Midnight Pub

The Efficacy Of Live Music

~nsequeira119

Tonight I paid for my first-ever official live music event. Not a free one, mind you. Fifteen dollars for entry, fifteen dollars well-spent for an entire night wherein the air became electric with sound, where the potential of humanity to channel emotion and effort into invisible audio waves became tangible.

I am considering the legitimacy of music journalism, its relationship with music, how well I can straddle both fields- production, mastering, composition, layering- a veritable balancing act. Journalism is, regardless of the others, a channel worthy of respect, of serious pursuit. It has gone from being a minor fascination of mine, a mere passing interest, into an obsession over which I would shell out $15 if I believed the band was worthy enough.

I won’t say, in this little dispatch, which band I’m speaking of, if they’re out there and reading this I feel they’ll know that they were the first band I ever really listened to and became engrossed by. A group so competent, so well-oiled, that their success is certain. I immediately detected their talent from the moment I saw them, and thought, “Wow. This band is going places”. There’s something odd about being in that position, about witnessing the beginning of a long and illustrious career. Tonight I have seen history. I have been to the Ed Sullivan Show when Jim Morrison said “higher,” as it were, I have seen Queen perform as Smile with Mercury standing near the back with his perfect teeth hidden away, I have watched Jefferson Airplane take off before Grace Slick departed from her Great Society.

Allow me to paint the scene. Small wooden outfit across the street from the Bluebird Theater- if you live here you know it. Won’t name it. Headliners on the Bluebird sign are someone named Jason Boland And the Stragglers. I chuckle, refer to him as “Jason Bellend.” As a cartoonist this sort of name fuckery comes naturally to me as an instinct. Screw Mr. Boland, I whisper to myself under my breath. Tonight I’m seeing a show which is cheaper and better, right across the street. I think about how bizarre it must be to host live music so close to the Bluebird, where the line can often reach the end of the block. How puny one must feel about one’s own venue in comparison.

One of the prerequisites of live music is that you always live in the moment, from one unstoppable second to the next, always with the disturbing realization tucked away in the back of your head that this is no mere recording, that this is a one-of-a-kind hand tailored experience specific to one night, and that you must see and hear everything for maximum effect. You must not take your existence for granted. To wit, in the pursuit of recollecting the moment:

It is around a week earlier and I see two members of the band take the stage at an open mic. Their drummer isn’t with them tonight, they say. But they’ll go ahead, give it a try, promote their album and give everyone a great show, no matter the hiccups. The open mic is as one would expect cheap, its sound pale and dim in comparison to a full concert. Yet they begin going, and I am lost, because despite the lackluster sound system, their brilliance shines through, and they have far more stage presence than every generic hipster who took the stage with an acoustic guitar before them.

They know how to keep the tempo, despite the visible lack of drums. The guitar is used instead as percussion, they scream into the microphone as if it were the last bag of breathable oxygen on an airplane nosediving headfirst into the freezing northern Atlantic. The guitarist has a strange instrument, ivory and polished, with patterns unlike any I’ve seen on any of the hipster guitars, which are usually acoustic. This one’s electric, it roars like a beast and they both scream and yell into the mic, creating an unstoppable tornado of energy. Wow, I think. These guys are going places. That guitar is some pro shit.

A few days later. I am giddy with excitement, sitting upon a tacky modern furniture coated in thin artificial velvet, legs crossed as the same band walks in the door and immediately recognized me. Different place, same fantastic demeanor. I have attended this event not only because it is a fantastic opportunity for the pursuit of music journalism, but because I knew they were coming, and that they would not disappoint. That here, they could create an even better atmosphere, amp it up just that extra little bit, build upon their roaring engine sound like a towering game of Jenga.

They do indeed bring the heat, with full equipment. Their drummer is with them now, as punchy and effective as I imagine, hitting every cymbal at the perfect moment, creating waves and ripples with the snares and hi-hats. Even so, their set tonight is limited. They aren’t playing their entire debut album. So I ask them, in the freezing night air, underneath amber lights, where they’ll be playing next. I need the full experience. Raw, unfiltered, complete atmosphere, an album front to back.

The album is a concept album, as they tell it- a loose one, though I’m sure there are a lot of sly references here and there. Their description is just vague enough to make me want to shell out $15. They are not only chock full of pure charisma and appeal- a trait I can admire and identify with, being in the demographic of people with unchecked confidence myself- they are insanely good at marketing themselves, creating an unparalleled mystique, building, as I said earlier, each performance on top of the last. Like potato chips, once you pop, you can’t stop. They are not Pringles.

So here I am, in the unassuming wooden room. The man behind the counter asks me where I know the band from, i tell him i’ve interviewed them, he tells me he’s dabbled in music journalism, that despite all the posters saying the doors would be open at 8 P.M. they actually won’t open until 9 P.M. but that once they open I’ll be the first to know. He ends up letting me in around 3 minutes early to give me time to talk to the band and give them a drawing I made specifically for the event. It depicts all 3 of them in an exciting action-packed position, full of as much energy and fervor as they typically display. I can tell that tonight is the best night of their lives, and this makes it, in a reciprocal fashion, an amazing night for me as well.

