When did concerts become tribal rites?
It was not like this back in the sixties and seventies, when classic rock ruled. There was a gulf between performer and audience, it was a show, now it's an EXPERIENCE!
Ignore the virtual reality hype, there's nothing like being there, observing the assembled multitude, watching the women sway and sing at the top of their lungs, mesmerized by the act giving all it's got.
I was with Larry in the Chairman's Room, he was waiting for earplugs, I was getting antsy, I was afraid of missing something, the set list said he was going on at 9:10, I checked my phone and bolted, told Larry to meet me at the back of the hall and…
The lights were flashing, Keith was coming down the riser picking a banjo, the bass was thumping, the synthesizer was oozing all over the bottom and the building began to levitate. The cries were loud for Brett Eldredge but this was a frenzied peak, this was what they'd been waiting for, and Keith Urban was delivering.
This was not a nitwit television contestant. It became rapidly evident that this dude could PLAY! Just like we watched "Ed Sullivan" and picked up axes a younger generation is being infected by the show and doing the same thing, Nashville's ridden with structural problems but the ability to play is not one of them, NashVegas is a hotbed of musicianship, and to be in the presence of this man-made sound is elating!
Larry arrived and we walked up to our assigned seats, on the side of the stage, the lower loge, where we felt like we could reach out and touch Keith. It was the same show, but the experience was now tactile, my insides started to buzz, this is the feeling I live for, this is what is selling all those tickets, people are overpaying on StubHub because they want access, they want to be CLOSE!
The roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd. In a world where we're beholden to our machines, where our best friends are rarely seen in person, to be inside the venue for a live music show is positively thrilling, more human than human.
And over the years Keith has gotten deeper into tattoos. They now creep up his neck. You can't work in the boardroom with these. But that was never Keith Urban's path, he dropped out of high school, he was going to do it his way, and he endured umpteen frustrations, he got a deal with his band the Ranch but it failed, and then he succeeded.
I know, I know, there are tons of faded rockers covered in ink working in the shipping department, but those who make it are still an inspiration. They're confounding convention, ignoring boundaries, doing it their way in a world where we all feel like automatons.
And then he extracted a woman from the audience. Her sign said she'd get an A if she sang with him. She did. On "Gimmie Shelter," a song the band hadn't played in years. But they decided to wing it. And it was rough and the mix was off and that's when I realized this was not a lie, it was like being in the basement for a rehearsal, and we all want to glimpse behind the scenes. The pre-programmed dancing show is a relic of the MTV nineties, now you want your gig to live and breathe, be imperfect, accessible.
And it was surprises like this that kept the audience on its toes. The audience participation on "Jack & Diane," the segue into the Bob Marley classic "No Woman, No Cry."
That's the difference. We didn't use to sing, not in unison, but it's a staple of the modern show. We don't pay fealty to the act, we're in it together, it's a religious revival, all of us praying to the SOUND!
And there were further surprises, the emergence of Nile Rodgers to play "Sun Don't Let Me Down." Funny how we've got a Presidential candidate trying to win on divisiveness, denigrating immigrants, demonizing people of color, but he missed the MTV revolution. Blacks and gays, they're included now. When you see Nile on stage you don't see an African-American, just a really talented icon, who's jumping around on stage picking the strings of his Stratocaster one step removed from Chic. All the sounds have melded together.
And the one thing missing was danger. There was an absence of meaning. When Merry Clayton sang "Rape! Murder!" it was scary, mommy and daddy were nowhere in sight, we were on our own, it not only could get weird, it did. Whereas last night's show was completely safe. And there was no standing up to the man, no explication of the human condition in today's topsy-turvy, income inequality world.
Then again, there are no leaders. The TV contestants pay fealty to Mariah Carey and the classics who are still alive play the old songs to old farts overpaying in the desert. Used to be music pushed the envelope, but not right now.
But where we're at is not completely nowhere. The show is where people want to be. There's an energy, a communication you cannot get anywhere else. We're primed and ready for someone to break it wide open.
Then again, records are secondary to shows. The gigs are less about the songs than the experience of being there, with like-minded people, exulting at the top of your lungs as the ringleader eggs you on.
Not that there were not musical peaks. The number one being the acoustic encore of "Stupid Boy." Wait long enough and they play the songs you want to hear. This was special. Different from the recording. It's what we're looking for, moments.
And the confetti cannons shot their load and the lights came up and people started to leave but Keith could not. He stayed on stage, continuing to wave and shake hands, it had been five years since he'd been in the building, he was so grateful.
This too is a difference. Back then it was take it or leave it. Legends could play shows with their backs to the audience. They might feed off the energy but usually they evidenced no need for those in attendance. They were gods descending to blow our minds, but now we too are on the pulpit, we too are testifying, and it feels so GOOD!
We're on our feet. He's playing the hits. We're thrusting our arms in the air, our eyes closed as we go into a trance, thinking about all the times we played these songs at home, how they got us through, and now the guy who made 'em, he's right there on stage, and he cares that we care, he's giving it his all, it's anything but wasted time.