The Fillmore, For Beginners

by

Fillmore East & West - book

I picked up this snazzy little relic during a recent excursion through our local flea market. It’s a pretty lightweight book, and the Fillmore franchise is used here merely as a flimsy pretense to pimp the biographies of nine rock bands. Only the first and last chapters actually touch on Fillmores East & West, and even those aren’t worth much except unintentional humor. Here’s a sample describing the Fillmore East crowd, circa 1970:

“And what are they wearing to the Fillmore tonight? Surplus Army clothes are dropping off somewhat. Safari hats are making a comeback. Maxis are minimum in number. Shawls and ponchos are still in. Boots seem on the way out. Jeans will apparently always be with us. On and on the fashion models file into the Fillmore. Beards are bigger than ever – though John Lennon’s new haircut has had a startling effect on a few of the trendsetters. Outsize colored glasses, properly referred to as “shades,” have reached a new peak.”

Whew! For a minute there I thought my ponchos and shawls had slipped out of style…

The last chapter of the book – by far its most perversely interesting – recounts the author’s visit to Fillmore East for a tripleheader that included The Allman Brothers Band, Love, and the Grateful Dead. After spending considerable time explaining why the opening band rarely measures up to the groups that follow, the author reveals that the freakin’ Allman Brothers were the openers that night. But, having sipped extensively from his own cauldron of Kool Aid, he pans them mercilessly for playing too loud.

In short, this is a poor excuse for a book. But it’s an excellent excuse for me to pick up the baton where “James A. Hudson” (no doubt a PR pseudonym) dropped it, and recount some of my own Fillmore memories. While I never made it to Fillmore East (it closed its doors on June 27, 1971 with a concert headlined, coincidentally, by the Allman Brothers), I’ve enjoyed plenty of shows at The Fillmore in San Francisco. By chance, it reopened for business in April 1994 – after 5 years of seismic retrofitting – just a few weeks after I moved to the city. It quickly became one of my favorite places for a night out, and I’ve spent countless evenings in its cozy confines. Here are ten memorable shows I’ve seen in this shrine for music:

Johnny Cash [11/9/96] – This remains the single greatest concert I’ve ever attended, bar none. Memorable for a thousand reasons, though probably not so memorable for my ex-girlfriend, who passed out in the Ladies’ Room midway through the show. Cash had the crowd-of-all-ages in the palm of his hand, and delivered a legendary performance for the ages.

Primus [4/29/94] – My first trip to the Fillmore, a few weeks after I moved to SF, and the second concert put on at the reconstituted venue. I immediately fell in love with the place and its aura of rock god sweat and history. I was particularly thrilled by the upstairs lounge, which is covered wall-to-wall in vintage Fillmore posters, and stands as a veritable museum of rock history.

Blackalicious/Public Enemy [10/10/02] – Blackalicious opened, PE closed. Go ahead and believe the hype, because Public Enemy is every bit as good in concert as they are on disc. Chuck D growled and prowled, Flavor Flav cracked wise, and a whole room full of white people spent an evening shaking their collective arse to a bunch of songs about what a bunch of devils they are. Brilliant fun.

Iggy Pop [4/29/01] – My buddy Furr called me the the night of the show with an extra and I went along on a whim. Iggy immediately blew me away with his urgency and energy, repeatedly leaping into the crowd and slamming his mic stand to the ground. He and his band ripped through a greatest-hits-like set of classic Stooges and Iggy songs, culminating with an absolutely flammable version of ’1969′. Awesome.

Steve Earle [3/13/01] – This was another fortunate last second Furr ride-along. I’d not heard of Earle at all before this 2001 show, but was quickly won over by his storyteller presence and liberal-minded monologues. He and his band capped an incredible performance with a blistering version of The Stones’ ‘Sweet Virginia’. Gracias, el senor Furr!

Femi Kuti [6/19/04] – Fela Kuti’s gifted son put on an amazing display of Afrobeat prowess, but this one is memorable because it was my first chance to take my Uncle Henry to The Fillmore. He lived in SF during the late 60′s and early 70′s and visited all of the rock ballrooms of the day, so it was especially cool for me to be able to take him out for a night of music. And so there was great music, and much dancing ensued…

The Strokes [10/16/01] – This show took place right after their first album was released. In fact, they played for just 35 minutes, going through every song on their debut, but with such energy that every person there got full money’s worth. The evening was summed up by lead singer Julian Casablancas flicking his lit cigarette at the velvet stage curtains – one way or another, this group was determined to burn the joint down.

P-Funk All-Stars [9/12/98] – Without a doubt the loudest show I’ve ever been through. This was like standing in the middle of a funk hurricane, as George Clinton and company pranced around in costumes and rocked the house to its ever-loving foundation. CAN I GET TO WHAT?!?

My Morning Jacket/M. Ward [5/9/04] – MMJ represents the best of Southern rock, reincarnate, and they never fail to put on a full-throttle evening of rock & roll. These guys are probably the closest thing to the vintage Allman Brothers that I’ll get to see in my lifetime. Take an evening of extended, red-hot guitar jams, throw in M. Ward as an opener, and what you’ve got is one incredible show.

Shuggie Otis [7/7/01] – Hands down the worst show I’ve ever seen. Shuggie was high on something other than life, and the Fillmore went from packed full to three-quarters empty in less than 30 minutes. Shuggie limp-wristed his way around the guitar and organ, slurred his vocals, and spewed the kind of weak, show-bizzy jive between songs that made you almost happy to watch him crash and burn so spectacularly. Hey, I said ‘memorable’, not ‘best’…

Bill Graham - Fillmore
Bill Graham surveys his domain.

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4 Responses to “The Fillmore, For Beginners”

  1. World B. Furr Says:

    Did he really do Sweet Virginia? I remember “Before They Make Me Run” but the Anheiser Busch folks might have something to do with my lack of memory on Sweet Virginia. Somehow I can indeed recall him saying the “Gotta scrape the sh!t right off your shoes” line.

    “Budweiser. It’s a lager from Fairfield.”

  2. dkpresents Says:

    Naw, I think the line was ‘And I hid the speed inside my shoe’.

    Good one for ol’ Steve Earle…

  3. Jo in LA Says:

    I have concert retrieval problems and ‘Steel Trap Memory’ Furr can tell you what I’ve seen better than I. However, I do recall one of my all time favorite Fillmore shows was the first time I saw Ben Harper – May 24, 1996. Ticket stub review confirms that a good time was also had at Joe Walsh, Santana, and Funky Meters show. Furr caught a harmonica at a Blues Traveler show in May 1994 and we watched a very drunk Greg Allman helped off the stage at a Gibson Guitar Benefit that same year. My back aches just thinking about standing room only. Ahh, the Fillmore …Good times!

  4. World B. Furr Says:

    I just came across that harmonica the other day. Still tastes like John Popper.

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