Friday Night Concert: California Jam 2 1978

Travel back in time with us to the pre-cable and VCR days when rock bands could only ever be briefly glimpsed on TV late on Friday nights, and if you were lucky, you might get to see a full show. Every week, I will be posting the kind of show that would have made me excited to stay up past 11, at some time between 1976 and 1984. So have a cup of coffee, eat some sugar, connect the audio output of your TV to your hi-fi system and play this Youtube video LOUD!

This week’s pick was basically chosen for us by Dave Grohl and Joshua Homme, with their decision to brand their own massive rock festival in the Glen Helen region of Southern California, which takes place tomorrow, in honor of good old Cal Jam. As legendary as those 1974 and 1978 concerts may have been in the minds of us kids who read Circus Magazine and saw some sketchy video of it on TV at the time, no one for the last thirty-none has ever bothered to stage a big festival and call it THAT. The name and the brand were allowed to die off. Maybe it was too evocative of its specific moment in time.

But that same quality also makes it the perfect brand to revive today. Because I believe this is truly where Grohl and Homme see themselves – playing on a giant stage to an ocean of shirtless longhairs, standing arm in arm with Aerosmith, Heart and Ted Nugent.

That Nuremburg Rally aspect of rock music, the desire to see an ocean of people respond dramatically in unison, has never really gone away, but it was definitely at its high point in 1978. No shots linger on the musicians too long without panning out to show the enormity of the event, so many people in one place it makes your head spin. As a TV viewer, you get to feel part of a massive, historic gathering of spirit without having to actually share a bathroom and wait in line for a hot dog with half a million other people. There’s an implied excitement to the event by dint of sheer size. Even soft-rockin’ Bob Welch gets a heck of a head of steam brewing on “Your Eyes” – lots of people responding in unison make soft rock positively thrilling.

One attendee of the original Cal Jam was bassist and LA Beat columnist Mike Watt, who told me about being physically pressed into a metal fence so forcefully, he had the waffle pattern of the fencing imprinted on his face and body. Twenty-one years later, Watt had one of his biggest radio hits with this little number, released in 1995 at the height of Seattle Mania. The drummer on it is Dave Grohl.

Have a great time at the gig tomorrow and enjoy tonight’s video.


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