Q: What are your 5 favorite concert/live music experiences? Yes, you only get 5.
A: In no particular order:
1. Geraldine Fibbers, Aug. 12, 1997, The Rubb, Tampa, Fla.: I’d never heard of them before, but a couple of friends who worked at the venue told me they’d get me in free so I showed up. Turns out, I was one of maybe 20 people who bothered to come out, so I ended up standing front and center at the foot of the stage in front of Carla Bozulich. Despite, or perhaps in spite of, the small turnout, the band played like the building was on fire. Nels Cline (now of Wilco) absolutely killed with versatile and virtuouso guitar work, and I have never before or since seen a singer pour as much energy and emotion into a performance as Bozulich did that night — five feet in front of me. When the chorus of “Dragon Lady” exploded, she might as well have pulled out a revolver and shot me between the eyes.
2. Fugazi, sometime in late 1990, Club Demo, Gainesville, Fla.: Ever the iconoclasts, Fugazi toured in front of albums rather than behind them. For this tour, they were working out a batch of new songs that would eventually become “Steady Diet of Nothing.” Club Demo was a short-lived shithole that crammed hundreds of sweaty people into a tiny room for only a few shows before disappearing like a mirage. It seems like a dream in retrospect, but for one glorious night the flagging ’80s hardcore scene was very much alive. The night of your life for just five bucks? Those were the days.
3. Yo La Tengo, Jan. 30, 1996, The Covered Dish, Gainesville, Fla.: From around 1995 to around 1997, YLT was hands-down my favorite band on the planet, mostly because of their live shows, which were invariably kick-ass affairs that veered thrillingly between the delicate beauty of an acoustic guitar alongside sweetly hushed boy-girl harmonies and the absurdly loud organ-drenched noise-fests led by Ira Kaplan’s brilliantly spastic guitar freakouts. (I’ve seen the band roughly 12-15 times, mostly during those years.) This particular show stands out, though, for two reasons. First, it was my birthday. And second, I had a crazy experience. During the song “I Heard You Looking,” I hallucinated that the music was a stream of light pouring out of me through my ears. About midway through, I swallowed and my ears popped, and I realized suddenly that the light wasn’t pouring out of my ears, it was pouring into them. Following the stream as it wrapped around the room, I mentally pinpointed the location of its source, and surprisingly it wasn’t coming from the stage — it was coming from about 15 feet behind me, slightly to my right. What the hell? So I followed it again with my eyes, turned around and saw that it appeared to be emanating from a woman’s face. The really weird part? I knew her. She was the only woman I’d ever loved, and I hadn’t seen her in three years. But there she was, and she was staring at me and I don’t know how to explain it, but … apparently I heard her looking.
4. Cat Power, March 1996, Liberty Lunch, Austin, Tex.: I was at SXSW with a Tampa band spending an amazing week soaking up all the great music at the festival. One night, I found myself standing in a sweaty mob, sipping on a Shiner Bock while waiting for Spoon and Guided By Voices to take the stage at the Matador Records showcase. This, of course, would require that I also sit (or, stand) through Liz Phair’s solo acoustic set and a litany of other up-and-coming acts I’d never heard of. Chavez wasn’t bad; Silkworm, not my cup of tea. (Good thing they had plenty of cold Shiner Bock.) That’s when an unassuming young girl slowly approached the microphone. She had short hair and an acoustic guitar. She was dressed like a boy, in blue jeans and a flannel shirt. She was trembling, and looked backstage repeatedly as if to plead, “Do I really have to do this?” Evidently, she did. This was Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power — and she was a mess. She tried to play, then stopped. She started to sing, then changed her mind. She mumbled. She fretted. She cried. The crowd, formerly raucous, fell silent. “Someone get this poor girl off stage,” we collectively thought. And then, in one glorious instant, everything came together. Marshall played “Nude as the News” — all the way through, without stopping, without missing a beat — and it was one of the most intense, most haunting and most powerful moments I’ve ever encountered in 25 years as a live-music freak. As she sang, “I’ve got the son (sun?) in me,” a spotlight flashed across my eyes and the full weight of the song hit me all at once. I felt like a voyeur, peering into this poor girl’s desperate life, and I was hooked. When her CD came out a few weeks later, I discovered she’d also recorded a cover of Peter Jeffries’ “Fate of the Human Carbine” and it seemed almost poetic to me. The chorus in that one goes, “Come and peek through a hole in the wall / Just to watch his heart undressing.” That’s exactly how seeing her perform felt. Her heart was laid bare on that stage — as nude as the news.
5. Sleater Kinney/White Stripes, sometime in 2000, Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY: “All Hands on the Bad One” was probably my least favorite S-K album, but it was around that time that the band was really hitting its stride as a live unit. This show was a knockout with Corin Tucker’s voice sounding powerful even by Corin Tucker’s standards, Carrie Brownstein confidently pulling off her best Pete Townshend windmill moves and Janet Weiss proving why she was the coolest chick in rock music since Kim Deal. Oh, and then there was this little unheard-of indie duo that opened the show and had the audacity to blow us all away. I was crushing hard on Meg White before I realized she was in the band, I met Cloe Sevigny at the bar, and I hung out with Lee Ranaldo from Sonic Youth. Surreal and awesome.