January 15, 1992 ... New York Press
I meet Joe near the Downtown Tower Records security desk a little after eight o'clock Saturday night. He's in a ripped construction jacket with an Eric Clapton backstage pass on the back; he's tall and heavyset, sporting a Jerry Garcia tie-dye shirt and a curly, unkempt beard. He's with a friend, Judge Roy Bean, a tattoo artist who grew up in the same Brooklyn neighborhood Joe did.
"Are you ready?" Joe asks.
I'm ready. [This guy] is no ordinary Joe, he's Concert Joe, the guy who went out 350 nights last year and saw over 730 live shows. The catch is that Joe has absolutely no affiliation with the music business. In 1989 he spent over 15 grand on concerts, a sizable sum for a "mostly unemployed construction worker." It's only four days into 1992, and, by the end of the night, his tally for this year will be somewhere around 12.
Concert Joe's miffed. He has spent more than half his life running around clubs, bars, theaters, and arenas, catching some 6,000 shows and documenting his presence at each one. he has been in school for more than three decades (now night classes have become just an excuse to be in Manhattan at a convenient time), and he has blown roughly $50 each night he's gone out over six years of intensive concert consumption. The least the guy could get is a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records -- something like Most Concerts Attended by Someone Outside the Music Industry -- but Joe says, "I called them and they laughed. I think they're more interested in people who can throw cow turds the farthest. They told me to call them back if I ate more than 176 snails."
Joe won't deny he's somewhat of a Deadhead, but at least after a Grateful Dead concert he'll go catch Ella Fitzgerald, then Kitaro, and finally close the night with the Butthole Surfers, a night he remembers fondly as one of those highlights of his two decades of concert-going.
"New York is the best place to see concerts," Joe insists. He might be right, but not because he knows any better. Though he made pilgrimages to California and Hawaii last year, most of the four to seven concerts he goes to a night are in Manhattan.
Under his arm, Concert Joe is carrying "his bibles," tattered copies of NYPress and theVoice. Around his neck is a small "stealth" pot pipe which he made himself; it helps to pass time on the walks between venues. he spends his spare hours inventing pipes in jewelry, pipes in kazoos, pipes in frisbees.
Tonight begins at the Bottom Line, where tickets for Dave mason are $15, standing room only. "What tine's is supposed to start?" Joe asks the cashier after he buys two tix, one for a girl he's supposed to meet (though he says he's supposed to meet two). Judge Roy Bean and I head inside while Concert Joe waits outside for his dates. Pretty soon Mason's bassist lumbers on stage, guitar sticking out of his stomach like a knife in an apple, followed by the 45-year-old mason, who has no qualms about putting on earplugs in front of a sold-out house. Concert Joe is nowhere in sight. Stood up, we suppose. Sometime during an Eagles cover, Joe strolls in with a couple of friends, all guys, and directs us to a corner where he claims the acoustics are best. We try to enjoy the show, but by the time Mason begins his encore, Concert Joe and I are alone and his friends are on their way home.
Outside the club there's a line a hundred people long, waiting for the 11 o'clock show. Joe recognizes two ragged fellows in front of the queue and stops to talk to them. "There're about five guys who go to concerts all the time," Joe explains to me. "We all know each other. Those two see a couple hundred shows a year. There's this other guy I know named Ed who sees one play, one movie, or one concert a night. he's been going out every night for the past 32 years, knows the streets better than the rats."
We cross 4th St. and snack on a couple of soy burgers at Dojo West. Concert Joe unzips his hip pouch and makes sure his Walkman dubbed the show. "I used to record every concert," he says. "I've got hundreds of stacks of tapes at home, all pretty bad quality. I never listen to them. They're just for documentation. I've got like six or seven hundred t-shirts also."
He pulls a handful of quarters and a crumbled piece of paper out of his pocket. On one side of the paper, he has a list of the shows he planned on seeing last night -- Public Enemy, P.M. Dawn, Mephiskapheles, Uncle Floyd. on the other side, tonight's agenda: Dave Mason, D'Tripp, Simon and the Bar Sinisters, Hip Nips, 970-SOUL, Skadunks, Amy Rubin, Savoy Truffle -- half of which we end up seeing. next to each band is an address and a phone number. "You got to call to see when the bands are coming on," Joe says. "A lot of guys wait around an hour or so for a concert to begin when they could have gone off and seen another show in that time."
