As I grew up I went hard into music. I’ve discussed some of my earliest memories here, and a bit about my time with hair metal here. And more are coming, I’m building up to that pivotal year of 1991 where everything went wide open for me (and it might require more than one post to go over everything).
But for now I want to set aside my journey through tastes, genres and movements and get into a different memory – my first concert.
I always have been an album listener. A lot of my time has been spent at home with an album playing either as background noise or with my full attention focused on it. It’s the crux of what I do and my primary method of digesting music.
But, if you’re into music at all, you’re gonna go see a band live. It’s almost inevitable. I know the vast majority of music fans go to see live shows. I do know some people that bow out due to social anxiety concerns or other issues, but by and large we’re gonna pack the house and rock out with our favorite acts.
Before I get into my first actual show, let me take a minute to talk about what was almost my first show. Summer of 1991 – as I’ve said, the most important year in my music journey and also a year that the music landscape was pretty well blown apart and rebuilt.
I would be entering my freshmen year of high school that August, just as I turned 14. Like many, I had a friend who was in my grade but a few years older. He had his driver’s license and a car, and he had tickets to a hot show in St. Louis at a newly-opened outdoor amphitheater. He offered to take me.
Now, I won’t say I grew up sheltered, but perhaps semi-sheltered would be a fair description. If I was gonna go to this show I would have to just go and lie, saying I was spending the night at someone’s house. I could have plausibly done it but I decided against it. I was kind of a chickenshit kid and I feared the consequences, even if that was an abstract notion.
So the show I didn’t go to didn’t wind up being just a show. It was Skid Row opening for Guns N’ Roses. It was the infamous “Riverport Riot” show where Axl Rose stormed off stage after confronting a picture-taker up front. The crowd tore the new amphitheater apart for 3 hours after the band left the stage.
I could not imagine my life in high school if 13 year old me got caught up in a riot at a Guns N’ Roses concert over an hour away from where I lived. It wouldn’t have been much of a life, I know that much. As it was, my decision not to go at least left me to a quiet life of relative freedom, even if all I really did was listen to music and play video games. It would have been one hell of a story and perhaps worth it, but in the end it is what it is.
Now, let’s get to the point – my first actual concert. 3 year after the infamous St. Louis riot I was in a different place musically. I had been totally taken with what we now call extreme metal. I’d spent the last year-plus immersed in the true metal underground – death metal, grind, and the (literally) combustible black metal scene. Though back then death metal was my true jam.
And so it would be that death metal became my first ever concert. The bill was Cannibal Corpse with support from Grave and Samael at a place called Club 367 in north St. Louis. This meant that I saw Cannibal Corpse on The Bleeding tour, Grave on Soulless and Samael on Ceremony Of Opposites. For those unfamiliar with metal’s underground in 1994, that is one hell of a touring lineup.
There was a local opener whose name escapes me all these years later. They were a competent death metal band though I never heard a thing about them after that show. I got my first taste of “moshing” while they were on, though that was a pretty half-assed affair with just me and the friends I was with. I did stay out of the pit during the main attractions.
Samael played next and were absolutely unreal. We were all mesmerized by the keyboard player who just stood still as a statue while jamming out along with Samael’s cacophony of blackened hellfire. I don’t remember if I’d heard Ceremony… before then but I sure as hell did afterward.
Grave were next and I was already used to their brand of the Stockholm death metal sound, with that goddamn guitar tone that gives people headaches. Thankfully I don’t get headaches so I was, and am to this day, still all about it.
The main event, of course, was Cannibal Corpse. Touring behind their just-released opus The Bleeding and also finding interest through their appearance in the hit movie Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, the band were riding about as high as a death metal act could expect to in the early stages of the genre’s existence.
The set was electric, covering several tunes from the new album as well as classics cuts from their back catalog. I stood in awe more than anything – I was just a dumb 17 year old punk ass from a cowtown who was probably a bit out of his depth at a big city death metal show. It’d be a few years before I was a fixture at such shows.
After the show Cannibal Corpse hung out in the parking lot. I got my CD copy of The Bleeding signed by Alex Webster and Jack Owens. Unfortunately I misplaced it years later and no longer have it. I do still have the shirt I got at that show, although these days it’s something I just hold on to for sentiment rather than something I wear.
We went back to school as the death metal warriors, which meant everyone else wondered what in the hell we were listening to. But that was just fine with me – I didn’t really care for the norms of high school life in general or specifically mine, so being the disaffected underground metal freak was plenty fine with me. Thankfully that didn’t have any repercussions, as it did for others around that time.
I guess it’s fitting that I saw this show in my last year of high school. Not quite a year later I’d be in boot camp and off to an entirely different world. And all 3 bands at that show would move on to different eras – Samael would reinvent their sound several times over the years, Grave would take a long hiatus before returning in the early 2000’s, and Cannibal Corpse would famously part ways with Chris Barnes and bring on George “Corpsegrinder” Fischer to send them off in a different direction. There’s probably something to be said for coming of age coupled with enjoying the moment and shifting tides as well an absolute loss of permanence, but I can find that in just about everything so it’s a thread I’ll leave for other adventures.
That was my first concert, my first show, my first real experience with live music. I’d go on to have many, many more and several of those will be covered as we press on with the chronicle of my journey. I still sit all these decades later with perhaps a bit of hearing loss, a pile of black t-shirts with band logos, and a sometimes hazy recollection of shows I’ve been to. But I can still remember that first time like it was yesterday, or at least like it wasn’t that long ago. It certainly was, but it was a hell of a time.