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.
As someone not unacquainted with the joys and perils of pointless list-making, I had a particular problem with this Top 5. It grows out of a paradox familiar to all written prose, but especially piquant in list-composition — that is, the uncomfortably close relationship between banality and truth. While I’d like to be the kind of person whose totally sincere Top 5 Rock Shows of All Time are Pere Ubu, Chaka Khan, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and Pat Benatar (correction: no I wouldn’t), I am just not that kind of person (second correction: hmm, I may have to rethink this Screamin’ Jay Hawkins thing… I do love nose horns). So be warned: obviousness lies ahead.
5. T-Rex, 1972. It’s hard to think of an act more outrageously, goofily sexed-up than Marc Bolan’s T.Rex in their early/mid ’70s prime. Seriously, check out their 1971 appearance on Top of the Pops, with the stage and set laden almost past breaking with drugged out blondes and confused-looking brunettes. But I wouldn’t want to see T. Rex in ’72, just after the release of Slider, just to try to hook up. I’d come for the unapologetic rawk, and I’d stay for Bolan’s spooky, pre-glam trippiness, doled out in small but triumphantly weird doses. Here’s a great live version of “Cosmic Dancer”:
4. New Order, 1987. I suppose this is a little past their early ’80s peak, when the post-Joy Division crew first assaulted audiences with swirling, majestically poppy masterpieces like “Ceremony” and “Blue Monday.” But I think I’d like to see the Trainspotting ’87 version of “Temptation” — backed up, if possible, with images of Reagan and Gorbachev on a projector screen. Plus, they were touring that year with Echo & the Bunnymen, also on the top of their game. It would be arena-ish ’80s rock, but it would still be rad. Here’s a potent “Age of Consent” from that year:
3. The Who, 1970. Cliche alert! But come on, you wouldn’t want to sit in with them, live at the Isle of Wight? IT’S LEGENDARY. Actually, maybe you wouldn’t. I get the sense that in the last few years The Who, unlike even the zombified Rolling Stones, have been marked down a peg or three in the coolness standings. Was it the child porn thing? CSI? CSI: Miami? CSI: New York? I’m not sure, but even my own iTunes furnishes grim evidence of diminished airtime. But I still love this band, and I would love to have seen them run through their undeniable early pop classics, a viciously electric, hard-edged ‘Tommy’, and even offer a few hints at their glorious, bloated, ’70s arena rock future. Plus, no matter what you think of The Who, unless you’re Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (see above), you just can’t top the outfits: chesty cowboy, geeky gas-man, silent skeleton. Go ahead, ease up on the presentist smarm and let yourself get splashed by Roger’s buckskin:
2. The Rolling Stones, 1972. OK, another cliche, but an unavoidable one, in my case. The hardest part is figuring out which era to visit: of course there’s a voyeuristic desire to be at Altamont, in ’69, to witness the Death of the Sixties, but I’m pretty sure that qualifies as #1A in Dave’s list of easy and terrible answers to this question. Then, of course, mid-’60s has its charms: check out Brian Jones, resplendent in white with his sitar for a 1966 “Paint It, Black.” But I think I have to go with the Mick Taylor Era: between Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street, standard-formula rock and roll has never been so great. YouTube lets me down a bit, here, though — I can’t find a live “Sway” or “Lovin’ Cup” worthy of the studio versions. But here’s the live audio to “Sweet Virginia” with some film footage from the era… Just try to stop the waves behind your eyeballs:
1. Van Morrison, 1969. Astral Weeks, surely the most beautiful and transcendent rock recording of all time, was released in late 1968. So at some point in 1969, before he recorded Moondance, Van Morrison must have bummed around the East Coast and the British Isles, at least, singing the title track and “Sweet Thing” and “Madame George” and the rest in what I imagine were relatively modest club venues. Right? Sadly, YouTube provides no relevant evidence. But if it happened, that’s the show I most want to see. The utter absence of footage only confirms in my mind that this was indeed Van’s magical live moment, in between the tender pop-star stiffness of the Them years (look for the subliminal donkey), and the lazy decadence of the “Last Waltz” era. This 1979 version of “Cyprus Avenue” doesn’t begin to do justice to the poetry in my head, but second to a corner bar in Belfast, in February 1969, it’s the best I think I can do: Van Morrison, Cyprus Avenue [and in what I’m going to assume is an Orange plot, embedding of this video is disabled, so you’ll have to listen to the audio below or click through for the video -ed]
Update: in lieu of live footage, this 1971 Rolling Stone review makes a pretty good case for seeing Van the Man live, supposedly at a venue with under 3,000 people: “For an encore Van offered “Cyprus Avenue.” Working his way up to a ferocious conclusion, he stood before the audience shaking his head back and forth, hair falling about him, looking like a man insane. Finally, with tension mounting, he ran across the stage, ran back again, jumped over a microphone chord, held the mike up to his face and screamed, “It’s too late to stop now,” and was gone.”