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From The Front Row: Eight Great Rock Pics

Editor’s Note: Our friend Brian Diamond (www.pixtoclick.com) is one of the biggest music fans we know. Before he became one of the first people to work at MTV, he was actively working in the industry as a rock photographer. He was front and center when some now-legendary acts – like The Police and Elvis Costello – were on their way up and he captured some amazing moments. We’re featuring his work in our store and we asked for some background on these cool shots.

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The period when I took these pictures was an incredible time for music in New York City.

I was in my early 20s doing freelance photography, working for the management of a huge rock band of the day, and would soon be working for a new thing called ”MTV.”

We were at the crossroads of Classic Rock and what was being dubbed the New Wave. My cousin was the promoter of many of these shows that I witnessed in New York between 1977 and 1981.

Back then most promoters and bands were more concerned with “tapers” capturing shows for subsequent bootleg releases. Though I’d been engaged as a freelance photographer by A&M records, to security I was a punter. I’d waltz in with a full camera bag and they didn’t bat an eye. You couldn’t get away with that today, but then again, iPhones are everywhere.

The now-extinct Palladium on 14th Street in NYC was the home for many of these shots.

In 1978, I saw Elvis Costello & the Attractions on a bill with Nick Lowe and Rockpile, and Mink DeVille as the opener. The ticket price for the concert? $8.50.  Service charges on tickets are more than double that now.

A year later, I’d be back shooting Elvis at the Palladium, but controversy trailed him. Two weeks earlier, on a drunken night in Columbus, Ohio, he’d regrettably used a racial slur to end an argument with Bonnie Bramlett. When Elvis showed up in NYC, death threats were in the air.

Suffice it to say, he survived the threats and two years later in 1981, he was back at the Palladium in support of his Trust album which is where this shot came from.

Elvis had just recorded background vocals on “Black Coffee in Bed” from Squeeze’s soon-to-be-released LP Sweets from a Stranger. The two acts toured together, alternating nights as the headliner.

It was an amazing show. Glen Tilbrook from Squeeze is featured on “From a Whisper to a Scream” on Trust and came out to perform the song with Elvis and the Attractions. They were augmented by the robust guitar playing of Martin Belmont of Graham Parker’s Rumour and Brinsley Schwarz fame.  The results of that co-bill are a shot of Elvis and a shot of Glen from their performances that night.

The Palladium would also play host to two more great New Wave shows.  First was The Police. Outlandos d’Amour had them graduating from tiny clubs to theaters; in 1979, the Palladium was where the Police got their “diploma.”  This shot of Sting is one of my favorites.  Aside from his statuesque profile, the audience, particularly the look from the gentleman in the front row, captures a moment in time.

The Pretenders also graced the Palladium stage.  Chrissie Hynde fronted an edgy male trio that complemented her “in your face” lyrics and musical prowess. Not many women at this time were successful at fearlessly embracing the rock medium; Patti Smith was probably Chrissie’s only equal at that moment. Yet here she was, helming a group that, sadly, would be short two founding members all too soon: James Honeyman-Scott (guitar) and Pete Farndon (bass) would succumb to heroin overdoses in ’82 and ’83 respectively.

Then, there’s the place all bands want to play, the World’s Most Famous Arena, aka Madison Square Garden.

In September of 1979, The Who made their first set of appearances in New York City since the death of Keith Moon.  I hoped to capture the energy of the show through the kinetic and posing energy exuded by Pete Townshend.  He delivered and was in a constant state of expression.

I had the good fortune to capture Queen’s Freddie Mercury, the greatest frontman of that era, bar none.  I wasn’t a huge fan at the time and only knew their hits, but by the end of the night, I felt like I’d been schooled by rock royalty.

Of course, there was Bruce. I was seated on the floor of the Garden, about 14 rows back.  It was Thanksgiving night, 1980.  He was doing his legendary 3-1/2 to 4-hour shows. I shot a lot that night; Bruce went through a variety of looks, not for fashion, but because he was literally drenched in sweat.

Finally, a year after I had captured Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers at the Palladium, they played at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island not far from where I grew up. In later years, Petty would suffer from painful hip degeneration which would ultimately lead to his demise. But on this night in 1981, he was his youthful rock star self. Power guitar licks, power screams and howls, power blasting out every bit of heartbreak in his lyrics.  This shot captures a serene moment with guitarist Mike Campbell and original (and later returning) bass player Ron Blair.

Those four years of 1977-81 were rich with groundbreaking music; I was lucky enough to witness it through my camera lens. That explosive energy is still relevant some 45 years later.

-The CS Team

Photo: Brian Diamond via PixToClick.com

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