The Kid rocks but the old guys rock even harder

Kid Rock is bringing back the $20 ticket for his Cheap Date tour, which had a show at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre (my favorite southern California concert venue) last Thursday night. I’m also a Foreigner fan and, since they were opening for Kid Rock, I would be crazy to not get tickets. So I bought a pair and it turned out to be a beautiful, balmy summer night to attend a concert under the stars.

Kid Rock concert ticket
Kid Rock concert ticket

Foreigner hit the stage without a single member from the original lineup. But they brought the founder of the group, Mick Jones, out from the third song to the end of the show. At over seventy years of age, he’s lost much of his hair and what is remaining is all white. Mick doesn’t move around on the stage with the same energy he used to but his guitar playing was as strong as ever.

Foreigner
Foreigner (before Mick Jones took the stage)

The lead singer Kelly Hansen at age 54 is no spring chicken either. But he commanded the stage like someone half his age and must be in great shape to move with the energy he did. He even ended up in the middle of the audience a couple of times, once on a plinth twenty feet over the audience singing Juke Box Hero.

Kelly can still pull off the rocker look (reminiscent of Steven Tyler’s look on this night). But what most impressed me about him was his vocals. Foreigner songs are very difficult to sing but Kelly did not miss a single note. His voice was powerful, not even needing a falsetto for the high notes, and did not weaken a bit by the encore. In fact, Kelly sang even better than Lou Gramm did back when he fronted the band at live shows.

The rest of the band was as tight as can be. They were obviously well rehearsed because the songs sounded almost like the studio versions. The rhythm section kept a strong, driving beat going throughout the show that defied you to keep still. Although every song was at least thirty years old, they sounded fresh and offered just what the Foreigner fans wanted to hear.

Kid Rock
Kid Rock

Kid Rock showed his versatility with his hits ranging from hip-hop to rock to country. Although he sang for most of the show, he played guitar on a couple of songs and also the drums and piano for one song each. Kid even stepped up to the platters for one song and showed that he can scratch with the best of DJs. Kid’s set was very diverse and he sprinkled it liberally with storytelling between the songs. He even spoke at length about aging since he’s not truly much of a kid anymore at 44 years old.

I thoroughly enjoyed Kid Rock’s show. He’s an entertaining performer and his band was solid too. But they weren’t quite as tight as Foreigner. Although it’s a close call, I think Foreigner’s show was even better than the Kid’s. They showed me that even old guys can rock!

My dozen

My friend made a post to his Facebook where he attempted to list every concert he’d been to. He tagged me (and some of his other friends), challenging me to list every one that I had been to. Considering that I’ve been to hundreds of concerts over the span of more than three decades, there’s no possibility that I could list every concert I’ve been to. So instead I decided to post the dozen most notable concert experiences I’ve had.

  1. CaliFFornia World Music Festival
    Day 1 only – April 7, 1979
    Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
    CaliFFornia World Music Festival poster
    Who could forget their very first concert experience? Day one of this festival included Ted Nugent, Cheap Trick, Cheech & Chong, Toto, REO Speedwagon, Black Sabbath, and Journey, among others. We worked our way up very near the stage. It was so crowded there that, when my friend passed out, he remained standing.


  2. The Police
    Approx. 1981
    Sunrise Music Theater
    The first time I saw The Police in concert was on the Zenyattà Mondatta tour. What made this concert particularly memorable was the back seat of my car going up in flames on the drive up to the show. My buddies and I didn’t let that dampen our enthusiasm one bit. We just hauled the entire bench seat—which by then was a raging bonfire—out of the car and left it burning on the side of the Florida Turnpike, hopped back into my 1972 Cadillac Coupe de Ville, and headed on our merry way into Sunrise. I saw them again over a quarter of a century later when The Police reformed for a reunion tour and you can read about that in We don’t need no stinking badges.


