Chris Sexson, Publisher
In 1985, I saw D.O.A. at Brookwood Hall in Dayton, Ohio. This place was literally in a cornfield behind a Cargill plant. Local promoters would route punk bands through Dayton for mid-week, last minute shows on their way to prescheduled weekend gigs in cities like Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Columbus. The venue was roughly a one-mile walk down a country road from my house. Four friends and a case of Little Kings, and it was a short mile. I still listen to them today. Best Canadian band — ever.
Best: Bad Brains
I saw Bad Brains at the Agora Theater in Cleveland. A road trip to Cleveland in ’88 to see Bad Brains resulted in, by far, the best show I have ever seen. Place was packed wall-to-wall. Bad Brains played for an hour-and-a-half and may have never touched the stage. Jumping, spinning, screaming, amazing ... I have never seen more energy come from a stage. Screaming, “Banned in D.C” at the top of my lungs — best road trip ever.
Bryan Gottlieb, Editor in Chief
In fall 1985, when I was entering seventh grade, musical awareness — along with the first signs of puberty — began stirring within me and I purchased my first 45, Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus.” The following spring, a girl who I thought was very cool, asked if I wanted to catch a show with her at the Royal Oak Music Theatre; Devo was opening for Falco. I don’t remember much about the show other than “Rock Me Amadeus,” which was — and to this day is — the only Falco song I know.
Best: The Grateful Dead
Picking my best show is like asking which of my three kids I lovethe most: It’s intrinsically unfair. I've been a big fan of the Dead since 1987, when I saw my first show at Alpine Valley in Wisconsin. Nearly all shows are awesome in their own right, but my first West Coast run at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, Calif., holds pole position.
Whether it was the venue, or the set lists, or both, the shows at Shoreline during spring tour 1992 were fucking phenomenal.
Not only did I get into all three concerts despite only having tickets for one night (which was a real break considering I had flown from Boston to San Francisco for it), I got nearly every song I wanted to hear: “Eyes of the World” going into “Terrapin Station”; “China Cat Sunflower” into “I Know Your Rider”; “Wheel”; “Scarlet Begonias” into “Fire on the Mountain.” By the time Jerry died, I had been to 69 shows.
Fast-forward to my late 20s, all grown-up and responsible, and my soon-to-be wife was planning our wedding: I had no opinion on the minutia surrounding the ceremony or reception, save for one ... I wanted — and got — a Steal Your Face ice sculpture.
The Staff ...
Michael Jackman (Managing Editor)
First: Prince & the Revolution
My very first concert was the only arena show I ever saw, and it was the Purple Rain Tour, starring Prince & the Revolution. It all began at 8 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 11, 1984 at JLA. I liked Prince — who didn’t in 1984? — but I went to this show because a girl I had been hanging out with had bought the tickets and I was glad to come along. The tickets must have been the cheapest available, because we crawled our way up into the vertigo-inducing “nosebleed” seats. The band looked smaller than action figures. If this was the tour to see milk shoot out of Prince’s guitar, I couldn’t descry it from my altitude, although the light show was dazzling.
Anyway, it was all fine with me. There were few things more romantic than Purple Rain that year, and I was ecstatic that this girl chose me to share it with. It was an early high in my long-awaited adolescence.
She broke it off with me about a week later, dumping me for some jock, which soured the memory of that concert for me a bit. It was only later I realized what I had been a part of: Prince devoting an entire week of his tour to Detroit, a seven-show engagement that was longer than anywhere else on that tour, pretty much ensuring that anybody in Detroit who wanted to see the show could do it … twice if they liked. Good on you, Skippy.
Best: U.K. Subs
It was spring break, 1985, and my friends and I were in New York on holiday. We saw in the Village Voice that the Cro-Mags, the Exploited and the U.K. Subs were going to play the Rock Hotel on Jane Street in Manhattan. What made this show the best wasn’t just the bill — which was incredible — but the experience of being a sort of punk-rock bumpkin hitting the big city. I was used to hardcore shows that drew a few dozen punks to a grungy basement in a half-vacant, industrial neighborhood. I didn’t know what to expect in New York.
