The great Live Concert Moment is born of something heartfelt and in some important way spontaneous. Not necessarily made up on the spot -- although that's never a bad idea -- but improvised to some degree. You might catch something similar in Boston next week, but it won't be exactly what happened in D.C. This is what sets a great concert apart from a great album. It's about music, but it's also about an experience that's ephemeral and communal, that you share for a couple hours with a bunch of strangers who, at some level, you feel like you know because they have the same idiotic glint in their eye when the lights come up. It's the sense that this whole evening means as much to the band as it does to you. It's great songs multiplied by killer performance multiplied by giddy fan reaction.
I've been chasing these Moments since I was 12 years old, and, during my four years as rock critic at The Post, I hunted them the way Ahab chased the white whale. I looked everywhere -- in stadiums, arenas, clubs, basements, studios, garages, even parking lots. It didn't happen often, but on a few unforgettable occasions, I stumbled into a Moment. Finding one just made me crave another.
For me, the pop critic job was a cheap way to feed an old habit. I'd been buying records and "wooooo"-ing at concerts ever since I laid eyes on Elvis Costello in 1977, when he sang on "Saturday Night Live." Pigeon-toed and decked out in a cheap suit and twerpy glasses, he started a song called "Less Than Zero," then, after a moment or two, very dramatically halted the band, shouted some weird apology to the crowd and then launched into "Radio, Radio."
I was a goner. I loved the sound, the song, the drama, the sense that this excitable nerd had taken control of the show and seemed ready to run it into a ditch. He looked like the future of music, a guy who could crash a very dull party and turn it into something that would scare your parents. I wanted to meet him, even though I had the sense that he wouldn't like me, that he wouldn't like anyone, himself included. When I bought his debut album, "My Aim Is True," it wouldn't leave me alone. For a while, my friend J.P. and I were so reverently attached to Costello that we instituted a rule: No leaving the room when Elvis Costello is playing. That would be disrespectful.
One random one from my memories: Guns n'Roses, Use Your Illusion pre-tour during the summer of 1991. Tickets had gone on sale just days before the event itself. Epic set filled with songs we'd heard of but never heard (does anyone else remember the hype "November Rain" received before the release?), and I just remember late in the show Slash taking the solo he was doing into a five minute rendition of the Godfather theme. I'm sure he had done it before and since, but it was awesome.
Also, Lollapalooza 1994, Philadelphia. Just before the Pumpkins came on to close the show, out strolls Courtney Love in her first musical appearance since Kurt's death. Solo guitar, "Doll Parts" and "Miss World", then leaves by saying "Thanks, now Billy's gonna come out here and not suck." V. emotional. Pure Courtney.