It's Tuesday afternoon and I'm minutes away from phoning Matthew Sweet for an interview when I happen to hit Twitter on my phone and see a breaking story that Hank LoConti, longtime owner of the Cleveland Agora has just passed away at age 85.
The news hit me like a ton of bricks because Hank was always a guy who was so full of life that it was hard to imagine that he could actually be gone. He was someone that when you met him, you would be surprised to find out how old he was, because he always looked at least a decade younger than he actually was. And yet he had been sick, battling lymphoma for some time, which I was not aware of.
There are plenty of great stories and tributes that have popped up in the past day offering a proper remembrance of LoConti and what it was that he was all about. For me as a music fan who ended up living in Cleveland, it's hard to even begin to collect the thoughts of all of the many different ways that the Cleveland Agora has made an impact in my life. There were plenty of shows, of course, with my first visit to the Agora happening in November of 1992 to see the Spin Doctors. Say what you will about the Spin Doctors, they were a hell of a band beyond the radio singles and their live performances during that time period were great.
My next trip to the Agora was a free show (!!!) with Brian May of Queen who played a headlining gig at the venue supporting his first solo album Back To The Light. Having missed out on the chance to see Queen back in the day, it was huge getting a chance to see Brian play guitar in such an up close setting, with Cozy Powell on drums, to boot.
As my concert attendance really started to ramp up in 1993, I would spend a lot of time at the Agora starting the following year, first with a gig from Joe Satriani, then Sarah McLachlan (Fumbling Towards Ecstasy Tour), Rollins Band with Therapy, Pretenders (a special "small hall" hometown gig on the Last Of The Independents tour that quickly sold out), Joe Cocker (right after he played Woodstock 94), Crowded House (Together Alone tour, with Sheryl Crow opening), The Smithereens and so many more.
1994 was really the beginning of my music collection coming to life in front of my eyes (something which I was reminded of recently when talking with Journey's Neal Schon, when he talked about his feeling that the reason that today's kids want to see their favorite bands live is that "they don't quite believe that it's real unless they're looking at it.") and I had been to enough gigs by that point to know that if I had the chance to see one of my favorite bands play a club like the Agora, that was where it was really at -- with the chance to get up close and personal with some of the bands that I had spent a lot of time listening to by that point.
There was an experience that came with seeing a show at a true rock club like the Agora that you just didn't get in the same way by attending an arena gig. Sure, I had seen some amazing shows at Richfield Coliseum in that same time period (Peter Gabriel, Aerosmith, Eric Clapton), but having a chance to compare the two, there was no question that the more intimate gigs were better, which is why it was such a thrill to get a chance to see bands and artists like Pretenders, Joe Cocker and Brian May -- folks who I knew had usually been playing bigger places prior to that -- in a place the size of the Cleveland Agora.
To cut to the chase, Hank LoConti was the guy who was driving all of this. He was the man behind the Cleveland Agora, a rock institution that had been around for a long time at that point -- I didn't know the specifics at that time, but when you walked into that place, you could tell that it was a building that had a lot of history. As folks will be quick to point out, the current Cleveland Agora at 5000 Euclid Avenue is not the original location -- which burned down in the mid-'80s, but the Euclid Avenue location, was certainly a worthy successor to the original, housed in a building that had its own important history.
Over the years, I started to unpack the history of the original building as a fan, listening to the various famous concert broadcasts that had been done by WMMS, most of which were from the '70s and '80s. Everybody's got their personal favorite list and many of them can tell you stories about being at the gigs -- since I moved here in 1989, I missed out on that part of things, but the tapes that were left behind certainly tell plenty of great stories. There is of course, the famous Springsteen Agora gig from 1978, a special broadcast celebrating the 10th anniversary of WMMS.
Elvis Costello's 1977 performance is another favorite and when I saw Costello just a few weeks ago, playing a solo show here in town, he had fond memories of playing the Agora, calling it a "smoke-filled den of sin," adding that "sometimes you find true love in a place like that." Costello isn't alone in his memories -- it's a frequent occurrence to hear the legacy acts offer their memories of their first gigs in Cleveland at the Agora -- while performing at Gund Arena on the All You Can't Leave Behind tour in May of 2001, Bono offered his own recollections of an early U2 gig at the Agora.
