May 18 – Serious Moonlight Equaled Serious Gold

If there was a moment in time that David Bowie switched from a popular cult figure or marginal commercial star into a renowned superstar, it might have been this day in 1983. We’re not kidding…in fact we’re as serious as the moonlight, since it was this day 40 years back Bowie began his “Serious Moonlight” world tour to promote his newly released Let’s Dance album. Between the multi-million selling album and the tour, it launched Bowie into the musical stratosphere.

It’s worth remembering that up until that time, Bowie was well-known but not a real major superstar artist. Particularly in North America. Before 1983, for example, he’d only had one U.S. #1 song (“Fame”) and one more top 10 hit (“Golden Years”) and most of his albums, like the vaunted Ziggy Stardust, struggled to sell enough to go gold. Others like Heroes and Pin-ups failed to even achieve that. Of course, Let’s Dance changed all that and by year’s end he was rivaling The Police, ZZ Top and Huey Lewis & the News as the hottest artist on radio.

If the album sent Bowie’s star rising by concentrating on good, hummable songs and less artsy experimenting than much of his older work, the tour built on that. Instead of huge theatrical experiences and weird costumes and make-up, the Serious Moonlight tour had him looking neat and “normal” and concentrating on just the music. He says his look, with neatly-coiffed blonde hair and wearing big but neat, pastel-toned suits was a “parody” of the New Romantic movement that was big at the time. Others figured he was making a deliberate attempt to blend in with new, popular British acts like ABC and Spandau Ballet, but whatever the reality, the fans seemed to approve.

He opened up the tour in Belgium, at the 8000 seat Vorst Forest National arena in Brussels. After 15 countries, over two-and-a-half million fans in 96 shows, he’d wrap it up on Dec. 8th in Hong Kong. The Belgium stadium was in line with what he had originally envisioned for the tour – largely mid-sized indoor venues of no more than 10 000 fans. However, as the album’s popularity soared through the spring and summer, demand to see him exploded, and he began adding extra dates and finding larger, often outdoor venues to accommodate. Soon he’d be playing outdoor stadiums in front of over 50 000 in places like Milton Keynes, England and Edmonton, Canada. Eventually, every show he played would sell out including four nights in Philadelphia, back to back nights at the CNE football stadium in Toronto, three nights at Wembley Arena in London and even smaller cities like Hershey, Pennsylvania, where he drew 25 000 to a minor league baseball field.

He had a talented backing band of nine or ten with him, including longtime friend and collaborator Carlos Alomar on guitar, drummer Tony Thompson (of Chic, and soon after, Power Station) and guitarist Earl Slick who’d worked on Bowie’s Young Americans as well as John Lennon’s Double Fantasy. Slick was a last-minute addition to the ensemble, replacing Texas bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan who’d worked on the record with Bowie. Vaughan showed up for rehearsals, but showed up high and looking for a long, drug-fueled tour which was the last thing Bowie needed after kicking his drug habit not long before. Helping the tour along were various star opening acts, including the Go-gos in Anaheim, the Tubes in Oakland, The Beat in London and Peter Gabriel in western Canada.

The highlight of the tour, and an unexpected one, was the largest crowd of the whole summer. Bowie headlined the US Festival in California, on May 30, and played in front of 300 000 or more people. It’s rumored Steve Wozniak paid Bowie a million dollars plus all expenses to get him to take time out from his European shows (he’d been in France right before it) to play the huge event.

Most of Bowie’s shows began with his 1979 song “Look Back in Anger” , rolled through 21 or so songs including old hits like “Rebel, Rebel” and “Cat People” before finishing with “TVC15” off Station to Station, and then saw him do a four-song encore of “Star”, “Stay” “Jean Genie” and “Modern Love.” On the final show, he played “Imagine” as a tribute to John Lennon, who’d been killed exactly three years earlier. A DVD of one of his Vancouver shows was released in 2006.

Although Bowie would go on to have an even bigger, and more extravagantly staged tour four years later – the “Glass Spider” tour – critics didn’t care for it and it didn’t help the Never Let Me Down do anything much at the cash register. Showing that sometimes, it is all about the music.


May 14 – Atlantic Showed Off Their Sea Of Talent

It was a big night for one of rock’s biggest companies in 1988. Atlantic Records held a concert/party at Madison Square Garden in New York to mark it’s corporate 40th birthday. The incredible 13-hour long event was broadcast live on HBO in the States and highlights were shown over the coming weeks in four BBC programs across the sea. Atlantic had been established by well-known music mogul Ahmet Ertegun and lesser-known Herb Abramson and quickly became one of the premier labels for Black jazz and soul artists. Fortuitiously for them, they were bought by Warner Brothers right at the time rock was transforming and taking over the world – 1967- and they quickly expanded into that genre as well.

