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40 T/D/Y #29: Rock, On-Air and Live

When I was young, my parents’ car had only AM radio, and we listened to WBZ all the time, but back then AM radio stations still played music. So I grew up hearing a mix of pop and light rock from the ‘60s and ‘70s; to this day I associate a lot of top-40 ‘70s pop-rock with trips to the beach in the summer, and thus think of it fondly.

Around when I was twelve, in my first year of Scouts, and starting junior high, I started being exposed to a wider variety of rock, mainly what we now call classic rock or album-oriented rock (“classic rock” hasn’t already been drifted to mean rock of the ‘80s, has it?), but also with some new wave and punk mixed in. I think I learned about “Rock 101” WGIR-FM from some of the older kids and younger leaders in the Scout troop, and we’d listen to that station while driving to or from camping trips. I distinctly remember being in a cabin on one early camping trip and hearing The Police on the radio, and recognizing for the first time that I’d heard those songs before and really liked them. In that respect, The Police was the first band I became a fan of, knowing who they were and being actively interested in hearing more of their music. Rock 101 also featured “Block Party Weekends,” when all weekend they’d play songs in sets of three per artist, and so it quickly became one of my favorite stations. For some reason we had an old FM radio in the basement, and I claimed it and started listening to my own music in my room.

We also got MTV around that time; I don’t recall whether our local cable company had it from the start, but we definitely had it within its first year of operation. My younger sister proved to be the MTV fiend, watching countless hours of it, but my older sister and I certainly watched a fair amount as well. At the time, I remember rejecting a lot of the music on account of the goofy and outlandish videos; if I thought the video looked stupid, I was likely to think the song was stupid as well. However, my tastes were still developing, and before the ‘80s were over I was already looking back at that music and realizing a lot of it was catchy and I really enjoyed it. A couple years later, I got my first boombox, which included a cassette player. I remember I was given three blank cassettes as well, which I was supposed to use for some kind of French class project, recording myself practicing my French I think. Instead, I started taping songs I liked off the radio, filling all three within a few months. I still have those tapes today, although I haven’t actually listened to them in over a decade and suspect they might be too worn out to play.

I already knew of Heart and liked them before they released their self-titled album in 1985, but that was when I really got into their music and acquired all their older albums. A couple summers later when I heard that they were coming to Manchester to play a concert, I realized for the first time that I could choose to go see a band I liked: I had money, I knew how to drive, and they were playing close by. So I got Scott and Eldy to come along with me, and that was my first rock concert, in a park along the river in Manchester.

Despite that realization, I continued to treat concerts as special events over the next several years, something I did only once or twice a year. During college, I saw Joe Jackson (for the first time) in Lowell, I saw 10,000 Maniacs at UNH, I saw Genesis at Foxboro Stadium (my first and so far only actual stadium show), and I saw They Might Be Giants at the Avalon nightclub in Boston. That last show was I believe my first time going to Boston to see a band play, and my trips down to Boston to see shows continued to be few and far between for the next several years.

Two events in 1999 caused me to start attending concerts more often. First, I started working full-time in Boston, and as my life centered more around being in Boston, it was easier to be there for shows. Second, I saw the band Mistle Thrush live for the first time. My friend Jay had been a huge fan of Mistle Thrush for a few years, and had gradually won me over. In April of that year, they opened for Love & Rockets at Avalon, a show we were sure not to miss, and I thought Mistle Thrush’s performance was fantastic. More importantly, neither of us recognized most of the music they played, it was new material, and we soon learned from talking to lead singer Valerie at a later show that due to some complications the band wouldn’t be releasing an album of this new material for quite a while; the only way to hear it was to attend their shows. So I made a point of seeing them as often as I could, and fortunately they played fairly regularly. This became even easier the following summer of 2000 when I moved just outside Boston and no longer had to drive back up to Nashua afterward.

Mistle Thrush played varying slots at shows, sometimes opening, sometimes headlining, sometimes in the middle. Because of that, and because Jay and I had befriended the band and liked to talk to them, I always made sure to get to the show when it opened, regardless of when Mistle Thrush were scheduled to play, and that meant I started seeing a lot of other bands, local or touring, that I’d never heard of. Usually the other bands would be okay, nothing special, but sometimes I’d discover a great new band and fall in love with them, and only very rarely was a band so bad that I thought I’d rather have missed them. These experiences led to me formulating my two rules about going to see live music: one, it’s always the right decision to go to the show; two, it’s always worthwhile to catch the opening act.

By random chance, Mistle Thrush’s long-awaited third album came out about six weeks before I moved to Seattle, so I had the fortune of attending their CD-release show, which was phenomenal and easily one of their best performances. Just the other day, Jay pointed me at a YouTube video from one of their live performances—it’s hard to say for certain, but I believe I’m actually in the video as part of the crowd—and I had shivers from the thrill of hearing them again. I still miss them very much.

When I moved to Seattle, I didn’t know any of the local bands or clubs, and so for the first few months I didn’t go out to any shows. However, it happened that my favorite radio station in Boston, Boston College’s WZBC, had the same frequency as Seattle’s independent music station KEXP, 90.3 FM, and it was immediately clear that KEXP was the station to listen to here. One Saturday afternoon in June, I was listening when a local band, Orbiter, played live in the KEXP studio and mentioned they were playing a show that night (at the long-gone Sit & Spin laundromat/nightclub). I enjoyed their set, and realized that with nothing else planned anyhow, I should go see the show. That began my concert-going adventures in Seattle.

For my first couple years, going to shows remained an occasional activity, but late in 2004 I realized how much I missed going out regularly like I used to do for Mistle Thrush, and resolved to make a point of attending at least one show a month in 2005. Because I also resolved to write once a week in my LiveJournal, I started writing reviews of the shows I was attending. It took another couple years for me to realize I should be volunteering for KEXP, and another couple years after that for my music writing and volunteering to merge into writing for the KEXP Blog.


Comments

( 1 wrote — Write )
norda
Dec. 21st, 2009 06:48 pm (UTC)
The evolution of "our" music and its associations always fascinates me.

I've always envied you the ability and capacity to attend so many live shows. I eat, sleep and breathe music, but nowadays it comes through my computer [and ONLY from legitimate sources] or from mix CDs that people have gifted me.

I'm starved for live music, and your descriptions of concerts have always been a bright spot for me.

I'm so glad you're sharing this with the KEXP blog now, and I wish you continued enjoyment there.
( 1 wrote — Write )

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