  3. The Rolling Stones
    October 25, 1981
    Orlando Stadium
    John and I drove all the way from Miami to see The Stones. The Tattoo You tour was the first of about a dozen “farewell tours” The Stones have played. The Stones had a band called Van Halen (Perhaps you’ve heard of them?) open for them. It was the last time Van Halen opened for another band. Personally, I liked Van Halen’s show better than The Stones’. David Lee Roth got the entire bowl on its feet from the beginning to the end.


  4. The US Festival
    September 3-5, 1982
    Glen Helen Regional Park The US Festival ticket
    This was the rock festival to rival Woodstock. It was held in an immense natural amphitheater with nothing less than the San Bernardino Mountains and the San Fernando Mountains backdropping a huge stage. It’s impossible to sum up three sunny days with a million people and fifteen major acts in a paragraph. All I can say is, the US Festival will forever remain unequaled as the greatest concert experience of my life. If you can handle the full uncensored story, read My 1982 US Festival Trip.


  5. The Who
    October 29, 1982
    Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
    It was just me, Scott, and 100,000+ of our closest friends in the Coliseum with festival seating and The Clash. What, you ask, is so notable about that? The Who headlined! Enough said.


  6. Supertramp
    September 25, 1983
    Irvine Meadows Amphitheater
    Mike and I were fortunate enough to sit in the twelfth row for this concert. The Meadows was a beautiful, open-air amphitheater built on the side of a hill. Because of this theater’s great sound reinforcement, we could really appreciate the layered vocal harmonies, percussion, and woodwind instruments of a Supertramp show. They played for hours and their performance was spotless. They seemed to be on an emotional high. During the intermission, we found out why. It turned out to be the last show that founding member Roger Hodgson played with the band, so they presented him with a gold watch.


  7. The Tubes
    Approx. 1986
    Ceasar’s Tahoe
    How do you explain a Tubes show to someone who’s never seen one? To say it’s outrageous and over-the-top doesn’t begin to do it justice. The stage was set with over-sized props and beautiful women in skimpy costumes dancing all over. Fee Waybill has an amazing imagination and boundless creativity, so the show was a feast for the eyes. Yet the musicianship of the band is so excellent that the music easily holds its own with the stage production. Not being gamblers, Mike and I went to the show looking for a way to pass the evening at South Lake Tahoe after a day of great snow skiing. We lucked out and were seated almost within an arm’s length of the stage.


  8. Eagles
    May 29, 1994
    Irvine Meadows Amphitheater
    This show turned out to be opening night of the Hell Freezes Over tour—the first time the band had played for a paying audience in fourteen years. There was this atmosphere of anticipation and build-up for this show that the band fed off of. Subsequently, the Eagles were in particularly rare form. By this time, I was using a wheelchair but, there under the stars on a beautiful summer night with my bro Jim, the wheelchair-accessible seating had a great view.


  9. Elton John and Billy Joel
    Approx. 1997
    The Forum
    Elton John and Billy Joel co-headlined on the Face to Face tour. I had previously seen Billy Joel in concert but had not seen Elton live, so Jim and I decided it was again time to see a show together. We were able to get the wheelchair seating near the left side of the stage in the first row of the upper-level, so it’s unobstructed. There was a Jumbotron directly in front of us, PA speakers on either side, and the stage laid out below us. Elton John opened the show with his band, playing a rocking set. Then the crew brought out a second grand piano and Billy Joel joined him on the stage. After another long set, Elton retired backstage and Billy Joel played a set with just his band. Finally, Elton rejoined him for a long encore.


