Thursday, 1 November 2007

Rufus, Bruce, And My Terrifying Concert Phobia

A couple of nights ago Canyon and I were fortunate enough to see Rufus Wainwright performing at the Hammersmith Apollo. We tried earlier in the year to see him during his residency at the Old Vic, but our local council use the extortionately high council tax to buy hover-limos for themselves instead of maintaining unimportant things like paths, and stumbling into potholes in the ground can tend to badly damage your ankle, which meant we didn't go in the end. (I informed the council of the dangerous path, but they never replied. Too busy lighting Cuban cigars with £100 notes, I'll bet.)

Bah, I shouldn't be focusing on the negative, when I could be focusing on the very very positive; Rufus was magnificent, charming, transplendent. I looked for reviews of his show but alas, there were none. Everyone seemed to be at Koko reviewing Bat For Lashes, which is funny because that's where we saw them last year, supporting Low. Closest I could get was this Independent review of his recent Glasgow show, which adequitely details the gist of what Rufus and his magnificent band got up to. The set list, which I nicked from the Rufus Wainwright forums was:

Release The Stars
Going to a Town
Rules And Regulations
Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk
The Art Teacher
Leaving For Paris
Between My Legs

(Then there was an interval, can you believe.)

Do I Disappoint You?
Foggy Day
If Love Were All
Nobody's off the hook
Beautiful Child
Not Ready For Love
Slide Show
14th Street


I Don't Know What It Is
Danny Boy

(Second Encore)

Get Happy
Gay Messiah

Yes, the second encore was a crazed dance number with Rufus in Judy Garland-style drag, with his band rolling around on the floor in suits. It was adorable, and even better he finished with Gay Messiah, my favourite track from Want Two. I was very happy with the set list; most of Release The Stars (to be expected; he is promoting the album, after all), some stuff from Want One and Two (I was glad that he did a storming version of Beautiful Child, though I was sad Vicious World didn't make the cut), and Danny Boy from his debut album. That annoyed Canyon a little bit; she likes that song, but much prefers April Fools (if you don't know it, I urge you to click on that link). On a side note, I totally understand why Universal won't allow embedding of their YouTube videos on blogs, but I would have liked to include them. This is the best I can do; a video of Rufus' song of frustration with the current state of America, Going To A Town:

All in all, a great gig and a fantastic night, but it did make me aware of why we don't go to concerts very often any more. This year we have passed up chances to see many bands, opting not to see Arcade Fire, Prince, Regina Spektor and Andrew Bird, and that's only for starters. I would have liked to see Animal Collective, but we just couldn't muster the energy. Part of it is lethargy and not wanting to have to drag our asses around London during rush hour, and part of it is having to deal with audiences that have no attention span whatsoever. Gigs by Sigur Ros and Neko Case were ruined by annoying audiences, and a recent Bella Union Anniversary night at the Royal Festival Hall was partially wrecked by the sound crew screwing up the set by The Dears, and partially by various chatty Cathys rattling on throughout the concert. Special mention to the assholes sitting behind us who wolfwhistled constantly and made many obnoxious and lewd comments about Stephanie Dosen. I'm not exaggerating when I say I was deaf in my left ear the next day, thanks to the whistling. Thankfully Canyon gave them a talking to, and they calmed down. Remember, people: do not mess with Canyon!!!

Of course, I'm not suggesting that people should be forced to shut the hell up during concerts or be banned from re-entering the auditorium once the gig has started and too goddamn bad if you really really really needed your fifteenth beer of the night, like I was some outrageous fascist making laws enforced by the threat of death. Not. At. All. However, it's nice when a concert just happens to have an appreciative, attentive audience who are there for the music, and not because the band is suddenly hip or something. That's happened to me before; shouty media arseholes descend in droves on a gig by a band you like and don't shut their evil mouths. Pretty much every Elliott Smith gig I saw was like that, dammit. It can happen, though. A happy confluence of devoted fanbase and lack of widespread modish media attention means you can just enjoy the music. Case in point; Bonnie "Prince" Billy, aka Will Oldham, aka World's Greatest Living Songwriter Who Isn't Dylan.

This gig that we attended earlier this year was wonderful, easily as good as the Rufus gig. However, it throws up one of the other reasons I don't go to as many gigs any more; the ephemeral nature of live music. I have a terrible affliction. If I like something, I want a permanent record of it. Getting photos of memorable events, buying DVDs of shows and films I like and will probably never get around to watching, having CDs of music and not just a bunch of data on my iPod; it's like a sickness. I get so anxious about it, and have done for so long, that my old home where I grew up is filled to the brim with VHS tapes and magazines and old NMEs and Melody Makers that I can't bear to throw out. I say all of this knowing I'm not even slightly unique and am suffering from the same thing as a lot of people.

However, gigs give me the fear, at least to a certain extent. I've been to so many gigs and I can only remember little bits of them, and it makes me crap myself with fear. Why isn't my memory better? Why can't I commit these experiences to some kind of internal hard drive that is more reliable than the mushy thing between my ears? I come out of concerts with hardly any idea of what I just experienced, and it breaks my heart. Am I senile? [Probably. You are like 200 years old. --Canyon] I don't drink at concerts any more, so why does the experience evaporate so soon? The Will Oldham gig I mentioned was wonderful, but my abiding memory of it was listening to his John The Baptist medley and being frustrated that this incredible piece of music was going to be denied me once it was over. That's a crappy memento to take with me; a belly full of bile brought on by my own fear of mortality and amnesia.

Perhaps I should get bootlegs. Even then, though, that's no real replacement. Seeing Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band last year was one of the highlights of my life, and even a good bootleg would not begin to approximate the feeling I got watching that supremely magnificent showman at the peak of his powers. To be honest, that's not the best example. That was such a good night I can still remember it clearly. It's the other gigs that aren't as memorable but have transcendent moments that make me anxious.

Of course, this doesn't mean I'm giving up on concerts, but I will slowly become someone who goes to gigs as often as a sometime Q reader, and only for the big guys (though I missed out on Springsteen tickets this year, I'll do my best to catch him every other time he gets here). Who knows, eventually some mad scientist will have found a way to stick recorders in our brains, like in Douglas Trumbull's flawed but fascinating Brainstorm, so I can just access those moments at will.

Not wanting to leave this on a downer (I meant to celebrate the wonder of Rufus and it got all miserablist and overthinky; sorry!), here's the most wonderful moment I ever experienced during a concert; Radiohead at Glastonbury, performing No Surprises. The fireworks that go off at the end are not edited in afterwards; they actually went off in time with the music just by chance. That's a memory I'll never lose.


Adams said...

I love this post, but rather than elucidate why, I will instead say that Will Oldham looks like a thumb upon which someone has drawn a face. That's not always the case, is it?

Admiral Neck said...

That was one of the good photos. One day I shall take a trip through the many faces of Will "Thumbface" Oldham, but trust me, it's not a pretty sight.