Recently, I was having drinks with a few colleagues when one announced that he hated going to see live music.
For me, that’s almost blasphemy. I’ve been addicted to the gig experience ever since my parents took me to see Meat Loaf at the Perth Entertainment Centre. I was twelve, and I was hooked. My constant need to seek out the thrills of a good gig has seen me indulge in a habit that has eaten up countless hours of my adult life and cost me approximately all my money. To cap it all off, I’m a gig reviewer. Live music is my thing.
There are a couple of reasons that my colleague said what he said. One is that he loves stirring me up. He had a few slightly more credible reasons too, though, including a dislike for crowds, a hatred of overpriced drinks, and a failure to see the point. “Why should I pay money to hear the same songs I can already hear at home?” he said.
I’ve been thinking on this, and as much as I couldn’t believe what he was saying, I can see where he’s coming from. Why, in this day and age, considering the advent of lip-synching, technology-fuelled sound effects and noise restrictions, do we still seek out the experience of live music?
In so many ways, live music can be a humungous let-down. I remember when half the Perth indie scene was up in arms because, after forking out their hard-earned dollars to see Cat Power, they were instead treated to a set of crying and self-flagellation before the artist walked off stage.
Then there’s those other cats, The Cat Empire. Their set down by the Swan River back in 2010 was a triumph, but all anyone talked about was the fact that they didn’t play The Car Song.
I myself came horrifyingly close to the ultimate disappointment back in 2004. I was completely obsessed with Radiohead, so much so that when they announced their Australian tour (comprising solely of concerts in Sydney and Melbourne), I booked a ticket for their Melbourne show without even thinking twice. I traipsed merrily across the country for one night in the company of Thom Yorke and 15,000 other souls. It was fantastic – but probably less so for the thousands of ticket-holders for the following night’s show. The next day’s concert was cancelled due to Thom Yorke’s ill health, and the veins of the internet ran rich with protestations from devastated fans… many of whom, like me, had flown in from elsewhere to attend.
Indeed, there are many, many horror stories. Boring shows, bad attitudes, crappy venues, sound problems, aggressive punters… and don’t even get me started on the nightmare that is Australian music festivals. None of it comes cheap, either.
So, what are we doing it for, then? Why do we keep shelling out money and turning up to venues, queuing in the cold, arguing with bouncers about everything from our jackets to our footwear, fighting to get a drink and inevitably standing behind the world’s tallest men, who also like to flail their arms?
I think it’s about the totally unique moments that you can only get with a live concert. A gig that I see will never really exist in any other form than my memory. Sure, others will see the same show, but not from where I was standing. They won’t hear exactly what I heard, or be looking at exactly the same spot on the stage that I am.
My greatest memories of live shows could never be captured on a CD. The Frames’ rambling inter-song anecdotes change from gig to gig. Michael Stipe stared down his audience from the Burswood Dome stage, before locking eyes with me and cracking a giant grin (I promise that’s real – I have friends who will vouch for it). Then there’s M-Phazes hilariously shit-talking Mantra for rapping too fast, the heart-breaking tremour in Guy Garvey’s voice when singing Switching Off, Matt Bellamy’s piano cadenzas, performed with his guitar thrown nonchalantly over his shoulder…
…and there’s that rush. That moment when you feel like you no longer have bones, just a vibrating bass holding your entire body together… that’s not a feeling you can get anywhere else.
So, I’ll keep going to gigs, even with the odds – technological, temperamental and logistical – all stacked against the possibility of a truly brilliant show. I may come away poorer, tired and permanently hard of hearing, but it’s worth it for even just the chance of seeing something incredible, unique and irreplaceable.