At last summer's Rock the Bells, less that two minutes after Wu-Tang Clang
busted into their first song, which is to say five minutes after the yo-yo-yos concluded, my dad plopped himself down on the grassy knoll. "These guys suck," he muttered into the tattooed shins of the toking Latino in front of him.
It's not that my pop is the typical old guy who views rap as an example of all that is wrong with the world; he had just nodded along to Cypress Hill
several sets before, even mouthing a few choice lyrics to "Insane in the Membrane." No, my dad is just not a fan of live music he can't understand. Even though he might scratch his head over the identity of Dr. Greenthumb, he's cool as long as he can listen to the lyrics, or at least the beat. Ten grown men grunting over each other's lines so often even the beat becomes muddled is not his idea of live music.
Needless to say, my dad didn't stand up until the opening guitar riff of Rage Against The Machine's
"Guerilla Radio," the first song by the night's headliners. My dad is a huge Rage fan. He headbanged the entire set. He lipsynched most of the set. He stood the entire set. Even during "Bullet in the Head," the most hip-hop heavy song of the set. He did not stand because he felt compelled. He did not stand because he had heard the song before. He stood because he could hear it now and, disregarding any previous listening, enjoyed it now. Perhaps more than any previous listening. He stood to hear it better.
To hear the music better, that is why most of us attend concerts. Radio-quality, CD-quality, mp4-quality, none of these qualify as the best quality like live quality. It is when one hears music live, from those oversized speaker boxes nearly hemorrhaging the ears, that one hears it best. My dad knows this; I know this; the masses trampling the lawn at the Hyundai Pavilion know this. This is why we go to live shows, why we download albums off LimeWire for free but shell out $30 for a concert. Minus the mixing and machinery, music is meant to be heard live.
This is why rappers struggle at the box office. Lil Wayne
can sell a million records in a week, but Radiohead
will sell out arenas quicker. This is not necessairly because Radiohead is better than Weezy but because Thom Yorke does not huff and puff through his lyrics, because the Greenwoods do not gruff indiscernibles during the chorus. It is because the song does not suffer during Radiohead's live shows.
A few years ago I saw Kanye West
perform at Madison Square Garden. To put it mildly, I was excited. But, I was disappointed. With all the sprinting around the stage, the showmanship, I missed out on the songs. I went to hear "Gold Digger" but left feeling robbed. Kanye had spent an awful lot of time catching his breath. I left feeling more like I had attended a yoga class than a concert. With rap, the lyrics and the beat are all there is, but with this live show there was only the beat, the same beat I could hear on my iPod.
When I heard The Roots
live, I heard what I had missed at Kanye. I had listened to The Tipping Point religiously when it came out, but to hear "Stay Cool" live was to hear Rage play "F--k Tha Police" live with Tom Morello doing his best Dr. Dre
impression. That is to say, it was something else. It wasn't the song I had been nodding along to on the train ride home. It was something I learned to nod along to as I heard it. It was a continuous question that I had to listen to in order to hear the answer. It wasn't a live version; it was a whole new song.
Rap, rock, reggae, country, jazz, live is live. It is not a louder version of an album. It cannot be pressed on pause, turned up or down, scratched or shuffled. Live music is a different form of music. Girl Talk
live is not Miles Davis
live is not Steve Vai
live. Britney Spears
in any style is not a KRS-One
is the music come alive.
Before Rage took their final bow, before Wu-Tang brought the ruckus, before Cypress Hill asked if anyone in the house knows a doctor, The Roots played "You Got Me." Oblivious, my pop closed his eyes and nodded along as Captain Kirk ripped into a swirling solo. After the set, upon sitting on the grass, my dad turned to me in earnest and asked, "Do they have a live album?"
Story by Tim Peterson
Starpulse contributing writer