The recent Yo La Tengo performance caused me to pause and think back to many of the great shows I have experienced in Columbia. Most were in the nineties, which is the last time I saw the inspirational Hoboken hipsters.
I remember John Cougar Mellonhead (that’s what I called him) and The Man in Black, Johnny Cash, each playing multiple shows, multiple nights. I watched Uncle Tupelo rise and fall apart followed by countless incredible Wilco performances inside and out. I can recall Sublime playing to an empty house and being some truly dirty, disgusting SOB’s before they grew popular and began dying. Columbia has also gifted me Pavement, Arcade Fire, GBV, Pixies, every Merge band I can think of, a Big Star reunion and so many more. But, the most memorable show for me personally occurred October 25, 1993 at The Blue Note.
The Grifters were an unknown independent act at the time. They rose to the heights of Sub Pop a few years later but never gained a great deal of fame. A few of you will be familiar with these boys and a few will think of John Cusack. The Memphis quartet was sloppy, dynamic, melodic and dissonant in all the right ways. Their second album, One Sock Missing, was everything I had been waiting for since Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted. I’m not saying it’s a better record, just the best thing I had heard in well over a year.
My little clique at KCOU had the album in heavy rotation when we found out the band would be stopping in Columbia. We bubbled with excitement similarly to how teens in the seventies must have felt as a KISS concert drew close. These guys were rock stars to us. In fall 1993, as the leaves fell and Halloween loomed, we finally got our chance to witness what we believed would be an incredible display of power, rock and legend.
Four of us made homemade t-shirts displaying our interest in the band. Mine read, “If You Don’t Love The Grifters, FUCK YOU!!” We donned our gear and hung out outside The Blue Note, waiting for the band. When we saw them we immediately introduced ourselves as their biggest fans and invited them for drinks and more in my apartment, a half-block away above Boone Tavern. Not only did they come over before the show, they came back after and spent the night. It never occurred to us that our rock stars were four mangy-looking, poor thirty-somethings from Tennessee who were experiencing shock and awe at the idea that anyone even knew they existed. As we catered to them, we never realized that they actually needed all of these things…we thought they had it all.
The show? It was probably poor, but who knew? We took turns sitting on stage with the wasted band while they played to twenty-five people and I loved every second of it. I saw The Grifters play dozens more shows following this inaugural event, including driving to Georgia to see them play in a small club in a strip mall after spending the day hanging around outside Super Bowl XXVIII.
I can’t even speculate how many live bands I watched in the nineties, but The Grifters definitely hold a special spot atop them all. The performance was certainly not the best I have ever seen; however, sometimes a great performance is not what makes for a memorable show. I was finding myself in music in 1993 and The Grifters served as one of the major landmarks on my map.