Spotify Playlist for this article! Listen while you read!
Alice Cooper - Thunder Bay Drive-In, Alpena, MI, July 5, 1981 - My first concert, held at the same drive-in where I saw Star Wars a few years earlier and I got busted for being smuggled through the gate in a car trunk a year or two later. These were the dark, cocaine years for Alice. We were way into the 1980 Flush the Fashion record, but not as much into Special Forces, which he was supporting that summer. I remember the snake, the guillotine, the volume, and the smell of weed. I also remember The Rockets - a popular Detroit band at the time that opened. It was a cool “first” and belongs on this list for that reason alone, plus it’s Alice, but other than that it wasn’t particularly noteworthy.
Dead Kennedys - Riverside Ballroom, Green Bay, WI, Nov 2, 1985 - This was my first punk show. I was pretty green, hanging with guys mostly 3-5 years older than me, who somehow agreed to meet my parents and then let me tag along for the four hour drive from Marquette, Michigan to Green Bay, Wisconsin. I got caught up in the moment and dove into the massive sea of slam dancing during the opening set by The Crusties. Some giant dude with a spiked mohawk head-butted me and I went down hard, got picked up, and found my way back to my friends. I shook it off and started to rebound, but then the walls started to close in, I started seeing spots, and thought I might puke. I made it to the bathroom where a couple dudes commented about how fucked up I was (I wasn’t) as I realized I didn’t actually have to puke. I walked out of the bathroom, made eye-contact with a couple of my friends across the floor, and hit the ground. They ran over, picked me up and sat me down, also assuming I was wasted, and the night went on. Eventually I was able to collect myself. I had a splitting headache, like migraine-level, but I managed to enjoy direct support The Magnolias (a great band to this day from Minneapolis), and the DK’s. They were great - and played pretty much everything we wanted to hear. I’d never seen so many wonderful freaks in one place, and I felt like I got away with something being there, but I learned a valuable lesson in the pit at that show that I never forgot.
After the show, my pal Tommy was walking around with only one shoe, the other lost to the same pit that did me in, and Carl couldn’t find his keys. To make matters worse, the dome light of his red `82 Olds Omega was left on, shining down like a beacon from Heaven through the smoky haze above a precarious, still-smoldering, translucent-blue plastic water bong sitting nicely on the console between the two front seats. Somehow we avoided getting arrested and got back on the road. Soon after that, the bong would tip over and spill really, really nasty bong-water on the floor behind the driver’s seat, creating a stench that not only made the already miserable drive back to Marquette the next morning unbearable, but stayed with that car for the remainder of its life.
13 years later I was back in Green Bay, on tour with my own band, and we took in a Face To Face show on a night off. I started talking to a guy working the show and told him the head-butt story. Turns out he was one of the dudes in the bathroom. He even remembered what I was wearing. Crazy.
Ramones - Harpo’s - Detroit, MI, September 24, 1988 - Harpo’s is a big theater in a bad neighborhood in Detroit that caters primarily to metal. The Ramones were touring in support of their Ramonesmania collection and it would be their last tour with Dee Dee. The Dickies opened, who I knew from their Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath covers, and they were great. Their singer Leonard Graves Phillips had an arm’s length penis puppet that was hilarious. The Ramones came out and basically destroyed the room. It was one after another after another great song, played with precision and purpose, with no breaks, no breaths. It was a 90-minute onslaught of rock and roll perfection. They were all business and masters of their craft. We got to meet Joey and Johnny afterward. It was the best concert and they were the best live band I’ve ever seen.
Social Distortion - Blondie’s, Detroit MI, October 2, 1988 - (One week after the Ramones show.) SD wasn’t really on my radar, it was a Sunday night, and I had to work early on Monday. It was unseasonably cold too - with that dry, southeastern Michigan wind that just cuts right through you. And Blondie’s wasn’t exactly an easy hang. It was a dump in a nasty neighborhood. You were just as likely to get your head kicked in or mugged in the parking lot as you were seeing a good show. I had a list of excuses a mile long, but my roommate and one of our friends talked me into it and I’m glad they did. Social Distortion came on and I was sold. Great songs with hooks, some even about girls, but also a dark side, an angst that was distinctly punk. And they had guitar solos. Not the kind of beautiful, noisy chaos that Bob Mould or Greg Ghin created, but more thought out, arranged solos that stuck with you. There was a dude with a tattooed necklace of skulls that grabbed the microphone from Mike Ness at least a couple times during their set to angrily berate the 25 or so people there that they weren’t even punk enough to be there, and as one of the least-punk people there, I was scared for my life. And then Mike Ness did one of the most punk things he could have - he announced they were about to play a Johnny Cash song, and if that wasn’t punk enough, you can just get the fuck out. In 1988, Johnny Cash was not cool. For me, at least, that changed at that moment. I’d go on to see SD another dozen or so times, some crazier than others, and they are the reason I now listen to everything that branched out from hearing “Walk the Line” that night - Waylon, Patsy, Hag, Gram, Willie, Dwight, on and on. After the show we partied with the band for a while. It was a life-changing night.
