Monday, November 13, 2006

The Best Concert I Ever Saw Was... By Lezah Williamson

The Best Concert I Ever Saw Was...

drum roll, please!

I was asked a question the other day: what was the best concert I had ever seen?

Now, I've thought and thought and thought since then, but still cannot come up with a definitive answer. After all, what criteria do you judge something like this by? Musical technique? Audience reaction? Originality? Best stage show? Costumes? Or maybe it's a combination of all of the above. But what about cross-genre performances? Can you really compare a hardcore punk band to a performance by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra? Or even an indie tunesmith like Sufjan Stevens to the wildly exciting performance of The Go! Team? Can it be done?

I don't know.

What I do know is that I went out on a limb a few weeks ago and said the the recent Sufjan Stevens show I attended was 'the best concert I've ever seen, bar none.' So, am I going against my word now? Am I a big fat liar? Maybe. And maybe not.

What I've decided to do is kind of a retrospective of the musical life of Lezah, concert emphasis. I've decided to pick not one, but rather the top seven concerts I've seen, and list then in no particular order.

So here goes:

Rush and Streetheart, Pacific Coliseum, Vancouver. That's right, you heard it - Rush and Streetheart make the list. Why, you ask? Well, that is the question any sane person would ask, because frankly, it was a crap concert as far as the music went. And our seats were way, way, way up in the nosebleeds, so we couldn't even see anything (but maybe that's a blessing...). So why is this concert in my best of... list? Because it was my first time, and as they say, you always remember your first time. Yup, prior to this show I was a concert virgin. It was this show that started me on the road to ruin that I am still travelling today. And for that, I shall be ever grateful.

Alice Cooper nd The Babies (who, it turned out, never showed up because they couldn't get across the border), Pacific Coliseum, Vancouver. Alice Cooper was the second concert I ever attended, and was much, much, much better than the aforementioned Rush/Streetheart disappointment. Alice Cooper's 'School's Out' was the first record I ever bought, and I still have an incredible soft spot for that make-up wearing, goofy old golf-crazy grandpa. He's old, but he's cool. And his stage show was second to none, complete with ballet dancer, guillotine, and copious amounts of (fake) blood. What could be better, I ask you?

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The Arcade Fire, The Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver. Christine and I saw this show together, and when I got back to my 'real' life, I felt compelled to spread the gospel that is The Arcade Fire. This band puts on a musically hedonistic performance that is life-affirming and visually exciting. Even seeing them on TV a few months later at some music awards set me on fire again. So you can imagine my extreme disappointment - nay, despair! - when we bought tickets to see them in Seattle, and stupidly misread the date, showing up a week after the fact. Oy vey!

The Beta Band, Richards on Richards, Vancouver. I had a bit of a lull in my concert-going career for the decade they called the '90s. Maybe it was because the music sucked? Could be. I did go to some shows, but certainly not anywhere near the number I had been seeing prior to that. So when, on a lark, Dave and I went and saw the Beta Band, I tell you - I was thanking my lucky stars. This band brought music back to me. For that I shall be forever grateful (again). This band was largely unknown at the time and was nearing the end of their first North American tour.

One guy who had seen them play New York had been so excited by the band that he hopped in his car and followed them from gig to gig across the nation and up into Canada. I felt like doing the same, frankly. Later that same year The Beta Band were up for Best Live Act at some British music awards, but were robbed - I can't recall who won, but chances are it was someone like Britney Spears. All I can say is, there is no justice in this world.

But The Beta Band was great beyond their live act, as well: each of the band members spun discs before the show, and that was certainly an indicator of the eclectic mix of musical styles and genres that we would be experiencing that evening. Altogether, I saw the Beta Band three (or was it four?) times, and every time they had this knack of starting off in a kind of small way and then building and building and building to the ultimate climax. This show ended with 11 people up on stage (including their New York fan), most playing some variation of percussion instrument, from bongos to steel drums and beyond. It was glorious!

The Go! Team, Seattle. This was a wild night with a bunch of crazy, action-packed bands. Quite frankly, the first two acts were imminently forgettable but they did set the tone for the evening, which revolved around a dance-your-socks-off type of musical therapy, the like of which I have never experienced before or since. Lead singer Ninja had the whole place dancing in such a frenzy that this question actually crossed my mind: Could I contract AIDs from someone else's sweat? Because sweat was spraying everywhere, from everyone - it was unavoidable. This was an out-and-out boogie fest. Not surprisingly, I read an interview with Ninja this fall, and she cited this concert as being the best one they had ever done.

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Matchbox 20 (or is it Twenty? - I don't know, as I'm the ultimate Matchbox 20/Twenty anti-fan out there), George, Washington (gotta love that name!). A good friend of mine was, a few years ago, a huge Rob Thomas fan. For her birthday, she invited us all to go to see the band down in Washington. And we had to camp out. But I don't like camping. And I like Matchbox 20/Twenty even less than I like camping. But I went anyway. For my friend. What happened after was a comedy of errors such that I have never experienced the likes of ever again - nor do I want to.

September 11th being the first disaster, which to many, of course, had far bigger implications but to us merely meant that we had one heck of a time getting across the border. It was 3-4 hours in line, which in turn translated to being 3-4 hours behind schedule, which in turn meant no lunch for little old me. Then we lost our friends, as we were travelling in separate cars - and we never did find them again until the next day, once the dust had all settled.

So Dave and I wandered around at the concert like a couple of lost sheep, bleating and baaahing and just generally not having a very good time. But then our fairy god-father came along, and offered us the greatest seats in the world (their friends hadn't shown up). On top of that, the setting was indescribably fantastic, perched in a nature amphitheatre on a cliff above the Columbia River. And the weather was beautiful. And the smell of the alfalfa wafting in from the fields beside us was so sweet. And, it turned out, although Matchbox Twenty/20 didn't turn my crank, the opening act was surprisingly good. So there were many, many silver linings to this otherwise disastrous day.

Sufjan Stevens,St. Andrews Wesley Cathedral, Vancouver. The current indie darling, Sufjan Stevens recently played a completely sold out (and then some!) show, the whole while wearing an enormous pair of butterfly wings. Need I say more? Just listen to a recording of him, and you will hear exactly what we heard that night - he is a master at his craft, and is probably the most skilful singer/songwriter I've ever heard. His intricate tunes sound as though they would be difficult to reproduce live, but Sufjan is the man. Amen, brother.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Best Concert was Streetheart at the Playhouse Theatre in downtown Winnipeg, late 1978. They were touring in support of their first record "Meanwhile Back in Paris". They were so hot at that time. It was the first time I ever heard their version of "Under My Thumb". That was the best cover of any Stones song that I have ever heard. One weird thing I remember about that night is that the washrooms were so small people were peeing in the sinks....