Raider of the Lost Arts


by Simeon FlickJune 2023

YouTube is done. All the damn ads have killed it. They have for me, anyway.

There goes my journalistic credibility as well.

If you’ve ever been on a newspaper staff or have taken a related class as I did in middle school, and along with the who, what, when, where, why, and how, you’ll know that neophyte reporters are taught to refrain from writing in the first person, as it reduces the factual objectivity tower one is trying to build to the discreditable rubble of subjective opinion. That was the idea back in the day, anyway.

In thirteen Raider columns for the Troubadour, and in the majority of cover stories, articles, and CD reviews preceding these, I have rarely if ever used the pronouns “I” or “me,” or the possessive “my,” or even “this reporter,” choosing instead to let my subjects do the talking and allow whatever literary ambitions I harbor to manifest in less overt ways. However, there is something quite liberating––for the author and perhaps the reader as well––in at least temporarily abandoning those pretenses to favor the heart over the mind in the audacious assertion of personal preferences.

Music is such a subjective medium anyway, and since this piece is going to feature videos of artists some people may not care for, I figured I might as well drop the Pulitzer-aspirant act, even if just this once, and leave it all on the table without objectivity’s protection, put my stamp on it and stand firm on what I like to listen to and watch regardless of reader perception, real or imagined, and with a gentle but firm disregard for universality.


Launched by former PayPal employees in 2005, YouTube’s origins are––surprise surprise––steeped in T & A. The video-sharing site was the direct result of one of the founders having difficulty finding an online clip of Janet Jackson’s Justin-Timberlake-abetted nipple-gate stunt during the Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show. There was also a mingling singles aspect that quickly got left behind in favor of account wielders sharing as-of-yet short clips of all kinds of inane (double complete rainbow, anyone?), and not so inane things (9/11). Eventually, YouTube would venture into creating content of its own as a production house of bona fide TV shows and movies.

Google bought the site in 2006 for 1.65 billion and turned it into a real moneymaker for themselves, companies advertising on the platform, and eventually for the content-creating users, many of whom now make a comfortable living solely posting videos there and elsewhere.

But at a cost to the viewer, who has had to endure an increasing number of commercials through the nearly two decades of the site’s existence. Everyone now knows the frustration of having their chosen content jarringly interrupted, sometimes at crucial moments, like the vexed and vexing shopkeeper in the 1995 movie Amelie trying to watch a football match while the titular heroine cuts the signal during a key shot on goal. Videos are also often delayed at the onset by a pair of long adverts pitching products and services that are inessential and/or unaffordable for someone like me.

Video lengths have grown to the point where one can now watch an entire movie or concert at one link, but what’s the point if ads keep unpredictably popping up to disrupt the continuity (at least network TV times its breaks well)? My abhorrence of capitalism is more heightened than most, and I am a militant hoarder and defender of my time, but I wonder how anyone can become inured to the imposition.

It’s all worth it in one sense, though.

I’ve gone on ad nauseam in this column about what we’ve lost in terms of not only the music itself but also its celebrated practitioners and its once revered place in our culture, but the incredible thing about YouTube is that so much of the pre-cellphone past has actually been preserved, and an increasing amount of it is finding its way onto the site every day. It almost makes me think I can stomach a few too many ads for the sake of such treasure.



Previously released content––the Monterey Pop and Woodstock films, Live At Budokan, any concert or video, albums and songs, etc.––has of course found its way on by now, and much of this is blessedly free of ads because it is copyrighted material often posted by unaffiliated users, and thus can only be monetized by the often opting-out owners (and perhaps the bands in the footage, many of which have separate Vevo channels). But an embarrassment of riches has also re-emerged, footage that has lingered in vaults or someone’s taped-from-live-broadcasts VHS collection that is now seeing the publicly digitized light of day. And vinyl has made a resurgent comeback due in part to YouTube’s exhumation of its prime era.

The pre-MTV ‘70s and early ‘80s were a golden age for live performances on variety TV shows. Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert and Burt Sugarman’s The Midnight Special were primetime showcases for so many top-shelf acts of that hallowed time, and often in the up-and-coming stages of their careers.

Check out this ad-free, well edited, unhinged set by a pre-“Surrender” Cheap Trick on Don Kirshner’s show in 1977:

It’s difficult to stifle the adrenaline released from watching Rick Nielsen’s goofily galvanizing, schtick-laden showmanship, Tom Petersson’s hair grabs, rumbling 12-string bass and stage prowling, Robin Zander’s in-his-prime teen-idol vocals, and you’ve got to laugh with and not at Bun E. Carlos’s big cartoon drumsticks at the end as he lays down the climactic triplet rolls like it’s nothing. And the band’s just-shy-of-the-big-time hunger is palpable.