Bryan Adams played a show at the Agora in 1982 and he would be back for another gig barely a year later in 1983. Both shows were broadcast by WMMS (with the 1982 gig getting a national broadcast via the King Biscuit Flower Hour) and it's interesting to compare the two performances and hear how much Adams had progressed in such a short amount of time. The 1983 performance, which was mixed by Bob Clearmountain, is an unbelievable show from Adams that sounds like a professional live album -- it would make great bonus material for an expanded reissue of the Cuts Like A Knife album someday.
The Police, AC/DC, Bon Jovi....nearly anybody you might want to name off, they all played the Agora at some point. Thankfully, there are so many of those concert memories that have been preserved because they were broadcast.
The Agora is approaching its 50th anniversary and I'm happy that after some rough years, the venue seems to be back on solid ground or at the very least, in a better place. They're back booking a regular schedule of shows again and the shows seem to be doing well. As someone who grew up with the Agora at a time that they had a consistent schedule of shows that made it possible for you to go see live music at the club on nearly any night of the week (and with so much great variety to choose from in those days, too), it means a lot to see the Agora alive again.
As the years went by, I had the chance on a number of occasions to stop and talk with Hank. The first time, I had been sent to the Agora to pick something up. Not knowing Hank, I figured it would be a quick stop to grab what I was supposed to pick up and then I'd be on my way. I ended up being there for a couple of hours, sitting in Hank's office, hearing amazing stories of past Agora shows. That would be the case every time that I stopped by.
He was a walking piece of Cleveland musical history, one of several key leaders who helped to build the Cleveland concert scene as we know it today and he has continuously been one of the people working tirelessly through the years to help maintain it, never afraid to fight for necessary changes. He certainly leaves behind one hell of a legacy. I have no doubt that we'll continue to see that legacy grow in the years to come and hopefully part of that will come in the form of proper releases on audio and video for some of the shows that he was really proud of.
On Monday night, dada made their long awaited return to the Cleveland area, playing an intimate show at Musica in Akron. I knew that it had been quite a while since the band had been in this neck of the woods for a show, but according to the dada tour archive, the last show was at the Agora Ballroom in September 0f 2003.
So it's really been nearly 10 years? Wow.
I was at that Agora show and sadly, because it was announced only a week and a half or so before it happened, attendance was extremely light. And as a result, what would come to be known as the "Great Cleveland Drought of dada Shows" officially began.
A decade removed from that Cleveland appearance, the dada boys made good use of their time in Akron. Musica was a good setting to see the group, with perfect sound and sightlines and the intimate size of the venue prompted the band to quip that that evening's performance was like seeing a "dada living room show."
That was certainly a good way to term the feeling of seeing dada in that room and even though it was a Monday night with crummy weather (hello, snow!), the fans still found their way to Musica for a good evening of tunes.
I had the chance to interview guitarist/vocalist Michael Gurley for Popdose in the weeks leading up to the gig, so I had a pretty good idea of what to expect, but the evening ended up having some unexpected moments, all of them good. The band is touring right now in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Puzzle album (which was released in 1992).
Honestly, I'm surprised that there wasn't more of the album in the setlist, which was limited to "Posters" and "Dim" on the front side and "Dizz Knee Land" and "Dorina" on the tail end. But it was a nice overall mix of material that covered nearly all of the dada releases, including "Guitar Girl" from 2004's How To Be Found and the title track from the 2006 A Friend of Pat Robertson EP which is their most recent release to date. (That was a personal thrill for me, since I hadn't seen that one live.)
The setlist was really heavy on American Highway Flower material, with "Ask The Dust," "Feet To The Sun," "S.F. Bar '63" (!!!) and "Scum" (!!!) and from El Subliminoso, "Rise" (which Gurley quipped was the best "Rise" of the tour) and an extremely charged up version of "I Get High."
Since those two albums were the first two dada albums that I bought, I was perfectly okay with the heavy feature time that they received in the setlist. There are certainly songs from Puzzle that I would have liked to have heard (especially since I've been listening to the whole catalog a lot since doing the interview) like "Dog" and "Surround," but I really can't argue with the setlist. It was damn solid. (But since we mentioned "Dog," how about this solid live performance from 2011? God bless Youtube.)
