“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes it rains. Think about that for a while.” – Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, Bull Durham (1988)
I’ve had plenty of time to think about that this summer, because the early portion of the outdoor concert season felt like an unholy fix of sludge and unseasonable temperatures just waiting to obliterate every form of entertainment this area holds dear.
Everywhere I looked someone was either putting their clothes through the wringer or canoeing their way to the mailbox to avoid contact with whatever jellied contaminants happened to be floating on by.
Even the spectacle put on by the band formerly known as Guns N’ Roses in early June was blighted by austere winds and ominous skies along Lake Erie, so, regardless of how badly we wanted the beautiful weather to commence, we were forced to hold on just a little bit longer.
Once the heat came, however, the concert season was in full swing, because every night of the week appeared to offer something worth plunging your hard-earned dollars into.
Artpark, Canalside, Lockport, Seneca Niagara Casino, Darien Lake and Buffalo’s Outer Harbor were all alive with the sound of sweet music for what felt like an eternity, but, really, it was only May to September.
Braun’s Concert Cove and The Waiting Room also came into their own as formidable venues this summer, which means that 2014 has the potential to be more saturated than ever before.
Saturation being the operative word here, as the surplus of scenes makes it an impossibility to attend everything worthy of one’s undivided attention, and with that, I offer my picks for the best concerts I experienced during the past three months.
Before you lose your lunch and declare open season on my musical tastes, remember to keep two things in mind: First, as much as I tried, I couldn’t see everything, and, secondly, some stuff I simply didn’t care to see to begin with.
Music doesn’t require perfection, folks, but it should require a band/artist to write and perform their material as passionately as they can without coming across as spurious or complacent.
We all know how much drivel is out there waiting to infect the children, so I refuse to be a writer who acquiesces to mainstream pressure and fawns over something simply because it’s the “in” thing.
Now that I’ve put that out there, let’s get into the list (in no particular order).
Marcus Miller inside The Bear’s Den – Renowned bassist and Miles Davis collaborator Marcus Miller brought his group of young guns to the casino for an early season clinic on how to play Jazz and influence people. Featuring tracks from “Renaissance,” the set was impeccably arranged and executed, and the crowd’s alacrity sent the evening over the top.
Jackson Browne inside the Seneca Niagara Events Center – As part of his “Songbook,” writer Nick Hornby admits that he never really got into Browne’s music when he was a younger man, because he just couldn’t relate to it at that point in his life. As for me, I think Browne’s Southern California vibe sounds great anytime, anywhere, especially inside the casino.
Bad Company at Artpark – Rodgers, Ralphs, and Kirke playing some of the finest classic rock songs ever written against the backdrop of the Niagara Gorge. Enough said.
The Flaming Lips at Artpark – I had the pleasure of interviewing Lips frontman Wayne Coyne prior to the show, and it will go down as one of the coolest interviews I’ve ever done. Their mid-July set at Artpark was an unforgettable psychedelic journey that left everyone in attendance wanting more.
Uproar Festival at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center – Only Alice in Chains and Jane’s Addiction could drag me out to Darien Lake for a concert, and neither let their 60-minute slots go to waste. Jane’s, however, owned the evening from the moment they set foot on stage, because their collective powers haven’t diminished one bit.
Todd Rundgren at Canalside – This marked my first time seeing Todd live, and it was a real stunner. His voice was magnificent following some early sound trouble and he just instinctively knows how to lull an audience into submission.
*The Tragically Hip and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals at Buffalo’s Outer Harbor – I added the asterisk, because it will be forever immortalized as “The Rainout.” After an authoritative stand from Potter, The Hip only made it through five songs before the weather had other plans. Few performers can galvanize an already irritable crowd like Gord Downie, and the one-two acoustic punch of “Wheat Kings” and “Scared” is one of the most memorable concert moments of my life.