I went to a gig last week.
Yeah, big deal – a week like most others.
I could tell you about how this gig moved me, and it did, so I’ll get to that. More importantly though, I want to write about the ways the band I saw has grown and morphed in my mind over time. I’d seen this band live before – twice before in fact. Although I’m sure it doesn’t sound like a lot to someone with a lifelong musical obsession (someone told me the other day that they had seen their favourite band 67 times), I notice these three gigs are strung together in my mind, into one musical experience.
It’s an odd process when I think about it, not just that bands can get better or worse in my humble opinion, but that sometimes I can connect to them not for their music so much as for the long standing, and liminal, “connections” I make with them.
Local Natives, who played Gorilla in Manchester last Friday night, are not my favorite band, but they were able to move me quite deeply because I’d been on what I’ll have to cheesily call a journey with them, over about a decade. When I saw them last week it wasn’t a new experience in a series, but a growing experience of “knowing” the band. That performance has grown and developed over ten years.
The band played at TT the Bear’s place in Boston, MA, in the deep of winter in 2009, touring their first album Gorilla Manor. I watched their set in front of about 15 people, and, if I’m honest, I wasn’t completely convinced. They sounded like they were throwing a lot of sounds around without them fully coming together. They did seem really enthusiastic though, as well as pretty nervous. I was helping to promote the show, and I wanted to help, on the basis of their enthusiasm alone. I felt empowered to give them some of my own enthusiasm back, so I clapped each song as it finished until my palms ached.
The next time I saw them was in Manchester in 2016, and there were probably a couple of hundred of us there for it. The album they were now touring, their third, was a little off kilter still, but so much more cohesive and intentional. The band, too, provoked a paternal feeling in me: “How sweet! All grown up now!”. On the brink of the US elections – before everything went to shit – they spoke between songs about the hopes they had for a Hilary presidency, and I felt it too. I could be connected to their politics too then, as well as their music. I whooped and clapped from the crowd.
Last week, after several more years had elapsed, I watched them show me a musical performance I couldn’t patronise – studied, controlled, pitch perfect, but still with a compelling energy that carried me along with them. They showed the packed room at Gorilla something that I guess we all wanted to see: that we had a role to play in the experience, and our energy was intermingled with theirs.
One of them (see, I care and yet I oddly don’t even know their names!) announced that he got married last year, and his wife was 8 months pregnant, and I couldn’t help but smile. I was smiling with them all, and in doing so the gig was what I suppose all gigs purport (and usually struggle) to be: A night where I could be a little part of the band.
All this said, even I’m not so delusional as to think I know the band at all – they have their lives and I have mine, and our connection as I watch them play their songs is no more than a performance. But even that space of performance can be a profound one. If it wasn’t, what’s with the 67 gigs? I can’t believe it’s for the majesty of their music alone – it must be for something about the illusion of sharing, even in a slight way, their developing lives.
Words by Nick Parker.
Photo credit for 2009 image, Julie Stoller @ https://www.bostonsurvivalguide.net