Concert-goer's memoir a sacred appreciation of live music B.C.
Updated: Feb 13
THE PHOTO, THE ONE YOU SEE ABOVE, showed up on my Facebook feed the other day, one of those automated reminders of a happy moment from the past: It was two years ago that my wife and I attended a concert in Miami Beach by one of our favorite bands, New Order.
Of course, as we danced that night to "Blue Monday" and "Perfect Kiss", we had no idea it would be the last live show we'd see.
Like a slap in the face, the automated re-post from Jan. 11, 2019 B.C. (Before Coronavirus) only served as a reminder of what I've missed most since the COVID-19 pandemic changed life as we knew it.
Live music concerts.
Don't get me wrong: There's been much to appreciate in the past year. My family is safe and healthy. My wife and I have adapted to staying home just about all of the time and avoiding crowds. I've even come to enjoy watching televised sports played in mostly empty stadiums.
But I'm jonesing for live concerts.
The artists who have tried to fill the void with live-streamed performances over the past year should be applauded. But for me, there's no substitute for the energy and atmosphere of gathering with the masses to connect with your favorite band.
This anonymous headbanger, who rocked out in front of my video recorder at a Nine Inch Nails show in West Palm Beach a few years ago, certainly gets it:
Dave Grohl, the great rock ambassador, spoke for many like me when he wrote last spring about the silencing of concert halls: "I know that those of us who don’t have to work in hospitals or deliver packages are the lucky ones, but still, I’m hungry for a big old plate of sweaty, ear-shredding, live rock and roll, ASAP. The kind that makes your heart race, your body move, and your soul stir with passion.''
That's how it's been for me since I was 14, when I embarked on what turned into a lifelong journey through concert halls large and small, starting with my first show, Electric Light Orchestra at The Civic Arena in my hometown of Pittsburgh.
Over the next 40-plus years, through high school and college and work and marriage and fatherhood, my path would twist and turn -- and occasionally mosh -- to an ever-evolving score of live music.
Amazingly, it's a journey I'm able to partly chronicle with ticket stubs and programs collected over the years at some of my favorite shows, along with fading amateur photos, shaky videos and what few details I can still dredge from the foggy recesses of my memory.
Inspired by that Facebook reminder, I figured why not share some of it here -- one veteran concert-goer's memoir to cope with COVID-19's muting of our concerts halls.
For me, gathering these Rock-and-Roll Ghosts of Concerts Past, presented here mostly in chronological order, turned out to be strangely therapeutic. As you scroll down, maybe they'll offer some comfort, or amusement, for you.
So, let's kill the floor lights.
And let the show begin.
Electric Light Orchestra
Sept. 25, 1978
The Civic Arena in Pittsburgh
"Sailin' away on the crest of a wave, it's like magic..'' That's kind of what it felt like to be 14 and sneaking down from the nosebleed seats to the front of the stage -- a strategy that would become a concert-going ritual for my two older brothers and I. A spacey light show, violins, guitar. I was blown away. ELO gave me a memorable first concert, although I must qualify that last statement: More than five months earlier, while many of my middle-school classmates were dressing up like Gene Simmons and attending KISS concerts, I went to see Shaun Cassidy. (I can't believe I just wrote that sentence.) On the insistence of our chaperoning mother, I tagged along with my young sister so she could see her heart-throb idol. More than 40 years later, I continue to refuse any acknowledgement that Shaun Cassidy was my inaugural concert experience.
March 26, 1979
Boston's debut album got heavy rotation on the turntable at our house. When Boston toured to promote its follow-up album, my brothers and I were there, Didn't have the greatest seats, but it was a blast. Eddie Money opened. That I held on to concert program you see below is testament to the importance Teenager Me placed on the shows I attended. The T-shirts and programs and ticket stubs I collected were like religious relics.
Aug. 17, 1979
Another favorite band of the two older Capozzi brothers. Brother Greg somehow allowed 15-year-old me to tag along again with his stoner friends. More than the excitement of watching "Carry On Wayward Son" performed in a concert hall, what resonates most all these years later was Greg's ominous warning to us as we walked into the arena. "When the lights go down, we're rushing the stage. The security guards won't be able catch all of us. If you get caught, wait for us outside until the show's over.'' The lights went down. And, like dust in the wind, we all scattered unscathed to the front of the stage.
