Sunday, November 4, 2012

Santa Monica Civic Auditorium 1972-78
The Rock and Roll Years 
By Anthony Servante

The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium at dusk

 Poster for upcoming concert

There were a few hiccups in the posting of this article. When I originally posted this piece, it included complete concerts by some of the bands. I had to clip back a few videos, replace others, and omit some as certain bands do not like their music "shared" without their permission. So, all rights to these videos and images are the property of respective owners and not mine. I do not claim ownership but apply a one-time usage for this article. Hopefully, the article still maintains the integrity of the original. Thank you.

I was nine years old when I attended my first Rock Concert. It was at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, about a mile from the famous Pier with the carousel and carnival atmosphere right by the Pacific Ocean. To prepare for the journey from East LA to the beach front venue, I called the Rapid Transit District (RTD) bus line information; the operator told me (yes, people answered the phones in those days) that it would take three buses to get there, for a total traveling time of 2 and a half hours. The concerts always started at 8:00 p.m. so I had to leave home at around 4:00 p.m. I could hang around the Pier if I got there too early. But getting there wasn’t the problem. It was getting home.

RTD Bus circa 1970

I had to leave the window to my bedroom slightly ajar, unnoticeably so, else my dad would lock the window and I wouldn’t be able to enter my room when I got home. In other words, I would be locked out of the house. In those situations I went to the Greyhound Bus Depot Downtown LA and slept on one of the TV chairs—chairs with a pay TV attached, for as long as the TV was playing, the Security people left you alone. It took about two dollars of quarters to get a good night’s sleep. But usually the window remained the way I left it. When I arrived home about three to four in the morning, I’d climb into my bedroom (my bed was right under the window by design) and drop unto the mattress, kick off my shoes and fall asleep with my clothes on. This was my routine.

The original Greyhound Bus Depot in Los Angeles

Although there were probably leering eyes on my young frame or even concerned looks from parents on the bus that saw a young boy alone, I don’t remember them. I remember handing my Ticketron ticket that I bought at Sears and Roebuck to the attendant and being waved through by the security in yellow T-shirts (later I found it was cheaper to buy the tickets at face value at the venue). The lobby was always packed with people one to two feet taller than I. I waded through the crowd and entered the doors down a hallway leading to the seats. The air was always thick with smoke, cigarette and pot. I didn’t know it at the time, but I must have gotten many a contact high. In my big pants pockets I carried a baloney sandwich and a bag of Fritos. I was shown to my seat by an usher with a flashlight (even at that young age, I remember the usherettes were very pretty girls in mini-skirts; I remember how they would always come and check on me to see if I was okay: Why wouldn’t I be okay? I didn’t understand the dangers in those days). Ten minutes before the show got started, the lights would blink three times and people would start filling the seats. The security in yellow T-shirts would position themselves in front of the stage; the ones with black jackets with Security written in yellow on the back would walk up and down the aisles. The Civic security did not allow anyone to leave their seat once the show started. Only when the lights were on could people move to and fro.

Point of view from my usual seat

When the house lights went out, the audience would rise to their feet and roar. The usherettes positioned themselves at the hallway doors and kept late-comers from entering once the concert started. These late fans would have to wait till the opening act finished their set before they were allowed to enter the seating area. Lucky for them the lounge area in the lobby served alcohol. Then the opening band would appear and the stage lights would go on, the spotlights would hit the vocalist, the guitarist and sometimes the bass player; the drummer had a stage light on him on and off during the songs. After the opening bands, the main attraction would take the stage. The fans always tried to rush the stage, but were driven back by security. Once in a while, the crowd would overtake security, who would take to the stage sidelines and the audience would stand within touching distance of their idols onstage.

Upcoming shows on the marquee

Encores were earned. Today encores are part of the show. But back then when the lights went on, signaling the end of the show, the fans would not leave; they’d cheer and clap and stomp their feet, shouting, “MORE!” and their cries would often be rewarded with an extra song or two. Many times, the roadies would be taking the equipment down when the band would appear, sometimes they’d just do an acoustic set so all the equipment wouldn’t have to be reconnected, but other times, the lights would go off and the roadies would use flashlights to reconnect the equipment and the band would play their encores. If the concert went past midnight, the ushers went home. Security stayed, but the rest of the workers called it a night. Then, after the concert, one of the road crew would be selling band T-shirts promoting the latest LP of the group and outside the Civic there would be the bootleggers selling makeshift, often lower grade (but more creative) T-shirts of the band. I usually bought one of each.