  10. Santana
    October 14, 2005
    Home Depot Center
    I had been to numerous soccer games at the Home Depot Center but I was unfamiliar with the wheelchair seating for concerts. When Santana was going to play there, I decided to find out. Imagine my surprise to discover I could sit in the front row and my greater surprise to find out there was still wheelchair-accessible seating available! With seats that close, I had to buy tickets, even though I had already seen Santana live three times previously. Since the soccer field (where the stage is set) is below street level at the Home Depot Center, it turned out the only way to get there in a wheelchair is to take a freight elevator which opens up backstage. From there, Michael and I found our way to the field and over to the wheelchair seating area situated directly in front of the stage. After the show, we had to go backstage again to leave and were fortunate to encounter some of the band members there (although we did not get to meet Carlos).


  11. Van Morrison
    March 5, 2006
    The Wiltern
    By the time I saw this show, I had started The Progressive Zone, so for the full story on this show, read Van Morrison at The Wiltern.


  12. Roger Waters
    June 15, 2007
    Verizon Wireless Amphitheater
    For the full story on this show, read When pigs fly!

For every show listed above, I’ve probably seen a dozen other concerts whose story has yet to be written. They include acts like Queen, U2, Simon & Garfunkel, Yes, the Doobie Brothers, Rush, and Steely Dan—some of them numerous times. In fact, I’m sure there are many acts I’ve seen that I don’t even remember. So to keep things simple, I’ll end my list here with just a dozen of the most memorable concerts.

We don’t need no stinking badges!

The first time I saw The Police in concert was twenty-five years ago. They played the Sunrise Music Theater, a small venue that seated a couple of thousand people in Sunrise, Florida. I was about a dozen rows back, slightly stage left of center. Sting was playing the stand-up bass.

When I saw them last week, it was in Southern California. The venue seats a little less than 20,000. I sat in the Terrace. Still, it wasn’t a bad view since I was directly next to the stage at the front of the section, so the view was completely unobstructed. Besides, there were a couple of jumbotrons directly in front of me.

I’ve also seen Sting perform solo in concert, and I enjoy his music. Nonetheless, I prefer his work with The Police. I was excited to get the opportunity to see the group rejoined again after so long. I had very high expectations, considering the three of them are now seasoned veterans and Sting is a great talent. In the end, the show was enjoyable but it didn’t meet my expectations.

Surprisingly, the star of the show was clearly Stewart Copeland. His drumming and percussion performance was flawless, and his style was captivating. The Police’s rhythms are so complex, yet the beauty of Copeland’s drumming is more the riffs he leaves out than the ones he plays.

Sting’s bass playing was also excellent. However, he was not in top form vocally—it wasn’t bad, but he didn’t have the chops I’ve heard him sing before. In all fairness, that should come as no surprise considering he got little vocal support from his band mates, and they had already been touring for a while. The vocals were left almost entirely up to Sting. There were none of the harmonies that their studio work has and there were little backup vocals. Sting’s voice was probably a bit tired and so he didn’t hit some of the higher notes.

Certainly Andy Summers should have been able to sing a lot more than he did. It’s not as if he was too busy playing guitar. Summers plays few of the fast, intricate leads so common in rock. He mostly played his trademark simple, spatial guitar licks. Nonetheless, he did a fairly good job playing them.

The stage production was somewhat lackluster, particularly juxtaposed against the Roger Waters concert I went to last week. The Police had a typical laser and light show. They played a couple of videos on the jumbotrons, but it was mostly live shots of the band that they played on them. The sound reinforcement was a little muddy with the reproduction of the bass and drums when they were playing fast and loud.

However, when the band was playing some of their more spatial songs that they’re noted for, their instrumental work was excellent. It was refreshing to be treated to quality musicianship by a classic power trio line-up that is so rare in contemporary music. Although I wasn’t blown away by the concert, I was well entertained. The Police showed that they don’t need to carry badges to do good work.

When pigs fly!

I went to my first Roger Waters concert last night with my friend Larry (who has seen every show in town, no matter how rare, unavailable, and hard to find the music is). The show was spectacular! I have never been to a Pink Floyd concert either, but I’ve heard about what incredible shows they are for years. As a founding member and the main songwriter of Pink Floyd, the show Waters produced last night exceeded all my expectations. The band was well rehearsed and, other than missing David Gilmour’s distinctive vocals, the music sounded as good as the studio work.

