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.

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.