Coming home from the concert: Downtown Los Angeles at dawn

Then it was time to catch the bus(es) home. I always sat at the rear and never slept. I always looked out the window. Next stop, Downtown LA. From there, I’d take the all night RTD bus number 26 which would drop me off two blocks from my window. I’d check the streets to make sure no one would see me entering the window. Then I’d drift off to sleep and the next day I’d wear one of my concert T-shirts. No one in my neighborhood ever heard of the rock bands I’d seen at the Civic. That was okay. It was my world, my night world. It was the beginning of a lifetime of Rock and Roll concerts. But these early ones at the Civic were my golden years. I wish to share these years with you, my readers. These are some of my vintage memories of some of the greatest rock bands around. And I was there.

Santa Monica Civic Auditorium shows 1972-78:

  1. Procol Harum 1972  Grand Hotel had not been released but they played songs from this upcoming lp. Mick Grabham replaced Robin Trower, who brought power to the group with songs like Whiskey Train. Without the muscle, Gary Brooker, founder of the band, emphasized the orchestral arrangements of Grand Hotel and the following year the band would play the Hollywood Bowl with the LA Philharmonic Orchestra, riding the success of their live LP: Live in Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. The Eagles opened for Procol Harum that night. They had one new LP to promote and played most of it for the short 30 minute set they were allowed. I was captivated by Take it Easy and saw a future for this band in Rock, although I was shocked to read the next day in the LA Times concert review that the band was dismissed as a Jackson Browne imitation with “limited” writing skills.

Procol Harum program

Procol Harum Setlist:
Shine on Brightly 
Bringing Home the Bacon
Toujours l'Amour
Monsieur R Monde
Grand Hotel
Robert's Box
Power Failure
A Salty Dog
In the Autumn of My Madness
Look To Your Soul
Grand Finale
A Whiter Shade of Pale
Repent Walpurgis

  1. Traffic 1972. In Monterey Park there was a record store called American Records; they had an “export” album section of new vinyl releases. I asked the clerk, some hippie who was always reading underground comics, what an export was. He guffawed and told me that they were records from other countries. I was intrigued. I selected the album Traffic Mr. Fantasy and compared it to the US version. Very different. I bought both. Months later, I saw the ad in the LA Times Sunday paper for Traffic at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. I made some phone calls, found out how much and where to buy tickets, how to get to the venue, and listened to the lps over and again till concert day. The only disappointment was that Dave Mason wasn’t in the line-up.

UK release of Dear Mr. Fantasy

  1. David Bowie Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars 1972: My older brother bought the David Bowie LP Ziggy Stardust. I used to sneak “listens” to it when he wasn’t home because he hated for anyone to touch his records. I fell in love with the sound, especially Moonage Daydream, Five Years and the title track. I was lucky to get tickets way in the back of the Civic. The sound system was not the best and the light show was mediocre, but the music and the stage presence of David Bowie and Mick Ronson on guitar had the audience chasing the security from the front of the stage. It was the first time I rushed the stage. A hippie girl in her late teens held me in front of her so the shoulder to shoulder crowd couldn’t carry me off. It was a magical moment for me just to touch the stage with Bowie a few feet away from me. But too young to appreciate the pretty girl with her arms wrapped around me. A few months later I purchased a double vinyl set of the concert I attended. My first bootleg. Yep, good ol’ American Records again.

My first bootleg.

  1. Emerson Lake and Palmer 1972; playing new songs from their “trilogy” lp, the band had not acquired full Arena Rock Star status, but you wouldn’t know it from the fans of King Crimson (Greg Lake), Atomic Rooster (Carl Palmer) and The Nice (Keith Emerson), who were there to see this unique hybrid band of rockers. Emerson stabbed his keyboards with a knife and carried a portable keyboard that blasted machine-gun sounds as he ran around the stage. And the Mahavishnu Orchestra opened the concert with a jazz-rock fusion sound that confused the rock audience, but I was enthralled by the music and followed John Mclaughlin’s career since. 

  1. Hawkwind 1973. The lights went out. The crowd went nuts. The strobe lights flashed into the audience’s face. The band appeared in costumes ranging from a giant frog to an astronaut. Then the music started with the song Master of the Universe, the psychedelic lights hit the white backdrop, and a nude woman, whom I later found out was named Stacia, appeared onstage dancing. Yep, Lemmy was there, but I don’t remember him. 
Stacia with clothes

And Stacia without clothes (during Hawkwind's Silver Machine)

  1. Genesis 1974 Selling England by the Pound Tour. Stage theatrics, costumes, pastoral mellotron with wicked guitar work by Hackett. This wasn’t just a light show; it was something more. In those days, CREEM Magazine published the latest trends in rock. Peter Gabriel in old man mask was the mag’s centerfold that month. When I saw the photo spread and that the band was going to be at the Civic, I got a ticket and went that same week. As a kid, I never liked Disneyland; I liked carnival sideshows. This was the rock and roll equivalent of a sideshow. As everyone else on the block played Thee Midnighters music, I blasted Selling England by the Pound. It wasn’t the first or last LP my dad would call devil’s music.