It so happened the venue was way over in the West Village, pretty far from our subway stop. I remember seeing a few punks in the street and thinking, “This is it! The club must be right here.” Then we turned a corner and saw a few dozen punks in the street and I was looking around for the entrance. A few minutes later, we turned the final corner and saw the street completely blocked by hundreds of punks, shouting, laughing, wrestling each other, smashing bottles, about 100 times as much punk rock as my small-town eyes had seen. The club was so crowded I had to practically surf my way in.
The Cro-Mags were terrific, the Exploited, well, you know, they bashed their list of classics, and the U.K. Subs did a great set, with plenty of opportunities for sing-alongs. Other great memories of that night include seeing Matt Dillon trying to look tough in liberty spikes and Wattie taking a break between sets to line up with the crowd to buy beer at a bodega. Halfway through the U.K. Subs set, two girls were whirling each other around in the pit and one of them clocked me on the temple, after which I had to wander back to the hotel with the worst headache ever. But, all in all, well worth it.
Robert Nixon (Art Director)
My first real concert is also a tale of luck, both good and bad. The year was 1991, my odometer had just clicked over to read 16, and the European metal band Manowar was in town. With a brand-spanking-new driver’s license stashed firmly in my wallet, I was ready for an adventure. I hopped in my friend Mike’s parents’ ’88 Ford Taurus and made a bee-line into downtown Cleveland (in the middle of January, no less).
The show itself was, from what I recall, awe-inspiring. Power-metal songs about brotherhood, submissive wenches and slaying dragons were just what the doctor ordered.
Best: The Jim Jones Revue
I’ve been to many shows in my life. Some were stripped-down, basic performances while others were over-the-top stage productions with huge props, lighting rigs and sensory overload. But I’d have to say the best concert I’ve been to was the Jim Jones Revue at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto with my wife. They were touring for their Burning Your House Down record. This show was ridiculous. No fancy props, no needlessly complicated set pieces, just straight up, rock-n-goddamn-fucking-roll.
Brett Callwood (Music & Culture Editor)
First: Kylie Minogue
I was in my early teens in 1990. My musical education had exploded into a deep love for Adam Ant some years earlier (I would slap colored tape across my nose and do the “Prince Charming” march across my primary school playground) and, later, Duran Duran. But by 1990, fitting in at school had become a priority, and Kylie Minogue was having the biggest hits in the UK. (Remember “I Should be so Lucky” and “Hand on my Heart”?) I took in a show at a Birmingham arena, with a French student who was staying with me on an exchange program. Indecent Obsession opened. The songs were hooky and fun, and I was relieved that she wasn’t lip-syncing.
Best: Led Zeppelin
In 2007, just a few weeks before I jumped on a plane and headed to my new life in Detroit, Led Zeppelin played its one and only reunion show at the O2 Arena in London. Press tickets were scarce, so my buddy Chris and I entered the ticket lottery like everybody else.
We were lucky and landed the opportunity to buy a couple. Tickets were over £100 (about $150) each, but I don’t regret it at all. A band I didn’t ever think I’d see was absolutely magnificent that night. “Kashmir” was immense and “Stairway to Heaven,” which I was particularly looking forward to, sounded amazing.
There are shows where you dance like a maniac, and others where you chat throughout. This one, I just stared, gaping. I bought the CD and DVD of the show as soon as it became available. I smile when I play them, remembering the buzz I felt on the night when Plant wailed and Page widdled.
Katherine Montalto (Web Editor)
In the summer of 1995 “alternative” music was everywhere. I was about to enter high school and was looking for an alternative to my boring suburban life. This aptly named genre of music would do nicely. I ordered riot girl records advertised in the back of zines and, by 1995, I had already been to a few small shows at coffee houses and social halls. The first major show I remember, with bands whose names are still familiar, is Lollapalooza at Pine Knob. I went with a couple of girlfriends and we were decked out in our thrift store finest; by the end of the day we had all agreed the skater girl look, with its baggy pants and sneakers, was the most sensible of all the uniforms. The show’s bill included Sonic Youth, Hole, Cypress Hill, Elastica, Beck, Coolio, the Pharcyde and Superchunk.