The somewhat obscure Cal Jam music festival of April 6, 1974 was one of the last of the original sixties-inspired wave, and luckily for us, big chunks of it were filmed for TV broadcast. A sequel happened on March 18, 1978, which featured sets from a prime-era Heart and pre-burnout Aerosmith, among others:

The US Festival(s), which took place near San Bernardino, CA on both Labor Day of ’82 and Memorial Day of ‘83 and featured the diverse genre variety of that time (new wave, heavy metal, classic rock, country, rockabilly, etc.), has yielded a glorious cornucopia of complete sets from some of the biggest bands of the day.

Oingo Boingo was apparently one of only two acts that performed on both dates of the festival (the other was The [English] Beat). Here’s their May 28, 1983 set on “New Wave Day,” where they gave it their all despite excessively high temperatures and technical problems (Danny Elfman’s voice is ragged, his clothes sweated out, and his guitar won’t seem to work, but the chaos is as negligible as it is compelling):

Missing Persons were insanely tight on May 30 (“Rock Day”), with manic drumming from barely restrained, Animal-esque virtuoso Terry Bozzio and album-true vocals––including her trademarked helium hiccups––from silver lamé- and plastic bra-bedecked singer and then spouse, Dale Bozzio:

A perfect example of the diversity of music on display at the US Festival were the performances of two disparate up-and-comers at about the same ages and stages of their careers: U2 and Mötley Crüe, on Rock Day and Heavy Metal Day respectively:

Much troll mud has been flung in the critical assault of the supposed quality of Mötley Crüe’s performance (specifically Vince Neil’s vocals), but one can’t deny that they were still a sight to behold, even in broad daylight.

A handful of concert venues actually made a habit of recording many––if not every––band that passed through. The Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey was blessedly such a venue. Shot on even by then obsolete but budget-conscious black-and-white television studio gear and with audio pulled straight from the mixing console, the proffered videos are a who’s-who variety of big––or about to be––‘70s and ‘80s touring acts.

Get a load of this bombastic opening set there by RUSH in the midst of the 1976 tour for their breakthrough album, 2112, on December 10. Geddy Lee’s vocals might be a little loud, but that’s more on him and his indomitable screech than the mixing engineer. This show’s performance of “Bastille Day” would eventually find its way into the beginning of Beyond The Lighted Stage, the 2010 biopic. (Nerd alert: gearheads will notice the early appearance of the Moog Taurus I bass pedals played by Geddy on “Lakeside Park” [they weren’t slated to arrive until the transitional album, A Farewell to Kings, roughly a year later].)

The B-52s’ first 2 records are their best, and this next Capitol video finds them killing cuts from both on this November 7, 1980 tour stop. Kate Pierson is the MVP, holding down the low end and occasional Wurlitzer licks under her crystalline soprano vocal. Prematurely doomed, innovative guitarist Ricky Wilson rocks a foot back and forth as he slays the album’s signature polyphonic riffs verbatim on various, alternate-tuned Mosrite guitars with missing strings, and drummer Keith Strickland never drops a manic pool-party beat. Utility floaters Cindy Wilson and Fred Schneider fill in the remaining space on bongos and other percussion, synth bass, dance moves, glockenspiel (!), and their own inimitable vocal stylings:

The Police were well on their way to the apogee of pop mega-stardom when they did this Capitol show in support of their third album––Zenyatta Mondatta––just a couple weeks after the B-52s on November 29:

This Police set is a master class on how to both fill and leave space (again with the Taurus Is, and other keyboard textures), and you can feel them slowly leaving the ersatz punk ethos behind in favor of the more nuanced, erudite jazz (and reggae) playing of which they were always possessed (what kind of pop star plays upright and fretless electric basses onstage?? Sting, that’s who). The Police provide ample proof for why power trios occupy so many of the positions in my personal pantheon of favorite bands.