 Peter Gabriel brings theater to Rock and Roll

  1. Poco, Robin Trower, Spooky Tooth 1974. I went to see Spooky Tooth and Poco. I thought everyone else did too; but after Poco and Trower played, the sold-out house nearly emptied out; only a few hundred fans remained for Spooky Tooth. Even then, the ushers wouldn’t allow those of us in the cheap seats to occupy the better sections. To this day, I still prefer ST, but also attend Trower show when he’s in town. The song I remember most from this night was ST's take on the Beatles' I Am the Walrus. Below is the 1971 live version. 

  1. Roxy Music 1975. Space Cholos. That’s what I called them. Cholos are finely dressed gang members, cousins of the Zoot Suiters; each Roxy band member had his own outfit, his own personality; and together they rocked out for the crowd. In Every Dream Home a Heartache was a song whose lyrics were not lost on me, even as a kid ("inflatable doll, my role is to serve you"). In concert a single red light shone on Ferry until that classic line, “But you blew my mind”, and then all the lights flashed out, the guitar and drums fought a duel, while the bass tried to keep the peace. I stood on my seat for the whole song. I included the 1988 live version by Bryan Ferry of Dream House as it captures the spirit of the version I first heard live in '75. 

  1. Strawbs Halloween 1975. I remember the headline to the review in the LA Times the next day: “Music with Majesty”. Two mellotrons added a symphonic punch to the sound as music from the LPs Hero and Heroine and Ghost dominated the evening; the crowd was small, which accounts for the 25 year lapse before the band would return to LA. Even David Cousins jested after a recent show performing their Acoustic Tour at McCabes Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, “See you again in 25 more years.” I snatched the setlist from the stage floor, written in Cousins’ handwriting. Forgive me, guys. I still have this list to this day. Below is the Japanese taping of the same tour I attended that year. 

  1. Spirit 1976. This was the famous reunion tour of Spirit with the original line-up. Neil Young came out to sing along on Got a Line on You. He was drunk. After the song, Randy California tried to escort him off the stage, but he refused to leave. Neil and Randy got into a fight. Ed Cassidy, the drummer, broke up the fight and Neil left the stage. If you google this concert, you’ll find many people remember this night differently. This is my version. 

Dig those prices!

  1. Nektar 1977.  Sherman Hemsley introduced the band. The audience cheered his appearance as the TV show The Jeffersons was very popular then. A few weeks later, the song by Nektar, Show Me the Way, was played on the show while George Jefferson danced to the beat. Hemsley was a hardcore Nektar fan. Nektar played a progressive jam of music. The average length of each song was about twenty minutes. The background was splashed with "psychedelic" lights, lava lamps and hippie slogans. I saw the band again recently; they still have the same basic light show. 

  1. The Cars 1978. On the radio, they announced that tonight one night only, The Cars would be performing their entire debut LP. Tickets were four bucks each. General admission. First come, first served. I skipped school and caught the bus to the Civic, got six tickets, the maximum allowed, called my brother, who got four more people together and we saw the band that night. They did play the entire LP. Afterwards, the lights went on. The band left. The crowd remained, chanting, Morrrrreee! Ric Ocasek returned and told the crowd, “That’s all the fucken songs we know!” and stormed out again. The crowd booed, then exited as well.

The first concert by The Cars

There are so many more concerts I attended during this period, but the list began to get crazy long. I narrowed it down to twenty, fifteen, and settled on these twelve concerts. I googled each concert to death but found very little to build on, so what you have is the memory of an old concert geek. I remember Peter Gabriel floating down on wires wearing a black cape with glowing paint around his eyes during Watcher of the Skies. I found in my research that he used that theatric during Supper’s Ready. I omitted the Narareth concert because I remember singer Dan McCafferty being in a body cast onstage; other accounts have him in a wheelchair or just a leg cast. So forgive the diluted reminiscences of this old rocker. What I could confirm I did, but the rest, you’ll just have to fill in the blanks with your own memories. Rock on!