My Top 5 Gigs I Wish I Could Travel Back in Time to | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

My Top 5 Gigs I Wish I Could Travel Back in Time to

Emily Barker takes a wistful look back at some of the greatest live performances of the last sixty years

As I go about my day-to-day business, many, many things make me feel that I may have been born in the wrong era. The friend sat next to me, asking for advice for her Tinder date that evening. The girl a few seats down from me in my lecture who manages to check Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, answer a couple of e-mails, order a new dress from ASOS and leave a review for a ‘contour kit’ she bought (probably during Monday’s 9am), whilst simultaneously Snapchatting, texting, and, of course, taking notes. Anything and everything to do with the Kardashians. The rise of the legging. Don’t even get me started on jeggings.

But when I ponder over what the definitive best era to have been a young music-lover during was, I realise that really there are too many bands, too widely spread across the last sixty years or so, and what I really want is to be able to spend snippets of time in each. So here they are, the top five gigs that make me want to sell my soul for that time machine.

5: Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests.
When? Mid ‘60s. Where? San Francisco (mostly).

Does this really count? Was this not more a series of parties? Am I completely cheating this list by kicking it off with such a dubious claim to the title of ‘gig’? Possibly. But the fact remains, the Grateful Dead were considered the de facto ‘house band’ of the Acid Tests, so it’s good enough for me. Kesey had a huge hand in ushering in the hippy era, mostly by throwing these mad events every now and then where he would give everyone LSD for a dollar on the door in an attempt to advocate its physical and psychological health benefits. I don’t know, I just really enjoy the idea of standing in a room full of long hair and flower prints and spiritual awakening, discussing Ken’s writing process for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and getting Jerry Garcia to tell me about that time he lost one of his fingers. Don’t worry, it was only on his strumming hand. 

I just really enjoy the idea of standing in a room full of long hair and flower prints and spiritual awakening and getting Jerry Garcia to tell me about that time he lost one of his fingers

4: The Strokes.
When? February 2002. Where? MTV’s $2 Bill.

Ah, foetus-Strokes. This was before they were all exhausted from solid years of touring, before any of them were addicted to heroin, before Julian let the others help with writing the albums, thus ruining them. They just had the one record out at the time, so it’s essentially a live performance of Is This It on shuffle, which is fine by me. It had just been out long enough for the hype to have built to an unbearable climax, and no-one really knew much about the individual band members as people, because they’d mostly been hanging out in the UK (we noticed their beauty and talent before the States cottoned on, something that keeps my national pride burning to this day), and had this aura of mystery surrounding them. Cue their first televised full concert, during which Julian implements soon-to-be-trademark microphone-stand-abuse, takes a break to smoke a cigarette in the middle of the crowd, ventures to the back of the audience to sit on someone’s head, and returns only to starfish on the stage, singing from flat on his back. Top form, basically. And the rest of the band are alright as well.

3: Def Jam Tour.
When? 1987. Where? All over the damn place.

I’m bending more rules here. Not a singular gig, but a combined tour of early Def Jam signees. In other words, night after night of Public Enemy, Eric B and Rakim, and LL Cool J. Can you blame me? This entry was closely contested by two other hip-hop shows; firstly Run-D.M.C. at Madison Square Garden the year before, holding up their Adidas with the crowd and swiftly changing the course of fashion and brand endorsement, and secondly N.W.A. raising all hell by playing the explicitly banned ‘Fuck Tha Police’ in Detroit and having to run off without getting paid shortly afterwards. But in the end, the possibility of hanging out with Rick Rubin on the Def Jam tour trumps them both. Hey, my fantasy, my rules.

Night after night of Public Enemy, Eric B and Rakim, and LL Cool J. Can you blame me?

2: Jimi Hendrix.
When? 18 August 1969. Where? Woodstock.

This appears on so many top live music lists that it hardly needs explaining, and I suppose that most of the eloquent, original things I could say about it have already been said. But what did you want me to do, leave it out? It was magic, it was pure genius, it became heartbreaking and iconic when Hendrix died precisely thirteen months later. And let’s not forget, if we travel back for the whole weekend, we could catch Joan Baez, a quick repeat of the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Who and Jefferson Airplane as well. But don’t worry guys, we’ve got… Ed Sheeran at Glastonbury this year.

1: Nirvana.
When? I mean, every second of their existence, but specifically 18 November 1993. Where? MTV Unplugged.

This was a tough decision, and I’m well aware that I’ve ended up topping my list with possibly the most clichéd entry I could have chosen, but there’s a reason people obsess over it. There were quite a few contenders that nearly stole the top spot: Nirvana at Reading in 1992 (self-explanatory), a New Year’s Eve show in San Francisco in 1992 that hurts my brain to think about because Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chili Peppers all played on the SAME night, in the SAME place, to the SAME crowd that I SHOULD HAVE BEEN IN. Right, sorry, sorry, I’ll keep it together. Also, a couple of other Unplugged sets that have shaped my life and reduced me to a sobbing ball of mess, most notably Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam.

I can’t fully explain why Nirvana Unplugged hits me so hard, but even watching it online you can sense the atmosphere, the palpable tension from an audience, and band for that matter, kind of expecting Kurt to lose it and mess up. I have a theory that Kurt had already planned his suicide at this point (before you call me crazy, he did request that the stage was decorated like ‘a funeral’), maybe that’s why he pulled out all the stops and gave the most intimate, harrowing performance we ever saw from him. It doesn’t matter, I love watching him prove everyone wrong; play all the songs people told him not to do, not play all the songs people told him to do, have supporting artists most mainstream audiences weren’t interested in, and still nail it. You might not agree with my list, but if there’s one thing you do now, watch ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’ and wait for that pause in the middle of the last line where I swear Cobain sees God for a split second. It’s weird, it’s unforgettable. It’s my favourite gig of all time, and I’d give anything to have been in that crowd.

UoB English & Creative Writing student. Dog enthusiast.


19th March 2017 at 5:10 pm

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