To Be Or Not To Be (At The Show): Two Opinions On Live Music

What makes art, in my opinion, so damn amazing, is that there’s no clear-cut formula of it. Every time we try to dissect art, we always end up with more questions than answers. No definition will perfectly fit it, and while that’s a frustration to many a philosopher, I find that to be incredible. It’s a phenomenon that, for me, makes life worth living.

Since we can’t come with a definitive answer to such questions as “What is art?” or “How does/can one experience art?” have similarly open-ended conclusions. Accordingly, let’s talk about live shows; lot of the staff here on Heavy Blog experience music in a live setting. This isn’t to say that they do it all the time, or that they dislike listening to recorded music, but they get immense satisfaction from seeing a band perform live. I, however, have never gotten the same pleasure from concerts, nor do I have any particular inclination to go to most live shows. I thought it might be worth analyzing this further, and my fellow writer Karlo Doroc jumped on the idea. Since he’s nearly the complete opposite of me when it comes to going to concerts, we thought it could be interesting to show both sides of the argument. After all, there’s really no “right” way to experience art, but it’s nonetheless interesting to think about.

Jimmy’s Opinion On Live Music

Part of me not going to concerts and the like has to do with my current status as a twenty-something living in a location where interesting live entertainment is about an hour away, and is usually more than I can afford on a wage-slave income. Part of this also has to do with the fact that I’m also cheap son of a bitch. But most of all, this comes down to aesthetic taste, and how I personally like to experience art. I’ve been to concerts before, sure, but I haven’t gone for some time; my first (and since then, only) metal show was seeing Tool live back in 2008. And I won’t lie: it was a great show, and a memory I would never take back for the world. But things have changed in those eight years. As platitudinous as this phrase is, I’m not the same person I once was.

Solitude has always been my favorite domain; at the heart of it all, I’m very much an introvert. There’s a small timer in the back of my head that begins ticking when I’m in public, and once it buzzes, I’m, for lack of a better word, toast. I need to recharge, away from the masses. And part of how I manage to recharge is by listening to music and reading and generally experiencing art on a firsthand basis. This probably isn’t too different from a lot of people—who doesn’t unwind after a long day at work by putting on some music in the car, or catching up on whatever deliciously addictive show Netflix has online?

Except there’s a little bit more to it. Something that’s always stuck in my head has been Marilyn Manson‘s interview in the Michael Moore documentary Bowling For Columbine, talking about music’s effect on children: “When I was a kid growing up, music was the escape. That’s the only thing that had no judgments. You know, you put on a record, and it’s not going to yell at you for dressing the way you do. It’s going to make you feel better about it.” I don’t know if I would use the word “escape” to describe my own relationship with art, but Manson’s words nonetheless stand: art is a way of feeling better, of accepting things the way they are, of being included when you often feel like an outcast.

Personally, I feel like I’ve always been in all of those situations Manson described, especially that last one. I’m often greeted with a world that doesn’t seem to like, or even tolerate people like me—a world full of consumerism and empty-headedness that borders on epidemic levels. I see people that hate each other for no real reason, who are so unaware of what’s going on around them that it leaves me depressed and anxious and more lonely than ever. But what makes it all worth it—every angry customer I’m forced to smile at and deal with at work, every asshole New England driver, every constant nagging feeling that nothing is going to be okay—is being able to open a book. It’s being able to listen to artists like John Zorn and Prince and Nine Inch Nails—people who have felt like I feel now, but have twisted and shaped that loneliness and isolation into something truly beautiful, and, what’s more, have presented it as a gift for the rest of the world. For me, art is such a personal thing, such a cure for loneliness and depression and thoughts that the universe is doomed that to do something like going to a concert doesn’t exactly ruin the purpose, but partially numbs the reasons I love it and need it.

