Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Discs are top concert souvenirs


My wife Sue and I have witnessed some memorable rock 'n' roll shows, including a few which were recorded and released commercially.

It's a special thrill when you're present for a live recording and no show we've ever attended was more exciting than the Concert for the Hall of Fame which took place at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland on Saturday, Sept. 2, 1995.

As you might expect, cameras, lights and recording equipment were evident when this event was saved for posterity. If you weren't among the lucky 65,000 who saw the show in person, you could have been among the millions who watched it live on television's HBO.

We're reminded of the many great performances we saw that night whenever we spin the commemorative compact disc set which appeared the following year. That two-disc package doesn't do justice to the concert as it includes only two hours of material, although it starts out perfectly with John Mellencamp's "R. O. C. K. in the U. S. A."

Imagine a concert which includes Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, James Brown and Aretha Franklin, Little Richard and Johnny Cash, as well as dozens of other top stars.

There was so much talent on stage for this once in a lifetime show that it lasted all night. We saw John Fogerty, the Allman Brothers, the Kinks, Bon Jovi, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop. We heard from the ladies, too, including Sheryl Crow, Carol King, Heart, Annie Lennox, Chrissie Hynde and Martha Reeves. Even rappers such as Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dog made music with stars from earlier generations.

All told, we were entertained by at least 40 notable acts. I can't even remember them all without looking at the program.

For some baffling reason, probably having to do with contracts, lawyers, royalties and egos, the Concert for the Hall of Fame has not been issued on video.

Fortunately, the same can't be said about the Grateful Dead's July 17, 1989 performance at the Alpine Valley Music Theater.

Sue and I were lucky enough to be in attendance when the Dead taped this extraordinary show for their "Downhill From Here" DVD, which didn't appear in the marketplace until a decade after it happened.

The title refers to the venue near Lake Geneva, Wis., a favorite among Deadheads during the concert season, but a destination for skiers during the winter months.

"Downhill From Here" captures the Grateful Dead, perhaps America's greatest live band, at a peak in their decades-long career. The players included legendary lead guitarist Jerry Garcia and Brent Mydland, an inspired improvisational keyboardist.

The show has become a sentimental favorite with many fans since Mydland died just a year after this appearance and Garcia passed away in 1995.

In short, this DVD chronicles an mythic performance which started appropriately enough with "Let the Good Times Roll" and ended two and one-half hours later with a jammin' version of "Johnny B. Goode." This show demonstrated why thousands of the group's fans followed them around the country to attend as many dates as possible.

While the Grateful Dead set aside a special section for audience members to tape their concerts, Paul McCartney is said to have recorded all the shows of his 1989-90 World Tour in order to select the best tracks for a planned live album.

His Dec. 5, 1989 performance in Chicago marked the first time Sue and I attended a show by the ex-Beatle. In fact it was his first U. S. journey since the Wings Over the World tour of 1975-76.

The tour kicked off in Oslo, Norway on Sept. 26, 1989 and visited four continents. During the Windy City stop, McCartney played 29 songs, including a generous number of Beatles tunes and six tracks from his newest solo effort, "Flowers in the Dirt," described at the time as a "comeback" album.

McCartney composed some of the tracks from the disc with Elvis Costello and even used his old Beatles Hofner Violin bass on tour because Costello liked it so much.

When the live album, "Tripping the Live Fantastic," was issued by Capitol Records the following year, it included a track recorded in Chicago, but not one expected by fans.

Prior to the evening show, as Sue and I were waiting in our room at a nearby Holiday Inn, McCartney gathered his group for a soundcheck.

With his wife Linda, Chris Whitten, Robbie McIntosh, Hamish Stuart and Paul "Wix" Wickens, McCartney recorded a rockin' little number called "Together." Built around a chorus of "Together we can make it happen; together we can make it stick," the tune was apparently made-up on the spot.

Lasting just two minutes and 15 seconds, the song is credited to the entire band, and was a surprise addition to the concert souvenir compact disc.

Like snapshots in a family album, those three special concerts Sue and I attended remain vivid in our minds thanks to some fortunate live recordings.

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