Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week, a question we recently started batting around among the staffers: What bands do you most regret passing up a chance to see?
Here’s where I can confess that this edition of AVQ&A was inspired by my story about the time I went to see Sleater-Kinney and didn’t bother showing up for the opening act, whose name meant nothing to me at the time. It was a little-known brother/sister act from Detroit that had yet to put out a second album. Do I even have to mention the name? Okay, it was The White Stripes, and I vaguely remember Jack and Meg White hanging around the merch table after the show, ignored by all. This led to my policy of never missing the opening act. Want to hear the even lamer postscript? A few years later, I knew who The White Stripes were and loved them, yet decided not to go to a free concert a few blocks from my house. Why? I’d just gotten a new Sega Dreamcast, and figuring The White Stripes would always come through and play shows at small clubs, and we could catch them next time, my wife-to-be and I decided to stay home and play Space Channel 5. At any rate, when I finally did see The White Stripes a few years later, they were great.
Growing up in Arizona put teenage and college-age music fans in a curious position. A law was then on the books (I believe it’s since been repealed) that disallowed bands from drinking onstage at small venues, and a lot of indie-rock bands—Guided By Voices being a distinctive example—just gave the Valley Of The Sun a miss. But one of my biggest missed opportunities was entirely my fault: In 1990, I had a chance to go see—for free!—Public Enemy, on the Fear Of A Black Planet tour. Previous times they’d come through, I’d been too young to get into to the venue; then, they took part in the Stevie Wonder-organized concert boycott of Arizona stemming from the idiotic MLK Day ban by Governor Ev Mecham. I was incredibly excited to go, but then the friend providing me with my ticket announced he was bringing his girlfriend along, and she really, really got on my nerves. Instead of sucking it up like a man, I just stayed home and sulked, missing my chance to see one of the greatest hip-hop groups of all time at the peak of its power.
I’d had it with Seattle. For a couple of years, I’d been reading about the exciting new “grunge” sound coming out of the Pacific Northwest, and the descriptions of grunge as “punk meets classic rock” sounded like something right up my alley. But the few Sub Pop releases I’d gotten my hands on didn’t do much for me. Too sludgy; not hooky enough. So when Nirvana played a gig in Athens, Georgia in fall 1991—about a week after Nevermind was released—I didn’t go. A day or two later, I saw the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video on MTV, and realized I’d missed what could’ve been the ultimate “I saw them when” story.
Unlike Noel, I was a massive Sub Pop fan back in the day, and I got to see Nirvana twice—once opening for Dinosaur Jr. (pre-Nevermind, of course) and again as the headliner in support of In Utero. But I was just as obsessed at the time with another up-and-coming trio called Uncle Tupelo. I’d bought the band’s debut, No Depression, after reading a tiny article about it in Rolling Stone, and I snatched up its sophomore album, Still Feel Gone, when it came out in ‘91. To me, Uncle Tupelo was nothing less than country-grunge; Neil Young, my favorite songwriter since forever, was being cited left and right as an influence by the Seattle bands, but this twangy-yet-distorted little group from Illinois really seemed to be Crazy Horse’s heir apparent. So why didn’t I see Uncle Tupelo play at the small Denver club Herman’s Hideaway, just a couple miles from my apartment, when it played there in (if I’m remembering correctly) 1991? Well, I wasn’t 21 yet, and I was too much of a nerd to have a fake ID—which wouldn’t have helped anyway, seeing as how I still looked 14 when I was 19. The band came through Colorado again a couple years later, to the Fox Theatre in Boulder, but for some reason, I didn’t even hear about it until after the fact. Looking back, I can honestly say I wish I could trade my second Nirvana experience, as awesome as it was, for one Uncle Tupelo show.
