I’ve been to a ton of concerts in my life, most of them even good ones.
Bands ranging from They Might Be Giants to Ozzy, Echo & the Bunnymen to Triumph. Cheap Trick to, well, Cheap Trick (multiple times).
So if – hypothetically – I were asked what my favorite concert I ever attended was, I’d probably answer with way too many words. Kind of like this…
R.E.M. is my favorite band in the world. Their music seemed to parallel my personal growth. Their early stuff was half angst, half melancholy. The next stage was acceptance – when they realized their “new southern rock” could connect with the mainstream and they had actual “hits”. And their last stage was mellow and introspective, almost questioning. Then they broke up.
Again, a lot like me.
I’ve seen R.E.M. in concert four times. But I’ve also seen Cheap Trick four times. Other four time shows include Bob Schneider and the Old 97’s.
So if I see any act in concert four times, I must really love them, right? And since this is about my favorite concert ever, it’s got to include one of those frequent fliers. And it does. But not for an obvious reason.
Opening acts can’t really ruin a concert as long as the headliner is good, but they sure can add a ton of value to an overall experience.
Some are memorable and lead to many years of fandom (the Bodeans), and some are deplorably forgettable (Saxon). And a select few are life-changing.
R.E.M. has had some really good opening acts when I’ve seen them. The first time it was Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians, the third time it was Wilco, and the last time there was no opening act.
But the second one… Man, that second one was amazing.
It was September of 1995 and it was the first of two shows in Dallas but at two different venues. Kind of weird, but whatever. I had tickets for the first show, to be played inside at the now gone Reunion Arena. And the opening act for both shows was Radiohead.
I knew a little about them because I had their first release – Pablo Honey – and liked it. “Creep”, in particular, was getting a ton of radio airplay. But I liked “Been Thinking About You” much better. In other words, I was ready for a pretty good little opening act.
I’ve got to stop this current story to tell another, but it relates.
When Pearl Jam first released Ten, radio played the life out of “Alive”. I mean, it was really cool the first 100 times I’d heard it, but after a while I was ready for something different. And since radio was slow to play anything else from that album, I never went to buy it.
And then I was at Edgefest I (they are on Edgefest 20something now – I’m old) and Pearl Jam was the second to last act to play that day, essentially opening for Dramarama (the headliner). And the fans rushed the stage. Everyone sitting in the lawn seating rushed down to the reserved seating area – where I was – and security could do nothing to stop it.
So I’m already turned off. One of my friends almost got into a fight with one of the stage rushers who ended up damn near hanging on our backs. Why is everyone so into this band, I thought?
And when I heard “Porch”, of all songs, I started to get the picture. This band was different. This band was more than just that one song that playlist radio killed for me. This band was effing good.
And when I heard “Black”? Totally sold.
So that’s about what happened when Radiohead opened for R.E.M.
It was a good show (probably better than good, actually) that had a moment of transcendence for me. An aha moment, to steal a trite business term. My moment of Zen.
First of all, “Fake Plastic Trees” is a great song with interesting lyrics. It starts out nice and mellow and ends up much louder, like the music matches the frustrations building up in a plastic world, and ends even quieter than in starts.
But that point in the middle of the song, when mellow turns to loud and the darkness of the arena is suddenly lit up with house lights? It’s all I thought about on the way home after the show.
That song. That haunting, rocking song. That song that put this night over the top and made it the best concert I’d ever been to.
The video below is at a huge outdoor venue, so the effect is lessened a little when soft turns to loud. But you can get the idea.
By the way, second place goes to Michael Murphy at Six Flags Over Texas.