Concert Joe pumps quarters into the phone, and the night comes together like a mail-order bicycle. "Too many people stay home at night,: Joe says between puffs on his necklace as we walk to the Continental (nee Continental Divide) to catch the Hip Nips, five Japanese musicians who play hardcore Elvis covers. unfortunately. the woman who spoke to Joe on the phone was a little too enthusiastic. The Hip Nips aren't due on for another half-hour. "Timing is everything," Joe says sagely. "But people in clubs, they lie a lot. They just want to get you in their club."
We head to Dan Lynch by way of Ben & Jerry's, where, true to form, Joe asks the woman at the counter, "Do you have that new flavor, Wavy Gravy?" They don't, and they're out of Cherry Garcia, so any old flavor will do. "I'm a vegetarian and I don't drink alcohol, Joe explains while washing down his blueberry cone with a vial of ginseng. "But I eat lots of pizza and sweets. It's the ginseng, royal bee pollen, vitamin E, and carrot juice that keeps me going. I'm getting too old to keep running around like this. Without the ginseng, I'd be asleep by now."
We walk into Dan Lynch while D'Tripp is segueing Curtis Mayfield into L.L. Cool J into the Ohio players into a long psychedelic jam. "Of all the bands in the city they've got the best voices," Concert Joe says. The young Bootsy Collins-modeled bassist is singing phrases across four octaves while D'Tripp's front man is belting, "Freddie's dehhhhhhd" with funkgospel fervor. They're hot, they're young, they're fun, and over the course of an hour, they cover a lot of territory in only four jams.
"It's better than sitting home watching tv," Joe justifies himself as we hop into a cab and shuttle across town. The music doesn't stop. "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" is booming out the taxi's back speakers. "This is the best Temptations song," Joe says objectively, in the same way he says the Spin Doctors is the best band in town, Monday is the best night to see local acts, the Allman Brothers was one of last year's three best shows.
Backed by a drummer, an electric bassist. and three guitarists -- some from the World Famous Blue Jays, the rest from the A-Bones -- Legend is swamped in sound. Sunglasses splattered in paint, hair akin to Johnny Fever's WKRP in Cincinnati do, beard hanging at mid-chest, legend fights back with an uncensored, Arch hall Jr.-style "Night of the Sadist" before handing the mic to A-Bone Billy Miller, who matches suit with another low-budget movie title, Frank Zappa's "The World Greatest Sinner."
Two minutes after Legend leaves the stage for the seventh and last time, Concert Joe and I are in a cab on the way to Wetlands. "This is my favorite place in the whole world," he says. "They're having their third anniversary soon, and I've seen like six or seven hundred shows there since they opened. one day last year they told me I had paid admission more than anyone else and I didn't have to pay anymore."
It doesn't matter tonight, because it's 3 am, and no one's working the door this late. Savoy Truffle is on stage playing a -- guess -- Grateful Dead song. A five-foot tall hippie chick is dancing like she's auditioning for Hair and a few others in the audience are shaking maracas and tambourines. The scene is serene. "It's like 20 years ago," Joe says happily.
He says the same thing to a security guard outside the club an hour alter. "You're crazy, Joe. You're nuts," the guard responds with a benevolent smile when he's assaulted with the day's concert chronology.
"I'm getting older. I can't keep this up any longer," Joe says for the tenth time that night.
Concert Joe is 50 bucks the poorer and four concerts the wiser, but he's got plans for Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. He tries to catch the big shows when he can, but mainly he circulates in the local scene, where there's a lot of talent, but not a lot of originality. What was new 20 years ago is a cover song today, and that's the way Joe likes it. It probably won't get him in the Guinness Book of World Records.
He loves all kinds of music. A typical evening can see him taking in a New York Philharmonic concert at Lincoln Center before going downtown to see a grunge band, such as the Screaming Headless Torsos, and winding down with jazz great Cecil Taylor.
"I like diversity in music," he says. "I've seen the Grateful Dead nearly 400 times and last year I flew back from one of their shows in Arizona to catch a classical recital in Manhattan."
