Not Just the Ticket — a ticketless special on Mark Burgess, summer 1993

In thinking about the summer of 1993 shows I realized I was on the verge of forgetting about an important one I saw during that season, probably around July or so. No ticket at all for it — I guess they weren’t being sold via Ticketmaster, and I have vague ideas of me either adding myself to a list via a phone call or just purchasing it at the door, and perhaps there was never a formal ticket stub at all. It’s been far too long now and I’m not positive either way.

It definitely was one of the most anticipated shows I ever saw, and one of the first times I saw this performer, who had led and would again yet lead a band that I once considered my absolute favorite after My Bloody Valentine. So I am a little surprised that I’d almost forgotten this show — and then again, maybe that just reflects where I’ve gone in the years since.

The Chameleons were a band I’d heard about without having had heard, thanks to Trouser Press and Jack Rabid, who I think turned on most of the band’s American fanbase to them over the years. It wasn’t as if the Chameleons hadn’t had their supporters eager to see them and they did tour America for what at the time was their final studio album Strange Times — they even played San Diego on that tour, I gather, which meant I would have been around, but totally unaware of them. While U2 was breaking out big time, the Chameleons, almost near exact contemporaries and similarly possessed of a bent for serious themes and seriously surging, beautiful guitar riffs and a feeling of the epic, were playing clubs still. Such is life and all.

The full story of the Chameleons would take far too long to tell — lead singer Mark Burgess has done his own version of it via the book A View from a Hill, one perspective out of four in the band alone — and it’s one of losses, regrets, might-have-beens, mixed in with the fact that they still did it regardless — three albums, a slew of singles, radio sessions and more aren’t things to be sniffed at, as any blog trawl these days through the story of bands who could only manage a single or a comp appearance at best. My own story in terms of being a fan was pretty simple — having read about them through Trouser Press as mentioned, I finally stumbled across the original CD release of What Does Anything Mean? Basically in early 1992 and bought it sight unseen. From the sweeping synth instrumental “Silence, Sea and Sky” that opened the album, I was completely, totally sold — oddly enough given that it was in many ways the most un-Chameleons like song of all, not a guitar to be heard. But “Perfumed Garden” changed my impression of the band on that front and I was off to the races.

Hearing about anything any of the bandmembers were doing was next to impossible in 1992 — there didn’t seem to be any fanclub as such and again, pre-widespread Internet things were a little harder to track down in general. I had somehow gathered a near complete discography by the following year, thanks to a sudden rush of reissues and new releases of old or otherwise unheard material. It seemed like every month there’d be a new radio sessions disc or live album or something similar, and pretty soon all I needed was a CD of Strange Times.

Which, conveniently, was being released by Geffen in the summer of 1993, perhaps due to all the implicit prompting. At the same time, reports via Melody Maker indicated that Burgess, having lain a bit low after his immediate post-Chameleons band the Sun and the Moon had broken up, was due to release his first solo album under the name Mark Burgess and the Sons of God, Zima Junction. The album name was a bit prepossessing — I just kept thinking of malt liquor ads — but at least it was something new, and while it’s certainly far more restrained all around than the Chameleons by default, it’s a pleasant little joy to listen to still.

The real kicker, though, was that he was going to play a couple of brief American dates — no band or anything from what we heard, just himself. So a few of us started making some immediate plans — Rich A., who as mentioned was I think the person I went with to see Cranes later on in the summer, mutual friend Misty, at least a couple of other folks. It was a show at the Whisky, an easy and familiar enough location to get to, and not too far down the way on Sunset from the Geffen label headquarters, which I remember Mark saying something a little snarky about during the show.

But that’s jumping ahead a touch in the evening — it was a lovely summer night in LA, almost as per usual, and I remember us parking down on Doheny (where it was free) and walking up the hill to Sunset, most of us charging ahead and Misty following at a nicely regal pace. I don’t have much in the way of clear memories of the rest of the crowd at the show, but I’m sure there were more than a few goths, even though the Chameleons were never a goth band as such – but for whatever reason, they seemed to be the core of the fanbase in America, so go figure. Given my own sympathies I wasn’t exactly surprised (nor out of place).

I’m not positive but I’m pretty sure – reasonably – that one opening band was Super Thirtyone, the almost but not quite answer to shoegaze in the LA area at the time. They weren’t the only one by any means but they were the major one in terms of what they were after and what they wanted to be (not for nothing did they package their debut EP to even look like an import on something like Creation or Dedicated, for instance). There was definitely another set by a fellow Manchester musician friend of Burgess’s who had played on the solo album, singer/songwriter vocal/guitar, all straightforward enough. It was pleasant stuff but more than anything I was just thrilled to finally be able to see any member of the Chameleons do their thing – sure, it had only been a little over a year since I had learned about them but I had fallen and fallen hard for the band, completely and totally. If it wasn’t MBV-level fascination it sure was close.

