Awhile back, Brian Phillips sent me a link to a Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium website that lists every show that took place at the venue from the time it opened in 1955 onward, and it gave me the idea for this series.
They’re tearing down Vet’s Memorial.
You have no idea how much typing that sentence makes my heart hurt.
Vet’s Memorial was Ground Zero for rock & roll shows in Columbus, starting – for me, at least – in 1965 and stretching well into the 80’s, when it was supplanted by the Ohio Center over at the Convention Center. (The Ohio Center, by the way, was a toilet with absolutely ABYSMAL acoustics compared to Vet’s.)
Vet’s Memorial was my High Holy Temple of the Catholic Church of the Rock & Roll.
I saw Bob Dylan’s first electric tour there. I saw the Jimi Hendrix Experience, I saw The Doors, Janis Joplin, Cream, etc. I saw some less popular, less fondly remembered 1960’s acts – Vanilla Fudge, Iron Butterfly, Donovan – there. I saw The Turtles and they were fucking AMAZING. I saw Judy Collins, I saw James Taylor with Carole King opening. I saw Elton John in 1971 when he was still a rocker, before all the crazy outfits & sunglasses and his weekly singles off his monthly albums. I saw the two greatest rock & roll shows I have ever witnessed – The Who in 1969 and Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band in 1978 – at Vet’s Memorial.
Speaking of the 70’s, I saw Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, Aerosmith and Blue Oyster Cult there probably just about every year in the mid-to-late 70’s. (Plus perennial opening bands like Styx, Foghat and REO Speedwagon WAY too many times on their long, slow slog to the top of the classic-rock junkheap.)
Anyway, the idea of this series is that I will pick one show from each month and write about them throughout 2015. The shows will span the era from 1965 to somewhere around 1985.
SWEET / STYX / ERIC CARMEN – JANUARY 28TH, 1976
I chose this show partly to illustrate the diversity of triple bills you would get in the 1970’s, but mostly - oddly - because it was the only show I saw in the month of January on the entire Vet's calendar. It was also the only show I ever witnessed in which the bottom-billed act was clearly the best of the night. (The first time I saw Aerosmith, by the way, was at Mershon Auditorium on campus in 1973, bottom-billed to Robin Trower and Mott The Hoople. Aerosmith handily blew Trower off the stage that night, but really stood no chance against the rock & roll juggernaut that was Mott back in the day.)
Eric Carmen – formerly of Cleveland’s favorite sons, Raspberries – had just released his first solo album and was right back where he had started in 1972, bottom-billed and hungry. He had assembled a crack touring band from the best players Cleveland had to offer (a formidable pool of rockers in those mid-70’s days). They played a short, tight, hard set that was an improbable cross of power-pop and prog-rock. (Kinda like Yes when they still used to cover The Beatles’ “Every Little Thing.”) And man, did they ever NAIL Raspberries' two best songs: “Overnight Sensation” and “Tonight.”
Audience reaction to Eric Carmen? Nil. Nada. Zero. Zilch. The Columbus crowd couldn't have cared less. I was crushed.
Then Styx came out and did their patented Big Rock Show set of Broadway show tunes masquerading as rock & roll. (For those of you scoring at home, I consider Styx the Second Worst “Rock” Band of All Time, with only Kansas coming in below them.) Styx trotted out every Corporate Rock cliché of the day: fake operatic tenor vocals ala Queen from Dennis DeYoung; obligatory “lofty” sci-fi lyrics ala Led Zeppelin (in the truly abysmal “Come Sail Away,” the worst rip-off of The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" EVER); and generous helpings of truly ponderous, hopelessly overwrought synthesizer-laden heaviosity (to paraphrase Woody Allen).
Audience reaction to Styx? Of course, the crowd unabashedly loved them: hook, line and Arena Rock sinker. (Really, I should have seen classic-rock radio coming down the pike right at that exact moment.)
I had been looking forward to seeing Sweet live since back in 1974 when the Desolation Boulevard album ruled my turntable. I loved the Second Coming of The Who power-pop stylings of “Ballroom Blitz,” "The 6-Teens" and - especially - "Fox On The Run." Fuck Styx, THIS was how you rocked high-pitched operatic vocals: with lyrics about girls, girls and more girls and tearing up the local rock venue.
So of course Sweet came out blaring & blasting, trying to overpower & out-bombast Styx & their ilk, and succeeded only in completely burying their power-pop proclivities beneath a slab of Heavy-Metal Rawk Guitar Histrionics. Compounding that problem, they were hopelessly weak on vocals and couldn’t come anywhere close to reproducing the harmonies that had been crucial on their records. (You can say what you want about Chinn & Chapman as bubblegum schlockmeister producers, but man, did they know how to layer vocals for maximum effect.)
Audience reaction to Sweet? The Styx-worshipping masses started leaving about five or six songs into Sweet's set, and I really couldn’t blame 'em.
I remember very clearly walking out of Vet’s Memorial that cold January night and saying to my buddy Jeff, “Man, this Styx, Rush and Kansas crap has GOT to stop. There has to be something new and better out there somewhere.”
Punk-rock was amping-up just at that moment, but I had no way of knowing that then. God bless the future, and God bless The Ramones. – Ricki C. / January 25th, 2015.