34 years ago today, 15 year-old me was at The Rose Bowl in Pasadena to see The Concert For The Masses.
This concert was headlined by Depeche Mode, ending their Music for the Masses tour. They were my favorite band in the world at the time, so I was always going to go. But it wasn’t just DM. It was also Wire, OMD, and Thomas Dolby! I loved them all, and I couldn’t believe I got to see them all on the same stage, in person.
I could have bought really good tickets in the front section, if I’d thought about it. But 15 year-old me just wanted to be there, so I got tickets from the guy who drove the KROQ promotion van. I think we called him Doc on the Roc? Or Dan in the Van? Something like that. Anyway, I didn’t even have my tickets when I got there. I just got lucky and saw Dan or Doc or whoever he was, and he gave me a paper ticket.
Just think about that. You’re 15, alone, surrounded by thousands of people, and you just happen to be at that one entrance at the exact time the guy who you’re counting on to get you into the venue is there. And this is before cell phones or even pagers were widely available. I marvel at how lucky I got then, not knowing how lucky I was going to get later in the evening.
It was early in the afternoon when I went into the venue. The tickets I had were as far away from the stage as you could get while still being inside the Rose Bowl, near the top of the stadium. Hold your hand out as far as you can, and look at your thumb. GEE YOU’RE DUMB (sorry. couldn’t resist).
The band members on the stage were smaller than my thumb, and they sounded like they were in another county. So I looked around at all the empty seats and just started walking toward the stage. I figured I’d go as far as I could, until someone stopped me.
I got all the way down to like the second section, when I began to feel like I was flying too close to the sun. I tucked myself between a couple of seats, and watched Wire DESTROY that place. Their single at the time was Kidney Bingos. Kidney Dingos? Dingos. Dingoes. Point is, it was a different style than the Wire I knew from Pink Flag, but they still rocked so hard. And in the afternoon, too.
Next up was Thomas Dolby. I loved him because he was a nerd just like me. And Golden Age of Wireless had been on heavy rotation in my Walkman for years. His album at the time was Aliens Ate My Buick, which I loved for all the nerdy weird reasons so many of us still hold dear.
When he finished, it was starting to turn to dusk. The seats started filling up. The Rose Bowl started to feel like a stadium. While I waited for OMD, I stupidly made eye contact with one of the security dudes, who immediately made me as a kid who did not have a ticket for the seat he was in. He started toward me, so I got up and walked … I guess “away from that dude” was my direction. After a minute had passed and I hadn’t been yanked out of the frame by the back of my shirt, I glanced back and saw that he’d returned to his … post? What do you call it when you’re a security dude at a concert? I’m going to call it his post, and won’t bring it up again.
I made my way off the field, up some stairs, and found another empty seat a few rows up, where I watched OMD’s set. They were everything I hoped they would be. I hadn’t owned any of their albums to that point, but I knew all of their songs because of Kara (she’s also how I knew Wire). I remember it getting dark while they played, and by the time they finished their set, there were easily over 50,000 people in the venue, with more pouring in every minute.
It felt like a long time before Depeche came on, much longer than it was between sets for the openers. I’m just now remembering that I didn’t eat or drink anything because I didn’t want to lose this great not-my-seat I’d managed to occupy, probably about 100 feet from the stage, which is REAL close in a stadium. So I just stayed there and waited. Again, this is before cell phones so I didn’t have Instagram to scroll through or any of the things we take for granted today. I just sat there for what felt like an hour, looking around and waiting.
The way I remember it, there wasn’t a sense in the air that the band was about to take the stage. Just, one second everyone was talking and stuff, and then BAM all at once the lights shut off with what felt like a crash. Before we knew what was happening, PIMPF began to play in the darkness. People held up lighters, and the music got louder and louder and louder until it was almost unbearable, this intense piano phrase, ominously repeating until it felt like the walls were going to come down on top of us. It ended as suddenly as it began, the last note ringing out as the crowd roared.
We filled that darkness with our voices and our primal energy, pushing the walls back up, defying them to contain us. The lights on the stage exploded into life, and there they were, my favorite band in the world. It turned out that this crowd could roar even louder, then.