June 5, 1980
The Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh
"Live at Budokan" had been getting heavy rotation on my bedroom turntable. When the band arrived in my hometown, I slipped into groupie mode. It was a Tuesday. I either skipped school or left early to take the trolly downtown with a clear mandate: To meet the band. I hung out on the sidewalk near a side entrance to The Stanley Theater. After what felt like two hours, a car pulled up. The band got out. I didn't ask for any autographs, but I attempted to make polite small-talk with lead singer Robin Zander. (Think SNL's "The Chris Farley Show.") After the show started, I managed to get to the front-row seat and caught a couple of Rick Nielsen's guitar picks. Nielsen nearly kicked me in the face during an animated guitar solo. To this day, I wonder if he purposely kicked in the very specific direction of my chin because he didn't like the sight of a bespectacled 16-year-old resting his elbows on the stage.
Aug. 24, 1980
Big moment for 16-year-old me. In my blossoming musical world, Queen was king. In fact, my car-riding friends and I were banging our heads in unison to "Bohemian Rhapsody" long before Wayne and Garth on the big screen.
We managed to secure standing spots close enough to the stage that Brian May's long shaggy curls seemed within reach. The image that resonates most is Freddie Mercury momentarily walking off stage in disgust after a woman in the crowd grabbed the mike stand from his hand during the second song of the evening, the fast version of "We Will Rock You.''
Lost on me was the fact that only about 8,000 people, far from a sellout, attended the concert. A negative concert review in the Post-Gazette the next day caught the band's attention, prompting May to write a letter to the editor to explain why Queen felt the show must go on and not in a smaller venue. Noting the sporting success of the city's Pirates and Steelers, May wrote that Queen “care for the City of Champions and we'll be back.”
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Dec. 1, 1980
The River Tour. Unable to score tickets to the original Nov. 30 show, I got lucky when a second show for Dec. 1 was added. The first concert to which I brought a date (Linda, a senior whose last name escapes me.) Unfortunately, when it came to rushing the stage, we were not born to run. Bruce was a huge draw and the security was tighter than usual. We happily watched for more than two hours from the not-quite-nosebleed seats.
April 18, 1981
This was the first of only a few shows in my high school years to which I brought a camera (an actual camera, not a smartphone). I'm almost certain Kevin Cronin was singing "Take It On The Run" when I shot this. That's my friend Mike (left) and I flipping the bird under the arena marquee. We definitely had cheap seats, as shown in the photo of my friend Denise and others in our gang. Can't remember if I ditched them to rush the stage on my own or if we all went together when the lights went down. I snagged a prime spot in front of guitarist Gary Richrath (who died in 2015). I thought about this concert last year when REO Speedwagon made a cameo on the great Netflix series Ozark.
May 6, 1981
Rush provided the soundtrack to many basement air-guitar concerts featuring me and my teen neighborhood friends. This show, part of the Moving Pictures tour, was the second year in a row I saw the Canadian trio. (See surviving ticket stub from 1980 show, almost exactly one year prior to this one.)
Having by now mastered the art of getting close to the stage, I had not mastered the art of photography. Here's the great guitarist Alex Lifeson and the back of someone's head. Upon further review, I shouldn't complain about the unwanted "head" shot considering how we were packed in like sardines. In the next image, I cropped out the heads below singer Geddy Lee. Loved seeing "The Trees" performed live, but the highlight was "Spirit of the Radio."
Sept. 26, 1981
The Stanley Theater
Memorable night with my concert companion Jane. We snagged seats near the stage, allowing me to snag Martin Chambers' drum sticks. I gave them to Jane, who still has them all these years later. Full disclosure: Due to our pre-concert, underage over-imbibing, she got sick after the show. On the drive home, I got a flat tire. But those inconveniences failed to ruin a fun evening. Postscript: Since this blog went online, Jane reminded me about another inconvenience that evening: When I finally got her home and walked to her door, I locked the keys in my car -- in the ignition -- necessitating an embarrassing rescue from my brother.
Oct. 5, 1981
Must confess to being a big Journey fan back in the day. Saw this show in my senior year. Our class song was "Don't Stop Believing."
