Tonight marks the return of Roger Waters to BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise for his second South Florida staging of “The Wall Live” in 19 months. If you’re a Pink Floyd fan like me, this is must-see rock theater—a spellbinding spectacle that our A&E writer John Thomason, in his “The Week Ahead” blog, aptly described as an “experience.”
In that same blog, my colleague writes, “This is the kind of show that raises an impossible bar for all other shows.” On that point, Mr. Thomason and I will agree to disagree.
I’ll be at BankAtlantic Center this evening for my 138th rock concert—I know this because, like the geek that my kids tell me I am, I’ve kept every ticket stub dating back to my first concert—April 22, 1980. More on that night in a bit.
Along the way, I’ve seen rock in just about all of its live incarnations—take-no-prisoners arena romps by the Stones, AC/DC, The Who and Springsteen; a stripped-bare performance by Elton John and percussionist Ray Cooper; audacious stadium spectaculars from U2 (above); a laughable quasi-Broadway production by Styx on its “Mr. Roboto” tour; and a near-religious experience at the Cameo Theatre in Miami with Bob Dylan.
I’ve seen Pearl Jam in Montreal, Rush in Las Vegas, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page at the Meadowlands in New Jersey, Elton John and Billy Joel together at Milwaukee County Stadium, and 10,000 Maniacs at 30 Rockefeller Center when I scored tickets for Saturday Night Live.
If I’ve learned anything during 30-plus years of reveling in rock, it’s this. It’s not the spectacle that raises the bar; it’s the music. Blue Oyster Cult used to unleash a stage-to-ceiling Godzilla float during its shows, Foreigner a giant blow-up juke box (above), and David Lee Roth was, well, as annoying as humanly possible. None of those spectacles salvaged the show.
So as much as I enjoyed the sensory overload of “The Wall” last time around, it’s the guitar work on “Comfortably Numb” or Waters' rendition of “Mother” that will stay with me tonight. And my bet is that I’m not alone.
Here’s the other thing about rock concerts. Sometimes, the real spectacle has nothing to do with what’s happening on stage. On that night in 1980, Journey (below) was the headliner at Lee County Arena in Fort Myers; my general admission ticket was $8. I went to the show with my high school friend and some kid that neither of us knew very well.
We also didn’t know, until we entered the arena, that he was deep in the throes of a purple microdot haze—an acid-family hallucinogen that rendered him a different kind of comfortably numb. As the opening act (The Babys, for all you fans of the ’80s) took the stage, the three of us had staked out spots right in front of a monstrous speaker column. The reverb from the opening guitar lick was so thick and powerful that it dropped Mr. Microdot like a Joe Frazier left to the solar plexus.
We tried to help him reestablish some semblance of dignity, but the damage had been done. He passed out right in front of us. My friend, knowing this was my first concert, didn’t want the Acid King to ruin the night. So he screamed over the music for me to grab his legs while he took his arms. We carried him into the men’s room, left him in a stall, and reclaimed our post some 10 feet from the stage.
The following year, Journey would release “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Mr. Microdot would flunk out of high school, and I would drive all over Florida to see six concerts.
I was hooked. To the music. To the moment. To the memories.
Long live rock.