Reflecting on the concerts of old

Nov 07, 2023
Source: Getty Images.

Time has proven that great music is linked to our generation, and live concerts have reinforced our memories of the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

My first real concert was Queen in 1976 at Brisbane’s Festival Hall. They’d only just hit the big time with A Night at the Opera and the single Bohemian Rhapsody. I’d bought the album a few weeks earlier and seen the film clips on Countdown, and their concert was like a live video. The same amazing light show and stage theatrics, and although Freddie Mercury kept saying, “We’re here for you; tell us what you want to hear,” they never stopped long enough to take requests or give any other real banter. There always seemed to be a distance between them and the audience. They were possibly still a bit wary of Aussie crowds after being booed off stage at the Sunbury Festival a few years earlier.

In 1976 Richie Blackmore left Deep Purple and formed Rainbow, who toured Australia in November. Blackmore was a guitar god at that time, and their show showcased his talent, but he also left room for his new bandmates to shine. Although we had set seats, security was quite low-key so my mate and I snuck up to the side of the stage and got an excellent close-up look at the show and the then state-of-the-art light show.

In 1978, Status Quo were still riding high in the charts despite kicking off their career in the 60s. My mate and my girlfriend saw a great concert with a massive catalogue, down and dirty musicianship, and stage presence. Unfortunately, not long after the show started, the front row decided to stand up, and in domino fashion, all the rows behind them did the same. No worries, we were young and could stand up for a couple of hours. But then the front row decided to stand on their seats and we all spent a precarious night doing a balancing act on the less than stable metal chairs to see what was happening on stage.

In the late seventies, a run of free concerts in Brisbane’s Botanical Gardens took off. It was a bit of a precursor for the current wave of concerts at wineries that are a bit trendy now, except instead of chardonnay and Country Road, the gardens were awash with stubbies (both the beer bottle and the cotton shorts variety) and mullets. At one of these garden concerts, Skyhooks made a comeback of sorts, and what a top act they were as they delivered their tight renditions of Australian suburban life. Shirley strutted around the stage while Red pouted and Freddie drummed like a loon. A not yet famous Air Supply and Peter Allen also did freebie concerts in the gardens with their respective big hits Love and Other Bruises and I Go to Rio. Air Supply, with their heartfelt harmonies, showed why they would end up being such a hit in the US for the next decade. Peter Allen lit the stage with his Hawaiian shirts, dance moves, and maracas.

One of the best concerts I’ve seen was Sherbert’s reunion tour in the early 80s. They’d just returned from the US, where they didn’t have the success they’d hoped for after a name change to The Sherbs. The show was at a local pub, and it started off with the group being a bit standoffish, possibly because they were having trouble adjusting from their transition from playing concert halls and stadiums during the seventies, to the small stage of the pub. Anyway, a few songs in, play came to a halt when Garth Porter’s keyboard had a sudden electrical problem. The band looked a bit lost, and Darryl Braithwaite started chatting to the crowd. Someone in the audience called out that he had a harmonica and that he’d like to jam with the rest of the band. Darryl pulled him up on stage, and over the next few minutes, Sherbet, sans Garth Porter, rocked on with the harmonica guy. After this interlude, the ice was broken, and Sherbert relaxed and enjoyed the pub atmosphere for the rest of the show.

In early 2003 I saw the original remnants of The Little River Band perform at Twin Towns as Birtles, Shorrock, and Goble. Due to legal action from a late comer member of LRB, the three key band members weren’t allowed to use their group name to perform. The banner above the stage may not have said LRB, but the harmonies and musicianship were unmistakably the same group we’d fallen in love with in the seventies. As they ran through their setlist, it was like a playlist of hits from my teenage years, and unlike some groups who play live, each song matched the technical and emotional quality of their vinyl versions. Sadly for Americans, when they see The Little River Band perform in concert, most are unaware that they are really only watching a cover band with no members of the original seventies lineup playing.

I took my son to see KISS in 1997 at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre. Even then, the Australian tour was being quietly promoted as possibly the last chance to see them live. (They ended up touring Australia another six times.) The big drawcard for this tour was that it was the first time since 1980 that all four original members had toured together. Their show was technically impressive with fire, explosions, lasers, and lighting effects, and the group was definitely up to the challenge of impressing us with their musicianship, even though they have traditionally been treated with contempt by some critics as being ‘Three Chord Bonzos’. Unfortunately, the sound quality in the first half of the show let them down with the bass and drums sounding like they were being played through Grandma’s gramophone. Whatever the technical glitch was, it was eventually fixed, and they ended the concert on a high.

In the early eighties, Simon and Garfunkel reformed briefly after a successful reunion at Madison Square Gardens. They toured Australia, and we saw them play at Lang Park in Brisbane. It was literally standing room only, and the PA sound left a lot to be desired as it reverberated around the football stands, but everyone was pleased to see and hear the duo once again. At one stage, the crowd got a bit restless and the audience was starting to resemble a hot, sticky bunch of sardines. It was at this point that Paul Simon, in an attempt to get everyone to give each other a bit more space, delivered the immortal plea in his best New York drawl, ‘Why don’t you all turn around and give the person behind you twelve inches?’ Whether it was his intention or not, everyone just cracked up with laughter, and to this day I’m not sure if he got the joke.

Which concerts of yesteryear stick in your musical memory?

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