30 years of concerts

Exactly 30 years ago today, on March 12 1984, I saw my first rock concert. At the tender age of 12, I managed to convince my parents to take me to see KISS at the Colisée in Quebec City. I’d managed to convince my parents to take me the year before, on the Creatures of the Night tour, but my mom wasn’t too keen on it despite having agreed to it, and she had me choose between getting the tickets for Christmas, or getting Donkey Kong for my Intellivision. And I chose the gorilla. When later in the year the band dropped their makeup, I realized how much I’d goofed, thinking I’d never get a chance to experience that. (Of course the reunion, farewell, ‘not really farewell’, ‘we changed our minds’ and ‘let’s keep going’ tours fixed that in spade)

The Colisée as it stands now. I still can’t bring myself to call it the Colisée Pepsi. (image from Wikipedia)

The Colisée is an old ice hockey arena that was built in 1949, and even though it was extensively renovated in the late 70’s when the Nordiques joined the NHL, it still had that old neighborhood arena feel to it. It’s still in operation, although construction has started on a new building that will open in 2015. (it’s funny to consider that the older building took 7 months to build from breaking ground to opening!) I remember walking the corridors with my parents to get to our section, and you could feel the vibe coming from inside. It felt so much different than the vibe at a hockey game! When we got to our seats, I wondered why there was a haze of smoke across the arena and wondered what that peculiar smell was (I’ve always been a little naive). I couldn’t believe how many speakers were on stage (didn’t know most were fake) and suspended above the stage! I remember counting them and wondering why they needed so many.

The opening act was German metalers Accept, who were at the time riding the wave of their hit Balls to the Wall. I remember my seat started to shake from the sheer volume they were playing at. I couldn’t believe anything could be this loud! (four years later I saw Motörhead live and realised that shit could get MUCH louder) I only knew that one song, and their set was like the music video coming alive before me. For some reason, it took me years to explore the reste of their catalog, despite liking what I heard that day. And, funnily enough, with my limited knowledge of english I had trouble deciphering the lyrics through the decibels and singer Udo Dirkschneider’s German accent, so I spent years looking for a song called This is a Wall, only to eventually realize that it was their second most famous track, and was actually called Restless and Wild (I swear at the time the words sounded the same).

Then came time for the main event. It’s hard to understand these days the air of mystery bands had. We saw their pictures on record sleeves and magazines, sometimes saw them on TV giving interviews. We saw the music videos. But mostly, they existed in our mind’s eyes, unburdened by a constant barrage of information coming from their social media and the Internet. You never knew about their personal lives, and that made them bigger than life. So when KISS walked on stage, it hit hard: they were there, right in front of me. And imagine, that tour was a flop, so the stage set was pared down a lot: they just walked on stage. Had they descended from the ceiling, my 12 year old self might have gone into shock.

About 10 years ago, I managed to get a copy of a widely circulated bootleg video from that show. I can honestly say that it’s not up to my memories (and around the same time I got my hands on an audio recording from the show I missed the previous year. Let’s just say this laid to rest any regret I might have carried from missing that show). These weren’t their best years on stage (on record they still rocked) but there was an aura around concerts that was just magical. As a teenager, I scrapped every dollar I could get to buy tickets. I couldn’t see a lot of shows, so I had to choose carefully! The same year I saw Iron Maiden on their World Slavery Tour with Twisted Sister opening (during their 15 minutes of fame) and from then on, I was hooked. Seeing musicians I admire, in the flesh, playing music for me was like a drug. And like an addict, I keep chasing the thrill of that first high. This is a big part of why I named this blog Diary of a Music Addict. I think back to those first shows, I can still feel the sights, the sound and the smell of the arena. I can feel the electricity and excitement in the air as our idols would make their way onstage. I can remember the bus rides home, my ears still ringing, trying to assimilate what I’d just experienced.

Over the last 30 years, I’ve seen about 225 shows, not including a bunch of bar bands. For that first KISS show, tickets were 12.50$ (a month later prices for concerts were raised to 13.50$, and by November Maiden was charging 14.50$, to great cries from the public). I even remember the host of a music show on TV claiming that people would soon be unable to afford tickets.