Now if you would, envision a sound system so well-checked that it took half an hour to fully set up, one where you can feel every vibration sent through your bones, traveling up the floor and into the thin wooden legs of the stool you’re sitting on- the room with the stage doesn’t have proper seating really, more like a medium-sized floor and a few chairs scattered about. The place is claustrophobic, it packs you in, around seventy people in a twenty-foot area. This design is clever in that it ensures the room feels full.

The guitarist asks me, politely, to keep watch of their looping machine, set gingerly onto a chair, which I dutifully observe, to make sure nobody messes with it. Then I’m handed the guitar case, told to give it to the guy at the merch table. I oblige. It’s an honor to feel the thing, it’s very heavy and made of some sort of high-quality leather material. After this I resume my position right at the bottom left of the stage, front row, ready to be witness to a night that will live in infamy.

I make my way slowly from the stool at the back to the front of the crowd at the right of the stage once the opening band finishes. They were delightful, incorporating an ambitious mixture of keyboard, electric and acoustic guitar, and gothic sensibilities. I ask the lead what she calls the genre, to which she replies, “alt hyperpop”. That’s a new one on me, I say. What? She asks. I lean in closer to her ear, over the din of the crowd. “That’s a new one on me.” Then immediately back to my spot at the front of the crowd.

And so it begins.

The feeling is palpable, the atmosphere is extremely well executed by all in attendance, particularly, the lighting technician, who opens up with a nice strobe effect before moving onto various sequences of red and green. A theatrical sense is given by a complete blackout during one song in particular, wherein the crowd is encouraged to pull out their cellphone flashlights and wave back and forth. I have no cellphone, yet from my vantage point I can observe the way the lights reflect off the band and their instruments- a sort of ethereal quality to it. Then the red comes back on, a vibrant, all-consuming fiery hue that bathes the entire act in a gorgeous crimson spectacle.

The music seemed even more amplified than it had been the previous time I heard it, although that may have been a psychosomatic illusion. After all, I was much closer to the action, the center of this supernova. I wondered, momentarily, what was happening over at the Bluebird with Jason Bellend. Probably nothing near as fantastic as this.

The band was, at 2 points during the performance, accompanied by a cellist and keyboardist. The keyboardist, they said, was their producer. All I can say, if he produced the album, is that he did an exceptional job, with PR, branding, and the like. I know very little about the world of production, yet I can say with certainty that these masterminds are well ahead of the curve in nearly every aspect.

The keyboard was a rickety thing, fragile yet more modern than my own, I don’t recall the exact model yet I believe it was a Roland. It and the cello were seamlessly integrated into each number. I don’t believe they make any appearance on the studio version. This, of course, adds more exclusivity to the live variant.

Each song was broken up by witty banter, everyone bringing their charm to the forefront. Banter is, of course, a prerequisite for any stage show. It gives each song context and closure, makes each entry feel purposeful. They were masters of the craft, pointing out the backstory behind each song as well as cracking a few jokes. The lead singer and guitarist have a particularly captivating dynamic, both in the heat of the moment and with their seemingly effortless spontaneity.

I happened to be right in front of the cellist, whose fingers meticulously wove the bow back and forth, creating captivating slides and grooves which melded into the raucous fervor of the other three. The drummer, shrouded in secrecy at the back of the stage- which, truth be told, didn’t offer much room to walk around- was hammering on every snare and cymbal as if it was a matter of life and death. Each beat was so well-executed that it shattered my pulse and kept my arms flailing around for who knows how long. I was possessed, caught entirely in a lucid trance state by this music. It was insane.

One song in particular, located in the late middle of the album, stands out to me with its off-kilter groove. Its trumpets, which were noticeably absent in the live version, were replaced by the cello, giving it a cinematic and rustic feel. It has elements of a pirate ballad or mariachi piece, yet it is stripped of camp.

The rock, I suppose, had its effect because here in Denver what I refer to as “hipster rock” is all too common. This had no tinge of hipster to it- it was contemporary rock. Not a throwback, it was unmistakably of the moment, of the present, a snapshot, musically, of rock in the early 2020s, yet it hit hard and did not rely heavily on whacky sound effects or jazzy riffs. It was purely rock.

This, of course, stands in sharp contrast to many hipster rock songs I’ve heard over the years- the king of the genre, I’d argue, is Will Wood, and you know it when you hear it. I was inspired by this band and their blunt rejection of what is currently “in vogue” for the sake of piecing together a timeless and thoroughly satisfactory narrative with a satisfying and unbelievably well-rounded complexion.

