Paul Heinz

Original Fiction, Music and Essays

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Alpine Valley Concert Memories

It happens to all venues eventually, I know, but this time it kind of hits home: for the first time since its 1977 inception, Alpine Valley won’t host any concerts this summer, and it may be in jeopardy of closing permanently. Tucked in rolling hills of southern Wisconsin, Alpine Valley is a spectacular site for a large concert, but it’s miles from nowhere and has fallen victim to the likes of Wrigley Field and Soldier Field, two Chicago venues that are hosting more concerts than in the past.

Nonetheless, Alpine Valley remains an integral part of my memory’s concert vault. It's the venue where I experienced the inimitable thrill of witnessing not just a show, but an Event, larger than life and at times life-affirming. I attended eleven shows during those hot, summer nights of my youth:

1983 Supertramp
1984 Bruce Springsteen
1984 Rod Stewart
1984 Elton John
1985 Tom Petty with Til Tuesday
1987 Tom Petty with Del Fuegos and Georgia Satellites
1989 Elvis Costello with Cowboy Junkies, Violent Femmes and Edie Brickel and New Bohemians
1990 Rush
1990 Billy Joel
1990 Jimmy Buffett
1991 Elvis Costello with BoDeans

If I could go back on see one of these shows again, it would be the first: Supertramp’s Famous Last Words show from 1983, the last tour with Rodger Hodgson. I may have enjoyed Springsteen and Stewart and Petty and the rest, but I lived for Supertramp. They spoke directly to me and my brooding teenager sensibilities. Hodgson sang about living a meaningful life in a world that didn’t understand you, and regardless of what Rick Davies sang about, he did so with cynicism and anger. I identified with both. I memorized their lyrics, labored over their piano patterns, and studied their albums' liner notes and intricate cover art. At their Alpine Valley concert, the opening segment on the movie screen of a tightrope walker about to fall to his doom as Bob Seibenberg attacked his kick drum prior to the opening of "Crazy" was the perfect introduction to my amphitheater concert-going experience.

The biggest show for me by far was Springsteen’s 1984 performance, the first of two nights. (The second night can be streamed on youtube, but I sure do wish the first show was available.) Bruce was just about to hit his peek, “Dancing in the Dark” was on just about every frequency along the radio dial, his voice was forceful and confident as opposed to the twang he’s adopted over the past couple of years, and when the first booming note of “Born in the USA” kicked off the show, the rumbling cacophony of 25,000 fans filled my gut with a palpable thrill. I’m not sure I’ve equaled that level of excitement at any concert I’ve attended since.

That same summer, Elton John toured his last decent album (IMO), Breaking Hearts, and sped through a cocaine-induced set that I enjoyed at the time, but in hindsight was probably really mediocre. I’ve listened to recordings of that tour, and they suffer from the constant drone of a synthesizer mimicking strings and other sounds from the studio recordings. They also suffer because Elton was a performer who was tired of performing, so much so that this was supposed to be his final tour. Har har. On a brighter note, I may have witnessed the last Elton John tour during which he was able to belt out the high notes in all their falsetto glory. Elton likes the way his voice sounds now compared to his younger years, but to me, give me Elton pre-1985. Among the purest and most flexible voices I’ve ever heard, and hearing him sing "One More Arrow" was worth the price of admission.

Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck may have started off the Camouflage tour together, but by the time Steward came to East Troy, Beck had had enough and was likely happily sipping a martini in England without his pain-in-the-ass colleague. A terrific replacement was recruited, and at the Alpine Valley show an audience member proudly displayed a home-made sign that read, “Jeff who?” In front of my brother and me was a gorgeous blonde who was taking photos of the show and who promised to send us some prints. She never did.

It was on my return trip from Tom Petty’s Southern Accents show in 1985 – a tour that sported a regrettable giant Confederate flag as a stage backdrop, and an almost equally regrettable horn section – that I received an East Troy welcome in the form of a speeding ticket, as I was going a whopping 67mph in a 55mph section of highway (it’s now 65). I wasn’t the only one. It was Wisconsin's favorite way to thank visitors for spending money at the local venue. My buddy Jim did his best to support my case with the officer, but a ticket was issued before the cop even put his car in drive.

That same day a fellow fan in the parking lot heard me ruminating over my wish for a classic Yes reunion by mentioning their epic track, “Gates of Delirium,” and he yelled “YES,” kneeled down on the ground in front of me and echoed my feelings, after which we spent five minutes discussing all the great songs we’d like to hear a reunited band perform. The shirtless man had cut his knee on a piece of broken glass when reacting to my plea, and said, “It was worth it.  We’re like Yes blood-brothers.” 

Lou Reed was to open up for Elvis Costello in 1989, but he cancelled and was replaced by The Violent Femmes, though the Cowboy Junkies paid tribute with their rendition of “Sweet Jane.” It was also during this show that my buddy Todd looked to his friends from England as Elvis sang a spectacularly subtle performance for such a large venue of “Tramp the Dirt Down,” during which he spouted the venomous lyrics:

When England was the whore of the world, Margaret was her madam

During the Jimmy Buffet show in 1990, the old folks yelled at my gaggle of college pukes to sit the hell down. At the Billy Joel show that same year, he bragged about getting to sleep with Christie Brinkley. And you know what? Even decades after their divorce, he’s still entitled to brag about that one!

Just two weeks later, Stevie Ray Vaughan and four others died in a helicopter accident as it was leaving the venue.

