Thursday, 8 April 2021

The Best Concert I've Ever Seen

I’m sometimes asked what was the best concert I’ve ever seen. It’s a tough call.


People usually refer to rock concerts, but I’d be remiss in not mentioning the New York Philharmonic as they raised Napoleon from the dead during the 1812 Overture in Central Park one July 4th; while it would be hard to surpass Pavarotti’s sublime interpretation of Nessun Dorma on the same stage another summer’s night.


I was very young and innocent when I witnessed Cream perform on the Isle of Man. My teenage friends and I had little idea about the band’s musical roots, and no notion that bad blood was brewing between rival gangs from Glasgow and Liverpool.


The huge stage was covered with wire netting as thousands of us trooped into the “largest ballroom in Europe.”


Cream was the loudest band I ever heard, no small distinction. Eric Clapton played through a 6-stack of Marshall amplifiers and Jack Bruce matched him in both volume and surliness. Meanwhile Ginger Baker needed no amplifiers to be heard in the drum department.


We four yokels from Wexford were crushed up to the lip of the stage, our mouths agape, when skirmishing broke out between the Liverpool and Glasgow contingents. 


I’m not sure Cream even noticed; they appeared to be high as kites, and certainly didn’t respond to bellowed requests from the audience. 


This disconnect caused all manner of objects to be flung at the wire netting. A British brass thrupenny bit snuck through and struck Ginger on the forehead. Whereupon the irate drummer kicked over his massive drum kit, grabbed a microphone and challenged whoever had thrown the coin to mortal combat.


Hundreds surged forward in an effort to oblige him setting off a full-scale riot throughout the hall.  


This incensed Eric Clapton so much he raised his sunburst Stratocaster above his head, slammed it down onstage and strode off to a screech of feedback. The gangs fought on regardless, and I had been initiated into one of the sacred rites of rock ‘n’ roll.


That “concert” undoubtedly veered me towards the shamanistic side of music. Although I appreciated bands like Pink Floyd with their minutely choreographed spectaculars, it all paled compared to the near-mystical experiences provided by Bob Marley and The Wailers, or The Clash.


Marley’s music is now universally loved, but you had to have seen him live. He was ecstatic onstage, totally united with The Wailers, yet a sublime musical being totally unto himself.


The night I saw him in Central Park he was nothing less than a Rastafarian dervish come to proclaim the word of Jah through his wonderful songs.


Some of these were melodic demands for universal spiritual freedom like Get Up Stand Up, and others love songs that go to the heart of romance like No Woman No Cry.


Mr. Marley was an original whose music continues to transcend cultures. I’ve heard his songs in the dusty hamlets of Turkey, the ghettoes of Port-au-Prince, and at parties in grim Moscow apartments. The barefoot kid from Trenchtown, Jamaica truly made his mark on the world.


You could say the same for Joe Strummer although, unlike Bob, Joe needed a band around him.  And what a band he had – The Clash.


Though far from virtuosic they were the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band I ever saw. It was hard to distinguish between them onstage. They played few solos, they didn’t need to; their songs were like great surges of energy that enveloped an audience with power, passion and precision.


The last night they appeared in the old Palladium on 14th Street, the joint was literally rocking. I was in the balcony and could feel the floor shaking beneath my feet. 


I considered running downstairs before the balcony collapsed, but then reasoning it would just fall upon me, I surrendered once more to the decibel induced euphoria.


Joe was a friend and a beautiful person; like Mr. Marley he’s gone a long time. I guess the good do die young. 


So there you have it – a toss of the coin between Bob Marley and The Clash. Both of those shows changed my life, and each in their own way led to the creation of Black 47. And so it goes. Rock on!

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