In my memory, they played Behind the Wheel first. I don’t know if that’s correct, but in honor of 15 year-old me, I’m not going to check. What I do remember is not very long into the set, a fucking storm showed up out of nowhere, filled the sky with lightning and rain for a couple songs, and then blew out just as fast.
I can’t recall what the song was. Some fans are adamant that it was “Sacred”, while Richard Blade says it was “Blasphemous Rumors”. Either way, the religious overtones of both songs were enhanced substantially by the freak cloudburst. It was just one of those random coincidences that made an already amazing thing that much more special.
After the rain (what’s up, Dokken fans? I see you. Nice fringe jacket.) I got busted. Whoever had paid for the seat I was in showed up to claim it, and while I was doing my best to find a new place to sit, a security dude nailed me.
But check this out. He looked at me and said, “are you Wesley on Star Trek?” and I was like, “Uh, yeah?” And he said, “Where’s your seat?”
I didn’t even try to pretend. I showed him my ticket.
“Okay, come with me,” he said, and walked me up the steps toward the concourse. I could hear the concert happening without me, and I was pretty sure I was getting kicked out of the Rose Bowl.
But he ended up taking me to the press box. He told me that these were great seats, nobody was using them, and I could sit anywhere. “You’re a really good actor,” he said, before he left.
Everything Went Better Than Expected dot JPEG.
I watched the rest of the concert from the front row of the press box. It wasn’t as cool as being 100 feet from the band, but the view was pretty great, and I had permission to be there.
I think they finished with Master and Servant. It was that or … Never Let Me Down Again? I can’t remember for sure. Again, 34 years ago and looking it up is cheating.
So we all knew the encore was coming, but this really weird night was about to get even more weird. I was looking out at 60,000 people holding lighters up, chanting, screaming, cheering, building the energy we would release when the band came back onstage … when the brightest, harshest, florescent lights in the universe came on in the press box. The couple dozen people in it all turned as one to yell at whoever turned them on to turn them back off … and it was my history teacher from 9th grade.
I didn’t know then that we paid teachers such appalling wages it wasn’t uncommon for them to work multiple jobs, so it was as shocking as the brightness of the light to see her in a Staff Pro jacket. I remember she looked confused, I heard someone say the encore hadn’t happened, I watched her shrug, and the lights turned back off. I didn’t see her again, which, based on how awkward I feel remembering it now, is probably for the best.
The band came back and played a couple of songs, finishing as they always did with Everything Counts.
Math says it’s unlikely any of you reading this were also at this show. But if you were, you know what an experience it was to sing along with 60,000 people, filling up the entire Rose Bowl and beyond with our voices. It felt magical. I can feel the vibration in my bones, 34 years later.
After the show, that area where I’d miraculously run into Dan the Van (I really hope that’s correct because what a great name) was a boiling mass of sweaty, post-concert humanity. I got overwhelmed and lost in it real quick, and I couldn’t find the car that was supposed to take me home. As I began to panic, I saw a familiar face: Richard Blade, who most of you know from Sirius XM, was my friend. He was the afternoon DJ on KROQ. An absolute legend in Los Angeles. A guy who knew EVERYONE you cared about in music. And what a kind human! Richard patiently let me sit in the studio all the time, because he knew I wanted to be a DJ, It was so massively inappropriate that I went there, almost every day after school at Paramount, but I didn’t know any better and nobody ever told me I couldn’t, so.
I saw Richard, and I guess he saw how panicked I was because he walked over to me immediately. He asked if I was okay, and I told him I couldn’t find my car to get home.
So Richard Blade offered to give me a ride. I think he was with his wife? I can’t remember exactly who it was, but they took me home like that had been the plan all along.
And all of that happened 34 years ago, today. Wild.
34 thoughts on “34 years ago today, 15 year-old me was at The Rose Bowl in Pasadena to see The Concert For The Masses.”
I was there and it was Magic ™. Except for Wire. Not a fan. But everything else and especially Everything Counts was amazing. It’s still my favorite concert of all time.