Many shows have been filmed at the Chicago Metro since their 1979 opening. Here is the August 14, 1993 Smashing Pumpkins album release gig for Siamese Dream (this show’s version of “Quiet”, my favorite tune of theirs, is raw fire), PJ Harvey on the Rid of Me tour just a month prior (I love drummer Rob Ellis‘s quirky versatility on backing vocals), and Jeff Buckley on the 1995 Grace tour respectively (the latter two shot by JBTV):

By no means did the US have a monopoly on live and studio concert filming and broadcast. Over in Germany, the TV show Rockpalast, which began in 1974 and actually still airs to this day, was a career boost for hundreds of big-name and breaking acts of the last few decades, including a baby-faced Tears For Fears on tour for The Hurting, and post-punk pioneers Gang of Four, both from 1983:

The UK boasts myriad institutions whose videos can now be enjoyed on YouTube. You can see all kinds of Old Grey Whistle Test clips, hours of footage from any and every British music festival past and present, Top of the Pops, Later with Jools Holland, and shows like The Tube, from which these excellent early ‘80s Big Country performances of intra-album single “Wonderland” and The Crossing’s “Harvest Home” are borrowed:

My ninth album––Gung Ho Hum––dropped in early ’21, and the guitar solo from “Singularity” apparently reminded one of my gracious patron friends of British-founded band King Crimson. I assumed he meant the techno-beast that is Robert Fripp, which is no small compliment to be sure, but I didn’t pay it too much mind, as my only to-date reference point was the 1969 debut In the Court of the Crimson King (and to a much lesser degree, “Lark’s Tongues In Aspic II”), which, being the first release from a young band just starting off on its long prog-rock journey, didn’t quite penetrate and resonate.

Fast forward to some months later, scrolling through the list of “Recommended” videos YouTube is “kind” enough to compile for every user based on their viewing history (or whatever “personal” data the site bought, or nefariously extracted from my phone), and I see the following video in the list:

Turns out it’s not any of the ‘60s/’70s permutations, but excerpts from a live-album-comprising September 29, 1982 Munich performance featuring the Adrian Belew-fronted lineup. Chapman-stick-master Tony Levin holds down the low––and simultaneously contributing to the top––end, and drummer Bill Bruford is the first to appear in the video, augmenting a prerecorded, odd-time electronic percussion loop on a set of trigger pads mid-stage. They had me at Bruford.

A minute or two later, Belew walks on, what’s left of his hair slicked back and ‘80s-resplendent in a slightly oversized, undeniably pastel-pink Miami Vice suit (!), all smiles and jovially bouncy kinetics. The crowd cheers enthusiastically; he waves back and…approaches…the…center-stage microphone… Wait––is he actually going to sing?? I had heretofore only known of Adrian Belew as the guitar texture wizard who contributed a couple of overdubs to the 1994 Nine Inch Nails magnum opus The Downward Spiral, so when he opens his mouth and begins to vocalize, I am taken aback. The melody is earnest, heartfelt and true, his vocal tone clear and robust. After seeing this video, and after a subsequent deep dive into his touring history, it makes perfect sense that he was in Talking Heads’ touring band for a hot minute.

Belew joins Bruford on the digital drum pads…! Then, looking like a hybrid of Mr. Clean and Tom Selleck with his shaved head, mustache, and his tamer version of a Miami Vice suit, Tony Levin walks out to applause and starts shredding a polyrhythmic right-hand motif over left-hand bass notes. Then suddenly a bespectacled Robert Fripp is there, laying down a complementary pattern while he sits on a bench in his bow-tie tux, smiling whimsically, if expressing anything at all. Fripp presides with the composed air of a detached but indulgent college professor.

The song itself––a magnificent piece called “Waiting Man”––feels like expertly controlled chaos until it breaks down to just Tony Levin doing a new variation, allowing Bruford to run back to his drum set. When he drops the beat in with that signature snare sound, it’s like an atom-bomb reminder that his and John Bonham’s bands––Yes and Led Zeppelin respectively––were both signed to Atlantic records at the same time, and they were both around the same age. In other words, the groove is as heavy-hitting as it is compelling, and now Belew is swimming in familiar waters, strapped into his Stratocaster and riding an alternating wave of Hendrixian feedback wails and Fripp-ish tech riffs. Belew sings one final “verse,” only now someone is harmonizing with him so congruously that it sounds like an overdub––WTF?? It’s Tony Levin! It’s so rare for two voices to sound so much alike that when it happens, especially since I already wasn’t expecting vocals from either musician, my dopamine release doubles. These are but the first in an avalanche of surprises.

