In the 1990s Winston-Salem, NC was a hidden southern hotbed for rock music. Although not as populous as neighboring cities such as Raleigh and Charlotte, a thriving local music scene attracted tour stops from national acts yearly. The largest venue in the city was the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum (which still exists today) situated near Reynolda Road and Wake Forest University. This mid-sized stadium (home of Wake Forest basketball) saw its fair share of concerts in the 1990s and early 2000s.
1996 was a big year for the ‘post-grunge’ movement and the birth of the ‘mainstream ska’ movement. UK-based rock band Bush and So-Cal’s hybrid punk-ska band No Doubt with the success of their first major-label single Just a Girl, teamed up for a tour that not only exploded sales of their respective debut albums “Sixteen Stone” and “Tragic Kingdom,” but also solidified both bands as hit-making machines for years to come.
After an always crappy, but satisfying meal at El Torero on the north end, we arrived at the coliseum before any of the performing bands took the stage. The parking lot was full of fun for any college student; loud music, beer, and legions of women who had crushes on Bush front-man Gavin Rossdale. (Little did they all know No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani was at that very moment taking him off the market) It was quite a cast of characters; the college students, the drop-outs, the local musicians, the high-schoolers, the rich Wake Forest douche bags , the old-school rockers, and of course a few cults of hippies. (Including the Zendik Tribe; ie ‘Stop Bitching and Start a Revolution.’ Those guys.)
The parking lot party soon moved to inside the venue. The Bush merchandise stand contained one of the most unique concert t-shirts I’ve ever witnessed; a ¾ sleeve shirt with a plate of bacon, eggs, sausage, and hash browns on the front along with “Bush: Egg on Your Face” printed across the back in red and black lettering. Although a hand-me-down, I still have one of these shirts in my possession.
The coliseum was split in half (long-ways) by tall curtains, with the stage situated on the floor in the center. Also on the bill with Bush and No Doubt were the Goo Goo Dolls. They were an acoustic/electric soft-rock band with massive radio airplay in 1996, yet just had a horrid catalog. However, radio had shoved down the throats of the mass public for a solid year so people had no choice but to like them. The Goo Goo Dolls set went a little like this; every male audience member either sitting or hanging out by the beer lines while every female audience member followed intently just to hear their radio hit, Name. Luckily it was a short set.
No Doubt soon took the stage with enough energy to rival a group of teenagers hopped up on Mexican Ephedra. Although very new and somewhat unknown, they got the audience’s attention quickly. No Doubt, in the early days, were a strong rock band with a unique sound (especially on the east coast). Bassist Tony Kanal and drummer Adrian Young combined for a rhythm section that could rival 311. Guitarist Tom Dumont added a style of playing and guitar sound that gave the music the quirkiness to actually work with the perky vibrato of Gwen Stefani’s voice. No Doubt tore through song after song from “Tragic Kingdom” such as Just a Girl, the horn-line driven Spiderwebs, Excuse Me Mr, and Sunday Morning like a kid tearing through wrapping paper on Christmas morning. Gwen Stefani’s stage presence was outstanding. It’s hard for an opening act to get an audience jumping up and down and singing along. However in No Doubt’s case, they didn’t have much of a problem getting this packed coliseum on their feet.
Although it wasn’t yet a single or an immortalized break-up anthem, the ballad Don’t Speak was most definitely a show-stopper. It was a personal story delivered from Stefani with the raw emotion similar to that of legends such as Pat Benatar. In the early performances of that song, a listener was able to hear and feel that Stefani was actually reliving the subject matter over and over every time it was performed. Times like those when a singer/songwriter lets the listener in and bares their soul are the times when audiences connect to a song on a personal level. Those are the times when it is easy to distinguish ‘artist’ from ‘performer’ and a superstar is born. Something told me at that moment that this band wasn’t going anywhere and wasn’t a fluke.
The mood in the arena was a pleasantly surprised mood. At that point, Just a Girl was pretty much the only song anyone had heard for the most part from No Doubt. Anticipation was growing for Bush to take the stage. Bush’s debut “Sixteen Stone” had been released in December of 1994. It caught on in the summer and autumn of 1995 and didn’t seem to slow down for years to come.
The four-piece band took the stage to thunderous applause. They quickly opened with one of the frantic up-beat tracks from “Sixteen Stone” called Monkey. No quicker than the song kicked into high gear, a massive mosh pit form on the general admission floor of LJVM Coliseum. As in all mosh pits, there are always a few sweaty and foul-smelling dudes with no shirts that take the whole thing way too seriously and end up ruining the fun for everyone, and this show was no exception. Security officials constantly had to break up pits getting out of hand because of the over-zealous mosh guys. It’s always a blessing when this happens because it removes the body odor from the immediate vicinity periodically because those ‘dudes’ are moved to the back or thrown out of the venue. However if they aren’t removed from the property, then ultimately like herpes, they will be back stronger than ever. It’s just a rock concert hazard.
