From my journal:
The first few times I heard a live band, I cried. It was the music. For a long time, I cried during drum solos. My earliest concerts, as a young teen, were Herman Hermits, headlining over the Who; Paul Revere and the Raiders; and Steppenwolf. I blubbered through most of it, to the puzzlement of my friends. The night of Steppenwolf, I had a warm and fuzzy dream about John Kay. I dreamt I was making his bed. Literally making his bed. It was a poor excuse of a wet dream, but I was working from a very limited perspective at the time (being 13), and that was the best I could come up with. He’s the first man I ever saw in leather pants.
I never really got over it.
Which is at least partly why I vowed to see Steppenwolf again before either I or John Kay died. So that’s what brought me to the Choctaw Casino Event Center in Durant, Oklahoma 46 years later. I suppose it’s fitting that I had to return to, if not quite the scene of the crime, at least my home state to see them again.
Not surprisingly, the first thing I noticed was that John Kay did not have on leather pants, and neither was he wearing the sunglasses it’s impossible to think of him without, but he was still handsome and in fine voice and form as they moved through the set.
Although I confess I did not buy every album in their catalog over the years, I’m the only one I ever met who truly loved Monster. In fact, just last year, I had added the CD to my collection, having only the original album from the time of its release. Monster was a bit of an anomaly because the highlight was an early mashup lasting nearly 10 minutes, “Monster/Suicide/America.” Just as radio had no interest in this ’60s revolutionary sociopolitical/patriotic (yes, that’s right) rant, neither did I have any hope of ever hearing it in concert, what with a full platter of bonafide chartbusters at their fingertips to easily fill the setlist.
Warming the crowd with “Sookie Sookie,” a huge hit which has dropped off the classic rock radio play lists as mysteriously as “Itchycoo Park,” the band moved into some deeper (but all recognizable) catalog, which included about three heavily blues-based songs, the last of which was Muddy Waters’ “Hootchie Kootchie Man,” which in subsequent conversations with friends I’ve discovered wasn’t widely played in every locale, but was heavily played and a big hit on the Oklahoma City radio stations. I could barely see drummer Ron Hurst from my seat (4th row, aisle, far left), but he was really good, very strong. Increasingly, I am finding reason enough to go see the old bands is that they are the most likely to treat you to a nice blues or psychedelic jam, the kind you haven’t seen since at least the early seventies. When I saw Neil Young a few years ago with Crazy Horse in the second set, they went at it like Big Brother & the Holding Company. If they had done nothing else, it would have been enough. The same was true with Steppenwolf’s blues selections. I felt like — well, maybe not a kid, because my appreciation for guitar blues came a bit later, but I could sort of feel the damp grass underneath my velvet bellbottoms there for a moment, that’s for sure.
The video on the large screen was worth keeping an eye on. Tribute was paid to Joplin, Hendrix & Morrison in one video segment, which was touching and made me grateful for the ones who lived. Then I had a little 13-year-old flashback as a video of a younger Steppenwolf was synced up to what John Kay was singing onstage. There he was, black hair, dark glasses, dove gray leather pants, moving like a panther, singing like an angel.
Excuse me, I have a sudden urge to go fluff the pillows.
Excuse me, I have a sudden urge to go fluff the pillows.
This concert outing followed a long bleak period while my sister has been in the hospital and I have done nothing but work two jobs. It was my gift to myself for my birthday, which is actually next week, but close enough. And maybe that’s why, just like the old days, I teared up once again when I heard what I never thought I would, the opening strains to “Monster.” I really had no hope of hearing this great trilogy live, 10 blissful minutes of it. The segues between the parts are really dynamic live. The transition into the chorus of “America,” a mostly overlooked anthem, was thrilling and poignant; then after, the segue back to “Monster” with the loud lengthily-spaced dramatically repeated one-chord chop. Dave Mustaine would be proud. I was touched that the guitarist, Danny Johnson, ended the trilogy with a final nostalgic note, a teasing, only momentary, Hendrix-like opening wail of the “Star Spangled Banner.”
There had been a long wait for the band to come onstage after the opening act, during which I had time to look at the equipment. It’s always a relief to see Marshall stacks, of course. Then over on the left behind the keyboardist, Michael Wilk, were what looked to me like custom wood cabinets with the old Leslie rotating horns that you used to see down in the bottom of Hammond B3 organs back in the 60s. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was about since there was an electric keyboard, but then I’m not exactly a techie when it comes to equipment. But I used to love to stand near those horn/blower/whooshing fan thingies back in the day for a good rumble, so I was holding out hope.
I found out what they were for the very next song as the band started the engines on “Magic Carpet Ride.” WHOAM, WHOAM, WHOAM, WHOAM. It was awesome. Has there ever been a better intro? (OK, Roxy’s “Sentimental Fool” comes to mind, but that’s different.) The crowd went, predictably and ecstatically, vertical. It’s too bad it took the punk rock days to teach us how to properly dance to “Magic Carpet Ride,” which is to abandon nuance and simply jump up and down, because I remember a sad attempt me and three dance club partners made at going at it via jazz dance moves we’d learned in gym, and failing summarily to be included in the Jerry Lewis Telethon. It was such a great song, it just SEEMED like you ought to be able to dance to it.
This, of course, was followed by “Born to Be Wild,” the rock anthem of all time, the common denominator of every person, young or old (or as John Kay said “young people who just happen to be in vintage bodies”). I was prepared to leave on the BTBW high, but the stage was set for an encore. I was trying to think what could POSSIBLY be left. And then there they were, coming back with the ominous opening notes to “The Pusher.” Wow, how had I forgotten about that. Can you believe “Goddamn the Pusher Man” was played over and over again on AM radio in Oklahoma? That would NEVER happen today.
I walked out smiling and boarded the shuttle back to the casino, sitting on the back row of the bus with the rest of the bad girls. OK, only one other girl, but she was blond and VERY drunk. Ah, memories. I had scored an excellent complimentary room at the casino hotel. I went to sleep watching “Bad Dogs” in a big cushy kingsize bed, woke in time to win $50, enough to pay for my Steppenwolf ticket and dinner, and drove home feeling better than I’ve felt in months.
Close your eyes girl
Look inside girl
Let the sound take you away