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can music save your mortal soul?

June 26, 2009

anyone who knows me can tell you that my favorite band is the drive-by truckers. for the past couple of years, i have been on a one-woman proselytizing mission, dragging friends off to concerts with me, making mix cds, etc. and last year, when they were touring with the hold steady, they played SF on bug’s birthday, and we went together and had a fabulous time. 

(this is the best video i could find from that specific show, a combined encore of the two bands playing a BOC song. you can’t see me, obviously, but i’m about 3 people back from the stage, right under the keyboardist.)

ANYWAY, the point i’m slowly getting to is that after this show, which was fucking phenomenal (as most DBT shows are; they’re a great live band), bug turned to me in the car and said “concerts are religious experiences.” and i wasn’t really capable of replying to her in any kind of serious way at the time, but it’s an idea that’s been bumming around at the back of my mind for a few months now. 

i agree with the statement, by the way. a concert–whether a packed club where no one is more than 100 feet from the band or an enormous stadium show–brings together a group of people who all focus their energy on the same target. just like church, a concert brings you together as part of a community, and regardless of what your views are on a variety of topics in the outside world, for those 2 hours you are all on the same page. 

now, i haven’t been to a stadium concert in years, because i loathe crowds and i rarely think an act is worth the hassle and/or cost. but i passionately love club shows. and my favorite part is that bands who play clubs tend to be the acts that don’t get much radio play, which lends the proceedings a different kind of air. there’s the element of surprise, because there aren’t any singles that you know will be in the set list. in 2006, i saw Ween at the Independent in SF, and they played half of Chocolate and Cheese, which is a really old album. i also find it fascinating to see what songs the other people in the crowd want to hear, what songs they love. i’m really into DBT, but most of my friends aren’t (or they weren’t, they’re coming around), so those albums were things i largely listened to alone. and then to go to a show and be in the midst of a couple hundred people are just as excited as i am, to find out that the guy next to me was even more excited than i was when they played “zip city” (one of my very favorite songs in the history of ever), there’s something wonderful about that. the way you find yourself in a community that way.

so there you are, pressed up against a bunch of other sweaty, possibly-drunken people, swaying back and forth and screaming your fool head off. there are lights and an amazing wall of sound that doesn’t just invade your ears, it runs through your entire body. it’s enough to make you feel more than you are, to make you feel separate from your ordinary, everyday self and the cares and worries attached to it. for a perfect moment, it all comes together and all that exists is the music and the crowd.

i’m not religious, but i sometimes miss the ritual and community of church-going that was a mainstay of my childhood. my lack of religion–my lack of faith, really–is a major point of contention between my born-again mother and me. and on the few occasions she manages to drag me off to church, all i feel is loss. i remember what it was like to be on the inside, and now i merely stand of the outside, and sometimes i would go back to it all if i could, for the comfort of the ritual. but i know that i have no faith, and that it would be a lie, and i can’t ever again feel the way i did as a child. but i can recapture part of that feeling at a really good rock show, where you are not asked to have faith in an insubstantial god but in the pure beauty of good music played well for a community of fans.

and now i leave you with the following video of one of my favorite DBT songs, which i sadly have not seen live, because jason isbell left the band before i was regularly going to their shows. 

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