The night Springsteen almost bombed in Milwaukee...
The best gig ever... Those are usually the first words in a long argument between devoted music fans. Our intrepid correspondent Eric Beaumont gets the lowdown on some of Cream City's most (in)famous gigs of the 20th Century from Milwaukeeans who were there. Here's the second part, as promised! And to read part one, click here.
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Uptown Theater, 2323 N. 49th St. (razed), October 2, 1975
Singer/guitarist/songwriter/attorney Michael Plaisted was there with his best friend. Plaisted says, "For legendary status, nothing can top the Springsteen bomb scare show. It was general admission and I stood in line for quite some time that day and ended up in the third row in the middle. The only thing I knew about him at the time was the recent hype and the "Born to Run" album that only came out a couple of weeks before."
"The show began slowly and beautifully -- I could see music building to what would well have been earth-shattering without the bomb scare. He was the street poet then, caressing his odes to the boardwalk life (a killer "Meeting Across the River"). During "Spirit in the Night," he crawled up and down the aisle of the small theater, the first of many demonstrations of trust in humanity and his fans.
"...(A)fter 45 minutes (that used to be a whole concert, remember?), (WQFM DJ Bob) Reitman came out and said something to Bruce. There were worried faces and confusion. Two people looked all over and under the piano before Bruce sat down to play himself, solo, a tense, riveting "Thunder Road." Then Bruce said, "My friend here got something to say," and Reitman gave us the news in his best "don't panic" voice. (A bomb threat had been phoned in from an anonymous caller, rumored to have been a racist irked by Springsteen's Jewish-sounding surname.) They said we all had to get out, but we could come back at midnight if we saved our ticket stubs.
"My friend and I headed outside to a bar in the area that had not seen a younger crowd in a while. We soon headed back to the theater. I think my car was parked right in front of the theater, so we stood in line listening to Bruce on the radio as the DJs tried to figure out what was going on.
"The false alarm was rescinded and we headed back in at midnight. My friend and I were now in the front row, to the far right. Everything had changed. Gone were the melodramatic mood and the somber intellectual pretentions. Springsteen came out with his stocking cap pulled down almost over his eyes, and all bets were off. Listening to the bootleg now, I can hear the magic, the wild abandoning of whatever they planned for that night. It was suddenly the Stone Pony (one of Springsteen's Jersey haunts), or maybe better.
"There was a guy there from out east that I kind of knew from an English class in Madison before I (temporarily) dropped out a couple of years before. He was far more aware of the Springsteen catalog than I was. He was in the front row in the middle and went absolutely nuts over one song that I was hearing for the first time. His face was as close to rapture as I'll ever see. He was rocking back and forth toward the stage, singing back at the right parts Looking back, that could only have been one song, heard (live) that night and never since: "Kitty's Back."
"At the end, Bruce announced that we got to have one more song and it was by Gary "U.S." Bonds. My friend, to my surprise, was the only one in the crowd who yelled, "Quarter to Three!" Bruce came right over to us and said, "Wha?" My friend yelled it again (I wanted to help, but it was like some dream where you just can't get it out) and Bruce said, "Wha?" This went on for what seemed like an eternity, until my friend said it one more time and Bruce said, "Well, alright!" and there they went. I wanted the bootleg just for that moment, and there it is: the call-and-response between Bruce Springsteen and my best friend. You can't hope for anything better than that night. Can't happen."
Summerfest, July 4, 1977
A year to the day after the Ramones' Bicentennial debut at London's Roundhouse that galvanized the London punk rock scene, the four patriotic moptops from Forest Hills celebrated America's birthday at Milwaukee's Summerfest. Paul Host, WMSE Music Director (1982-'94), DJ, and Teamster, was there. "It was in the spot where the Harley stage would be now, but it was a lot smaller stage."
"I was with my friends from college -- I think we might have just been cruising the grounds-- and we walked past this appearance of the Ramones -- I should say performance -- and I was caught by it. I was mesmerized, like a deer in the headlights. My friends thought it sucked, but I was like, 'Aw, come on, this is great.'
"I just knew right when I saw them that this was it, this was really great music. It just started me on a whole trek to find it. I don't know why the Ramones couldn't be a hit if the Standells were, as far as AM radio. (R)ock 'n' roll was real pompous...more like light shows and smoke and mirrors...so this captured me.
"We were standing...behind the bleacher-type seats, and I would say there wasn't more than 10 people in the audience, although, if I remember right, one of them was Bob Reitman. Later on you had people dressing a certain way. People looked, as I remember, pretty much average, 'cause the look really hadn't caught on. There were a few people in town...in leather jackets and everything else, but I just remember mostly average folks.
"There weren't very many people, so it was like, well, just stand up front. Then I was back by my friends who didn't want to go any closer. But I was enjoying it and going, 'Come on, let's stay a while, it'll probably get better,' so I was loving it."
They stayed a short while, "Probably only for about five songs." Did it get better?
"Not to (my friends), but to me...it was a life-changing experience, 'cause it just sent me in a whole other direction, where I just had to seek out whatever came along, like the Dead Boys or anything in that vein."
"I guess the Ramones never really changed, now that I think about it. They probably, really, were never any different any other time I saw them after that. They were still the Ramones. They just grabbed you with their kind of slam-you-in-the-face style. It was more intense than some of these album rock virtuoso Jethro Tull flute-player characters.
"I remember talking with (Electric Assholes/Blackholes guitarist) Rob Czarnezki, who seemed to be pretty good with a guitar, and one thing we both agreed on right away about the Ramones was that writing a good three-chord song is still genius.
Asked if he spoke to the Ramones, Host says, "No, they spoke to me, I guess."
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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