The absolute beauty of attending a live music show

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Reflecting on the past 16 months, aside from human contact, one of the things I’ve missed the most is live art events and especially music.

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Most of us, but not all of us, enjoy seeing our favorite artists in concert and are willing to spend a lot of money on tickets as well as travel long distances to see and hear them.

Concerts weren’t part of my youth, but once I was in my high school years, my association with the trumpet led me to a series of Big Band concerts that were presented at Lambton College, solidifying my love of Big Bands, the music of the Big Band era as well as more contemporary Big Band jazz, and these experiences have opened the floodgates to so many other wonderful concert experiences in many different genres.

I remember very well the first pop concert I attended and it was that of the Beach Boys who played at the CNE. Forsythe Travel from Chatham had organized a bus trip to the CNE culminating with the evening concert and several friends and I jumped at the chance to attend our first major concert.

The concert tour took place when Beach Boy genius/frontman Brian Wilson emerged from his drug-induced absence of years to join the original line-up in promotion of their new album, “Fifteen Big Ones “.

When the first strains of “California Girls” were heard, I got goosebumps. The intro was long and drawn-out with no stage lighting, creating crazy anticipation. Then suddenly the tempo returned to normal, the lights came on and that distinctive organ sound took over.

I was on the moon and since then, addicted to live concerts!

Talking to audiences over the years, I’ve realized that people have different expectations and reasons for attending a live concert.

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Some want and expect to hear an exact duplication of their favorite songs as they appear on the artists’ recordings, while others want to hear something other than a verbatim reproduction of the tracks from the album.

Myself, I have room for both of these experiences.

I had the glorious opportunity to see Gordon Lightfoot many times, including when he was in his prime. His concerts are not fancy, but the music is a perfect reproduction of his recordings, which is a skill in itself.

I knew in advance what I was going to experience, each time I went to see him.

My gig experience with Andy Williams was similar, but this kind of gig is a different animal.

With an orchestra, horn and rhythm section behind him, the arrangements were all printed and played to perfection by engaged hands every time.

Orchestras and bands that read sheet music are all like that. Our Wallaceburg Concert Band rehearses weekly with the goal of being able to hit the page notes perfectly every time we play.

Other gigs I’ve been to, especially pop and jazz, will almost always feature long extended solos that really allow the artists to show off their talents.

Recording in the studio to produce commercial radio hits is often a tedious experience for artists. Singles for radio play must fit into a compact time frame that ends up neat and tidy, and doesn’t often allow artists to stretch their musical legs. For these artists, a live gig is where they can really let loose and demonstrate their abilities.

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This came to mind when I saw Elton John.

Elton was on tour with Billy Joel, another great hitmaker I had seen many times before. Knowing what Billy Joel was capable of on the piano, I anticipated that Elton John and his many radio-oriented pop hits would struggle to match Billy Joel’s talents.

I couldn’t be wrong anymore.

Elton John is an absolute beast on the keyboard! He took every opportunity to put a slightly different spin on his hits and wandered off into wild extended solos demonstrating what he’s truly capable of.

Some people attend concerts hoping to hear something they have never heard before and will never hear again. The element of surprise is welcome and that’s where Jazz comes in.

The hallmark of jazz is improvisation. A jazz chart will usually include an ensemble playing, but the open solo sections are once again where artists can really showcase their talents.

We will never hear a solo in a selection of jazz played twice in the same way. It would be the antithesis of what jazz is.

But I probably attend concerts for a few reasons that most don’t.

Whenever I go to a gig, I tend to wander up to the soundboard to check out the equipment they’re using. It’s a sonic-nerd thing.

I also attend concerts to glean ideas for the productions in which I participate. A few ideas that I have incorporated into my gigs include the use of artificial snow machines and videos.

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I also participate out of pure curiosity. I’m often curious how artists can replicate some of the complex things they do in a studio. Electronic effects, recording techniques and the complex layering of sounds can be challenging to replicate live.

For example, I’ve always wanted to see Queen perform Bohemian Rhapsody live with its intricate instrumentation and layered vocals, but I missed that.

But I think my favorite thing about buying a ticket and going to a concert is just that I’m not responsible. Having nothing to do but have fun is a treat.

I’ve spent my entire adult musical life organizing or performing gigs and it’s so relaxing for me to attend a show where all I have to do is show up.

In my next column, I want to share some of my great concert experiences.

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