I hadn't been to too many live shows prior to this last weekend/week. Aside from a KISS concert last month and a few small gigs I played, my live show "wow" factor hadn't spiked in a while and I've been craving that special live show excitement. You know the feeling - remember how ecstatic you'd get when you were younger and new to concerts and pretty much every show you saw felt amazing? Like a drug that you've grown accustomed to, I've been searching for the effect similar to that first, delicious usage.
Now that I'm a bit older, I admit to being slightly jaded and having the tendency to view the majority of live shows with a skeptical, pseudo Butt-Head like "This sucks..." attitude. Okay, maybe I'm not that jaded, but unfortunately, I do find myself being generally less impressed with live music as of late.
So in my chase for the live music experience that would massage my serotonin level and give it a happy ending, I've been making more of an effort to go out and seek new live music, even if that meant venturing out and experiencing shows that reside far away from the genres I normally listen to.
This week, I'd like to share my latest concert-going experiences with you (I somehow managed to pack 4 into one week). I stepped out of my comfort zone for the most part and became exposed to different scenes and different music. Some of it was rad, while some of it I couldn't understand for the life of me, but the experiences were memorable at least. Here we go.
Show #1) Low End Theory @ The Airliner, Los Angeles
Low End Theory is a weekly occurrence at a small dive bar in Lincoln Heights, slightly outside of downtown LA, and it's growing increasingly popular amongst a diverse crowd that's into experimental electronic music. 5 years running, Low End Theory is essentially a show (concert, partywhat have you) thrown weekly by a string of in-house DJs and special guests, which apparently has included Thom Yorke and Erykah Badu. The team of DJs has even brought the show to San Francisco and Japan on occasion. I guess this kind of thing is hitting a nerve with people. Not so much with me.
The underground "beat music" of Low End Theory incorporates elements of electronic and hip-hop and promotes an "experimental" execution of it. Basically, DJs spin some records and manually trigger beats with an iPad, which adds an improvisatory element and creates a jarring, erratic, and unpredictable effect. I'm probably generalizing the process, but it doesn't strike me as being well thought out.
Inside, the room was packed and sweltering, filled with a diverse crowd of many races. PBR seemed to be the drink of choice and there were numerous clouds of ganja escaping the lungs of the occasional hipster and filling the nostrils of Hispanics, crunched like sardines, next to him. It really wasn't a bad sceneif only I could have understood/enjoyed the night's entertainment more.
Check out the video to see the underlying purpose of Low End Theory and share what you think. Does it come off contrived or does it seem like a unique, creative scene? Would you go?
As someone who values creativity, I respect the sentiment of artistic expression and the flexing of the creative muscle. Sure. But as a musician, I don't find anything impressive inherent in the music. To each his own, but I'd imagine that the majority of UG audience would rather spend their time smoking cigarettes on the venue's patio outside than cramped up front watching a guy who looks like Serj Tankian fiddle around on an iPad.
In all, it was an interesting evening, but not what I was looking for in terms of a live performance.
Show #2) Beats Antique @ Club Nokia, Los Angeles
Apparently, similar to any metal-based subgenre, there are also differences in electronic music scenes. Differing from the stereotypical Hello Kitty/ecstasy electronic dance music scene is the "hippie" EDM scene. Invited to check out a free show featuring a band described as "Middle Eastern acid crunk", I couldn't pass up the opportunity to watch hippie "chill" electronic music suited for the Burning Man crowd.
Before Beats Antique took the stage, I noticed an actual drum set on stage and a few stringed instruments. Shouldn't be too bad, I thought... real instruments.
The show that ensued was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Incorporating electronica, Middle-Eastern-influenced world fusion, belly dancing and performance art, Beats Antique delivered an "electro-coustic" set a mix of live and digital instrumentation with live drums, brass instruments, banjos and keyboards. Apparently the trio of musicians has collegiate music study under its belt, which definitely showed because they showcased a respectable musicianship.
Imagine Cirque du Soleil without the acrobatics a little strange, atmospheric, interesting to experience, but not terribly exciting. The extremely high level of creativity struck me though; clearly Beats Antique offers something wholly unique to them.
Although I was glad I came out to experience such a different scene, I wasn't blown away. My mindjob would occur a few days later.
Show #3) The Gonzalo Bergara Quartet @ The Blue Whale, Los Angeles
I said to HELL with electronic music (for now). I needed something more organic. I found what I was waiting for with the Django Reinhardt-inspired gypsy jazz ensemble, The Gonzalo Bergara Quartet.
Superb musicianship throughout! The quartet consisted of a gorgeous violinist, an excited upright bass player, and of course, fantastic lead and rhythm guitar players. A small crowd of around 30 people sat quietly to watch the ensemble play through gypsy jazz standards and original compositions that boasted a world music flare and gypsy jazz influence.
I was most comfortable in this setting. Seeing an impressive ensemble expertly run through jovial tunes in an almost entirely acoustic format did just the thing to satisfy my live music jollies. Maybe it was the Old Fashioned swirling about in my hand; maybe it was the lovely lady sitting right next to me; maybe it was the laughter coming out of the players and audience alike as Gonzalo busted out a difficult solo passage, but the overall emotion I felt while watching this performance was pure, unfiltered joy. I felt home and I was inspired.
After experiencing this, I concluded that (for me) being wowed by musicianship is the most important factor in my enjoyment of live music. Sure, atmosphere is important too and the social aspect plays a role as well, but ultimately, it's the music that's going to carry the night, and even in a more low-key environment at a relatively low volume, well-executed music can be extremely powerful.
Check out some of Gonzalo's playing (seriously, talk about guitar chops) and his band's gypsy jazz skills.
Show #4) USC Thornton Symphony - University of Southern California, Los Angeles
Finally, I came to the other end of the musical spectrum; from pure electronic music one night to full-on orchestral music the next, I finished my little concert kick by seeing the USC Thornton Symphony perform Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major.
Rich textures from the strings, powerful horns, dynamic contrasts, and an effective, guttural usage of percussion this piece was extremely metal. Seriously, some of those violin lines could make sick metal riffs!
While nothing about the atmosphere screams a fun time, seeing an orchestra play is purely about the music. And it's powerful. You can easily close your eyes, sink in your chair and listen to the full, vibrant orchestra fill the airspace with nothing but pure musical frequencies. No effects, no amps, no iPads just gorgeous music.
Hopefully that's a nice amount of YouTubage for you to sift through and a decent amount of (drastically different) music to check out. As we conclude this week, here are a few things to chat about:
What was the strangest concert you've ever been to?
Do you enjoy going to concerts that aren't of your preferred genre(s)?
What do you think is the most important aspect of a live show? Music? Spectacle? Atmosphere? Black-tar heroin? Does any act achieve a perfect balance of these factors?
Anyway, I'm out for now. Now I just need to go see a good old metal show and whiplash my neck into oblivion and I'll be fully satisfied with live music for a while. Maybe I'll check out Nekrogoblikon when they come through LA.
On The Next It's The End Of The Week As We Know It:
Zach takes a break from writing his usual three jokes because it becomes entirely way too late at night to come up with anything remotely humorous. Wanting to end on a comical note, he simply writes out the word "boobs" because it's usually funny.
By Zach Pino Twitter: @zachpino