The show featured sets from a varied bevy of artists on Atlantic through the ’50s through ’80s, including Ben E. King, Yes (who did five songs) , Phil Collins by himself and later with Genesis, a reformed Rascals, the Average White Band, Foreigner… the list of hit-making artists and celebrity emcees went on and on until the night’s finale. Perhaps the biggest band ever to appear on Atlantic were reformed for one night only, three years after a one-off at Live Aid and nearly eight years since their last concert, in Germany. Led Zeppelin were the undisputed headliners for the event, and they added in Jason Bonham to drum, filling in for his late father John (whose death brought about the band’s demise in 1980.) It should have been one for the ages.

Only it wasn’t. As music writer Andrew O’Brien notes it turned into “more of a headache than a triumphant return.” Robert Plant was pissed off at being told he had to sing “Stairway to Heaven”, a song he’d apparently grown tired of, and his voice was rough. Jimmy Page’s guitar was inexplicably out of tune and the sound mix so bad most couldn’t hear John Paul Jones bass at all. They trundled through a set of “Kashmir”, “Heartbreaker,” “Whole Lotta Love”, “Misty Mountain Hop” and of course, “Stairway to Heaven.” The crowd seemed pleased enough but the band hated it. Page said their performance was a “big disappointment” and Plant called the set “foul.”

It would take awhile, but eventually they got back together for a show that they seemed to like, a massive concert in London in 2007 that they released on DVD. And as for Atlantic, they just had their 75th anniversary, although without the spectacle they had in ’88.

May 5 – Pizza In Case Fans Got Munchies…Convenient!

Long before anyone annoyed Don Henley by putting their sticker on a Cadillac, the Grateful Dead had their inauspicious start on this day in 1965. They played their first-ever show (by the time they’d wrap it up in the ’90s, they’d have recorded over 2000 with more untaped!) in a pizza joint of all places! I guess that’s awful convenient if your fanbase has a tendency to sometimes get the munchies.

Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh and co. were at the time known as The Warlocks. They’d change that name later in the year when they found there was another band out east using the name – that band changed its own name to Velvet Underground! Anyway, Garcia and Bob Weir worked together in a music store and could “borrow” equipment and they had their first show at Magoo’s Pizza in Menlo Park, CA, a suburb halfway between San Francisco and San Jose. The store posters listed it as “folksinging at Magoo’s Pizza” and fans who’d later go on to be hardcore Deadheads remember the place being filled mostly with high school kids and , according to one band historian, “Phil stood up on the redwood table and danced, the one and only time I ever saw him dance.” They continued playing the pizza place all month but soon would appeal to bigger audiences. By 1967, they were one of the top draws at the Monterrey Pop Festival; two years later, Woodstock. This was good, as apparently before too long Magoos stopped offering live music and by 2012, it ‘s storefront at 639 Santa Cruz Ave. was reportedly a furniture store.

Eight years after their one and only top 10 single (“Touch of Grey”) the Grateful Dead played their final show – their 2318th by most counts – some 30 years later, in July, 1995 at Soldier’s Field in Chicago.

April 20 – Mercury Memorial A Cadillac Of Concerts

As website DW speculated, it would take some kind of special event for us to see “openly gay Elton John and allegedly homophobic Axl Rose hugged (and) David Bowie knelt down and prayed.” That type of event happened on this day in 1992 with the Freddie Mercury Memorial Concert in London.

Freddie as you doubtless know, was the charismatic, powerful-voiced leader of Queen, and had died of AIDS a few months earlier. The remaining trio of band members – John Deacon, Brian May and Roger Taylor – weren’t sure where they would be headed, or even if the band still existed, but they decided Freddie would’ve wanted one last big spectacle of a show. And they set out to give it.

May and Taylor announced the planned concert during the Brit Awards in February. The tickets for the 72 000 capacity show at Wembley Stadium sold out in three hours despite Queen being the only announced performers at the time. Around the same time, Mercury’s friends and estate established the Mercury Phoenix Trust, a charity to promote AIDS safety and awareness as well as medical research. Profits from the concert were given over to it.

A huge amount of work was needed to pull it off only two months after it was first conceptualized, but they did it. Not only did they get the stadium ready and sell it out, arrangements were made to televise it in over 70 countries. That Easter Monday, guitarist Brian May took to the stage and announced “Good evening Wembley, and the world! We are here tonight to celebrate the life and work and dreams of one Freddie Mercury! We’re gonna give him the biggest send-off in history!” And if that was hyperbole, it wasn’t by very much.

The four hour-plus concert was basically broken down into two parts, the first being sets by other artists, sometimes with members of Queen joining them, and the latter being basically a Queen concert but with guest singers taking Freddie’s place for the night. It kicked off with Metallica doing three hits off their then-hot self-titled album. They actually released the set as an EP for the diehard fans. Next up were Extreme who did a medley of about ten Queen songs before their own hit “More than Words.” Def Leppard followed, getting a little help from May; benefit concert superstar Bob Geldof did a number, as did one of the more curious acts to appear, Spinal Tap who played “The Majesty of Rock.” U2 weren’t there in person but did “Til The End of the World” via satellite from California while Guns’N’Roses set up for their set which included a cover of Alice Cooper’s “Only Women Bleed.” Mango Groove a “township band” popular in their native South Africa played, Elizabeth Taylor read a speech and a video montage of Freddie was played, leading to part two.