I don’t remember anything momentous about him coming onto the stage, but I do remember a sense of warmth, of real appreciation. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen such a thing at a show, it would hardly be the last, and my own thoughts were certainly coloring the experience, something that replicates itself in many different contexts and places every day. It was still something to behold, the more so because even though there would be new songs and all, there surely would be plenty of Chameleons numbers, but heard in a way that we hadn’t quite yet before, just one guy and his acoustic guitar. A simple enough thing, it seemed.

I’ve heard a bootleg of the San Francisco show he did either just before or just after this particular performance, the general setlist was about the same from what I can remember, including the one fellow from Manchester joining him on stage for a song from the solo album and maybe one other one. I remember everyone was locked in, not completely hushed in reverence but sometimes barely restraining their silence as the performance continued. Lots of cheers between songs, plenty of comments from Burgess, who I’ve found to be a pleasantly garrulous fellow in the times I’ve briefly spoken with him over the years here and there.

Hearing songs like “Mad Jack,” “Tears,” “Soul in Isolation,” “Paper Tigers,” “Perfumed Garden” and more was just this constant thrill for me, I admit. Why do some bands simply entertain and others completely possess, well, who can say in the end, but if I was swept up in a romantic impulse I was loving it. His version of “Caution” was in many ways the mindblower, building up to the last frenetic howl and stop followed by the audience cheering like they could be heard across the basin. Mesmerizing.

But not as mesmerizing as the real highlight. As he performed “Second Skin” – possibly my favorite Chameleons song of them all in the end – suddenly a long haired fellow jumped on stage from the audience near to where the microphone that the other musician had been using still remained. This was well into the song, nobody moved to get him off stage, Burgess kept playing. As far as I know to this day, he was just a pretty intense fan – I’d say he was Indian in background but beyond that, couldn’t tell you a thing about him.

Except he did the most amazing thing, really. As the song concludes in its studio version, Burgess sings both a beautiful closing verse and a line he repeats almost as a rhythm, “Someone’s banging on my door,” the one overlaid over the other. Obviously he can’t do that live. But whoever his fan was, he just quietly – and not too badly, really – sang that “Someone’s banging on my door” part just at the right spot each time, as Burgess sang the concluding verse. The cheers at the conclusion of this one were even bigger in my memory, Burgess quickly hugged the fan and said a few words to him and said fan got back down off the stage without a care.

It was a kind of perfect moment, a perfect fannish moment perhaps and yet. The whole show didn’t feel like a show so much like this kind of get-together, like we were all at someone’s house somehow. It was radically different to all the other shows I’d attended at the Whiskey up to that point, and I don’t know if I’ve been to one there since that’s quite felt the same way.

As we were all leaving the area Burgess appeared on Sunset in a car being driven somewhere by a friend. Misty shouted out “We love you Mark!” and he waved at us as he passed by. And why not?

Not Just the Ticket — #72, Cranes, Sept. 16, 1993

Cranes, Whisky

Then-current album: Forever

Opening act: don’t recall

Back of ticket ad: Fox Photo, never say die! I take that back, please die.

And after the unreadable Catherine Wheel ticket and the too quirky by half message on the Lollapalooza one, a nice straightforward stub. The color scheme has long become hypnotic for me, as I keep going through this stretch of time.

So this show, and Robert Smith and goths. The former wasn’t here, the latter were, and that wasn’t surprising at all.

Cranes were not a new thing to me at this point, in fact if everything had long since gone as planned this would be my third time seeing them instead of my second. That would have seemed a little more appropriate, if only because they were always a band that made the most sense in a venue that felt more like you were in on a secret of one kind or another. The long ago tour with Slowdive that they’d done in Europe had never made it to the States despite plans for same and so I ended up seeing Slowdive for the first time opening for Ride and Cranes opening for the Cure. A slight difference in terms of crowd size.

But it also illustrated the slightly unexpected path that Cranes ended up taking. The Cure fan love was something that Ali and James Shaw had never hidden even if their music was more tangentially connected than immediately – their era they most clearly loved was the Pornography one, all extreme drumming and black, looming despair. It wasn’t the only element by any means but given their equal love for Swans and Einsturzende Neubaten and all, little surprise it was that era that was the big one. So while the band had had to deal with being bizarrely lumped in with the shoegaze crowd it was drawing on a much different set of reference points.

Then again the Cure kind of was the overall reference point for just about all those bands aside from MBV itself, from what I could tell at the time – in any event, the last time I’d seen both Cranes and the Cure was the massive Rose Bowl show the year previous. It was in retrospect the Cure’s commercial high-water mark as they proceeded to disappear for four years, soundtrack contributions and random covers aside, while Cranes did an admirable job of striking while the iron was hot with Forever. Another Cure reference there, in that the album was titled after a legendary enough Cure song that had never been formally recorded or released (still hasn’t been, I think), while the bandmembers were thanked individually on the sleeve.