Although it had yet to be released as a single, one of my personal favorites from “Sixteen Stone,” Machinehead, hit the audience like a blow to the head beginning with Gavin Rossdale’s opening guitar riff. Bush’s live sound was raw in the mid-90s. It was reminiscent of the sound of the early 1970s and early 1990s. No synthesizers, no special effects, no turntables, and no sequencers. It was four guys and four instruments. Through the fuzz, guitar distortion, and gut-rattling simple and to the point bass, Bush’s early songs and sound were one of the highest musical points in rock of the mid-1990s. Gavin Rossdale never claimed to be a lyrical genius (and never was), but he could deliver words with a unique intensity that fit the band’s musical accompaniment like a g-string fits a stripper. It just worked and clicked perfectly.
As with any band, Bush didn’t want to bust out all of their popular songs early (or blow their load as it’s known in the music world). The audience was even treated to a few rarities such as Broken TV from the soundtrack to “White Man’s Burden” and Bubbles from the soundtrack to Kevin Smith’s “Mallrats.”
Soon to become one of the band’s signature songs, Comedown was situated in the middle of their set list. To this day, Comedown remains one of the rock songs that stands out as having one of those classic buildups to a powerful ending that stadium rock bands are famous for. It’s one of those big endings that elevates a song from good to outstanding. The formula for a run-of-the-mill rock song is verse -> chorus -> verse -> bridge -> chorus -> end. When a band can come up with a dynamic and powerful ending filled with power chords or a second or newly introduced melody that works with the song such as Pearl Jam’s Marker in the Sand or The Gaslight Anthem’s 45, then a band has something special. Comedown was one of the best examples of this ever; and even better live – because it’s longer and more drawn out. If one listens to the studio version of Comedown, what is referred to as ‘the big ending’ begins at the 4:25 mark of the song. Give it a try.
After having our heads rang from Comedown, another track from “Sixteen Stone” that wasn’t released as a single entitled Alien surprisingly was a received as well as any other song, complete with a sea of lighters in the air (before everyone had a damn cell phone in the air at a concert, it was done old-school with cigarette lighters). Alien is the slowest song on “Sixteen Stone” but also one of the best. Like many Bush songs, the lyrics aren’t as cohesive such as someone like Eddie Vedder’s, but it’s at the same time powerful as well as a roller-coaster ride of dynamics from a whisper to a scream, and then back again. Alien is a unique song because you can listen to it and almost see that song working as one of those awkward slow-dance songs playing in the gym at the homecoming dance in high school.
Little Things, one of the first released and most popular songs from Bush, helped the band push toward the end of the main set. Mosh pits began forming everywhere, sweaty dudes began to return, and the packed coliseum was on its feet. Little Things was an all-out in-your-face stadium rock anthem that helped put the band on the map and break into mainstream rock amongst heavy competition in the mid-1990s.
The simple chord progression and the lyrics “Must be your skin that I’m sinking in; must be for real ‘cause now I can feel” still are met with lighters in the air, cheers, and women swooning today. Glycerine is the Bush song that has stood the test of time like no other they have ever written. Hidden among an album of loud rock guitars and drums, this gem was simply vocals, one guitar, and cellos. As confusing and contradicting as the lyrics actually are, it is still considered one of the best rock love songs of the past 30 years. Sometimes a song doesn’t have to make perfect sense to be a brilliant song. Glycerine is a testament to that fact. It’s a purely emotional round-about train of thought set to music.
As Rossdale serenaded the crowd and closed the main set, the entire band left the stage. With the lights still down, an encore was imminent. Four very distinguishable notes to begin Everything Zen let the audience know the band had one more in them for the evening. Everything Zen, which is very similar to Little Things, also spurs the same emotion in a listener. It was strange why those two songs were released as the first two singles from that album. Many people can’t even tell the difference between the two. Singles such as Comedown, Machinehead, and Glycerine are the ones that actually made this record multi-platinum. However it’s a great concert closer. Everything Zen was a great way for the band to close this show as it was the first track on “Sixteen Stone” and the lead single that introduced them to the world.
The combination of Bush and No Doubt touring together proved to be a success. It was a tour that brought both of these bands to the forefront of rock music and at the same time created a relationship and eventual marriage between Gavin Rossdale and Gwen Stefani. It was a massive success nationwide. Bush soon followed up “Sixteen Stone” with the tremendous “Razorblade Suitcase” and made another stop at this same venue the following year with Veruca Salt as the opening act. Bush’s success continued for the remainder of the 1990s until the band began to dissolve. Their jaunt into drum machines and electronica on their third album “The Science of Things” was disastrous to the band’s sound, even though the record sold modestly well. Bush’s 2001 release “Golden State” was a return to their original sound and a great record, but ultimately was a commercial disappointment which led to the band members going their separate ways. Rossdale would later reform Bush with new personnel in 2011, but failed to re-capture the original fire, magic and raw sound of the original lineup of Gavin Rossdale, Nigel Pulsford, Dave Parsons, and Robin Goodridge.
Bush’s set list on February 23rd, 1996 in Winston-Salem, NC was as follows:
No known audio, video, or pictures have ever publically surfaced from this concert. Have any pictures, audio, or video? Or were you there? Comment and share your experiences with us.
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