Queen didn’t have their beloved friend and singer, but seemed in fine form as they kicked into “Tie Your Mother Down” with Slash helping out and Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott singing, then did numbers like “Pinball Wizard” with the Who’s Roger Daltrey and “Las Palabras de Amor”, an obscure track off Hot Space with Italian singer Zucherro. James Hatfield of Metallica was back with Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, doing “Stone Cold Crazy” before Robert Plant took the stage. A voice fitting of doing Mercury’s operatic parts, but his set was underwhelming by most reports, as he struggled to remember the lyrics to “Innuendo” before redeeming himself on “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” Paul Young and Lisa Stansfield each did a number before one of the show’s highlights, David Bowie and Annie Lennox dueting for “Under Pressure.” Bowie stuck around to do “All the Young Dudes” with Ian Hunter and members of Def Leppard before saying the Lord’s Prayer to the surprise of some. That led to what Entertainment Weekly (and some others) called “the best performance of the evening,” George Michael taking the mic to do “These Are the Days of Our Lives” and “Somebody to Love.” A number of people at the time speculated Michael would take over Freddie’s spot permanently but as we would find through the years, the show was a one-time only appearance for him.

If George Michael was considered the highlight, a close second was Elton John – a close friend of Freddie’s – joining Queen. They kicked off with “Bohemian Rhapsody”, with Axl adding his voice to dubbed in backing vocals from Mercury. The show went on with “The Show Must Go On” and “We Will Rock You”, before Liza Minnelli finished that with “We Are The Champions.” The night was nothing if not an eclectic collection of musicians, but then again, Freddie Mercury was a rather eclectic sort of talent. The lights dimmed with a tape of Queen playing “God Save the Queen.”

The night was noteworthy on an addition level as it would mark John Deacon’s last full concert with the band. Unlike May and Taylor, he felt that the death of Freddie should also mean the death of Queen.

The concert was said to have raised about $35 million for the AIDS charity, though others have speculated that expenses ate up a lot of that and $8 million was more realistic. Either way, Brian May says the “emphasis was always made that this was not a fund-raising event. The accent was on awareness.” And sending one of rock’s great front men out in style. On that they succeeded.

The concert has been released at various times both on VHS and DVD, although some parts (typically including the Mango Groove and Robert Plant’s set) usually aren’t included. Queen are still going with Adam Lambert being the current singer.

April 6 – California Jam-med A Lot Of Music Into One Day

Was it the tail end of one era or the dawning of the next? Either way, it was one big show. California Jam took place on this day in 1974. The huge, all-day concert at the time set records for the largest paid crowd, the biggest revenue and the loudest sound system of any concert.

Some saw it as a last hurrah of the greatly-publicized ’60s festivals like Woodstock, Monterey Pop and the infamous Altamont (after which few shows of that scale had taken place in North America for several years.) Others saw it as the front-runner of a series of major “jams” that were popular in the ’70s and early-’80s and probably helped pave the way not only for Live Aid but for later events like Lollapallooza. Whichever was correct, it was a heck of a show, and few of the 250 000 – 300 000 in attendance went home disappointed… although some got home a lot later than they might have expected. Unlike some of the past huge concerts, California Jam went off without any major hitches, in terms of violence or deaths. In part that was due to organizers, including ABC-TV, learning from past mistakes in huge concerts. They had 700 professional security staff on hand to keep things in check, and had a number of water fountains and even handed out free jugs of water, to keep people safe in the 85 degree heat.

They ran the show at Ontario Motor Speedway, an 800 acre site near San Bernardino. They had two stages, with most of the crowd (who paid $10 in advance or $15 at the gates… equivalent to perhaps $90 or $135 now) sat on the grassy lawns rising up above them. Two 50-foot high towers of amps provided the sound and the Goodyear Blimp floated overhead. Now, while there weren’t major problems with the concert, whenever you try to have a few hundred thousand people together, some glitches will arise. In this show’s case, much of that had to do with limited parking which filled fast, and people parking anywhere they could – nearby farms and vineyards, and thousands of cars simply parked along the highway. Fans walked up to four miles to get to the gates in some cases, and as often as not, found their cars towed by the time they went back.

Many probably didn’t care, because it was a star-studded lineup and by all accounts, a great show. Rare Earth were first up, followed by Earth, Wind & Fire, the not-yet gigantic Eagles, Seals & Crofts, Black Oak Arkansas, Black Sabbath and then the two heavy-weights, Deep Purple and Emerson Lake & Palmer. Officially they were listed as co-headliners, but Deep Purple called the shots…and they actually chose to go on before ELP, specifying they’d make their appearance just after sunset. Unfortunately, set changes were efficient and some bands played a little less than expected and it was still sunny when Deep Purple were due. They stalled for over an hour before going on, which irritated many. Their set was perhaps the most problematic, with guitarist Richie Blackmore in a seemingly bad mood, throwing things at the crowd at one point, and getting in a fight with a cameraman. And one of his amps inadvertantly caught fire too. They were quickly whisked away by helicopter.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer went on after midnight, but it was a Saturday night and by most accounts were worth the wait. The local paper reported afterwards that the show’s highlight was “Keith Emerson’s piano elevated, him with it. They both began rotating like a wheel midair, as he kept on playing!” The band described the show as of “biblical proportions” and not surprisingly, the newspaper picked them for the “most dynamic set” while calling the Eagles “most effective.”

