Before reading this post….please read previous post called: April 12th 1986
We arrived at the concert with plenty of time to find a spot. People were milling about staking their claim, putting down blankets and whatnot. It was overcast…not the prettiest of days. There were already a good number of people there. In the end, something like 25,000 would be counted to have attended. KROQ had partnered up with IRS records to ensure that droves of people arrived en masse. It was great. I was with friends…a little irked by how much Maggie was chatting with Grady…but all in all, I was about to see this really cool band live – so it was hard to contain my excitement.
The opening band was a group called The Long Ryders. I seem to remember that they sounded kinda country-ish. I had never heard of them before and to the best of my knowledge, they were an unknown band. The Alarm have always had a history of giving unknowns a shot by letting them open Alarm shows…a tradition that would one day help me in my own music career…a music career that at this point, I never thought I would have.
I remember starting to make my way to the stage with Grady, Maggie and Katie. The Long Ryders set seemed 15 hours long to us…all we wanted was for ‘our’ band to get up there and play..The crowd was starting to swell and the sun finally came out. I remember getting pretty crunched by the crowd as we tried to get closer and closer to the front. I lost Grady and Maggie…and I lost Katie by the time The Long Ryders had finished their set…I was a short guy (I still am) and it seemed like everyone was towering two feet above me…the air was stale down where I was…all the good air was above my head and every so often a breeze would blow some of the good air down to where my punished nostrils could catch the faint scent of sweet sweet oxygen. Otherwise, everything smelled like armpit.
I kept plugging away and making some progress at getting to the front. Because I was short and opportunistic, I would advance my foot in front of me as far as I could and when the crowd would sway one way or the other I would see my opening and take it…I would then occupy a space that someone else used to have and they would move to the left or right accordingly. It was such a crush that we were all covered in each others sweat…it was very slippery and I remember huge swaying motions when the entire crowd would fall 5 to 10 yards to the left or right and you just had to go wit it. People were losing shoes from other people stepping on them and inadvertently pulling them off of others feet. In the end my shortness seemed to be an advantage as I didn’t take up much space and people would let me in front of them rather than some large guy.
Starting to feel the effects of dehydration and lost in a sea of people, I somehow managed to work my way to the front where the stage barrier was. The crush was so intense by this point that the barriers gave way and everyone lurched forward right up against the stage. Mike Peters (The Alarm lead singer) actually had to tell the crowd to take 3 large steps back so that the fire marshal wouldn’t shut the whole thing down.
Once everything was back in order (somewhat) an MTV VJay, I think it was Martha Quinn, introduced the band. The show was being broadcast live around the world and was shown on MTV in California. That was when the band sauntered onto the stage…a giant poppy illustration that also looked like a bullet-hole was set behind them and Mike Peters and Dave Sharp picked up their acoustic guitars, threw them above their heads in a vertical salute and began to strum those guitars faster than I had ever seen a guitar played in my life. Mike belted out the lyrics to Declaration as if all our lives depended on it and then the group launched into ‘Marching On’ and the sea of people who were screaming like maniacs began to pogo. I was bouncing up and down and this way and that and I had little control of what was going on as I was pressed so hard against the stage and bouncing with thousands of other people screaming the lyrics as loud as we could along with the band.
It was exhilarating. I had never felt anything like it.
The show went on like this, in a blurry flash of hot white energy that left me more than just simply entertained. It was a rock ‘n roll experience that seemed to slow down and speed up time all at once. The energy of the crowd, the passion of the band, the film crew and the beautiful Southern California weather all created a transcendental moment where I was transfixed by the guitar chords and forever changed by the lyrics of the songs!
About 1/2 way through the show I was pulled out of the crowd by a security guard…people in the front row were dropping like flies from the heat and dehydration. I was put down by the side of the stage and covered from head to toe in other peoples’ sweat. My brown shirt was missing a few buttons and I had gotten hit in the head a few times by the errant crowd surfer.
I staggered back in a blissed out state and found the blanket that we had set down at the beginning of the day. My friends were all there sitting on the blanket watching the show…they were sitting…SITTING! I couldn’t get my head around it…why would anyone sit at this show? It was so exciting! They were a civilized bunch eating cheese and crackers and drinking soda and I must have looked like Ezekiel coming down from the mountain touched by God and half crazy from the heat. I was a disheveled mess and after drinking some water and babbling on about my adventure in the front row, I decided that I should go back to where the action was.
