Stories Told

Rock shows

Bonus post today: an update on a long-ago post chronicling all the concerts I’ve seen.

Who have you seen in concert? Something the disk jockey said on the radio this morning started me thinking about the concerts I’ve been to. I was surprised that I couldn’t remember them all! It’s not like I’ve seen that many shows, and I certainly wasn’t smoking any dope at them to fog my memory. I wrote down what I could remember and Googled to fill in some blanks. You would not believe the detailed tour information people have cataloged on the Internet! I was shocked to learn that I’ve seen hair-metal band Dokken. Good Lord, shoot me now.


Ann Wilson singing with her band Heart in 2014

My first show was Al Stewart at the Westport Playhouse in St. Louis. You know, “Year of the Cat” and “Time Passages.” My second show was Iron Maiden at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. You know, “The Number of the Beast.” Talk about a change of pace! The Iron Maiden show was so loud that my ears rang for three days. I’ll never forget the newspaper review the next morning: “About as subtle as a baseball bat to the forehead. But to these kids, all zonked to the rafters on Clearasil and beer, it was probably poetry.” It was.

The best performance I’ve seen was Eric Clapton on his 1994 blues tour. His guitar work was as skilled as you’d expect, but it was also unexpectedly emotional. The best show I’ve seen is, believe it or not, Ozzy Osbourne on 1990 tour that was supposed to be his last, but wasn’t. He may have only three functioning brain cells, but he sure knows how to work his audience. It’s hard to call the worst show I’ve seen, but Ringo Starr and Van Halen totally phoned in their performances, and Metallica was badly off their game when I saw them play in the rain in 1994.

I’ve seen Heart six times, Iron Maiden five, and Metallica four. Rush, Eric Clapton, and Pokey LaFarge had me in their audience twice. I’ve seen Paul McCartney, my all-time favorite, just once and wish I could have seen him again and again. But last time he toured, tickets were outrageously expensive and I just wouldn’t pay it.

Here’s the list I’ve pieced together, in chronological order. Headliners are listed first. You’ll see that I gravitated toward heavy-metal shows, and then gave up on concerts altogether for nine years while I was busy with my young family. And then when my kids were older and my time was more my own, I split my time among Heart, classic metal bands, and a couple indie bands I found on YouTube!

1986: Al Stewart

1987: Iron Maiden, Waysted | Eric Clapton, The Robert Cray Band | Heart, Mr. Mister

1988: Iron Maiden, Anthrax | Van Halen, Scorpions, Dokken, Metallica, Kingdom Come | Metallica, The Cult | Grim Reaper, Armored Saint

1989: Anthrax, Exodus, Helloween

1990: Motley Crue, Whitesnake | Paul McCartney | Rush, Mr. Big

1992: Ozzy Osbourne, Slaughter

1993: Heart | Aerosmith, Jackyl

1994: Rush, Primus | Metallica | Ringo Starr | Eric Clapton

1995: Megadeth, Korn, Flotsam and Jetsam, Fear Factory

1997: Metallica

2006: Heart

2007: Heart, Head East

2012: Iron Maiden, Alice Cooper

2013: Pokey LaFarge | Heart, Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience

2014: Heart

2015: Pokey LaFarge

2016: Iron Maiden, The Raven Age | Lake Street Dive, The Brother Brothers

2017: Iron Maiden

2018: Anthrax, Killswitch Engage, Havok

I’m sure I’m still overlooking a band or two. But now tell me who you’ve seen! Leave a comment, or blog about it and link back here.

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Stories Told

Into the mosh pit

The mosh pit formed around me. Suddenly I was being shoved about like a rag doll.


Scott Ian and Joey Belladonna of Anthrax

I am both amused and thrilled that at age 50 I can still go watch many of the heavy-metal bands of my youth perform live. When I was 20 I never imagined that this music genre was in it for the long haul, that it would keep finding new audiences well into the new millennium. Yet it is, and it has, and there I was in a crowd that skewed at least 20 years younger than me.

Looking about, I noticed a handful of men near my age. We were easy to spot for our ear plugs, blue, orange, and green.

The audience was easily 80 percent men, and while it’s hard to tell by looks alone I wouldn’t be surprised if most of them worked blue-collar or service-industry jobs. Metal is an aggressive form of music that appeals to men with few sanctioned outlets for their anger. I get it: even at my age, a good headbang is excellent release.

