Concert Going in the Early ‘90s
by Cullen James
Sometimes coincidence can be pretty funny, sometimes it can suck and sometimes it can do both.
1993 was a pretty good year for music: The Breeders Last Splash, PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me (an essential album!), Tool Undertow (another essential album), Nirvana In Urtero, Cypress Hill Black Sunday, even Depeche Commode tried to rock it up some with Songs of Suck and Devotion.
It was a great, short era of music. Everything seemed so alive at that moment. Like you could do anything with a guitar and the right attitude about music. There was a lot of burgeoning experimentation among musical genres. Lollapalooza was still the concert event to wait for/attend.
The man and band the media put at the front of this -- I hesitate to call it a revolution, I guess I prefer reawakening because the spirit is always there in the music -- was Kurt Cobain and Nirvana. The ending to his story is sad and we all know it and I’m not going to dwell on it. It is suffice to say that I got to see them during their last tour, but I really wasn’t going to see them.
To say that I wasn’t a Nirvana fan would be a lie. But today I feel like it’s a guilty pleasure. While there are a lot of folks out there who quickly turned their backs on the whole Seattle music scene after his death and the equally quick demise of grunge, I still love the music. I love all my old Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Mother Love Bone albums. There was something raw and articulate about they way they approached their music that I still love today.
In Dec. 1993, my wife (then fiancé) and I made the hour trek to the UNO Lakefront Arena in New Orleans to see Nirvana. The Breeders were the opening band. I admit that I was really going to see them. While Nirvana is still a guilty pleasure (and I’m not that big a fan any more), I am still in love with The Breeders. Anyone who was a part of such a great musical entity as The Pixies and then continued to put out great music in her own project is deserving of praise. Kim Deal has long been one of my favorite musicians.
Here is a copy of a ticket to the show. It’s not mine, but it’s from the same show. I had kept them for years, but I don’t know if I could even find it or if I threw it out or not. It’s a shame, in retrospect. The important thing to notice here is that only Nirvana is listed on the ticket, no other bands.
After securing my tickets (Damn you, Ticketmaster! Remember that angst?) and waiting for the day, we climbed into my 1965 Ford Custom 500 and drove. At some point during the drive we started talking about what bands were playing. Of course the headliner was locked in, and when I purchased the ticket, The Breeders were on the billboard, but I never heard anything more about them being on the billing. Plus, there was supposed to be a third band, but no one said anything about which band it was and we had no idea.
Worried that it was going to be some really bad band, we started talking about bad bands. My wife had lived in Europe a good portion of her childhood and had just come back from Greece before her senior year of high school. So, she was privy to the horror that is MTV Europe.
From what I’ve heard from her, and other folks since then, MTV Europe at that time was some kind of conduit into the absolute worst music mankind can possibly produce. I was at a disadvantage. I had, up to this point, only lived in the States. My exposure to bad bands, while aplenty, was related to pretty common groups. So, I pulled out the only ace I had in my deck -- Shonen Knife. I had seen them on that alternative show MTV used to run on Tuesday or Wednesday. Crap! I can’t remember the day.
For those of you how don’t know who Shonen Knife are they are an all-girl Japanese band. They play punk pop, a la The Ramones, but very poorly. If you want to hear them, watch Cartoon Network some time and you will eventually hear them.
But back in '93, there was no Cartoon Network and very few people knew who Shonen Knife were. From the little I saw of the video that night, long ago, the atonal nightmare that is Shonen Knife had forever been burned into that portion of the brain that attempts to make humor out of your most horrible experiences. We were both Ramones fans and laughed at the idea of Japanese girl punk.
We arrived at the arena. Got in and started making our way to our seats. No sooner had we walked through the doors into the balcony seating than I heard a strange, painful noise. I looked at the stage and turned to my fiancé. “No way! I said. It’s Shonen Knife!”
We made our way to our seats (left of the stage, not nosebleeds but way up there). Knife was funny. My memory is somewhat clouded by Rum and Coke, but I distinctly remember one number: “Merry, merry Christmas, happy, happy Christmas, merry, merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” sang in happy Japanese-girl voice over Ramones-style punk. I can’t remember ever laughing so hard at a concert. Too funny.
Of course, The Breeders and Nirvana put on inspired shows. It was a great evening. Good show. Great memory.
Cullen sometimes puts on a dress to perform in a Shonen Knife tribute band