“Our lives are defined by opportunities. Even the ones we miss.” F. Scott Fitzgerald
I was recently asked a provocative question: if I could see any band, or go back in time and see any band in their prime, who would it be? Wow. That’s a very hard question. My answer was fumbling and rambling, but first went to Elvis in his black leather days, then to the Beatles anytime, and then David Bowie during the Ziggy Stardust tour. Since then, I’ve spent far too much time thinking about this question.
I’ve been around a long time, so I’ve seen a lot of the “great” classic rock, punk and new wave bands, including a number of them in their primes. I could bore you with the list, but that seems egotistical and beside the point. Instead, let’s go through bands that I wish I had seen, and then, tantalizingly, bands I never want to see (some of whom I did see – more on that later). We’ll do it in multiple parts, starting with the wish list.
Here are the rules: (a) Any band/artist is allowed, including ones that are dead or who have said they will never tour again. BRP is nothing if not Lazarus-like in this regard. (b) I’m sticking to the rock genre. If you want to say “what about Lead Belly? What about Sinatra?” you can do so, but I’m not listing them because they aren’t rockers. (c) If they are obvious and are not listed, I probably saw them. You can still comment on my selections, but recognize that I’m old and have been to hundreds of shows, so just by living a lengthy life, I’ve seen a lot of bands. Choose your comments, wisely, young grasshopper. (d) I’ll give a reason why I want/don’t want to see each artist, and you can bitch all you want about my reason. But back it up, baby, because I’ll go right back at ya! (e) I’m a bad boy, a sometime rule follower, and rules are made to be broken, so I might violate my own rules and do whatever I want. So maybe I’ll put Robert Johnson or Earl Scruggs in there anyway just because I want to. (f) I’ll only do ten artists at a time.
You cool with all that? Excellent. You ready to go? Great, hop in, seat belts are optional because I’ve never learned how to buckle one, and yes, you can turn up the volume on the radio when you hear something you like. I’ll try to go slow around the corners so that you don’t spill your beer.
Artists I Wish I Had Seen, Part One
2. Thin Lizzy. Phil Lynott is dead, but I loved TL. I still listen to them, and own a great vinyl live album that proves what strong performers they were. I think they toured when I was low on cash, but I know that they once toured as openers for Graham Parker and the Rumour – now, that double-bill would have been killer. TL was so much more than The Boys Are Back In Town, but I love that song, particularly on a warm early-spring night with the car windows down and the volume up.
3. The Sex Pistols. On their one and only American tour, the Pistols were going to play a show at the Alexandria Roller Rink in Virginia. Why there? Who knows? We were all set to go. But the tour fizzled out somewhere in Texas, and they never played live together again. While I could have missed the spit that was hurled by the crowd at the band, and vice versa, it still would have been great to see this band rip it up. Terrible musicians, they were all attitude and had some seminal punk “hits” that I still love. This was a band that was destined to break up from the minute they were formed, but not before they changed the world. And Sid Vicious is the epitome of Punk. 'Nuff said.
4. Jimi Hendrix. I was too young to have a fighting chance to see Hendrix before he died, but my brother was a big fan, and we listened to a lot of Jimi growing up. A guitarist that is still hailed today as revolutionary, he also had a soulful voice and stage presence that made him super special. The fact that we never got to see him get old or go through an artistic slump only makes the desire worse: we know exactly what his show would have been. It’s a bummer in many ways.
5. James Brown. Why is JB the Godfather of Soul? He is the King of Funk! Could this guy groove and dance or what? His videos are almost too fantastic to believe – how could they not be retouched? And his songs! It would have been an all-night groove-a-thong. JB was hard on the musicians that played with him, drumming into them the quest for musical perfection, and he was accompanied by greats, like Bootsy. Probably a crappy boss, but he made sure that they gave it their best every time out. And a full set of horns, too! My, oh my, would this have been spectacular.
6. The Beatles. I love the Beatles. I would have loved to catch them before Beatlemania completely kicked in. How awesome is it that the first track on their first album, I Saw Her Standing There from Please Please Me, is one of my all-time favorite songs? Can you imagine them playing that song in the Cavern Club in Liverpool before a few hundred people, and you’re one of them? Sure, they never lost their artistic ability and grew by leaps and bounds into the best rock band ever, but catching any band young and on-the-rise is exciting as hell. But truth be told, I would have liked to have seen the Beatles at any time in their career. They toured like crazy for a few years, and must have been pretty damn fine as a live band. Sigh.
7. Cream. I dare you to go listen to any Cream album and not go “damn, these guys were GREAT!” Good songs? Check. Great musicians? Check. Rock legends? Checkmate. You have Clapton in his prime, Jack Bruce, and Ginger Baker, one of rock’s best drummers ever and a certifiable nut case. I love a number of their songs, but I Feel Free is my favorite. Would’ve been great to see.
8. The Jam. One of my all-time favorite bands, the Jam were part of the new punk movement that blasted out of the UK in 1976-77. They put out a stunning set of albums with many a great tune among them. All of them are still alive, and they could get back together again and tour if they wanted to do so. But Paul Weller refuses, saying that the Jam was a time and place, and he is basically done with that time and place. I respect that he never wants to go back. But then again, I would be most thankful if they did one more show. In Philly. With me in the front row.
9. Sonic Youth. Don’t ask me why I never saw them. I had my chances and blew it. Life is like that, sometimes. I don’t know how great of a live band SY would be, but I really like their studio output. It rocks, uses feedback that is cool but doesn’t detract from the songs themselves, and they explored a lot of territory in their time together. Another band that could, potentially, reunite for another tour, BRP is here to suggest that they do just that.
10. Prince. Another one on the “I could’ve but blew it” list, Prince was an amazing artist. His blend of everything great about popular music, and his embrace of tunefulness and rock/funk mastery, made him a legend. It’s now too late, but his live performances must have been magical. I’ve never met a person who saw him who said anything other than “he was one of the best performers I’ve ever seen.” And yet, I didn’t see him. Poor poor pitiful me.
That’s a pretty good start, right? I wish that I were done, and that I had seen all the other performers that I wanted to see. That just isn’t the case. I’ll be back soon with volume 2.
In the meantime, I’m also coming up with the list of those that I’m glad I never saw. Now, that list is harder because it has to be bands that carry some aura about them – I’m not going to waste time on turds like Supertramp – and that list will be nothing if not controversial. Hold onto your hats because that post (or is it posts?) will be KILLER.
And maybe a list of those I saw and either (a) was pleasantly surprised or (b) was terribly disappointed. Yeah, I’ll get to those ones, too. This is kind of fun.
Have a good one, go see some live music, and keep the rock alive. Don’t miss out – you’ll rue the day.
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.