Jan. 19, 1982
Bryan Adams was the opening act. Once again, we somehow wound up in front of the stage. I sang briefly with Ray Davies of The Kinks when he held the microphone into the crowd -- I boldly grabbed the mike for myself for a few seconds, my hands wrapped around Davies' -- during the sing-a-long for "Low Budget".
Feb. 2, 1982
This show generated my first concert review for The Campus Courier, the student newspaper of Bethel Park High School. As amateur critiquing efforts go, I was a brutal little prick. (Unlike Queen reading the Post-Gazette review, I'm comfortably certain Ozzy didn't read my Campus Courier review.) I was impressed, as were many concert-goers that night, with the great guitarist Randy Rhoads (even though I spelled his name wrong in the review). A month later, he died in a plane crash. Some pics I took of my concert program.
April 9, 1982
Finally, two months before graduation, I got to see a band I'd loved since their debut album four years earlier. This was their tour promoting Ghost in the Machine, my least favorite of their four albums at that point. But the show was great. A Friday night. We had cheap seats and I remember we unfurled a giant mural of the band, sketched across a bed sheet in black marker by Jared Camp, an art student in our class. I vaguely recall Sting talking to the crowd and making some reference to the Falkland Islands war. Bow Wow Wow was the opening band. I clipped a newspaper photo and ad. Saw The Police again in 1983.
J. Geils Band
Aug. 21, 1982
That's my bespectacled mug on the far right, under the rear-end of lead singer Peter Wolf and just above the mike stand, in a photo published in The Pittsburgh Press' Sunday magazine on Dec. 5, 1982. The Motels opened. Looking back at all these shows, I continue to be amazed at my ability to get so damn close to the stage.
Oct. 16, 1982
Carnegie Mellon University
Packed house. One of us in our group of wanna-be punk marauders smuggled a bottle of whiskey (not me). The Clash opened with "London Calling." I remember being wedged on the right side of the stage in front of bassist Paul Simonon. He occasionally gazed down at us with no expression, looking utterly bored. But we all thought the show was great. It was The Clash! The clip below is actual audio of the concert.
Billy Joel, Foreigner, Styx, AC/DC, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden were among other shows I remember attending between 1978 and 1983 along with emerging alternative music acts like Billy Idol, Thompson Twins, Squeeze, Adam Ant, Icicle Works and the great Gary Numan, who was so obscure at the time (his hit "Cars" was just starting to take off) that even the promoter misspelled his name on the tickets!
Those six years far and away represented the busiest and most formative period in my concert-going journey, which would shift gears in the coming years.
By 1984, I left home and went to college at Ohio University, where posters of my music heroes covered the walls of my dorm. OU would be another launching point for concert road trips, including The Ramones in March 1985.
Oct. 23, 1985
The Newport in Columbus, Ohio
A bunch of staff writers with The Post, Ohio University's independent daily student newspaper, took a road trip to Columbus to see the Violent Femmes, our favorite band at the time. My pal Al Froman interviewed the band before the show and later wrote a story which was illustrated with photos taken by another classmate, the talented Tom Dunkes. My memories are hazy, but I know that a good time was had by all. This photo, from a yellowing copy of The Post, is the only Dunkes image I have from that night. His original photo is terrific; the newsprint version didn't hold up well over the years. Check out the ticket stub: $8!!
There was another road trip in 1985, to Cleveland (3 1/2 hour drive from Athens) to see Simple Minds -- on the eve of a psychology exam that I absolutely bombed the next day not long after arriving back on campus just before sunrise. I considered myself a fairly dedicated student in college. But in the value system of this 21-year-old, a popular show took priority over a psych mid-term. At the time, Simple Minds was riding high on the strength of The Breakfast Club movie soundtrack.
And there were separate road trips to Pittsburgh (three hours) to see U2 (Unforgettable Fire tour) April 9, 1985 and R.E.M. on Aug. 13, 1985.
I attended the U2 show with my Shaun Cassidy sister and her friends, even though I was probably too sick to attend (a bad bout mononucleosis that kept me out of school for two weeks). But, hey, it was U2 -- the first of of at least three U2 shows I would see over the years. This video, snagged from Youtube, captures the U2 I saw at the time.
