A Big Night Out
Exploding amps. Passed-out drummers. Bad sandwich trays. Even though a band might log hundreds of shows every year, some nights stand out from the blur. We asked one question of Boston musicians, from punk-cabaret pioneer Amanda Palmer and folksinger Ellis Paul, to hardcore rapper Slaine and iconic keyboardist/producer Al Kooper: What was the most memorable concert you’ve ever played?
The Dropkick Murphys
All over the world for 16 years, you see some s***, but just recently in Rome the show was invaded by 60 soccer hooligans who attacked everyone and sprayed us with tear gas onstage. Crazy night. But once the riot was over and the tear gas cleared, we played an acoustic set with all the lights on, and it was like one big happy sing-along. That was followed by our first-ever show in Moscow, where the barricade and stage collapsed. Good times.
Playing with Patti Smith at the Meltdown festival in London was a trip and a half. I think it was 2006; Patti was curating the festival, and she’d chosen [my band] the Dresden Dolls to perform on a multi-act, night-long tribute to Brecht. I think it was us, Antony, Marc Almond, the Tiger Lillies, the Finn Brothers… just a list of theater-freaky luminaries as long as your arm, playing at the Royal Festival Hall. My brain spun. And I watched Patti Smith totally f*** up “Mack the Knife” and laugh her way through all the f***-ups, totally charming the whole audience. My hero.
Killswitch Engage played the Download Festival 2010 in the U.K. with AC/DC. As if sharing the stage with AC/DC wasn’t enough, there were 110,000 people in attendance that day. To see a sea of people that big is overwhelming, to say the least, and it can be hard to keep your wits about you. Usually in a case like this, I stare at the floor for the first few songs. Then I gradually get up enough courage to pick my head up and look at the crowd. It was truly a mind-blowing experience.
Mission of Burma/Alloy Orchestra
I was touring in my Maximum Electric Piano mode in 1987, and I was at O’Cayz Corral in Madison, Wis. I noticed that the booker, who was a friend of mine, was watching me intently, perched like a bird on the bar about 15 feet from the stage. As the composition shifted into chaotic noise territory (lots of distortion, piling up of delays, etc.), I noted out of the corner of my eye that his cheeks were oddly expanded. Then I saw him put a match directly in front of his face, and he proceeded to spray out the lighter fluid he had been holding in his mouth. I was engulfed in flames and smoke, and the temperature rose at least 30 degrees. I could barely see, but I kept on attacking my piano strings with a guitar slide, holding my breath. When the smoke cleared and my visibility was more than two feet, I saw my man was still perched on the bar with a big grin on his face. I made it out alive, and we were both amused immensely. No burn marks were on my face.
My group, La Coka Nostra, did a show in Switzerland at the Frauenfeld Festival in 2010. There were about 50,000 people there, and the place was going nuts. Toward the end of our set, we always do a paranoid old Non Phixion song called “Black Helicopters,” where we talk about black helicopters following us wherever we go, and we have a helicopter sound playing while we tell everybody to put two middle fingers up in the air and dedicate it to anyone you ever wanted to say “f*** you” to. Out of nowhere a black helicopter comes hovering over the crowd and stops. We couldn’t believe it. So immediately I incited everybody to aim their middle fingers at the helicopter and say “f*** you!” It was amazing: 50,000 people repeatedly screaming in unison at the helicopter. The audience thought we staged the helicopter to come and it was part of the set, but it wasn’t. To this day, we still don’t know where that helicopter came from or who was in it.
The Hatch Shell [farewell show in 2004] was unbelievable. To wake up that morning and hear that by 8 am there were already 20,000 people on the Esplanade, and then for the crowd to grow five times that by 3 pm. It was a beautiful day, with people in trees, on top of monuments, jumping into the Charles River, packed onto Storrow Drive. It was such a weird feeling, too hard to process, like playing a concert to a brontosaurus.
Many shows have been memorable for various reasons over the years. Yet one sticks out from the rest in hindsight. I performed at the base of the Twin Towers in New York on Aug. 11, 2001, a month before the tragedy of 9/11. I was amazed at how incredibly large the buildings were—and in that moment held onto the powerful thought that humans are capable of anything we set to our hearts and minds. The gig had a few hundred people, and afterwards, a group of French students who were visiting the States cornered me at the side of the stage for an impromptu unplugged concert as the sun was setting. The world felt both small and enormous that day.
Probably backing Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. If anybody doesn’t know why, they probably shouldn’t be reading this, wouldn’t you say? We only played for 15 minutes, but I think Bob got his point across, and that’s saying something, because I’ve been playing professionally since 1958. OK, I have to go lie down now.