The position of the handpicked opening act for a massive band is a fraught one in many respects – just because a massive band likes you doesn’t mean you’ll be liked just as massively, an obvious lesson but there it is. It so often seems like you think a group’s on an upward arc and then you only ever see them again at the kind of places they’d either already played or would have been playing anyway. Cranes theoretically never ‘should’ have been playing arenas but there they were, travelling the world and having a blast by all accounts, and more to the point, kept their head on their shoulders afterwards – if they found a slightly gentler path to explore after that, it was still recognizably them, down to Ali Shaw’s singing voice.

But the kicker came after Forever came out – the second single from the album, “Jewel,” ended up with a Robert Smith remix and became a hit. Well, a hit of sorts – more so in the UK than here, but it did end up getting some KROQ airplay, a further example of the ‘try again, see what sticks’ ethos defining a lot of that year. I remember being a little baffled when I heard the remix randomly once while at a friend’s place or in a car or something similar – I’d already heard it by that point, so that wasn’t surprising at all, but just the fact that it really did get some airplay was at once thrilling and deeply weird.

It’s also interesting because – in its own isolated, one-off way – a sign of just how readily remix culture becomes a thing, becomes essential in reception. After its prominence over the last fifteen years in terms of the charts, a part and parcel of hip-hop’s triumph and much more besides, this one little example is no harbringer of the future but it is a random outlier. The key reason is that Smith so clearly put his stamp on it – that guitar part he added really couldn’t have been from anyone else, it almost screams him. In another time and place, another musical context, he’d be namechecked in additional lyrics, or we’d be talking about how it was clearly his production style more than simply a guitar line or whatever, but that’s not his context and this was what it was. Again, random rather than a monumental note in the history of the remix in the public eye, but still interesting.

I digress so much at this point because this is a case where there’s a lot about the show I’m not sure about. If there was an opening act, well, I’m drawing a blank, and who I went with, couldn’t tell you that either. Might have been my friend Rich A. now that I think more about it, it seemed like the show we’d both be interested in. All I can say for sure is that we were down in front of the stage for this one, or at least to the side of it – I have this distinct memory of almost looking across at the band, with the stage stairway up to the upper level on the opposite side from where we were.

Beyond that, though, this show is actually something of a strange blank to me – weird given that they were at what turned out to be their own highest profile point in ways (though they ended up performing to larger crowds here at a much later date). It was still the do-nothing summer of 1993 for me, nothing really major had been happening beyond gearing up for what being a TA for a writing class would be all about…I just remember I liked the show but that really is about it. It’s as if it’s just a souvenir and nothing more, this ticket – I don’t think I even have a T-shirt still from this one, or if I even got one in the first place.

But yeah, goths were definitely at this one. For reasons already noted.

Not Just the Ticket — #67, Cop Shoot Cop, June 17, 1993

Cop Shoot Cop, Whisky a Go Go

Then current album: Ask Questions Later

Opening act (and the real focus of this entry, quite honestly): The God Machine

Back of ticket ad: Fox Photo once again asks you to consider their 1/2 off offer. Think about it, won’t you? Thank you.

Another little run of shows here I was at, clearly, given the date — the Sundays/Madder Rose show, the Weenie Roast, then this. I must have really wanted the first year of grad school to be over so I could just do this. (And I did.)

And this, a show of regrets. One I’m glad I caught, though — but in retrospect, so sad.

Not, I should say, because of the headlining act, who I have nothing against. Heck, I reviewed most of their albums for the AMG if I remember correctly. But as time has passed I’m less about Cop Shoot Cop and more about Firewater, the band which Tod A formed after the earlier group had collapsed and which I gather he still oversees, though I should check on that. I had a good time at the show, I will happily note, and their song “10 Dollar Bill” which had become the fluke hit of sorts via their Ask Questions Later album got a good performance as did everything else. I mostly remember Tod’s figure silhouetted against the lights behind him as he busted out on the whistle near the start of said song, and that everything else was agreeably loud and twisted and off. Had I spent my life near NYC instead of LA I suspect I would have seen them a lot more and had more to say about them in the end.

But it was the opening act who I was especially there to see, and who I was very glad to see — and who I never saw again, and who nobody in America could ever see again. Still makes me sad to think about it.

The God Machine were, also in retrospect, a set of hometown heroes for me had I only known they were around. They formed under the name Society Line back in 1985 and so would have been performing around the time I came back with my family to the San Diego area for the rest of my high school days. Somewhere along the line they moved out to New York, minus one member, then after that they eventually ended up in London around the start of the nineties. So the first I heard about them was due to Melody Maker, thanks to some writers happily championing the band any chance they could.

What I had heard of got my interest, certainly. Signed to the Cure’s label, Fiction? Had to be at least a slightly good sign. Opened in London for Swans during a Love of Life tour date in 1992? Even better sign. Also, frankly, a good name, and the more I heard people who didn’t like the band complaining they were too dark or too gothed out that just meant I had to hear them all the more, it couldn’t sound any more up my alley than that, especially when I heard that they had gone right ahead and covered Bauhaus’s “Double Dare” and Echo and the Bunnymen’s “All My Colours” on a single — as well as Peggy Lee’s “Fever” and the KLF’s “What Time is Love?”