Nine Inch Nails
Feb. 17, 1990
The Power Station, Melbourne, FL
Not long after moving to South Florida to start my first job, I made a road trip from Stuart to Melbourne to see the alternative band The Jesus and the Mary Chain. The venue was in a shopping center. The opening act, a little-known up and coming band called Nine Inch Nails, absolutely stole the show and blew us away with a sound and energy that ranks among the best live shows I've seen. We were so impressed by Nine Inch Nails, we left before The Jesus and Mary Chain finished its set. A total bargain at $12. The video below, shot in California in 1990, pretty much captures what we saw that night in Florida.
I saw Nine Inch Nails again a year later, with Jane's Addiction and a host of other bands, at Lollapalooza in Orlando. Joining me on a 3-hour road trip from West Palm Beach were my Palm Beach Post co-worker-pals Jenny and Doug. We passed time in the car attempting selfies.
Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Red Hot Chili Peppers
Aug. 22, 1992
Bicentennial Park, Miami
See my battle-scarred ticket stub below? That pretty much sums up my experience at Lollapalooza 1992, on a hot afternoon as a category five hurricane churned in the Atlantic Ocean toward South Florida. My friend Marty, who drove us from West Palm Beach, lost his eyeglasses in the Soundgarden mosh pit. (Our friend Chris wound up driving Marty's car home.) I made it to the front of the stage for Pearl Jam, watched Eddie Vedder dive off a speaker, over my head and into the crowd. At one point, those of us in the front row started to get crushed against the boards by the surging crowd. A security guard on stage grabbed my arms and pulled me to safety. Two days later, Hurricane Andrew slammed Miami.
Sept. 23, 1993
Cameo Theater Miami Beach
The wonderful song "Creep'' provided the inspiration for me to shell out $20 to see it performed live by a band I otherwise knew little about. Radiohead was the opening act and they blew away headliner Belly. Joining me was my vacationing pal Al (from the Violent Femmes show in 1985). I recall The Cameo feeling like a small cramped club and we watched from a second-level balcony. We left halfway through Belly because they weren't coming close to matching the energy of Radiohead. Little did I know Radiohead would blossom into one of the most musically-diverse bands. I'd see them three more times, most recently on March 30, 2017 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, as seen in the video I shot below. But seeing that first show, before they really took off, was (to quote my favorite song) "so fucking special.''
Nov. 27, 1993
Bayfront Park, Miami
"What's the matter with you people in the back? Did you come here to see Gloria Estefan?'' Kurt Cobain might as well have been talking to me since we had such crappy seats so far from the stage. Our view was not nearly as good as the video below, snagged from Youtube. In fact, we had a better view of the drunk couple having sex on the grass a few yards from us (true story) than we did Nirvana. I wound up writing a concert review of this show. A little more than four months later, Cobain was dead.
And now, let's skip down this path of ticket stubs...
Of course, there are many great bands I never got to see. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, The Who, The Sex Pistols, Joy Division, The Smiths, to name a few.
Lucky for me, members of some of those bands are still touring...
Nov. 26, 2013
The Culture Room in Fort Lauderdale, FL
If you were like me and never able to ever see The Smiths perform in concert before they disbanded, the next best thing was seeing their guitarist, Johnny Marr, perform live with his own band. Morrissey was missing, but Marr didn't disappoint. Here's a photo and video I shot of him performing my favorite Smith's song. It didn't sound the same without Morrissey's voice, but Marr's guitar nailed the sonic bulls eye.
May 4, 2014
Sunfest, West Palm Beach
This show is memorable for the crowd-surfer who landed on my head as I was shooting video on the edge of the mosh pit. I'll confess to never having been a big Dropkick Murphys fan. But I fell in love with the song I'm Shipping Off to Boston after hearing it in the great Martin Scorsese film The Departed and was glad I watched their show at Sunfest.
April 29, 2015
Sunfest, West Palm Beach
Seen Wilco three times. Always a great show.
May 3, 2015
Sunfest, West Palm Beach
Wish I'd have seen The Pixies in the 1980s when I unabashedly blasted my Doolittle cassette from the car stereo while driving to assignments in South Florida. But I snagged front-row seats when they played Sunfest in 2015. Check out my video below: For a brief moment, I thought Joey Santiago was going to hand me his guitar.
