It's always a great sensation to be in the right place at the right time. Yesterday, I was standing outside when a kestrel perched on the bird cage -- an enormous tangle of branches piled high from all the wind storms of the last three years. The bird was small but still looked fierce with those piercing gimlet eyes. Black lines adorned his face that also had a trace of yellow near the breast and robin egg blue on its cap.
As a perch, the bird cage affords a panaromic view, but inside, dozens of sparrows dwell. The bird cage (or beaver dam or wood reef) has expanded despite our vow to burn it, but it'll probably become a permanent feature since, from the start, it offered a wind break, a safe bubble away from the wild winds and storms sweeping in across the fields from the east.
So the wee sparrows must have quivered in fear as the small predator, who likes nothing better than dining on small birds, sat atop their manmade haven. Soon he was gone.
Later in the day I ventured to the Music Hall's new and quite expensively purchased and renovated music space in downtown Portsmouth, called The Loft to see and hear that most gifted Siren -- Patty Larkin. A much better name for the space would be The Coffin.
I think the non-profit group paid several million dollars for the space, which was once a part of Stuart Shaines on Congress Street. When I entered the new venue I talked to a staffer and asked her what the room was like. Her reply: intimate.
Like other patrons, I followed a long, narrow hallway which took a sharp left turn to a coat check and then turned again to a door. Was this a newfangled Spiral Design fit for burrowing mammals? A woman looked at my ticket and pointed across a small room with low ceilings, painted entirely in black. There was no other door, not a window in sight. In the front row, a line of small round tables almost touched. The seats were packed together sardine style.
How could anyone enjoy a show here? Even The Rat in Boston, downstairs at The Grog in Newburyport and the cave that was the Muddy River bar were far less constricted than this. Was this what several million dollars buys in 2011?
Feeling like I was walking into a fire trap, and wondering how any fire marshal would sign off on this awful and obviously dangerous design, I opted not to cross the room, and cram myself into an uncomfortable chair. I fled and while doing so, drew out pleasant memories of seeing Larkin at Prescott Park (with Bill Morrissey) and at an outdoor setting in Dover.
Which got me to thinking today about some of the best seats I've ever had the fortune to occupy at music stages.
Here are my top ten:
1. At age 14, me and my pal, Jodie, and her sister, Kim, got in their mum's car for the ride from Claremont to Hanover. Jodie's mom had tickets to see Jesse Colin Young at the campus arena. When we arrived, the entire campus was on strike against the Vietnam Conflict (it was 1970) and so in a room that could hold thousands, there were, at tops, 300. We ended up sitting on one side of the stage. The coolest intro to concerts ever.
2. When I was 16, my hippie dippie father drove us from our apartment on L Street at Hampton Beach to this spacious coffeehouse in Ipswich, Mass. I remember it was located near a river or tidal inlet, that it boasted a large tree in the dirt parking lot and that the place looked like a sprawling house. I can't remember the name of the place which bothers me.
We had been there before. It had a loungey area and you could order food and the main room had a nice stage and a lots of tables and chairs. We had seen Mimi Farina (Joan Baez's sister) perform and she was quite impressive. So adept on guitar and a voice less soprano than Joan's.
Anyhow on this occasion, we were going to the coffeehouse for a New Year's Eve bash featuring Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, the creators of that hit, Hot Rod Lincoln. We arrived to find that all the tables and chairs had been pushed to the back of the room to make way for dancing. It had been snowing and yet the place was full. The band was two feet away from where I stationed myself. I met a boy my age who had tagged along with his older sister and we spent the night dancing and flirting, vowing to meet again the next month. When we returned at the appointed time, the coffee house was closed.
3.) In high school, I ventured with a group of friends to my first Boston concert -- Delaney & Bonnie & Friends at the Hynes Auditorium. Never actually realized that those Friends included Eric Clapton and Dave Mason until I got there! Never heard a more powerful female voice than that of Bonnie Bramlett. This performance set the bar high for future concert experiences.
