Live music is like going to a nice restaurant. We can cook at home, but the skill and presentation of a master chef allows us to experience a dish in its highest form. In the same way, live music allows artists to share their music in the way they intend it to be experienced. With festival season now in full swing I want to highlight some of my favorite performances I’ve seen. These were engaging shows that went beyond just watching someone play music and really struck a chord with me. I’ve added the songs featured here to my Songs of the Week playlist.
Air is the most basic human need. Most of us have never stopped breathing for more than about a minute. When we say something was breathtaking, we are saying that for a brief moment we experienced something so profound that our most basic human need became secondary. By this definition, Slowdive was absolutely breathtaking live.
The signature of shoegaze is instrumentals and vocals that blend together to create a cocoon of sound around concertgoers, who end up just gazing at their shoes as the music takes them for a ride. Slowdive’s powerful but gentle sound and stunning stage visuals made me forget that I was standing on a field in Fort Worth. I felt like I was being lifted in a colorful tractor beam and I never wanted the journey to end. Between songs we gently fell back to the ground and turned to our neighbors to try and find the words to capture what we had just experienced.
So much of the music I listen to thrives on contrast – from a wailing, soulful guitar jam over structured instrumentals to smooth rap bars dancing around a banging beat. This contrast is great for highlighting a solo or creating a stage for vocals, but it can also make other layers of a song easy to ignore as we tune into one sound. Slowdive was the first band I’ve seen that based their sound on oneness. The unison between the vocals, bass, guitars, synth, and drums forces you to constantly hear the entire song as one sound instead of a collection of instruments. This sound blanket is beautiful to experience live and I still get goosebumps from songs I heard at the concert.
“When The Sun Hits” stood out to me because the light show on the stage flashed with blinding energy during the outro. It felt like my soul was a dark room on a sunny day and someone had ripped the curtains open, filling me with radiant light. The rest of the “Souvlaki” album is a must listen and so is the recent self-titled album.
El Ten Eleven
Live looping has been a staple of street performers and small groups for some time now and the success of artists like Ed Sheeran has brought more attention to the style. El Ten Eleven manages to create the sound of a full jam band with just two members thanks to Kristian’s skillful guitar and bass loops. Their sound is beautiful and addictingly catchy even when three or four layers deep.
I’ll also award style points for their audience work. I love seeing shows in smaller venues because the artist gets a chance to talk with the crowd instead of at them. The duo engaged us with jokes and made me feel like I was listening to a couple of my friends jam instead of actually attending a concert. It was a relief to get a break from the typical script where the artist asks us how we’re doing then guilt trips us about how the previous city on their tour was louder.
“Fanshawe” is one of El Ten Eleven’s most popular songs for good reason. It beautifully captures their sound from the delicate intro to the rocking climax. Check out the rest of their debut album, “El Ten Eleven”, then keep listening through to 2015’s “Fast Forward”. It’s all worth hearing.
Lettuce drew the most age diversity I’ve seen at a concert. The funk was alive in both the teenagers and the parents that brought them. Funk ditches rigid structure in favor of effortless grooving that you can’t resist dancing to, and Lettuce definitely made it look effortless with their merry, casual style. They come off as the kind of people who could show up to a formal job interview in shorts and still get the job.
“The Force” is the first song on Lettuce’s 2015 album “Crush”, which has some of my all-time favorite album art. If you like it I highly recommend checking out the rest of the album. Even if you don’t like it, the album has enough variety to please anyone. Prefer something you can sing along to? He Made A Woman Out Of Me. Psychedelic funk? Phyllis (my personal favorite).
What live music lacks in polished studio sound it more than makes up for with energy, emotion, and a feeling of community with your fellow listeners. I enjoy the unique challenge of capturing the feeling of concerts in words and I look forward to going to more concerts to write about this summer.