The first rock concert I ever went to was Midnight Oil at the ANU refectory. I was 17 which meant I was too young to be drunk and too clumsy to be dancing at the front of the stage with all the cool people who could actually dance. But youthful ignorance and beer in a plastic cup triumphed and it was a helluva night. The music was organ-rupturingly loud and the lead singer (the current Labour party Member for Kingsford Smith and Shadow Federal Minister for Climate Change, Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Mr. Peter Garrett) danced like a burning pelican and sweated all over me, which was also pretty cool. For me, that is, not for him. After the concert I remember walking out into the cold Canberra night air and wondering if the ringing in my ears would ever go away. (Beg your pardon? Oh, sorry, no it hasn’t).
Sitting in the second row of a Dire Straits concert with a head-splitting migraine headache at age 20 was never going to be as much fun as the Oils. Driving like a maniac through Sydney traffic in a borrowed Alfa Sud to arrive almost late and very stressed was definitely not the way to begin a great night out (but as I found out, it is one way to trigger a migraine headache). The music was so very, very good that it should have been a great concert, but the band was so very, very stiff that they looked like the animatronic Presidents at Disneyworld, only less interested in what they were doing, and I just couldn’t get into it. About half way through the second song I started worrying about what the owner of the Alfa was doing to my motorbike. (I shouldn’t have worried – it could never have compared to the merciless flogging I was giving his wonderful little Italian car…)
Billy Joel at age 21 was a decent night out right up until he played “Uptown Girl” and my organs almost ruptured in disgust. How could the man who did the inimitable New York State of Mind write such mindless pap? I guess staring at the abyss through an alcoholic haze can make people do all sorts of desperate things. (Come to think of it, wasn’t that how Dubya got his start?)
That was it for me and rock concerts for 14 years until I saw The Rolling Stones play at FedEx field in Washington DC in 2002. I won the tickets at an office function where the BSD (Big Swinging D…ispenser-of-tickets) said “Pick a number between 1 and 1,000 and whoever gets closest to the number I’ve picked wins the tickets.” The room was full of IT consultants, a group not known for their ability to listen to instructions, and I thought “I bet they all think he said “pick a number between 1 and 100” and they’ll pick 7 or 23 or 64 or other some small number” so I picked 599 and I won the tickets. Maybe I just got lucky, but I reckon they weren’t listening.
The Stones put on a pretty damn good show. It wasn’t a life-changing event or anything, but with those songs and amazing video screens it was pretty good stuff. The sound was crap of course, but we were sitting in Row 6,788, Section ZZC, Aisle 94a and it was a marvel of modern technology that the sound even reached us at all. The long sound delay was to be expected as we were at sea level and the speed of sound slows considerably in the denser air, but I kind of enjoyed watching the band walking off for a break while listening to “You make a grown man cry-yi-yi-yi-yiiiiiii”. For most of the concert I couldn’t help thinking that watching The Rolling Stones in 2002 was like watching the dancing bears at the circus. The amazing thing is not how well the bears dance, it’s that the bears dance at all. Sir Mick Jagger more than danced however, he bounced around the stage all night like an angry Duracell bunny on speed trying to flick sticky tape off his fingers (or perhaps I was really watching an angry Duracell bunny on speed trying to flick sticky tape off his fingers – it was hard to tell from where we were sitting). FedEx field is near Andrews Air Force base and just before the concert started, Air Force One flew over the ground followed very closely by a B2 stealth bomber. I wonder if the President was looking out the window saying “Gosh darn that’s bad. It must be worse down there on the ground!”. I also wonder if the pilot of the B2 was waving his arms and screaming “Get out of the fucking way! Why doesn’t anyone ever get out of the way of this damn thing!?”. I guess I’ll have to wait 30 years until the records are declassified to find out what was really going on up there. Apart from a near plane crash, the highlight of the concert was Keith Richards introducing his solo by saying through a cheeky grin: “It’s good to see everyone. It’s good to see anything at all.” A lot of people laughed because it sounded genuinely ad-lib and we all thought we’d been watching animatronic robots.
This year we took our 2 year old and 8 month old boys to see the Rolling Stones of kiddie rock: The Wiggles. For those who may not have been standing in the car park on opening day of the Tuggeranong Hyperdome shopping centre (a Woodstock like event in that more people attended every year that passes), The Wiggles actually started out as a rock cover band called The Cockroaches. The Cockroaches were crap of course, but as far as I was concerned I was going to a rock concert! We booked the tickets 6 months in advance, as you do with The Wiggles because they sell out in hours. We didn’t know where we’d be living in Australia so we picked Newcastle, which we thought for sure we’d be close enough to drive to. By the time concert rolled around we were living a thousand kilometres away in Brisbane, and we had a “major travel event” getting to Newcastle that included two missed naps, an insufferable 6 hour delay in Brisbane airport and airport food for lunch and dinner before it finally ended at 1am the next morning when we slumped exhausted and over-tired into our hotel room. Apparently the delay was caused by the plane hitting a bird when landing in Brisbane and being put out of service. Either that, or “bird-strike” is the Work Choices doublespeak for industrial action by airline hostesses. Either way, it wasn’t a good way to start a big day out with the kids, but come hell or high-water we were going to make it to the show. I almost missed the start of the show sitting in the car while Paterson slept, but I got to my seat seconds before the lights, camera, action began. The show started with The Wiggles driving onto the stage in their big red car, waving and smiling and singing “Toot, Toot! Chugga, Chugga! Big Red Car!” while the camera zoomed in on each one in turn for their “meet the kids” moment. When the guitar playing Murray Wiggle’s baggy-eyed, wrinkled, ageing visage flashed onto the huge video screen I thought “Bugger me! It’s Keith Richards!” so I jumped up and started playing the air guitar while chanting “Roll-ling Stones! Roll-ling Stones!”. Number one son took a few seconds to size up the situation before saying (as he likes to do whenever his parents sing) “Stop!”. So I shut up, sat down and enjoyed the show. Honest – I really enjoyed the show. The Wiggles were great and would beat the crap out of Dire Straits and Billy Joel put together if they ever got into a stage fight. Of course the real highlight of the day, the sheer heart-melting, mind-altering joy of it all, was watching our two year old dance and sing along with a band that he absolutely idolizes. The little fella knows every word of every Wiggles song and quite a few of the dances as well. He went nuts. It was so much fun watching him having that much fun that we couldn’t help laughing hysterically when he did the wiggle groove right off the edge of the floor and disappeared down the back of the seats in front of us. We scooped him up and he cried for about 3 seconds before getting right back into the groove.
Yes, I know it’s only rock and roll, but I really do like it.