The night Springsteen almost bombed in Milwaukee...
Eagles Club (now the Rave) Ballroom, 2401 W. Wisconsin Ave., September 14, 1984
I was there. It was like a circus. Even though Run-DMC had an album out and a couple of singles, their set was a sideshow to a lot of local breakdancers, DJs and other acts. If I could go back now, I'd probably think I had died and gone to Hip-Hop Heaven, but that night I was really impatient for Run, DMC, and Jam Master Jay to go on. I was used to the usual rock show, where the opening act(s) played, then the headliner, all hierarchical and structured. That night's entertainment was totally different. Whatever you wanted to do or see as far as music, it was all there at the same time. No one took the trouble to arrange it in any kind of order. Everything was moving too quickly to organize.
"Hard Times" was my favorite Run-DMC song. I liked their voices -- angrier than Melle Mel and Duke Bootee, or so they sounded. I liked their stark, realistic rhymes and loud, stripped down rhythm tracks. There was no bullsh*t on their records...until "Rock Box." That record still gets on my nerves with all that crappy guitar detracting from the power of the beats and rhymes.
Back to the story. The Eagles Club show was the most truly anarchistic gig I've ever seen. Different sound systems were playing different selections, with MCs exhorting the party people every now and then, breakdance crews danced on the stage while breakers in the audience drew their own crowds. The house lights stayed on, full power, all evening. It was too much to take in. Even with my punk rock apprenticeship, I wasn't ready for that much stimulation, that much choice. I was uncomfortable and impatient. I paid my money and I wanted to see Run-DMC -- that's all that crossed my mind. Classic dumb rock fan mentality. How could I appreciate Run-DMC when everything that preceded them was as exciting and interesting as they were, and I didn't realize it?
The band's set, on a small makeshift stage near the entrance, lasted about 20 minutes. They performed "It's Like That," I think, "Sucker M.C.'s," I think, and a few others. No one seemed to be paying attention. The relatively small PA couldn't handle the low end of their drum machine, and the sound was a rip-roaring mess. The lyrics were unintelligible. It was a distorted racket barely louder than the music still blasting from other corners of the room. They weren't larger-than-life showmen yet; they were three kids from Queens shipped in for God knows what purpose. I left feeling totally ripped off, but now, in my mind, I'm a big shot like Billy Joel...because I was there.
Needless to say, there was no encore, but to all the breakers, DJs, and emcees in the house that night: I'm sorry I slept on you. Respect long overdue.
The C Club (vacant), 718 N. 3rd St., July 1, 1985
Drummer/songwriter Bobby Tanzilo of The Yell Leaders was there. Tanzilo recalls, "The C Club...hosted a string of reggae shows in the middle 1980s with groups like the Meditations, the Mighty Diamonds and Michael Rose. An advertised Sugar Minott gig on Easter 1985 was cancelled. There were also great record spins held down there at the same time. If you were lucky you could see local bands there, too, like the Squares, with an exotic dancer for an opening act."
"As a Spear fan, I'd have seen him anywhere, but an intimate gig like this was definitely not to be passed up. (T)he club was packed, but a packed C Club was not likely much more than 200 people at most. The crowd was a typical Midwestern reggae crowd. About equal parts Jamaicans and dreads, tye-dye-clad white hippies and a few other folks like me.
Spear was his usual dread self, completely red-eyed and hypnotized. Bassist Anthony Bradshaw, who later formed the backbone of Garnet Silk's live band, was three sheets (of Rizzla) to the wind and was resplendent in a tie made of paper. Percussionist Alvin Haughton was fun to watch, I remember, and Spear's long-time drummer Nelson Miller was spot-on. The band was amazingly tight and, as they were touring for "Resistance," which is top-loaded with great tunes, the songs were fabulous. I think Madison's Tony Brown did his solo acoustic reggae thing. Not bad.
Read part one of "Milwaukee's best gigs" by clicking here.
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