Hello again, everyone! Hope you all had a very Merry Christmas! Two more entries for the year and then we’re taking a break.
As many of you know, live music is one of my absolute favourite things in the world, possibly my favourite leisure activity despite the fact that I generally can’t stand the crowd around me. Sadly, my taste in music doesn’t match up very well with my location, so the bands I’d want to see live very rarely come to Sheffield or the UK. That being said, I did have the chance to see several performances of live music this year, and instead of ranking them, I’m going to give you a chronological breakdown, as best as I remember it. Here goes:
1) Sigur Ros (London, March)–Saw them at a venue in London a couple of months before their album Kveikur was released, but they were already playing songs from it to build excitement for the album. It had been less than a year since their previous album, Valtari, was released, but that one was so mellow that it didn’t really loan itself to a tour. They’d also recently lost their long-time keyboard player and were officially calling themselves a trio.
I wasn’t in a great personal place on the day of this gig, and that taints my memories of it. The opening act was a guy who stood behind a computer keyboard for 30 minutes doing something that produced what amounted to one long electronic ambient song. No one paid attention.
Sigur Ros’ set was fantastic, though I had a hard time engaging. But they played a great mix of songs covering pretty much all of their albums, and the use of lights, video animation, lasers and sound made for an immersive experience. Highlights included “Hoppipolla” (the one song by them you’re likely to have heard even if you don’t listen to this band), the closer “Popplagio” and one particular song where lead singer Jonsi held a single, beautiful note for probably a good 45 seconds; when the room realised what he was doing, the audience seemed to collectively hold its breath, waiting for the release from the note. Sigur Ros was first described to me as a band that inspired worship, and that they did.
2. The Avett Brothers (Manchester, March)-One week later, in a very different emotional place, I saw the Avett Brothers, with Vermont’s own Grace Potter & The Nocturnals opening. I’ve already written at length about the Avett Brothers and how amazing this particular night was. What can I say? I connected with God and remembered what it meant to be a human here on earth for this limited time. A good night.
3. Rend Collective (Manchester, May)–I fell in love with Rend back in 2011; they felt so different, so energetic, creative and communal in their approach to worship, all values and ideas that connect with me deeply. Live, they are passionate, sincere and tight. They are responsible for one of my favourite songs of all time (Build Your Kingdom Here) and released the fantastic Campfire album earlier this year. So ultimately, this gig was a disappointment. I had not realised that one of their singers had moved on to something else, and I didn’t really like the venue. Worship concerts are huge challenges, and I’m not sure I understand them. If things are too planned out, or too focused on engaging the audience in a performance-focused way, you lose out on the spontaneity or flow that real worship seems to require. However, many who attend aren’t ready for that. On this night, though they were great musically, it just felt too much like a concert to me. By the numbers, going through a setlist that they’d gone through night after night. They seemed a bit more tired than the other four times I’d seen them live. Still love these guys, but not a memorable night.
4. Once: The Musical (June, London)–I doubt I will ever forget this night. Just a week before, we sat watching this movie with some friends while, unbeknownst to us, some other close friends were being killed in a car accident. We found out the next morning. That week was intense. I remember feeling nauseous much of the week. We’d had the tickets to go see the West End version of Once for months, and it fell exactly a week after the accident. We headed down to London with our two closest friends, hoping for a breather and a chance for some emotional release through the sad and beautiful music from the film-turned-stage-production.
It was a beautiful day, and we decided to get off the tube at a park and stroll gradually towards the theatre. As we got closer to Trafalgar Square, we became aware of something–it was Pride Day in London, and without going too much into it, the chaos and noise of that environment was in every way the opposite of what we wanted or needed. After forcing our way through it as quickly as possible, we found a place to eat away from the crowds and finally went to see the show.
It was a great experience. If you get there early enough, you are allowed to walk about on the stage, which acts as a functioning pub. You can order a drink from the stage. Eventually, musicians (the cast) come out and begin singing songs, and you’re up on stage with them. It’s a great beginning to the show.
The stage production has taken many liberties with the original story, adding and embellishing mostly. Some of it actually makes more sense now. I didn’t love the actress playing Her that night, but she was the understudy. The actor playing Him was excellent, not doing a Glen Hansard imitation and playing things a bit edgier. And the music…oh, the music.
Our friends had seen the original New York production and said this version was missing some of the raw passion and joy of the original, and I can see that. But still worth the trip.
5. Iona (Lindisfarne Island, August)–We had the chance to see Iona perform on The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, site of St. Aidan’s monastery. Gorgeous setting, inside an old stone church. A very odd crowd–a mix of young and old, (one grumpy lady asked us, “Are you here to see the rock band?”, which we were, though Iona most certainly don’t fit that descriptor), fans and new initiatives. Iona was billing it as a worship evening, only the second they’d ever done, playing their songs that were fit for worship and some other songs as well. And this had some of the same issues as the Rend gig, in that everyone there has a different understand of how worship works and flows. Some people are there to just sing along and enjoy the music. Others are seeking the presence of God. Musically, the band was as brilliant as ever, but they seemed unsure how to lead from a worship perspective. Still, very worth it.
6. Jesus Culture (Manchester, October)–I had no idea what to expect from this night. It’s Jesus Culture, the 2nd biggest worship act in the world, and arguably the more influential. Jesus Culture, hailing from Bethel Church, the church of miracles and the power of the Spirit. Well, first of all it was much more crowded than I expected–I imagine there were a couple thousand people in that room, and we were sat way in the back because of a stressful and traffic-filled drive over from Sheffield. And I think for me the size of the venue made it a difficult worship experience. It was hard to connect and engage; to a degree it felt like there were some people way up front playing some music, and as much as we tried to focus and worship and set our hearts on the presence of God, we walked away not entirely sure why we had gone. It was encouraging to be together with so many people seeking God; I’m just had hoped for and been hungry for something deeper.
7. Foy Vance (Sheffield, November)–I can’t tell you how much of a thrill it was to go to a gig in my own city, to see an artist I love and take the tram to get there. Hadn’t happened since U2 in 2009. Foy played the Leadmill, an historic but small venue near the train station. His opening act, Rams Pocket Radio, won me over (I’m not usually a fan of openers) with his strong voice and enigmatically spiritual lyrics. Foy played as part of four-piece, and the night was filled with great songs, a cameo appearance by his young daughter on drums, and a somewhat annoying crowd. People! I did not come here to hear you sing, ESPECIALLY when you don’t actually know the lyrics. Zip it!
8. Christmas Pageant (Malin Bridge Primary School, December)–The Year One and Year 2 classes at Malin Bridge Primary School put out their annual Christmas pageant and concert, and Ira and I attended. The story involved a bunch of young kids not related to me standing up on stage and saying lines too quickly and quietly for me to understand. There was something about toys and a puzzle, then some songs and a kid played the piano and BLAH BLAH BLAH. The show was stolen by Choir Member #62, played by Nadia Book, whose performance involved singing along to the songs she was supposed to and occasionally spacing out and forgetting to sing. It will not be forgotten by a single person writing this.
And that is my year in live music! One more entry to go!