Saturday, December 17, 2016

Surprises in Music: 2017 Edition

(In Charlie Brown Teacher Voice):

Blah blah blah . . . Devin Townsend . . . new album, concert . . . blah blah . . . Clutch . . . blah . . . Meshuggah . . .

The surprises this year were . . . subtle.

After my last Devin Townsend encounter I considered retiring altogether from concert going, for at least those involving mosh pits. And yet summer rolled around, and there I stood, ears buffered with sound filters while the rest of my aging bod endured the usual tribal abuse. When the ticket vendor bots notified me of Dev's forthcoming show, I was prepared to steer clear as originally planned. Instead I consulted the seating arrangement to see if, indeed, there was any seating to be had at the venue. In fact a solo seat at the balcony rail beckoned. I clicked "buy tickets" and off I went.
Selfie of DTP drummer Ryan van Poederooyen and Yours Truly.
I wound up having fun, in no small part because I was seated at comfortable remove from the frothing mob. Devin and the lads seemed to be enjoying themselves as well, a highly contagious condition. I thought I could see how this might become a habit for guys my age. I could also see how it might not, given the long-haired older fellow beside me who was prone to taking shallow naps against my shoulder when he wasn't hiccuping Purple Kush.

Yes, it was fun, but I could say goodbye. This was it.

Then the bots emailed with news of Meshuggah's forthcoming concert.

For the last eight or so years I've learned to expect their name to come up in interviews with performers from strikingly different backgrounds: classical, jazz, ballet, Gregorian Chant -- when asked who they enjoy listening to during off-hours, if the interviewee begins with, "Actually, my tastes are a bit of a dog's breakfast . . . " you know it will be followed up with ". . . along with [Respected Elder Statesman In The Field] I also like Meshuggah."

Meshuggah has pride of place in my Wall of Plastic, but I'd never been to a show. Was it worth the hassle? I drove downtown to consult the friend who introduced me to them. "I've got your back, man," he said. "He have to go."

What that band does on plastic should not be possible live on stage. And yet, here was the proof.

Exits to the right and left of scary heads
It was, of course, a punishing affair. One reveller was pulled unconscious from the pit. Another staggered out to shoehorn himself beside me against the wall near the exit. He spent 15 minutes struggling to get his shit together before finally conceding defeat and sprinting for the door.

When the amps were silenced and the house lights back on, I was surprised by how overwhelmingly happy -- even joyous -- the vibe was. The mob shuffled past the stage en route to the exit, and drummer Tomas Haake strode to the edge to hand out the setlist and toss a few drumsticks to passersby. I was within a few feet of the man. I thought if everyone had been behaving the way they were five minutes ago, a massive brawl would break out over possession of those pieces of wood. But no. It was catch as catch can, and people were content.

As was I. I gave my friend a big hug, and then we shook hands and announced our mutual retirement from the concert scene.

Until next time.

Musical Endnote:

I just bought my very first Rolling Stones album.

In high school, when asked the Beatles/Stones question I reluctantly sided with the Stones. Their catalogue had more outright rock songs than the Beatles, and was still expanding. In 1991 I bought this box set of singles from their London years. I put what I wanted on a 90 minute tape, then took the set with me on my next visit to the used CD shop. I've still got that tape. It's probably playable, too, given how rarely I listened to it. Between radio and commercials and lulls between hockey periods my ears have been dully over-saturated with Stones' licks.

But this new album's alright -- in fact, it's a gas! No, seriously. It's just these old-timers setting themselves to doing what they did as kids, and applying all the tricks they've learned in the past 50-plus years. It's a happy racket, filled with surprises. Including, of all people, Charlie Watts. I've generally considered him little more than a nattily-dressed metronome for the band, but now I'm using words like "texture" and "character" to describe what he does with these guys on this album. There isn't a single song I'd turf from the list, either -- another first in my experience of the Stones.

Mick and Keef haven't cause to be the least bit concerned with my absence from their stadium shows. And for my part, witnessing their jittery Bear Band Jamboree has absolutely no appeal. But if these guys were to tour doing strictly this shtick?

I could envision coming out of retirement.

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