The show was in a beautiful outdoor amphitheater set against the side of a hill in south Orange County—you can’t ask for a better venue on a mild spring night under the stars. The wheelchair seating is excellent, at the back of the Orchestra, so it’s close enough to the stage for a good view without binoculars, and raised high enough so that those of us who cannot stand from our wheelchairs (which also applies to Larry, who happens to be the one who convinced the venue’s management to make the seating unobstructed) can still see when the rest of the crowd stands. I was in section 1, six seats from the inside aisle. The amphitheater seats about 16,000, and was chock full of enthusiastic Pink Floyd fans last night. It has a very large stage, a couple of jumbotrons, and an excellent sound system.

I’ve been a Pink Floyd fan for decades, so I was looking forward with great anticipation to see Roger Waters. I’m not the type of person who takes notes at a concert, I just sit back and enjoy, so I can’t reel off the song list, the opener and the encore. However, I can say that Waters opened with a set about an hour long of all the classic Pink Floyd songs I was hoping to hear and some more esoteric material that I didn’t know by heart but enjoyed all the same, along with some of Waters’ solo music—a new one called Leaving Beirut being the most memorable for me.

Then after a fifteen minute intermission, Waters played Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety. They did a great job of synching all of the recorded sound effects that are so inherently inextricable to the piece with the band’s live performance. Being the first CD I ever bought about a quarter of a century ago, Dark Side of the Moon is probably still my favorite album, so it was wonderful to experience it performed live end-to-end in order. Besides, as good as some of the songs are individually, Dark Side of the Moon is really designed to be a cohesive piece, so I was very pleased that Waters performed it that way. Eclipse was followed by a bow and a three or four song encore.

As great as the music was last night, it was not the stand-out part of the concert experience. I’ve had countless memorable concert experiences over almost thirty years of concert-going. The music is usually what makes a concert great. However, all of the production effects outside of the music were what made this show special for me. As spectacular as they were, they did not distract from the music; they enhanced it.

The stage was backed by an immense high-definition television screen. The concert opened with a close-up shot of an old radio on the screen. Periodically, a hand would reach into the shot, pick up a cigarette, and tune the radio. This was a recurring element in the show, with the hand “tuning in” the first couple of the songs the band played, then later clips pulling back and showing more of what was going on with the man in the room who was tuning the radio. However, there was plenty of other video material played on the screen over the course of the concert, including some of the footage from The Wall. The high-definition resolution made the video component very special.

The video wasn’t the extent of the effects. The sound reinforcement in the amphitheater was Surround Sound especially for this show, and Waters made extensive use of it with all the sound effects that are Pink Floyd’s trademark. The show had impressive on-stage pyrotechnics, a particular set of them which were so bright that they left green blind-spots in my eyes for a few minutes. The producers even deployed an innovative contraption which projected a three-dimensional laser light show.

However, the most surprising production effect was when a huge pig suddenly appeared floating over the audience. It was pink and a little bigger than one of those short yellow school buses. There was graffiti all over it, some of which made it clear what some of Waters’ political positions are. The words “Impeach Bush” were emblazoned across the back end of the pig, and the words “What an asshole!” were painted on its ham with an arrow pointing to where the pigs asshole would be—except that the aforementioned word “Bush” was already there at the end of the arrow. After making a circuit around the amphitheater, the pig was released and floated up with a spotlight on it during the intermission until it disappeared from sight. I wondered what would happen when it would finally lose its helium and float back down, likely landing in the middle of the 5 freeway somewhere in Norwalk this morning.

All in all, last night is sure to stand out for many years as one of my favorite concert experiences. I love Pink Floyd music and it was performed with excellent musicianship. Waters included all of my favorite Pink Floyd songs in what turned out to be a long show (showing great stamina for a 63 year old man). The venue and weather cooperated to be wonderful hosts. The stage production was incomparable. The next time someone tells me, “when pigs fly,” I’ll remember that, hey, it could happen.

