This week, Noise Narcs answers the age-old question: What five bands would you travel back in time to see in their prime? To see other responses, jump in the hot tub.
What 5 acts would I waste a time machine trip on to see in their prime? It seems to me that there are two primary impulses to consider when answering this question.
Generally speaking, part of the essence of seeing live music is its unpredictability, and the first impulse is that desire to experience the unpredictable, energetic presence of the act. Nina Simone might flip out on some random person in the audience with the audacity to get up to use the bathroom. Scott Stapp might be too drunk and word-slurry to finish the show. The point is that you don’t know! Anything could happen because it’s the here and now.
The second impulse, which is not so much a function of live music as it is of time-machine fantasies, is the desire to witness and/or participate in something historic. Maybe you want to be able to say, “I was at Altamont,” or “remember when Billy Joe got hit with a clump of mud at Woodstock ’94? I threw that clump!”
My first pick (these five are ordered chronologically and not otherwise ranked) obeys this second impulse much more than the first. It also totally rips off the answer given by the members of Grubby Little Hands when Dave asked them a version of this question:
#1: The Premiere of The Rite of Spring at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in 1913
The riots that erupted during this concert are mostly exaggerations, I suspect. Did Camille Saint-Saens storm out within minutes over what he felt was an abuse of bassoons? Probably not. And according to Stravinsky scholar, Richard Taruskin, any punches thrown were more likely a reaction to Nijinksy’s radical choreography than to Stravinsky’s radical score. Still, how could you not want to see a bunch of fancy-pants Parisians go even mildly ape-shit over something they saw at a ballet? What a time to be alive.
Why it might not be a good show: If I’m invested in the old way of doing things. If I get hurt in the riots. If Coco Chanel finds me charmless and won’t laugh at any of my jokes.
About the clip: You can catch a reproduction modeled on Nijinsky’s original choreography here, but it doesn’t have any dinosaurs in it. This does.
Pick number two, on the contrary, is much more about presence than history:
#2: Billie Holiday
Lady Day was undoubtedly one of jazz’s greatest singers as well as one of its most tragic stories, which says quite a lot. She died at the age of 44 with 70 cents in the bank in a hospital room guarded by arresting police officers after a lifetime of withering drug abuse. Everything that she ever recorded, even the happy songs, sounds sad when I hear it.
Why it might not be a good show: I don’t know, maybe if Glenn Beck were in the audience and he was eating potato chips really loudly and talking about how much Martin Luther King, Jr. took after him.
About the clip: I don’t know what this is from, but it’s a pretty high quality video recording of her singing “My Man,” which is not one of the happy songs.
#3: The Doors
My third choice is probably the one that I feel least sure about. The probability of a bad show is pretty high, I would guess. Jim Morrison was not known for caring much about whether he put on a solid performance, and he expressed that indifference by singing with his back to the audience or getting far to drunk to entertain, but thanks to that he also seems to me to form much of the basis for the narcissistic rock front-man archetype. He’s like the David Koresh or Jim Jones of rock music. He’s charismatic and you love him even though he acts like you don’t exist.
Why it might not be a good show: If Morrison isn’t the right amount of drunk or on the right amount of drugs. If I’m not the right amount of drunk or on the right amount of drugs.
About the clip: The band performs “The End” in front of some kind of worshipful studio audience. Not the most energetic or even the most theatrical of clips one could find on youtube, but I like how at around the 4:44 mark, Robbie Krieger looks freaked like all of a sudden he doesn’t know what going on. After sounding a few pretty off notes, he eventually figures it out.
#4 Black Sabbath (the original lineup)
I could see Black Sabbath now if I wanted to, but the band I’m talking about is the Black Sabbath of the first three albums. The Black Sabbath who called what they did “doom and gloom” music, who named themselves after a campy horror flick, and who announced to the hippies that the sixties were over and there’s nothing but ashes left in the peace pipe. We’ve given birth to sin and death, so welcome to it.
I’ve always regarded Tommy Iommi as a pretty mediocre guitarist and a lot of his solos sound like me showing off what I learned in my third ever guitar lesson, but Bill Ward and Geezer Butler make up a solid support for Ozzy Osbourne’s doughy antics.
Why it might not be a good show: If I hated mustaches. If I were a woman.
About the clip: “War Pigs” in Paris, 1970. A song as relevant today as in the waning years of the Vietnam War. Also, rhyming “masses” with “masses?” Genius!
#5: Bob Marley & the Wailers
This is probably an odd pick for me as I’ve never been a huge fan of reggae, but I think that Bob Marley really was a pretty remarkable person who had been so mythologized and so mis-appropriated by the time I was exploring music that what I want to see is when he was still just a man who loved peace and Jah instead of a dormitory poster or code for marijuana.
Why the show might not be good: If somehow the members of a college fraternity got their hands on a time machine.
About the clip: A rehearsal of “Forever Loving Jah” in Kingston, 1980, the year before his death from cancer.