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.
This is part one of David G’s Hot Tub Time Machine post. See Part 2 here.
There is really only two good things about being a music blog’s editor: you can break your own rules and split a post into two parts. And every once in a while, you get to do what you couldn’t get away with at the bar: close out the argument and pretend your choices are the ultimate.
Even though I was the one who insisted on this list and have been asking barstool neighbors and bartenders this question for months, I’m having a lot of trouble coming up with my list of top 5 bands I’d time travel to see in their prime. Sure, it’s difficult to parse exactly what’s important (ha ha) in going back in time to see a show, as Chris and Material Lives have both pointed out. But that’s not my problem. My problem is that I’m going see Pavement next Friday. Pavement. And I have sweet seats. And did I mention that I’m seeing Pavement?
So right now, I’m having a lot of difficulty not just ranking Pavement 1-5. Or, for that matter, using my imaginary time machine to jump a week AHEAD to the show (and, why not, travel back in time first, so I could switch my 12th row tickets for 1st row). But, well, that’s probably not entirely a good idea. And, since I set up the rules, I might as well obey them.
My list, in chronological order, is guided by three principles. That choosing a live show should both be about the brilliance of the artist live and, to a lesser degree and in the most etymological playful of the word, the momentousness of the show. And that there’d be some lack of 20/20 vision about the concert: at a fickle artist, you could end up time traveling back to see a dreadful show. In short, I’d time travel to see an act with it feet planted fiercely in the now of the past, with one eye cocked to the future. Of course, my list cheats all over the place.
1. The Miles Davis Sextet, Philadelphia, 1958
John Coltrane's house in West Philly: Did they stay here?
Tenet #1: No musician in the twentieth century had as great an artistic output in a year as Miles Davis did in 1958. Go ahead, ignore that he created his greatest album, Porgy and Bess, that year. But playing with a (drug-free) Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Philly Joe Jones, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers, Red Garland, and Jimmy Cobb. Recording Milestones? Undeniable.
Tenet #2: No group of musicians ever assembled played together were as great or played as well as the Miles Davis Sextet of 1958. John Coltrane, Philly Joe Jones, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers, Miles Davis. I’ll respect you if you’d argue the first or second Classic Quintet, but not that much.
Tenet #3: Some of my friends have been replaced with pod people. For the Noise Narcs who love Miles Davis (Chris T, Trent W) and wouldn’t use a time machine visit to see Miles in this incarnation, I have to wonder: what have you done with my friends? There are at least three musicians in this lineup worth wasting a time travel trip separately for.
In 1958, Davis invited my favorite jazz pianist, Bill Evans, to try out for the sextet in Brooklyn. Several days later, Evans joined them in Philadelphia as part of the greatest sextet of all time. I love Philly so much I’d probably waste a time machine trip just to see it in its 1950s heyday. Getting to see Bill Evans first gig with the sextet in Philly? Sign me up, friend, and how do you want me to deliver my first born? FedEx? Delorean? Also, do I get to stay at either Coltrane’s or Philly Joe Jones’ Philadelphian homes?
I can’t find a recording of that Philly show, but these recording at New York’s Plaza Hotel in 1958 and Newport 1958, will have to do. Oh my will they do.
Miles Davis Sextet, “My Funny Valentine (Live, 1958 Sessions)” [Buy]
Miles Davis Sextet, “Two Bass Hit (Live, 1958, Newport)” [Buy]
2. James Brown, Apollo Theater, 1962
Jesus’ Son is not a very good movie. It does, however, have the definitive line on music.
FH: I wanna know everything about you. All of it.
Michelle: Ask me.
FH: Like, like, what do you like?
Michelle: Like what?
FH: Well, like, what kind of music?
Michelle: James Brown
Exactly. What kind of music do I like? James Brown.
Specifically, the kind of music that James Brown was playing in the early 1960s, while he was still transitioning from soul to funk, when soul was bleeding through his funk, and funk through his soul. Specifically, the kind of music that he was playing with his spotless band on October 24th, 1962 at the Apollo Theater, which he captured, using his own money, on arguably the best live disc of all time. But really, the specifics don’t matter: my kind of music is James Brown.
James Brown, “Try Me (Live at the Apollo, 1962)” [Buy]