And Pimpf. Yeah, that opening. Wow.
I later saw 101 in the theater, and it all came back. Such a special night.
I have several “under 30” cousins, nieces and nephews that have not experienced one of these huge musical events. I was not at this show, but have been lucky enough to attend many others ( from The Rolling Stones to Neil Youngs “Bridge Street” concerts etc) with such great line-ups.
I don’t care if who it is they go see, there is something about the energy with those big crowds just getting into the music…even you less than favorite bands/genre are elevated. Watching the HBO/Netflix/Prime concert is NOT the same.
I saw the Stones in Tempe where John Cougar opened. The infamous show where someone threw a bottle and smashed him in the head! Must’ve been early ’80s. A friend of mine literally camped at Metrocenter to get tix. There was at least one other opening act, don’t have a clue who they were.
Even small shows can have the same effect. My favorite time I saw my favorite band (sadly broken up now) was in a small club with about 200 people. And we all knew ALL THE WORDS. And sang them. It was amazing.
Wow! What a great story! Thank so much — love the blog, reader since 2004
Thanks for sharing. I would have loved to have been there but you let me see a little of it through your eyes.
One of my favorite non metal bands. Depeche Mode is one of those bands that transcend genres and just speaks to your soul!!
There is no way at 15 I would have been brave enough to go to such a big concert by myself, let alone without a ticket! Kudos to all those kind people, know and unknown who gave you such a great memory!
Beautiful story told well. Love it.
It was Don who drive the van in ’88. Big Dave took over in ’89. I to grew up with KROQ and went to the teen dance clubs with Richard being DJ. He was and still is the nicest person!
I never got to go, mom wouldnt let me lol but i have watched 101 so many times and listened to the album to know that you are correct after PIMPF was Behind the Wheel. I love this story, it was a cool time back then, KROQ was a great station then too! Thanks for sharing!
I was there and the entire day was life changing. It was my 14th birthday, as today is my 48th. I will never forget that day. Sometimes it feels like it was yesterday and others, feels like a lifetime ago. I have seen them 49 times since that day, and I just pray that they aren’t done yet.
I was there. It was EPIC!! Best concert ever ( and I have seen a lot)! I was in the section just below the press box. How can you not mention the food fight that ensued? Someone threw a beer up into the Press Box and Richard and other DJ’s (maybe Doc on the Roc – that was his name) threw beer back at the perpetrators…the world’s biggest beer/food fight ensued amongst the entire Rose Bowl!! 65,000 plus. Hilarious!!
Who knew that night I would win a Grand Prize package 25 years later of signed DM gear, including a purple sequined vest worn and signed by Dave, for describing my experience from that show.
All the bands were great, and DM is still my favorite band. 🖤🌹💋 For 18 years of my life, from 1981 to 1999, if DM played 5 nights in LA, I was there every night. I would also fly up to Mountain View to see them at Shoreline Amphitheater. They are an amazing band!! Still have a dream to see they play in Berlin or other European countries. Hopefully they will honor Andy “Fletch” Fletcher by doing another world tour. 🌎 I think he would 🖤 it. Make it happen Fletch! 😇😘
wil / you’re a good person and always have been — never looking to cause harm and generally leave a place in better condition than you found it. for a good part of your life you got a raw deal (fellow club member here), but even then you maintained your course… here’s the thing: people saw that. you didn’t have to shout it out or carry it on a bumper sticker. it is/was seen, known and felt. the unfortunate part is that — for a good part of the journey — you felt lonely, that no one noticed/cared, and that there’s hardly a point when the bad guys keep #winning… but, what we intuit as luck might-just-maybe be a culmination of decent people treating other decent people decently. it seems to happen so rarely on a large scale, but you’ve illustrated how it happens on a micro-scale more often that we might realize… to the point that we attribute it to randomness vs. being one of the good guys. keep being you.
I saw DM in 2013 and wish I could have seen some of that energy. They played mostly songs that nobody knew (from a newer album?) and I was generally super bored. I sat down most of the show. I was also about 7 months pregnant with twins so that may have had something to do with it 😉
Happy Father’s Day, Wil.
