I recall that it was a blustery, cold Halloween night in 1969 when we went to see The Band in concert. We'd toked up pretty good inside a friend's car, in a parking spot we'd miraculously found on Saint Stephen Street, directly behind Symphony Hall. Normally we would have taken the Red Line then the Green Line to Symphony Hall from our Beacon Hill apartment, but I guess whoever we went to the concert with had wheels, and we were happy not to have to stand outside and smoke in the cold. Second-hand smoke under these circumstances is a good thing.
The concert at Symphony Hall that night was The Band, touring behind their second album. The surprise, unbilled opening act was Van Morrison, who was living on the other side of the river in Cambridge at the time and who I don't think we'd ever heard of. I believe the ticket price was $5.00, which was a lot of money in those days, considering the fact that I was making $1.25 per hour at my job at The Book Clearing House on Boylston Street. (Gail supplemented our income with her job at Harvard Divinity School.) The monthly rent for our apartment was $100, and we were living large enough to take a two-week vacation in England that year, which included a stop at the Isle Of Wight festival. We didn't have to worry about where our next smoke would come from, and we always seemed to have a little money left over each month at Suffolk Franklin Bank. (We paid for that UK vacation in advance, in cash.) Good times indeed.
What immediately caught our attention inside Symphony Hall once we'd found our seats (stage right with an excellent view down to the stage) was the massive array of speakers and other assorted sound equipment deployed on the stage, and what are now called "sound technicians" (we called all non-band members of rock groups "roadies" or "groupies") scurrying about, communicating with the engineer at the sound board in the back of the hall, getting the sound levels just right. We had never before seen such attention to detail at a concert; we soon discovered why it was all so important, and how The Band was different from all the other live performers we had seen up to this point.
Van Morrison was introduced by Robbie Robertson, and proceeded to play very strong set, considering that he was completely blotto. A bottle of Jack Daniels sat precariously on top of one of the Marshall speakers, and I suspect alcohol was not the only agent in his system that night. As loud as the sound was - and the sound at rock concerts back then (as now) was loud - it was crisp, clear, and just about perfect (except for the slurred lyrics on Van's part). "Into The Mystic" blew our minds.
Van ended his set passed out on the stage. On the Queen's birthday in 2015, he became "Sir Van". And so it goes...
As for the Band, their set was astonishing. Every note sounded just like it did on their albums. We had never before experienced that kind of precision and absolutely perfect renderings of music that we were intimately familiar with from countless listenings on vinyl, and through reasonably good stereo speakers, given the state of home audio technology in the 1960s. (Now of course, everything sounds incredible right through the headphones attached to your phone.)
But then, we had no reason expect to hear the lyrics sung clearly and balanced with the instruments. Part of it can be attributed to the marvelous acoustics of Symphony Hall, of course, but most of it was accomplished through the sophisticated application of technology and a commitment to excellence on the part of the artists, as well as pride in this amazing body of work they had created.
It was a magical evening.