Scenes from the Second Storey, the band’s debut, appeared in the spring of 1993, and I imagine I was one of the few people in Southern California outside of their family and friends down south to even know about it. That sounds more precious than it’s meant to be, but while they had at least a slight profile over in the UK via the music press there was nothing at all out here, no KROQ breakthrough or anything similar. Stately and focused and powerful as the single “Home” was it just didn’t quite fit in the Alternative Nation stereotype approach for marketing. It wasn’t grunge, it wasn’t self-consciously quirky or sloppy, and they didn’t look goth (or industrial or what have you).

But they did get the opening spot on this tour and that was all I needed to know. By hook or by crook I was seeing this show and I’m pretty sure Jen V. and I were the ones making the by now very familiar trip up from OC to LA for a Sunset Strip show. The friend of Jen’s over at Polygram who might have hooked us up with tickets — not sure, really — I had met before, friendly dude, an intern like Jen, and I hope he’s doing well wherever he is right now. It was in conversation with him outside the Whisky that I had a bit of an encounter with the famous — with him or showing up soon afterward was Rob Dickinson, lead singer of the Catherine Wheel, whose second album Chrome was due for release or had just been released and who would be performing later that summer. I had become a big fan of theirs in the previous year but hadn’t seen them live yet so I was happily pleased as punch to meet him; he was a cheery sort in turn, all pepped up at catching the show himself. Nice to see, really.

At some point in talking with the dude from Polygram, either some days before the show or on the day itself, the possibility of an interview with the God Machine had been discussed. I have a feeling it was almost an impulse thing since I didn’t have a tape recorder with me, though someone from another college paper or station did and I was able to borrow it later on. More on that in a bit, but mostly I then just remember being in the venue itself and gearing up for a band I really had wondered if I was ever going to be able to see.

Scenes for the Second Storey, you see, had rapidly become one of if not the favorite album of mine that year, and while it’s been a long, long while since I’ve heard it through again, I stand by that judgment. From a distance I can see the connections and roots a bit more clearly — all the bands I’ve mentioned in context with them earlier had their impact on the trio (well, maybe indirectly in Peggy Lee’s case) — and even then I knew they weren’t sui generis. But it was an album of massive, self-conscious ambition that was carried off with skill, focus, style and heart, however shadowed (“Pictures of a Bleeding Boy” perhaps showed that heart most clearly but it wasn’t on the album — in different ways, “It’s All Over” and “Purity” did, and they were among said album’s highlights). It wasn’t the only album like it of its time but even now I see it as something understatedly monumental, if that doesn’t sound contradictory in terms. So many bands and albums later followed that also wanted to scale those heights that in ways I think of the God Machine as prophets without honor. Certainly that Swans opening spot situated them more clearly than most, given all the bands since who worship at Gira’s altar — in their own, quietly allied way, they had already achieved their own sense of the intimate, the high volume and the agog.

As was proven live. I think they would have gone off even more in front of a crowd that was theirs, straight up, as opposed to an opening spot thousands of miles away from the place where they’d made a name for themselves, now near what was home and yet so very far away from it. Pre-Internet, it really was another world — no website to maintain, no tracks to preview, no blog leaks, nothing like that at all.

It was a hell of a great show. “Home” was played, Bulgarian women’s choir sample and all, the monstrous, majestic “Seven,” “Dream Machine,” others that I wish I could remember. They gave it their all, Robin Proper-Sheppard on vocals and guitar, Jimmy Fernandez on bass, Ron Austin on drums, a trio who had stuck through it all and lived the dream and had gotten this far where so many other bands would never have even gotten that far. I wish they had had T-shirts for sale, something with the beautiful and blasted landscape image from the front of the album on it. I’d still be wearing that.

The kicker was after the show — I did indeed get to interview the band upstairs in the lounge or greenroom or whatever it is up in the Whisky artist area. Jimmy and Ron were fairly relaxed, chiming in every so often, but I will always, always remember that interview I did with Robin, because of his focus, his absolutely intense look. It wasn’t unfriendly, but it was serious, man on a mission stuff. You had a sense in talking to him that he was going to see it all through however he could. I really enjoyed it, and I hope he did too (I heard afterward that apparently that was the case, simply because I actually knew something about the band and where they came from).

I don’t have the tape, unfortunately — whoever I was borrowing the recorder from kept it for his own interview and that was that (again, pre-Internet — no easy way to track the guy down). I wish I did, it’d be a slice of history in its own way now. Somehow my other remaining impression is that of Jimmy in particular, smiling, relaxing and laughing. I like having that memory of him, however brief the encounter.