Van Morrison at The Wiltern

It was one of those nights where everything falls into place just right. The opposite of Murphy’s law: anything that could go right, did. A couple of times each decade I attend a concert the memory of which lasts forever. Last night was one of those nights.

I should’ve known it was going to be one of those nights when early in the day I tried to buy seats for UFC 59: Reality Check. Being the first time the UFC comes to California, it came as no surprise that it was sold out the first day the event went on sale. But I went to the Arrowhead Pond box office and asked if there was any wheelchair seating left. Sure enough, they sold me two tickets.

So I headed to Redondo Beach to pick up Anna. We went through Kenneth Hahn Regional Park to get to The Wiltern. Getting there as soon as the box office opened, I was hoping to be able to get a couple tickets to last night’s Van Morrison concert. It had been sold out for some time but they sometimes release a few held-back tickets the night of the show.

Normally it’s difficult to find parking in LA. However, there is plenty of parking by the theater … if you’re willing to pay $20 for it. But that’s not the way things went down for us on this night. Instead, I lucked out and found metered parking on the street right next to the theater. Of course, because I have handicapped tags, I could park there indefinitely without pumping any quarters in the meter. I flipped the homeless guy there a few bucks to keep an eye on my van, letting him know there was more where that came from when I would get back out to my secure vehicle after the show.

At the box office, I told David (yes, the guy at the window has the same name as I do) I needed wheelchair-accessible seating. Not only did he sell me two tickets but he sold them to me at the price of the nose-bleed tickets. However, the only wheelchair-accessible seats at The Wiltern are in the fifth row—just behind the pit!

Next, Anna and I headed down to El Cholo Cafe for dinner. Granted, those of us raised on homemade Mexican food know that El Cholo’s food is mediocre at best, but it’s good enough for a pre-concert dinner and it’s close to the theater. More importantly, their house margaritas (on the rocks) rawk! Made with real Cointreau and Cuervo 1800 tequila, they not only taste great but they also kick you on your ass. It turns out their tostada compuesta, with tasty homemade chorizo, is respectable too. More importantly, we headed to the show with a nice buzz on.

It was my first time at The Wiltern. We walked into a beautiful lobby with a crystal chandelier hanging in the middle. The floor manager, Arnold, met us. Knowing my special needs, he pointed out everything I needed to know about, then showed us to our seats. Yes, there were a few rows closer than us to the stage, but those in the orchestra pit had to look up at the stage. There in the front row of the main floor, we were at stage level and there were no better seats in the house. I turned around and looked back at the theater. It is spectacular in its classy, art deco glory!

Arnold sat a guy named Mike next to us. He’d not only been to The Wiltern before but he’d also seen Van Morrison live. They sat a good looking, young guy named Todd behind me. Anna was very pleased about that. Then we staked out a nice circumference where I could spin my wheelchair around and Anna could get up and dance. Once I staked that out, a couple of hot chicks showed up and sat down nearby, making me very pleased. The whole ambience of the people and the theater was so alluring that I looked behind me almost as much as I watched the stage.

Van Morrison started playing without an opening act. The sound reinforcement was top notch: the volume was loud, but not enough to make your ears ring, and the fidelity was excellent. Good thing, too, because Van Morrison’s band was so tight that it sounded like studio work. Van Morrison played sax and a beautiful guitar. There were at least a dozen other pieces on stage. He had a horn section (including a flugle horn), a percussionist along with the drums, a woman playing steel guitar, a grand piano and keyboards. Van Morrison was in great voice.

Yes, it was a fantastic night. I’ve been to other memorable concert events, but this one will rank up there as one of the best. And if an artist you’ve been wanting to see plays The Wiltern, do not miss the show!