The Trouble With Live Gigs, Part Two
You might want to read Part One first. It’s more level-headed, whereas this one is rankly steeped in emotional judgement…
Just like the best science lessons at school, this article will be preceded by an experiment. It is easy, and, just like science, only requires honesty to be considered a success.
So, quick – without thinking – answer this: what was the single greatest musical moment of your life? Could you come up with an answer? If you could, your response was probably along the lines of “Seeing [XXXX band] live at [XXXX venue]”.
My favourite gig was seeing Public Enemy perform all of It Takes A Nation Of Millions…, but then there have been a ton of good ones – Art Brut in the Stoke Sugarmill, White Stripes at Glastonbury, Super Furry Animals in the San Francisco Fillmore.
It’s easy in some ways to pin these ‘special moments’ – or memories – on an individual place, time and occurrence. “There’s no substitute for seeing a live band,” people will tell you. They’re wrong.
This is a difficult admission to make without being branded ‘not a proper music fan’, but I don’t think gigs are the most important thing in music. Live music is not the be-all and end-all. But now it has some special, truer, power by virtue of the artist being in the same room as the fan.
This is just demonstrably silly – if this was the case, all nightclubs would close overnight, and we wouldn’t have DJs raking in £10,000 fees for two-hour stints playing records behind the decks and waving their hands in the air.
But now, with the live experience treated as a holy experience, records have become devalued, and this is an enormous shame.
My opposition to this is also a philosophical stance, perhaps – I dislike the idea of art being judged by it’s scarcity as opposed to it’s intrinsic value. For example: the original painting of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers is massively more valuable than a perfect copy of it, even though the copy would be exactly the same image.
Gigs become special because of the I-Was-There factor: all you need is the exclusive gig T-shirt or ubiquitous mobile phone video footage et voila - you’re a Real Fan.
Couple this with the overwhelming emphasis placed upon live concerts by the record industry (see Part One), and we are now in a situation where records exist to warrant a tour, as opposed to a record being recorded to, er, make a record.
John Lennon said that abandoning live gigging in 1966 lead to The Beatles‘ studio-bound creative freedom, resulting in the mid-career-high pairing of Rubber Soul and Revolver. Would hearing the songs of these two albums live have been a better experience? Who cares? Why should one be linked to the other?
Answers to these questions weren’t sought by The Beatles. They made a record to be played as itself alone – each song a single, unalterable statement.
So my favourite moments in music have been: hearing Bigmouth Strikes Again for the first time, stunned by the thrilling guitar break; stopping in my tracks when hearing Common People on my radio as I walked to school, and feeling a real connection for the first time; hearing a band whose name I didn’t catch play a bizarro thrash/hardcore techno hybrid on John Peel’s radio show back in 1994, and so on.
None of these thrilling moments could have been shared, no-one could have experienced it with me, I don’t have a shaky-cam recording of it. But they were more important to me than the vast majority of gigs I’ve ever been to.
I feel for those teenagers who sit in their bedrooms, listening to music, and not wanting to go to gigs because the venue will be full of scenesters. Crowds sooth insecurity and the unity of a gig validate beliefs.
Gig going is cool now. Cool craves a scene. Scenes provide security for the insecure. Reject the scenesters. Dig deep and admit your favourite musical moment is listening to your favourite record. We’ll all feel the benefit.PREVIOUS POST: Memo and Lies, Lies, Lies
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