4.) When I was 17, I ended up at Shamrock Park somewhere in Brooklyn (I think) with a boy I had been introduced to by another friend. The Park was huge, the seating was on the lawn and the most unusual thing about the space was that an elevated subway encircled the space behind the stage. So you'd be listening and looking and along would come the subway. Unreal. Headlining were The Allman Brothers. The opening act was Savoy Brown (yet another incarnation of the origianl group; didn't recognize any of the players) and as surprise guests, The Grateful Dead showed up. Unfortunately, I had taken a toke of a passing joint which had to be laced with something strange...I was so stoned for most of that concert. I think I fell asleep on that boy's lap. Never been to a setting like that since and have never taken a proffered hit on any drug since then.
5.) Hitchhiked with a friend from Hampton Beach to Seabrook. A small bright blue hatchback stopped. We piled into the front seat. In the back seat there was a long rod holding up clothing on hangers and also a doberman pincher who was contently perched and more importantly, not growling.
The driver was male. I noticed a rather ornate silver cuff bracelet on his dashboard and picked it up to look at it and asked: Are you a silversmith? To which he replied: No, I'm in the group Aerosmith. I had played trenches into the previous year's fave Christmas gift -- Toys in the Attic -- on the turntable. My friend and I gazed at the driver again. Then he said: We're playing at the TicToc in Salisbury this weekend.
He drove us to where we were going. My friend and I had a great laugh at this brazen pretender.
And then...as I entered the TicToc main listening room, I watched as the kindly driver fobbed across the stage singing in that unforgettable screech and growl. It was none other than Steven Tyler. They put on quite a show.
6.) The Cameo in South Beach. My landlord was a part owner at The Cameo, which is a doppleganger to The Orpheum in Boston. Watched David Byrne and his huge contingent from South America perform their Rei Mo Mo album, and Talking Head hits, from the sound booth. Later, David Byrne bummed cigarettes off me while a small group of us were drinking and snacking at a nearby watering hole after the concert. David is shy and an observant guy. Before the show, he was taking photos of his wife and infant daughter outside the main doors.
7.) Best seats ever at the Boston Garden to see David Bowie in his Thin White Duke tour with TVC15 (Fame)...also Jethro Tull, Rod Stewart, Alice Cooper, Jefferson Airplane, and others. Had tickets to see Led Zeppelin in 1970 at the Garden but then swine ticketbuyers trashed the place and Mayor Kevin White cancelled the show. I still have the tickets...they were $7 each. Biggest rock and roll bummer ever.
8.) A last minute outdoor concert at Philips Exeter Academy featuring James Montgomery Blues Band. I think my junior year in high school. Splendid.
9.) Seeing Crosby, Stills and Nash in a daytime concert at that outdoor place in North Conway was nice. This was before Crosby fell off the edge with that weapons bust and before his liver failed. He was pudgy and probably stoned but he was by far the most talented of the three that day. He sang his heart out.
My pals decided on standing in front of the stage but I opted for the stadium seating on the far side. Here, quite amused, I watched as a lone police officer snatched bags of pot and mushrooms from attendees as he paced up and down the aisles. I mean folks of all ages were taking drugs in broad daylight. The arena itself resembled a giant bong as cloud sized plumes of smog lifted into the air, almost in time with the music.
10.) Hearing Bo Diddley perform, with my beau Michael Kelly, at the Lone Star Cafe in NYC was thrilling. The place was not too crowded as it was a weeknight and some insane chick in the audience got right on stage with him and suggestively danced all around him during his set. She had this long scarf she used to carress herself and also Bo. It was part comedy, part sexy cabaret and pure swamp beat music. He was surprised and pleased and the entire crowd was completely engaged. He thanked the woman who returned to her seat to much applause. He wasn't at all upset at the interloper. A real pro.