Finally, A Concert: A Return to Live Music
One of my favorite moments of 2021 was during Japanese Breakfast’s Crystal Ballroom set. I had recently learned my landlord was also at the show, so I weaseled into the middle of the crowd to avoid that. My small talk skills are still a bit atrophied.
I wasn’t ready to make that connection, so I hid until the set started. As soon as it did, I instantly felt connected with 1500 strangers. Looking back at the shows I went to this fall, that was the community I was looking for this year.
I missed the feeling of collective focus. I wasn’t as interested in the scattered connections of the bar scene. I wanted to feel something with others. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to wanting to join a cult.
There was something special about the return of shows last fall. It had been a year of intense and intimate connections with music new and old. When shows returned, I was ready to share those feelings with others. It’s hard to do that over text. I felt like I was talking into a void when I gushed about my new interest in emo music on the phone. The emotions I associated with pandemic-era music felt too raw to even write about.
Concerts were a chance to share that feeling. Sure, it’s in a slightly more restrained way than in the dark of my room. Dancing to Perfume Genius’ On the Floor didn’t reach the ACL-compromising intensity as it did in the comforts of my home, but there is something beautiful in collective head-bobbing and finger-tapping-on-an-IPA.
Seeing Isaiah Rashad leap around the stage to From the Garden through a haze of weed smoke made me jump and bounce off my neighbors like I was 19 again.
When Michelle Zauner and her band launched into Be Sweet, the euphoria of first hearing that song exploded back into my brain. My hips leaned into a more enthusiastic two-step than I expected. If my landlord saw me, I think it would have been okay.
There was beauty in silence too. As intense as some of that at-home listening was, it was also sometimes hard to focus. I didn’t hear the storyline of Lucy Dacus’ Thumbs until I was 20 feet from her.
I started going to shows alone for the first time this fall. It was nerve-wracking to not have the comfort of conversation to pass the time between sets. There’s a vulnerability to being in public by yourself. However, once the music started it was comparably freeing, not having one eye on a friend during the set. It allowed more focus to the performance. There’s a lot happening on any stage, and I missed the quirks of a live show.
Soccer Mommy had a guitarist who looked like he was plucked from a high school band class (after some research, he unfortunately is not). Seeing the joy he played with was almost as entertaining as the songs that had been soundtracking my last year.
Benny the Butcher had no less than 10 people milling around backstage during his set. This backdrop (plus the eight ten-minute opening sets I sat through) reminded me of one of the things I loved so much about rap when I was younger. The collective glee when a particularly strong bar is spit.
Solo performances, like Lucy Dacus’ Thumbs, felt more honest than they had in years past. Ruston Kelly left his band in the dressing rooms for his most vulnerable songs about his journey to sobriety.
That one-on-1000 level performance is the exact thing that scared me out of talking to my landlord at the Japanese Breakfast show. We’ve had a chance to hide ourselves recently, and putting ourselves back out there is a difficult hurdle to overcome. Touring artists are doing that on a massive scale.
If you have a chance and feel comfortable this spring, go see a show. They’re better than you remember.