Thursday, July 18, 2013

No. 322 – The Train

Performer: King’s X
Songwriters: Doug Pinnick, Ty Tabor, Jerry Gaskill
Original Release: Ear Candy
Year: 1996
Definitive Version: None

I’ve said this before, but the Pearl Jam show I saw in March 1994 was the best concert I ever saw and ever will see. I can say that with that much certainty, because for any show to beat it, it would have to overcome seemingly insurmountable factors.

Consider all of the elements that came together in Louisville, Ky., that magical night: You had a fantastic band that I loved more than any other active band, which not only was at the top of its game but also the peak of its popularity—and far enough along in their career that they knew what they were doing.

It also was one of the last shows anyone did before Kurt Cobain killed himself, which ended an era when music mattered. I mean, music’s always been important, but in the early ‘90s, it MEANT something, and the quality was better than it had been in decades.

There have been other bands I’ve loved as much if not more than I loved Pearl Jam at that time, and there have been other shows that have been outstanding, but I can’t imagine another one where EVERYTHING was aligned. The timing of the show was perfect, and the performance delivered in every way. The band was on fire; the crowd was on fire; and even the new songs fit in well with the rest of the canon.

So why am I bringing that up here? Because King’s X was the warmup act that night and contributed to the evening.

Typically all I want from a warmup act is that it doesn’t suck and drag the evening down. The best warmup act I ever saw was Stanley Jordan opening for Kenny G. Musically, it was like seeing Hendrix warm up for The Monkees. The best rock warmup act, of course, was Eric Johnson. He made me a fan in the span of three songs.

King’s X was one of the better warmup acts I’ve seen. I knew of them from Alternative Nation, back when the M in MTV stood for music and not moronic. But I didn’t know much of their music. King’s X flew below the pop radar in the early Nineties.

As I mentioned, the day of the show, I drove from Flint to Muncie, picking up Scott’s fiancee, Shani. The two of us drove to Indianapolis to pick up Scott, who was working a radio internship there, and the three of us hightailed it to Louisville.

The show, which was held at the Louisville Gardens—a glorious barn on Muhammad Ali Boulevard—was a general-admission show. If it wasn’t the first one of those I’d seen, it was close.

By the time we arrived and parked the car, the line to the front door was around the corner and down the sidewalk the entire length of the auditorium to Liberty Street. Uh oh. This also was going to be the first show I’d ever seen that had a mosh pit, and I didn’t want to be in the middle of the action. I hoped all the seats weren’t taken by the time we got in the door.

I needn’t have worried. It seems Pearl Jam sold the seating only, so anyone going down to the floor meant there would be one empty seat in the stands. We took seats stage left, and although we had people next to us, we weren’t packed like sardines. This would be important later when frenzied rocking out was nonstop.

I was excited to see a mosh pit from a safe distance, and it was fun to watch the whole thing form from the beginning. After the doors opened, people sat on the floor and in neat makeshift rows as though chairs were on the floor. When the lights dimmed the first time—long before King’s X hit the stage—everyone on the floor stood up and accordianed up so about 10 rows of people turned into three. Oh boy.

The first crowd surfer went up before King’s X hit the stage. He didn’t make it far, but by the time King’s X started, surfers were making it to the front of the stage, where their trip ended. The stage was separated by about 10 feet of open space and a line of security helped down the surfers. You’d see the surfers salute the band and crowd like Rocky before running around the end to return to the back of the pit and begin a new journey.

King’s X was good, not great. I say not great, because I didn’t know any of their music, and nothing hit me in a particularly outstanding way.

They were a little heavier than Pearl Jam and the other Seattle bands with the exception of Soundgarden, whom I hadn’t yet gotten into.Still, considering the direction my music was taking with Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Smashing Pumpkins, I said to Scott at one point during King’s X’s set: “I think I’m a heavy-metal fan after all.” This was a pretty big admission considering I’d spent almost the entire last half of the Eighties mocking that form of music.

Anyway, King’s X set a positive tone for the night—a good, solid band—and therefore succeeded as a warmup act. I would put them in the top 10 of all warmup acts I’ve seen. When their next album, Ear Candy, came out, I bought it. This song is outstanding, but it’s an outlier on the album, and I haven’t been tempted to wade back into the King’s X pool since.

Still they were a part—an important part—of the best night of rock I ever enjoyed. I always will hold them in high esteem for that.

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