Steve Wiley is Up on the Sun's resident Record Store Geek. Biweekly, he shares stories of great music and whacky characters from his continuing 27 years in Valley record stores and the always-zany music biz.
Welcome back, my friends. When I last left you, I was discussing my favorite record store performances of all time.
I had such a great time telling the stories, that my editor decided to break into two parts (a blogging first for me). So I was able to tell the stories of numbers 7-11, featuring Guttermouth, Pete Yorn, The Refreshments, and more. Hopefully you enjoyed them.
Here's the good news, the next five are even better (especially the top two)
So hold on to your hats. Here comes the Top Five In-store Performance of All-time (cause kids.... dig... hyperbole).
5. Barenaked Ladies (Zia/ASU)
I knew that I loved the BNL debut album, the still-awesome Gordon, so I was really stoked for the show. What I didn't know was how popular the band was on campus, or more importantly, how fantastic they were live.
Turns out this whacky group of Canadians was one of the first to use the Internet to exchange music from their live shows, so their stage shows were not foreign to ASU kids when they played Zia. The stage area was packed, and the Ladies and their crowd did not disappoint. They played a ton of songs and closed with their hit, "If I Had a Million Dollars," which included a number of people throwing Kraft Macaroni and Cheese during its mention in the song's lyrics.
Note: Later that evening at Hayden Square, they got down to their underwear for the encore, to the delight of the entire crowd.
4. The Format (Hoodlums/ASU)
Another street date performance from a band that didn't forget the indie store that helped break them. Nate (now a national big shot with his new band, Fun.) and Sam played the MU stage the day that Interventions and Lullabies was released in what ultimately may have been our biggest indoor show ever (counting the crowds is pure guesswork).
We had brought in 500 copies of the CD to sell, figuring they would last us all week. They all sold in ONE DAY. Still our biggest-selling single day total ever.
3. Blackalicious (Hoodlums/ASU)
We'd never done a hip-hop in-store before. We sold a shitload of rap, but it's just something that hip hop artists don't generally do. To top things off, the only ASU venue we could score was Hayden Lawn, which is a, um, good-sized space, to say the least. So we weren't sure if it would work.
Then, the day of the show, in generally-typical hip-hop fashion, the band was "running late." We were freaking out, especially as the crowd continued to grow.
What were we thinking?
Then, the stars seemingly aligned. Not only did Blackalicious show, but they brought Rakaa from Dilated Peoples, and Lateef the Truth Speaker, and tore the fuckin' roof off the lawn. We estimated the crowd (like I said, it's an inexact science) to be around 1,300 people. Still our biggest in-store ever.
2. Michael Franti and Spearhead (Hoodlums/ASU)
This one is the most personal for me. Why? Because Michael Franti might be the coolest rock/hip hop/reggae star I've ever met.
By the time he came to the store, I had developed immense respect for his music, and its amazing social/political messages, through countless listens to the albums Stay Human and Everyone Deserves Music, which they were highlighting. In fact, I had played the new album so much at home that my then-5-year-old son had become quite enamored with it.
So I brought the boy to the show. He stayed with the employees while I went up to meet the bare-footed, taller-than-me (I'm 6-foot-3), dreadlocked Franti. He proceeded to lock me up in a bear hug that I shall never forget. When I introduced him to my son and told him of his affinity for Everyone Deserves Music, he leaned way down and he asked, "What's your favorite song?" My son promptly replied, "Crazy, Crazy, Crazy," an amazing song which will always hold true to my philosophies.
Then Michael and the boys took the stage and kicked off the concert with the song. Truly moving. It brought tears to my eyes then, and it's doing so right now. I'll never forget Michael... and I'll never stop appreciating that in-store. Neither will my son, who still has the signed poster hanging above his teenage bed.
1. Pearl Jam (Easy Street Records/Seattle)
Do I really need to write anything else? I saw Pearl Jam play in a private show in a record store!
Of course I do. It's too good of a story.
Like I said earlier, I was in Seattle, celebrating 10 years of the Coalition of Indie Music Stores (CIMS), along with nearly 100 of my fellow record stores geeks. We're not talking industry rookies here. These girls and guys have met, seen, and partied with their share of rock stars. They aren't the easiest group to impress.
As we sat in the conference room, preparing to discuss our fucked-up industry, our leader gave us a rundown of what to expect. We never knew in advance which artists were going to join us at these events, but in the past we'd seen some great ones, so we listened attentively.
When he announced that Kings of Leon (number seven on this list) was playing on Friday night, we were really excited. We figured it couldn't get any bigger than that.
Then he started talking about Saturday night. We all figured something was up when he mentioned that the show was uber-secret, and that we could NOT talk about it under any circumstances.
