Sunday, April 10, 2016

Gig Openings

I was fortunate enough to see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers touring their first album in Birmingham in the 1970s. Hyped up for an evening of exciting rockage we wondered which of their great up tempo tracks they would open with. Maybe American Girl or Anything That's Rock n Roll.

He chose Lunar.

Now this is a great song. Listen to it here

But as a show opener it was remarkable. It is filled with expectation and in the trembling vocal contains the idea that something big and loud is about to break out. It leads you to the rest of the album (which the band then played). But the song is all angst. It felt like the tune played over the PA as the lights dimmed rather than the first of the gig. Only after it had finished were the crowd addressed. Quite brilliant.

Thinking about it for no reason the other day I got to pondering the best openings to gigs I could recall. And they are all quite a while ago. Maybe beginning a gig isn't quite what it used to be. Too much ambling on, 'Hello Bristol' (or wherever) and then playing. So how about:

Genesis at Reading in 1973 began with Watcher of the Skies. A huge brooding organ-filled sound. Peter Gabriel, only his head visible, eyes painted with luminous make-up, was encased in a sort of box. As the song progressed it was raised hydraulically into the festival night sky until he sang the final verse twenty feet above the stage. It was outrageous theatre only slightly dampened by the failure of the hydraulic mechanism and it taking about ten minutes to get him down again. I used to get terrible stomach cramps in those days, a mysterious late teenage thing that disappeared as mysteriously as it came. I had one that night but I can only recall the opening of the gig not the pain I was in. I like that.

The following year I saw Jethro Tull at Birmingham Odeon. The lights dimmed and a single spotlight picked out a black and white clad guitarist riffing on a black and white guitar. He was soon joined by a similarly clad bass player (what happened to stage costumes?). This guitar and bass dance around the stage continued for a while until the rest of the band joined in and we were off. Can't remember the tune, or much of the rest of the gig, except the pictures still in my head forty two years later.

In 1987 I saw The Mission at Rock City. Midway through the first tune I realised I had experienced the perfect iconic rock moment. To a mighty drum beat three, wind-machine-assisted, long haired guitarists were standing with one foot on a monitor surveying the crowd. They each had a fag hanging out of their mouth as they played Beyond the Pale.

I would add one further gig which I have only seen on DVD. Deconstructing the gig idea totally David Byrne (who else?) chose the Stop making Sense tour. He walks onto a bare stage with a huge ghetto-blaster and says 'I've got a tune I want to play you.' He presses 'play' and the drum track to Psycho Killer is heard. This is Talking Heads' best known song and usually their encore. He plays it solo, on acoustic guitar. Over the next two hours the band turns up section by section, a back-drop is added and by the end (the beginning?) there is an orchestra, visuals and everything you need for a great opening.

Your turn.


Mark Bushell said...

Thanks Steve. Spent a bit of time today musing on this. Some good memories for me too thinking back on gigs and opening songs, Some openers were great cos they were expected and fulfilled the anticipation, The Who at Charlton 1976 with "I can't explain" and the Stones at Earls court 1975 with "Honky Tonk Women" for example.
But for sheer breathtaking exuberance it has to be Springsteen at Brighton (1981). Lights dimmed. 1 2 3 4... Born to Run!!! Still think about it 35 years later, and the rest of that fabulous 3 hour+ show. Thanks for reviving those memories Steve.

Steve Tilley said...

Would have liked to have seen the Stones in75. Bit jealous.