Austin is the self-styled “Live Music Capital of the World“, which is mostly wasted on me. I wasn’t brought up to appreciate live music – the only communal experience I was used to was going to the movies. I didn’t know anyone who went to see live music when I was growing up.
That lasted a good 20 or so years.
In my mid-20s, I started drinking with a guy who went to concerts all the time. And so I entered a period of going to small rooms in Newcastle, drinking cheap beer, and breathing in second-hand smoke, while semi-famous bands made a lot of noise in front of me. My first was The Cranberries, notable for someone throwing a heavy ashtray like a frisbee into the crowd. Mike Scott of the Waterboys once stopped a show to lecture his audience on what their smoking was doing to his throat. It was an interesting time.
Mostly, though, I was unimpressed. There was a lot of standing, a lot of noise coming from massive speakers, and – to my ears – the sound was never as good as the recording I could play whenever I wanted at home. I’m just not a large-crowd person.
So, if you would ask me what was the best concert I’d ever been to, I’m not choosing from a very large pool. And the answer would be obvious. Prince at the Glasgow NEC was a life-changing experience. Even though I was standing for hours, even though I was boiling inside a thick coat, even though people around me kept shouting for “Purple Rain” even though this was the Gold Experience period, where he was refusing to play the hits…it was existential.
Prince was an otherworldly presence to me, and seeing him almost within touching distance felt unreal. I was grinning for days. To this day, it’s a memory that gladdens my heart.
But almost as good was an unexpected experience I had in a music shop in Newcastle.
I was on my lunch and wandering the stores when a familiar electro-bagpipe sound came from down the street. I investigated and was rewarded with a free show: Big Country were crammed into a corner of HMV doing their greatest hits. I was never a Big Country fan, but being 4 feet away from them while they put their hearts into In a Big Country while I swallowed down a sausage roll made me see them in a new, appreciative light.
It was mesmerizing being that close to a band who clearly knew what they were doing, and Stuart Adamson was a great frontman. When something by Big Country comes on the radio, it takes me back to that surprise concert from maybe 20 years ago. You only really know how good a band is when you see them in a corner of a record store when you’re killing time over lunch.