Jon Taylor’s Top 5 Shows

Top five rock shows? Damn you, Hear Nebraska. Who do you think you are?

I saw KISS in the ‘70s, the Replacements in the ‘80s and Sonic Youth in the ’90s. Archers of Loaf—yep. Uncle Tupelo—yep. Jesus Lizard—yep.

I watched the audience of a Dead Kennedys show crowd-surf a kid back to the stage so they could cart him to the hospital after he broke his leg while stage diving.

I met Joe Strummer coming out of a bar in Omaha and answered a question for him about Strategic Air Command — information he used later that night onstage.

Mike Watt shook my hand when our band opened for Firehose.

Mike. Watt.

Hear Nebraska, you’ve made an impossible request because: A) I’ve seen a lot of shows and, B) All shows, one way or another, are great shows … to me, anyway.

The only way I can narrow it down is to pick some of the shows that have had the greatest impact on my development as a guy with a guitar in a band. Here are five lessons learned.

* * *

The Click • 1982 • UNL Student Union/Broyhill Fountain, Lincoln, NE

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts – The Click is the first band I saw in Lincoln when I moved here for college. Frantic bass, prickly guitar, new wave synth and punk rock drums combined with the magnificent voice of Sara Kovanda to create a wild noise I hadn’t heard before. As I listened to their spiky sound bounce off of the surrounding buildings, it was like members of the group were plucked from four entirely different bands—four unique personalities that somehow bonded through sound. I can’t imagine there was any way they could have predicted the music that materialized once they joined sonic forces. The Click remains the premier case study in how band members who share the load and let the sound happen can get the biggest results.

Soul Asylum • 1987 • The Drumstick, Lincoln, NE

You can do it, too – Guitar, bass and drums provide the framework for the most satisfying way to find adventure and lose your hearing. I’m not blaming SA for my decade of near poverty, endless drives and questionable lodging choices, but how could I NOT want to be in a touring rock band after having my face melted that night at the ‘Stick. I wasn’t just witnessing a brilliant show; I was given a blueprint for what a midwestern rock band should look and sound like. I was so inspired by their volume, power and melody that I ambushed Dave Pirner in the parking lot while they were loading out to ask how they were making it all happen. “Just make a record and get out there and sell it,” was his response. It sounded like such harmless advice at the time…

Fugazi • 2001 • Nebraska Union Centennial Ballroom, Lincoln, NE

Only the songs matter – The Union Ballroom has all of the charm of a high school cafeteria. Not one square inch of it says “rock and roll club.” But it is an all-ages venue, which, like the $5 admission fee, was mandated by the band. All-ages shows have an inclusive, positive vibe that you’ll never find in a bar, because everyone there is focused on the music. That was especially the case at Fugazi shows. The sound demanded your complete attention for fear of missing some unforgettable moment. Pure, sharp, crisp, experimental, groovy, urgent and abrasive, Fugazi reconceived what a rock band could sound like. Unless somebody in the audience misbehaved and earned one of Ian’s legendary admonishments, the group concentrated on their instruments and the task at hand. No gimmicks, no posturing, no hesitation. Their military-like precision and efficiency will always be my benchmark on how to conduct one’s self onstage, no matter where the stage is located.

Flaming Lips • 1986 • Duffy’s Tavern, Lincoln, NE

Own the venue – “Don’t breathe the smoke.” By the time the warning blasted out of the speakers, the Lips’ fog machines had saturated Duffy’s to the point that you could not see your hand in front of your face. I think I can still taste that gray cloud. Gak. Until they hit their first note and lit the floodlights mounted on their amps, we didn’t even realize the band was onstage. From that moment on, the club was transformed into a deafening, psychedelic hallucination controlled by the three ghostly figures towering above us. We were in Wayne’s world now and over the years we watched as his band conquered the Earth one stage at a time, on its own terms, in its own trippy style. Whether you fill a place with sound or toxic smog, setting your band apart always needs to be a consideration. Just be prepared, as the Lips did at Duffy’s, to have the club’s electrical system updated to accommodate your power requirements.

Red Hot Chili Peppers • 1987 • Chesterfield’s, Lincoln, NE

Do your own thing – While mortal bands are relegated to use mere electricity to fuel their aural assaults, the Peppers have always seemed to be powered by an alien energy source. Maybe it is because when their music finally reached Nebraska it sounded like it came from another planet. For me, their sweaty, funky sound was not all that set the band apart. Up close you could feel the members’ absolute delight to be doing something they obviously enjoyed. It didn’t seem to matter if the audience was into the sound—the band was a shirtless freight train—you either got on or got out of the way. Fortunate is the band that finds a unique sound and can simply focus on launching it at audiences with everything it has. If you’re lucky, you love the noise your band makes. It’s not your problem whether or not anybody else cares about it.

photo by Adam Wall