We can’t see (m)any gigs. We can’t have (m)any gatherings. Live music venues are taking a hit. It might all feel doom and gloom – and possibly with the good reason that it actually is rather dooming and very, very gloomy….but we have memories of the past, right? We’ve seen some shows. Some incredible gigs. I know I have. For a while there – and I mean about 15 years – I was paid an embarrassing pittance to go to shows and relay how they played out. I did it for the love of it, never for the money. When the gig wasn’t good I really earned that terrible paycheck. When the gig was great it was irrelevant that some beer-money was going to trickle into my account.
There were incredible gigs. And I talk about some of them here. (Must add another few to that list!) But sometimes it’s not even about the music. It’s about the vibe – a cool moment that happens, the fan and the band connected; the person on the stage reaching out – showing you (and the crowd) that it’s not just a well-rehearsed bit. It feels like a breaking of the fourth wall in a way.
So I wanted to share a few memories of some of those moments.
Relating of course to the gigs that I have seen – and as I say, not necessarily musical moments as such; they’re more about framing the moment of being in a live audience, or being part of something that is larger than just being a music fan but also absolutely encompasses that fact; the very essence of enjoyment in a live experience.
The George Benson gig in Wellington many moons ago. One of two great Benson gigs I saw – but the first one in particular was very special. The second one was cool – because I got to speak to him ahead of the show. But that first one, that was where the fan-in-me got to just enjoy one of my musical heroes from my youth.
Yes, Benson took the obvious route and put his impressive jazz licks on hold to dish out the commercial cheese that made him a household name in the late 1970s and early 1980s – but this was a smart move. The majority of the crowd loved it. And the feel-good moment that confirmed this was when one chancer down the front held up the LP cover of Give Me the Night for GB to sign. Benson obliged, leaning down to take the felt-tip pen and scrawl his name. The elated punter spun around and held the cover, his new trophy, above his head with both hands and pumped the air to show the crowd. There was a collective whoop in honour and appreciation of this deed – applause to both Benson for signing and to the cheeky souvenir-hunter. No one was jealous. Everyone was grateful to see this happen. That’s how it felt. Well done that man. Such a nice memory of a very good show.
R.E.M. playing the New Plymouth Bowl of Brooklands in 2005 provided some magic moments. It had rained all day and seemed grim on the drive across the island. I hadn’t even organised accommodation and obviously there was little chance on the day. We ended up borrowing a phone at a B&B and ringing around. No dice. And then the proprietor decided to have us stay anyway – she and her husband slept on the lounge floor. We had their bed. My wife felt terrible. I slept soundly after a great gig. Hey, we paid for the room!
Anyway, once we had a bed we cheered up despite the weather. It held off for a fired-up set from Bright Eyes and then when there was a bit more rain Mike Mills pulled off an impromptu verse or two of Have You Ever Seen the Rain? More and more people jumped into the pond at the front of the stage as the night went on. (Remember when you could do that at the Bowl?) Silly hippies, I remember thinking. But it did take on an extra poignancy when R.E.M did actually deliver the most obvious song they could near the end of the show: Nightswimming.
The entire Brian Wilson concert seemed like a feel-good moment and I know I wasn’t alone; there was a buzz at the interval, people already grinning from ear to ear as if to say he hasn’t even played SMiLE yet!!!! And then he played SMiLE. And then he returned to crank out some of the early, iconic Beach Boyshits. But for me the real moment within the show, the one I remember, was hearing Wilson sing Love & Mercy from his eponymous solo album. It seemed to sum up what Wilson is about in terms of wanting to perform after all he has been through and of how it is that urge to perform that very much keeps him alive. It really was a beautiful thing to be part of.
Keb Mo’ having the humility to allow Paul Ubana Jones on to the stage to perform with him back in about 1998/9 was a nice touch. I could care less about ever seeing Keb Mo’ again (even though I did, part of that pittance-pay gig) – but that’ll stay with me (Ubana had been the opening act).
I was elated to see Paul McCartney pump out the hits of The Beatles – and, quoting Alan Partridge here, “the band they could have become”. And I loved it because I knew it meant a lot to my parents – as it did to me. And then when he swooped over the crowd in the cherry picker, giving high fives and handshakes to a few people I managed, as an eager teen, to catch his eye and shake his hand. Well it was basically an odd white-guy high-five/handshake-clasp. But fuckit, it’s Sir Paul McCartney!
Axl Rose singing Civil War in an All-Black jersey was a big moment. Because it’s about those moments when the crowd connects almost as one, feeling the same vibe, empathising, understanding each other’s passion and the performance. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does it is always special.
There are many more of course – Leonard Cohen’s first time here (it meant nothing to me to see him a second time, which is possibly heathen to say, but also it’s my truth), getting to see the very end of a DD Smash concert for free, watching the Melvins wipe the floor with Tool, the headliners that evening…Um…PRINCE! I got to see Prince!
And, er, getting mentioned from the stage not once, but twice by Joan As Policewoman at her mesmerising gig. What was classy there was the way she mentioned everyone that was connected to the gig: Bar staff, coat-check people, promoter, venue-owner, the works. Really nice. And what a show.
There have been so many more. I know we’re all missing gigs. But I have memories to last me a lifetime. I plan to hang onto those.