getting loud and silly

Seems like the longer I’ve been meaning to say a semi-insightful thing, the less insightful and the more bogged down in tangential gibberish it becomes. The week after I saw Les Savy Fav at the Pitchfork Music Festival, I jotted the things into my notebook that I didn’t want to forget. Then, naturally, the many things of life intervened and I forgot about the notebook. I don’t think I’ve lost track of why touching Tim Harrington’s butt was a highlight of my summer, though, and it kind of explains what’s interesting and fun to me about live music.

I know nothing about music. This is hardly an exaggeration: I can tell you the names of all the Beatles, but nothing about what makes up a chord, or the bridge of a song, or what differentiates acid house from acid jazz (I turn to Ishkur’s guide for those sorts of things). It’s not that technical virtuosity on an instrument doesn’t impress me, it’s just that half the time I don’t know it when it’s hitting me in the face. After about ten years of avid seeking-out and listening, though, I (at least mostly) know what I like. It’s less a certain genre, a particular beat structure or a distinctive guitar tone, than a set of responses it can provoke. I look at musical performances as rarefied presentations of these thoughts or feelings or whatever you want to call the neurons that fire in response to some sounds. The acts and antics I’ve loved the most have built upon those responses.

Put less fancily: these shows look like fun.

For three years before I saw them, I’d heard from nickd how ridiculous Les Savy Fav’s live show was, and how Tim Harrington, their lead singer, was pretty much guaranteed to get naked and act crazy. I was worried it wouldn’t live up to the hype, but it did. In the post-show interview I read with him, which I’m now failing to find for hyperlinkin’, he talks about how his part of the show is done to amuse the rest of the band, to make them the audience. I liked that way of seeing his job. He has an ideal combination of enthusiastic energy and self-aware absurdity to bring an audience and the band they came for together in one big silly spectacle. Dressed in a Sherlock jacket over ripped shiny leggings, he asked “Why can’t we do this every day?” It seemed like a good question at the time, and it seems like a good amusement to stand in a field full of strangers yelling along with a bearded, half-nude guy swinging a microphone into the crowd. This mass of people all saw a different show: I was standing front and center, but I missed what was the highlight for some friends elsewhere in the crowd when a huge black trash can containing Tim Harrington came crowdsurfing across the field. The band didn’t miss a beat.

It wasn’t, of course, the butt-touching that was the fun of that show. It was sweating to a song about sweating, and then having a different story to tell, a different connection with those sounds, than I’d had before. It’s thrilling to celebrate something, like music, that I privately delight in, alongside so many others who are given over to their own connections to the same spectacle. It’s thrilling, every once in a while, to let yourself be distracted: to watch the crowd as well as the performance, to follow one instrument over another, and then to let it all settle back into a series of familiar sounds surrounding you in an unfamiliar place.

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