These photographs are of the headliner, thrash-metal pioneer Anthrax. I’d seen them twice before — in 1988 and 1989! I’d not heard of the two opening bands, Havok and Killswitch Engage. But it turns out they’re established and well known, having been founded in 2004 and 1999, years I was consumed with raising my young children.

I would not have been there at all were it not for our youngest son, aged 17. He loves music from many genres and has lately added metal to his repertoire. He’s not just got an ear for the stuff, but he plays several instruments himself and has studied, all on his own, music theory and composition. When I share with him some of the metal of my younger days, he usually tells me things about the songs’ structure that I never knew, and describes the classical elements after which some of the riffs are modeled.

At any rate, he came to me not long ago and said, “Anthrax is coming to town. Would you like to go?” Hell yes.


Belladonna wailing and Ian shredding

But about that mosh pit: It’s tradition at thrash-metal shows that, near the stage, the audience forms a circle and men run about in it, smashing into and shoving each other. I have never understood the appeal. I remember the first mosh pit I saw, at that 1989 Anthrax show. Looked like chaos; looked like needless pain. I was glad the pit was way across the room from me so I could steer clear.

No luck this time, though. The pit formed around me, and I was furious. I didn’t ask for this! And I’ve been undergoing extensive chiropractic treatment. This had better not undo all that good work!

Oh, those thoughts were so not metal.

I fought my way to the edge of the pit. I tried to push in deeper, but the thick crowd resisted me. So along the edge I stood, a skinny geek among burly men. Quickly I learned that we had a job: to push moshers back in before they broke into the crowd.

That’s where I saw the etiquette in the melee. It began with us men around the edge, protecting the crowd behind us. But even among the moshers there were surprising unspoken rules. Within the pit, nobody’s hands were raised higher than chest level. Hands remained open and were used only to push others. Feet remained on the floor. And, astonishingly, when a man fell the men around him immediately stopped, pushed other moshers away, and picked him up.

At one point a man in a wheelchair joined the moshers. He was able to get in some good pushes, and the jolts he took were not any kinder just because he was chairbound. The fellow was also good and drunk, though. When other moshers saw that he wasn’t sober enough to be there, a couple men wheeled him back out. I didn’t see them come back; maybe they bought the man another beer.

There were rules of engagement here. And on this night, everyone I saw played by them.

Later, a gap formed behind me in the crowd. I was happy to fall back into it and just listen to the band and let others do mosher-goalie duty.

The next morning I was unbruised. But I was quite sore, and stayed that way for a week. Moshing is not for the middle aged.

It’s not enough to deter me from more metal shows, though. We are going to see another thrash-metal pioneer, Slayer, on their farewell tour in May.

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Recommended reading

Welcome, Roadies, to another Saturday roundup of Good Blog Posts™.

Aaron Renn cites L.L. Bean’s cancellation of its forever guarantee as evidence that American society is becoming low trust. He asks us to keep an eye on it, because America was formerly a high-trust society and that was key to our success. Read The Rise of the Low Trust Society

Where Heide lives, it’s been one mighty snowy winter. She shares some really great photographs of her environment, and tells some stories of the weather and the people. Read ‘Snow problem

Chevrolet’s Chevette was out of date upon its 1976 introduction, but somehow it kept finding buyers for a whopping 11 years. Writing for Curbside Classic, Eric703 tells its fascinating story — including how it was made all over the world, essentially making it the first “world car” sold in the US. Read Curbside Classic: 1977 Chevrolet Chevette — An Econobox for Garden-Variety Americans

On Monday I’ll share a post with some photos I made with my iPhone at a concert. Nick Gerlich writes about how more bands and venues are banning phones at shows, and why. Read Enjoy The Show

This week’s camera reviews and experience reports:

Film Photography

Shooting the 35mm f/2 SMC Pentax-FA AL on the Pentax ME

I bought this autofocus 35mm f/2 lens hoping it would make my digital Pentax K10D SLR into a useful kit. But that combo and I just didn’t bond. I thought maybe, since this lens has a usable manual-focus ring, it might be good on my Pentax film SLR bodies. So mounted it to my Pentax ME to see what it was really capable of.

Looking out

In retrospect I should have shot a film I know very well, like Fujicolor 200, for a more confident evaluation. Instead I shot Eastman Double-X 5222. I had just shot a roll of it in my Canon EOS 630 (as part of Operation Thin the Herd) and wanted to stay in that groove. It’s still enough for me to declare a verdict: this lens is pretty good, delivering great sharpness and smooth bokeh.


