I have to begin this with a confession and a commercial. First, the confession: I am a fuddy-duddy. It’s nearly 10pm on a Friday night and I am triumphantly home and looking forward to bed. That’s who I am.
The commercial: think back to halcyon days when you might have heard these lines on one of the four television channels available.
“You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!”
“You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!”
V/O song: “Reese’s… Peanut Butter Cups…”
Now swap out “hollow plastic noodle” for chocolate and “clarinet” for peanut butter, and that’s the kind of music I was listening to tonight. That’s right. Free range jazz. We’ve just come back from Transistor, where we saw Extraordinary Popular Delusions. Two weeks ago it was Mucca Pazza at Mayne Stage. Four weeks before that it was Gang of Four at the Metro.
Let me put this in simple numbers: in 2011, I have already seen 3 live shows. This is more than 2010 and 2009 combined. I think we saw David Byrne in 2007 or ’08, maybe? In general, I haven’t been a huge live music fan. The David Byrne concerts (Milwaukee and Prague) were great. At Archa in Prague we could dance but in Milwaukee it was all sit-down at the Pabst. Live versions of the songs sounded like the songs we knew with different arrangements – not a far cry from a concert album, really.
Gang of Four was a slightly different deal. First of all, I’m late to punk. I like it, and the post-punk of GoF, but I don’t know most of the music very well. I have saved a voice mail of one of my friends singing “I Love a Man in Uniform” on my phone – a capella – to remind me of GoF’s more famous melodies. The sound mix at the Metro was pretty awful and the details of the music was hard to make out, but for the first time, I enjoyed the performance of the music rather than trying to get into the music itself. Kind of a revelation.
Mucca Pazza is a punk marching band. I saw them outdoors last year at Global Union (and if you’re in or near Milwaukee at the end of September, you should really mark this weekend on your calendar) and was frankly a little scared for my eardrums of catching them indoors. Wise, but unnecessary. They were fantastic and fun. They’ve also got cheerleaders, one of whom is a performer at the circus arts oriented Actors Gymnasium, so there!
Back to Extraordinary Popular Delusions – the free range jazz I spoke of before.
I’m used to liking things for their virtuosity, being able to tell how good someone is. At a David Byrne-live album sort of concert, that’s pretty easy. It’s a polished show, the sound mix is set, even when they play off album and go with Goran Bregovic. Gang of Four were clearly skilled, but the sound made it difficult to appreciate. By contrast, their opening act, Hollerado, had a much less polished performance. They were fine – they were good – but their obvious effort made them seem feel like they were just trying too hard. The confidence that GoF brought to the stage was part of what made their show so good.
Mucca Pazza has some skilled folks as well, no doubt about it. They promenade into the house, playing instruments in and among the audience as they filter their way onstage, all the while doing big band orchestral numbers with mad abandon. And our free range jazz musicians? They had an intellectual thing going. It wasn’t pleasant music, necessarily, but it was incredibly interesting. I could bring the drums into focus, or switch over to keyboard or bass, or clari-noodle (that was actually only about 2 minutes…). All four musicians ran a split focus, concentrating on their own playing and attending to the sound bubble that they collectively created.
I hadn’t really thought about confidence in music performance before as separate from virtuosity. It’s unlike what I’ve imagined when I think about listening to and enjoying music and sound.