The one thing you can always count on as a dada fan is that each and every time that they go out on tour, they'll bring a setlist that changes things up significantly from the last time that you saw them. Michael promised deep cuts and certainly, "Rise," "Scum," and "S.F. Bar '63 fit that bill. Seeing that "Scum" and "S.F. Bar '63" were on the setlist took me immediately back to the first time that I saw dada in 1994 (again at the Agora, the first of what would be four times to date that they have played there). On a nostalgic night, just seeing that those songs would be played instantly transported me back to some of my favorite dada memories in my mind before the band even hit the stage. So as far as setlist satisfaction goes? Mission accomplished.
(Setlist stalkers, they're changing up the tunes from night to night -- the Joliet, Ill. show featured "Spirit of 2009," "Information Undertow," Playboy in Outerspace and "Spinning My Wheels," just to name a few! Enjoy the highlights from that show here.)
In 2013, they still hold the title as one of the most devastating live trios you'll ever see. They were totally locked in from moment one and maintained that connection for the duration of the 90 minutes or so that they were onstage. This current tour is their most extensive tour in a long time, so if they're coming your way -- and hopefully they are -- don't miss this show.
Columbus, OH is tomorrow night and the tour rolls onward from there!
Here's the setlist from Akron:
(And for merch nerds, there's a ton of merch to be had....you'll want to get your mitts on the dada demos collection 16 in 2 if you don't have it already. It's a good part of the reason that I made the trek in the bad weather to catch the show and it didn't disappoint when I got it into the CD player!)
I Get High
Feet To The Sun
S.F. Bar '63
Ask The Dust
Last Train To Clarksville
A Friend of Pat Robertson
Dizz Knee Land
This show is the second of the one-two radio concert punch that broke Rush into Cleveland via WMMS and subsequently throughout the Midwest and beyond. It has been referred to by many names in bootleg form, including Rush Returns to Cleveland and Finding Prime. Featuring three songs from the upcoming May 1975 release Fly By Night, the show is energetic and also very early in the career of drummer Neil Peart, who joined the band not even five months earlier following the departure of John Rutsey.
The famous first radio show from August 1974, commonly seen as Fifth Order of Angels, just may show up here as a 2013 Christmas in July special so stay tuned.
Congratulations to the members of Rush (and Heart as well) for staying alive long enough to participate in their induction. Now how about we get to work on Kiss and Deep Purple and Grand Funk and the Guess Who and ELO and Todd Rundgren and …
Finding My Way
The Best I Can
What You're Doing
Fly By Night
My good friend Mike Wendt has been hard at work, preparing the highly anticipated DVD release of his well-received 2008 documentary It's The End Of The World As We Knew It, which chronicles the history of the late great (and very popular) Cleveland alternative station 107.9 The End.
The good news is that the DVD is ready for release, but as you might expect from a young struggling filmmaker, Wendt needs some assistance raising the necessary financial capital to put the DVD out.
When I unwrapped the Live: 1975/85 box set, which I received as a Christmas gift from my parents in 1986, I don't think I truly had a complete idea of exactly how much of an impact Bruce Springsteen would have on my life. As I put in the first cassette, and began thumbing through the booklet that was included with the box set, it slowly began to register with me. Born In The U.S.A. had been my first exposure to Springsteen, and as I sat listening to the early club recordings on the box set - "Thunder Road," "Adam Raised A Cain," etc - I was naturally intrigued to learn more about the pre-Born In The U.S.A. material, and further facts about the man behind the recordings. I spent quite a bit of time soaking in the music from the box set, and in 1992, I finally saw my first Springsteen concert. While you might lament that my first experience came via the "other band" - I'd argue that seeing Springsteen backed by a trio of mariachi players, would still impress anyone seeing Bruce for the first time. After all, he is "The Boss."
