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.