Thoughts From the Dead: Live it Up
Being dead gives me a lot of time to think. I think about a thing, and then that turns into an opinion, which then turns into fact, and then I give it to you. You found out your new opinion on Tom Waits in our first installment. Greetings from the great beyond, flushers. I’m taking a quick break from hanging out with John Cage and Olivier Messiaen to ramble for a bit about live music and ask your thoughts.
First of all, music needs to be played live. It wasn’t until the 20th century that people listened to recorded music more than live music; there were thousands of years where an actual performance was the only way or the primary way for music to be heard. Obviously, recorded music is absolutely invaluable to us all, and we are extraordinarily lucky to have instant access to an entire world of music through the internet (unless you’re in a grumpy neckbeard band). So I’m not discounting your favorite bedroom noise project that will never play live because it’s way too mainstream, man, but what I’m saying is that live performance is massively important to the history and overall experience of music. This is especially true for metal, a genre born and raised in dive bars, basement shows, and underground clubs. There is far too much raw energy in metal to leave it entirely in your speakers. We feel the urge to headbang, the need to jump in a circle pit. On the other side of the equation, we feel the itch to write a song and unleash it, the compulsion to scream your words to a room full of people. The nature of the art form begs for live engagement.
The point of all of this isn’t to inspire you to magically grow a leather vest and yell “SUPPERT YER SCENE” at kids these days. We all recognize the importance of live music, and most everyone has felt the magic of a particularly good live musical event. That upper echelon of experience, that hallowed “show of all shows,” is what I want to focus on: what makes a performance really and truly stand out? What magical energy fills the room when everything clicks, and what makes it all click? We’re already in such intangible territory that we can’t expect a definitive answer, but it’s certainly an interesting idea to ponder.
To a certain degree, it’s going to come down to taste. If you don’t like black metal (get out), you will not care if Blut Aus Nord brings the house down. However, I once saw August Burns Red on accident, and I had to set aside my frostbite for a second to admit they really nailed it. While they will never be my thing, I could appreciate their mix of high-energy tightness and engaging banter. On the flip side, I’ve seen bands I really like that put on a solid show, but didn’t lift me to the higher realm I was anticipating. General taste will dictate much of the live music experience, but there really is something else that takes a live performance to a new level.
One of the greatest live music experiences of mine was when I saw the Miró Quartet play all three of the Beethoven Opus 59 Razumovsky String Quartets (tl;dr, some classical nerds played some classic stuff). The level of ensemble awareness, technical ability, and sheer musicianship was absolutely astounding. One of my favorite moments (I sat right at the front like a huge nerd) was in the Adagio of Op. 59 No. 2, when there was a hiccup that was only discernable by the members’ faces: the violist briefly glanced at the first violinist with a smirk that suggested “hey, we messed up, but we’re way too good for anyone to notice” (I did not notice). It gave a level of personality to the performance, a touch of charm on top of an incredible musical moment.
In terms of metal, one of my favorite experiences is catching the Between the Buried and Me tour where they played their latest album, The Parallax II: Future Sequence straight through (while my trveness may be in question here, I will kindly pvnch you in the face and defend it to the devth). The band was incredibly on point, with a fantastic mix of studio-level performance and live aggression. Likewise, the crowd was in a frenzy for the duration of the performance. That brings up another important point: for metal shows especially, the crowd can have a significant impact on the perception of the performance. If The Dillinger Escape Plan brought all of their energy and insanity to a crowd of seated fans, it simply would not feel right. You need to be in a venue where the crowd can pile against the stage, and you need dudes climbing over each other to scream along with/get punched by Greg Puciato. I saw DEP in a tiny venue that my band usually plays, and it was all the marvelous chaos you would expect. I broke my glasses, a Ben Weinman landed on me at one point, and my entire body was sore a few days.
So that brings me to my final point: I don’t have a point. Get into the comments below and discuss what you think takes a live performance to the next level, because it will surely be different for each fan. What are some of the best bands you have seen, and what about it was special? Have you seen a band more than once where there was a noticeable difference between shows? That X-factor isn’t always there, no matter how good the band is, and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. Hit it!