Saturday, 1 November 2008

Live and Unexpected

Unbelievably and perhaps inevitably, The Spice Girls beat Led Zeppelin to the ‘Best Reunion’ prize at the Vodafone Live Music Awards. Where will it all end eh? Said Emma Bunton, ‘The thing is, when you go to a gig, you go for fun and entertainment and a night out.’ Clearly, it’s not much of a fun night out going to see Led Zep!

Funny old things, live dates, you never quite know what you’re going to get. I remember some high profile gigs that I busted a gut to get to turning out to be the worst night on record (you know who you are, T’pau, Monochrome Set etc) and others, where I was dragged kicking and screaming, which were magnificent. Leaving a comment on Layla’s blog recently prompted a memory of one of my most enjoyable live music experiences.

Having left University in the late 1970s, I move home to St Albans for a short period. St Albans boasts one of the best Live Music Pubs in the district in the Horn pub (or Horn of Plenty as it was then). I used to walk there in the evening once in a while for a pint and a bit of rock ‘n’ roll. On one particular evening, I turned up to see a local band (sorry boys, can’t remember the name) and settled down with my beer to watch the show. They were OK in a competent-but-a-little-uninspiring sort of way. Until about half way through their set when an older balding man shuffled on stage and strapped on a guitar. I did a double take and thought to myself, ‘That bloke looks a bit like Andy Powell. No, can’t be. Bloody Hell! It is!’

He played with them for the rest of the set and it was mesmerising. It was the combination of low expectations being wildly exceeded and the fact that there was the Wishbone Ash axe-man playing to a largely disinterested audience of regular pub-goers and their dogs that made it such a great event. And it was free!

These types of experience are all to do with expectation. The bigger the star and the bigger the venue, the greater the expectation – and the potential for disappointment. I always liked to frequent the smaller venues when I attended gigs regularly in order to see second division acts as they always tried harder and often were unexpectedly good. I remember being blown away by an unknown college band playing a note perfect version of Yes’s ‘Roundabout’ at a Hall bash during my University years. Much cheaper than the real thing but virtually as entertaining!

I don’t get to live gigs much these days but I still reckon I’d go for the smaller venue complete with second division band and hope that I’d discover another pearl.


TR1-Guy said...

Agreed 100%. I saw Bachman-Turner Overdrive at a small bar in 1986 and it was a thrill. You were mere feet from "legends" of rock from my high school years and a blast to see Randy Bachman kick into a solo and be able to actually HEAR his guitar amp and not through a mega-watt stadium PA. It was mind blowing... and I wasn't drunk or high as in the 70s so I enjoyed it even more.

I left with my ear ringing and a sense I had just attended a private concert with BTO... the other 300 or so folks there left with the same impression. I know it was probably a let down for BTO to play at a small pub like that as opposed to 20,000 that the Chicago Stadium held in 1976 when I saw that at their peak, but they played their hearts out just the same.

I'm getting too old to sit in bars and get my ears blown out like that, but I encourage folks to catch their favorite band that way... it is truly a great experience.

musicobsessive said...

Hey TR1-Guy! That sounds like the sort of gig I'd enjoy and it clearly left its mark on you. As you will know, I still have a soft spot for 70s prog-ers, Curved Air, now reformed. They played a small venue near me on Halloween but I failed to get a ticket because demand was too high despite their being aged circa 60! Seems that small venues are a bit of a problem when your fanbase won't go away!

Jeff said...

Wow, I'm pretty shocked that you weren't able to get a ticket to Curved Air. Quite honestly, I can't name one person that listens to them besides myself.

musicobsessive said...

Hi Jeff. You'd be amazed. My post on Curved Air's 'Reborn' album ( gets the most hits of all my posts by some considerable margin and from virtually every corner of the planet. Seems they are still a band to be reckoned with. Old proggers never die it seems.