Charlotte 2009: The NINJA Tour (or, where is your header photo from?)

If there’s something that’s almost guaranteed to make a gig memorable, it’s travelling to get there. Sure, it may not be memorable for all the right reasons, but it’ll be memorable all the same.

It’s something I think London dwellers really don’t understand – many of them only ever see bands within a 10-mile radius of their house or at a festival. And it means they miss out on a whole different type of gig goer. It’s not dominated by poseurs, wannabes and music snobs – in fact, these out-of-London gigs tend to populated mostly by normal people.

So if you haven’t experienced this, little Londoner (or New Yorker, or probably any music capital) break the habit. Get on a coach, a train or jump into the car and go see someone somewhere truly exotic – maybe Harlow, Northampton or Norwich. Even further north if you’re feeling brave (don’t forget your jabs). Really. You won’t regret it.

Or, of course, Charlotte, North Carolina. My only previous gig in America had been the JAPUNKS Festival in CBGBs, New York a good few years earlier – an experience and a half (largely thanks to Peelander Z) that I may well recount another time. It’s fair to say Charlotte was a little different.

The gig was at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre on a balmy June day in 2009; a fantastic open space dug into a hillside about 10 miles north of the city.

Despite it just being a three-band bill it soon became clear this was an event, not just a gig – the car park was rammed when we got their hours early with people ding that thing Americans do so well (and this really isn’t an insult) – eating and drinking from the backs of trucks.

Seeing bands during the day is always a bit weird – luckily it’s only something I normally have to do at festivals. But thanks to the unique (for me at least) surroundings it was way better than I could’ve expected. While it’s safe to say this wasn’t ancient Greece, what can I say – this was still my first amphitheatre experience.

First up were Street Sweeper Social Club, a band I’ve consequently failed to get into on CD but who were thoroughly entertaining live.

For the uninitiated, the band features the guitar noodlings of Tom Morello (Rage Against Machine, Audioslave) and the rock-rap musings of Boots Riley (The Coup).

Not a million miles musically from the bands they spawned from (unsurprisingly), it was the kind of sound that would’ve worked way better in a scummy club but was good enough to hold the attention on a sunny day with the beer flowing too. In between songs, Riley kept saying: “Street Sweeper Social Club! It’s more than just a band – it’s a social club!” Right on – I’ll have whatever he’s having.

Next, with daylight still pouring in, came Nine Inch Nails.  I’d not seen the band live before (I know), but what a way to see them.

Luckily we were far enough into the venue to get the benefit of the fading light, dry ice and awesome light show, while musically they hit the ground running and blew me away. The header to the blog is taken from a shot of this set.

Easy to dismiss (wrongly) as the kind of teen goth band you should grow out of, there’s a child-like intenseness to Reznor that is impossible to ignore on stage. And fuck, I haven’t grown out of Gary Numan yet and I’ve been going to see him since 1984, so there’s little hope for me giving up on these guys so easily.

That he owes a debt to Gary Numan is not in doubt, but that Numan now owes one to him for resurrecting his sound, if not his career, makes it evens. A fantastic show.

So with night closing in it was time for Jane’s Addiction to close the evening. The last time I could remember seeing them was at Brixton Academy what seemed like a lifetime earlier, back in 1991.

In truth it wasn’t the best show ever; his voice was a little off and between the top NIN performance and the beer/heat there was more than a little after the Lord Mayor’s Show about the whole thing. But certain tracks will stay with me: ‘Whores’, ‘Ocean Size’, ‘Jane Says’ – songs that are brilliant whatever context I hear them in.

But more important than any of the individual bands was the overall experience: driving through North Carolina to get there; the friends who came along for the ride (hi to Simon, Gabs, Matt and TJ), the venue, even the beer and the T-shirt.

I’ll leave you with the YouTube clip below. All the pics above are mine but this isn’t, sadly – great job though ‘funsizelvis’, whoever you may be. Thanks for bothering to upload it and remind me even more vividly of a cracking holiday.

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