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The Bowl Experience: The Good And The Bad

June 19, 2008|Richard Cromelin

When the elements are aligned, the Hollywood Bowl can transform a pop music concert into something larger than life. Take it from someone who's been hitting the hill for 45 years: On certain nights, it's not just good or bad. It's heaven or hell.

Start with heaven, please. How about Elton John in 1973, in the full flower of his flamboyant youth and with cash to lavish on an over-the-top extravaganza? It included five grand pianos filled with doves and with a letter of his name on each, "Deep Throat" star Linda Lovelace as hostess, and a stageful of cultural icons -- Queen Elizabeth, Elvis, Groucho Marx, Mae West (they were impersonators of course, but that was part of the fun).

Or Monty Python and the Flying Circus (OK, not technically a pop group, but clearly the rock 'n' roll comedy troupe) in 1980, racing with the raucous audience to get to the punch lines first, while a surly vendor in women's clothing (John Cleese, of course) patrolled the boxes hawking his ware: "Albatross!"

Sometimes it was just a case of the right artist at the right moment: Bob Dylan on a warm September night in 1965, the week "Highway 61 Revisited" came out, introducing thousands to "Desolation Row" and finally hearing cheers for the electric music that had been booed at Newport and Forest Hills earlier in the summer.

A different kind of dramatic timing brought the Who to the Bowl four days after the death of John Entwistle in 2002. Their first show without their bassist and co-founder was charged with both grief and defiance, turning what was originally a routine booking into one of the most emotion-drenched concerts the band ever played.

There had been darkness under the stars, thanks to the likes of the Doors and Pink Floyd, but when it comes to hell, well, I have to go with Alice Cooper.

The shock-rock showman's horror-movie theatrics never scared me, but on that night in 1972, the combination of his gallows scene, a helicopter showering the audience with souvenir panties and an increasingly crazed box-mate who broke a wine bottle and started waving his bloody hand around added up to a phantasmagoria that was hard to shake.

I think it was that Paul Oakenfold Bowl show in 2003 that finally did it.

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-- Richard.Cromelin@latimes.com

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