Monday, May 23, 2011

Love you live...

Inspired by Matt’s recent posts about Hammerbox and Everclear, I started thinking about the best live shows I’ve seen. A great show can be a magical thing and it’s often a combination of elements that coalesce into a cocktail of awesomeness. For me, that list may include:

a) Any band being ‘on’ and playing a devastating show

b) Being at the height of your fandom when you see a gig

c) Seeing a band/artist you’ve loved for years but haven’t had the opportunity to see before (a common occurrence for fans in Australia)

d) Never heard the band/artist before but having that feeling that your life has just being changed.

e) Something special happens that night either on stage or with the venue

f) It ties in with a memorable moment in your life.

For example, my number one gig is Queens on the Songs for the Deaf tour. I don’t think there’s anything as special as standing second row watching your favourite band at the height of their powers play your favourite album while PJ Harvey dances at the side of the stage. Sometimes a show just clicks and it transcends the ages. Anyhow, these are the shows that live large in my memory:

1. Queens of the Stone Age – Metro Theatre, Sydney, 2003

2. Bob Mould – The Zoo, Brisbane, 2002

3. Sleater Kinney - Gaelic Club, Sydney 2002

4. Mogwai – Newtown RSL, Sydney 1999

5. PJ Harvey – Enmore Theatre, Sydney 2001

6. Superchunk – Livid Festival, Brisbane 1994

7. You Am I – Livid Festival, Brisbane 1992

8. Built to Spill – Petersham Bowling Club, Sydney 2008

9. Jesus Lizard – The Globe, Sydney 1998

10. Dirty Three – The Metro, Sydney 1999

All are memorable for different reasons ranging from Superchunk having a terrible gig technically but being all the more entertaining for it to seeing the Dirty Three on a combination of flu tablets and beer and starting to hallucinate to the music. Shows that just miss out are Faith No More (1995), Jawbreaker (1995), Fugazi (1997), Shihad (about 20 times), Mark Eitzel (2008) and Metallica (2010, such a good time). The one thing about all those shows, they all sounded amazing (except Superchunk) so tip your sound woman/man at the door.

Then there are the disappointments such as Radiohead, Ryan Adams, Iron and Wine, Stereolab and Sigur Ros – the main crime being that they were boring or bad. Oh and those fucking gigs I was dragged to being assured me a good time – Steve Malkmus and the oh so pretentious Tortoise. If I wanted to spend the night watching an aloof dude twiddle on his guitar while ignoring the relentless screams for Gold Soundz, I’m sure I could have arranged that at home. Tortoise’s ploy of refusing to play until the room went silent seemed like bullshit to me and then they played their monotonous post-rock to the Wire (magazine) set who were having orgasms at every xylophone solo – dull, dull, dull…

Anyhow, just thinking on it. I don’t get out to shows too often at the moment but of the hundreds of shows I’ve seen, it makes me think of all the enjoyment, nourishment and positivity music has brought to my life. I think we can all agree, music rocks. But also here's hoping my favourite concert event is yet to come...



  1. Aw I wish you'd told the story of the Sleater Kinney gig at the Gaelic Club in 2002 - I feel like I know why that one was so special :)

    And you're so right about the different factors that elevate a show to Awesome status. The three worst gigs I ever went to were so bad because they musicians were in filthy moods. Augie March (a notoriously dull band anyway, I don't know why I even went), Badly Drawn Boy (badly behaved boy more like, complete wanker) and Ryan Adams (who played in the dark then threw a tantrum).

    Now I'm cross. Quick think of good gigs, think of good gigs...

    Do Make Say Think
    Arcade Fire

    That's better.


  2. I think it's that moment of connection that makes a good gig. Of course, having worked in "the biz" I'd like for it to be more technical, and talk about how when this factor is right, or that factor is emphasized, but if I'm honest, I have to admit it's total voodoo: it's when the audience connects with the performance, for whatever reason. I've seen shows where absolutely everything went wrong, from crappy acoustics to a drummer too high to hit the snare, and someone still came backstage gushing about how great the show was, how much their mind was blown, etc. Total voodoo. I think about things like- seeing my old friend John right after he did the solo record, and everybody wanted to hear his old band, but he stuck to his guns and played a more and more trad country set, and it was beautiful to me, because I knew that John was digging further and further into his soul, which though it connected with only a handful of us watching, REALLY connected (there were real tears, even). Yes, I know it sounds all Hippie-dippy, and mushy and silly, but in order to determine what makes a good show, we have to consider what the objectives are, right? Most of the Artists that I care about, that's the point- some form of connection between the Art and the Audience. Now, there are notable exceptions: the post rock, jazz, and other "high Art" types tend to want to simply present their Art, and assume the right audience will find it, but, at that point, I don't think we're really talking about a concert so much as we're talking about some form of performance Art. Even then, I think there are those who are trying to connect. For example, Isis seemed definitely engaged with the audience, in a way that even their forebears, like Neurosis were not.
    Anyway, the thing about not getting to see bands you like? Happens here in America, too- just for different reasons. Like, I'm really jealous about seeing You Am I. I've never seen New Model Army, Joy Division, dEUS, the Lime Spiders, nor even Rose Tattoo- and all due to either Visa problems or the distances involved. Heck, there are American bands I'll never get to see because of the distances: I'll never get to see Rocket from the Crypt, again- not because they're broken up, but because when they do reunite, all the shows are several thousand miles from me.

