Past. Present. Future.

Posted: July 18, 2011 in Blues, Grunge, Music Industry, New Music, Rock
Tags: , , ,
Music has a fantastic way of defining a point in time. Of marking moments in one’s life and making them that much better. I had the privilege of attending three live shows last week, and it suddenly dawned on me that each performer represented a different period of time for me. And they were such a significant part of that time that they have remained there to equally represent that time, and bring me to it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Up first, Soundgarden. Apart from a headlining gig at Lollapalooza last year, this was their first tour in 14 years and they decided to kick it all off in Toronto. Since the evaporation of Soundgarden, with the exception of lead singer Chris Cornell – who went on to form Audioslave and have a relatively successful solo career – they have pretty much been off the map. The outdoor venue setting was perfect, the company couldn’t have been better and the crowd was amped. Looking around the fans were of all ages, shapes and sizes; but the common thread amongst them all was the unbearable anticipation of finally getting to hear one of their personal legends from years ago perform live, something most of them had given up on ever happening.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          They did not disappoint. They came out, played loud and played hard. Chris Cornell even grew his hair out almost as a tribute to those grunge days, where long hair was all the rage. The fans engaged in mosh pits and even brought back some of the most aggressive head banging I’ve ever seen. It was like high school all over again, only everyone was older now, and as they belted out “Fell on Black Days” sounds of lightning and thunder filled the skies and all of a sudden it started to pour. Poetic, no? It was as though whatever Soundgarden represented to me in the past, was being recreated so that I could relive it. Nostalgia usually drives me to throw on “Black Hole Sun”, but I can’t say that I’d feel the same way about them if I heard them now. Their impact stayed in the 90s and only carries over to now, as a memory, as something from the past.

Moving along, none other than Ben Harper. Here’s a musician I’ve been listening to for at least eight years. He’s the perfect combination of blues, jazz and rock ‘n roll. He’s incredibly versatile in his music: he’s mellow and sad, but also angry and loud. His lyrics are some of the best I’ve ever heard and his passion while performing is unmatched; not to mention how down to earth he is showing up in khakis and a plaid shirt, and sporting some incredibly sexy tattoos. This show, despite what my cousin may think, was one of those instances where I felt like I was experiencing something only those of us there could, and which most people never will. Like we were the lucky and select few that had secret access to something so rare and amazing. Ben Harper played for three hours straight – which for non-concert goers is quite longer than the average one and a half to two hours. And people still wanted more.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         After his set, he came back on for an encore, as all musicians do, but it lasted as long as the original set. He then continued with one more encore and after taking bows and shaking hands of his fans and signing t-shirts and album covers, while still on stage, the crowd kept chanting “One more song! One more song!” Ben Harper, in the one of the most human ways I’ve ever seen a performer do, turned and looked at his band, shrugged his shoulders and said something. Next thing you know, they’re huddled together, picking up their instruments again and playing more music. I’ve never seen anything like it. He said at one point that he is a fan of his fans, that he does what he does for the fans, and it has never been more true or more obvious. He got quite emotional at the end, borderline tearing up because of the love us fans were showing him. He played every hit single possible, old songs, new songs, he even covered Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” and Queen’s “Under Pressure”. He played an acoustic, an electric and a slide guitar; he played with the band, and on his own; he even sang to a sold out crowd without a mic and was heard throughout because everyone went silent in awe – with the soul and conviction in his voice it’s hard not to be captured by him.                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Everyone in the band did a solo: bassist, guitarist, drummer and keyboard, like a group effort to make this show a memorable one. And they did not disappoint. Apart from his exceptional live show, his music is the type that’s always relevant. Contrary to Soundgarden, every time I hear his music, I’m not brought back to a certain time when I first heard it, but I’m brought right to the present. When I listen to his songs, I hear something new every time, a new lyric that stands out, a guitar riff that I never noticed before. And that’s why he’ll always be present, always on my playlists and always around, no matter how much time goes by.

Lastly, The Black Keys. Though they’ve been around for a few years, I only started getting into them recently, after the release of their latest album Brothers. It’s edgy, it’s funky, it’s different. Their music is full of different sounds: it’s bluesy, rock ‘n roll, with a twist of old school feel, packed with great melodies and even a sprinkle of country. The band consists to two guys, one on guitar, the other on drums, hailing from Ohio. My favourite track on the album, “Too Afraid to Love You” is the ongoing inner turmoil when one is faced with love and not knowing what to do with it or how to react to it. With lyrics like ‘What more can I do, without wringing myself dry/And I can’t afford to lose one more tear drop from my eye’, it’s honest and anyone can relate.                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Their live show was entertaining and loud, with more musicians on stage creating a much fuller sound than on their album, always a bonus. But compared to veterans like Soundgarden and Ben Harper, it seemed to lack somewhere – maybe they just need more experience, I mean they only lasted an hour on stage. It’s safe to say that this album put these guys on the map, brought them above the radar. But it’s hard to say how long they’ll stay there. They have the talent to take them anywhere they want to go, but only time will tell what the future holds.

Music has the ability to stamp a perfect moment in time, you can’t have one without the other, like they go hand in hand. Some music has the ability to transcend time and consistently be present during important junctures to provide the appropriate soundtrack. Other music is designed for a certain time and a certain place, where it stands its tallest. People evolve with time, music evolves with time, tastes in music evolve with time. It’s inevitable. But what all great music should do is be influential enough to remind you of a time, be it past, present or future.

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