Elvis capped off my Alpine Valley experience in 1991, promoting an album that had no business at such a large venue, and the driving riff of “Pump it Up” was the last sound I’d ever hear in the lush, green hills of East Troy, Wisconsin. There are concerts I probably should have gone to since then (Radiohead comes to mind) but life gets complicated, bands become repetitious, and now if I really need to see a concert at a big venue, Miller Park and Wrigley Field are a-callin’. Live Nation claims they will book shows for at Alpine Valley in 2018, but I have a hunch we may have seen the last concert at East Troy. 

And I have to wonder, how the heck are Wisconsin's finest going to reach their ticket quota absent concerts at Alpine Valley?

Squire's Death and Concert Memories

I was shocked upon hearing the news earlier this week of Yes bassist Chris Squire’s death at age 67.  I didn’t worship or even revere Squire – the last time I saw him perform, my main impression of him was that he could lose about fifty pounds and definitely lose the leather pants – but he was one of those guys back in the early 80s that inspired me and my love for music.  And as I read the details of his passing, it occurred to me that this is only the beginning.  If you’re a music fan of the old bands from the 60s and 70s, the next couple of decades are going to be rough.

I went through a mental list of all the performances I’ve seen since I saw Billy Squire at Summerfest in 1981 with my buddy John, followed by Crosby, Stills and Nash and Rush the following year.  The truth is that except for a few supporting members like Clarence Clemens and Danny Federici of the E Street Band, Howie Epstein of the Heartbreakers and two of the Wilson brothers of Beach Boys fame, the guys I’ve watched perform are still around and still performing, which is something I never fathomed.  When I saw Yes for the first time in 1984 I recall thinking that a whole fifteen years had passed since the band originated and that I was lucky to be seeing them before they call it a day.  Well, now more than double that period of time has passed, and lo and behold, Yes will be performing this August in Chicago.  Crazy.  I mean, who would have thought back in 1982 that in 2015 you could see The Who, Rush, Yes, Paul McCartney, Elton John, and CSN? Insane.

But here we are in 2015, and Squire’s passing has prompted me to try to recall all the concerts I’ve seen over the years.  Unlike some of my prolific concert-seeing buddies, I’ve never been a huge live music guy.  I see a few big concerts a year, maybe a small one every couple of years, and that’s about it.  And with me, I tend to see the same bands over and over (Rush, Rufus Wainwright, Bed Folds).  I’m happy to say that most of these guys are still around (I just remembered seeing Big Country in 1993, and sadly, Stuart Adamson is no longer with us).  It’ll be very sad to see more of these guys go, as more and more of my record collection turns into a sort of memorial to artists of yesterday.

Here’s my list.  Not included are the 12 or 13 times I saw Pat McCurdy, and many of the bands listed were opening acts or part of a larger event (Steve Miller in 1994, for example).

’80 – Off Broadway (from the back!  I didn’t realize kids got discounted tickets for lower grand stand seats).

’81 – Billy Squire

’82 – CSN, Rush

’83 – Beach Boys, Supertramp, Genesis

’84 – Yes, Bruce Springsteen, Spyro Gyra, Rod Stewart, Elton John

’85 – Jean Luc Ponty, The Tubes and Utopia, Til Tuesday and Tom Petty, Patrick Moraz and Bill Bruford, Supertramp

’86 – Leo Kottke, Marillion and Rush, GTR, Julian Lennon, The Moody Blues

’87 – Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, Tom Petty

’88 – Sting, Bruce Hornsby

’89 – Elvis Costello, BoDeans, Violent Femmes and Cowboy Junkies and Edie Brickell, Joe Jackson

’90 – Innocence Mission, Billy Joel, Jimmy Buffet, Rush

’91 – Blake Babies (I think this year?), Elvis Costello, Al Stewart, The Guffs, Innocence Mission, Rush

’92 – Genesis, John Mellencamp, Indigo Girls, Randy Newman, Wallflowers and 10,000 Maniacs

’93 – Michelle Shocked, Da Da and Sting, Big Country, The Connells

’94 – Rush, Melissa Etheridge and Steve Miller and Natalie Merchant, The Pretenders

’95 – Van Morrison, They Might Be Giants, Elvis Costello

’96 – Wynton Marsalis, James Taylor

’97 – Bar Scott (I think this year?).  Generally lost in parenthood, Broadway plays and living in Allentown

‘98 – Lost in parenthood, Broadway plays and living in Allentown

‘99 – Bruce Springsteen, but generally lost in parenthood, Broadway plays and living in Allentown

’00 – Joe Jackson, but generally lost in parenthood, Broadway plays and living in Allentown

’01 – Eve 6, Joe Jackson, Paul Simon, Yes, Ben Folds

’02 – Harry Connick, Jr., Rush, Paul McCartney, Yes, Ben Folds

’03 – Joe Jackson, Leo Kottke, Tom Petty, The BoDeans, Steve Earle, Jackson Browne, Randy Newman

’04 – Yes, Rufus Wainwright and Ben Folds, Patti Austin, Harry Connick, Jr., Barenaked Ladies, Marc Cohn

’05 – Paul McCartney, James Taylor, Indigo Girls

’06 – um…what the heck was I doing?

’07 – Rufus Wainwright, Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers

’08 – Randy Newman, Yes

’09 – Steely Dan

’10 – Company of Thieves, Craig Ferguson, Rufus Wainwright

’11 – Yes, Weird Al Yankovic, Rufus Wainwright, Paul Simon, Sting

’12 – The Hush Sound, James Taylor, Rufus Wainwright, Bruce Springsteen, Rush, Joe Jackson, Ben Folds Five

’13 – Sara Bareilles, Rush, Barenaked Ladies, Ben Folds Five, Paul McCartney, A Silent Film

’14 – Roger Hodgson, Devo and Arcade Fire, Jackson Browne, James Taylor

’15 – The Who, Rufus Wainwright, Graham Parker, Rush

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