tUnE-yArDs @ The Haunt, Brighton 21.06.11
Coincidentally, and unfortunately for the band in question, tUnE-yArDs’ support, Thousands, were a perfect example of the flipside of this phenomenon. Two Americans with acoustic guitars, battling against the curiously cone-shaped venue which funnelled and amplified the sound of hipster chatter right onto the stage and into their faces, so that their delicate pickings were competing with several hundred ha-ha-ing haircuts. So they sounded like nothing. Like two blokes strumming. As dull as mud. Whereas, so I later discovered, on record they are all about the minutiae. Their songs breathe when studio-born, much more rarified beasts than the busked nonentities my ears heard that night. Their recording process is meticulous: they record outside, in specific rural locations, every gentle burr of the strings, every catch of the breath part of the poetry. It’s beautiful, through lush stereo speakers and in still air. It’s utter shite on a stupidly-placed stage in front of a distracted, bored, partisan crowd on a hot night in Brighton.
It doesn’t bode well for tUnE-yArDs. And this is the gig where I get to test my theory that the alchemy happens live. Huh.
I needn’t have worried. It’s perfect. The sound is clear and gorgeous, the performance miraculous. Blah blah blah. The thing is, with live music there’s nothing that can be done to convey the experience truly. Words fail me. Us. They leave gaps and create elisions, they trick and mislead. Shit. It’s not like writing about a song on the internet and embedding an MP3 so the reader can check that your whooping about its awesomeness isn’t just some hype-induced craziness. This is a doubly-mediated experience. And it’s not as if videos can really do it either, despite where we came in. Watching a video of a performance on a small screen is a qualitatively different experience to being in the venue, with all the roar and the stink and the friction.
I’ll try. Because it really does make a difference to what I heard that I was perched on the edge of the stage, my back against the speaker. That I could see the sweat dripping down the saxophonists’ faces, smearing the black streak painted across their cheeks. That I could feel the thump of the bass in my belly. That my legs got pins and needles but that I didn’t care; I didn’t want it to end. That the sensation of being a mere metre away from where two saxes were playing notes a microtone apart could be felt in my knees. Does it help that I found out that that sound is the ringing clink of a beer bottle being struck by a drumstick or that one is the particular clatter that a baking tray makes when thwacked by a joyous brass player? Does it increase my appreciation of the songs to twig that the reason Garbus doesn’t wear shoes on stage is because she uses a stripy-socked foot to twiddle a delay pedal and adjust the length of the loop (whilst simultaneously singing and playing the drums and the ukele)?
Yes. It does.