Because I never saw the band again. After that tour, nobody in America did. The following year, when everyone summed up the end of the year talking one way or another about the death of Kurt Cobain, I mentioned the rock tragedy of that year which really affected me instead. During the completion of the sessions of their second album, Jimmy Fernandez was in the studio and suddenly collapsed. He was dead shortly thereafter that day — it turned out an undiagnosed brain cancer tumor was the brutal cause, unknown and unsuspected, until one day was the last day. I only learned about it a couple of weeks later via an issue of Melody Maker, the kind of delayed reaction that seems like forever now, and felt a little crushed.

Nothing as ‘romantic’ as drink or drugs, as harrowing as AIDS, as perversely mythologized as suicide — just the cruel twist of nature’s way. Ron and Robin completed the sessions and released the album, One Last Laugh in a Place of Dying, as a tribute to their friend and musical partner of nearly ten years, and the band was over — no farewell concert, no final tour. Simply an ending because they could not continue on. As simple as that.

Ron, to my knowledge, has concentrated on film musical work since, while Robin took on a new focus via an excellent label, The Flower Shop Recordings, and a new band, Sophia, that reflected different inspirations and directions, something he spoke of in later years as better capturing the space he was in at that point — an honest self-assessment and I’ve always been glad for him for that, someone who has thrived on his own terms all these years later, twenty five years on now from that first Society Line demo and seventeen years on from this show I’ve discussed.

I’m glad I caught it, I’m glad I remember it. Some experiences, however distant they are, remain all the clearer because someone will always be the smiling guy relaxing, enjoying life as he could. Said it back then in a newspaper column for UCI, will say it again — RIP Jimmy. Glad I got to see you.

Not Just the Ticket — #64, Silverfish, June 3, 1993

Silverfish, Whisky

Then-current album: Organ Fan

Opening act: …drawing a complete blank

Back of ticket ad: Fox Photo, assuring me once more that I can get half off their ‘1-Hour Film Developing.’ I simply cannot doubt it, and yet.

This is one of those classic tickets where I have to squint a few times at the original item to confirm the details. I thought it was June 8 there on first blush. I could have just checked an online calendar, I guess, but I’m not that obsessive. Yet.

So, the show that meant I got a T-shirt that I still have that reads HIPS LIPS TITS POWER on it in big white letters on a black background. Why the hell not?

Silverfish were always constantly almost…not famous, that’s a stretch, but they seemed like they belonged somewhere that they never quite found, which is a damn pity because I’m all about bands like them needing to be huge. It was probably because they were based in London and all, which meant that even the boost of being initially released in the US on Touch and Go meant a little suspicion of sorts from folks over here. (“We have a bunch of post-hardcore types already here, what could they tell us?”) I only first heard about them due to various random — very random — mentions of them as being a holdover from something called the Camden lurch scene, of which I knew nothing and don’t really care to have cleared up further, necessarily. Not out of hatred for whoever was involved, it’s just that it sounds like it was dreamed up on a lunch break from Melody Maker one day, a whole bunch of unrelated people were lumped into it, and then they were stuck with it from that point forward. Typical enough.

Still, I was paying some attention to Silverfish. Keep in mind I hate the actual insects, the bastards really do a number on books and all. But I gathered that the four members were a bit volatile at points and/or with each other, partially because they had a hell of a frontwoman in Lesley Rankine. I’ve met plenty of fiery people over time, I’ve met plenty of Scots folks, I’ve met a lot of strong as hell women, and I’ve encountered a number of combinations of all three over the years, and she ranks up there with them, though I can’t claim to have met her except in passing after this show and all. Still, you got a sense even from just the recordings that she gave…not directionless attitude, more that you wouldn’t want to mess with her because, hell, why would you? Add in the fact that apparently she could prop up whole bars by herself and hey, bring it on — plus I liked the fact that they had released an album called Fat Axl, featuring a caricature of said singer, and which also contained a rather unexpected version of Grandmaster Flash’s “White Lines (Don’t Do It).”

So through a weird combination of events — ending up on Creation Records, then because of that finding themselves associated with Sony overseas — Silverfish found themselves with an even bigger American connection than before, and god knows exactly what the people in the Sony LA office were thinking when they realized they had this assignment to deal with. Around this time is when my friend Jen V. actually started working there as an intern so I should probably reconfirm with her, but this was a classic case of them going “Okay they must have some fans here but they’re not on radio or anything so um…what do we do?”

The details of everything building up this show really do escape me. The new album in question, Organ Fan, had actually appeared in the UK a few months prior, so for US release an EP was added for that bonus track elan. I didn’t have either of those so ending up with a promo copy of this release was kinda nice, and I’ll always have a fondness for the French language track as they’d said in an interview that it was their tribute to the Young Gods, at that point one of my overall sonic heroes. Also I’d noted that Rankine had gone right ahead in recent months and cropped her hair completely off — bald as hell and rocking it to the full. Had to admire that, really, not that I was about to follow her example any.