This doesn’t mean that I’m against concerts or live music. If I ever had the chance, I would see John Zorn perform in a second. Same thing with Nine Inch Nails. But at the root of it all, art, to me, is much more to me than a group experience. Being alone and having the stereo on is, to me, like a million group experiences stuffed into a single solitary moment, a time for me to think about and analyze, but most of all, enjoy and love music on an aesthetic level. If other people get that same level of pleasure from seeing bands perform, or having a few beers and hitting the pit, or just standing there while an artist like Neurosis blows their minds both aurally and visually, then that’s great for them. I wouldn’t want to take that away at all. But I’ll be where I want to be: at home, reading David Foster Wallace, listening to Masada, and reveling in the fact that this—for me, at least—is life lived happily.

-JM

Karlo’s Opinion On Live Music

My fellow egg contributor, Jimmy, wrote a great piece around his listening habits. Specifically, he went into detail about why he loves listening to music in the comfort of his own home, and why he almost never goes to experience performances of live music. One point which Jimmy explained quite eloquently was that art, and the experience of art, is highly subjective. It is an experience which is wholly unique to each individual, and there is no right or wrong way for an individual to engage and interact with the art that they love. Having read through one individual’s experiences and how they’re drawn much more strongly by the lure of recorded rather than live music, I feel it’s fitting given the subject matter that you be exposed to an alternate perspective. I’ll be touching upon many of the core themes referred to in Jimmy’s piece, and highlighting how extremely similar thoughts and emotions have driven me to a near opposite conclusion. I love live music and I often go to see live performances. However, before diving into why this is the case, let us make one thing crystal clear: Jimmy and I are not trying to convince anybody that our way is the right way. Our collaboration piece deals with the same coin, which is our absolute love for music. We may be presenting two different sides to that coin, but no one side is more important than the other, each has its purpose, and both coexist as parts of a singular whole.

As a Heavy Blog contributor, it should come as no surprise to you that I am an absolute pleb nerd. As such, I’ve kept a (relatively accurate) record of every live music performance I’ve been to. Consequently, I can state that since my first concert back in 2007, (a Linkin Park headliner, fun times), I’ve been to around 75 gigs. Yet, in the early days going to a concert was something of a special treat, reserved for only a handful of instances a year, if any at all. It was only much later that I really started connecting with music to the extent that I do now, and so this led to a drastic increase in the number of shows I’ve attended. So of those 75 gigs, 64 of them have come in the last three years, which works out at something close to a gig every couple of weeks. I’m blessed to live in Melbourne, a city with a high standard of living, no shortage of cheap gigs every weekend, and a plethora of phenomenally talented Melbournian and Australian bands who regularly play shows. So let’s start by looking at the more surface-level factors that affect the frequency with which we go to gigs: time and money.

Time and money are two things everyone wishes they had more of, and so what we decide to spend it on becomes extremely important. The key to making the right call is to spend your time and money on things which are a priority for you. I will always prioritise going to a show rather than buying a CD. Every single time, no second thoughts. Because I value experiences over possessions, and I know I can still listen to the music whether I have a physical copy of the music or not. Jimmy loves music as a physical product, and so he would rather prioritise a CD or vinyl over attending a gig. Fair calls in both instances, I’d say. Of course, there are certain concerts I simply can’t afford to attend, or times in my life where the time demanded by my obligations simply doesn’t allow me to go to a gig I wish I could attend. However, for the most part, I believe that if something is truly important to you, as gigs are to me, then you will be able to make time for it. The story gets a little trickier on the money front, but that’s a topic for another day.

The part I’d really like to hone in on with this piece, is what the live music experience can mean. One of my first pieces for the blog dealt with exactly this topic when I went to watch my favourite band perform, and I’ll quote a few choice passages. Jimmy mentioned that he is most definitely an introvert, and that consequently solitude is one of his favourite domains. As a massive introvert myself, and as a male who has historically had great difficulty expressing his emotions to others, live music has been a great way for me to develop these areas of myself. I had very few friends who were into similar types of music to me, and so there was a very long period where I would go to shows by myself. It created an interesting paradox. I was in a room full of dozens, sometimes hundreds of people; and yet I was basically alone. I was comfortable being alone, and I was under no obligation to have to talk to, or interact with any of the people around me. I didn’t care about them, and they didn’t care about me. We may not ever see one another again. This allowed me to feel comfortable enough to enjoy the band’s performance, and to start expressing my emotions through the movement of my body without feeling like I would be judged. Perhaps I’d close my eyes and sway gently from side to side as I concentrated on the music. Perhaps I’d be on the barrier, hand out-stretched, singing every word. Perhaps I’d be going ballistic in the mosh pit. Whatever the case, I’d be able express that which was within me, be it annoyance, frustration, anger, rage, melancholy, sadness, joy, hope… the list is endless.

