Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Better Love I See

Better Love - Drew Holcomb + the Neighbors (mp3)

Live music exists for the moment that superglues itself into your memory.

Nine times out of 10, I'd rather spend $50 buying music on iTunes or eMusic than buying a concert ticket, because the ability to listen to any and every song I want when I want and when I need it is more important to me than the chance of catching musical lightning in a live concert bottle. Bob, on the other hand, is the Bill Paxton character in Twister: only truly happy when chasing musical tornadoes with his merry band of climatologists.

But certain concert moments, even if they're just a part of the nightly act... well, those memories don't leave.

Michael Stipe's introduction to "World Leader Pretend" on the Green Tour in 1989. Him, with his funky mascara, alone with a snare drum.

I've got dozens of these little snippets, but I guess they probably don't mean much to anyone else. Concert memories are, like miracle golf shots and SNL jokes, very much "guess you had to be there" stories.

But my most recent one is worth sharing.

A senior at our school was able to arrange a special seniors-only mini-concert during the school day before Spring Break. The duo of Drew Holcomb and his wife Ellie played a stripped-down 40-minute set. Attendance was voluntary, but virtually every senior showed up. [NOTE: The rise of the married couple turned singing partnership has to be at its zenith in 2010. The Weepies, Mates of State, Drew and Ellie Holcomb, Arcade Fire... I know I'm forgetting plenty, so go ahead and add yours to the comments!]

Because I got there late, I don't know quite how the chemistry formed, but I have a few clues. First off, we're an all-boys school, and Ellie Holcomb is just about 120% adorable. Adorable singing adult women can hold 120 boys at attention with little difficulty. Second, Drew Holcomb is a pretty laid back and cool dude. The kind of singer-songwriter that adorable singing adult women like Ellie undoubtedly find irresistible. The two of them had the perfect amount of relaxed sincerity, a delicate quality teenage boys respect.

Then Ellie kicked it up a notch with a verbal gaffe. Between songs, she commented, "I've never been with this many guys before."

And with that, and her ability to live with the teen testosterone guffaws, Ellie was made an unofficial member of the class.

To close out the performance, they sang a song I'd never heard before. Neither had, I suspect, 95% of the seniors in that room. "Better Love" is by no means the greatest song ever. In my experience, the best songs are rarely made that much better in concert. Rather, it's the decent ones that have plenty of room to grow and improve that can take flight in a concert.

The chorus to "Better Love" is all too simple. And repetitive. "Better love, Better love I see." On the third chorus, Drew and Ellie kinda asked the crowd to sing along.

Um, hello? Drew? Ellie? Maybe y'all don't understand groupthink. Maybe y'all don't understand teenage boys. But, um, they don't do sing-alongs. A room of 120 17- and 18-year-olds don't start singing along with a chorus with the word "love" in it, not unless it's in some shredding hard rock or punk or screamo anthem for the age. Certainly not in the quiet hush of a single acoustic guitar and two voices.

But sing they did. At first maybe a dozen or so guys added their voices to the mix. But the numbers were enough to build on, like that first attempt at The Wave at a sporting event. By the third time around, a room adolescent males were singing a heartbreaking chorus about hope and dissatisfaction, and I was wiping tears from my eyes.

In all of our stereotypes about boys and males, it's important to remember that the forest doesn't always speak for the trees.

A moment like this one, hearing a hundred untrained and unexpected male voices join the intimate chorus, is why educators will never disappear.


Bob said...

I have to agree. It was a pretty cool moment. Her little song "Hung The Moon" was pretty sweet, too. She's got that husky Abra Moore voice.

cinderkeys said...

I'd never heard of these guys before and didn't expect to like the song. But I'm listening for the second time now. Ooh.

Funnily enough, one of the last CDs I bought was "Chalk," another husband-wife duo you recommended.

wynne clement said...

you should put "better love i see" on youtube!