I would have gone to the show with Jen V. if only she kinda had to be there by default given her Sony work. This was probably the first time I was in the Sony offices though I can’t say that for sure — I ended up there a couple of times over the next few years, and while I can hardly say I got familiar with the place, it was amusing enough to see exactly what part of the music business juggernaut looked like up close. Until that point all I would have really known about was the David Geffen office that was on Sunset near the Roxy, whereas Sony — as well as Polygram and probably a couple of other spots — were happily established in a set of buildings next to the 405 freeway on Santa Monica Blvd. I’m sure the place has a name (and for all I know the companies are still there; I know the buildings are) but at the time I would have more been checking out the interior design as a mix between random posters in the cubicles and high end professional lobby area. That and, I think, John Travolta in Staying Alive playing on a TV in said lobby. I have no idea why.

In part I talk about all this because again, I can’t remember much leading up to the show — if we had dinner up there, if we went straight to the venue and so forth. Didn’t interview the band or anything beforehand, I remember that much, I think we were just all milling about on the floor of the Whisky as per usual checking watches and the like. Completely, utterly drawing a blank on the opening act, assuming there was one, so whoever it was, I salute your anonymity, or at least your ability to take up time without making any impression whatsoever. But you probably helped drive people to the bar, at least.

Silverfish themselves put on a show that’s fragmentary in my memory. I remember they started a bit hesistantly — Rankine seemed to be looking out a little warily at the crowd, singing as if she was still finding her feet a bit, the rest of the band similarly. Fuzz, their guitarist, was the other visual focus, a slight short fellow with a great mop of dreadlocks, and similarly he was playing but not quite performing, just easing himself into the song. I thought it was nice and all but not the end of the world, and wondered if it would be like throughout.

At some point, though, there would have been a changeover, a little more intensity, a little more sharpness, a classic case of a group just needing to get a little warmed up in the course of the performance to really do something at its best. So the quartet turned into a stronger band as the show went, and we would have seen more of the act that got them their reputation over in the UK. Thing is, they would have just as easily held their own had they been American — Rankine as in-your-face performer was pretty damn good stuff, clearly someone who used the stage to take it all higher when possible, a little stylization blended with the stomp and shout. I can’t remember the name of the final song they played but it was almost as if the whole set was building up to that one number, with not one but two points where the arrangement just built and built and built and finally broke, the bandmembers all seeming to lean into the feedback as it stretched out and then exploding like a rubber band had just snapped. Pretty impressive and they deserved the applause they got.

Up in the balcony area afterwards I chatted with Fuzz briefly — energetic guy but I barely caught what he said — and exchanged pleasantries with Rankine as noted, not that she would remember any of it of course. Later that year she ended up departing the band and forming an even more underrated act in Ruby, something that aimed for the moody crawl of someone like Barry Adamson or Massive Attack with its own unsettled spikiness. Wish I’d caught one of those shows and I hope she’s doing well now, certainly deserved to be better known in general. And I’ll always treasure that one Melody Maker cover shot of her after the head shave posing with a gargoyle-like leer half wrapped around the lipstick-smeared Brett Anderson of Suede. If you’re going to make some sort of visual splash, after all, might as well go big.

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 — #41, The Wedding Present, April 23 1992

The Wedding Present, Whisky

Then-current album: Seamonsters/Hit Parade 1

Opening act: Poster Children

Back of ticket ad: trying to imagine the alternate world were KLSX would have played the Wedding Present is rather hard to do.

And back after some time off for EMP and recuperation thereafter and general work stuff and and and. I actually think I needed the extended break a bit!

Meanwhile, the Weddoes. Was there ever a band so hated by its target press audience?

Which sounds extreme. But at the time, reading through the various mentions in Melody Maker, it seemed that nobody there liked the Wedding Present. NOBODY. Not a goddamn soul, except for Dave Jennings, who I think wrote in a cover story about them in early 1992 about how he seemed like he was alone against a horde. David Gedge and company had then just started their own version of a blog project, one single for every month of the year, an original on the A-side and a cover on the flip. They were just a couple of years shy of having been around for a decade’s worth of recording and everyone’s reaction to them at that point in the press seemed to be a combination of frustration, annoyance and ‘oh god why are you doing that and why are you even trying.’ It was an interesting lesson in…I hate to say groupthink, but even so.

Even Everett True’s review of the first Hit Parade collection that appeared later in June, drawing together the first set of singles, was ambivalent at best, though it seemed like he was mostly annoyed with the band sounding like…well, themselves. Which is kinda weird. But a slightly more telling note could be found in the fact that he also grudgingly admitted that the band had been astoundingly ahead of the curve at one point — when they first worked with Steve Albini a couple of years previously on the Brassneck EP, they’d recorded a song that their then-guitarist Peter Solowka had brought to them via an obscure EP he’d picked up. The result: a cover of “Box Elder MO,” one of the earliest songs by Pavement, well before their own sudden explosion into popularity in 1992.

