(Pictured: Michael McDonald, Boz Scaggs, and Donald Fagen take a bow in 2010.)
I have friends who seem to spend most of their disposable income going to concerts. I am not one of those people, although I’ve seen my share, and some absolute legends, too, including Ray Charles, Bob Marley, Merle Haggard, Al Green, and B. B. King. The following concert meme has been going around on social media, but since I have a website, you get to read it here.
First concert: For years I told people it was Emerson Lake and Palmer on the Works tour with the orchestra, in 1977. It was actually Tony Orlando and Dawn at the Wisconsin State Fair circa 1974.
Last concert: Steve Forbert in 2019, at the fabulously funky Cafe Carpe in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, unless we’re counting streaming shows. Then it’s Wisconsin legend Pat McCurdy several times last summer and fall.
Best concert: I have always considered it to be Robert Palmer at the Orpheum Theater in Madison in 1979, but that show long ago ascended to the realm of folklore in my life, so maybe there have been some that were better. For example, it should be hard to beat Paul McCartney at Cyclone Stadium in Ames, Iowa, in 1990, or Billy Joel on the 52nd Street tour in 1979. Also in the semifinals: the Dukes of September (Donald Fagen, Boz Scaggs, and Michael McDonald) in 2012, Peter Wolf at Potawatomi Hotel and Casino in Milwaukee in 2016, or Booker T. Jones at a free outdoor show in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, in 2019. Honorable mention to Tift Merritt, who opened for Mary Chapin Carpenter at the Barrymore in Madison in 2012. As I wrote after that show, “She was so endearing that by the time her part of the show was over, everybody in the theater was in love with her. (Or maybe it was just me.)”
Worst concert: This one probably isn’t fair because musically it was fine, but the most disappointing show I’ve ever attended was James Taylor in Milwaukee in 2009. I did a podcast episode about it.
Loudest concert: A better choice for worst concert might be the Electric Light Orchestra at the Dane County Coliseum in Madison in 1978, on the tour with the spaceship stage. They were so loud that we literally could not identify most of the songs. But you know who else was devastatingly loud the night we saw them, in 1982? Air Supply.
Seen the most: This would be the much-missed Iowa City band Big Wooden Radio by a lot. Among national touring acts, it’s probably Boz Scaggs, with Mary Chapin Carpenter and Rosanne Cash close behind. But since the band backing the Dukes of September is the Steely Dan touring band and the Dukes do some Steely Dan and McD songs, maybe the Dan and the Doobie Brothers should be in there too.
Most surprising: the acapella group Home Free. The Mrs., who is an acapella singer, had seen them on the TV show The Sing Off and wanted to go; I never expected them to be as entertaining, and as musically impressive, as they were.
Wish I’d seen: In 1980, a bunch of us from college were planning to see Led Zeppelin in Chicago when John Bonham died. The Mrs. and I had tickets to see Tony Bennett a couple of years ago, but the show was mysteriously canceled. We believe now that it had something to do with his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. We considered seeing Aretha Franklin the last time she played Milwaukee, in 2016, but the state of our fun budget that summer didn’t permit it.
Unfulfilled bucket list (a personal addition to the meme list): a full Springsteen show (we saw him do a couple of songs at a John Kerry rally in 2004); also Willie Nelson and Ringo Starr.
Next concert: that is a question we’re all trying to answer. Although some acts are starting to announce summer shows, I think that’s overly optimistic. We are assuming that we will, in the near-to-intermediate future, achieve a happy immunity from the coronavirus, with all of us kissing each other on the mouth in crowded bars from coast to coast. However, given America’s oft-demonstrated ability to fk up a one-car funeral, a critical national mobilization like the vaccination program is likely to contain snags that we cannot foresee. I wouldn’t bet on anything close to normalcy before the fall, and if we were still hunkered down in our houses come next Christmas, it wouldn’t be a shock to me. But let’s hope we find ourselves at a show long before that.