I don’t go to a lot of concerts (or leave my house at all, really), but I’ve been trying to see Frightened Rabbit for a couple of years now, and something always gets in the way. The worst was last year, when I actually had tickets to see Frightened Rabbit, The Twilight Sad, and We Were Promised Jetpacks at one of the better houses in L.A. and I had to pass it up… to watch the Emmys. Now, granted, everyone loves the Emmys, but it was still dispiriting. And this year, when Frightened Rabbit swung back through L.A., it was on the same night as the Lost finale, and I wasn’t missing that. Maybe I should rethink this whole devotion-to-television thing…
As I’ve written before, MTV’s 120 Minutes heavily influenced my adolescent musical tastes, so when 120 staples Ride and Lush toured together in spring of 1991—on the backs of the awesome albums Nowhere (“Vapour Trail”!) and Gala (“Sweetness And Light”!) respectively—I was totally psyched. But I had just turned 15, and my overprotective mom was in the final throes of her ultimately futile war against my going to nightclubs. (On top of that, she inexplicably assumed Lush got its name from the slang for a drunk, which didn’t help things. Don’t get me started on the asshole at a record store who told her Nine Inch Nails were Satanists.) While she expressly forbade me from going to the show, 20 years later, I still feel like I could’ve gotten around that—either with relentless badgering, or a timely sleepover at a friend’s place. Even though I did get a chance to see Lush on a giant outdoor stage at Lollapalooza in 1992—along with a million other people—I never saw Ride. Sure, I was a well-behaved kid who obeyed his parents, but at what price?
I, too, missed the famed Ride/Lush tour, as well as the “Rollercoaster” tour starring My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr. And then there’s the time I got to the Nirvana arena show in time to see Mudhoney, but missed most of Jawbreaker. (Kyle’s heart is breaking.) But maybe the one I missed most painfully is also one I don’t completely regret: I had second-row tickets to see Radiohead at the small-ish Rosemont Theater on what greenplastic.com tells me was the night of April 10, 1998. Yes, this would’ve been the OK Computer tour, in a small, beautiful venue. With special guest Spiritualized. But I either gave away or sold my tickets because of another once-in-a-lifetime concert, albeit one that reverberated throughout pop culture in a much smaller way: The Topeka, Kansas band Vitreous Humor reunited for a few shows that same weekend, and I stayed in Milwaukee to see that instead. It was awesome, though I do wish I could’ve been in two places at once. Still, I got to see Radiohead a few years ago at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, in about the fifth row, so that basically made up for it.
A long time ago, I went to the Barrymore in Madison, Wisconsin to see the high-powered double bill of Catherine Wheel and Belly. Alas, the opening act had to cancel, so I was spared an early glimpse of a Canadian folkie named Jewel Kilcher. I didn’t particularly mind. On the other hand, I remember going to one of the first Smokin’ Grooves festivals with my older sister Anna, and arriving about an hour late. We missed the first two acts, but I assured Anna, with all the hubris and misplaced certainty of youth, that we would have countless additional opportunities to see A Tribe Called Quest and an up-and-coming trio called The Fugees. Sorry about that, sis.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been more willing to go back and listen to music made before my time, but even through college, I mainly stuck to stuff that was written for and about me and my generation. One major exception, however, was my love for Fleetwood Mac, whose mastery of the pop song still amazes me every time I hear “Everywhere,” “Dreams,” “Go Your Own Way,” and the rest of them. Even though I’ve always preferred Christine McVie’s songs, Stevie Nicks is clearly the most alluring member of the band, if only because she’s one of the prettiest witches I’ve ever seen. I remember being in L.A. during summer break sometime in the mid-’90s and seeing an ad for a Fleetwood Mac show, but knowing that Stevie wouldn’t be taking part dampened any impulse to actually buy a ticket. I figured I’d wait for the Rumours-era version of the band to finally bury the hatchet, and sure enough, I was living in Cleveland in 1997 when the whole crew came through town to support that live record The Dance. I had just moved there to start my internship at Alternative Press, and I didn’t really know anyone outside of my coworkers. I figured nobody there would be interested in going, but one day I overheard someone saying he and his boyfriend were buying tickets soon, so I immediately invited myself along. They ended up becoming my roommates, but at the time I didn’t know them very well, so I knew I’d have to remind them about getting me a ticket. Sure enough, even with all the free time that goes along with being a lonely, fish-out-of-water kid in Cleveland, it totally slipped my mind, and by the time I asked if they’d gotten me a ticket, it was too late. I’m also pretty sure the show had sold out by that time, so I just figured I’d have to see them next time. Just one problem: McVie “retired” from the band after that tour, so there never will be a next time. I love you, Stevie, but I need Christine’s songs to make my Fleetwood Mac experience complete. I ended up seeing Spiritualized on its Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space tour the same night as Fleetwood Mac, but in spite of all the spacey magic, all I could think about was what my witchy woman and pop princess were doing across town. Side note: I’d been hemming and hawing about seeing Pavement in Stockton (since I already have tickets for the Berkeley show), but when I started writing this, it was confirmed that Gary Young would be playing with the band back where it all began. Needless to say, I just bought a pair of Stockton tickets, because I’m definitely not missing that.