Monday, April 30, 2012

Fine Time

New Order, with Public Image Ltd. and The Sugarcubes
05 July 1989: Blossom Music Center, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio

My senior year of high school we had a foreign exchange student from Germany. I was pretty smitten with her, even asking her out a few times, but she shut me down quickly (and repeatedly). As the school year wore on, I met and fell hard for another girl who would set me on the path that helped shape me into the person I am today, leaving indelible fingerprints all over my creative outlets and musical tastes. Something was in the air our senior year, because my best friend John had also found love, falling harder than I’d ever seen him fall before – for our German exchange student, Julie.

Somewhere between Monsters of Rock and Lollapalooza, in the music festival no-man’s land that was the summer of 1989, New Order toured with Public Ima
ge Ltd. and the Sugarcubes. Firmly in my wheelhouse (both then and now, I have to admit), this was the must-attend show of the year. But by that summer before college, my girlfriend had moved on – figuratively and literally – dumping me and heading to San Francisco. So not only did I have to borrow the $15 from John in order to buy my ticket, I was third wheeling it to the show with him and Julie.

I only saw three shows at Blossom before moving to Florida in August of 1990. The New Order/PiL/Sugarcubes show was bookended by the Beach Boys with Roy Orbison and John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band (of Eddie and the Cruisers fame) in the summer of 1988, and Jimmy Buffett in the summer of 1990. Being relatively broke high school and college students during that era, it was exclusively lawn seating for me and my friends. I remember wandering the grounds and getting into all kinds of trouble during the Beach Boys show, and I remember very little about the Jimmy Buffett show (read into that what you will).

For the New Order concert, my memory puts John,
Julie, and me right in the center of the lawn with a view straight into the pavilion and stage. I remember being pretty well anchored to our staked out plot of lawn for the duration of the show – even for the Sugarcubes’ set, despite never having been a huge fan of theirs.

The PiL performance was by far the most dynamic of the day. Johnny Lydon is nothing if not an entertainer. They were supporting 9, their most
commercial album and one I thoroughly enjoy. The headliners were touring behind Technique, an album I have on vinyl, cassette, and CD. Publicly, New Order played to type by remaining completely impassive behind their instruments. Privately, the band was falling apart. This show took place about a month after Bernard Sumner announced to his bandmates that he no longer wanted to continue as New Order and was forming another band with Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr.

I’ve heard recordings of New Order’s set from this night, and the music itself was fairly solid, but lyrics were mangled or forgotten throughout the set (making one wonder if it was internal band strife or *ahem* recreational activities that resulted in the lyrical casualties). It was a visually sterile show, more impressive for getting to hear this music I love played at incredibly loud decibels than for any sort of stage presence by the performers.

More remarkable than anything else about the night, though, is the fact that virtually everyone from my future close college circle of friends and lovers attended that show, and then some. Some combination (or maybe all) of the people John and I would find our freshman year at Bowling Green just a few months later were there.

The alternative music culture of the late ’80s was an amplified version of the feeling I had of gaining entrĂ© into an exclusive club after wearing my first concert t-shirt (David Lee Roth) to school the day after the show. Musical tastes were visible in the costumes we wore day-in and day-out: dyed black hair, black eyeliner, thrift store chic. We might have found each other anyway, but because she was wearing a black PiL concert t-shirt I was prompted to strike up a conversation with Erin at college orientation a month or so after the show. I’m pretty sure Jeff was at that concert, and maybe Jen was, too.

Just as extraordinary, and like so many other shows in our shared history (David Bowie at the Richfield Coliseum springs immediately to mind), Tracy was in the house this same night. Although I wouldn’t meet her for another six-and-a-half years, while I was on the lawn, my future wife was in the mosh pit down front getting gobbed on by Johnny Lydon himself.

PiL is rumored to release a vinyl EP and full length album of new material this year, and a partial reunion of New Order has been teasing live shows overseas since late last year. The frenzy around the latter should only increase with their scheduled performance at the closing ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics. I’m not sure if I’d go to see New Order or PiL, though, if they ended up touring the U.S. (I didn’t go out of my way to see a reconstituted PiL a couple of years ago when the closest they came to Northeast Ohio was a 2010 show in Pittsburgh.) I just have too much history mixed up in these groups, and it’s probably best if I just leave those memories unaltered.

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