Joe plans his concert nights with military precision three months in advance.
"I'll look through the newspaper and pick 10 to 15 concerts I like and write down the details on one of the little cards I have for every day of the week," explains Joe, who lives in Brooklyn, NY.
He orders tickets for the big shows and then plans his seven-night-a-week schedule as he goes along, depending on when headlining bands are going on stage.
"Timing is everything," says the king of concerts, who spends an average of $50 a night on shows. "Schedulers are always lying about when the headliners are coming on stage, so I always phone ahead to find out how far into the set the opening act is. That way I know when to arrive for a show.
"I use the subway or walk, so my timing has to be exact. I get taxis only when I'm out on a date. If I had a car and lived in Manhattan, I reckon I could have broken 2,000 concerts last year."
Joe says he has no problem with dress codes for concerts and often carries a white shirt to put over one of his 700 T-shirts in case the occasion demands it.
But he pays a high price in more ways than one
for his crazy routine. Joe, who rarely gets home until 3 am after taking
a 30-minute subway ride, has to survive on just a few hours sleep. He says
he manages to stay awake during his punishing concert schedule by drinking
lots of ginseng and eating royal jelly and bee pollen. Now he is planning
to start a 900 hotline to share his expertise. Concert Joe says: "I'm
not looking to make a lot of money, but it would be a great way to pay for
my tickets and get out of debt."
13 February, 1993
More articles about Concert Joe
June 28, 1992
September 3, 1997
*July 30, 2001
*October 18, 2004
New York Independent
Film Monitor ..... 1997
Carol Moses looks at a short docudrama and how it was made
25-year-old Roy Szuper
may not have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame,
but there's no denying that he must have been born under a lucky star.
After all, it's not everyone who has the IRS to thank for giving them their much-needed start.
Which isn't to give short shrift to all the hard work that went into the making
of Szuper's premiere docudrama short,
CONCERT JOE : A NEW YORK STORY.
But without the $1,000 income tax refund that provided the initial funding for his project,
a good idea might very well have remained just that.
Szuper met Concert Joe,
the subject of his film, through a mutual friend.
Finding himself with some free time on his hands,
he started working with Joe to put together the 30-minute short.
What was so compelling about Joe that it warranted the making of a film? Some people collect stamps. Some people collect porcelain pigs. Concert Joe collects ticket stubs, t-shirts and bootleg tapes from the 1,000+ concerts he's attended each year for the past 25 years. Shelling out an average of $50 a night at virtually every kind of musical venue this city has to offer, Joe hits anywhere from 3 to 8 concerts a night. And he's got the planning of it down to an exact and funky science.
The film is a kitschy, tongue-in-cheek farce on Joe's obsessive-compulsive concert-going lifestyle, starring Concert Joe himself and shot in documentary format. It flawlessly combines live concert footage shot in a smattering of NYC clubs with a humorous fictional narrative, rooted heavily in fact.
SZUPER, playing the role of Storyteller, bringing a drum to the protest scene.
Cinematographers Richard Siegal, Mark Cavello and Soundman Andrew Sterling trekking through a rainy Central Park.
"The film's about New York and the New York City music scene," says Szuper. "Everyone talks about the Seattle music scene but the New York music scene has a lot of incredible bands coming out. More than that, it's about one man's love of music and how it affects his life. I'm from New York. He's from New York. So it's about two guys and the knowledge of the city.
Due to the mish-mosh of the film stock, filming techniques and editing equipment used, CONCERT JOE has a look to it that many an experienced film maker would be hard-pressed to duplicate. "We used everything we could get our hands on," says Szuper. "We started with film and we shot everything from hi 8 video to 16mm to S-8. It's about half film, half video." You would think, for all that, the short would have a busy, distracting look to it, but it doesn't. It's remarkably polished and highly unified.
Because Joe knew a lot of the club owners and bands, the majority of the venues were willing to let Szuper film inside for free, as a favor to their faithful patron. The sound girl on the film just so happened to be involved in coordinating The Knitting Factory's screening series. So it was a breeze for her to fit Szuper into the schedule for what will be his official public screening.
With the praise CONCERT JOE is bound to receive, Szuper can safely step out from beneath his lucky star and be content to just swing on it for awhile.
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