“You go to a lot of gigs?”

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This is an observation that is levelled at me on a very regular basis. Some people make it their business to attend every GAA event that happens in their locality every weekend, others decide that every Friday night is the night they visit the cinema, but for me, live music.

Every spectator event provides people with an escape from the problems that are currently intruding on their lives, and while they all provide opportunities for different kinds of experiences, live music provides an opportunity for something that is unique, the potential to properly engage with and influence what you are experiencing on stage. When you go to a movie screening in a cinema, there is a strong chance that the viewing experience you have will be similar to that a friend might have had at the same movie just the night before (provided of course you don’t have that guy sitting in front of you with the seeming abnormally sized head, or that woman with the particularly jarring laugh sitting behind you). Similarly, there have been occasions when I’ve been at a sporting event in Croke Park and have found myself shouting encouragement at the players on the pitch, knowing full well that they can’t hear me and that I am having no effect on their performance or decision-making on the pitch. A night at the theatre will sometimes involve a point when the stage will request audience participation, but even then this can feel coordinated with the performers attempting to direct the audience interactions towards desirable interventions. Where live music differs is that very often the audience can have a clear influence on the kind of show that they experience and can often impact upon the performer. It is the possibility for these moments that make live music such an irresistible force.

One of the stand out examples that I always use when trying to explain this thinking came during a fantastic George Ezra performance in The Academy, Dublin, in October, 2015. Midway through his set, Ezra‘s band left the stage to allow the singer to perform some of the more laid back songs from his debut album, Wanted on Voyage, on his own. One of the songs during this part of the set was the beautiful Leaving It Up To You, the recorded version of which contains a lovely refrain by a local choir just after the second chorus, however minus a choir for this performance Ezra had intended to skip this part of the song for this performance and instead move straight to the middle eight. However, just as Ezra was finishing up the second chorus, the audience in attendance decided to fill the role of the choir and chant back what was missing, a gesture that caused Ezra to start laughing to himself and extend the transition from chorus to middle eight so that the audience could finish their contribution. The effect of this was to inject the crowd into the performance and move them from mere onlookers to performers, and seeing Ezra‘s reaction on stage provided one of the sweetest moments of the night. It struck me at the time that this was something that would not be possible at other spectator events.

Another example of this phenomenon came during a show by Ben Howard held in the Olympia Theatre, Dublin, in November 2012 –  a show that remains the best that this writer has ever been lucky enough to attend. Another show where the audience made themselves part of the performance that they were experiencing rather than just being onlookers, by choosing to involve themselves in every song that Howard performed and in the process would make sure that this was a show that he would never forget.

Live Fucking Music, indeed…

MK