In the realm of topics to get conversations really grooving, I’ve got one that never fails to hit the mark: what was your first concert? It’s a question you can ask anybody, age be damned, and I guarantee you’re going to hear an entertaining story, told with an inspired look in the eye, slightly soft focused as people spontaneously dip into time travel. Sometimes the story will involve a megatour at a stadium (“The Jackson Brothers Victory Tour, Arrowhead Stadium, 1984”), sometimes it will involve a favorite artist (“Bruce Springsteen, 1979”), sometimes it will have demanded the person travel a distance since they came from small town America (“We road tripped from Montana to see Madonna in Seattle in 1985”), and sometimes the person will need to ask if a given experience counts. My favorite response of this sort has to be: “I saw David Hasselhoff perform at the Mall of America. It was for free. Does that count?” I knew this person desperately didn’t want THAT to count, but alas, I had to tell her, it indeed did. Live with it, sister, and love—LOVE—your story!
Most of the time, I’ve found, your first concert will be an unlikely artist that happened to intersect with your town and your age when you were finally ready to go see a show. And that’s great, given how colorful the responses often are. Ann’s first concert is a classic example of this: The Ohio Players. If you know my wife at all, The Ohio Players probably won’t leap to mind as candidates for her answer, but that’s less the point than the fact that her first show was a band that probably less than 1% of us can claim seeing. “Oingo Boingo,” “Thomas Dolby,” “Bread,” “Terrence Trent Darby,”…. Anytime a person’s answer makes you say, “Oh yeah, those guys,” it’s a fun first concert answer (because right after you’ll think, “THAT was your first concert??”).
Since it’s my question (!!), I’ve permitted myself actually two answers. And this is a fair mentality, one I’d happily extend to others in my same boat. Because my first concert was a show that my parents took our family to when we were fairly young, and then my second answer is the first show I ever sought out myself, when I was old and punk enough to go to a show with friends. And God bless the interweb, I can specify the exact dates of both.
First concert: October 21, 1973. The Carpenters (Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena, Binghamton, NY).
First concert as a semi-independent punk: March 2, 1978. Blue Oyster Cult (same venue).
I quite frankly take real pride in being able to say I saw The Carpenters, arguably the most popular treacly band of the 70s (and there were a LOT of treacly bands in that singer/songwriter era). Why? First, can you name a better concert-with-training-wheels band than these guys (I was 9 when I saw them)? Second, I once heard it said that there are two indisputable female singers with perfect pitch: Ella Fitzgerald, and of course Karen Carpenter (I’d argue Eva Cassidy as well). So I can say I saw one of them perform live, at least. Third reason, and write it down: Karen Carpenter was a terrific drummer! For proof go find videos of her when she and Richard played early on in a jazz trio—the chick could swing! And finally, while not a classic live-fast-and-die-young rock ‘n roller’s death, well, she did die young under what at the time were pretty freaky circumstances. Poor Karen may well have opened the world’s eyes to the tragic disaster that can be that condition.
The Carpenters? Damn right, The Carpenters!
Okay, pretty lame, but still sort of cute. If nothing else, given where I’ve gone in life in my live music enthusiasm, you have to figure The Carpenters put on a drop mic show that night.
[Fun, funky sidenote: I remember earlier that day watching the Oakland A’s beat the Mets in the 7th game to take the ’73 World Series. Sort of interesting, sort of ho hum, right? Check out this list of players on those two squads that day: Bud Harrelson, Jerry Grote, Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Tug McGraw, Rusty Staub, WILLIE MAYS, Reggie Jackson, Bert Campaneris, and one of the most vicious (and colorfully named) pitching rotations ever for the As: Ken Holtzman, Catfish Hunter, Vida Bue, and of course their closer, Rollie Fingers. I mean, hokum smokum! And then to see Richard and Karen perform later that night? LIVING THE DREAM!]
Does Blue Oyster Cult strike you as colorful, as unlikely a first concert band? Well then you didn’t grow up in Binghamton, NY in the late 70s. All those treacly songs that maple syruped out of our Coke can radios in the early 70s gave way later in the decade, when my crowd started to spread our defiant little teen wings, to a more unbridled appreciation for all things hard rock. And Blue Oyster Cult was all that, of course, AND, being from Long Island, we considered these guys more or less our band. And “BOC” was peaking in the late 70s, off of the back of their magnum opus album, Agents of Fortune, and then Some Enchanted Evening, their instant classic live album which came out later the year I saw them, thus serving as something of a recording of the show we saw.
So maybe a quirky answer if taken out of context. But for a late 70s blooming teenager? With the famous BOC lasers (they did it first, folks), the Godzilla drum solo, the hard rock anthem, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”? A perfect first concert for this punk, I assure you.
And, of course, the funky sidenotes: by the listing above taken off a website I see that Angel opened up for BOC this night, a faux-prog rock band I only remember for their logo being ambigrammatic (visually the same if flipped upside down). So too did Walter Egan, a one hit wonder from back then, and what a lovely one hit it was: “Magnet and Steel.” Meaning: even this night had its dash of bona fide treacle.