I don’t go to concerts very often.
You might have gathered, from my recent post about definitive albums, that I care about music. I care about music a lot. I am a musician. Music has always been a part of my life.*
So why don’t I go to concerts more?
I guess it takes a lot to make it worth it for me. It costs money, and I’m likely going to be standing behind some big dude trying to peek under his elbow to get a glimpse of the band (unless it’s a symphony, ah, that lovely fair place where everyone gets a comfy seat and a good view). If I’m going to go to a concert, the band better be damn good.
Not Mumford and Sons good.
Not John Mayer good.
Punch Brothers good.
I don’t care to see something that’s just a visual version of an album. I especially don’t want to see a band that’s not even as good live as they are recorded. I don’t want to see anything auto-tuned and I don’t want to see one guy on a synth.
I want to see musicians.
Do I sound pretentious yet? I hope so.
Because this is one area where I am undeniably a snob. Getting a master’s degree in Ethnomusicology changed my approach to music a bit: when I don’t like something, I don’t say anymore (in my most hipster voice):
“This is so lame.”
Instead, I might nod and say (in a mildly hipster voice):
“It’s a different aesthetic. It’s not my aesthetic, but I appreciate it for what it is.”
When people ask me what kind of music I like, I tell them tongue-in-cheek, “Good music.” More seriously, my aesthetic – what I prefer to listen to and to see live – is complex, innovative, skilled, and thought provoking.
A lone guy with a guitar will probably bore me.
An out of tune violin will drive me nuts.
Something that can be sung to the bassline of Palchelbel’s Canon in D will most likely annoy me.
Now you’re definitely thinking, “Wow, what an elitist.”
I don’t think I’m alone in this, though. People who have had years of training in music (me) or people who have incredible gifts (others) have a high bar. Everyone wants a band or an artist to blow their minds. When you know the little things that go into a song, the common cadences, the difficulty (or ease) of a passage, you start longing for something that makes you go, Holy Shit.
Therein arrives the Punch Brothers, the band that makes musicians say “Holy Shit. That is AWESOME.”
There are others, of course, but I just saw PB live – for the second time – and I’m still reeling. Haha get it “reel”ing? Music jokes.
It’s a strange, eclectic crowd that goes to a Punch Brothers concert. You have your Hipster Bros who like banjos; you have your music professors who appreciate the reappropriation of bluegrass; you have your musicians who want an evening of mind-melting displays of skill. (Also you have the girlfriends of the Hipster Bros.)
I bought my ticket months ago, planning to likely go alone, but I was able to recruit some friends – all musicians – at the last minute. And then we ran into more friends there – all musicians.
You know, Punch Brothers deserve acclaim. They deserve to be lauded for their skill and creative genius and I really hope they continue to grow in popularity. But I think the core of the PB fanbase will always be those music nerds, the ones who laugh at jokes about Debussy and scream themselves hoarse at a shredding mandolin solo.
And that, quite happily – and quite unashamedly – is my element.
*Just a wee disclaimer: I do not claim to be any kind of excellent musician. I play violin semi-professionally, dabble in other instruments, and used to teach. However, playing semi-professionally has given me the opportunity to be around a lot of really excellent musicians.