November 2, 2011

Time Machine: Five Monumental Shows

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Halloween has long held a place in my heart as the greatest holiday weekend of the year — not only for its proximity to my birthday and the wild and debauched mayhem that inevitably ensues, but also for the endless wealth of opportunities it presents. On Halloween, any person possesses the ability to transcend time, appearance, inhibitions or even gender, and without fear of persecution, wholly transform into someone or something entirely different.  For one night, or several if you are one to recycle costumes, a little make-up, perhaps a wig, a few props and some new apparel can manifest in the owner novel mannerisms, attitudes and even a fresh worldview, whether they are imitating a persona they admire, or have taken on a character completely of their own creation. Once in costume and immersed in this altered state, the wearer can act freely, channeling the outlandish and the outrageous as they please.

Clearly, I do not take Halloween lightly. While store-bought costumes with shockingly short hemlines and ample exposure for pushed-up chests are good enough for most, my creative side, or perhaps my normally stunted modesty that forces me to craft costumes of my own. And, as with most aspects of my life, I draw my inspiration from music and pop culture, perhaps revealing my long-harbored desires to live in earlier decades. Whether outfitted as material girl Madonna from the ‘80s, rocking face paint and pouting the night away as David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust or trying to seem as effortlessly cool as a 60’s Mod Girl, each costume has provided me, if only briefly, with a personal time machine to eras past.

This notion of the Halloween time machine is the premise behind this week’s Top 5. Costumes are only able to take us so far on our quest to revisit and experience events and people from the past and, sadly, technology has not yet (fingers crossed!) produced a mechanism to bridge the distance. In the spirit of nostalgia, and perhaps to provide inspiration for next year’s costumes, here is a look at five monumental performances in music history. Engineers of the world, get to work, I’ll have my bell bottoms and rose-colored glasses ready for whenever that time machine finally arrives.

1. Jimi Hendrix — Woodstock Music & Art Fair, New York, August 18th, 1969

Are you surprised by this choice? Probably not. But, if anything is a testament to the sheer force and lasting power of a single performance, it is the worldwide idolization and unprecedented fame that has surrounded Jimi Hendrix’s closing performance at Woodstock to this day. Taking the stage at 8 a.m. Monday morning, from the very first chords Hendrix appears as if in a trance. Whether playing with his teeth, eyes closed or only one hand, he commanded the stage with an almost savage rawness, perhaps the result of having gone three nights without any sleep. Battling through mud, lack of food and the infamous brown acid, the 30,000 who braved it until the final day were rewarded with Hendrix’s reverb-laden and masterfully helter-skelter rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” At it peak, estimates of 400,000 people were in attendance at the three-day festival for peace and love – I sincerely pity the 370,000 fools who unknowingly missed out on one of the greatest performances of all time.

2. The Beatles — The Ed Sullivan Show, February 9th, 1964

The year is 1964 and “I Want to Hold Your Hand” had recently taken the number one spot on the US charts. Ed Sullivan, after witnessing at Heathrow Airport the fan hysteria that these four boys from across the pond could bring, decided to hire the band to appear for three consecutive times on his show. Their first appearance took place on Sunday, February 9th, a show that has since become a milestone for rock music and for the British Invasion. Looking almost laughably clean-cut in their matching suits and mop top haircuts, The Beatles’ first live American television performance drew a record 73 million viewers; over 40% of the American population at that time. Opening with “All My Loving,” John, Paul, George and Ringo were greeted to the deafening screams of the 700 teenage girls in the studio audience, and charmed their way into the hearts of a nation.

3. Queen — Live Aid, Wembley Stadium, England, July 13th, 1985

Live Aid, a duel-venue charity concert that took place simultaneously in London and Philadelphia, had no shortage of word-class performances. Legends such as The Who, David Bowie, U2 and Bob Dylan all took the stage during the 16-hour broadcast, lending their talents in order to garner donations for African famine relief. It was Queen’s 20-minute set that truly stole the show, galvanizing the 72,000 in attendance at Wembley to clap in unison to hits such as “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “We Are The Champions.” Nothing was quite as captivating as lead singer Freddie Mercury’s over-the-top charisma and brazen flamboyance while on stage, as he led the crowd in thundering sing-a-longs. Queen’s iconic performance on that day has since been named in an industry poll as the world’s greatest rock gig ever, a monumental honor they achieved in only six songs.

4. Nirvana — Reading Festival, England, August 30th, 1992

By 1992, Nirvana’s lead singer Kurt Cobain had been called many things, and made to endure endless speculations by the press about his mental health and drug addictions. Rumors ran rampant in the days leading up to Nirvana’s headlining performance at the Reading Festival, including one that claimed that Cobain was near death after being hospitalized for a drug overdose. With the crowd of 60,000 awaiting anxiously, Cobain was wheeled onto the stage in a hospital gown and a massive blonde wig, muttering a few words and then collapsing on to his back. Standing and taking his guitar, Cobain finally put rumors to rest, launching mercilessly into a blistering rendition of “Breed.” During the entirety of their set, the band played with an uninhibited ferocity that proved both to the audience that they were much more than the media coverage that surrounded them. Tragically, Cobain later succumbed to his inner-demons, and Nirvana’s legendary performance at Reading would prove to be their last in the UK.

5. Radiohead — Glastonbury Festival, England, June 28th, 1997

The United Kingdom certainly knows how to throw a good music festival, and can make American attempts seem amateur in comparison. Within the UK the Glastonbury Festival is king, having gained a worldwide reputation since its debut in 1970. Releasing their seminal third album OK Computer just two weeks before they were set to headline at Glastonbury, Radiohead was propelled into the spotlight after the album received enormous acclaim. Taking the stage on Saturday night after days of torrential rainfall, Thom Yorke and the boys greeted 40,000 mud-drenched and miserable fans, and had to undergo major monitor issues throughout. In the face of adversity, Radiohead played as if they were a band on a mission, relying on Yorke’s gorgeous voice and the band’s intense energy to deliver the audience the show of a lifetime. Their set has since been hailed by Glastonbury organizer Michael Eavis as “the most inspiring festival gig in 30 years,” and one need only listen to the crowd chant during “Karma Police” to understand why.

Original Author: Sarah Angell