Have you ever walked out of a gig and then found out you missed the best bit? Not only the best song/s but something so amazing, something so powerful and poignant – the moment that encapsulated the gig for everyone else; a transcendental moment…yes, yes, if you walked out then how would you know you missed it, right? Well, what I mean to say is have you ever been told the next day that you missed the best bit.
It’s an occupational hazard for me, well, it used to be – I leave gigs before the end. Not always. But often. I had to. And for anyone complaining that a review that doesn’t mention the encore is not a real review I would remind you that, futile as it might seem in offering any form of defence, I often had 10 minutes to write a review. There’s a reason you’re reading about it the very next day in the paper – and that reason is because I picked, hopefully, the exact moment to leave; it’s an issue of timing – have I seen enough of the gig to comment, to shape an opinion? Am I as sure as I can be that I won’t miss the fireworks; the finale? Fingers crossed…
When I reviewed The Rolling Stones’ show a few years back I lived so close to Wellington’s stadium that I was able to leave while they were playing the encore (I don’t need to hear their ropey live version of Satisfaction; they’ve never done it justice live) for a very quick cab-ride home. While penning the final line of the review I looked out the front window and saw the actual fireworks – the end of the show. I wrote the review in about six minutes, made my deadline, and, somehow, felt like I was still part of the show. So that worked out well.
But for every experience like that I’ve had people tell me the next day that I missed the best song. Or that I should have stuck around for the encore because a roadie joined in, or they pulled an audience member up to dance, or confessed they were moving to New Zealand next week.
There was also that time when Evan Dando kinda got beaten up at the end of his solo show. Or so I heard…
I’ve gotten so used to having to walk out of a gig that it can be very liberating, it can be the best move – you can make a gig just right for you by calling time. I stuck it out through all of Chris Cornell’s solo show – and he was very good. Both times. But as I said in the reviews it was a bit long. A few too many covers. Fans think of value for money and want to live in the world of their favourite musician for just as long as they can. So I was promptly told I was an idiot by people so sure they could have taken an hour or two more. And hey, that’s fair enough. But I’m very happy to leave shows early now – I wasn’t when I started reviewing. But it’s just a part of the job. Something that happens, that has to happen…
But you have to play a straight bat when you’re not seeing everything. You can’t jump to a conclusion you could not possibly prove. And it’s worse if there’s actual evidence to the contrary, proof against your point that arrived after you left. That’s not a good scene.
I don’t think I’ve been guilty of anything in my reviews – other than offering my own opinion of course.
I think back to Gil Scott-Heron’s memoir, The Last Holiday. Cobbled together after his death, these pieces of a man tell some of his story but leave out far more. It’s a memoir though, not an autobiography, there’s a difference. And there are reminders of Scott-Heron’s way with the word. And the passion and clarity of his voice. The book is as much about the influence of Stevie Wonder, the spiritual power that Scott-Heron felt from working alongside Wonder, the vision that Stevie was privy to. A very special vision.
Gil Scott-Heron toured with Stevie Wonder as part of the Hotter Than July tour and his memoir clearly seeks to pay tribute to the political work that Wonder was doing with his songwriting and his performances. But there was one passage that stuck with me. Scott-Heron explains the mood of the night they had found out about John Lennon’s death moments before going on stage. The decision was made to keep this announcement from the audience. To go out and give them a show – as per normal, a reason to celebrate, a reason to live.
Then, at the very end of the show Stevie spoke. The musicians gathered on the stage. He told the audience about John Lennon’s death. He communicated the sorrow and fears.
The next day in the paper the reviewer – a guy just doing his job – made the mistake of deciding that Wonder and Scott-Heron had not marked Lennon’s murder. The reviewer, Scott-Heron figures, probably had to leave early to file copy for his deadline. But he assumes they never mentioned the murder because they would have said it at the start of the evening. So this guy just doing his job is not really doing his job properly.
Audience members would have been horrified to read that review, baffled at the least.
Scott-Heron draws an understanding, reading between the lines, that the reviewer is looking down on them for not mentioning it; possibly even figuring that race is part of the issue. These black guys didn’t care about a white guy. The reviewer certainly got it very wrong that night.
I thought about that as I finished the book. I could have wanted to hear so many more stories about Gil Scott-Heron’s life and so many more insights from a thoughtful, eloquent writer. But this story was the one that hovered.
I felt mortified on behalf of the newspaper hack that got it wrong that night. I felt sorry for him – even though he made the mistake of assuming something had not happened.
And it got me wondering – have you ever worried for what you did miss at a show? Have you picked the right time to leave only to hear the next day that a spectacular fight took place, or a wardrobe malfunction? That the most incredible encore featuring a range of famous guest stars really turned the evening around? That the brand new song saved for the very end was the absolute revelation?
What have you later found out you missed from shows?
And what, factually, have you remembered a reviewer missing? We’re not talking about opinions here – but a reviewer saying something happened when it didn’t. Or in a case like the one above, someone saying something didn’t happen when it did.
Do you always stay to the bitter end? And are you always pleased you do? And there’s always that line thrown about concerning reviewers – “was this guy even at the same show?” – are there times when you’ve wondered that given the reviewer got the information of the evening (rather than the opinion) so totally wrong?