Thursday, January 22, 2015

Good Work If You Can Get It

There’s two boys holding stars for wishing
One boy’s sure; one says, “I don’t know”

The mark of a truly great concert experience is to witness a band perform in an element perfectly suited for their talent and sound.

To be sure, the greatest bands and artists transcend location and venue. They can sound great in an arena, a bar, or someone’s living room. Give them the space, and they’ll figure it out. But for most bands, it’s about matching who they are with where you see them, and when you get the opportunity to see a band in those moments, when the planets align, it forever connects you to them, to that moment.

That’s how I think of the BoDeans.

This up-and-coming band, with its major label contract and the sense of breaking into the mainstream, played at my high school in the winter of 1990. They rocked out our high school gym.

I didn’t know anything about the BoDeans when news of their pending performance at our privileged private school was announced to us. I was like, “Bo Diddley? Bo Jackson? Bo Who??” Most of my classmates were clueless as well, but a few knew, and they were intensely excited. I had one of those guys make me a tape of their first album, “Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams,” and I played it a few times in my car as the date of their concert approached.

Their debut is generally considered, by most BoDeans lovers and critics, their strongest outing, but even today I don’t agree with that, and back in 1989 it seemed slow, and country-ish. In 1989 I wanted crunching rock and intensity, or alternative cred, and BoDeans seemed like straight-up sincere roots rock.

I walked into that concert expecting it to suck. But it was still a Real Band, and they were playing in our freakin’ high school gym, so going wasn’t an option, because it felt like a unique and cool opportunity. It was a Must See Event.

They blew my mind. They sang with heart, and they played with heart, and while they seemed amused to be playing to a bunch of kids who couldn’t (legally) drink, they never condescended or acted above the moment. They proved themselves to us, and we loved them for it.

I bought every album of theirs on the day it was released from that point, up until their first lengthy hiatus following Blend in 1996. Seven albums, and I loved every stinkin’ one of ‘em. They became staples on my mixtape gifts, and every new album took me back to that sweaty sardine-packed high school moment of under 1,000 students pushing into that stage, the rest of our gym empty and cavernous, because we all wanted to be crammed into the moment.

Remember when E.T. makes physical contact with Elliott, and they become a synergized entity? They touch, and a piece of E.T. is inside Elliott, and a piece of Elliott is inside E.T.? That’s how the concert in that gym felt. It felt like the BoDeans gave us a piece of their souls, and they took a piece of our souls with them, and we owed it to one another to stay loyal.

That concert kicked off what would become an annual tradition at our little private school. After I graduated, an impressive list of mostly mid-range or up-and-coming alternative or college rock acts played, one band each year, for over a decade.

By the 21st Century, though, the students no longer thought it was a Must See Event. It was no longer a big deal that Real Bands played in our gym. If you didn’t know their music, you probably didn’t go. You’d rather play video games or see a movie downtown. With a few exceptions, ticket sales kept dropping (and, admittedly, the bands seemed to get cheesier).

But just like Bogey and Bacall will always have Paris, the BoDeans and Billy will always have our high school gym. That memory will continue to burn brightly every time I play one of their songs. They never had to be the Best Band Ever, because we shared an indelible moment, and in music, sometimes that's everything.

  1. Good Things
  2. The Understanding
  3. Idaho
  4. You Don’t Get Much
  5. Hurt By Love
  6. Say About Love
  7. Tied Down and Chained
  8. The Ballad of Jennie Rae
  9. She’s a Runaway
  10. Feed the Fire
  11. Paradise


Daisy said...

I remember that night quite well. I still have the guitar pick Kurt Neumann handed me mid set.

Anonymous said...

Some of Bob's favs:

She's A Runaway
Closer To Free
Brand New
Still The Night
Far, Far Away From My Heart
Sammy's voice on Robbie Robertson's "Somewhere Down That Crazy River"

Billy said...

@daisy: We were both right up there in the front rows, weren't we? Like all of my best concert memories, I just remember being sweaty and euphoric after it was over.

@anonymous-Bob: I love your list. I have many many more than 11 faves, and it's just a reminder why I hate lists more than I love lists.

Daisy said...

Yes, we were right up there in the front. I remember bring sweaty, euphoric and bruised. I literally had bruises the next day from being pushed into the stage.

troutking said...

Excellent post. Wish I had been around for that Wintersend.