The Replacements - Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor, MI, April 6, 1986 - It was still winter and freezing in Marquette as we piled into Jim’s blue 1973 Camaro for the eight-hour drive to Ann Arbor. The frame was rusted out and broken so they put me in the back, driver’s side, to minimize the weight resting on the fracture. Every bump in the road was a hard jolt to my rib cage. We left early - like 4am early - and arrived in Ann Arbor, where spring had sprung, and started partying. At one point we were in the basement of the Nectarine Ballroom, formerly known as the Second Chance, where everyone from Cheap Trick to the Ramones (and The Replacements a year earlier) cut their teeth, drinking Chambord from the bottle and partying with someone who worked there. At another point we were “bugging” Bob Stinson for an autograph in Schoolkids Records, next to the venue, which is the perfect place to hang if you don’t want to be bothered by fans. When the band came on without Bob I was crushed. All that effort and that painful drive and we weren’t even going to get the full band, but after a couple covers with stand-in guitarists, Bob came out and they were amazing. It was so loud, and they were at their peak - still wasted, but not to the point of a debacle. If you know about The Replacements, this was one of the “good” shows. I remember feeling like I was so lucky to be there. It was everything rock and roll was supposed to be. It was not lost on me that it was an important night. This is top-two, with The Ramones show. It was later chronicled in Creem Magazine.
Three Honorable Mentions:
Mudhoney - The Beat, Ann Arbor, MI, October 27, 1988 - Later known as Club Heidelberg and currently known as The Club Above. My buddy had heard good things about Mudhoney and said we had to go. I didn’t know them going in, but I sure did after. A local. mediocre, metal band opened. At one point during their set, Mudhoney said they weren’t going to play anymore until they got paid, and that the guy with the mustache was ripping them off (promoter Martin?, RIP I think). I was one of about 15 people there, and I started the chant “Kill the guy with the mustache! Kill the guy with the mustache!” The band soon joined in too, but it was all in good, drunken fun. They played an incredible, loud, aggresive set, and it was pretty clear at that moment that something new and special was coming from Seattle on the musical horizon.
Bleached - Polish National Alliance Hall (Lounge), Hamtramck, MI, April 26, 2103 To set the scene, my wife, much cooler than I, was in main hall watching Easy Action. Front-man John Brannon (ex-Laughing Hyenas and Negative Approach) is as angry a dude (on stage, not in person) as you’ll find, screaming like a banshee and spitting like a viper, looking like the last thing you’d want to see in a dark alley. They are fast and loud, bombastic and aggressive. I get it, it’s beautiful in it’s own way, but I usually like my rock and roll with a little sweet sauce, some nice hooks and melodies, so after a couple songs I meandered into the adjacent lounge where a band from Los Angeles was playing on the floor to an engaged audience of about 30. Now THIS was my thing - great hooks, poppy-surfy guitars, and three girls and a dude who were swinging their hair, smiling, and having a fun time. It was a lucky accident that I saw them and I’m a fan for life. I’m still scared of John Brannon.
Tom Waits - Orpheum Theater, Memphis, TN, August 4, 2006 I’ve had the good fortune of seeing Tom Waits seven times, including a special night at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, and a secret, last-minute show at the House of Blues in Cleveland that started at 2:30 am and ended at nearly 5am. He’s something else, for sure. The Memphis show sticks out because it was the first time I saw him, we had great seats, and I was just astounded at how goddamn good he was. What a master musician, and the music he makes is the the most pure, primitive, and real that there is. Not sure there will be another chance, but everyone should go if they can.
Jeremy Porter lives near Detroit and fronts the rock and roll band Jeremy Porter And The Tucos - www.thetucos.com
Follow them on Facebook to read his road blog about their adventures on the dive-bar circuit -