Rock ‘n’ Roll Forever

Category: Weekly Columns

Does the generation gap ever die? My two sons really enjoy contemporary music, especially rock ‘n’ roll, with an emphasis on metal and alternative artists. My older son has become a good guitarist and, in fact, this interest is the first one I’ve seen him devoted to and passionate about. They both really wanted to attend an upcoming rock ‘n’ roll all day/night festival. I naively said okay.

Till now, we’d attended a Bruce Springsteen concert at Dodger Stadium, an Eric Clapton concert at the Hollywood Bowl as well as both Green Day and the Red Hot Chili Peppers concerts. Oh, let’s not forget the SOUND OF MUSIC sing-a-long also at the Bowl! But, nothing quite prepared me for this one. Thankfully, my boys weren’t interested in going all day and seeing the opening bands they didn’t yet know, so we arrived around 5:30 p.m. while Cypress Hill, a rap group, was performing.

Between the non-stop profanity and drug references, they “performed” several incoherent rap songs. On the stage behind them was a large blow-up Buddha balloon with a marijuana leaf prominently displayed on its belly. For me, it was just noise. Neither boy responded or cared about them.

Next up was Chris Cornell, an alternative rocker who had been with two bands, Rage Against The Machine and AudioSlave, both regarded by critics as relevant and important.

Sitting in the bleachers of the Home Depot Center we weren’t forced to stand on the floor with the several thousand who were “fortunate” enough to get those floor “seats”. See, concerts today often don’t provide seats in front…just open areas where the ticket-holders crush each other and try to see over each other’s heads. We could see the performers as tiny ant figures from our seats and only really view them via the large video screens on each side of the stage. Cornell’s music was uninspired from my POV and he only performed for 30 minutes. He looked very pale and odd, but according to my son, he’s not a druggie having been through that phase already.

Ultimately, one of my older son’s favorite bands played, Velvet Revolver, which is a reconstituted band with former members of Guns ‘N’ Roses and Stone Temple Pilots. Here, the lead singer was completely unintelligible. You couldn’t understand a word he said, but their set was saved by the virtuosity of Slash, their lead guitarist. You couldn’t see his face, behind the hat, hair and dangling cigarette, but his impeccable skill on guitar was impressive.

Finally came the highlight of the night, for us, The Foo Fighters. Here was a lead singer with charisma, the ability to actually pronounce intelligible words, and the sense of showmanship that marks a true performer. I knew few of their songs, but the lead singer’s presence was undeniable. He even ventured into the standing crowd on the floor for an extended run-around that reminded me, a little, of Mick Jagger doing the same on his large runway stages at Stone’s stadium concerts. He had the courage to open his act with a solo song, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and eventually segueing into the hard rock that is their signature music.

BUT, really what I was most struck by was the casual nature of most of the performer’s stage manner, dress, and presence. Lots of drug references, lots of swearing, what appeared to be dirty t-shirts and unkempt appearances, plus the proverbial cigarettes all gave the impression that they didn’t give a damn. Coupled with the skanky crowd, I felt like an alta-cocker! I’m sure my mother was laughing at me from heaven above.

Most of the concert, it seemed the audience was constantly milling about, going back and forth to the concessions, drinking their 4th and 5th beers, spilling half as they walked up and down the crowded stairs. Did they come to hear any of the music? Did they come to just be seen and see others? I don’t know. I guess it’s yet again a generation gap experience.

I’ve been going through an Elvis phase, much to the dismay of my family, but I can’t help but look back at his various performances and the care and passion he demonstrated in most of them for the audience, for his material, even with his dramatic and over-the-top one-piece suits. He was a showman; he cared about his audience.

Did any of the performers at this “festival” concert care that way, or the way so many of the legendary performers of my past did? Yipes, in my day, we’d sit through 4 hours of Bruce Springsteen working his butt off, delivering an unparalleled show and music. I remember seeing Tony Bennett at what was then called the Universal Amphitheatre where the stage was just adorned with three banners, each with a silhouette of him, while he performed with the sole accompaniment of a small trio. It was masterful.

Times have changed, I guess, but sitting through this last concert experience makes me want to buy or rent old Ed Sullivan shows and sift through my parents old 33 1/3 record albums! Till the next one…