I still remember my first gig. DD Smash. Napier. Marine Parade Soundshell. 1984. I was at primary school. I loved DD Smash. Well, I liked them. Well, I knew that one song ‘Outlook For Thursday’. But more importantly my brother liked DD Smash. And mum and dad did too. They didn’t like them enough to pay – so we sat outside, on the concrete, with a blanket. Just staring at the tent wall as the cacophony of muffled sound spilt out on to the street. Just us. And one hundred other families that weren’t keen to pay. At the end of the show they let us in for free to have a look. My dad lifted me up to see the band – and right as I got a glimpse of Dobbyn, a bottle was thrown on the stage. It wasn’t a plastic pump bottle; it wasn’t a coke bottle; nor was it one of those modern plastic stubbies they sell at the cricket. No. This was the 1980s. And this was a 750ml quart of Tui, tossed – half full – straight from the crate, and aimed right at Dobbyn’s curly strawberry-blonde afro. He did the done thing, moved in time and promptly screamed out “you pack of bastards”. Or something like that. The front row was taken up with Mongrel Mob members. Needless to say, there was more than one bottle thrown that night. It was an ugly end to my first concert. I was hooked.
Since then, I have managed to get inside and actually watch the shows as they happen, rather than sneaking a peek near the end. Sometimes I haven’t had to pay. Often I have. It is always worth it.
For my first University orientation which was, a couple of decades ago, the highlight was seeing The Throwing Muses; coincidentally they’d just released their album University, so a tour that took in all of New Zealand’s universities seemed smart. But I have to confess, I hadn’t heard the Muses prior to that gig. I’d heard of them (as people will always say after) but had yet to hear any of their albums. It was another Orientation act that got me there. On my first day of University in 1995, Sam Hunt was performing in one of the cafés – he concluded his set by telling the audience that they must go see the Throwing Muses. Never one to argue with Sam Hunt I went. I pushed my way to the front, with the just-purchased band T-Shirt stuffed into the back of my jeans. I watched the set in awe. They were terrific. We hung around like geeks begging for a leftover guitar pick, a piece of the set-list, or something…anything. We got all of Kristin Hersh’s leftover drinks – fucking strong Bacardis. It was great. (I think?) The next day, when I pushed the duvet back as far as I could (trying to cover up the previous night’s hangover) I did that responsibility-free shuffle down the Dixon St steps, shunning class for the first of several times. I proudly displayed my student ID card for free chips at McDonalds, then shoved it at the counter in the next-door music store, hoping for discount there too, as I purchased a copy of The Throwing Muses’ University.
A good gig will make you fall in love with music again, each night as if for the first time. A bad gig is still better than listening to a shit album. A bad gig can be hilarious.
There was the time I watched a flatmate perform, in earnest, at a Gallery downtown. He slashed at his guitar strings with a screwdriver, with all the dedication of a person who had read every interview with Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine. A guy played demented sax-riffs, honking away like Bill Pullman’s character in The Lost Highway. And the drums should have been nailed down they were literally being hit so hard. This, apparently, was performance-art. As their blended cacophony spilt out on to the street – with a video screen broadcasting images of prosthetic limbs in a meaningless collage, a tray of raw offal was thrown in the middle of the room and a dog was unleashed (again, quite literally). The concept? If there was one, it was that the dog would devour the fleshy, fatty meat, while fleshy, fatty, meaty music was being made, with car-crash victims’ parts-in-waiting arranged to perform a pre-recorded kaleidoscopic dance. In the end it wasn’t just the blended cacophony that spilt out on to the street, the two-dozen odd people (most of them very odd) that were watching fled the building at the stench of the offal; and the dog (completely uninterested in the rancid meat that had sat on the parcel tray of my flatmate’s car for three days while he busied himself collecting instruments to smash and spare arms and legs to entangle) ran away with the spoon…
My point? Erm, shit…er…yeah…my point is simply that if it had been that bad I wouldn’t have remembered every stinking detail – a decade later – to share now.
Go and see as much live music as you can, support the people that (hopefully) do their best to bring it to you. Get pissed. Tell someone in a band – to their face – that they were utter shit. Better yet, tell someone – to their face – that they were great. Maybe, one day, when you’ve seen enough gigs, you might even be able to sincerely mean it.