Sunday, 6 April 2008

What makes a gig?

I was unfortunate enough to catch Glasvegas supporting The Wombats at Shepherds Bush Empire in February. Even with their preposterous hype, Glasvegas have repeatedly proven themselves to be an astonishing live band. In spite of all this, they were forced to endure an interminable volley of glowsticks from a crowd of 14 year-old monsters. Not only that, the brats were completely oblivious of the music - Glasvegas might as well have been playing to an empty room. Pubescent frames were flung around the place, the soundscape reverberating with helium inflicted screeches and squirms.

A foolish pre-emptive thought that the fourth floor balcony would somehow make the young ‘uns invisible proved a pointless and futile exercise – what it actually did was turn them into annoying pinheads, instead of varying personified degrees of my own admittedly snobbish ageism. And whilst The Wombats themselves were at best irksome to anyone post-GCSE, the kids’ disrespect was the sole memento to be taken away from the night. A conveyor belt of stagedivers summed it all up really – the crowd were young, fair enough, but surely they’ve got an opinion outside of adherence?

The experience was perturbing, and there’s numerous possibilities of why that turned out to be the case. Perhaps because of my frustration that the audience had entirely missed the point of Glasvegas? Instead, because of their undying and single-minded love of The Wombats and thus no-one else? Maybe simply because they were slaves to the radio and couldn’t possibly appreciate music the way I did? Or even because it meant that I couldn’t listen to The Wombats ever again even on CD, as I’d been irrecoverably tainted by the whole thing. Whatever the reason why, it’s clear that passive factors such as the audience can turn a gig downhill, especially when the artist rises to it. The Wombats did so by ending the set with a cover of Postman Pat sung in Norwegian.

But forget the disappointing gig example, let’s look at the other extreme – the support act that you’re not in the slightest hyped up about who completely blow you away. In early 2007, !!! at Brixton Academy were that very band. I’d given them a casual listen before, but they were simply phenomenal live and really took me by surprise. Sub-tribal drumming, interaction, and that vibe. Ultra-glances between unfamiliar people in the crowd. Extended jubilation. Art Brut at ULU earlier this year were simply mindblowing, but it’s so difficult to explain why. For me, amazing live music needs little justification whereas disappointment seems to initiate an undying rant. Hypocritical of course, but maybe a necessary continuation of wanting to keep your favourite bands to yourself and on the other hand, do all in your power to prevent the spread of something you deem pretty awful.

The mediocre gigs are brushed by the wayside, that’s just one of those things. So to bring together the two extremes, recall once more that familiar post-gig euphoria, limbs akimbo and mind reverberating - there’s no finite list of reasons why it occurs because that would mean that spontaneity played no part. And that’s certainly a good thing, because who wants a contrived performance executed by checklist? What the audience ought to require is a performance oozing with personality; more than just a re-hash of the records; the sense that the artist isn’t doing the same thing every night; a sense of involvement; visible passion; graciousness without extended feedback; the occasional passing conversation with a stranger. So maybe the problem only exists when the audience doesn’t live up to my expectation? How conceited a music snob I am.

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