Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The problem with an unbeatable superlative

Words are overused more quickly...
It is a football cliché, when the manager in the post-match interview says ‘I couldn’t have asked for more. The lads gave 110%’. We know what he is trying to say, but the simple truth is you can’t give more than 100%!

In our world of constant communication, we have a problem. We seem to have used up our language! More accurately perhaps, we have used up the number of superlatives we have at our fingertips. I have a lot of sympathy for the world, as I am finding it hard to keep describing the experiences that I am having at these gigs without falling back on the same old, tired words. It’s not that this generation is better, more creative, or more expert than any other and therefore, more deserving of the superlatives. It’s simply that we have so many ways to communicate in our social media generation that words are overused more quickly. 

As well as that, we also seem to be on a constant quest to have to find the ultimate performer in their field. No longer are we happy with a good performer, they have to be greatest. No longer are we content to see the second or third best, we have to see the best and tell the world in overused superlatives that we have! 

So to expand our language we have inverted the meaning of words to cunningly invent a whole new set of positive adjectives. Bad started to mean good, sick started mean ‘well good init’, wicked started to mean well you get the picture… And somewhere in amongst all this inverting to reinvent language the term ‘shit hot’ was coined.

As Jon Gomm takes to the sage at the Jazz Café in Camden he thanks the support act Matt Stevens and informed us that he is a ‘shit hot’ musician. I am certain that Gomm wasn’t listening to Stevens’ set, because if he had been he wouldn’t have described him as ‘shit hot’. His set, relying so heavily on his loop pedal, was beset with tuning and timing issues. I had been looking forward to hearing Matt Stevens. As the man who inspired Malt‘n’Music (see other blogs for an explanation of Malt‘n’Music) he has taken on the status of a legend within a certain circle of my friends. There we go again, falling into the superlative trap – he’s not really a legend, more infamous!  I’m sure it just wasn’t Stevens’ night. He is a great musician but tonight it just wasn’t happening for him.

To give Stevens’ his due he was fun, and carried on trying to entertain despite the setbacks and broken strings. The  crowd did respond, but he's wasn't ‘shit hot’. At best his set could be described as ‘luke warm shit’ and that is a horrible thought, as well as being far from a superlative!

Quite literally he demands that we listen...
Jon Gomm on the other hand is so good he was shit burnt to a frazzle! No loop pedal, all the sounds and rhythms made on each beat, hammer on, pull off, stretch, strum, pick, bend and retune! If you have never seen Jon Gomm then check out Youtube and watch in awe as you see a true master of guitar playing. He is the sort of guitarist that makes me want to give up and perhaps that the ultimate ‘superlative’ to give him. He makes me recognise that the sound I get out of my guitar is only a fraction of what is possible!

He is the sort of artist that demands that the audience listen to him. Quite literally he demands that we listen. Tonight, as on other nights, I see him tell off a section of the audience who are talking during his songs. It takes me back to being disciplined in the Headmaster's Office at school as I am stood in the section that he singles out for the reprimand. What he couldn’t know is that we are under attack! In the space of a couple of songs two mobiles come crashing from the balcony as people are straining to get their camera closer to the stage and capture the action. ‘Honest Sir! We are only helping people find their SIM cards and batteries that have explored over the floor!’

The rant has the desired effect as everyone maintains a respectful silence as he plays the rest of the set. We remain silent even as he tunes between each song. One heckler during his incessant tuning inquires as to which tuning he uses. He responds quickly, pointing out that he uses different tuning for each song and then added a little advice, ‘if there are any guitarists out there’ (as if the venue isn’t full of us) ‘a word of advice - don't use different tuning – it’s too much hassle!

Even as a drink spills over the balcony onto my head...
The easy banter this evening is totally different from the last time I saw him when he seemed far more on edge. As he chats to the audience tonight he talks openly and honestly about being bi-polar. The respect for him as an artist has been palpable at every Jon Gomm gig I have been to as people recognize he is a rare talent. Tonight there is an extra sense of this admiration as people become more aware of the whole person behind the songs. Not that they are always the easiest songs to listen too, but they are always amazing to behold performed live.

As is becoming common at gigs now-a-days he finishes with a totally acoustic song: Gloria. It is hard to hear in this size of venue, but as one the audience strains to hear the woeful tale of first love across teenage cultures. Not one of us dare risk the wrath of the headmaster and talk! Even as a drink spills over the balcony onto my head I simply silently sidestep the drips and continue to enjoy his closing song.

Adverts for companies like Stub Hub show images of gigs which are meant to evoke the impression of having the time of our lives. The once in the lifetime gig. The image that defines our gig going forever. It might be to state the bleedin’ obvious, but there is only one ‘once in a lifetime’ gig – the clue is in the description! It is the same problem as the overuse of the superlative – we are sold the fallacy that our next gig will be the best; it will be that once in a lifetime gig. Until, of course, the next one. Don’t get me wrong I don’t want to pay to see rubbish but not every gig is going to be the one. That doesn’t mean however that a gig that falls short of the greatest gig of my life could not still be a wonderful experience.

So was this the best gig I've ever been too? Was this the best Jon Gomm gig I've ever seen? I’m not even going to answer those questions!

He didn’t give 110%...
No, it doesn't compare with first time I saw him for the sheer amazement of not quite believing what I was seeing or hearing. It was not as intimate as the gig in the cellar of the Dry Bar in Manchester (or was it Night and Day?) with nine other people. However, the venue is far better than the last place I saw him, and he himself is in a far better place than the last time I saw him.

The simple truth is that it is a great gig. He is a shit hot musician, and I leave having experienced a supreme talent. No, he didn’t give 110%, but he gave us his all, and quite rightly, many superlatives will be used to describe him.

So I leave on a high and on the journey home resolve once again to sell my guitars…

Gig: 30 of 50
Date of Gigs: Wed. 21st October 2015

The Jazz Cafe, Camden

Matt Stevens
Jon Gomm

Running total of artists seen 64

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