remind me. Point being, I knew a lot of people who were dying for this show because it was frickin’ MY BLOODY VALENTINE and I think I was on the phone to Ticketmaster immediately when the show went on sale.

I am pretty sure I did this at my library job up at UCLA too, asked for my fifteen minute break and took it so I could call in. I was actually getting tickets for two shows that had gone on sale around about the same time — and I think the poor guy at the other end of the point couldn’t believe what he was hearing, because the conversation went something like this:

HIM: “And how I can help you?”

ME (knowing where the key priority was): “I need a ticket for My Bloody Valentine at the Roxy!”

HIM: “Okay…” (said with an undercurrent of ‘this band is called what now?’)

*ticket transaction made and bought*

HIM: “Can I help you with anything else?”

ME: “Yes, I need a ticket for Swervedriver at the Whisky.”

HIM: *friendly but baffled laughter* “Swervedriver? That’s the name?”

Really, who could blame the guy. He sounded like he was in his forties or something and given my 39th birthday last week I am reminded that I’ve expressed plenty of ‘the hell?’ sentiments at some of the band names that I’ve learned about in recent years.

Anyway, that Swervedriver show is another story — actually, two stories, but more about that next time. The MBV show was actually supposed to be a Dinosaur Jr. tour with MBV as openers — a logical combination given where MBV drew some initial inspiration from when they fully transmogrified from tweepop to their own thing in the late eighties — but for whatever reason J. Mascis and crew couldn’t make it so it was just MBV plus Babes in Toyland for this part of the tour. Demand was so huge that a second show was added that night and also sold out; I suppose I could have tried for both but I was glad to get into even one of the shows so I wasn’t complaining.

Before I quote from my previously published piece on this show, some further details and memories: I remember the long line in front of the Roxy, and I don’t know where we ended up in it. I know that people wanted to be as close as possible for this one, rightly so. Babes in Toyland put on a good set but I wish I knew their work more than I did at the time, so my fault there. Kat Bjelland was on fire for sure but I think Lori Barbero was my hero of that performance, she was looking like she was having a great time on the drums. (As a side note, Neal Karlen’s book on Babes In Toyland by that name, covering this era of the band’s existence, is one of the best rock bios out there and is also a good book on American culture at the time and place; Barbero is more or less the main figure of the whole thing and ever since reading it I think she sounds like one of the coolest and nicest people around, something since reconfirmed by those who’ve met and known her. So check that out and of course, listen to their music as well!)

Meantime, though I didn’t know it at the time, I met — sort of — one of the two closest friends in my entire life, Mackro, that night. I wouldn’t actually meet him properly until some months later when I went down to UCI and the radio station there, but in comparing memories and shows we discovered that we’d both been at this very show, and when he mentioned something he’d done there I went “I remember you now!” Being no fool, I’d brought earplugs to this show as well as all the other shows I’d seen, but as per usual there were plenty of people without them. As I stood in the crowd, seeing familiar faces all around (including the 12/13 year old shoegaze kid that I kept seeing at such shows, like the Lush/Ride show at the Roxy the previous year I’ve discussed), I noticed one guy practically tossing out cotton balls to people saying “You’re going to need these if you don’t have earplugs! Put these in!” Wise man. And thoughtful as well — Mackro in a nutshell! Here’s to you again, sir.

And the show itself? So I’ll turn now to the piece on Loveless that I wrote for Marooned a few years back [EDIT: sadly, that link no longer acts as a permanent one — I’ll try to see if such a link exists!], as it pretty much says what I recall of the concert. Feel free to read the whole thing via the link, but the section about this particular performance follows. By this time it had been a year and a half since I first heard MBV and experienced the radical split in before/after terms in my musical (and to a very profound degree, personal) life that “Soon” had caused. Something to keep in mind as you read what follows — this was a show I needed to be at unlike just about any other one before it.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the album is also a direct link to my favorite concerts of all time.

MBV played twice in L.A. during 1992, on two separate tours. The first time through was originally supposed to be an opening set for Dinosaur Jr., but J Mascis had fallen asleep for ten months, so picking up an opener or two along the way (by the time they made it to L.A. it was Babes in Toyland) MBV soldiered on. Needless to say, I got my ticket within seconds flat of its going on sale. Plans were made, days counted down…all of us who were going wanted our riots in our head really badly, waiting on the moment.

The Roxy is a small place, crowded floor edged by seated areas. Of course, we were all on the crowded floor, and the feeling of the crowd matches the feeling of that album cover-bright, indistinct, overwhelming. When the show was underway, it was one long miasmic cascade backward and forward, a massive chaotic flow and sway. The band hit the monster-ass boogie groove of “Slow” and it was as if we flowed through the stifling air of the club like carp kites in a humid wind.

It was the rhythm section that was the enjoyable surprise that night. Colm O’Coisoig looked appropriately intense, frenetic at his quickest and loudest behind the drums, but Deb Googe…if I ever played bass, I would play it like her. Bouncing with seeming nervousness on one leg, then the other, she was finding the groove of each song even as she played, halfway between nervous restraint and participatory cool. She seemed only to look off sidelong at her bandmates, controlled but aware, just playing the hell out of that thing.

Bilinda Butcher and Mr. Shields himself had the guitars, the microphones, the slurred blend of singing…I don’t recall anyone saying “Hi,” but everyone onstage seemed happy enough to be there in a low key way, while we were cheering our damned fool heads off. I’d say about half of Loveless ended up being played, but I don’t remember all the details now, just snaps of memory: the strobe-paced flicker of the film projected for “Soon,” the look in Bilinda’s eyes as she sang (not staring or insane but something not quite normal either). Then there was “You Made Me Realize.”