ABC taped the show and used segments of it for their In Concert TV show, and Deep Purple recorded their set and released it as a home video, by many accounts the very first concert VHS tape.

It set off a minor run of similar huge, multi-star events in years to come. Their was a California Jam II in 1978, with a similar sized crowd turning out to see Foreigner and Aerosmith among others, and the same year there was Canada Jam, in the other Ontario – Ontario, Canada. That one drew 110 000 people, at the time Canada’s biggest-ever show, and featured Triumph, the Doobie Bros., Atlanta Rhythm Section and more. Also in 1978, the first Texxas Jam took place, a show so big it apparently required an extra “X” in the name! Those shows ran annually into the ’80s, using alternating between Dallas and Houston for sites.

There was some interest in having a 40th anniversary reunion concert in 2014, but it was a case of “you can’t go home again.” The speedway itself had closed in the ’80s and been redeveloped and several of the acts like Seals & Crofts had by then retired, the Eagles had elevated themselves into a whole different level of concert success and several of the other acts had little interest. Maybe if you’re Keith Emerson, one go-round is enough!

April 2 – Playing Live On Streets Which Had Names

U2 kicked off the Joshua Tree Tour on this day in 1987. The tour helped propel The Joshua Tree to become one of the decade’s biggest albums and them into superstar territory. Fittingly (for an album named after a place in the American desert) the tour began in Tempe, AZ at the Arizona State University Activity Center (now known as the Wells Fargo Arena) ,on a Thursday night. Bono was struggling to ward off laryngitis, and invited people to sing along which they apparently were happy to do.

The announced crowd was 25 000, even though the arena is only designed for 14 000 or so, and the band played through 21 songs (most of the Joshua Tree plus some old favorites like “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “New Year’s Day” as well as a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm”) . the first leg of the tour wrapped up in New Jersey in May, by which time they’d done 29 concerts for 465 000 fans. Eventually it wrapped up in december of that year after 110 shows, and not only did it help them make a major impression on America, it helped America make a major impression on them. Their follow-up album, Rattle and Hum was inspired by their time in the U.S. and even included a few live tracks recorded on the tour, including “Bullet the Blue Sky” from the Tempe.

They decided to revisit it six years back,  with a 30th Anniversary tour for the album. Although that tour lasted only 51 concerts, it still took in over $300 million and pleased better than 2.5 million fans. Which should have inspired some “Pride (in the name of love)” in the Irish foursome. Of course, it set them on the road to superstardom and the album did so well, they decided it was a tour so nice, they’d do it twice! In 2017, they went on tour again for the album’s 30th anniversary, playing every song on the album – remarkably they’d not done “Red Hill Mining Town” before in concert – headlining the Bonnaroo Festival during it, and playing some 66 shows for over 3-and-a-quarter million fans. That tour brought in close to $400M, all the better to pay for the expenses of things like the 200′ wide hi-res screen they used behind the stage! Typically they supplemented The Joshua Tree with eight or nine other tracks including “Sunday Bloody Sunday” to open, “Bad”, “Pride” and “Beautiful Day” and the once-panned “Miss Sarajevo” as an encore.

Although U2 just put out a new album, Songs of Surrender, so far they don’t seem to have any grand tour plans for it, although Bono is scheduled to appear at the Beacon Theater in New York City for 11 nights this spring doing his “Songs of Surrender” show which he labels “an evening of words, music and some mischief.”

March 28 – Queen Began Its Next Reign

It was the start of a new era on this day in 2005. That night in London, Queen played a regular show without charismatic frontman Freddie Mercury. It was in fact the first time they’d played a normally-scheduled concert in nearly 20 years.

We all know the Queen story (well, not all of us but in all likelihood if you’re reading this blog, you do!) … quartet of Mercury, drummer Roger Taylor, guitarist Brian May and bassist John Deacon formed their band in the early-’70s and quickly went on to become one of Britain’s most popular bands ever. The great voice and showmanship of Mercury, coupled with the above-average musicianship of the other three led to a string of hit songs (23 top 10s in their native land – 24 if you count “Bohemian Rhapsody” twice, since it topped the charts on two occasions!) and famous concerts including the show-stealer at Live Aid. Their Greatest Hits album is the biggest-seller of all-time in the UK, topping seven million copies in an island of about 60 million people. But all good things must end, and for Queen, it was Freddie’s illness and eventually death in 1991 that shut things down. After a one time tribute in 1992 with various guests including David Bowie and Annie Lennox taking turns singing with the band, they more or less came to an end, a few posthumous releases with Mercury dug from the vaults notwithstanding.