I've been ill over the past 24 hours after reading D.X. Ferris's rundown of the downward spiral of Phil Lara and the Jigsaw Entertainment Group. In the past couple of years, Lara has purchased or taken a controlling interest in 4 prominent Cleveland-area landmarks - The Jigsaw Saloon and Stage, Peabody's Down Under, The Hi-Fi Concert Club, and the world famous Cleveland Agora.
What sounds like a recipe for trouble has become a lot worse, and Ferris chronicles the downfall, with several big reveals, including this:
Since Lara's team took over, the Agora has bounced checks for big shows, including a December concert by Dragonforce and a sold-out, two-night stand by Akron's Black Keys, with tickets at $28.50 a pop. "I don't think we will ever play there again," says Keys drummer Patrick Carney.
Lara declines to guess how many checks his clubs have bounced. Laeng, the former Jigsaw GM, estimates the number around 500. He says he's never knowingly written a bad one. One of his last loyal soldiers says that's possible.
I'm not going to comment on this much, except to say that it makes me sick to have a lot of friends that have lost employment as a result of this mess, during the current economic times where finding employment is already challenging. Some of my worst fears regarding the business practices of the Jigsaw Entertainment Group have come true, with the potential loss of The Jigsaw Saloon and Stage, a Parma staple and landmark for over 30 years, and the amount of damage that has been done financially, and credibility-wise, to the Cleveland Agora.
I'm disappointed but not surprised to read the quote from Patrick Carney. I would have expected to read a quote like that from a national band, but not from a "hometown" group like The Black Keys. I can understand why they would be pissed about getting screwed on payment for two completely sold out shows, but in the context of this article, which is about an individual, Carney's statement is a heavy quote that has little to do with Phil Lara, and one that will go far beyond the Scene article and ultimately hurt the Agora's ability to get shows.
Read the complete article here.
And in other news.....
On a much lighter note......let's continue onward with some musical stuff!
In less than a year, my good pal Brian from Broken Headphones has turned out some pretty cool interviews with folks that you don't hear a lot about these days, including Stompbox (one of my personal faves,) Face to Face frontman Trevor Keith, and his most recent interview with Todd Kowalski of Propaghandi.
Propaghandi is one of those bands that make me think of high school, and my friends Casey and Steve, who were both fans of the band. Thanks to them, I knew plenty about them, and they also introduced me to bands like Jesus and Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, All, Season to Risk, and so many more.
That's probably one good reason why Brian and I are such good friends - he writes about a lot of music that I'm not personally familiar with, but thanks to Brian, I've learned a little bit more after I read his stuff. Broken Headphones also has a review of the new NOFX DVD Backstage Passport. Check that out right here.
Sound The Alarm!
Good ol' Swap over at TheFrontloader.Com takes a look at one of my favorite bands, The Alarm, and their Strength release. Life for me got a little bit better the first time that I heard The Alarm and "Sold Me Down The River" from the Change album. As compilations go, The Alarm Standards package is one that pops up fairly often in my musical listening travels. "Devolution Workin' Man Blues," "The Stand," "The Road," and of course, "Sixty-Eight Guns" - love 'em all! I'd love to see a show from Mike Peters and crew in my neck of the woods someday soon!
The Alarm - Sold Me Down The River
Swap also has some tunage for you from John Mayer, someone that I've become a big fan of in the past few years. Standing in Illinois at Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2007, I finally paid attention to John Mayer, and quickly became a convert.
Bruce and Bono = Paradise
Pete at Blogness had a bit of fun churning up the rumor mill with this post, and what I really enjoyed about it all was the tasty video rendition of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" that was at the end of the post. Taken from U2's 2005 Rock Hall induction, how did I miss this one? I must have been sleeping during all of the coverage pre/post, and during the ceremonies!
The Ultimate Drinking Mixtape!
I almost left this one out! Popdose made sure that St. Paddy's Day 2009 went down in style with a mixtape featuring "116 minutes of pure malt goodness" featuring tunes from Social D, The Hold Steady (Hey Jason, Hey Narm!) The Replacements, my man Willie Nelson, and many, many more. Even if you're drinking nothing stronger than Dr. Pepper (the officially endorsed drink of Addicted to Vinyl,) you'll enjoy the heck out of this one.
Drink up and be merry! Welcome to the China Club!