“The space of a live music venue provid[es] a harbour for any who seek its refuge, a place of clarity and understanding where they will be safe from the dissonance and noise of the outside world. Within those four walls, a small community… come[s] together to share in a unique experience, for never again… [will] that same set of people be joined in one place, to witness those same bands perform in the same way.”

Heavy music generally deals with negative emotions on a much more regular basis than it does positive emotions, and so these are the feelings typically being expressed by the crowd. There is no doubt that listening to music at home can be a cathartic experience, but it cannot replicate the energy of an enthusiastic crowd, and a band feeding off of that energy:

“Live music can be a way to express and cleanse oneself of negative emotions, [and] the inevitable aftermath of such an emotional realignment is that you’re instilled with a buzz of happiness, enthusiasm and wonder.”

As well as allowing you to express your emotions, it can add “an additional layer… to those who enjoy deep thinking and an analysis of their own experiences” because it pushes you to “engage with… [the] experience on an intellectual level”. What did I do during that set, and what feelings drove me to do that? Why did it feel the way that it did at the time, and what was coming out of me? How do I feel now that it’s done, and why? These are the kinds of questions I would ponder afterwards. The result is that I’ve become much better at articulating and sharing my emotional state with others, and so live music has helped develop me into a stronger person. Moving back to the introvert point, I’m still an introvert, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, I have become a lot more comfortable with being surrounded by a lot of people. The safe space of a music venue has also pushed me to expand my comfort zone, and over time I began participating and even initiating conversations with people I had never met, making a host of new friends in the process. Now it’s almost unheard for me to go to a show and not run into a friend from my local scene there. It’s always handy when you get to do something that you find extremely enjoyable, and which helps develop you as a person at the same time.

Now as much as I love live music, I’ll be the first to admit that it has its faults. A lot of things can go wrong. There might be assholes amongst the crowd. The sound mix in the venue might be really bad, so that you can’t hear some instruments properly or the sound becomes muddied and distorted. The band may not be able to adequately replicate their recorded output. These are all issues which could put a real dampener on your night, and sometimes it happens. There is some risk involved, whereas listening to recorded music in your own home is a risk-free alternative in a world where most people are risk-averse. The record is always going to sound the same. It’s going to be amazing every single time, you’re going to hear every little detail, and you’re hearing it in the form that it was intended to be consumed in. Yet, where there is risk, there can often be a higher reward.

“In a digital age where human connection seems to be waning, live music can help people meaningfully connect with, and understand, both themselves and those around them.”

Bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan wouldn’t be nearly as highly regarded if it wasn’t for the ferocity and chaos of their live shows. Fans of jam and improvisational bands like Tangled Thoughts of Leaving would miss out on a performance that may never be heard again, because they may play the song differently every single time. Shows from the likes of Portal or Sunn O))) aren’t there to be heard, they’re there to be felt. Even negative surprises could bring with them a silver lining. Perhaps the vocalist of a very progressive and/or technical band falls ill, and you get to hear an instrumental set which puts the songs in a whole other, wonderful light. There are many potential surprises to be had, in terms of how the band performs, what songs you hear, what the crowd will be like, who you will meet etc. Sure, things can go wrong. But when they go right, regardless of whether you go with your friends or you’re alone in a crowd full of strangers, live music can be a truly transcendental experience.

-KD

So, what do the rest of you think? Feel free to comment below.