It feels like the first time


April 9, 2006


There is arguably one "first time" all of us will consider more memorable as we flip through the chapters in the pages of our lives. But that virgin experience isn't quite as well suited for relating in a family newspaper. For diehard music lovers -- our first concert ranks a close second.

There's almost nothing quite as indelible as the first time you experience the unparalleled power of live music: the visceral sensations of feeling the rhythm in your body and the sound enveloping you, helping you to transcend your surroundings -- whether those are a dingy basement jazz club, a giant arena or Symphony Hall.

Many of us were hooked from the first notes, and we found ourselves destined to a lifetime of diehard music fandom.

The singular nature of your first concert is as noteworthy for music critics -- because, believe it or not, the love of music is why we do this -- as it is for musicians, industry professionals and the fan on the street. With that in mind, Sun-Times staffers as well as some notable Chicago scenesters were asked to relate their maiden voyages in music-loving. Our responses follow.

Madison Square Garden, 1979

In retrospect, an early fascination with the mysterious sounds of the psychedelic Beatles -- the first LP I bought was the Fab Four's "Blue Album" singles collection, "1967-1970," but that's the subject of another article -- led to a pre-teen devotion to progressive rock: the ornate and elaborate sounds of bands such as Pink Floyd (my ultimate fave), Genesis and Yes, which transported me to strange new worlds via the headphones. The Floyd wasn't touring when I convinced my mom to let me to see my first rock concert -- though I'd finally catch the group performing "The Wall" in early 1980 -- but Jethro Tull placed nearly as high on my personal hit list.

And so it was that I took the PATH train from Jersey City, N.J. into Manhattan with my older cousin Douglas to see Ian Anderson & Co. perform at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 10, 1979, when I was a 15-year-old high school sophomore.

Many diehard Tull fans now consider 1979's "Stormwatch" the last really strong album by the group's best lineup, but I wasn't yet at the point of scrutinizing such subtleties: I was simply thrilled to witness the lights and lasers, Anderson's flamboyant flute-twirling shenanigans, the loud ringing of the guitars in my ears and the feeling of the bass drum pounding in my stomach. And the set list! There was hardly a killer tune they missed, and that's not just the rosy glow of nostalgia: The Internet confirmed that "Aqualung," "Heavy Horses," "Cross-Eyed Mary," "Locomotive Breath" and many others well and truly rocked that night.

On the other hand, maybe I was already a budding critic: I was also impressed by the opening act, the progressive-rock trio of bassist John Wetton (ex-King Crimson), violinist Eddie Jobson (ex-Roxy Music) and drummer Terry Bozzio (formerly of Frank Zappa's band, but soon to be of Missing Persons). The next day, I went out and bought U.K.'s "Night After Night Live!" and I soon harangued all my friends to do the same.

Douglas had been slumming when he promised his aunt he'd chaperone his clueless younger cousin that night; he already was hanging out at some place called C.B.G.B. on the Lower East Side, and as we drove home from the train station, he did me an even bigger favor. "That was OK," he said of the Tull show we'd just seen, "but you've gotta check out this New Wave stuff!" Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer" came blasting from the eight-track tape deck, and if I hadn't already been doomed to a life of music geekdom, I was a goner from that second on.

Jim DeRogatis, pop music critic

Rosemont Horizon, 1982

It is 1970s Crystal Lake, before the quiet little northwest hamlet blossoms into a full-blown suburb. My long-haired boy cousins, who have their own heavy metal band -- they are soooo cool -- invite my older sister and I to go see Styx at the local high school ... oops, sorry, that wasn't my first concert, because our parents wouldn't let us go!

A couple of years later, the summer before high school, my best friend Kate asks me to go see REO Speedwagon with her and her older brothers. Her brothers hate us, but hey, they can drive ... oh, sorry, that wasn't my first concert either, because ... my parents wouldn't let me go!

Bruce Springsteen circa 1980 is just becoming Bruuuuuuce, and is traveling to Illinois to play a concert Downstate. Again, Kate's brothers are driving ... and yes, you guessed it, please don't make me say it.

My tale of woe ends in November 1982. I have a job; I can drive. Me, Kate, two other friends go to the Rosemont Horizon to see Rush. It is nobody's favorite band. We have little to no appreciation for the intricacies of the music or the band's impact in the rock 'n' roll universe, but we wallow in the freedom of being unchaperoned in a place bigger than our Catholic school existence. Properly attired in down vests and ski jackets, we tailgate with the masses before entering the arena, up to the nosebleed section, second to last row. No matter. We rock out, mocking the "uncool" girls several rows in front of us, raising our arms, screaming our lungs out -- and loving every minute of it.

Teresa Budasi, staff reporter

Chicago Stadium, 1975

During the years I attended Naperville Central High School, bands like Styx, REO Speedwagon and Jamestown Massacre played the school gym. So you can imagine what a relief it was to see the Faces at the Chicago Stadium.

The Faces -- Rod Stewart on vocals, Ronnie Wood on lead guitar, Ian McLagan on keyboards, drummer Kenney Jones -- were my first major rock concert. Truthfully, I can't remember if I saw them once or twice. I do know I was in the house in February 1975 when the trippy Mahavishnu Orchestra opened for the band. What a party. It was like getting stoned and then getting really drunk.

The Faces walked onstage to David Rose's "The Stripper." They drank Jack Daniel's and Pimm's No. 1 onstage; Woody fell into Rod while playing vicious solos, Rod kicked soccer balls into the audience (which he still does today), and my date's parents were mad at me for taking their cheerleader daughter all the way to the creepy West Side to hear these blokes. This experience set the template for the rest of my rock concert experiences: embrace anarchy, impulse, irreverence and always fail to take yourself seriously.

