On Missing Live Music

I’m missing live music.

I open up Instagram with my morning coffee and the first thing that pops up is a video of Jacob Collier and Justin Lee Schultz, jamming together on a green room keyboard after a festival. It’s just such a joyful stretching out – two young guys with a genuine love of music playing over a tasty little chordal vamp. There’s no audience, no pressure, no end goal, just a shared exploration of music, and I love it.

I know for a lot of my musician friends, the pandemic has taken away careers, income, all semblance of future plans, and I’m definitely feeling this myself, but the thing I’m mourning the most is the spontaneity of music.

I miss just being able to turn up to a venue and see something happening – a group of people who’ve worked collectively on this shared thing to a point that they can get together on stage and play it live. Who knew that with enough time practicing mechanical motions we could learn to express emotions through physical vibrations. Truly amazing.

I miss playing with people – both the process of working out arrangement ideas and harmonies – tightening things up in rehearsal, and the jamming – spontaneously arranging parts, listening to other people in a room and the way they intepret ideas. The shared feeling of ‘we’re all doing this together, and the tighter we can get the better its all going to work’, and then the fuck-ups where you go for something and it doesn’t work, or someone else misses the cue and doesn’t catch you. The times it all magically unfolds, where you feel that you’re playing beyond your abilities. The sense of flow that arises, lifting the band and pulling everyone in the room to a higher level.

I miss the friendships formed around the music scene – the people you see week in, week out because they love what you love. The shared conversations with people you’ve never met before, about music you both know intimately. The gigs in tiny country towns followed by beers and long form chats with strangers about favourite Van Morrison and Paul Simon records, reminiscing on the times you got to see Chris Wilson play. The events where everyone in the Melbourne scene comes together – like seeing Jacob Collier or The Punch Brothers or Chick Corea. Each time one of these events happens you stumble between groups of people you know – close friends, people you learnt from at uni, your own current students, people you’ve played in bands with, people you idolize, people you’ve seen across the room a hundred times at a hundred events. All gathered here for the love of music.

A friends’ shared loved of a band – when the new album comes out and you both listen to it intensely, pulling apart the music and coming back together with wildly different interpretations.

When you’ve listened to an album a thousand times, and a friend points out some tiny little detail that you’ve never heard before.

The long car drives between shows, where you have the time to listen to eight hours of straight Bob Dylan bootleg records – talking about the changes in style and sound and ability over his career.

I miss hanging backstage at festivals, watching on from the side as your best friends, your idols, and people you’ve never heard of all stand on stage and pour their hearts out to anyone who will listen. Then the aftershow parties where you try to small-talk with people whose music you’ve listened to for twenty years and you realise the only thing you have in common is a shared love of the art.

I went through a pandemic period where I stopped listening to music. I think it was a confluence of factors – first, my listening habits are predicated a lot by my physical location. I mainly listen to music in the car, and in the last two years my car has sat silent on the street, becoming a breeding ground for huntsmen spiders. Second, my listening habits rely a lot on my friends – I get all my best music from other people’s recommendations – after gig hangs, the music they play at parties, seeing local acts play. With the pause of both these things, my desire to listen to music slowly dried up.

So while I’ve still been working on music this year, I’d forgotten how to listen to music. Until a month ago when I got in my car on a Saturday morning and drove, listening to Fiesta Jazz with Saúl Zavarce as he played snippets of Barcelona flamenco guitarist Chicuelo’s trio with pianist Marco Mezquida. The song was called Al Sol, and as I parked out the front of my house I sat there for another six minutes to let the song play out. There’s a joyful interplay between the musicians, a commitment to playfulness, some fantastic technical ability and a couple of moments where they all just go for it. You can feel the tension, the moments where it almost falls apart, the release when it gets there, the spontaneous additions thrown in that breathe life in to the performance.

I’m missing live music.

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