My Favorite Live Music Experience

I saw The Police with Santana opening in the early 80’s in Sacramento (’81?). This was the Ghost In The Machine tour, and it was absolutely amazing.

First off, Santana was on fire that night. At that point in their career they weren’t having hits like The Police, and it was like they came out on stage, guns blazing so they wouldn’t get blown off the stage by the big English pop group. 😉

I respected Santana, but I wasn’t a huge fan. Even so, after their set I remember thinking, “there is no way–NO WAY–the Police could top that.” Ah, but I would prove to be mistaken…

If Santana was on fire, then The Police were beyond that. Maybe they watched Santana from the wings and decided that they weren’t going to get blown off the stage by some old Latin hippie band 😉

What the Police had was a total punk intensity to go on top of being on fire musically. In fact, there was even a total punk moment.

During their set, apparently some of the security guards up front we’re getting a little too enthusiastic with their crowd control. Our friend Sting, seeing this, immediately stopped in the middle of the song and screamed obscenities at the guards over the PA and threatened to leave the stage if they didn’t stop.

I had never seen anything like this in my life at a concert. But the main thing was that it put the energy over the top for the rest of the Police show. For the rest of the set after that, I don’t think their feet were touching the ground onstage, the energy was just amazing.

And I haven’t yet spoken about the drummer for the Police, Stewart Copeland. Totally. Amazing. It’s easy to forget that Stewart changed Rock drumming.

Before Stewart, most everyone on the pop charts tuned their drums low and muffled like Ringo, and did that 70’s smooth groove thing. After Stewart, most everyone cranked their drums high with no muffling and played aggressively–just like Stewart. And, he swung his a** off. He was a force of nature.

As a drummer at the time, I felt that you couldn’t ignore his influence if you wanted to. You could absolutely ignore his approach and move in another direction, but even then you had reacted to him in some way, shape or form. His influence was just so huge at the time.

He also had an amazing, AMAZING live bass drum sound. Apparently, he tuned the drum really high (to get lots of attack) and used an octave-effect to get that low sound. Whatever it was, no one sounded like that live. You not only felt it in your chest, but it felt like it spread through your whole body. Just incredible.

Experiences like this one formed my aesthetic for live gigs in pop music (Rock, Pop, R&B, Country, Blues, etc.). I feel strongly that every gig needs a ‘wild-card’ moment. A wild card is an event I define as something that happens onstage that was unplanned, or not rehearsed. Something that makes the performers really bear down and listen like thieves. That particular moment of the show may or may not go well (it is an unplanned moment, after all), but that’s not the point. The point is, having had this moment onstage, your senses are heightened (esp. your hearing) and the rest of the gig benefits from this new energy.

What are some of your favorite live music moments? Can you identify the thing that put it over the top? Tell us about it!


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