Grady, Katie and Maggie came with me and this time we got about as far as we did during The Long Riders set, but I did not press on further…I hung back with my friends for the second half of the show and we watched as The Alarm kicked out intense versions of Strength, 68 Guns and an extra long version of The Stand. They closed the set with ‘Knocking on Heavens Door’ by Bob Dylan and then left the stage to thunderous applause…
In a few minutes the group came back – this time only carrying acoustic guitars. They all struck a classic Alarm stance in the center of the stage, huddled very close to each other and sang a very touching version of “We Are The Light” all acoustic style with the drummer, Twist, playing the tambourine. That moment will always be etched into my memory as it was not broadcast on MTV. This second secret encore was for the people who were there on that day alone.
The band left the stage and I was once again staggering blissfully around UCLA looking for my friends. We reconnected and made our way back to Agoura Hills richer for the experience. I know that day touched many lives as I have spoken to other Alarm fans who have told me similar stories. However, for me personally, I was a changed person. I went back home that day and told my mom that I wanted an acoustic guitar for my 16th birthday. I also borrowed a ‘C’ harmonica from Grady and began to carry it around with me everywhere I went. I would play it while walking home from school and I was always trying to decipher the mystery of how to make it sound exactly like the harmonica part in The Alarm song, ‘Spirit of 76’.
On my 16th Birthday, my mom bought me that acoustic guitar and as they say, I was never heard from again. I was always in my room playing it, trying to make it sound the way Dave Sharp made it sound that day at UCLA. Grady picked up the acoustic guitar too. We had big plans of starting a band and changing the world. We used to wear bandannas, vests and cowboy boots and play our guitars for hours learning and re-learning how to strum ‘Knocking on Heavens Door’ It was a great time and I remember having long talks about rock ‘n roll with Christie and her boyfriend at the time, Bo.
Flash forward to 2009. That same kid has never stopped playing the guitar or the harmonica…and eventually that kid learned to sing and write songs that didn’t suck. Its been a lifelong journey, one I never planned on taking but once I was hooked the music has never let me go. I perform these days in a group called The Brian Travis Band based in LA. It is my own version of the rock ‘n roll dream. We play live very often and rehearse even more. We’ve done two UK tours and many regional tours up and down the coast of California. We walk into clubs and set up our gear and deliver the jams like thieves in the night. We even have a handful of loyal fans! By the end of our set, the audiences seem touched by the passion and glory of why we are doing it…many people buy our CD’s at the end of our shows and stay to chat with us about the music.
We’ve made 3 albums and are currently working on another 2…one all acoustic and one all electric. We are hoping to release both CD’s in March 2009. After that, we might hit the road again and tour. We are just following the music…Its not always an easy life and the business side of it can certainly do sever damage to a musicians pocketbook, but when we are up on that stage rocking out and giving it everything we have and pushing ourselves and each other to new places during a live show…there is nothing on Gods green earth that can give you that feeling. It is pure, unfiltered, unadulterated rock ‘n roll…not that stuff that you see every night on American Idol. The BTB, like so many other struggling bands all over the world who are independent and playing night after night despite all the setbacks that are inherent in the lifestyle, have a secret. We know that rock ‘n roll used to be used for something other than selling cars or computers on TV commercials. We know that a great band can change everything, even the world if enough people listen.
Rock ‘n roll used to be about 3 chords and the truth…it seemed like the 80s was the last time that that particular secret was passed on to the generation after…somewhere between then and now people decided that waiting in line to see guy playing a record was entertainment. Or that voting for the next big music sensation on a game show is acceptable somehow. I’m pretty certain that the best DJ in the world can never deliver the magic of a live band. I’m also pretty sure that none of my musical heroes would have made it past the first round of American Idol. In fact, none of my musical heroes would let the fate of their career rest in the hands of Paula *freaking* Abdul! No offense to Paula Abdul, I’m sure she is a nice lady, but I just don’t think that someone who wrote ‘Cold Hearted Snake’ is qualified to judge anyone’s creative output…
What I saw in The Alarm on April 12th 1986 is what I am try to give back to the world through my music every time The Brian Travis Band play a live show. I do this night after night for the sheer privilege of accessing that part of us all that knows, deep down in the pit of our core, that we are starving for something more.