I hardly dare breath as I enter...
Tonight has a homemade, improvised feel. I’m at Café Oto in Dalston. The trendy Hackney café bar with its carefully designed ‘work in progress’ style is already nearly full as I arrive part way through the first of three acts, Paul Abbott and Ute Kanngiesser. Their set is an improvised piece, of such intensity that I hardly dare breath as I enter, and I certainly don’t make for the bar. Ute has limited herself to live improv for the past 10 years and the piece is as fascinating to watch as it is to hear. Live music normally adds to its recorded counterpart through the performance, but in this case nothing has ever been recorded! Here, the artists have to focus on, and take their lead from each other, bringing an immediate intensity into the room, such that no one in the audience wants or dares to break. There is so much beauty, passion and depth to the piece and performance that when it is finished there is not so much a round of applause as a corporate exhalation. Only when we have been freed to breath again can we express our appreciation.
I definitely need a beer after this and some time to process what I have just experienced! Eventually, with a pint of home-brew, I find a seat. For the first time this evening I am able to relax. As I realise that I did actually enjoy the intense experience of the opening act, I am suddenly struck by a revelation, a moment of seeing the trees for the wood. We are all part of the creative process.
Most gigs are about seeing and hearing talented people recreate what they have prepared earlier. In this case however, the music was as homemade as the beer and the surroundings, and we were all part of it’s development. As we strained to see Paul Abbott reach for one set of sticks only to change his mind as he listened intensely to Ute, our reactions, our presence in the room, our concentration - all these things helped to form the piece.
A gigantic crash as the homemade pendulum swings the other way...
And then, as I dwell upon such lofty thoughts and accommodate these delusions of grandeur, we are all brought back down to earth with a gigantic crash as the homemade pendulum swings the other way. Suddenly from the sublime creative studio of Abbott and Kanngisesser C Joynes and the drone of his guitar rudely awaken us. We are no longer part of the process, just onlookers. The only intensity is in the face of the artist as he appears to be wrestling each song from some deep part of his being. It is fruitless however, because regardless of how deep he digs nothing communicates with the audience. Time for another pint and to move swiftly on!
With a second drink in hand I move to the front and claim a chair on the front row. There are those who love to examine every piece of equipment their musical heroes use, and my new seat certainly affords me such an opportunity as I have a clear sight of the stage. Well I say stage… in actual fact it looks far less like a stage and more like the inside of a man shed! There is an upturned packing case, various different lengths of tube, sheets of sandpaper, hammers and a collection of all those little plastic and metal things you keep thinking will come in useful one day and never do! As their name suggests, the headline act 75 Dollar Bill are American.
They explain that on arriving in Europe they had the universally dreaded nightmare at baggage reclaim – missing baggage! On this occasion their beloved percussion instruments. What else to do but visit the nearest hardware shop to the airport and buy all the bits they needed and simply recreate the percussion set! At least to my left there are a couple of guitars, although even these are not standard fare for a normal gig. This act promises to be interesting. In fact, they turn out to be mesmerising. At times the junkyard percussion is like listening to the start of Genesis’ 1974 avant-garde free-form improvised ‘The Waiting Room’ live. At others it blends with the guitar in a glorious rhythm (much like listening to the end of Genesis’ 1974 avant-garde free-form improvised ‘The Waiting Room’ live!). The homemade motif just continues to flow through the evening!
Their final song is an epic masterpiece that sucks the whole audience in as it flows freely around the venue, reaching out and round and through me until I feel one with the band and the music. There is a very real sense that I don’t want the track to end but when it does it brings such closure that I know I have been part of a special experience and my life is richer for it.
The lack of a new CD in my bag...
I leave the venue and pass the merch. stand without purchasing anything, which is most unusual for me. Reflecting on the train home on the lack of a new CD in my bag it dawns that this has been the truest ‘live’ event I have been to during my 50/50 challenge year. The completely improvised first set - heavily concentrating, not daring to breathe in case any single breath changed the composition for ever - and the total submersion of 75 Dollar Bill’s final song is not anything I could properly experience on vinyl or CD. The second act I wouldn’t want to and the less said about that the better!
All 48 previous gigs have offered slight variations on albums and songs I had or now have in my iTunes library and there have been some very special moments at those concerts. Tonight, on the other hand, is an experience that will not be repeated and it feels so much more significant for it.
Confession time! A few years ago I went to see Cher live - let me just say I brought tickets as a present for someone! It was a spectacular spectacle as you can imagine. What I noticed (which, incidentally, was not that I was quite possibly the only straight guy there!) was that everyone was trying to capture the experience on their phone. It was a perfect example of the post-modern generation as they recorded the current high before they searched for the next one. People, it seems to me, are so scared of missing ‘that’ moment that they fail to live every moment.
Tonight I lived the music. I have nothing but my memory of the gig, no CD, no handheld video - I didn’t try and record it, running the risk of diluting it every time I showed it to unimpressed friends who could in no way be expected to understand, not because they are musical philistines, but simply because they were not part of the experience! Of course, I can only revisit it in my memory, but it is etched there because I lived it. Tonight remains the truest live event I have been to this year - partly beacuse of the improvisation, partly the homemade nature of the whole evening and partly because the memory won't be worn away by listening to a CD again and again.
I once thoroughly upset a friend who left me an answer machine message of white noise (she thought I would have a clear recording of I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For!) at a U2 concert because I said I didn’t appreciate the message! Her defence was that she wanted me to experience the concert! She was at the concert, I was at home. I was glad she was there, but no amount of white noise on my answer machine made me part of that gig or could help me experience that unique moment in time that she was sharing with thousands of others and U2!
So I’ll stop blogging now as I suspect that the 2 or 3 of you who have read this far were not at this gig with me tonight and nothing I can do will let you fully into the marvellous memory I have of it! But I will encourage you to go to your next gig, not intent on recording it all for later consumption and Youtube but instead to be part of the experience because that is what a live music event is…
Concert: 49 of 50
Date of Gig: Mon. 29th February 2016
75 Dollar Bill
Concert: 49 of 50
Date of Gig: Mon. 29th February 2016
75 Dollar Bill
Abbott and Kanngisesser
Running total of artists seen 100