If I’m not mistaken, October 30th, 1998 was the only time I ever pre-possessed actual front row tickets to an arena concert, and it was a good one too: Joni Mitchell opening up for Bob Dylan. Not that I hadn’t made it to the front row for tons of concerts over the years. I’ve stood with my chest against the stage for Phish, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Loverboy, Kim Mitchell, Widespread Panic, and a bunch more, but for the first time it was I who had the power to say to someone, “Hey, I paid for these seats,” (though I didn’t actually have cause to say such a thing).
Not only all that, but my ticket was for seat #1 too! Just look at those numbers and letters: section FLR-A, row 1, seat 1. Beautiful. Never mind that seat 1 was the first seat in the aisle and was waaaayyy off to stage left*, numerically it still felt great.
Getting to the show itself, this was the only time I ever saw Joni Mitchell and when the show started I was really, really excited. Joni is such a fantastic musician, such an amazing songwriter, such a unique and standout vocalist…I had long been a fan and I was well aware of the rarified air I was encompassing.
And then she comes out with Brian Blade sitting on the drum kit.
I had never heard of Brian Blade before and wouldn’t actually find out his name until the next day, but man, I couldn’t see anyone else on the damn stage! I was so utterly taken with Blade’s ultra-creative percussioning and the enveloping glee that exuded from his smiling Buddha-like bliss that I had to force myself to pay attention to the icon that stood in front of him. Heck, there might have even been a bass player or a keyboard player up there with him too, how would I know?
As a matter of fact, while I can picture Brian Blade from this concert vividly, my main memory of Joni was when she train-wrecked an intro to one of her songs and stopped the band so she could restart it. I’ve seen amateur bands do this a hundred times but among professional artists it’s so rare I’ve only seen it a tiny handful of times, including the first time I saw The Rolling Stones when Mick Jagger threw Sympathy for the Devil off the rails.
That said, it was a great set that started with Big Yellow Taxi and ended with Woodstock, which should give you an idea of how awesome the song-selection was. Bottom line: great set.
And then there was Bob Dylan! If you read these things with any regularity you’ve probably noticed that I like Bob Dylan live, and moreover that I especially appreciate how Dylan plays his classic repertoire with a fresh twist that makes the songs all but unrecognizable. This appreciation is perhaps heightened somewhat by the obvious fact that most people tend to hate that Dylan treats his material this way. Fans tend to leave Dylan concerts in droves and for some reason every time a seat empties I just like him that much more.
I guess it’s finally time for me to agree with all the people who have told me that I am a contrarian.
Anyway, of course Bob Dylan was great. He mixed things up bouncing between acoustic and electric versions of some of his most iconic songs, tunes that often went unrecognized until the choruses when a few snippets of familiarity would slip out of Dylan’s microphone in triple-metre. Tangled Up in Blue, Blowin’ in the Wind, Highway 61 Revisited, All Along the Watchtower, and a show-closing Forever Young…oh it was all so very great. How could it be anything but?
And all from the vantage point of FLR-A 1 1. Actually from the rail in front of that seat, ‘cuz of course I was standing up the whole time**. Oh, you paid for that seat way back there in row two? Well, bully for you dude; I paid for this one in front of you.
My eternal thanks to Bob Dylan for bringing Joni Mitchell out on tour with him, and further thanks to Joni Mitchell for bringing Brian Blade out on tour with her.
*It is for this reason that most theatres put seat #1 in the middle of the aisle, dead centre. To the left of the centre spot is seat #2, on the right is seat #3, so all the even numbers run off to one side while the odd numbers run off the other way. It’s not at all uncommon for a couple to purchase seats eight and nine (for example) and find themselves not at all sitting together. And while that might prove inconvenient, well, at least dude who buys seat number one knows what’s what.
**Security at the stupid Corel Centre actually would not let you stand up if you had a floor seat and man, I hated it. Unless you were in the first row. First rowers were allowed to stand up and hug the rail. Like I wasn’t going to take advantage of that!