As they move on through “Matte Kudasai,” (“She sleeps in a chair / In her sad America” gets me every time), instrumental “The Sheltering Sky,” “Neil and Jack and Me,” (that GROOVE again, Bill!), “Indiscipline,” (so THAT’S where I remember “I repeat myself when under stress” from!) and finally “Heartbeat,” I am struck by the sheer variety of genres and moods they produce, in both the songs and instrumentals, even with only six of the set’s ten songs presented here, not a single one of which doesn’t go straight into my soul in a profound way. I love how blatantly obvious it is that they not only enjoy playing what they’ve created but also get a kick out of playing it with each other. I feel as though I have been reunited with four soul brothers with whom I share musical DNA after a lifetime of unwitting separation. A wide variety of accessibly innovative styles, with a group of musicians who enjoy exploring the frontiers and pushing the limits separately and united…that’s what’s lacking in contemporary music, for me personally.

Anyway… Early ‘80s King Crimson; who knew?

I’m arriving late to a lot of these parties. XTC is another band I didn’t really get hip to until just a few years ago, thanks again to YouTube. They didn’t tour for long, leaving the road life behind in 1982 for the sake of Andy Partridge’s perfectionist sanity, so there aren’t too many taped performances past the English Settlement record, which is fine as I don’t care much for the big MTV hit, “Dear God” and wouldn’t want to see it live anyhow.

One of the first clips I stumbled upon was this truncated but no less superlative amphitheater set in the Netherlands on August 8, 1980:

This captures the band in perfect mid-period balance, well into the veer away from the jazz-punk of their early work towards a more accessible pop feel (in other words, New Wave), but with lingering remnants of the former wildness still inherent. Partridge nails the Amish pastor look while he transmogrifies his chronic stage fright into chaotic passive-aggression, and his guitar is high enough in the mix to hear all the clever parts he composed. Bassist Colin Moulding is sphinx-like, splitting lead vocal duties with Partridge while holding down unobtrusively inventive low-end lines. Dave Gregory is the dictionary definition of a utility guy, with spotless guitar work and hooky leads that put him on a par with The Cars’ Elliott Easton and The Knack’s Burton Averre, backing vocals, and clutch keyboard parts. It’s been said that drummer Terry Chambers ultimately left the band because he felt he couldn’t keep up with the music, but he is relentlessly crafty here, stealing the offbeat hi-hat groove back from disco and splendidly repurposing it for these skank-pop masterpieces. His beat on the Moulding-penned and sung “Making Plans For Nigel” is spot-on sublime, evincing the utmost sense of groove out of the expansive, reggae-tinged music. One has to wonder which came out first––“…Nigel,” or one-time touring partner The Police’s “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da,” which are too similar to be coincidental.

Back to the U.S.A for the final video…

Washington D.C.’s FUGAZI, who have now been on indefinite hiatus for 20 years, have been surprisingly laissez faire about bootleg show videos, and offer a somewhat unique solution to quality standard issues. Though doggedly restrictive regarding anyone––including themselves––proliferating and profiting from band merchandise other than the albums, paying members are granted access to the vast trove of recorded shows in the Dischord archive. That means any wallflower fan who managed to drag a cumbersome VHS camera down to––and were somehow allowed inside––the performance venue can go to the website, download, and sync the corresponding show audio from the archive, and throw out the gristly, clippy VHS soundtrack, producing a more professional and enjoyable end result.

Here’s a fine example, captured at the band’s May 3, 1997 Electric Factory show in Philadelphia:


The record industry––or what’s left of it––no longer rewards the authentic, organic works of genius stemming from harnessed talent, but now seems to emphasize cooptive, sure-shot branding based on the monetization of ringers’ sexual attractiveness, with the “creative” output taking a back seat (the recent brouhaha over AI seems like kicking a dead horse, given the fact that most modern pop music already sounds computer-generated). In this light, YouTube is a double-edged sword, because though it has preserved a wide swath of hallowed yesteryear and broadcasts the residual surface shimmer of its erstwhile ethos, the site is also complicit in society’s fetishization of the past as a temporary, nostalgic escape from the untenable now, rather than being an inspirational catalyst for the reintegration of those values into our one-day-and-disaster-at-a-time, serial-crisis culture. High-minded music’s restoration and reinstatement now depends on more conducive conditions and the concerted efforts of future generations, not to mention the present ones’ premeditated transcendence of its distracting present-day quandaries (degraded education, failed institutions, unchecked gun slaughter, income inequality, environmental catastrophe, socio-political and racial splintering, etc., et al.).

Meanwhile, I guess I’ll stay inside where it’s safe, pour myself a bourbon, fire up the YouTube app, view my favorites repeatedly, discover as-of-yet unfamiliar old bands to investigate and enjoy, and keep writing, recording, and releasing obscure music that reflects the higher-minded values I would like to see return.

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