Lately, I've been thinking about all the talking that takes place during shows. I first broached the subject a few years back after seeing Ian Cooke at the hi-dive; in that column, I wondered why folks would take considerable effort to see local bands they clearly care about (I mean, why else be there?) only to spend a good portion of the evening visiting. But as I've thought more about it, I've come up with a few viable explanations for this phenomenon. And lest it seem like I'm peering down while smugly perched upon some magnificent ivory tower so skyscraping that it can be seen from heaven by God himself, first I need to confess that I've been just as guilty of this as the next guy from time to time. So this is by no means an indictment, but rather a discussion of an intriguing phenomenon.
The reason this is top of mind right now, I guess, is because of all the chatter I've noticed at a half-dozen or so recent shows and outings. A few weeks ago at the Meadowlark, during Achille Lauro's splendid set and the breathtakingly delicate solo compositions played by Widowers' Mike Marchant, I was flanked by a pair of gentlemen who carried on a healthy conversation throughout both performances. To be fair, the two were marveling over the substantial acumen of the respective players, but just the same, their exchange was somewhat distracting — and I had earplugs in. And earlier that week, when the Fray hosted an advance listening party for the act's self-titled record at Casa Bonita, I was struck by how few folks in attendance were actually listening to the new album.
These instances made me wonder: Do we love the music, or are we merely in love with the idea of music? After considerable rumination, here's one armchair hypothesis: There's an inherent, inescapable social element tied to seeing live music — or, in the case of the Fray, lending an ear to new music. Fact is, fellowshipping is an integral part of community, and every bit as vital to maintaining a healthy music scene as the music itself. As harried as our lives are, few of us have time to get together with friends. So when we do see each other at shows, those moments give us an opportunity to catch up. At the same time, we all came to the show to watch the band, so no one is especially eager to leave and carry on the conversation elsewhere. Thus, we talk among ourselves. Maybe I'm being naive here, but I don't think any of us willfully sets out to be disrespectful — though that's how it might seem to those who are truly engaged.
That's one theory. The other — and this, I suspect, is equally valid at times, though few of us would admit it if pressed — is that the band in question strikes us as underwhelming, and we actually disengage from listening. Could be the songs are lackluster, could be the performers. But it is what it is.
Whichever theory holds, there's a more important question: Are the bands bothered by having to compete with the din of our conversations? Do the musicians even notice, or are they so engrossed in their performance that they're completely oblivious?
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I've put in calls to some musicians to get their take, and I'll be posting their responses later this week on Backbeat online (blogs.westword.com/backbeat). In the meantime, feel free to send in some thoughts of your own. This is no time to suddenly keep quiet.