It’s not on Loveless, having first emerged as an A-side back in 1988, and it’s almost straightforward post-Hüsker Dü pop-punk with dreamier vocals, though it has one part in the song where everything drops out but an open D chord rapidly played again and again by all the guitars and bass before slamming back into the main arrangement. So when the time came the band, this time including O’Coisoig on frenetic drums, played said open D chord…for fifteen minutes.

I know this because at a certain point I started checking my watch and estimating backwards; the rumors had just started to go around that they did this type of thing at every show as their final song. A few years later when I had the chance to interview Shields — and he turned out to be one of the most chatty, talkative and polite fellers I’ve ever interviewed — he noted:

“When we did that song, it transformed the audience into a different thing altogether. All the people at the front could behave no differently from the people at the back. It put everyone into their own head, because they couldn’t talk to each other either.”

I remember all the swaying seeming to intensify a bit, all of us just crammed into that spot, the heat and the light and the feeling that we were all going to eventually faint at some point, though it never came to that. O’Coisoig’s face looked like he was possessed, a manic grin as he blasted away on the drums, everyone else just bent over their instruments as if wanting to wear them all to bits through repetition. How they signaled to each other that it was going to end I don’t know but all of a sudden they were back in the song, a final verse, and that was it. Crazy.

But of course wonderful.

Not Just the Ticket — #23, The Wonder Stuff, October 20, 1991

Wonder Stuff, Roxy

Then current album: Never Loved Elvis

Opening act: The Milltown Brothers

Back of ticket ad: free popcorn at AMC Theatres, “Bringing Quality & Convenience to the Magic of the Movies!”

Sometimes I do forget how cheap shows could be — and still are, if you know where to look, obviously.

And with this show, a shift from the hyperdetailed stories I’ve been doing to a mix and match approach depending on the show — because I barely remember anything about it at all. Or perhaps I don’t want to remember.

The Wonder Stuff aren’t even a blip on the radar any more outside of a very specific bunch of people at the time and place who like to indulge in their nostalgia — and hey, here I am and all. But at the time, I did pretty much love them a lot — tracks ended up on mixtapes, raved about their virtues to friends, and looked forward to finally seeing them at this show. This album, their third, ended up being their biggest commercial success in the UK, seen as being lead guy Miles Hunt’s move to some sort of reflective and maturer state — and to be fair, based on a number of the lyrics, that was the case. It wasn’t just that they weren’t as snot-nosed any more, but there were elements slipping in around the corners due to lineup changes and different foci and events. The mandolin on “Caught in My Shadow” I now recognize more as the obvious nod to something like “Maggie May” that it is, but it still works in the memory nicely enough.

But memory is the slippery thing that it is. I wouldn’t want to claim that I didn’t go to the show — I have the ticket, there it is — nor do I want to pretend I was above something that I once loved. Yet this is the first show where I run into a brick wall of ‘what exactly was I thinking?’ simply because I seem so removed from it all now.

Not the case with a lot of the shows I’ve discussed so far — some bands remain not merely firm favorites to the present day but near obsessions (as anyone on Facebook or Twitter knows when it came to me spreading the news that Alan Wilder joined Depeche Mode the other night for the first time in sixteen years). And when it comes to the Wonder Stuff’s friends in Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, it’s not like I’m rejecting the whole context the band was known for (certainly not when I’m also still appreciative of the work of another Birmingham area band, Pop Will Eat Itself — also friends with Hunt and the Wonder Stuff, due in part to the groups’ growing out of an initial band effort together in the early eighties).

Instead I could almost trace down the sole lasting impact of being a Wonder Stuff fan to two things — a tour shirt from this show I still have around and my hair. Not that I hadn’t been growing out my hair already at this point but it was in a bit of a state this whole time, and I’m kinda glad there are aren’t many photos around. Hunt’s hair was in a state I envied and eventually set myself to get, at least just by growing it all out properly and letting it flow. Funny thing is that occasionally people will still figure out that this was my role model there long after Hunt had cut his hair short — some character on ILX a while back (who has since fulfilled his destiny by being a toady to Uwe Boll) tried to rile me up by complaining about that fact, though I can’t exactly be offended at something I was trying to achieve in the first place.

And so this show? As I said, I don’t remember much about it. I was near the stage, the Milltown Brothers were engagingly dull (I think their ‘hit’ song as such was called “Which Way Do I Jump?” or something close to it) and the Wonder Stuff were good fun on stage. They were, they threw themselves into it well enough for an enthusiastic crowd, there was a lot of leaping around in the audience if not on stage, at one point Hunt delivered what appeared to be a mocking toast or salute to somebody back in the VIP section, and the performances of “Caught In My Shadow” and “Welcome to the Cheap Seats” still stick with me a bit.

And…that’s it. That’s it and that’s all. Part of this feeling has to be the effect of shifting into the high amount of shows I was starting to attend around now — Pigface had been just a couple of nights beforehand, more were in the offing. There was no sense of crazy anticipation at play that I can recall, there were no specific stories to tell about audience members or people in the crowd. This was ‘just’ a show, and by a band that doesn’t prompt much in the way of reaction from me now. Sometimes, even when an experience was enjoyable, the memory is utterly generic.

Five nights later, though — that was a show I’ll always remember by necessity. But that’ll be tomorrow’s entry.