Part 2: Rockers Recall The Most Impressive Live Gigs They’ve Seen (Memories from Rick Springfield, Gene Simmons, Eric Carmen, More)

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With a return to live concerts unlikely for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, join us for the next best thing, more recollections from noted rock luminaries queried about their favorite live rock artist/band/concerts — this follows Part 1 of the series.

Randy Meisner (The Eagles): The best show I’ve ever seen bar none was The Band, who along with Bob Dylan are my favorite artists of all time. I saw them at Filthy McNasty’s, a little funky club in North Hollywood. I don’t go to a lot of concerts but that show still sticks in my brain.

They did all their big hits, “Up on Cripple Creek,” “Stage Fright,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and  “Rag Mama Rag.” It was the all the original members except for Robbie Robertson. The music was so powerful and organic. Every song impressed me. They could no do wrong. They were all about the music and nothing else. I love Garth Hudson’s organ playing, he’s magnificent. Rick Danko was fabulous too and sadly he’s gone, as is Richard Manuel. If Bob Dylan had been there I would have been even happier; I probably would have fainted. (laughs) 

Gene Simmons (KISS): I saw the Jeff Beck Group in Central Park in New York City. In those days they had concerts there. Paul (Stanley) and I would go and see everybody. We saw Ginger Baker’s Air Force, Crazy World of Arthur Brown, the James Gang, the Buddy Miles Express, and Frank Zappa with Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan from the Turtles. Little did I know that I’d have a Gene Simmons/Frank Zappa co-write on my solo album with a song called “Black Tongue.” Funnily enough, I wasn’t aware of the music that night when I saw the Jeff Beck Group, I was just there.

There’s something about very important points in your life where you can’t really focus. You’re almost marching to the flag that you respect so much. You’re there in honor of the Jeff Beck Group. The Jeff Beck Group remains very important in rock history as they beget Led Zeppelin. But ironically, the Jeff Beck Group never made it on the level of Led Zeppelin because of Jeff Beck. He never stuck to it. Zeppelin came out and toured incessantly and kept plugging away. Beck hardly ever toured. Most people never talk about Beck, they only talk about Led Zeppelin. But everyone should know that without the Jeff Beck Group there would have been no Led Zeppelin.

Jeff Beck is my favorite rock guitar player, even above Jimmy Page. First of all, he doesn’t use a guitar pick, he uses his fingers and picks it like the old blues guys. You can’t quite put your finger on who it is that Beck is. When you hear (Eric) Clapton you can hear the B.B. King and Albert King influences. When you hear Jimmy Page it’s Buddy Guy. You can literally go to a Buddy Guy record and say that’s where that Page lick came from, the style, the approach, the over-bending of the guitar strings. But Beck is more mysterious, you can’t put a finger on where his style originates. You don’t have a clue because his melodic approach isn’t necessarily based on blues. He’ll stick in jazz or rockabilly or dissonant chords and he hardly uses any effects. It says so much about the Yardbirds that they were able to have Clapton and Page and Beck all in the same band. It just blows you away.

I was also really impressed with Rod Stewart’s vocals. To me, he’s still the great singer, even more than Robert Plant in Led Zeppelin. What Rod Stewart was doing with the Jeff Beck Group is my favorite approach to rock singing. He was basically doing a white David Ruffin who sang in the Temptations. Rod has never equaled that sound. I was aware of his later work and liked what he did later on things like “Hot Legs” but that was more of a pop approach. In those early days, Rod’s voice was grittier, it was more of a booze hall singing style, a whiskey voice.

Rick Springfield: The best show I ever saw would have to be the Beatles in Melbourne, Australia in 1964. I was a raging adolescent and they were at the peak of their “Mop Top” power. Melbourne is still the biggest single street turnout they ever had. We were so isolated and forgotten in Oz in the 60’s so to get the Beatles when “Ticket to Ride” had just been released was astonishing. It was a 20-minute show and I screamed like a little girl all through the whole thing. It’s the most energy I had ever felt at a concert.

Andy Fraser (Free): Very early on in Free’s career we opened for The Who on a series of dates. After our own first set, I went and sat in the theater audience and was stunned the moment the Who came on. As the curtains opened I was pinned back against my seat as Pete Townshend lunged forward doing windmills with those massive chords of his, Roger Daltrey whirling the mic around his head “lasso” style, (I later saw close-up how much duct-tape was used to bind the mic to the cable), and John Entwistle darkly walking in unison as they charged at the audience with a ‘take no prisoners’ attitude. The sound was better than their records, and I was immediately a fan for life. Throw in Keith Moon’s manic vibe and drumming, the perfect complement to Townshend’s guitar and it just cemented that “don’t fuck with us” vibe. Great group!

More recently, I found myself at The Police reunion concert. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I know Andy Summers and know he’s been into photography and Stewart (Copeland) with his film music, but I was really inspired by how good they were. Apart from being totally ‘on it’ musically, retaining the youthfulness that we all loved about the Police, they also added a maturity that was most becoming. A lot of reformed groups come off looking like old guys trying to recreate their youth, (the Who included), but such was not the case with the Police. They were still very much in the present.

The production was also the best money can buy, with a giant four-sided video square suspended above the band, so that even the people sitting behind the stage could see what everyone else saw. The amount of cameras and video editing on the fly was truly incredible. So even if you were sitting in the back of the stadium (where the expensive boxes were), watching the screens was like watching a giant movie. They really did it right, and it’s no surprise that they were the hit tour of ’07. Well deserved.

Eric Carmen (Raspberries): Trying to pick one concert by one act is pretty difficult. I never got to see the Beatles live, so it can’t be the Beatles. I caught the Rolling Stones in 1966 or 1967 at the Cleveland Arena. They were very cool, but not great musically. I guess the two best shows I’ve ever seen were the Who in 1968, when my band, Cyrus Erie, opened for them, and Elton John‘s “Yellow Brick Road” show, for completely different reasons. The Who were the most exciting band I’ve ever seen, and I think they were at their peak in 1968.

Pete Townshend was so riveting onstage that I almost forgot to watch Roger and Keith (who were also spectacular). It was like watching Rudolph Nureyev with a guitar. They were all just incredible performers and musicians, and, of course, I loved their music. They were the ultimate combination of great songs, flash, and pure British cool. The Elton John “Yellow Brick Road” show was simply perfect from start to finish. Great band, perfect staging, perfect sound, perfect song selection and pacing. Elton blew everyone away that night.

Jim Peterik (Survior): I think for me the most mind blowing show I ever attended was Yes at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago.  The year was 1971 and they had just released The Yes Album with “I’ve Seen All Good People” on it. I went with my entire Ides of March band and we were already huge fans of this record. We had third row seats in this acoustically amazing theater.

After a poorly received set by a then unknown artist named Billy Joel, Yes took the stage with a precision I had never felt before. They were stars before their first notes, dressed in capes and glitter — total Carnaby Street.  Suddenly the perfect balance of a cappella singing pierced the night, “I’ve seen all good people …”–total goose bumps to this day.

Chris Squire’s Rickenbacker cut with a razor’s edge.  Alan White’s drums thundered. Steve Howe was a jazz player in a rock band. How cool is that! Jon Anderson was in perfect choir boy tenor and Rick Wakeman wasn’t too shabby either! I never heard “tight” before that night. Maybe the James Brown review but that’s it. The Ides went home totally invigorated at how good rock could get. Next day we took that spirit to rehearsal and wrote our tribute to Yes called “Baby’s Gonna Grow.”

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