Just look at all the detail in the back of this little reader’s head. If you’ve read this blog for a while you might recognize it as the little reader at the James Whitcomb Riley gravesite in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.


I also brought the camera to church one Sunday and made few inside photos after service ended. I have shot this scene a couple times recently — I feel like there’s a good photograph in it, but I haven’t found it yet.

West Park CC

When I evaluate these photos on their merits, I see fine sharpness and detail. So then why do I feel so lukewarm about this lens?


It’s probably because it was the single most expensive photographic purchase I’ve ever made. I forget exactly what I paid but it was about $250. (Ok, so I’m the last of the big spenders.) For that kind of money I want this lens to absolutely sing.


And it just didn’t. I could get a manual-focus 35mm Pentax lens for my film bodies for a lot less money and be just as happy with it, I’m sure. I think that’s what I’m going to do, because I find 35mm to be such a useful focal length on a 35mm SLR body.

And with that, my Pentax K10D DSLR experiment comes to an end. I just can’t find a solid purpose for it in my gear stable. I’ll be selling it, this 35mm lens, and a 28-80mm zoom lens I bought for it, on eBay soon.

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Statue at Crown Hill
Pentax ME, 35mm f/2 SMC Pentax-FA AL
Eastman Double-X 5222

I was in a Double-X groove after finishing shooting my Canon EOS 630, so I got out another roll for my next project: shooting the autofocus 35/2 SMC Pentax FA-AL on my Pentax ME.

I’ll soon write a whole post about the experience. But I wasn’t bonding with that lens on my digital Pentax K10D and wanted to try it on my favorite K-mount body. I figured that if I didn’t bond with the lens there, I wasn’t going to bond with it anywhere.

I spent a good hour in Crown Hill Cemetery with this combo. This is one of the best photos from the roll.

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Film Photography

single frame: Statue at Crown Hill


Stories Told

I miss my father’s voice

I have a great memory of my dad. It was probably the late 1970s and we were waiting in our car for Mom to finish shopping. The radio was on low when the song below came on. It was just the kind of over-the-top song that brought out Dad’s inner showman. He belted it out, smiling at me, singing for me. He sang it better than the artist!

I miss Dad’s voice. It was big, deep, rich. He had excellent control, being able to make it very loud or quite low and tender. Until his last months.

But I’m choosing not to feel guilty that I don’t miss Dad very much otherwise. As I’ve shared before, Dad and I never figured out how to have an adult-to-adult relationship. He needed to be the teacher, the coach, the mentor, well past the point where our relationship needed primarily to be about that. But more than that, Dad was challenging in his last years. He was often in a difficult mood, often blunt and unkind.

I lived in tension, trying to be a good son who honored his father while constantly setting boundaries with him and repeatedly asserting my independence. It is a relief to be free of it.

But there was something about his voice.

Family reunion

Dad, in the pink shirt and in his 60th year, speaking at a 2001 Grey family reunion. I see Doyle and Susie and Ken and Sharon and Tommy and Gail and a couple other people I can’t make out, all Greys whether by blood or by marriage.

When I was three, he picked me up after surgery in the hospital. His low and easy voice erased my fear and filled me with security.

When my brother and I were small, growing up on Rabbit Hill, Dad would open the front door and call. “Jim-may! Rick-ay!” Every family for a mile knew it was time for the Grey boys to go home.

Dad could carry a tune and sang frequently. Especially in the morning — he loved the new day and often met it with a song. (The rest of us were night owls and didn’t appreciate his morning cheerfulness!) He fancied himself Elvis and went after most songs with all the oomph and verve that implies.

When Dad taught, his voice carried the air of authority. He taught young Robyn down the street to play chess. He taught woodworking for several summers to 4-H youth. He taught my sons to sharpen knives. In all ways, his voice carried “I’ve got this and I can show you” in perfect pitch.

And when he was angry, Dad’s voice filled with rage and fury. It was deeply frightening to my brother and me when we were small. I did everything I could to avoid hearing that voice, right up until he died.

After the cancer was found in his liver and his brain late last summer, his voice sounded strained much of the time. I think this was the hardest thing for me to take as he began to fade away. While I felt bad for him that his failing eyesight and fading strength kept him from so much activity, I accepted these things.

But his voice. I always hoped it would come back, just for a minute.