I had the good fortune of seeing Ray Charles perform twice, and this was the first — and far more memorable — of the two.
The concert itself was killer. Ray was backed by a full jazz ensemble, plus backup singers the Raelettes, and the stage was full of energy and excitement. They played well-known tracks like “What’d I Say?” “Georgia on my Mind,” “Take These Chains From my Heart” and “Hit the Road Jack,” as well as songs I wasn’t familiar with. Thanks to my close relationship with the promoter, I was able to sit in the 6th row, center section, to take it all in.
As memorable as the concert was, the real highlights for me came before the show. Because of my connection to the promoter — OK, it was my dad — I was able to hang out for a couple hours before the show to watch the sound check and other preparations. I also got to meet and shake hands with Ray Charles himself — something you can bet I mention if I’m talking to someone and the topic of meeting famous people ever comes up.
While meeting Ray was certainly a thrill, the thing that impressed me the most about that evening was watching the sound check. When Ray first arrived backstage, he was treated like the legend he was, and seemed to enjoy all the glad-handing and fawning he got from people. But when the sound check began, he was all business. He repeatedly would stop mid-song and tell a horn player to come in earlier on the stabs, or tell the bass player to loosen the groove, or tell one of the Raelettes to sing louder or softer. Sometimes he would run the band through a particular measure four or five times before he was satisfied. I was amazed at how he could focus on each element of the orchestra, picking out things that the audience never would have noticed. It was then I realized I wasn’t just watching some famous guy, but a real musical genius.
In January of 1990 The Cult was one of my favorite bands. I listened to their “Love” and “Electric” albums all the time. I scored sixth-row seats to see this show. I couldn’t have been more excited. What could possibly go wrong?
About five days before the show, I got a call from a company where I’d applied for a job. They wanted to interview me! Yay! But at 8 a.m. the morning after this concert! Ugh! I had just graduated college and this was my first interview for a “real” job, so I didn’t want to blow it. I also was used to sleeping until, well, a lot later than 8 a.m. The idea of waking up, putting a suit on, making it downtown, finding a parking place and getting to an interview by 8:00 was pretty daunting.
So instead of letting loose and having a great time at the Cult show, I was distracted by thoughts of how to answer questions like “Where do you hope to be five years from now?” and “If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” Hey, it was my first job interview; I didn’t know what they’d ask. I also didn’t have my then-customary pre-concert beers, as I didn’t want to have a hangover or be extra tired for the interview.
So I didn’t enjoy this show as much as I’d hoped, but it was still a good time. The band was in good form and played all the songs I hoped they’d play. I saw them again a few times after this one, most recently a year-and-a-half ago at the Del Mar racetrack, and always enjoy them.
As for the job, I didn’t get it. Oh, well.
You know the old clip where all the young girls are screaming and fawning over The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show? As hard as it may be to believe now, that was kind of what it was like at this show. Vanilla Ice had the No. 1 record at the time, and was quite the star among teen and pre-teen girls. When Ice was on stage, bobbing his head and big hair, doing his choreographed dance moves with his backup dancers, asking the audience to answer the age-old question of whether “this side” of the crowd is louder than “that side,” the young girls were loving it. They gushed, they squealed, they melted.
I could claim that I only went to the concert because I was reviewing it for a local paper and therefore got free tickets. But the truth is I wanted to go, and so did my date, even if we were among the only people over 20 in the crowd.
Wikipedia says that Alanis Morissette was the opening act on this tour, but I don’t remember if she was at this gig.