Writing about this now, in a year where there’s the Pavement reunion and the Wedding Present touring America doing the album-straight-through tour gambit (in this case Bizarro), makes everything feel timely enough, I suppose, but I’m placing myself back a bit more in time thinking about how I heard about the Wedding Present and early impressions and context, if any. Nothing sticks, to be honest — there had to have been a ‘oh that’s a pretty cool name’ reaction on my part somewhere (and it is a cool name, still is — it suggests something very un-rock, still), and somehow I pieced together a sense about how they were this really fast (a lot of the time) and very prolific band and they seemed to have a ton of releases and so forth. Also, that the lead singer had a pretty gruff voice.

Where I think something clicked had to do with a review at KLA by my friend Eric J. — who I’ve mentioned before, and who I should say is the mighty Eric J. Lawrence, KCRW stalwart for many years now. Eric had worked a music director and manager and the like at KLA — I think he was the general manager that year, pretty sure — and he had a very good gift for reviews for fellow DJs to refer to. I remember he was the guy who called all our of attention to Ween when their first album came out, he had figured out early on that Blur were going to thrive beyond the demi-baggy/shoegaze associations they were first associated with, and in the thick of Nirvana’s impact he wrote up a review on our copy of the American release of Seamonsters, also produced by Albini, basically saying that this had all that Nevermind could offer sonically, but better. So that definitely caught my eye, by default.

Seamonsters ended up being one of my favorite albums of the whole decade — I haven’t listened to it in about a decade, unsurprisingly, but I locked into it early and often (and it’s one reason why the current tour isn’t totally firing me up — above and beyond my whole problem with the tour-an-album conceit, it’s not the album I like best anyway!). But as with so many of the shows at that time, it wasn’t a case of breathless anticipation, more like “Well here we go!” and off we went — and that feeling was further heightened by the fact that this was one of three shows in a row I was attending that week. More than anything I’m sure I was questioning my stamina (but only slightly — when you’re 21, this is not something you spend that much reflection on).

So the Whisky once more, and once more I’m not sure who I was with but two to one says that Eric had to be among that number. I do know that when we came in another band who I had just gotten to know about, and who also had an Albini connection, was kicking up things entertainingly on stage. The Poster Children also became definite favorites of mine throughout the rest of the decade, not least because, like the computer geeks they so happily identified themselves as, they took to the Internet early, had tour diaries and fan comments and more going through their websites, designed their own various games and programs and basically held true to themselves as much as they could during their stint on a major label.

Of course, nobility in purpose isn’t always the sign of good music (would that it were so), but that wasn’t a worry here, and more than anything I remember bright lights, big smiles and just having a blast. They were there to entertain us, themselves, whoever was around, and they were doing so with their own alternately thick-and-blasting and crisp-and-spiky and more arrangements (more often than not in the space of any one individual song) — still kills me that they weren’t more famous in the end, they were too good for the world, I suppose, and it wasn’t because they didn’t try to break through. They did, they just didn’t want to sell their souls while they were at it. (And they’re still kicking around doing what they do — really, go say hi.)

The Wedding Present’s main set is even more dim in the memory, I know it happened but I don’t remember much about it at all aside from where I was in the audience facing the stage…not quite dead center twenty feet away, but not that far removed from that spot either. I seem to remember Gedge was off to my left a bit. Pretty positive they started with “Dalliance,” could be wrong, but if they did it’s a hell of an opener — it starts Seamonsters on a dramatic, angry note and would have started the show similarly, a rough burn of a song.

And from there into various things, “Brassneck” was played, “Kennedy,” more from Seamonsters, they had to have dipped into at least some of the new singles, possibly “California” even though it hadn’t been released yet just because, well, it was called “California” after all. I do remember one thing that didn’t surprise me but that did make me happy — Gedge announcing before the final song something like “Just a quick note, as some of you know — we don’t do encores.” I’d heard about this before and frankly was already plenty tired of the ‘leave-then-come-back’ rote response of encores in general at shows — I’m even more tired of it now. So seeing a band happily trash this was completely fine by me.

Of course, I’m sure hoping they still don’t do encores — that would be a bad thing to backtrack on.

Not Just the Ticket — #39, The Verlaines, April 16, 1992

The Verlaines, Whisky

Then-current album: Ready to Fly

Opening act: Yo La Tengo

Back of ticket ad: ah, Fox Photo, will you never cease.

This scan is one of a few that aren’t quite at right angles, but nothing too crazy.

Meantime the first of various New Zealand shows to follow. Not in NZ itself, but I’ve been to a few of those as well.

I think it’s the case for a lot of people — a LOT of people, especially in the States — with my age and my interests that felt that New Zealand was some sort of strange wonderful place where everyone was in a band and on Flying Nun Records, or maybe Xpressway. It was like a lower-key Anglophilia of the sixties, the one that assumed that the Beatles all lived in a house together or the like. The self-evident ridiculousness of the stereotype doesn’t prevent it from taking hold — and the thing was, there just really WAS a lot of fantastically wonderful music coming from the country, some of which got immediate acclaim, while other songs and bands and acts would be building up a body of work that in future years made people go “What the…you mean this was happening as well?”

