I’ve seen plenty of bands in my time. Some great, some not so great. (And, truth told, I’ve been in bands that fit both those descriptions.) I’ve been sunburned, sodden, too hot, too cold, too tall and too short. Sometimes I’ve been moved to sing along at the top of my lungs (only to be reminded by others that it wasn’t me they’d paid good money to hear.) I’ve sacrificed sneakers and, possibly, my hearing, all for the pleasure of live music. It was worth it. Even now, the distinctive squelching sound of a shoe stepping on a beer-laden strip of Axminster sends a sense of nostalgia surging through my veins. As interactions go, there’s nothing quite like a live musical performance.
My first encounter with live music was – if I’m being honest – probably at church. That said, whilst it was undoubtedly live music, it was far from lively. In fact, if I’m being completely honest, it was probably far closer to death than life. Driven either by piano or organ, the congregation emitted a tuneless, joyless droning sound that swallowed whole anything resembling a melody. Those who could sing didn’t stand a chance. But despite its general tunelessness (definitely a word), at least singing was encouraged. Given the results, though, that encouragement would have been better directed towards getting singing lessons.
Most of the congregants considered singing an unnatural act performed on Sundays as a form of cosmic punishment. Atonement, if you will. Mostly, they didn’t sing during the week and it really showed. The hymn numbers were listed on a board beside the pulpit like lotto results and I would check the hymnal as soon as we were seated, hoping to be surprised or delighted. It rarely happened.
The first live music performance that blew my mind clear off my shoulders occurred when I was about four years old. Daryl Somers made an appearance at the Mornington Shopping Centre and it was pure awesomeness. From a grand entrance that involved running down the up escalator, to throwing out chewing gum to an adoring audience; his explosive energy could have powered a village. I’m not sure if I even knew who he was then. I doubt very much that Daryl Somers remembers appearing at the Mornington Shopping Centre, but I, for one, will never forget it.
It’s awkward when you’re a teenager. Not only do you have to suffer through a tidal wave of hormones, pimples and other hideous changes, it’s the moment that you develop a passion for live music, only to discover the bands you like only play in pubs. I have friends who claim that from their early teens, they’d sneak out at night and manage to get into licensed venues to see the musical groups they loved, but that was never me. Growing up in Tyabb meant it’d be a three-day hike just to get to a licensed venue. Even when I was eighteen, I rarely got past the bouncer. Something about my shoes not being up to scratch…
As seeing music in a licensed venue was out of the question, it meant that live music could only be experienced at all ages gigs. Granted, the history of music is full of legendary bands who’d go out of their way to put on ‘all ages’ shows to ensure their loyal fans didn’t miss out, but I can’t recall any of them getting down to the Mornington Peninsula. The only all-ages gigs available to me were connected to the local church youth group. These bands – often American, always wholesome – played big venues like Festival Hall and it was the first time I’d experience that kind of volume. To hear music is one thing. To feel it is something different altogether.
There’s something powerful about a shared experience. It’s a communion, if you will, not just between band and audience but between members of the audience. It’s an amazing thing. I’ve seen The Flaming Lips walk across an audience in a giant space bubble. I’ve barely seen Damien Rice at all because he likes to keep the lighting to a minimum, presumably to keep costs down. And I’ve seen You Am I more times than I can count in venues big and small.
I especially love an intimate gig. I remember watching, spellbound, as Rufus Wainwright played to a small group of people in a basement. And, earlier this year, we went to see Canadian folk-rock legends, ‘The Burning Hell’ play in a tiny venue in Northcote. We were so close that we were practically sitting in with the band. Which was all well and good until we ordered dessert and the only way the waitress could deliver it was walk through a saxophone solo. It’s awkward, I think, when a band dedicates the next song to your Affogato.
Then there’s the experience of playing live music to an audience. Two weeks ago, we played at the local folk club. It was a theme night with the theme being ‘heavenly bodies’. We decided to write our own song, which we called ‘The Lonely Planet’ about the seventh planet from the son, Uranus. We’d never played to an audience before and the audience had never heard it before. But they laughed. And at the end they cheered. And we felt a sense of exhilaration that’s almost impossible to describe. Music is, without doubt, the food of love. Probably an Affogato.