Public Image Ltd
Nov. 8, 2015
The Culture Room Fort Lauderdale
Johnny Lydon once went by the name Johnny Rotten, the snarling, angst-driven lead singer of the punk-pioneer band The Sex Pistols. In 1978, after the break-up of The Sex Pistols, he founded Public Image Ltd (PiL). When PiL came to Fort Lauderdale in 2015, my presence at the show was a mandatory no-brainer. Upon entering the venue, "No Moshing" leaflets were handed out, which we found amusing since the mostly-older crowd was in no mood to party like it was 1977. Johnny, dressed in prison stripes, was clearly past his prime. I still loved the show. But I don't think Andrew, my co-worker/concert companion, shared my enthusiasm.
June 26, 2016
Bayfront Park Miami
I think it was 1983, give or take a year, when I joined my my friend Bob on a road trip to New York City to see one of the many up-and-coming acts playing in Manhattan.
Bob -- that's him in a photo I took in high school -- always had great musical taste and always seemed to be a step ahead of knowing the best new music. He had a profound influence on my musical evolution and introduced me to bands I would go on to love -- The Police, Gary Numan and XTC, to name a few. On this particular evening, we had to choose one of two bands playing at the same time in different venues: A rising British alt band called The Cure or a lesser-known Canadian synth pop band called Martha and The Muffins. Steered by Bob's power of persuasion, we did not see The Cure. But I recall having a great time seeing Martha and The Muffins at, I think, The Peppermint Lounge. They're still around, even though they never really hit the big time. Of course, The Cure exploded into a huge band. And over the years I was always nagged by the regret of not having seen them that night in 1983. I vowed to see them one day. Some day. That some day arrived 33 years later when my wife and our friend Rachael invited me to join them in Miami to see The Cure.
It didn't matter that our seats were far away on the grass. The music sounded great, I shot some video and we had a fun evening dancing to songs of our younger years. As for Bob, we lost touch over the years but connected the other day on Twitter. He has no regrets about missing The Cure in 1983 and still fondly remembers Martha and The Muffins. In fact, he reminded me of a bad misjudgment on part in the summer of 1982, which I had forgotten. He invited me to go to a small club in Pittsburgh to see a band called Duran Duran, which hadn't taken off yet in the United States. I declined because I had a date with my girlfriend. "Take her out another night!'' Bob replied. "These guys are only in town one night!" He saw a terrific show. I think my girlfriend and I broke up a few months later, as Duran Duran was exploding into a huge band.
Nov. 18, 2016
The Culture Room Fort Lauderdale
I'd been enjoying the music of New Order for years before realizing the band had previously been known as Joy Division. Peter Hook was bass player for both bands and has been performing their music with is own band for several years. I saw Hook three times since 2015. Here's a photo and video I shot from his Fort Lauderdale show. I had the pleasure of interviewing him two years later as a preview to his 2018 show in West Palm Beach.
January 12, 2019
The Fillmore Miami Beach
And we're back to where we started, the last concert I saw before COVID-19.
We spent the weekend in Miami Beach, staying at a hotel a few blocks from The Fillmore. The afternoon of the show, we went for a walk to familiarize ourselves with the neighborhood and wound up at the theater. There was no around except for one person, a devoted New Order fan named Juan Jose Anchante. He had been camped outside the main entrance since noon so he could snag a prime standing spot in front of the stage when the gates opened seven hours later. We've been social media friends since the show. He said he wears the red T shirt so he can spot himself in photos posted by New Order and others on social media. He got to meet the band after the show. My wife and I were happy to hang back and sit in the first row of seats, which was about 40 yards from the stage. This photo and the one at the top of this blog capture the happy energy of the show. New Order returned to Miami Beach the following January, but it didn't fit into our budget so we skipped it. Three months later, the first COVID-19 cases were reported in my home county.
In early 2020, I bought tickets to see Squeeze, one of my favorite college bands, for a show that coming August in Fort Lauderdale. My wife and I were looking forward to it. Not long after I bought the tickets, COVID-19 arrived in South Florida. The show got canceled.
COVID-19 vaccines are being given, but I suspect it will still be quite a while before it's safe again for live concerts.