my words are out of balance: a manifesto on the necessity of first-hand experience

So, it’s been awhile, months, even. You know what? I’m good with that.

I’ve taken some knocks recently and am more concerned about just keep my line of sight focused on the horizon than worrying my less-than-prolific time spent here.

Here’s the thing: I don’t write about the live shows I attend. I don’t see that changing any time soon. And it’s not as if I’ve let the economy effect the frequency of my show going. Nope. Despite money woes, I still set aside money and schedule which bands I’ll be hearing live, same as ever. Shows, like food, clothing, shelter, are not negotiable for this girl.

Everest, Tractor Tavern, 3/5
Everest, Tractor Tavern, Seattle, WA March 5, 2009

Why no writing about these shows? Simple. I go to these shows to experience the moment, to hear and see what’s happening on the stage, between the musicians as they play, and between the band and the crowd as a show progresses. That’s the draw for me. There’s the key — the draw for ME. It’s not that I don’t have the writing skills or an avenue in which I might express what I’ve seen; it’s that in the end, what the hell does it matter to anyone else how the show has affected me? I’m just one person, whose experience is neither more nor less valuable than anyone else’s.

How I experience a certain show is going to be (or should be) quite different than what the guy next to me, or the woman behind him, or the couple arguing in front of the soundboard, will hear, see, feel. Sure, some bands work harder than others to create a sense of community with the crowd, but even then, I find myself more charmed and intrigued by the littlest of moments between band members, as they react to music they’ve already played hundreds of times.

The Hold Steady, The Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR March 16, 2009

I’m lucky enough to live in a city in which most tours, tiny and grand, will book a stop. I’m fairly organized. I listen voraciously. I check many sites/feeds/social networks/blogs/mailing lists/snail mail postcards (yes, those do still exist) to learn what I can about sounds I’m hearing, or hope to hear. I discuss and ask for recommendations from friends about what they can’t stop spinning. Then it’s as simple as buying a ticket, putting on my shoes, grabbing my camera, and walking out the door to a show. I’ve also learned from my own experiences and the trial and error of others that shows that seem small can turn big very quickly, and they’re completely obvious in advance, if you’re paying attention.

Tad playing invisible spoons on Spoonman
Tadgarden, The Crocodile, Seattle, WA March 24, 2009

So, because I’m doing all of this, does that mean that I’m required by some obscure law buried under a pile of dusty vinyl sleeves and back issues of out-of-print rock magazines to write about what I’m seeing and hearing? If there’s such a law, I’d love to see someone try to enforce it on me. Seriously.

I’m not selfish, or lazy, or too tired from work, or marinated in the hipster nonchalance that seems to pass as fandom lately. I simply don’t think what I have to say about a show should make any difference to you at all. It’s a personal experience, how a particular set enlightens, challenges, annoys, inspires, frustrates or seduces me. You, my friend, must get your fine self out of the house, walk in the door of your local club, and experience the inexpressibly intricate glory that is a live show, and let it change you in a manner you can’t possibly imagine. Rinse. Repeat.

Don’t depend on secondhand accounts to sustain you and make you feel like you were there. It doesn’t work. Don’t sit there reading comments the next day, looking at pictures, wishing and regretting what you missed. Shake off the reasons why you shouldn’t, and just go stand in front of a stage and let the sound soak into your cells. There’s no one else that can react to a live show exactly as you will, and no blog post, Flickr photo, tweet, newspaper article (yes, those still exist, too) is going to satisfactorily capture everything that a band’s set will offer you specifically. Your experience is important and invaluable, more than you can logically know. Even casual readers will note that I’ve used the word “experience” here 8 times. That’s not an accident – I just want to make sure that the message is entirely clear:

If you don’t go, you don’t know.


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