Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Groundhog Day with Added Deja Vu!

Each tune crashes on the rocks and dissipates...
The venue is full. The red lights flood down through the smoke. The expectation of the audience is high. The stage is set. The band take the rapturous applause and strike the first chord…

Even though I am on gig number 48 and 11 months into my challenge I still love the day leading up to a gig. However mundane, difficult, or long the day is at work the knowledge that in the evening I will be listening to live music is compelling. If I have seen the band before I recall high points of previous gigs, or possibly, if I have been there before, I relive great gigs at the particular venue that I am going too. The day bristles with expectation and as we near that first intro from the headline band it is near bursting point. At most gigs, a few songs in, I catch myself, before total immersion, enjoying the moment of realisation that the expectation has turned into reality.

But not tonight. A few songs in and I am wondering why tonight is different. With each new song I try hard to float away on the wave of expectation that normally carries me on its crest to musical delight. But tonight there is no crest of a wave with white horses charging only a nagging feeling that this gig is going to be a disappointment, as each tune crashes on the rocks and dissipates.

I soul search. Am I in a foul mood? No. Am I distracted? No.  Am I gig-weary after 48 in as many weeks? No. I recognise some moments of beauty and high points in the songs.

Is it the venue? No, I love this place. The last time I was at the Roundhouse was a tremendous experience. There are venues that have a wonderful atmosphere when you walk in and the Roundhouse is one of those venues for me.

So is it the band?

A 2 dimensional feel... 
Well, it’s very hard to catch the mumbled introductions. This hinders any rapport with the audience and gives off the feeling that they are just here to tick the songs off the set-list. The sound seems unbalanced. The brass instruments cut through, and drown out everything beneath them. So much so that I fail to recognise the sound I enjoy on the band’s CDs. It gives the whole gig a 2 dimensional feel, and each song seems shallow. It is in this mire that the appearance of mediocrity surfaces. The gig appears lacklustre and the musicians as if they are going through the motions.

The highlight is ‘In the Mausoleum’ (perhaps it is the highlight because the title resonates with my feeling about the gig!) the penultimate song of the night. It is too little, too late, and this gig is confined to that particular file of ‘disappointing’. In 2009 Lonely Planet named Beirut as one of the 10 liveliest Cities in the world to visit. Unfortunately the band that bears the city’s name, on this showing at least, has a long, long way to go before they can be named in the top ten liveliest live bands.

As I write this blog I fear I have been too negative, and think I must be to blame for not engaging properly. So I search for a review of the gig to see what others thought and I find one on the Guardian website. The first inclination is that I have got it wrong, as the reviewer gives Beirut 4 out of 5 stars. However, on closer examination I feel slightly vindicated in my assessment of the gig: Maddy Costa writes, “most of his between-song chit-chat is garbled by the oddly balanced sound system, which is besotted with trumpets and careless of all else. 

Groundhog day with added deja vu... 
On reading the review more closely I discover this is in fact a review from their Roundhouse gig in 2007! Groundhog day with added deja vu! It seems that far from being an off night this is exactly where the band were and where they want to be… Maddy Costa continues, “that's partly down to the venue's soupy sound, which blunts the mandolin and ukulele strings, swallows the double bass and reduces every drumline to a throbbing heartbeat, and partly Condon's choice.

I leave frustrated. The overriding experience of gigs for me is that a band playing live brings an added dimension to their songs, not that a dimension is taken away. And because that added dimension is missing, so I take little away from tonight. It is a very unusual experience for me to leave a gig feeling so disappointed.

Concert: 48 of 50
Date of Gig: Fri. 12th February 2016

The Roundhouse


DD Dumbo 
Running total of artists seen 97

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