But when you get musicians that good, and a catalog of hits the public still wanted to hear, it’s hard to justify just walking away. So eventually, May and Taylor decided to reboot the band. John Deacon stayed retired but gave them his blessing. They recruited Danny Miranda, at the time with Blue Oyster Cult to fill his shoes, but still needed a singer. For that, they picked up Paul Rodgers, the former voice of Free, Bad Company and The Firm. Said Taylor at the time, “we never thought we would tour again (then) Paul came along by chance and we seemed to have chemistry.”

Rodgers understood that his role would be controversial and as Brian May pointed out, they were going out as “Queen + Paul Rodgers” to mark the point that Paul wasn’t the new Freddie. “Me and Freddie are very different singers,” he told Team Rock. “(I’m) more of a blues singer with a bit of Celtic thrown in… I hope that Freddie would approve.”

They got to find out whether or not the fans would 13 years ago at the Brixton Academy in London. Some fans doubtless were annoyed and boycotted the new act, but enough were willing to pay 55 pounds (about $110 today) to sell out the old theatre which fits just shy of 5000. The showy venue in which Dido, Franz Ferdinand and the Stray Cats have recorded live DVDs was typical of the places picked for the first part of their 35 show European tour. They eschewed huge soccer stadiums and the largest arenas (until finishing at Hyde Park in summer) for places typically sitting between 5000 and 10 000.

From all accounts, the show went well with Rodgers not quite the second-coming of Freddie but flashy enough in his red bodyshirt and white jeans emblazoned with crosses. The set list usually consisted of 20 or 21 songs plus an encore. A good number of Queen hits were included, naturally, including “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” as well as some lesser-known ones like “I’m In Love With My Car” (which was the B-side of “Bohemian Rhapsody” back in the day. Taylor sang that one on the tour.) Several of the hits Rodgers had sung on like Free’s “All Right Now” and Bad Company’s “Feel Like Makin’ Love” found their way in as well . “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions” was the finale.

The tour made its way around the world, wrapping up about a year later. They soon went separate ways, with Queen looking for a replacement for Rodgers. Brian May said “he was his own man, he belonged in the blues-soul field, at which there were no better. Our stuff is a little more eclectic.” Since then, Queen have quit their longtime EMI label to sign with Universal Music and continue to tour, lately with American Idol contestant Adam Lambert out front. They return to North America this fall with concerts dubbed “Queen + Adam Lambert” in October and November. The show is reportedly going to be largely a greatest hits style show, but Brian May says “the tour has lots of new bells and lots of new whistles… we’ve stepped up our game.”

March 27 – And Then There Were None

The question mark had been removed in 2022 and if you missed it, you missed them. Genesis performed their final concert a year ago, at the O2 Arena in London. It wrapped up their “Last Domino” tour, which had run since September of ’21. Originally it had been announced in 2019, and was due to kick off in 2020, but was of course pushed back due to the pandemic. Interestingly, when the tour was first announced, it had been titled “The Last Domino?” , leaving a bit of wriggle room in case they decided they enjoyed it enough to do one more tour later. But Phil Collins declining health had pretty much erased any hope of that by the time they hit the road this time around, their first time together since 2007.

Collins, the frontman of the band and its famous drummer, was over 70 when the tour began, which isn’t prohibitive for some rockers like Ringo Starr (who’s in his 80s and still going!). However, Collins had been having all sorts of troubles for over a decade. He had a bad back and other issues which made him having to tape the drumsticks to his hands for some shows in 2007, or else he couldn’t pick them up. In 2009 he had neck surgery which seemed to cause more nerve damage, and in 2015, surgery on his back. And to top that off, he’d developed diabetes. The end result was that by this decade, he couldn’t drum anymore and had trouble standing. In most shows, he sat on a stool on stage to sing and walked with a cane.

It was sad to see, but Collins voice was still intact, and most fans were well rewarded by the band including its popular frontman. Of course, Collins hadn’t always been the leader of Genesis, in fact when they formed in 1967 (at a boys school) he wasn’t yet a member. Early on it was Peter Gabriel’s project, and although guitarist Mike Rutherford (who played bass very early on) and keyboardist Tony Banks were there, along with drummer john Silver and guitarist Anthony Phillips, they’d already have an album out and started performing (the first public concert in November ’69 at a London university) before Phil came in, and Silver and Phillips departed. In their early years, they were known for elaborate stage shows, costumes and dense, lengthy prog rock compositions. But after Peter Gabriel departed to go solo in the mid-’70s, Collins took over as the lead vocalist and main driver behind the band, which steered towards brighter-sounding pop. When all was said and done by 1997, they’d put out 15 studio albums (plus six live ones), 17 of which had gone gold or platinum in the UK, and 13 in the U.S., including the 6X platinum Invisible Touch. Between their own hits and Collins’ solo ones, his voice was right there with Michael Jackson’s and Madonna’s as the most prominent ones of hit radio in the ’80s.

