Apollo - Listen Live

Apollo is Woroni’s regular column in which our reviewers offer comment and opinion on cultural questions beyond our individual reviews.

It’s something of a cliché that if you are forced to study something, you will end up hating it. Three days before my music exam for the International Baccalaureate, I was told that not only did I have to know the “entire history of classical music” and have a working knowledge of world music, I would also need identify the period and form of any jazz, rock or pop piece the sadist who wrote the exam thought appropriate. Three days later, I had put myself through a crash course in jazz and pop and hated most of what I had listened to. Seriously, you try analysing the chord structures, melodic patterns and overall form of The Sex Pistols in a library with the volume turned down … and trust me when I say that 4:00am, extreme exam stress and thrash metal are not the most mentally healthy combination in the world. As an unfortunate result, I have spent several years running, screaming “la, la, la, think happy thoughts” the whole way, to hit the skip button when about half the songs on my Ipod come up on shuffle.

I have, however, recently discovered that seeing some things performed live makes all the difference in the world. Punk music might seem pretty weird in the sterile environment of the National Library but put it in a pub at 11:00pm and it’s a totally different beast. The raw emotion in the best of it comes through and, for the first time, I get a sense of why punk was the powerful social force it was in the beginning. As someone with a bit of singing training, I’m still not entirely convinced by some of the vocals but stage presence, the ability to draw every eye in a crowd and hold them, makes an enormous difference. It’s very easy, when you listen to a recording, to notice and cringe at every single tiny deviation from the proper note but, in some cases when it’s live, it just adds to the energy and the power of the performance.

I had the same experience with metal. I listened to recordings and I was blown away by what a few guitarists can do and the ludicrous complexity of some of the drumming patterns but it still didn’t make musical sense to me. I still have serious issues hearing what some of those frontmen are doing with their voices. The rational part of me knows that the ones who retain them long enough to make it professionally know what they are doing but I still cringe a little bit. That reaction isn’t there when it’s live. You just get caught up with it and the growl seems like an intense expression of something natural rather than a weird form of yelling.

Listening to live music is a totally different experience from recorded music. If I’ve learnt anything about music lately, it’s that you shouldn’t judge anything until you’ve heard it the way it’s meant to be heard.