Hmmm. He had never said that before. Not about John Mayer, or My Morning Jacket, or anybody else.
Then he told us why. The band was Pearl Jam!.
Holy jaw-dropper, Batman. Did he just say Pearl Jam?
In case you are 12 years old and unfamiliar with the ladder of rock status, Pearl Jam is way up there. Very few bands from the '90s and beyond have climbed as high and stayed there (let's see, there's Radiohead, and, um, well, I can't think of any others off the top of my head).
Did I mention that Seattle is their hometown? Did I mention that, along with Soundgarden and Nirvana, they were the leaders of the grunge sound?
So that's why.
Of course, being the rebel that I am, I was on the phone about six minutes after the meeting adjourned. Don't worry, I wasn't going fuck up things for our "cartel". I was just calling my partner, who had decided not to go at the last minute (he said someone needed to run the store, but in truth he wasn't into the conferences as much as I was), and chastising him.
In addition to Pearl Jam's music status, they were also renowned anti-corporate rebels, having battled the evil Ticketmaster in court over some of their slimy tactics.
With the chief's next announcement, their indie-champion status grew as well.
He told us that Pearl Jam was not only going to do a private in-store for us, but they were going to let us record it and release it as an indie-store exclusive.
Could they get any cooler?
Yup. Read on.
As the night rolled on, I spent a good deal of time with Matt Vaughan, the store owner and one of my closest CIMS' comrades, and he told me how the whole things developed.
Easy Street is a Seattle landmark, so Matt sorta knows all the big shots in the Seattle. It doesn't hurt that he's an easy-going, knows-how-to-party kind of guy. Anyway, Matt had noticed Mike McCready (Pearl Jam guitarist, you might have heard of him) in the aisles of his new store, so he went over and said hi.
They struck up a conversation about the new store, and it's very cool in-store stage (which was behind a garage door), and Matt had jokingly mentioned that Pearl Jam had a standing invite to play on it whenever they wanted. The conversation ended with Matt taking a special order.
When Mike came back to pick up the special order, to Matt's stunned disbelief, he said, "I talked to the band. We've got a new album coming out soon, and we'll do it."
Matt immediately told him that the CIMS 10th Anniversary convention was coming to town, and that it would be the perfect time to do it. After all, these are the indie stores. The ones that have helped break nearly every cool act in U.S. rock 'n' roll history.
But there was just one catch.
They'd only do it in the West Side store. The original. The one that the Pearl Jammers had shopped in most of their lives.
The little one. The one that wouldn't hold us all.
So Matt, not one to pass up a golden opportunity, did of the coolest things in my history of record store geeks. He said, "Yes," and he figured out a way to make it work. How? You'll love this.
Matt decided that the night before the in-store, he'd have his staff take the product out of the bins, and load the bins on to trucks. That way the whole gang could fit in the store, and PJ would get their wish to play in their favorite area record store.
Pretty nifty, eh?
"How cool is Pearl Jam" Note: I just texted Matt to make sure the details were correct, and he reminded me that Eddie Vedder (singer, you may have heard of him too) showed up the night before and helped load the bins onto the trucks. He also let Matt keep the trucks at his house until after the in-store.
Anyway, Saturday night arrived, and the show exceeded our lofty expectations. The boys played 14 songs -- almost a full concert -- and left us (including seemingly every rock dignitary in the entire city) all with our heads shaking. They even called up John Doe (of the legendary punk band X) and did X's "The New World."
After the band, everybody, including the band, went to the bar down the street, and partied until late.
As if that wasn't enough -- and I still can't even believe this -- once we got to the bar, each store owner was presented with an exclusive gig poster that Pearl Jam had had created just for this event (see the pic). That's right, after they played for us, and let us record the show to sell, they decided to thank us for having them.
As a final cherry on my cake of indie music-lover happiness, I was seated next to John Doe on the bus ride back downtown, and I was able to strike up a conversation about his acting, including his role as the snotty bartender in Roadhouse.
Note: It wasn't my last conversation with Mr. Doe in Seattle. We also talked about raising kids at the dinner the next day, which you can read about in Discussing Your Rowdy Past with Your Kids and a Punk Legend.
A few months later, we received the Live at Easy Street CD. In addition to featuring seven songs (including "The New World"), I was on the cover! As you can see from the picture (I circled myself), only I'd know it was me, but that's good enough.
Note: I know it was me, because I was standing next to Paul Epstein, the owner of Denver's famous Twist and Shout Records (the long white-haired cat), who I also wrote about in a blog entitled Shake It Up, Baby (including Epstein as the oracle).
Anyway, there it is: a list of the all-time greatest in-stores. In my book, at least.
Hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading.
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