  3. Ahh yes, voodoo is the perfect word for it. I've seen gigs where everything was perfect and got nothing and then others where it shouldn't work and it's been the night of my life.

    KF, apart from meeting that fabulous redhead I call my girlfriend at that Sleater Kinney show, the other thing that struck me about that gig was the audience - 90% female and up for a good time, totally different vibe from the usual crowds (I'd say PJ was similar with maybe 70% female attendance though not to say male dominated crowds can't be great either). The magical voodoo between Sleater Kinney and the audience was palpable and it just took it to another level.

    I didn't really address it properly but I think the audience being in a good mood can totally change the vibe of a gig. I saw Built to Spill last year and both the band and crowd were in a weird mood that ruined the night. That Dirty Three concert was funny because Bonnie Prince Billy was supporting and the majority of the crowd talked through his set which totally ruined the vibe. Then the Dirty Three came on to the same audience and just slayed. The audience can be pivotal but sometimes, as Matt said, it is individual. I know a lot of people who had a terrible time at that Eitzel concert but for me it was one of the most moving solo performances I've ever seen.

    Now Matt, don't think I'm being critical of Malkmus for refusing to play Pavement stuff. I totally admire that but as I could not stand Pavement nor his solo stuff, it was a bad night all round. My friend told me it would change my life and opinion of him - it didn't (although I do now like some Pavement). I still think Tortoise suck though. And You Am I (who I was just writing about for the blog) are a phenomenal live band. That show I saw was when they'd released their second ep and they were were at the 2pm slot of doom on a side stage at a festival. I still remember it vividly - such a great live band, so much swagger and charisma. It was the first time I'd even heard of them and I loved it so much I literally bought their t shirt!. I've probably seen them about 20 times and never been disappointed.

    Oh my, a great gig can change your life.

  4. I'm glad you added in a nod to the sound dude - I think this is the secret weapon in the arsenal of good gigness. Performance first (which is something that is audience-dependent and -relative), an "on" band, and the subjective jumble of expectation, engagement and the mood of the place. And it's all such a fragile, relative jumble of factors... true, as noted above. There is nothing better than when a band connects (interplay), they're happy and loving what they do, and then when that connects with the audience. That's the holy trinity.

    In my grumpy 36 years I'm increasingly leaning on the sound of a gig opening up all the other joy factors. It's selfish, I know, and it turns me away from so many gigs (esp. outdoors, or just overloading the PA as so many bands are wont). But when sounds meets interplay on all levels, that's the magic. It's visceral and emotional and timeless - and worth seeking out.

    By which I mean to say I regret never seeing the Dead on an "on" night. Oh yes.

  5. On that note, I guess we should also tip the architect because the venue can also play a role. Some rooms have such terrible acoustics that even a good band who is playing great sounds sub-par (Nick Cave at the Hordern Pavilion or Queens at the Roxy or whatever it's called now) as opposed to those rooms that have consistently brilliant dynamics (I always found the Metro to sound good regardless of the band but the sound man always has a role to play in that I imagine). I saw the Necks in a small concert hall in Brisbane years ago and the sound was phenomenal.

    The funny thing is I work in an Architecture Faculty and the architectural acoustics department did a study of sound in the Opera House. Apparently to the ceiling is too low in relation to the orchestra pit which means that half the audience gets bad sound because of the way the sound moves through the room. Bad design apparently - UTZON!

  6. Have heard the same complaint of the Opera House sound... Also depends on how the band projects in there - ie don't be a fool and sit behind the stage for a big band like Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Centre Orchestra. Sure, I got an angle on the drummer's amazing swing - but the sound was totally half-arsed. And yet sitting behind stage for Bobby McPherin (yes...) was awesome.

  7. [That latter in Dublin, not the op house.]