Oftentimes, there's a sense of embarrassment when discussing a first experience. Whether it's a first car, album or lay, one often makes light of it because the person has had much better experiences since then. For some reason, we often discuss our first step into a territory we've come to know very well with a sense of humor and/or embarrassment. We didn't know what else was out there at the time, but now we think we know way more. Of course there are exceptions where the first was great and the others after it weren't as great or just different.
For me, there is little or no embarrassment about talking about most of my firsts, like first concert experience. Jim DeRogatis, along with fellow Sun-Times writers, chimed in with their firsts in an article appearing today online. It's a pretty nice read, so I felt inspired to talk about mine. However, it's a little hard to remember which was the first and what constitutes a "rock" concert. Let's view the evidence:
The earliest memory I have of seeing live "rock" music in person was at Splashtown, a waterpark in Spring, TX. My sister and I were fans of the Party, a singing group made up of members of The Mickey Mouse Club, and we got to see them perform on a sunny day in 1990 or 1991. At the very least, it was cool to see this group in person instead of inside the parameters of the TV set. The co-ed five-piece performed with a live band right in front of the wave pool and it was packed with boys and girls my age. This was all fun to see, but I was baffled by the girls that were crying their eyes out at the sight of the male members of the group. I had seen New Kids on the Block and Bon Jovi videos with girls going crazy, but seeing this all in person was a much different experience.
Technically, the Party was not a "rock" band; they were a pop group with some "rock"-like tendencies. They were performing live, so that constitutes a show, right? Though I went with my family to the Houston Rodeo in 1989 and the Indigo Girls were the musical act that night, the first "rock" show that I saw (and wanted to see) was the cranberries, Toad the Wet Sprocket and Willy Porter at the Woodlands Pavilion in 1995. Accompanied by my friend Eric and my father, we had a good time as we enjoyed all three acts. It definitely wasn't a "bad" show, but compared to the kinds of shows I like now, this show was more like watching a symphony orchestra perform: you just sat in your seat and didn't get up unless you had to go to the bathroom.
A number of shows stick out more in my mind as better concert experiences (Fugazi at the Ridglea Theater in '02, the Promise Ring at Fitzgerald's in '98, and face to face at the Abyss in '97 were some of the best so far), but those weren't the firsts. I honestly don't know if I would have been able to recognize how great those shows were unless I had been to a number of so-so shows.
It's so easy to describe these firsts with sighs and rolling eyes, but it's like a baby taking his or her first step. The first step is almost always going to be a little awkward and weird, but eventually we learn how to walk on our own. We aren't born with a keen sense of good music. More often than not, we have to start with the slim and flimsy to get to the deeper stuff. Like what Jim Ward told me about Top 40 music's effect on young music fans, "It's baby food, then you go up to steak and potatoes." It just wouldn't work with the other way around.