Awesome! Sounds like a great time! Kind of funny that you were worrying over nothing, but completely understandable.
I also saw Dolby on the Aliens Ate My Buick tour, in my case in Tempe, AZ at a place called Chuy’s, long since gone. The opening act forgotten, not remotely memorable. Aside from Dolby being awesome, I remember the woman drumming for the Lost Toy People breaking a drum stick – the first time I saw that in a live show. It is a great album, many tracks still loaded on my iPhone.
1988/20 year old me would have lost my mind at the chance to go to that show — and TOTALLY chickened out of it. Just between Depeche Mode and Dolby … dang!! I can’t even begin to imagine going to something like that by myself at 15. Even at 35 I would have been intimidated. Now (54), I finally fit in my skin well enough that I’d go. (But I’d still be too chicken to seat-surf. 😀 ) Go you! And thank you for sharing the story. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Thomas Dolby I’ve been meaning to pick up again and I think this is an excellent time to do it.
Wil, to my mind, you are and always will be “cool” (in reference to Kara from your other post). There are moments in our lives when the sights, sounds, and smells around us just combine in the perfect way to leave an indelible — and delightful and meaningful — mark on our psyche.
With regard to the experience of music, my first such concert was seeing The Wall in Dortmund when I was 11. My Italian cousins were huge fans and we traveled by train from Italy to see Pink Floyd spin this amazing musical narrative. I can only liken it to seeing Star Wars for the first time but much more exhilarating and encompassing from a sensory perspective.
Most recently my wife of 17 years took me to see Coldplay at Levi Stadium as an early Father’s Day gift. The concert utilized synchronized LED wristband technology on a scale I had never seen before. I can say definitively that I felt again like I was a 7 or 11 year old, catapulted back in time to experience the joy of my youth.
All this to say that it’s nice to know we can still, in middle age, damaged, weathered, healed or not, still find refuge in the sound and lightscapes created by artists of both the past and present.
Happy Father’s Day!
Your magic moment with the cloudburst and everything reminds me of my first concert. I was in summer school, between my junior and senior years at Berkeley, and I’d never been to one of these things before. It was a joint concert between Bob Dylan and my most favorite artist, Paul Simon. I didn’t know you had to get tickets ahead of time, so I headed out to the venue early to see if they were selling tickets and of course, they weren’t.
Some other people showed up and had a spare ticket they’d let me buy off them. But I didn’t have cash, so I had to walk to a Safeway a mile or so away — and unlike Berkeley, which is pretty temperate even in the summer, Concord could get warm so it was a bit of an unpleasant walk. I made it there and then back with about half an hour to spare, paid the person for the ticket, and got in line.
Now I wasn’t overly familiar with Dylan beyond some mp3s I’d downloaded off Napster to get a feel for his music. And while I admit Dylan can be a bit of an acquired taste, I was already a bit of a folkie, so some of his songs just captivated me. I’m there, sitting on the grass, marveling at simply being there. And as the sun was setting, Dylan starts in on “It’s Not Dark Yet” and I look around. The song’s pretty melancholy, but coming right at dusk like it did — it’s a moment I’ll never forget. I mean, Simon did a great job too, but my one outstanding memory was that.
Turns out that concert was 23 years ago last Saturday now that I look it up. Time flies.
Sounds like you had a wonderful experience, Wil, and I’m glad you remember it fondly. May we all have memories like that.
Depeche Mode, the soundtrack to my life! My greatest regret in life is not having been at this show. I desperately wanted to be with the winners of the WDRE contest to go to that show!
I have since seen DM many times, though the show at Red Rocks in 2009 is easily my favorite. The combination of that venue, and DM…I still get chills thinking of it.
My wife and I had our first date at Dave Gahan’s Paper Monsters show in Denver at the Fillmore. She is now as much a Devotee as I.
“Budapest by Blimp” was the highlight of AAMB. A few years later, Mr. Robertson outdid himself with “Astronauts and Heretics.” “I Live in a Suitcase,” anyone?
