I have made the case in the past how it is important, if you REALLY love rock and roll to experience it live as often as possible. No, I am not talking about U2 or Springsteen at the local Enormodome but about seeing the hundreds (probably thousands) of bands that ply their trade from one rock and roll dive bar to another.
Let me use a recent experience to illustrate. A few weeks ago I caught one of my current faves The Brown Hornets at a local bar here in Montreal. Now granted the bar itself was nothing special in the interior decor department and the lighting onstage was suspect but the place certainly has character and that counts for maximum points in my book. There was no cover charge, the bar held maybe 50-75 people max and yet when I walked out of there on the shady side of 1:00 AM I was positively vibrating with excitement.
First of all, nothing beats being within eye contact of the band. It gives the whole experience an intimacy that is lacking with big arena shows. And if you are within eye contact and the band is rockin’ all manner of fun can break out. In the case of the Brown Hornets, you are almost guaranteed to be part of the show since they toss out all manner of tambourines and cowbells to the crowd making them feel part of the band. That and the fact that frontman Danny and new guitar player Paul spend half of their time off the stage engaging in various kicks, jumps, shimmies and shakes makes it hard not to be engaged (while simultaneously ducking out of the way and holding onto your beer just in case…).
On top of that, a good band engages their audience to the point where they actually come together as a unit. Now I’m not saying we all become buddies or anything but you find yourself flashing knowing smiles to strangers when a particular song strikes your fancy or you yell out words of encouragement to that dude by the stage in red hair banging his tambourine furiously in (kinda) time to the music. I think we can all agree that a rock and roll show is a communal experience and the effect it has on people on a purely social level is amazing to behold (and yes I understand that the opposite can be true but I still say that those experiences are in the minority).
Live music engages all of our senses in a wonderful tidal wave of sensory overload. We hear the band play, we watch their antics, we yell out encouragement or sing along and we often wash the whole experience down with a beverage or two. While listening to songs on your iPod or on the radio or in a podcast is a wonderful experience and has its place, it is an experience enjoyed for the most part in isolation. The experience is less urgent, less in your face than a live show and that urgency is what makes live music so essential to enjoying rock and roll.
Another important fact about live music is the effect it has on the band you are seeing. Bands can get statistics up the ying yang demonstrating who bought their songs off iTunes, CD Baby or Amazon, when and where and that is important but when a band is onstage performing they SEE the effect that their music has on people. They see the smiles, they hear those shouts of encouragement and they feel the emotion of the crowd as it washes back on them and the experience is cathartic. This is what encourages them to keep going, this is what encourages them to take some time off from their day jobs to go record some songs and this is what tells them that what they are doing means something to somebody other than themselves. This is the effect YOU have when you go to see a band live.
Remember this the next time you hear about a band on The Rock and Roll Report and are grooving along to their music on the podcast or radio show. Check out their webpage to see where they are playing and if it’s in your neck of the woods go see them. It won’t cost much (not like going to see the current Van Halen or Police reunions!) and the experience will at the very least put a smile on your face. To me, rock and roll is all about the moment. It is about that moment in time that transcends whatever problems you might have experienced at that point, it transcends whatever issues you may be having with your girlfriend, teacher, best friend or boss and it is a reason, an excuse even to celebrate through the power of music. Like I always say, live rock and roll may not be able to change the world but for that brief, shining moment when you are standing at a live show banging your table and singing at the top of your lungs, it has changed your world for at least a moment. And in this day and age I can use those moments as much as I can get them.
Go out and see a band live this weekend. You’ll thank me for it. Guaranteed.