Dave Hoekstra, staff reporter

Village Green Shopping Center, Park Ridge, 1967

For a brief period, the WLS Silver Dollar Survey was populated as heavily by Chicago groups as British Invasion and Motown outfits combined. We'd soon be taking every opportunity to see the Flock, Mauds, Cryan' Shames, H.P. Lovecraft and Amboy Dukes, but the biggest local bands all turned out for this free late-afternoon show (exact lineup is blurry after four decades), which took place outside our neighborhood grocery store.

Wise-ass DJ Larry Lujack emceed, his bored, satirical mumblings adding to the surreal nature of the unlikely event in this sleepiest of bedroom communities. When he introduced the Shadows, riding high with "Gloria" and "Oh Yeah," Uncle Lar cracked, "Get a load of the bass player! His hair is longer than Jesus Christ's." "Redneck!" we shouted at the radio rube. But there's nothing quite like hearing the songs that helped define your youth played live for the first time.

Jeff Johnson, staff reporter

Poplar Creek, 1984

My "edgier" girlfriends wore their sleeveless black T-shirts and went for the up-and-coming opening act, INXS, squealing about how hot the Farriss brothers were. But I went for the hot pink concert T. Forevermore, it announced to the northwest suburbs that I had been witness to the bubbliest moment in bubblegum pop history. Let's just say that the "Talk Show" tour involved many, many beach balls. And what better role model could there be for me -- not a girl, not yet a woman -- than Belinda Carlisle? She fronted an all-girl band, wore a tutu, never missed a meal and dated Rob Lowe.

Paige Wiser, staff reporter

A Detroit club, 1985

My first concert was Crystal Gayle at the Michigan State Fair at the age of 9. I did not go willingly. I'd prefer to remember the first concert I actually paid to see with my own money. It was 1985. I was 16. The location was a seedy little bar in Detroit on Gratiot somewhere. Suffice to say, it was in a bad enough area that the bouncer didn't bat an eye when a group of four high school kids from the suburbs showed up in a light blue 1980 Chevy Malibu.

We were there to see one of the most underappreciated college-rock bands of the 1980s, Guadalcanal Diary. There couldn't have been more than 30 people in the club that night. After they finished their set, the band not only made small talk with everyone there, bassist Rhett Crowe actually bought a round of beers for us under-age teenagers. Ah, the '80s.

Misha Davenport, staff reporter

Metropolitan Sports Center in Bloomington, Minn., 1970

In the hot summer of 1970, small-town Wisconsin felt about as far away from live rock 'n' roll as you could get. Sulking in the town I was determined to get out of, I harbored a studied love of the music of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Then two of my brothers convinced me to see the Who. Fortunately, that directive called for a road trip.

In the herbal-smoke-filled arena my heart skipped a beat as the lights went out and the crowd went nuts as a purple spotlight revealed Roger Daltry singing the opening lines of "We're Not Gonna Take It." As far as I can recall, the boys played most of "Tommy," as well as a hefty number of other tunes, all the while accompanied by the roar of the audience.

On that summer evening, the virtual life force of rock 'n' roll revealed itself to me. I've been to hundreds of shows since but not one has duplicated that first electric power surge, that bolt of lightning that revealed the essential power of music fueled by crazy, talented performers.

Mary Houlihan, staff reporter

Buck Lake Ranch in the mid-'60s

"You broke my will/But what a thrill/Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire!"

And goodness, gracious, what kind of parents would take their young impressionable children to a Jerry Lee Lewis concert? Mine, that's for sure.

After marrying his jail-bait cousin, the Killer was on the skids, careerwise. That's how he ended up playing the perversely named Buck Lake Ranch near Angola, Ind., in the mid-'60s. As longtime rock fans, my parents decided, hey, why not bring the family?

The first glance of Jerry Lee pounding away on the 88s, bellowing about balls of fire and a whole lotta shakin' going on scared yet fascinated me. I'd never seen anything like this in kindergarten. And when he started attacking his glisteningly white grand piano, I even clambered up into my mom's lap. Despite his fire-and-brimstone delivery and wild man demeanor, I decided right then that whatever he was selling, I wanted in. (Or, in Killerese: You came along and moved me, honey!)

Forty years later, during a Web search, I happen to chance upon a listing from the Steuben County Tourism Bureau (conveniently located in the former Steuben County Jail): Ol' Jerry Lee will return June 18-19 to Buck Lake Ranch for "A Legendary Rockin' Weekend."

I'm there!

Laura Emerick

Lloyd Noble Arena in Oklahoma City, 1983

1982: I saw Ashley standing at her new sixth-grade locker in her fuzzy white sweater, and I was "Stone in Love." She looked right through me, but I told myself, "Don't Stop Believin'"! Weeks later, best friend David slept over at my house the same night Ashley slept over with his new reason for living, Stephanie. We got the girls on the phone and played them "Open Arms" over and over.

1983: David and I are still bachelors -- we'd gone our "Separate Ways" with the girls -- but we're seventh-graders: Rock is all that matters now and, dude, no one rocks like Journey! The "Frontiers" tour put down for three nights in our town, and we were, like, totally there. Alas, so were David's parents. The band played "Faithfully," and suddenly my gut ached, and I felt like crying.

1984: Eighth-grade dance in the cafeteria. Ashley, me, slow-dancing to "Open Arms."

Thomas Conner, Sunday Show editor