The pathology and psychiatric elements of live performances are worth noting here. Guitars carry with them a sense of security, in that they require the arms to be held at an inward angle, whereas keyboards and drums, by contrast, require an outward presence, a sort of detachment from the instrument. Keyboardists are less intimate with their instrument, feeling its vibrations less, taking a purely methodical approach whereby they are able to avoid a connection. They require less. This is, in many ways, an astrology-type generalization, but one worth noting.

The drummer was fervently crashing around, arms flailing, like one of those mechanical bulls at a county fair, hair whipping from side to side as the sticks flew effortlessly from cymbal to hi-hat and back again, always picking up at the exact inception of a song and snapping closed when the final chord was struck.

One song in particular was gorgeous in that it required the guitarist to perform an intricate secondary vocal, a kind of complementary counter melody to the main vocals. This only happened once, however it was especially captivating and jarring given its rarity. I find touches like these- the occasional subversion in method- to add a lot to an album’s replay value, in that it ensures consistent novelty. Whether these secondary vocals surface on the studio cut, I can’t quite piece together.

I was caught in the lights of the place waving my arms back and forth. I have never before abandoned myself so recklessly to dance, yet with this music it was irresistible, every note was transferred to my nervous system to create movement. When I looked out upon the clustered crowd of silhouettes behind me, I noticed that they weren’t dancing nearly as much as I was, instead simply swaying back and forth or throwing their heads from back to front- I wondered why anyone would assume the mannequin position under these conditions. Perhaps it was only that they took music of this caliber for granted, and it being my first real live show as a paying attendee I saw it as ridiculously amazing to a hyperbolic degree. Or perhaps I couldn’t see very well. I had my sunglasses on.

I attend all public events wearing my sunglasses these days, and as such a room appears to me around 30% darker than it actually is. This creates a kind of separation between me and my external surroundings, a voluntary reality distortion. It reduces visibility and clarity, yet it also facilitates casual discussion and imbues the world with ambiance. I wonder, sometimes, how all glasses distort perception, how something as seemingly insignificant as a pale rose tint in two lenses can entirely upheave the structure of life.

Midway through the album, I was ecstatic, my eyes darting from the looper and pedals they had set up on the floor to the tangled web of wires stretching into the dark recesses, to the well-choreographed movements which came naturally to the lead singer, who slid like butter on a flapjack across the smooth, flat surface of that 12-foot by 12-foot environment. It was a cornucopia of intricate visual stimuli, assisted by its inherent spontaneity.

I guess spontaneity is the correct term to be used here, for a show’s appeal. The likelihood that anything could happen. The Stones didn’t know, of course, that their show at Altamont would go as it did. What happened that night was the result of a spectacular chain of coincidences, all of which led up, like a streak of lucky bets on a roulette wheel, to initiate the construction of popular history.

I was now a figure in that history, a bead on the string, present and active in a moment that would likely be remembered as significant. I would show up in documents, photos, records. I was there, I could say, as much as the Babushka lady fleeing from the spectacle of Dealey Plaza, film in hand, destination unknown.

I can’t say what the future of this band will be, I’m no prognosticator or soothsayer, but given their reputation for PR and publicity, the effortless zeal with which they market themselves, I can only imagine they’re bound for success. I myself implement the same strategy- to expend a great deal of self-confidence and attitude. It works, it really does. Anything can be achieved with an adoption of morale.

The band closes with seven minutes of heart-stopping, relentless noise, punctuated by sharp, jaunty riffs and a well-timed closer which comes after time is suspended and objects hover in midair. They have stated that they are concerned not only with spontaneity but with album intricacy, that songs should be a certain length. Seven minutes is ideal for a finale. The song does not end as much as it slowly waits in my memory, forever.

Live music is captivating because its immediacy necessitates a prescient awareness of one’s point in time, the precise location and setting. I think about this during the entire show, how in the future I won’t be here anymore, how this exact moment will be completely impossible to recapture. How even if the album is available online, it will not be half as good as this- and how, therefore, it was ultimately $15 very well spent to create an irreplicable sensation, a hit to the system. Perhaps that’s my drug of choice, when all is said and done. Perhaps none of us are truly sober.

The night ends with a quick farewell to all three- comments about the fantastic show, exchanged amid a hubbub of fervor and compliments. Their achievement has likely resulted in a rush of dopamine and endorphins, an incalculable surge of pride. The crowd mills around and I try my best to keep up, telling them all what a fantastic night it was, and then I immediately vanish, like a phantom in the night, exiting into the barrier of the cold night air from the cramped wooden palace.

The sign advertising Jason Bellend has long since vanished, in its place the sign now reads “The Hallucination”. I wonder if he ever really existed.


iamthenoname

Thank you for making this great post, this made my night. I've never attended live concerts and performances before but with how you described it, it sounds like a blast

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inquiry

Glorious! Thank you for this - dare I type? - wondrous example of the efficacy of live text!

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