For the Last Domino, Collins was on drums… just not Phil. Rather, his son Nic had taken his spot. The 47 shows averaged just a shade under two hours and typically consisted of 20 songs plus a three song encore. The set was a mix of their old prog material and later hit singles. It opened with “Behind the Lines” and “Turn it On Again” , ran through songs like “Mama” and “Land of Confusion” before an acoustic set including “That’s All” and “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”. “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” and “Invisible Touch” finished the regular part before they came back on to do “I Can’t Dance” (with their stage crew doing the video dance moves for them) and then two older tunes, “Dancing in the Moonlit Knight” off Selling England by the Pound and “Carpet Crawlers” from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Notably absent were any of Phil’s solo hits. The final two were originally done with Gabriel singing, and fans were hopeful since Peter was in the crowd for the final show. Collins even pointed him out, joking “maybe he’s the one shouting for ‘Supper’s ready’.” But he didn’t join them onstage. Few seemed overly disappointed by it, although they might have been when Collins announced “tonight is a very special night. It’s the last stop of the tour. After tonight, we’ve all got to get real jobs!”. He was last off the stage, fittingly enough.

For Banks that might include creating more music, but probably not Genesis like. Much of his recent work outside of Genesis has been classical or operatic in nature. It might seem that Rutherford, and the aching Collins may have hung up their instruments for good… but there’s always a “?”.

March 23 – U2 Say You Can Go Home Again

Forty years ago this week, in March 1983, U2 put out the single “Sunday Bloody Sunday” in continental Europe. In the UK and North America, they picked “Two Hearts Beat As One” as the single instead; rather a “Sophie’s choice” since both were excellent tunes deserving hearing and hit status.

Sunday Bloody Sunday” got to #3 in the Netherlands and did pretty well across Europe and of course, has become one of the band’s enduringly popular songs in their live set. We’ve looked at the song here before, but in summary, the rebel rocker was thought up by guitarist The Edge, inspired by the horrendous Bogside Massacre that occurred in 1972, when the lads in U2 were still children. It was perhaps the tipping point in the years-long civil war in Ireland… and a good starting point for today’s feature.

It might seem like U2 have been quiet for some time now, but that’s actually not the case. In fact, the opposite is true. This week U2 have put out a new album and a TV documentary. Which seemingly are inter-connected.

A Sort of Homecoming is the TV special, the name of a song off their fine fourth album, An Unforgettable Fire, and the shorthand for the documentary’s content. 75 year old fan David Letterman goes to Dublin to visit Bono and The Edge (Adam and Larry from the band were busy elsewhere on other projects) and tour their hometown, meeting some interesting characters along the way and seeing the front side of U2 perform an acoustic concert (sort of U2 “unplugged”) for hometown fans.

The show’s well-worth a watch if you’re a fan, with not only some fine musical performances but interesting interviews with Bono and The Edge (as well as some of their friends in the music world). Bono reveals that the others in U2 get weary of all his activism at times; The Edge talks about his crisis in faith early on – feeling torn between doing something obvious to show his religious faith and being in a rock band – when the idea of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” came to him and he realized that his music could be a platform for change. They talk about – and show – how far Ireland has progressed from their childhood when it was a war-torn, uptight conservative land to now, a modern, rather open-minded society. And Letterman joins them for a spontaneous drop by a real Irish pub.

On the music side, The Edge gives the talk show host chills by demonstrating how he plays “Where the Streets Have no Name” on his usual electric guitar. Otherwise, the songs are stripped down versions of many well-known, and a couple of lesser-known U2 songs through the years, played with just acoustic guitar, an old upright piano and a woman on cello behind them. The pair said they wanted to see if there really was something to their old music, if the bombast of the group was taken away, and for the most part, songs like “Vertigo”, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “One” pass the test. They might not be better than the originals we know, but they certainly sound good in the unplugged fashion, and in some cases the lyrics stand out and speak far more than they had before. And yes, they introduce a brand new song in it, ostensibly written in honor of their guest – “Forty Foot Man”. “Many nice things have happened to me in my life, this would be right at the top of my list,” Letterman said and while the song may not go down in their canon alongside “Sunday Bloody Sunday” or “Beautiful Day” as an all-time classic, it’s a pretty decent return to form for them… especially for one they supposedly banged off from the top of their heads at 3AM one night!

As for the new album, Songs of Surrender came out on St. Patrick’s Day, fittingly enough, and is their first new product in six years. It is a sort of extension of the Dublin concert, with old U2 songs done newly; reimagined. “We gave ourselves permission to disregard any sense of reverence for the originals,” The Edge says. In all, 40 songs are included, ten picked by each of the members. If you get a deluxe 4LP set. It’s also available in CD, vinyl and believe it or not, cassette tape with 16 songs including “One”, “Invisible” (a little known single from 2013 which was a highligt of the TV show), “Pride” and of course, “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, which like a few others, Bono has tweaked the lyrics to. Sadly, no “Forty Foot Man”… but hold on! There are persistent rumors of another U2 album this year, which would be new material.

