Opening Wolfgang’s Vault

A few weeks ago, a friend who knows I think Bono can do no wrong – so sue me – sent me a link to a concert he and the boyos did at Boston’s Orpheum Theater in May 1983, in the thick of the War tour. It’s almost 90 minutes of fresh, mullety goodness, opening with the best song on Boy, “Out of Control,” and marching past “Electric Co.,” “Gloria,” “Two Hearts Beat As One,” and “New Year’s Day” to a thrilling conclusion of a six-minute “I Will Follow” and “40,” which also closed most shows on 2005’s Vertigo trip.

Yes, Phil Collins had hair once. Lots of it, even.
That show was the portal to Wolfgang’s Vault, a Web site compiling hundreds of concerts, most from the archives of the long-running King Biscuit Flower Hour radio program. Almost all are from the 70s and 80s, everyone from Patti Smith and Talking Heads at CBGB’s to Pink Floyd at the Oakland Coliseum in 1977 and Bruce Springsteen at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom in 1978. Monday, the most popular were Little Feat at Winterland, Valentine’s Day 1976; the Ramones at New York’s Palladium, January 1978; and Ry Cooder at the Record Plant in Sausalito, Calif., in July 1974.

Quite a few of Wolfgang’s shows are available for purchase, but every one can be streamed gratis by anyone who signs up for a free account. And King Biscuit, by the way, can still be heard 2pm Mondays, 8pm Tuesdays, and 2am Saturdays on XM Radio’s Deep Tracks, channel 40; this week is Roxy Music, with Laura Nyro next week, then Tom Petty and the Allman Brothers rounding out July.

Well over half of the carefully annotated shows originate from either New York or the Bay Area. Exactly two were recorded in Houston, both by bands probably playing this very moment on either the Arrow or the Point. From Hofheinz Pavilion in October 1978 comes an hour-long Genesis set as the English progsmiths – who opened the London leg of last weekend’s Live Earth concerts – adjusted to life without Peter Gabriel by turning in a more pop-friendly direction; the album they were pimping at the time was And Then There Were Three. The accompanying photo of Phil Collins, sporting shoulder-length locks and mountain-man beard, is priceless.

Three years later, Journey, then exploding into the hearts and minds of small-town boys and city girls across America with “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Open Arms,” and “Any Way You Want It,” hit the Summit for a stop on the Escape tour simulcast on both MTV and FM radio. The 75-minute set, preserved for posterity on 2005’s Live in Houston: The Escape Tour CD/DVD, also includes hits like “Wheel in the Sky,” “Lights,” and “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin,” but the highlight has to be Steve Smith’s four-minute drum solo, which gets its own track listing as, appropriately enough, “Drum Solo.” Amazingly, this is the only Journey concert Wolfgang’s currently offers.

As for other Texas cities in Wolfgang’s vault, metal-mad San Antonio is represented with two shows from the San Antonio Civic Center: a September 1982 date with Judas Priest and December 1983 Motley Crue concert that opens with “Shout at the Devil” and ends with seven-minute versions of “Looks That Kill” and “Live Wire,” plus a closing cover of “Helter Skelter.” Dallas has several, from a 30-minute December 1979 Blondie set to Foreigner at Reunion Arena in 1981 and two Merle Haggard sets at the Longhorn Ballroom (one of two Texas stops on the Sex Pistols’ ill-fated 1978 tour) in February 1982. Finally, the best of the six shows recorded in Austin would have to be either the two-hour Fabulous Thunderbirds marathon from the Austin Opera House in May 1987, with guests Bonnie Raitt, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, and Robert Cray; or Houston’s own ZZ Top from an unknown location in July 1982: four songs, two medleys, and 26 minutes of full-blast tube snake boogie. – Chris Gray

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