Best: Billy Idol
If I were put in charge of choosing the one song to be sent into space, representing Earthlings for any distant civilization that may happen to find it in the far reaches of the universe, I would choose “Rebel Yell” by Billy Idol — a song that still gives me goose bumps every time I hear it. (I even dressed as Billy Idol for Halloween in first grade.)
Seeing Billy Idol at the Fillmore in Detroit, back when it was still the State Theatre, sometime around 2000 or 2001, was a childhood dream come true. And Billy didn’t disappoint. Backed by his original guitarist Steve Stevens, both sported big hair and leather clothes, Stevens rockin’ out while Billy shook his fist and curled his lip.
Kelly Johnston (Photojournalist)
First: New Kids on the Block
My very first concert was New Kids on the Block in 1990. I was 9 years old and all decked out in my NKOTB gear (hat, shirt, jacket, bracelets). All of my friends were so jealous. What I remember most was my rocker mom smoking a cigarette with some other mom, complaining that she wished that I had wanted to see Alice Cooper.
In July 1998, Ozzfest came to Michigan. Tool played a show separate from the festival out in Kalamazoo. I was mostly there to hang out with friends, but it turned out to be a surprisingly spiritual experience. Before the band played “Pushit,” singer Maynard James Keenan had asked everyone to stand still, spread out and close their eyes. “I want you to feel vulnerable.” I watched everyone in the stadium do just that. As I closed my eyes, Maynard said, “…and I’ll meet you on the other side.” It felt as if Maynard was singing just to me, as if I were alone. I have seen them six more times since that day.
Larry Lehna (Intern)
First: Amboy Dukes
It was in the summer of 1968 or ’69 when I saw Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes perform live at Garden City Park. The Dukes had a big hit with “Journey to the Center of the Mind.” The tune could have been an anthem for the times and many aspiring hippies attended the concert. There was a smell of reefer in the air. Nugent entered by scaling a 20-foot fence behind the stage. I don’t recall the playlist; I was just glad to be attending my first rock concert.
Best: Led Zeppelin
There will never be another line-up of talent like there was at the old Olympia Stadium that night in 1969. The MC5 kicked out the jams and got us rocking. Lee Michaels was unfamiliar to most of us, but we all remembered him afterward — he was smoking. Next up was Grand Funk Railroad, which electrified the old brick house; they made many faithful fans that evening. And if that was not enough, we were then treated to Led Zeppelin, which had just released its second album. Plant’s voice wowed the crowd with, “What is and What Should Never Be,” among other great songs.
Yara Beydoun (editorial intern)
First: Green Day
The first concert I went to was Green Day. I was still going through that “fuck the man” punk-rock phase in middle school. I, undeniably, showed up to the concert in ripped jeans, a crop top and freshly dyed purple hair. Although I can’t say it’s still my mission to find Billie Joe Armstrong and marry him (and I still can’t think about my previous fashion choices without cringing), seeing Green Day for my first concert experience was pretty sweet. I rocked out with other wannabe-rebellious teens and successfully avoided my first mosh pit.
Best: Detroit Electronic Music Festival
My favorite concert experience is actually a music festival — the Detroit Electronic Music Festival to be exact. Along with the amazingly talented DJs and my eagerness to support anything “Detroit,” my favorite thing about this festival is the people. People from all types of backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures coming together to share their love of the same music. Seeing this diversity in the crowd the first time I went was sublime. I still try to go back every year.
