Saturday night was the first time I’d been to a live show with a band, and not a concert, in a long time. Some of the same friends I went to Koreatown with a few weekends back invited me to go to a concert this past weekend and although I hadn’t heard much of the group before, I figured it would be fun. If nothing else, I then couldn’t complain I hadn’t been to a show for awhile.
The band, White Denim, sounded familiar and after a few rounds on Spotify (my new go-to music source), I knew I had made a good choice. It was going to be an enjoyable show and dance-able, given their proclivity to soul-tinged indie rock.
Of course, my test for whether a band is any good is their live show. Most bands sound decent on their albums and whether they are “good” comes down to a matter of taste. Having once worked in the audio engineering world, there’s a million different ways to make something sound professional. Of course, it used to be that it took some money, but with the proliferation of home studios and ever-improving computer software, it is pretty easy to put together a decently produced album. Of course, it does help if you have some talent.
So given this world of decent sound quality, my true measure of a band is their live show. Of course, I have different criteria for what makes an album good, but a “good” album doesn’t necessarily equate a “good” artist or vice versa. Set aside the recordings, it is a band’s live performances that is the indicator of their capabilities as an entertainer.
The one category I find this doesn’t always apply to is electronica or other intensely mixed genres. Sometimes the immediacy of a show is too limiting for their abilities to create interesting samples and whatnot. This goes against everything a DJ has been doing for the past 30 years, but when I heard Atlas Sound, the live set paled in comparison to his record. To be a complete contrarian, I heard Thievery Corporation at the Hollywood Bowl a few years ago was one of the most epic sound “experiences” I have ever had. The music infiltrated the space in an all-encompassing way, being neither overwhelming in its noise nor brutal in its approach, and yet they were far from timid in their use of sound and instruments. There were no blasted ear drums that night and yet I feel into a strangely peaceful reverie. And no, I was not high.
Basically, that is the difference I am trying to describe. There is something magical in live music. Something that grips your entire being, soul and body, and compels you to participate in it. There is some innate response to music that makes you feel enthralled and entranced. You forget the time and live only in that moment. There is something else, outside of you, pushing you to enjoy it. When it is over, you are sometimes disappointed it has ended, more often tired, and usually ready to relive whatever bits you still have.
As for Saturday night, we went to the Satellite, one of the various indie venues in L.A. and I was surprised when I realized I had never been there. Of course, it’s a smallish to medium sized venue, done up to look like it’s an 80s prom. The silvery curtains around the walls and ever-revolving disco ball make one think that one got lost in a film set, or maybe a strange community hall somewhere in the Midwest. The one think I approved of, though, was the cheap drinks. $6.50 for a gin and cranberry and I was set. I had had to park ways up the street in order to get a free spot (where I wouldn’t get towed for not having a permit), so I was feeling like a high roller.
The first band that opened matched the curtains. It was two girls in spandex bodysuits that ended above the knee, with matching fringed vests and headbands and big hair. They sounded like a bad Black Keys cover band, but that didn’t upset the mostly male crowd. They edged closer to the stage, more likely to get a good glimpse at what was hanging out of the body suits.
We decided to wait at the other bar upstairs that overlooked the main area. There was glass. No need to ruin our hearing for a band we didn’t like or know.
The next band was worse and more forgettable. Well the frontman would have been cute if he wasn’t so terrible at music. I did appreciate his attempt at a suit.
Last was White Denim, the band we’d gone for, and their music was charming and fun. We were all dancing in our little pocket, trying not to step on people’s toes, trying to get the enclave of guys in front of us to dance. But our attempts failed. They stood, a wall of plaid, inexpressive and impassible. We danced and danced. I started to get tired. Without the raucousness of others enjoying the music and then the two drinks I had had fading into tiredness — well, I felt done. I was ready for it to be over and I didn’t know whether to feel old or just lacklustre.
The band was good, but it didn’t induce the same euphoria of sound I’m so used to in live music. I wondered, what was wrong? It was hard to say, but I hope it was just that night, maybe that band.
It must mean I need to go to another show to test this theory out and it made me think back to a discussion I recently had with a friend: now that we aren’t teenagers, do we still experience music in the same way? Can we like new things if we don’t have a connection or “rapturous” moment with what we listen to and love?