Traffic At The New Haven Arena

Traffic At The New Haven Arena

The New Haven Arena was on Grove Street in New Haven. It was built for indoor ice hockey in 1914, burned down in 1924, and reopened in 1927. I never saw a hockey game there. My first visit was to see the circus as a very young child. I have a vague memory of the elephants and the tightrope walker, and not much beyond that. The Arena was demolished in 1974, replaced by the New Haven Coliseum that was completed in 1972.

What I remember most about the “Arena” are the rock & roll concerts I saw there. My all-time favorite was Traffic touring in support of the Low Spark of High Heel Boys LP, released in November of 1971. The concert took place on January 11, 1972. I was lucky to be working for the local newspaper at the time and had a New Haven Register ID. This allowed me to go up to the stage and take pictures. 

Generally, the sound at the arena was horrible; it sounded like you would expect a loud rock & roll band to sound like in a cavernous hockey rink. Also, they just put wood over the ice, so it was always freezing sitting in floor seats. 

That night’s show was completely different from all others. The sound was fantastic! JJ Cale opened and did a solo set. I have to say I had no idea who he was and don’t remember his set. 

Then Traffic hit the stage and hit the ground running with a tight set, playing the entire Low Spark of  High Heel Boys  LP. Steve Winwood switched off between a Gibson Firebird (later stolen on tour), a Martin D-28 (that looked pretty much new) and keyboards. Of course, they also played “Dear Mister Fantasy”. My favorite part of the show was when Steve played his D-28 on “John Barleycorn Must Die” and “Rainmaker”. Chris Wood looked like the picture of cool with his sax hanging from him while playing flute. I got right up to the stage and took pictures. This night was one of those concerts I look back on often. 

The Replacements at Toad’s Place

The Replacements at Toad’s Place

I spent the greater part of the early Nineties playing guitar in the electric alt-rock band The Name. One night in Middletown, CT, the band’s instruments and amps were stolen from a parked car. After a gig at The Moon in New Haven, we weighed our options and decided the easiest course of action was to become an acoustic rock band. The advantages were clear: less stuff to own, move and maintain.

I traveled to all our gigs in a beat-up Dodge van. The only thing that worked right was the cassette player. At the time, I was living on a steady diet of REM, The Silos and The Replacements. I was a true believer in The Replacements and devoured every recording. I would search out magazine articles and read everything I could about them.

Musician did two major stories that formed the backbone of my knowledge of the band (beyond their music). The December 1990 issue had the story “Replacements Kaput (say it ain’t so, Paul)”. After reading it, it was clear the band was not long for the road. When a February 1991 show at Toad’s Place in New Haven was announced, it was also clear that if I wanted to see one last show, I had to get my ass down to Toad’s!

It was a shitty snowy stormy night, and no one wanted to go with me, so I went alone. I got there early and sat down on the stage just to the right of where Paul Westerberg would end up taking the stage. I made a deal with another early arrival that we would hold each other’s spot by the stage if one of us left for a drink or to take a piss. Uncle Tupelo opened the show with a blistering take-no-prisoners set that was so tight and fast-paced that it felt over before it really got started.

It was pretty close to midnight when The Replacements took the stage, opening with an ear-bleeding “ Don’t Know”. For a band on the verge of breaking up, you wouldn’t see any evidence that night. They played an amazing 28-song set. Slim Dunlap’s leads on “Bent Out of Shape” were just that. I remember him leaning into Paul and the two of them cracking a simultaneous smile. I’ve never heard “Waitress in the Sky” played so fast or “Chuck Berry” played like that, before or after. Not only did they play all their classic songs, but they also played a bunch of songs from the new All Shook Down LP. Tommy Stinson looked happy as a kid in a candy shop and Paul wasn’t too far behind with a constant shit-eating grin on his face. The band was really “on” and the audience loved it. They ended the set with “Left of The Dial” and “Alex Chilton”.

Walking out into the cold night air singing “who knew that avenue was bound for Happy Town?,” I ran into a friend who also had been at the show at the parking lot on Broadway, where I parked my car. When she started talking to me about the concert, I realized her words sounded like paper being torn. I’m pretty sure the show was the loudest concert I had ever been to and standing against the stage dead in front of the speakers was not the best plan after all.

I remembered this while reading The Replacements bio Trouble Boys, where Steve Foley (the drummer on that tour) recalled the deafening volume of that last tour. I had seen Neil Young with Crazy Horse, Sonic Youth, and Social Distortion eight days before (third row at the New Haven Coliseum). and that show was nowhere near as loud. At some point, my hearing came back, kind of. I have hearing loss to this day and feel attending concerts starting in 1965 with no hearing protection played a part in it.

That last concert included many songs from the “last” Replacements LP All Shook Down. The LP has been referred to as the “Paul gets a 12-string acoustic guitar” album. This is not completely fair as Paul used an acoustic from the beginning. Paul recorded most of the songs without the band, bringing them in for overdubs. It is a testament to how tight the band could be live, and that with electric instruments the songs retained the feel and vibe they had on the more acoustic treatment they received on All Shook Down.

There was the benefit album for Slim Dunlap who suffered a stroke in 2013, but little else new has been released under The Replacements name. Tommy and Paul continue to release amazing solo recordings to this day. To quote a line from one of Tommy’s songs, “anything could happen.”

Lunch Is For Suckers

Lunch Is For Suckers

(Photo of Jerry Garcia at Woolsey Hall  by Joe Sia)

Between 1972 and 1975, I worked at the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. We used to get an hour for lunch, which was pretty nice, but I’ve never been a big lunch eater. Most days I would wander down the street to Rhymes or Cutler’s Record Shop and sort through the import record section for any LP’s with cool vintage guitars on the cover. Another favorite pastime was to go over to Woolsey Hall with a cup of coffee and play my guitar.

The Beinecke Rare Book Library is one side of a plaza at Yale created with Woolsey Hall and a dining hall. Woolsey Hall is one of Yale’s premier performance spaces. Its main lobby was on a well-worn path between colleges and generally unlocked to allow students to cut through and save time. The actual Performance Hall was always locked. Most of the time I would just go up the hallway from the lobby to a balcony for some privacy.

This one time, I was sitting there with a cup of coffee and I could hear guitar playing. It was 1:00 in the afternoon (not a time for performances), so I was curious. I tried the main Hall doors and found them unlocked. I quietly entered and sat in the very last row. To my amazement, on the stage was Jerry Garcia and one or two other people. Jerry was plugged in and playing some crazy good stuff. It’s too bad the iPhone hadn’t been invented yet.

I was there for about 20 minutes before one of the people on the stage noticed me. He came back and told me to leave. I explained that wasn’t really an option and that I promised to sit and be quiet. We finally agreed that I could stay as long as I didn’t move from my seat and made no effort to interact or disturb Jerry.

I asked where the rest of the band was and why was he sound checking by himself. He explained that Jerry liked to check out performance venues and play by himself as a way of connecting with the space before every show: “to get to know the room.”

Sitting there I could not help but think of how insane it was. I was the only one in the audience with Jerry standing alone on the stage of Woolsey Hall for about two hours lost playing the sounds inside his head. If I was the kind of person who liked to eat lunch, I would have missed it. When he was finished playing, he looked back at me and waved. True to my word I smiled and left, getting back to work from lunch quite late. The date was 10/22/1975 and I’m pretty sure Jerry was playing his white Travis Bean guitar.