Jeff Milo (freelance music writer)
First: Suicide Machines
It was my 14th birthday and I was learning about mosh pits. Trial by fire, thrown to the wolves, good luck, kiddo! Local ska-punk revivalists the Suicide Machines were having their release show for their Battle Hymns album at St. Andrew’s Hall. Terror and joy, panic and celebration, it’s all knotted up in that undulating riot at the edge of the stage. I made it through three songs, albeit, by SM standards that’s barely eight minutes, but still — it gave me my sea legs!
Best: Of Montreal
It was 2004, and Of Montreal was still “underground” enough to play the Blind Pig (Ann Arbor). There was no light show, no drum machine, just a band of wonderful weirdos playing exuberant pop anthems, British-Invasion-tinged, richly lyrical ballads flourished with a silly panache and psychotic whimsy. It helped being in the “front row” during their 10-minute-long skit, going like a slow-motion ballet of aliens wobbling through the crowd, incorporating us into their fun freakshow to an unbroken Moog’s drone.
Lee DeVito (freelance writer)
First: The White Stripes
The first show I remember was the White Stripes at the Masonic Temple in 2003. I was 17. I remember it well because of how precious it was: Rock bands usually don’t play the Masonic, and I’ve never been to a show since where I was treated to projections of old Betty Boop cartoons between sets. In their press photos, the band walked the line between dorky and reverent in peppermint-colored country regalia (still the most punk rock thing I have ever seen), and a bunch of the audience showed up in their own costumes.
Best: Jack White
The best gig I’ve ever seen was Jack White in a packed country bar at SXSW. His solo album was not yet released but he played songs from his entire career, reimagining scrappy White Stripes songs with two different full bands, including a backup soul singer. It was unexpected and bizarre … and it sounded amazing. I went alone and later found out the woman I geeked out with all night was drummer (and Scott Pilgrim actress) Tennessee Thomas.
Tyler Martin (editorial intern)
First: Brian Culbertson
My music snobbery really began the summer of 2008, when I saw Brian Culbertson at Chene Park. I bragged to my friends that my first concert was a jazz concert, imagining there was a secret society of cosmopolitan Detroiters who only had time for cocktails and the exclusive smooth jazz sounds of a musician whose piano riffs made the city fall to its knees. When Culbertson stepped on stage, those pretensions fell away. His ’90s frosted tips, slim-fitting jeans and Converse sneakers challenged the expert notes pouring from his fingertips like a spell. Right then, I had this classic realization that, “We’re all here to see this guy, he’s blowing us away, and nothing else matters.”
Best: Big Gigantic
I’ll admit my concert experience is limited to about four bands, but the Big Gigantic show at Mr. Smalls in Pittsburgh stands out as a wild memory. The venue was at a former Catholic church, and while waiting outside to get in, my college buddies got glitter bombed in the face by a local high school girl possessed by the party spirit. Surrounded by people who reeked suspiciously of marijuana and who grinded together through the opening act, my buds and I created our own safe circle where we pretended to know the bass drops and flopped wildly like Sesame Street puppets. Danceable electro-jazz tunes combined with a raw, youthful energy made this concert explode with a unique vivacity.
Ashley Fagan (editorial intern)
The first major show I went to was at Skelletones in Grand Rapids, now closed. I honestly can’t tell you who I went to see. There were four of us in the freezing cold and snow; we stood in line for the door. It was wall-to-wall, obviously over capacity. We were quickly sweat-soaked and music pounding in our ears, the crowd in absolute mayhem over the bands. You couldn’t have fallen down if you tried, with the surge of the crowd pushing toward the stage. It was much more of an environmental experience for me that night than anything else.
Best: The Garden Gnomes
One of my favorite shows was in the basement of my brother’s house on Thanksgiving night a few years ago. Our friends had put together a band called the Garden Gnomes, mostly playing covers of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Allman Brothers Band, and more, occasionally playing originals like “I Hate My Job” and crowd favorite “Poo Poo Monster.” A lot of us worked at a pizza joint together, hence the first song’s title. The second you’d have to hear it and know our group of friends. We sang our hearts out that night. Good times, good people. They go by Carp & the Boom Booms now and they have a ferociously loyal following around Muskegon.