Flash forward 25 years, and in 2009 I paid 350$ for a 5th row ticket to KISS (as part of their Gold Ticket package, I also got a 50$ merchandise voucher, a program, poster and the ugliest KISS shirt I’ve ever seen). I keep a digital scrapbook of every concert I’ve ever seen where I scan every stub, keep the setlists and any picture or advertisement I can find. The rise of the web has made that part much easier.

Index page of my scrapbook. You can tell I've got eclectic tastes!
Index page of my scrapbook. You can tell I’ve got eclectic tastes!
An example of a concert page. Additional tabs can be added for pictures or videos.
An example of a concert page. Additional tabs can be added for pictures or videos.

Some of the highlights:

  • Seeing Stevie Ray Vaughan twice. The first time he opened for Robert Plant on the Now & Zen tour. Fantastic performance, both times.
  • Seeing Paul McCartney twice. He’s not young anymore but he still brings it. Seeing a Beatle live was awe inspiring.
  • Queensrÿche on the Operation: Mindcrime tour, opening for Metallica on the …And Justice For All tour. Both bands at their peak. Queensrÿche would, years later, go on to provide the most poorly constructed show I’ve seen where they played the whole of Mindcrime, followed by the whole Mindcrime 2. Let’s just say that the second part didn’t live up to the first.
  • Guns ‘n Roses (original line up) opening for Iron Maiden in 1988. They were almost completely unknown at the time, and weren’t very good. Despite what Duff and Slash recall in their respective biographies, they did not go over well. Quebec was definitely Maiden territory, and the crowd had little patience for the opening acts!
  • Roger Waters doing The Wall. This went beyond a rock show and into spectacle territory! The only show that came close in its grandiosity was U2’s 360 tour.
  • The Eagles on their Farewell 1 tour. Musically perfect.
  • Discovering a little known  Canadian band called The Trews opening for Robert Plant in 2005. They became one of my favourite bands of the last 20 years.
  • Porcupine Tree on the Deadwing tour. I only knew a handful of songs, but was blown away by the band. Became a big fan that night.

And I could go on and on. I feel lucky to have seen all my favourite artists multiple times (I’ve seen Iron Maiden, Dream Theater, Rush and KISS more than 10 times each, with Maiden the reigning champ at 17 times), and I’ve discovered a lot of cool artists along the way (that’s why I always try to show up for the opening acts). Not a lot of really bad shows, but for sure some I didn’t connect with (I actually fell asleep during Billy Joel’s 2008 concert, through no fault of his). Not a lot of acts left on my Must See list either (counting only active artists of course). My number one must see act is Cheap Trick who rarely come to Montreal, and the last two times, the shows were cancelled. Come on guys, Montreal wants you to want it!

Here’s to the next 200 hundred shows!

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  • Christophe Pagès , March 12, 2014 @ 1:13 pm

    You beat me on here, Jeff. Mine was November 1st, 1984 and I was 13, on the Animalize tour (with Bruce). Same story though, I was blown away, but when I watch the Animalize Live Uncensored show that was taped maybe 4 weeks after my 1st show now, I’m just “duh…”. Still, that show changed my life forever.

    • jfvachon , March 12, 2014 @ 11:14 pm

      You never forget your first show, no matter how bad it was. 🙂 Thanks for the comment Chris!

  • Liza Wood , March 12, 2014 @ 8:46 pm

    The KISS vs. Donkey Kong story explains so much… and clearly foreshadowing your eventual career 🙂 Thanks for sharing your memories. Great read!

    • jfvachon , March 12, 2014 @ 11:12 pm

      I hadn’t even thought of it that way, but you’re right. My career choice was clearly meant to be. And the game industry even took over my music career, so there’s some symmetry there too. Thanks for the comment!

  • Shauna DeGruchy , March 15, 2014 @ 9:48 am

    The Trews are from my hometown! The mother of two of the band members taught me French in high school :P. Nice collection of experiences!

    • jfvachon , March 15, 2014 @ 10:43 am

      Nice story! They’re from Antigosh, NS, right? Thanks for the comment!

      • Shauna DeGruchy , March 15, 2014 @ 11:00 am

        Yeah, they are! I haven’t seen them in a few years, but from what I hear their new music is great. I like the direction that they’ve taken with their sound.

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