Double-post? What’s going on here? MUSIC, FOOLS.
Yeah, I know, two posts about music in one night—why not just merge them? Because there are two different topics here and they build on one another and you’ve just got to think about them individually, okay? Meaning if you haven’t read tonight’s first post, it is absolutely integral that you go do that.
Alright, we left off with how Colin Meloy (among many talented others) can slip a knife between your ribs while you tap your feet and smile. “O Valencia!” is both a brilliant example of that (I will never know how anyone could sing “Well the shot, it hit hard, and your frame went limp in my arms,” in a major key) and perfectly suited to this next discussion. Go forth and listen, my children.
Now that you’ve got a feel for the song, check out the live version. It starts out with self-deprecating small talk and the ridiculous “Dracula’s Daughter,” but the second Meloy counts out the start of “Valencia!” there’s a palpable shift in the audience’s energy. Meloy’s meandering scat solo falls on the ears of a disorganized group of people, but “Valencia!”’s opening line creates instantaneous unity. Unlike “Dracula’s Daughter,” the audience has listened to “Valencia!” countless times. They know the song and its poignance like the back of their hands, and each line springs reflexively from their lips. In that moment, listeners and band are one. The crowd is in on some private joke, they’ve proven that they belong.
That, my friends, is the power of live music in a nutshell. But why else should we care about the concert experience?
The “O Valencia!” Theorem demonstrates that people like to have shared experiences when it comes to music they love (this is why God invented earbud trees). Now, Brian Wilson will show us that sometimes, we go to concerts to hear musicians mess up.
Rather abrupt genre change there, I know, but I’m from California and it’s the end of summer. You do the math. The Beach Boys built up a reputation doing happy, semi-mindless tunes about surfing, cute girls, and muscle cars. Fans at their 1969 London concert were primed for that, but were treated to a bit of melancholy, as well. The first track on their 1966 album Pet Sounds and one of their most famous songs, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” displays an interesting mix of bubbly teenage love and genuine wistfulness. It’s an ambivalent song to begin with, perhaps in part owing to Wilson’s struggles with mental illness and addiction. At first glance, the tempo of the studio recording, especially in the bridge, tugs harder on listeners’ heartstrings than the live recording. But the song sounds like it’s in a lower register in concert, and there are certain vocal imperfections—the exhale at the end of the first chorus, for example—that make it feel more raw, more earnest (and certainly temper the saccharinity).
Concert performances aren’t clean. Band members talk between songs and between verses, the sound quality is fuzzy, lyrics get forgotten. But there’s something comforting in hearing a famous singer inhale and remembering that, oh yeah, they’ve got to breathe, too.