Even a casual music fan can conjure up an image of a favorite concert. We breathe it all in: the sounds, the sights, the feeling of unity in the building (or outside at a festival). It might have cost a lot to get it, but it was worth it.
On the flip side, most of us can also remember a time we felt robbed. We laid down hard-earned scratch expecting a night to remember. And we got it, but for all the wrong reasons. Maybe the sound was awful, maybe the band had an off night, maybe some dude stole the Springsteen T-shirt off your chair while you were standing up dancing – but we digress.
At the suggestion of a curious reader, OnMilwaukee.com staffers – music lovers all – take a walk down bad memory lane to remember the worst concert they’ve ever seen...
Pick: Neil Diamond
Sometimes the stars align just right, but they forget to shine. Neil Diamond. Expensive tickets, but I saved up. Me and my wife. It was a hot summer night. (Too bad it wasn’t August). We were fourth row center at the Marcus Amphitheater. Craig Counsell was sitting next to me. And Neil Diamond, still slender and silvery after all these years, mailed it in.
There was not a touch of originality or example that he was trying. He was scripted, oh so scripted. If I had a dollar for every "I love you Milwaukee," I could have paid for the tickets. I remember the lady behind me saying, "how come he never looks at us." Every song was sung to some invisible fan up in the sky. I love Neil Diamond, cheesy as he is. But this wasn’t Neil Diamond. It was a hologram.
Pick: Gotye at the Riverside
I went to the Gotye concert because I was reviewing it, and I gave an honest review: it was a good show...if you like that kind of thing. I don't. It's not that I'm opposed to new music - I've gone to lots of concerts put on by artists I'm unfamiliar with, and come away with a desire to get to know their music better. Not so with Gotye. He didn't make me want to know him any better. I think he's a talented artist and his use of a variety of different (and obscure) instruments was impressive...but forgettable. Literally the only song I can remember hearing that night was the ubiquitous "Somebody That I Used to Know." And, of course, the place was crawling with hipsters.
Pick: Unknown Hippie Band on the Lakefront
No, that’s not their name. I have no idea who they are. They were one of the bands that set up shop on the lakefront during Summerfest with an open guitar case and a name (maybe) scrawled across some cardboard. I saw them last summer when, as I was walking by, the lead singer says "Here's a new song that we haven't practiced at all – let’s do it a capella!" What a great way to suck people in, lemme tell ya. It was clear they hadn’t rehearsed that song and it was clearly a mistake to do it a capella. Yet I found myself entranced by it. Many others were as well. Was this a full fledged "concert?" No. I listened to four songs, which were amazingly awful. It was one of the worst "concerts" I’ve ever been to in Milwaukee, yet one of my fondest Summerfest memories.
Pick: Volcano Choir
I love Bon Iver and was very excited to see frontman Justin Vernon's side project, Volcano Choir – a collaboration with Milwaukee band Collections of Colonies of Bees. The show took place in March 2011 at Turner Hall, and although the band sounded pretty good, they only performed a handful of songs. I want to say around five or six. It would have been a short-but-OK set if they were the opening band, but as the headlining act is was perplexing and disappointing. They had only recorded one album together, but I thought – along with many other audience members who were grumbling on their way out of the venue – that they were going to perform new material, previously-unreleased tracks or at the very least a few solid covers.
I tend to cut bands some slack. It’s harder work than many think, especially for touring bands. Usually, to me, a stinky show sucks because a band looks like it’s going through the motions or has lost the gusto to perform the key tasks required, like writing a set list. The only time I ever had the (dis)pleasure of seeing Cracker was at the Miramar Theater, on the tour for, if I recall correctly, "Forever." The band got onstage without a set list. Fine. But before every song, they’d ask the crowd for requests. Of course, the calls were for familiar songs, which angered the band, who countered, "request something from the new record." Which, in turn, angered the crowd. Every time a song ended, we played this ridiculous game again. Cracker was a band of touring veterans by 2002, there’s no reason they couldn’t have predicted the outcome when they decided to begin a show without a set list, which could’ve been hashed out in a few minutes backstage. I left midway through, unable to watch the debacle anymore. The upside was opener Garrison Starr was on fire and played a great set of tunes from her then-current record, "Songs From Take-Off to Landing."
I’ve seen a lot of mediocre live shows, but only one left me angry. Several years ago I saw Cake at The Pabst Theater. Technically, they sounded perfect. So what was the problem? Front man John McCrea scowled his way through the set, seemingly showing contempt for the adoring audience. Not only did he not smile or speak to the audience, when he finally did – before a cover of "I Will Survive" – he said something to the extent of, "People ask us why we covered this song. No reason at all." As much as I love this band, I’ll never see it again live, and I’ve talked to other fans who share the same feeling. A close second was seeing Dennis Miller, also at The Pabst. He recycled most of his set from a 1993 show I saw in college, but he'd also lost his funny, turning his act into a right-wing monologue. So, so disappointing.