I am not a person who tends to portion out her life in tidy, measurable blocks. I used to keep track of the passage of time in four-year chunks because of school, of course, but that ended with the advent of grad school, which took three instead of four years and thus threw off my entire schedule. Now I just sort of float. I have difficulty sometimes locating a particular event in time and space, and instead of recalling dates, I think of other general stuff that was happening in the same year and try to thus arrange things in some sort of order. This occasionally leads to funny moments, like when someone asks how long I’ve known my husband and I answer with, “Ummmm…” while trying frantically to calculate. More often, it leads to my complete inability to remember where things fit into my life chronologically without a jigsaw puzzle of memories to help reconstruct what happened when.
I’ve been thinking about this in correlation to my concert-going life, for which I actually have a definitive starting point: 1992, when I was in junior high and saw U2’s ZooTV tour at the Spectrum in Philly. Despite its extreme importance to me at the time, my recollections of that show are pretty random. A friend and I were chaperoned by a woman whose kids I babysat because our parents didn’t want to see a rock show, and she kept getting hit on by a guy sitting near us; they had a belly dancer perform during “Mysterious Ways”; apparently Bono said something bad about our president at some point because when we were leaving, some random guy walked up to us and asked if we’d heard “what that fucking band had said about the president” (in fact, we had not, but sheltered little me was shocked that some random person had used that word when talking to me). My latest concert was Wednesday night’s MuteMath show at the House of Blues in Boston. It was an amazing show with an energetic crowd, lots of crazy visual effects, and a really tight set. The best part was attending the show with a bunch of musicians (my favorite musical line of the night: “He’s really into fuzz”) who were talking shop as we sat around the Foundation Room with drinks and appetizers beforehand, letting me into their world a little bit with discussions of pedals and effects.
As I relaxed into the comfort of the couches and enjoyed examining the fabric- and bead-covered walls, I thought about how far my concert life has come, from nosebleed seats in a stadium for arena rock to a small, members-only room in a Boston club where I can sit in front of a fire and see the show projected on a nice flat screen if I don’t feel like standing on the floor downstairs with everyone else. (Let it be noted, I stood on the floor until pregnancy forced me upstairs to sit again. Fetuses, they’re so demanding.)
Measuring my life in concerts, I can see how my musical taste has evolved into adulthood. These days I’d much rather see a lesser-known band play a small venue like the great T.T. the Bear’s Place in Cambridge than hear a show in a stadium, no matter who’s playing. I’m over my college jam band period (it was, admittedly, brief, and influenced by my friends at the time who loved partying in the lot as much as the music). I briefly attempted to be a fan of noise rock, like Thurston Moore’s solo stuff, before literally giving up and going home, noting to myself that knowing a band means nothing when it comes to seeing a member perform solo. And I became less of a snob about cover bands after going to see Lez Zeppelin, an all-female Zeppelin tribute band who sound freakishly close to the real thing and are as close as I’ll ever get to hearing the actual Zeppelin perform regardless.
All of these concert experiences have come to represent a particular time in my life in such a way that I can pinpoint what was going on generally by thinking of what shows I was attending. My Boston years were a scattershot at first of me going to pretty much any show that came my way and sounded remotely interesting: String Cheese Incident, George Clinton and Parliament, The Strokes, Jurassic 5, Moonraker, The Walkmen, Alison Krauss and Union Station. Now I’m down to only a few concerts a year due to the cost of babysitting, so I’m a bit more choosy. Before seeing MuteMath, the last show I saw was in September of 2011, when Jeff Mangum played at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre. As Mangum had been almost a recluse since releasing Neutral Milk Hotel’s beloved “In the Aeroplane over the Sea” in 1998, I never thought I’d have a chance to see him live. As we got closer to the show, my trepidation and excitement increased; I wondered if there could be any way I’d enjoy the show as much as I adore that album. As soon as he started to sing, though, I was completely awestruck. It was just him, one chair, and his guitar on an otherwise empty stage, singing so clearly and powerfully that when his PA went out, he sang a few songs without it with no trouble. He sounded in some cases even better than his albums. It was more of a religious experience than I’ve had in a long time, which perhaps says more about my confused spiritual state than anything else. But then, that’s where I am in my life right now, back in an endless loop of searching for something I’d hoped I’d have figured out as part of adulthood. Isn’t there some knowledge that’s just supposed to come to you the older you get? Er, maybe not. I’m sure someone has written a song about this…
I wonder how many others have had this sort of experience, have found this way of dividing time by music? And I wonder where this will lead me for my next concert experience, my next epiphany (or lack thereof). I look forward to seeing more shows and finding out.