Best Of Rock: 10 Concert Stalwarts
By Ralph Greco, Jr.
There’s not much you can count on these days, but leave it to certain Vintage Rock acts to not always deliver fantastic shows and music, but also treat us to specific live performance moments one can always count on. From the obligatory drum solo to the call-and-response some songs generate; a lead singer’s strut or a favorite diva’s costume changes; the toast to the audience using a wide variety of libations and the use of lasers and screens of various sizes. Some call them clichés, others laugh at what are now considered indulgences. Either way, it’s nice to know that our favorite bands and artists can always be counted on to give us exactly what we came for.
1) Everybody do the twirl like Stevie Nicks – Even in her 60s, the witchy woman of rock and roll always does a nice taffeta twirl or two during her performances, in and out of Fleetwood Mac..
2) Those damn Jethro Tull balloons – Even band leader Ian Anderson knows how cliché the big balloons were getting at the end of Jethro Tull shows. Present on the cover the band’s 1978 live album Bursting Out, Anderson and the boys integrated the balloons into their subsequent tours that; at one point, they actually printed sayings about the "damn balloons coming out once again" on the damn balloons themselves!
3) Sing-a-long with Springsteen – Sure, a great live performer like the Boss would have more than one tried-and-true concert crowd pleaser. I remember back in the day, full arenas singing the first verse of “Thunder Road” so loud Springsteen simply let the crowd take the first verse. “Hungry Heart” was the logical successor some years later. These days, Bruuuuuce fans are still singing any number of his tunes at shows.
4) When piggies fly – Known for their elaborate stage shows and ever since the Animals tour, Pink Floyd had been trotting out what might be considered their signature prop: an inflatable pig. At one time, the pig was black and adorned with the Nazi-like animated hammers on its side; for the 1987-99 tour, David Gilmour had a grand pair of testicles added to the porker as a direct dig at ex-band mate Roger Waters’ legal battles with the band at that time. At later outdoor shows, two pigs teetered from towers stage right and left of the stage during the dramatic read of “One Of These Days”. In 2008, Waters’ own graffiti-covered pig at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival floated away, but was later found a few miles away.
5) Emerson stabs his organ – Tricky maneuvers for anyone at any age, but even at 2010 High Voltage Festival, 65-year-old Keith Emerson played his organ backwards, flipping it this way and that and stabbing it with a knife. Gone are the days when the keyboardist used to climb atop the organ and ride it like a bucking bronco or flip it over onto his back. The maestro’s organ stabbing, like Carl Palmer’s de-shirting during his drum solo, was always something we could look forward to.
6) Page whacks his bow – So struck with the legend of his performances, that when Jimmy Page actually lifted a violin bow from his amp during his spot at the 1983 ARMs concert with Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, the crowd (me included) shot out of our seats. Granted, Page only bounced the bow off his Les Paul’s strings once, but we knew the scene so well from the iconic image of him attacking his guitar this way from countless other performances this was an unexpected piece of rock theatre from the architect of the mighty Led Zeppelin.
7) Holding hands with Denver – My tastes can sometimes run on the side of the mellow at times, no more so than when I attended a latter-day John Denver show just a few years before the nature-loving singer’s untimely demise. There came a spot during what I recall was nearly a three-hour show when Mr. Denver asked the audience to hold hands (I had been warned by the Denver fans I went with about this) and as this was usual, nobody but me seemed to mind. And I didn’t even mind all that much, though I chose to hold the hands of the people I came with.
8) Bevan comes down – As a founding member of both the Move and Electric Light Orchestra, drummer Bev Bevan saw some very ‘blue sky’ days of success. There were very few ELO shows during their heyday that he wouldn’t take a walk down from the drum riser and say a few words to the audience. That got to be more of a hassle once the stage was converted into a spaceship.
9) Angus bares it – These days he’s mooning the audience with a pair of Union Jack boxers, but there was a time not too long ago that AC/DC guitarist Angus Young would cause quite a few cat calls while the band played a stripper strut behind him. He would slowly take off his school boy garb down to his shorts, and then give the audience a quick gander at his bare buttocks before pulling his shorts back up and continuing on with the show. Ozzy Osbourne tried a similar tatic, but it never carried the same charm.
10) The scary ‘acoustic set’– I use the word ‘scary’ because lots of bands, while feeling obligated to deliver a few "unplugged" songs, especially in the aftermath of MTV’s popular Unplugged series, never could play all that well without their electric instruments. Certainly the mainstay of any number of vintage rockers from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to Led Zeppelin, the acoustic set in a big rock bands’ show separates the boys from the men — even if the players happen to be female.