Saturday, August 23


For the vast majority of my life, I had no interest in concerts. I imagine this was a combination of living hours from the nearest venue and inheriting the musical tastes of my parents, which included few actively touring groups. Then I made it to college and a bigger city (though still a hinterland by the standards of those friends from Seattle and similarly sized cities). My musical tastes expanded to groups still crafting and recording new songs, and actually seeing them in concert became a real possibility. This past weekend, I attended my fifth concert in the past eight months and, incidentally, my life. In order, these concerts by Bloc Party, Rodrigo Y Gabriela, the Young Dubliners, Andrew Bird and Josh Ritter, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I apologize for the low quality, which really is to be expected as they all are illegal recordings made with handheld sub-par equipment, but as this is a post on the concerts, it seemed more appropriate to link to these than music videos or anything professional. By way of recompense, I offer these links to earlier posts dedicated to my first and second concerts. Part, too, of what I believe kept me from concerts so long, even after arriving in Spokane, was a general confusion. What is the point of attending of attending a concert, shelling out enough money to buy another album or two, to listen to music which you more than likely own? To take it even farther, more often than not we attend concerts already with a favorite song in mind. If that song is not part of the set, we suffer some disappointment, minor as it may be.

The trick, I have discovered, is that while both attending a concert and turning on the mp3 player are both ostensibly about listening to music, the experience is completely different. A concert is immersive. It is only about the group and music. Cell phones and the other distracting accroutement of our daily lives are (hopefully) discarded to limit intrusions into the next few hours. Technics and lights and smoke machines come together to increase the suspense of an extended introduction and enhance the mood. It is something special, I believe, to simply listen to music. Far too often, and I am as guilty of this as anyone, we put music on as background noise, a rhythm to run or eat to. To actually tune in to what you are hearing and revel in the melodies and lyricism and whatever is lost in a casual listen and to enjoy it in such a forum is something special indeed. Let us not forget that the sound quality of a live performance, even on weak equipment, is many factors better than the best recording. Nothing drove this in better for me than my attempts to find a decent recording of Carmen's "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle" after seeing it at the Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz. I eventually came across the scene from the 1984 film version with Julie Migenes and Placido Domingo. Despite the presumably superior singers (at least more famous) it could not touch what I saw there in Munich.

There are other elements, too, of course, that make the concert a completely different experience from just picking out a good album. Most obviously, there is the sense of community, publicly coming together with others of a like mind. To find guys in Mannheim and be able to start a reasonable conversation with them over a common interest and see the lighters (put to a different use during "Mary Jane's Last Dance") come out for "Learning to Fly" and "Free Fallin'" are just cool experiences.

The rest of this kind of delves (even deeper) into reminscing and all that. If you have been bored by this post so far, nothing that remains will redeem it. In that case, I suggest you now visit Arts & Letters Daily and find something of more interest. Still I write this because these are the moments stuck out to me, that made the concert special, moments I do not want to forget. Like actually seeing Rodrigo y Gabriela play live and realizing all the more how amazing their playing was and hearing Gabriela tell the story behind "F.T.U.S.V.D." in her surprisingly small voice. Like watching the entire dance floor take five steps closer to the stage when the Young Dubliners took a break but the electric bagpipes stayed on and broke out the most entrancing solos. Like Keith Roberts inviting everyone out for a drink after the Tuesday night gig because he is so excited about opening the tour. Like seeing Josh Ritter get to play in the city that was his equivalent of Paris in school and repeatedly the lighting operator that he really did want all the lights all the way down and not bumped up until the end of his solo piece.

Recorded music is good, but it never offers memories like this.

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