Whatever the limitations of the college-radio mindset, if it hadn’t been for it plus things like the Trouser Press Record Guide and the occasional appreciative article here and there in other publications (for many friends it was Spin‘s coverage that did the trick, though the first Verlaines review I ever read was for Bird-Dog in Rolling Stone) I would have started listening to a variety of things I still love much later, or maybe not at all, depending. I was hardly an expert at this point beyond knowing some band names, some label names — I did have a little more knowledge of the country than some Americans as well since a friend was from the Wellington area (hi there, Jody W!) and we talked music at points among other things, but even so it was a distanced knowledge; my first and so far only visit to the country was a full decade off.

So much as prologue — for whatever combination of reasons a number of NZ acts were starting to get at least a smidgen of major label attention, with two notable ones ending up on Slash/Warner Bros, the Chills and the Verlaines. As mentioned I had known of them since Bird-Dog‘s release but I only actually heard that album a year or two later, and from the first song, “Makes No Difference,” I figured, “Oh right, this bunch is already one of my favorite bands around.” Perhaps an exaggeration but not far off — Graeme Downes, Verlaines main man, often had his advanced graduate work on Mahler mentioned in press coverage and the like, and no question that his sense of melody and arrangements, as his best, but when it comes to lyrics Downes is no less of a slouch. As I’ve muttered before time and again, lyrics are generally always secondary to me so when I notice them and latch onto them, that’s because I think they’re REALLY good. Actually worth paying attention to.

And so with Downes, so by the time of Ready to Fly‘s release I was a committed fan and found myself rewarded — I don’t think I have a favorite album by them per se but it’s up at the top anyway, a collection of songs at once tender and sweeping and wry and reflective and more, less roughly energized than the earliest days but perhaps all the more beautiful in exchange, something that was a ‘big major label debut’ that didn’t actually sound like the kind of excessive mess that usually implied. So when I heard they were touring, well, the rest was easy.

Funny thing was that I met Downes at the Whisky almost immediately, except I didn’t recognize him. I really didn’t have a full sense of what he currently looked like anyway — there were the occasional photos in the albums of course but it wasn’t like his image was plastered everywhere I looked, so when I bought the T-shirt from the guy sitting patiently at the merch table it wasn’t until he was on stage later that the light went off in my head. I’ve gotten a bit better at that over the years, I think.

Beyond that this is another show where I don’t remember the lead up to it as much, one show of a huge clutch in April, and where I don’t remember who I was with and so forth. It all just kinda happened, and the venue itself, compared to other shows I’d been at, wasn’t anywhere near as packed as it could be, perhaps not a surprise. There was, however, some extra reason for attention that evening due to a band I’d recently seen a lot more of in terms of reviews and general talk: Yo La Tengo. In fact I distinctly remember the LA Weekly‘s preview of show talking about them and only briefly mentioning the actual headliners, which kinda pissed me off a little in that fannish way.

So perhaps I was a little ill-disposed to them on that count, I’ll admit. But in watching Yo La Tengo’s set I remember being neither annoyed nor thrilled, more…shrugging. A touch. This was the first of two times I would see the band that year and I’ll get to the second in due course, but for a band that went on soon after that to a position of general critical love it’s held ever since I admit I wasn’t all that taken — it was pleasant, but not deathless. In retrospect I also think that this is the first time I was consciously aware of being a little irritated at what later became (in my head, at least) a pattern of celebrated-in-the-discourse acts that mostly left me very, very flat, less somehow amazingly inventive and the-new-whatever than a lot of what I was hearing and, much more often, reading about said acts. But that’s another story in the end, really, and there was one song, quiet and constructed around a gentle guitar loop that Ira Kaplan created, that I enjoyed without reservation. Maybe if they were all like that I would be thinking differently about ’em still.

When the Verlaines did take the stage and I figured out who the T-shirt seller was, I happily pepped up a bit, though it’s a show that like so many consists mainly of flashes in the memory. It was a Ready to Fly-heavy set by default which made me a happy clam and all, and I’m pretty sure the title track is one of the performances that sticks in the brain, it being such a wonderful sounding song, especially on the wounded but right chorus. It was definitely a thin crowd, though — I remember being up front if not actually leaning on the stage, though I remember at least one guy who was even more of a hyperfan than I was right in front of Downes, where I stood off to the side.

I remember said fan being really thrilled at the start of one song in particular, partially because I was thrilled too — “Slow Sad Love Song,” appearing on Bird-Dog but originally written and performed years earlier. It’s a classic slow burn anthem, starting off calm and building to a classically frenzied climax, and remains a favorite. The fan was really into it, I probably wasn’t any less so and heaven knows if Downes just thought the two of us were typical crazy fans. Wouldn’t blame him if so.

I interviewed Downes a year later on the phone for the release of the next album but have otherwise never caught them or him since. Perhaps again, one day.