Sunday, August 24, 2008

'"Live Music is Better" Bumper Stickers Should Be Issued'*

*quoted from the Neil Young song "Union Man" off Hawks and Doves.

John Hiatt--"Have A Litte Faith In Me (live)" (mp3)
Richard Thompson--"Don't Renege On Our Love (live)" (mp3)

Got to see Robben Ford last night downtown. Never bought one of his cd's; haven't ever really even heard him, except on other people's stuff. He's the guitarist backing up Joni Mitchell on her classic live cd Miles of Aisles. He's even played with Miles (Davis). He duels with Stevie Ray while backing Jennifer Warnes on her cover of Leonard Cohen's "First We Take Manhattan."

But I'm not necessarily here to talk about Robben Ford. Great show, though, Robben. Guitar, bass, drums, my favorite of all band line-ups. Inspired soloing. Fresh-sounding songs with chord changes that would make Stevie Wonder proud. And unlike several other gunslingers I know, Ford a) can actually sing and b) interacts with his band. One of the things that bugs me about the late, great Roy Buchanan is that the band behind him lays down the most basic rhythm they can because they know he is the show. Ford gives the other two players their own space and spotlight. I knew I was in the presence of one of the better guitarists on the planet. Melodic, too.


I hate to break the news to you youngsters out there, but the older you get, the harder it is to rev it up for a live show. Anytime you think you might want to see someone live, there are a thousand reasons waiting to talk you out of it--kids, weariness, responsible behavior, money, parking, convenience, what to wear, how to drink beer and drive home, inertia, etc. The most overwhelming reason of all is simply that you're older.

Live music is a necessity of youth and a luxury of wealth. As the years have accumulated, I've gotten to see most of the "big names" that I wanted to see live (Tom Petty is a notable exception), and now if they're still big and still out there, I'm no longer willing or able to pay the ticket price for a big name rock show. When the Eagles busted out their "Hell Freezes Over" tour, and may they rot in hell for doing so, they jacked the price of concert tickets to a level from which prices have never recovered and never will. It's like gas; they know people will pay, so why lower prices?

So when I go now, I go for smaller bands that are still good--Son Volt and Gillian Welch are recent ones I've seen for low prices. Incredible shows, both. A couple of weeks ago, I went to see a free show starring Michelle Shocked and was pleasantly surprised at how good it was. As you get older, you have to want to make the effort.

But everytime I do make the effort, it reminds me how worthy it is to go see live music. Aside from the obvious family pleasures of children and intimacy, it is difficult to even come up with the short list that compares with live music. A great meal, maybe. A noble deed, perhaps. A party with friends. A sporting event, if the weight or outcome matters. Not a movie. Not a book. Not a beer.

I know this: I'm more alive when I'm standing in the audience in front of a band or a singer, maybe the speakers are a little too loud, maybe even (see warning from earlier guest post) I'm drinking a Michelob Ultra in public, maybe there's a light rain. Who cares? And it's these smaller shows that feel more authentic to me now. Maybe I'm just becoming a cheapskate.

As we stood by the left speaker the other night, peering between the wall and the front column at Robben Ford working the entire fretboard, a former student reminded me how much Chattanooga's music scene sucks. I nodded, but then recalled that since January, without a whole lot of effort or money, I've seen Emmylou Harris, Patti Griffin, Buddy Miller, Shawn Colvin, Robert Plant, Allison Kraus, Michelle Shocked, and Robben Ford. I can't speak for Chattanooga, but as a live concertgoer, I'm not doing too badly.

Richard Thompson's live track comes from off the grid. John Hiatt's comes from Hiatt Comes Alive At Budokan, available at Itunes. Both artists have appeared at Chattanooga's Nightfall.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you are correct, and that's a lot of live shows. Unless you are willing to pay a fotune for a front row seat at a Bruce, U2, or Stones show --- Stay at home. I did see the Pixies at Constitution Hall (4000 people) for $30. It was worth it, but I wouldn't want to see anyone in any venue any larger. Going to see the Meat Puppets and Built to Spill at the national this month. 1000 capacity. Should be good.