A Sort of Homecoming is now on Disney’s streaming service. I don’t know when Disney stopped being the one with the talking mouse and white princesses in distress needing saving and became THE music station, but following on the heels of last year’s Beatles doc, Get Back, it’s seeming like a service music fans might grudgingly need to have on their TVs.

February 17 – Turntable Talk 11 : They Were The Champions, & They Rocked Us

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! Thanks to all the regular readers and welcome to any new ones. If you’re keeping count, this is our 11th instalment! But for new readers, briefly, on Turntable Talk we have a number of guest columns from other music fans and writers, sounding off on one particular topic. This month, our topic is A Really Big Show. We’ve asked our guests if they had a time machine, and could go back and see one concert what would it be? It could be a show from before they were born, one tey missed or one they actually attended and would like to relive. Big festival, small club show, you name it.

Today we wrap up this round, with a few thoughts from me here at A Sound Day.

A big thanks to my guest contributors again! I hope you’ve enjoyed their columns and thoughts as much as I have and I have to admit, I’ve been surprised at the range of shows they’d have liked to go back and see. From Count Basie in a swingin’ pre-war show in the Big Apple to the post-modern Talking Heads at their creative zenith in California to a huge hard rock festival I’d never heard of, we saw some great shows through their eyes (and ears).

If asked the same question myself, I’d be quite torn… so many good choices. First let me say, that honestly I would not have picked some obvious choices. Beatles? No thanks. Hey, I love their music and think they influenced modern music more than anyone else but, let’s face it – they quit playing live when they were coming into their real peak period and the shows they played leading up to that – Shea Stadium, etc –  had a poor sound system and the fans in the stands were screaming so much you could barely hear the Fab Four. Their rooftop show, documented in Get Back, a cool idea and some fine tunes, but I’d probably be with the few other amused fans and passersby on the street below, in the cold, not being able to see them and hearing it amidst the other street noise. Woodstock? Certainly a historic event, and some fantastic bands, but honestly, quite a few acts that were just a bit before my time and didn’t wow me all that much. Not enough to endure all that rain and mud… plus, I’d not like that some of the better artists were showing up onstage literally in the middle of the night!

I’d also consider going back to re-live a few concerts I did go to, to appreciate them more. U2 on The Unforgettable Fire tour at Maple Leaf Gardens. Powerful, brilliant rocking show finishing with all 18000 or so of us singing the chorus to ’40’ as we exited the building onto Carlton Street in Toronto. Today’s other column’s subject, The Stranglers, in a mid-sized bar in Toronto promoting the Norfolk Coast. Unlike their ’80s concert I saw in a big theater, this time the sound was perfect and they picked a great set of both their old ‘punk’ singles and newer, refined tunes. Frontman JJ Burnel even posed and grinned for a few photos for me while I was only feet from the stage – a marked contrast to the band’s ’70s behavior when he’d likely have cut the song and jumped off the stage to kick my camera out of my hands. This time around I wouldn’t end up losing the SD card! And R.E.M., my favorite band of my own generation. I’ve seen them several times but would probably go back to the Up tour show. Oddly, it was the first album of theirs I’d bought that under-whelmed me a little, and was the first without drummer Bill Berry but the concert was aces. Michael Stipe was chatty and humorous, they played some old nuggets I’d not heard them do before like “Cuyahoga” and they had an incredible, gaudy, fun backdrop of dozens of bizarre neon signs, flashing and looking like a Las Vegas cartoon. And as a bonus, Wilco opened the show! At the time (1999) I remember thinking they were quite good, but only knowing two songs they played. Twenty-odd years later, I’d appreciate their set more too I bet. But for all that, there’s really only one show that would win the “time travel trip” for me. The ultimate live music event of Gen X and in fact, of many of our lifetimes – Live Aid. Set the Time Travel dial to July 13, 1985, destination, London, England.

First off, it was a piece of History. I mean, you can’t think of ’80s music and not think about Live Aid and the fundraising records for the same African charities, notably “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and “We Are The World.” People (like me) who weren’t there on that – happily – sunny day, were able to watch on TV for the most part. It was shown on television in over 150 countries and the audience was estimated at over a billion people! Talk about an event bringing the world together. As co-organizer Bob Geldof said, “thru the lingua franca (common language) of the planet – which is not English, but rock’n’roll – we were able to address the intellectual absurdity and the moral repulsion of people dying of want in a world of surplus.” Which brings me to another point – it was for good. George Harrison had started the ball rolling over a decade prior, with his Concert for Bangladesh; Bob Geldof and Midge Ure drove it home this day. Rock and pop music can bring about change for the better in the world both by raising money for worthy organizations that help and, more importantly by shining a light on serious problems many might not have known about. Obviously, the African situation – millions starving, droughts, civil wars – was complicated and throwing a few million dollars at it wasn’t going to solve all the troubles. But at least it helped a little, fed some and made people think about the world scene and how they could make a difference more than they had before.