But you can’t proclaim to be a true fan unless you own/owned a copy of “Gate to the Mind’s Eye,” both CD and VHS.
It’s a bit sad that most people these days know of him only through THAT ONE SONG (“all my tubes and wires and careful notes!”).
Kharmann Gia plates say “Lost in Space.”
(That last line, from “Airhead,” always strikes me as being brilliant in its cultural contrast, which is why I mention it just about any time anyone brings up “Buick.”) 🙂
Airhead ages so poorly, Dolby does a new version where a woman he knows relyrics the song and calls him out. It’s fantastic.
It was always a bit p.c. cringey and saucy, even for its time (always enjoyed the video, though). But some clever lyrical wordplay.
Where can I find this new version?
I don’t know where you can find it. I saw him perform it on the Star Trek cruise a couple years ago.
22 year old me was at that concert also. The best concert I’ve been to. Who knew that concert would become so iconic. I was just a kid going to see his favorite band. With you knowing Richard Blade from hanging out at the station, I’m surprised you didn’t try to get tickets from him. Pretty risky waiting until the day off, hoping to get a free ticket from the KROQ Van. Good story. Thanks.
Maybe, maybe not a comparable feeling: Northwestern University used to do a Band Day at one of their home football games, where 4000+ high schoolers would fill the football field at halftime and play three or four songs. In the middle of that group, playing the Beatle’s Ticket to Ride, was soul-satisfying.
That would’ve been 1988, and while I remember Thomas Dolby’s single “She Blinded Me With Science” appealed to me because nerdular nerdance, I never was a Depeche Mode fan. I would’ve been 13 at the time, which was around the age I just had started my transition from listening to the rock and pop tapes my dad made for me into the Metalhead I’d be for the next 30 years. (I still love metal, but my tastes have expanded significantly in the last 5 years.)
Depeche Mode was what my step-sister would listen to (like Madonna and the Go-Gos), and since I hated her, I hated them.
That said, I loved your story. It reminds of of that time in our teens when we start reaching out on our own, trying new things and yearning for new experiences where events could so easily spiral out of control, sometimes everything seems to come together, almost magically, creating once in a lifetime memories.
that’s a great story – just finding it today (thursday 23rd). As it happens i saw OMD last saturday, I guess as you were writing this – good to see they are stil gigging and loving it. Never quite made the heights of depeche mode – but still worth checking out if an 80-s festival comes near you any time soon
OMG I was there! Kidding, I was like 5 (and to be honest I had to google Thomas Dolby). But I’m kind of jealous that you were around and could go, although I won’t pretend I don’t have questions about 15 year old boys attending concerts alone with tickets they bought from guys in vans in the parking lot. That sounds like the opener to a move of the week. I’m glad it turned out to be a cool experience for you. The last time I felt that kind of energy was at a protest march for the environment when there were thousands of people walking down Queen St. W singing Queen, which has nothing to do with climate change, but was super fun.
You talking about bugging the DJ reminds me of this interview with you that very randomly popped up on my YouTube feed. It was like “baking video, band you like, random interview with Wil Wheaton and guy you’ve never heard of about nothing in particular from 1992” – the algorithm is wild. Anyway, it was this one (since after successfully dodging covid this whole time, it finally, finally caught up with me and I now have all the time in the world to hunt for random videos I half watched years ago ): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgyXz0iNXDU&ab_channel=lovebadboys complete with actual footage of you annoying a former LA DJ (I’m kidding you were cute).
And just now I realized that your “adopted” son was never Anne’s baby, and you’ve been keeping secrets this whole time.
On the subject of not-so obscure 80s bands, here’s a faux 80s euro-pop song that seems like it might be your kind of thing (or not). Its fun because people think they know it and then you get to convince people was actually released in 2022 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBmM9pvUh5k
Tove Lo also dropped the second single of her upcoming album yesterday, I don’t know if you can listen to that yet, or if you need like at least a 3 month buffer… 😀 I liked the first single, but this one is too low key for me. I don’t hate it though.
