Live music is not my best friend. It’s loud and local and sloppy and right there in front of you as long as you go to the right place at the right time. Recorded music has a volume control, an equalizer, and travels almost everywhere. It has an off switch and won’t greet you as Des Moines when you’re really Dubuque.
However, if you really want to feel the art, as the artist feels it, you have to actually go to the live show. By “you”, of course, I mean “me” (or “I” or whatever is grammatically correct at the time). I usually don’t. I care about the artistry and want people of all levels to create and share their art. I just can’t always bear the experience.
What’s so bad about live music? I’m glad you asked (see above for “you” definition). Singers can, on occasion sing off key or out of tune with each other. That makes me twitch, an involuntary reaction that I do not enjoy. My favorite styles of music are often aggressive or angsty, but I prefer to hear that in music and not feel it in my intestines, spleen, and other innards. Live aggressive music is a bar fight and I prefer my bar fights from a safe distance and, preferably, with a volume control. Music venues not created for opera and other old-timey musical styles tend to have poor quality sound. That blissful haze on the recording becomes a confusing sticky ear-piercing mud when played live. Imagine something where mud can pierce your ear … yes, now you understand my problems
Still, I am brave. I have actually gone to live music shows recently and survived. Sometimes, even, I’ve enjoyed it. Oh hell, I’ve always enjoyed it, but not always because of the music. So, at long last, I’ve fulfilled the assignment given to me by that Liverpool-based curmudgeon blogging as 1537. But what did I listen to and how did I like it? Read on. It would have surprised me, too.
Jazz. Yes, jazz. Most of you have good taste and would not be surprised at all that I’ve gone to live jazz shows. I, however, am a tasteless cretin who prefers to have his soul rattled by music rather than his ears tickled ever so subtly. Recorded jazz confuses me as it’s either a vague song structure surrounding 3-6 people playing something almost random or it’s a singer-led group trying to replicate the whatever-it-was from however-long-ago. In person, the random noodling of competing solos turns into a conversation between very skilled musicians who know the boundaries without being told and yet craft sugary confections out of mere grass and weeds. The piano player, when holding down the groove, somehow generates a predictable-but-not-boring background to the xylophone (marimba? speak-and-spell? I don’t know my jazz percussion) player’s 4 mallet assault on a mix of modal scales. The manic mallet mangler calms down to delicately tinkle over a chord sequence while the sax player’s honk/wail becomes a street fight between Camaros. Eventually, when I’m bored with the obligatory post-solo applause, I get a chance to diagnose the weird resonance as a room tuned to F. So, that was the Adam Bodine Trio with two substitute musicians from the renowned jazz gardens of New York City and Zurich.
A friend of mine, soon to debut solo, plays with another local band, the Bioharmonix who, as you can’t see from the picture I didn’t use, is also a trio with one person on keyboards and another pair who switch between guitar and bass. The venue(s)? Either a crowded cool coffee shop (see ear-piercing mud above) or a church rented out for concerts (with pristine sound included at no charge). I’ve been to several shows since, well, I know them. Because I know them, I also get a glimpse not just into the artistry of their songs, but the creativity in the people behind the songs. Musically, they are sort of like three bands in one with each sub-band featuring a single songwriter. Imagine a poetic cousin of Paul McCartney, Kurt Cobain’s more subdued neighbor, and Rickie Lee Jones hippy music teacher all in a band. That’s the Bioharmonix. As a single band, it doesn’t quite work, but as a series of three friendly sub-bands, it actually does. As their set switches between songwriters, the sound goes from a light-toned musing on a happy/sad day to earth mother jazz to bedroom angst. In a muddy room, it’s confusing. With good sound, it’s less conversational than the Adam Bodine Trio, but much more like friendly support to the songwriter-of-the-moment. Later this month, I may see them again, just downstairs from where I first heard They Might Be Giants. I reserve the right to report … or not.
Oh, there were other bands, too. One had an island-influenced sound featuring lyrics that explore, one at a time, various major South Asian deities. Live it works GREAT, but it sounds a bit gimmicky on recordings. There was the performer with hip-hop-light poetry over spare beats which, really, needs some sonic depth to emerge from her bedroom into the world. Then there was the jazz songstress backed by a full band, who, interestingly, drew out the geriatric crowd like I’ve never seen before. She was good, I suppose, but the highlight was some song that had the same groove as the Beatle’s “Come Together”.
So, yeah, I’m now brave enough to listen to live music. What’re you going to do about it? Oh … that sounds uncomfortable. Umm … OK, you win.