All that aside, the day was about great music first and foremost and boy, did it deliver. I might add that of course a companion show took place closer to home, in Philadelphia. It too had a great lineup, including the Four Tops, Neil Young, Tom Petty, the Thompson Twins (oddly since they were London-based), riding high still from their Into the Gap, and a perhaps less-than-all-that reunion of Led Zeppelin with Phil Collins on drums. But still, for a non-stop tops show, the London one was it. No doubt to the delight of Princess Diana and not so much for Prince Charles (now “King Charles”) who were in attendance.

It kicked off at high noon with the Royal Coldstream Guards playing a little royal salute and part of “God Save the Queen” – the one Elizabeth would approve of, not the Sex Pistols one – before turning over the stage to Status Quo. No disrespect to them, but that would probably have been my cue to try to get to the snack bar to pick up a bite to eat and some drinks, because after that… it was a pretty jam-packed list of great music I liked, starting with the Style Council. Geldof’s own Boomtown Rats were up next and brought down the house with “I Don’t Like Mondays”. That awed Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp who said “you would follow (Geldof). He has just great charisma. He’d make a frightening politician.”

Spandau Ballet were on themselves soon after, but not before a brief appearance from Adam Ant and a longer one from Ultravox, the other organizer ‘s (Midge Ure) band. They kicked off their set with my two favorite songs of theirs, “Reap the wild Wind” and “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes”. It was barely 2 PM when Elvis Costello came on to do a “little northern folk song”, which turned out to be “All You Need is Love.” Next up, Nik Kershaw, one of the more promising newcomers from the New Wave who was hot at the time but seemed to close to disappear from the scene not long after. Stylish Sade came on and then a super-pairing of Sting and Phil Collins. They cranked through eight songs including “Roxanne” and “In the Air Tonight” before dueting on “Every Breath You Take.” As Phil no doubt ran offstage to catch the Concorde – remember he also appeared at the Philly show later in the day – Howard Jones was on. Unfortunately, he did just one song, and honestly, “Hide and Seek” wasn’t one of his best.

No time to worry about that, because then Bryan Ferry, fresh off the release of his first post-Roxy Music record, Boys + Girls, was up with a new guitarist … David Gilmour of Pink Floyd! Continuing in the stylish vein, Paul Young appeared, joined by the great voice of Alison Moyet for one song. By the time he’d cleared off, I might be getting a bit hungry, but I wouldn’t have been going anywhere because it was U2. More than anything else, their short-ish but express train-energetic set of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and a long take on “Bad” with bits of other tunes worked in was probably what made them rise from popular to contenders for “biggest band in the world.” Remember, they were on in a great time slot and about a billion pairs of eyes were watching Bono & Co.

Speaking of bands who were at the top back then, next up – Dire Straits, who brought Sting back out to help deliver “Money For Nothing.” By the time they were done, the sun would have been dropping in the sky a little. It was nearly 7 and coming on were some ’70s favorites who’d not been making much impact lately on my side of the ocean. But let’s hope no one looked away or dashed to the bathroom, because Queen put on their performance of a lifetime.

Following that was an unenviable task, but David Bowie tried and put on what Rolling Stone said was “arguably his last triumph of the ’80s”. He was in turn followed by The Who. There are people around who like The Who more than I do, but it’s always been a band who knew how to put on a power-packed, entertaining show, and in this case they played one of their (to me) under-rated songs, “Love Reign O’er Me.” It brought to mind a hypothetical question – if you had that time machine, could you take modern equipment like digital cameras with you? Hope so, because I’d want momentos of the day and would have tried to record a bit of the Who for our friend Max from Power Pop Blog.

Not many could properly come on after Queen, Bowie and the Who … but Elton John could. And he did with the longest set of the show, six songs and over half an hour. Interestingly, he brought George Michael on to do “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” which they put out as a single in the ’90s. Also unexpected, he finished with a Marvin Gaye cover, “Can I Get A Witness?”. No chicken suit for Elton but a pretty great set nonetheless, all the more surprising since we now know his mental state and addictions in that period.

Well, it would be almost time to go home with a headful of magic and music, but before doing so, Brian May and Freddie Mercury of Queen came back to sing “Is this the World We Created?” (I wondered if that was scheduled or a  last-minute kind of encore for them after seeing how well their own set went over), and a grand finale. And for a British rock show, what could be more fitting that than The Beatles? Sadly we didn’t get a reunion of ¾ of the Fab Four but did get Sir Paul doing “Let it Be” with a little help from his friends, including Bowie, Pete Townshend, Moyet and Gedof. Sure, Paul’s mic was wonky and the sound for it wasn’t great but hey… after that day, who’s complaining?

Live Aid ’85. The Show of Shows, and one I rather think, regrettably, will never be matched. It’s hard to imagine these days how one could get 30 or more top name acts together for a big concert that would appeal to over a billion people and have a lasting generational impact. I was there, via the TV screen. If I had a time machine, I’d have been there with 71 999 others at Wembley Stadium.