Twenty years ago, on this exact date, I attended, what I like to think of as my very first concert. I’m certain I’d been to concerts before this one, but this was the one where the parents dropped us off in what used to be an old Kroger grocery store on Tidwell in Houston called The Unicorn.
It was Matt, his then-girlfriend and me. I’m pretty sure this was the first time I’d smelled pot. I remember that smell wafting from the dark corners of the warehouse and how interesting I thought it was. Once someone answered my inquiry with a, “dude, that’s pot,” I forever associated that smell with the fact that I knew it was illegal, instead of being that perpetual interesting smell.
Fifteen years old and Eddie Vedder takes the stage with Pearl Jam. They’d just released their first album, “Ten” and I think the only person who knew of Pearl Jam was the guy behind us who screamed, “Let’s jam, Pearl Jam!!” And that they did. Eddie Vedder owned the stage and the band created the loud, raw, distorted and flowing ambiance that was every bit of what “grunge music” became in the 90’s.
I was mesmerized. The music was hard, heavy and aggressive enough to warrant moshing and jumping about by most of the packed in crowd. At the same time, the music and vocals also promoted a sensual and calming rhythm that captivated and created an ocean-like flowing of those in attendance.
It was like the entire local ecosystem had congealed together in a vacuum bubble of aural and visual meld.
I was probably high from second had pot smoke.
At one point Eddie Vedder jumped off the stage and into the crowd. My first thought was, “holy shit! What the hell did he just do?!” And then he bobbed up from within the crowd and started slowly drifting across the crowd on a sea of hands. He rolled over onto his stomach by the strength of the audience and pointed to the sound and light booth. And the ocean crowd obligingly carried him to his destination.
We were standing mid-stage, probably 20 people back and I watched Eddie being carried straight toward us with the stage and the band blurred in the background. Within only a few seconds, he was on top of us. I put my hands up and he latched on to one of my hands as he was slowly carried away in his drift. A he passed over, I thought, “man, that’s influence. That’s a rock star. He just rode above the entire audience on a sea of hands.” I had no clue who Eddie Vedder or Pearl Jam was prior to that show, but I was a pretty devout fan a few years after that show.
Pearl Jam’s set ended and within a half hour, a really ugly, emaciated woman with a bushy red mop on her head took the stage and she and her band whined and screamed to some pretty heavy (heavier than Pearl Jam) tunes. I quickly learned that the ugly woman was Billy Corgan and his band, the Smashing Pumpkins. Whatever the first song was, I didn’t really like it. It wasn’t until their second song, and throughout the rest of the set that I acquired a sense of this new groove. The Smashing Pumpkins provided a heavier sound, but still maintained a rhythmic and flowing cadence.
It was somewhere in the Smashing Pumpkin’s set that I came down with the flu. It hit me like a brick. Thankfully I didn’t get sick sick, but i could feel my energy drop, my throat started hurting and my head felt like it was going to implode. It wasn’t secondhand pot I’d been subjected to for the previous hour, it was the full-on flu. I think I even missed the following week of school.
I had just enough energy for the headliners: The Red Hot Chili Peppers. I don’t remember too much of their show as I was really feeling under the weather, but I do remember they were on tour promoting their Blood Sugar Sex Magik album. Of course the crowd really went nuts when RHCP took the stage, so not only was I coming down with the flu, I was also having to make sure I didn’t get caught in a mosh pit and kicked in the head.
I’ll probably always remember that concert quite vividly. To this day, I’m very much a Red Hot Chili Peppers fan. If I hear a Pearl Jam song today, I usually hit next on the iPod or change the radio station. That probably holds true for Smashing Pumpkins, too.
I’m baffled and amazed that it was 20 years ago that I saw Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins and the Red Hot Chili Peppers in an old grocery store in Houston.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go chase some kids off my lawn.