Sunday, July 25, 2021

Something I’ve missed the most… live music

By Dave Babbitt – Special to the Sydenham Current

In reflecting on the last 16 months, aside from human contact one of the things that I’ve missed the most is live artistic events and in particular, music.

Most, but not all of us love to take in our favourite artists in-concert and are willing to spend big-coin on tickets as well as travel long distances to see and hear them.

Concerts were not a part of my youth, but once I was in my upper 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 the Big Bands, the music of the Big Band Era as well as more contemporary Big Band jazz, and these experiences served to open the floodgates to so many other wonderful concert experiences in many different genres.

I vividly recall the first Pop concert that I ever attended and that was The Beach Boys who were playing at the CNE.

Forsythe Travel of Chatham had put together a bus trip to the CNE culminating in the evening concert and several friends and I jumped at the opportunity to attend our first big concert.

The concert tour occurred when Beach Boy genius/leader Brian Wilson came out of his drug-induced, multiple year absence to re-join the original line-up in promoting their newest album, “Fifteen Big Ones”.

When the first strains of “California Girls” were heard, I had goosebumps.

The introduction was long and drawn-out, without any stage lighting, creating crazy anticipation. Then suddenly, the tempo came up to normal, the lights came on, and that distinctive organ sound took over.

I was on the moon and ever since, hooked on live concerts!

In talking to concert goers over the years, I’ve come to realize that people have different expectations and reasons for attending a live concert.

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

Myself, I have room for both of those experiences.

I’ve had the glorious opportunity to see Gordon Lightfoot many times, including when he was in his prime.

His concerts aren’t fancy, but the music is a note-perfect reproduction of his recordings which is a skill in itself.

I knew what I was about to experience ahead of time, every time I went to see him.

My concert experience with Andy Williams was the similar, but that kind of a concert is a different animal.

With an orchestra, horn and rhythm section behind him, the arrangements were all in print and played note-perfect by hired-hands each and every time.

Orchestras and bands that read from sheet music are all like that.

Our Wallaceburg Concert Band rehearses every week with the goal of being able to lift the notes off of the page perfectly every time we play.

Other concerts I’ve attended, particularly in the Pop and Jazz fields will almost always feature long, extended solo’s that really allow the artists to show their chops.

Recording in a studio to produce commercial radio hits is often a tedious experience for the artists. Singles to be released for radio play need to fit within a compact time frame that end up neat and tidy, and don’t often allow the artists to stretch their musical legs.

For these artists, a live concert is where they really get to let loose and demonstrate their abilities.

This was driven home to me when I saw Elton John.

Elton was touring with Billy Joel, another huge hit-maker who I had seen a couple of times previously.

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 equal the talents of Billy Joel.

I couldn’t have been any more wrong.

Elton John is an absolute beast on the keyboard!

He took every chance he could to put a slightly different spin on his hits and meandered-off into wild extended solos demonstrating what he is really capable of.

Some people attend concerts with the expectation that they’ll hear something they’ve never heard before, and never will again.

The element of surprize is welcomed and that’s where Jazz comes in.

The hallmark of Jazz is improvisation. A jazz chart will usually feature some ensemble playing but the open solo sections are once again, where the artists get to really demonstrate their chops.

One will NEVER hear a solo in a jazz selection played the same twice.

That would be the antithesis of what jazz is.

But I probably attend concerts for a few reasons most do not.

Whenever I attend a concert, I tend to wander over to the soundboard to check out the equipment that they’re using.

It’s a sound-nerd thing.

I also attend concerts to glean ideas for productions that I’m involved with.

A couple of ideas that I’ve incorporated into my concerts include the use of artificial snow machines and video.

I also attend out of sheer curiosity. I’m often curious how artists can reproduce some of the complex things they do in a studio.

Electronic effects, recording techniques and complex layering of sounds can provide challenges to reproduce in a live setting.

For example, I always wanted to see Queen perform Bohemian Rhapsody live with its complex instrumentation and layered vocals, but I missed-out on that.

I think however that my favourite thing about buying a ticket and going to a concert is simply that I’m not in charge.

Having nothing to do other than enjoy myself is a treat.

I’ve spent my entire adult musical life either organizing or performing concerts and it’s just so relaxing for me to take in 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.

- Advertisment -