Completely off topic (even for me) but bear with me a second pretty please. So, when I had my son I had complications that totaled my digestive tract, and I need yet another surgery that was delayed because of the pandemic and I take some not great medication for it. One of the main side effects is that this medication interferes with my ability to absorb certain nutrients (and seriously, I absolutely chose to have my son, but fuck the forced birthers so fucking hard). Anyway, awhile ago I knew there was something wrong, but I could not figure out what. I went to multiple doctors and they all said I was fine physically and psychologically, which I knew could not be true. Finally they agreed to re-check everything. I have a thyroid condition which causes antibodies that show up in my bloodstream as a false vitamin B12 reading, and even with those, my blood levels were at 30% of the minimum for normal function. So vitamin B12 is what creates new blood cells, and without it your body doesn’t work, and there are a mountain of physical symptoms, but it primarily affects neurological functions, because your brain isn’t getting enough blood to work properly.
” Vitamin B12 deficiency is a commonly overlooked cause of psychiatric and even some neurological illnesses. Common neuropsychiatric illnesses associated with B12 deficiency are dementia, neuropathies, depression, and irritability. Authors concluded that OCD was an early manifestation of B12 deficiency. ”
“a severe vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to deep depression, paranoia and delusions, memory loss, incontinence, loss of taste and smell, and more.”
I’ve been taking prescriptions supplements to fix it since around September and seem to be fully recovering, which is extremely lucky, but everyone I talk to keeps telling me I’ve changed so much, and I’m so much better. This is not actually fun for me. I was talking to my husband the other day and I said “I wasn’t that bad, was I? I’m still mostly the same, right?” and he was like “…um…I love you…?” and then we had a long conversation about how not ok I was and how I was absolutely, definitely that bad. Like, giant, raging, insufferable asshole, he was thinking of leaving and would have if I hadn’t been actively trying to get better kind of bad (we’re all good now, he’s still my best friend and the love of my life. It’s fine. Hopefully).
Why am I telling you this? Well I’m pretty sure you, like most of the people in life, were on the receiving end of some unpleasantness from my damaged neurological state and I’m pretty sure you went out of your way to be kind and patient and tolerated some pretty shitty behaviour. So I am sorry. Whatever was happening there had nothing to do with you at all. It nothing to do with anyone or anything but me. I know you were having a rough time last year and even almost died and your wife got sick, which is horrible and I feel terrible that I was awful to you (and everyone else on earth apparently) you don’t deserve awfulness.
Covid! I had a point to bringing this up (aside from the apology) and it was covid. My first covid symptoms were actually sleep disruption and anxiety attacks. You know those ones you wake up with in the middle of the night and you wish you could just die? I haven’t had issues with those in a while, but they came back with a vengeance when I was first getting sick. The attacks even started coming during the day completely out of nowhere, which had never happened to me before. I’ve looked it up, and these are apparently fairly common covid symptoms. My blood oxygen readings never went below 97% so it was not low oxygen. I think it might be related to B12, because aenemia can cause anxiety and anxiety related insomnia and I know it does for me, and my aenemia is caused by the B12 deficiency. I’ve also had a post covid resurgence of neuropathy, and oral health issues, which are both low B12 markers (I think it takes awhile for this to happen for most people, but not me because the damage is already done). I’ve checked the research on B12 and Covid and it’s all over the map, but low B12 is a recommended treatment for long Covid, particularly the pschological symptoms.
Anyway, if you have an emergency anxiety prescription you haven’t used for awhile I’d make sure it’s not expired and you have some available, because I really needed mine. If you end up with Covid and it messes with your mental health then I might suggest you check your bloodwork first. Hopefully this won’t happen to you, but I cope with things so much better when I understand them and I can do something about them. I doubled the dose on my B12 sublinguals and am pretty much fine now, the anxiety and insomnia aren’t totally gone, but they’re much improved. Whether they would have been anyway? I don’t know.
FYI, we’re all fully vaccinated with 3 shots, (we weren’t eligible for a 4th). My son, who got his 3rd shot in March, brought it home from school at the beginning of June.
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