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.
5. The White Stripes
Two years ago, I saw The Raconteurs live at the New American Music Union festival. The also-rans at that festival were Spoon, The Roots, Bob Dylan, and The Black Keys. Surprisingly, the band known down under as The Saboteurs put on, by far, the best show of the weekend, largely on the strength of Mr. Jack White’s contribution. For me, it was reminiscent of seeing Method Man performing with Wu-Tang: on a stage populated by perfectly capable and charismatic musicians, White drew all attention to himself. During a song in which his contribution was minimal, he took great pains to climb a massive speaker tower at the side of the stage. He also requested that the audience throw joints onstage and jumped in front of other band members while they were singing to emphatically grab his crotch.
No, wait, those were all things Method Man did.
Mr. White’s enticements were far more subtle, possibly even unintentional. For the most part, he seemed like he really wanted to function as just one part of a regular old rock band. He was just as happy to step back into the shadows and play keys on one song as he was to be front-and-center singing lead on the next. (Actually, he wasn’t even set up in the center; Brendan Benson was.) Problem was, he performed with such passion and exuded such enigmatic star power that no one in the audience could help but keep one eye on Jack at all times. Am I gushing? I guess I am, but it’s only because that show reminded me what the term “rock star” originally meant. I mean, it was obvious dude was really made for this purpose.
So maybe my interest in the seeing The White Stripes can be boiled down to simply an interest in seeing Jack White. And, of course, I’ve already seen him once and I can certainly see him again. Why then, you ask, would I waste a time machine trip just for the addition of Meg’s sloppy drumming? Because I like The White Stripes music far more than that of Jack White’s other projects to date. (And maybe something about the focused energy of a duo.) I think a White Stripes show would probably be the best context in which to see him. It’s that simple.
4. The Headhunters
I fully expect that someone will include in their Hot Tub list one of the great jazz artists from the bop or post-bop eras: possibly one of the classic Miles lineups, or Coltrane, or maybe even Monk or Mingus. And those names were also tempting for me to include. However, if we’re talking about the sheer visceral entertainment value of a live show, nothing in jazz tops the groundbreaking funk-laden fusion of The Headhunters with Herbie Hancock.
Or without him. While Hancock was instrumental in bringing together the musicians and providing direction for what would become The Headhunters, any of the early lineups will do for me. It was specifically the linear interplay of bassist Paul Jackson and drummer Mike Clark (or Harvey Mason, as on the first record) that made The Headhunters sound unlike anything that came before it, and continues make me launch into unprompted monologues on the elusive concept of “pocket.” Adding to the heat that must’ve been coming off that road as they paved it were the hints of early Afro-futurism in the band’s dress and overall concept. So, while I still might be able to catch some permutation of the group doing a lukewarm impression of itself at a festival for guys with graying ponytails, I’d gladly drop one of my time machine tokens to see them like this:
3. Stevie Wonder
For very similar reasons, you can file Stevie in the “You can still see him today, but why would you want to?” bin. Everyone knows about the inimitable string of legendary albums he turned out between 1972 and 1976. However, the difference in his output was as distinct as “Ebony and Ivory” as soon as he began “Just Call[ing] to Say I Love You” and “Happy Birthday” to The Woman in Red. And while it may be that “That’s What Friends are For,” Stevie should know that when you try to “Send One Your Love” in this manner, it becomes abundantly clear that you’re little more than a “Part Time Lover.” You’re really just one of the many Characters destined to Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, stricken with Jungle Fever, leaving your fans (“We [who] Are the World,” after all) to pine “For Your Love” and wonder, “How Come, How Long?”
I’d like to see Stevie Wonder in the mid-seventies.
2. Led Zeppelin
In his book Killing Yourself to Live, Chuck Klosterman asserts that while Led Zeppelin will always rank third on the list of greatest rock bands, they are “far and away the most popular rock band of all time, and they’re popular in a way the Beatles and Stones cannot possibly compete with.” This popularity, he goes on to explain, can be attributed to a phenomenon known as the “Zeppelin phase”—a period in the life of “every straight man born after the year 1958” wherein “the music of Led Zeppelin sounds like the perfect actualization of the perfectly cool you.”
Despite Klosterman’s tendency to hyperbolize in support of a larger point about culture, I think this observation of an obligatory “Zeppelin phase” of male development is pretty astute. It’s evidenced by the fact that in every high school (or college) classroom, from the time our parents were in high school (or college) through today, you’re likely to find at least one guy wearing a Zeppelin shirt
I got my Zeppelin tee sometime in junior high, around 1994, or roughly 14 years after John Bonham died and the group disbanded. (I’ve never owned a t-shirt from any other band that did not exist during my lifetime.) This was shortly after I purchased Led Zeppelin IV—an album which marked the lone overlap of my then hip-hop-dominated music collection with my rather staid father’s Seals & Crofts-dominated collection on a Venn Diagram. (To this day, IV stands as one of only two commonalities in our respective collections, the other being Thriller.) And a little later that same year, I watched the concert film The Song Remains the Same. And while my “Zeppelin phase” has long since ended, my desire to see them live remains the same.
Led Zeppelin, “Black Dog (Live Video)” [Embedding disabled, click through to view]
1. James Brown
The hardest-working man in show business. Any discussion is pointless. Just watch the videos.
Honorable Mentions (in no particular order): Curtis Mayfield, Talking Heads, Nirvana, Sly & the Family Stone, Blind Melon, N.W.A., Jimi Hendrix, The Clash, Professor Longhair, Michael Jackson, Andy Kaufman