IT’S THE BLOODY JEFFREY MORGAN’S MEDIA BLACKOUT #380!
I was recently waxing wroth with an old colleague of mine about how inane “Top Ten”
lists are—whereupon I naturally got to thinking about making a “Top Ten” list of my own; namely, a chronological
accounting of the ten greatest shows I’ve even witnessed.
Of course, objectivity
isn’t what it used to be, so you’ll have to excuse me if my selections seem somewhat biased. I’ve seen who
knows how many hundreds upon hundreds of concerts during my lifetime, but these are the ones that seem to have stuck in my
cranial craw more than any others.
And if it seems that I haven’t seen
anything of note since the late ’70s, well, that’s because rock ’n’ roll isn’t what it used
to be, either. Actually, truth be told, it’s been downhill all the way after I attended my first rock concert. That’s
what happens when you start at the top; there’s nowhere else to go but down.
The Beatles – Maple Leaf Gardens (1964) :: To quote their bass player,
who also happens to be their biggest fan: “It’s the bloody Beatles. Shut up!”
Bill Cosby – O’Keefe Centre (1968) :: At the absolute peak of his
stand up career, and with I Spy still riding high in the television ratings, Cos toured to support his new album
To Russell My Brother, With Whom I Slept. Which he proceeded to perform in its entirety, along with a selection of
pre-recorded favorites. I’d had the new album at home for a week prior to the show, but I kept it factory sealed for
my protection to ensure that the first time I’d hear it would be live. Needless to say, it was worth the wait.
Bob Hope – O’Keefe Centre (1968) :: Not just merely
Bob Hope, mind you, but The Bob Hope Show wherein Old Ski Nose cracked wise not only during a topical opening monologue
but while introducing a number of ancillary acts, none of whose names I can remember. Then again, I can’t remember who
was on the same bill as The Beatles, either.
– Maple Leaf Gardens (1969) :: Not just merely Johnny Cash, mind you, but The Johnny Cash Show, which
means The Man In Black plus June Carter plus Carl Perkins plus the Tennessee Three plus
the Statler Brothers. Now who wouldn’t remember a lineup like that? If you want to know what it was like, watch Johnny
Cash At San Quentin, which was filmed nine months earlier the same year, the only difference being that, thanks to an
absence of armed guards, the Gardens crowd was rowdier.
Airplane – O’Keefe Centre (1970) :: This performance during the Volunteers tour was
made memorable for a number of reasons, not the least of which was due to the fact that Grace Slick’s dress kept coming
undone, which caused her to make several impassioned pleas as to whether anyone in the audience had a safety pin. Luckily,
no one did.
Creedence Clearwater Revival –
Maple Leaf Gardens (1970) :: I actually timed this one on my watch and, from start to finish, it lasted a seriously
svelte 40 minutes long, during which CCR performed pretty much every single song in their catalog that you’d want to
hear, including two extended throwdowns on “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” and “Susie Q,” each
of which must have hit close to the extravagantly long five minute mark. When all your songs clock in at two and a half minutes
apiece or less, you can afford to stretch your legs like that and still get off stage in record time.
Grand Funk Railroad – Maple Leaf Gardens (1970) :: If you
have to ask, you’ll never understand.
Russell – O’Keefe Centre (1971) :: Wherein I managed to catch up with The Master Of Space And
Time fresh from the Mad Dogs tour but just on the cusp of his arena packing potential. Everybody in the band gets to share
in the holy rolling spotlight save for bassist Carl Radle who, in a move that made Bill Wyman look like an extrovert by comparison,
insisted on standing at the back of the stage right behind the raised lid of Leon’s grand piano.
Rolling Stones – Maple Leaf Gardens (1972) :: It’s
the bloody Rolling Stones. It’s the Exile On Main St tour. Shut up!
Bob Dylan & The Band – Maple Leaf Gardens (1974) ::
After his motorcycle accident, many of us thought we’d never get to see him; now we can’t get rid of him. Resplendent
in a grey suit with matching long scarf, Bob’s biggest audience ovation of the night came when he yelled: “But
even the President of the United Sates must have to stand naked!” Then again, Richard Nixon mailed me an autographed
photo so if you’re wondering if I was one of those cheering, it wasn’t me, babe.
Alice Cooper – Maple Leaf Gardens (1975) :: So the guy on stage runs into
a movie screen, becomes part of the movie, and then runs out of the movie screen and back onto
the stage again? That’s good enough for me.
– Massey Hall (1975) :: A year earlier he showed up in dyed blond hair and black nail polish on the pandering
Sally Can’t Dance tour. A year later he was back to the basics on the no nonsense Coney Island Baby
tour. When the audience, who is looking for the cartoon character they’d seen the year before, gets what they didn’t
want, things slowly edge to an explosive confrontation.
Bowie – Maple Leaf Gardens (1976) :: Whadda joker this guy is. First he plays a loop of Kraftwerk’s
Radio-Aktivität album for an hour over the PA system while the plebes are taking their
seats. Then, for the opening act, he dims the lights and screens Salvador Dali’s silent 1929 surrealist film Un
Chien Andalou to an unsuspecting audience of twenty thousand, almost all of whom are blissfully unaware of the eyeball-slitting
scene they’re about to behold. Knowing what’s coming, I close my eyes and patiently wait for the audience’s
audible reaction—which was a beaut. Everything after that was a bonus.
Bob Marley & The Wailers – Convocation Hall (1976) :: Hey, it’s Bob on
the Rastaman Vibration tour so, as you can very well imagine, the show is pretty much everything that you’d
want it to be—and if you don’t believe me, you can listen to the show online and hear the aural evidence for yourself.
That said, the real entertainment came when the dreadlocked matinee crowd refused to leave and the dreadlocked audience
for the evening show—which, in classic payola promoter fashion had been seriously oversold—arrives.
The Who – Maple Leaf Gardens (1976) :: It’s the bloody
Who. It’s their last-ever performance in front of a paying audience with Keith Moon. Pete smashes his guitar. Shut up!
Perry Como – O’Keefe Centre
(1977) :: If you have to ask, you’ll never understand.
James Brown – The Music Hall (1980) :: Strangely believe it, back in 1980, nobody knew who JB was
anymore. This was before his “Living In America” comeback when his most recent albums were non-sellers like The
Original Disco Man. So when he came to town to play a midnight show in a derelict part of town in a rundown former movie
theatre, photographer Tom Robe and myself had to go. By the time Mr. Brown hit the stage, it was well past one in
the morning. Even so, it wasn’t until a few songs into the set that my friend and I realized we were literally the only
two white guys in a standing room only crowd of hundreds. Every so often, a black brother in his Superfly threads would turn
around, give these two long haired whities in their denim jackets the once over, silently nod his approval, and turn back
to watch the show. I never felt safer in my life.