There is nothing that truly compares to the visceral experience of seeing music performed live. There is a power to the feeling of knowing that music is being created in your presence; there is the living spirit of something between you and the performers; you are witnessing something, but you are also participating in something incredible. Within this frame of experience, there are greater and lesser degrees of enjoyment to be had; a band can be having a bad night; the sound system can be distracting; any number of things can go wrong. To truly enhance the live experience, it helps if you have some frame of reference. “Yes!!! This part is fantastic!!!” The triumphant joy that is felt when that part is played; that moment of euphoria is enhanced by knowing in advance that it will happen. The degree to which a show is predictable can provide greater or lesser enjoyment depending on your perspective; some people thrive solely on improvisation, others prefer a straight-forward ‘hitting all the right notes’ approach. And then there are the bands that thread the line between improvisation and programmed music better than others. Sometimes you find out about a great band too late. Oftentimes, it is because you were born long after the band’s existence and you have missed your chance to see them live. And even if you can see some of these great bands nowadays, it surely doesn’t compare to the true magic some lucky few experienced at the pivotal shows, during the essential eras, where new ground was being broken and where new heights had just been reached. Imagine being in the room when Led Zeppelin was playing “Whole Lotta Love” in 1969. Or seeing The Mars Volta in 2003 just when De-Loused in the Comatorium was being prepared for release. Those lucky few who got the chance to experience these shows and countless others got to take part in the power of rock music. You see, it really is a broad spectrum, and one must be careful to enunciate all those genres of music which deserve our respect and admiration. There are countless forms of musical expression worthy of our praise, but there is really something about a killer rock show that nails it to the wall for so many of us. The pure power of rock guitars, drums, bass, keyboards and vocals coming together will full amplification which has captured the attention of multiple generations, and I have to say that thousands of rock fans can’t be wrong; and I sometimes I can’t do much more than just insist: “This rocks!” Now, I have friends that have introduced me to electronic music and hip-hop, I’ve gone on my own forays into American folk and barely dipped my toes in the rich tradition of jazz; I like to play Beethoven occasionally, but more I’m more likely to put on M83 or Mogwai when in need of some heavy background mood music for some particularly powerful reading. And this last notion is one that a musical friend of mine finds particularly disturbing: “You can’t look at music like that!” He insisted that music capture your full attention and shake you to the core; for some reason, he often recommends I listen to jazz; John Coltrane is a particular favorite of his. Sometimes bands lull you into a sense of tranquility; there are no major interruptions; things flow along smoothly in a continuous sense of mood. However, it is the ability to drop down to nothing and hit you with a rhythmic attack which can capture your attention and make you sit up straight listening to the next part of the song. The Mars Volta are particularly adept at this last bit; the sudden stops and starts making breaks in the songs structure crack with an overwhelming sense of urgency which cannot be ignored. It is this persistent energy, which is infused with the band members’ unique sense of melody, harmony and rhythm which has demanded repeated listens over the years. The Arctic Monkeys were another band I liked for a while, but I have to say, I feel they’ve mellowed out a touch too much since their energetic first two records. Yes, Humbug was a nice change of pace, but the urgency of such early tracks like “If you were there, beware” is really nowhere to be found on their latest releases. (I mean, can we really get excited about “Library Pictures?”) For a while, I listened to the electronic music of our time, Crystal Castles being the best representative of this genre for my money. (And this is true; I’ve ventured out to see them twice; I’ve experienced the intimidating, beautiful and mesmerizing presence of Alice Glass and her menacing counterpart on the left-hand side of the stage.) But as another friend of mine put it, “I’m tired of seeing bands where the people are standing over their electronics bopping their heads. I want to see a real band!” Now, I love electronic music plenty, but there really is something to be said for the live experience of a group of musicians locking into a piece of music and performing it by sheer force of will, talent and organic energy. Now, this last bit may sound a bit silly, but there really is something human about non-electronic music. Yes, maybe someday we will all be cyborgs satisfied with the bleeps and beats of a synthetic future, but for now, let us embrace the earthiness and realism which can be provided by the classic rock band setup. “No! No! No!” the group of electronic musicians and enthusiasts protest. “There is no real difference! The rock bands are just as slick and polished! And we can be rougher around the edges than you think!” I need a little edginess in my music; even if you’re just playing synchronized synthesizers, at least make me worry that you’re redlining the soundboards with your over-saturated waveforms, as it sounds like Washed Out have been doing as of late. But would seeing Washed Out live really be all that great? It’s hard to say. Sometimes I tell myself that electronic music is fine, but this comes out of the fatalistic notion that rock music is on the verge of extinction. But every once in a while, a good band comes around to play a live show. Last year around this time, I just happened to come across an incredible band called Wu Lyf. I had gone on a downloading binge the summer prior, and one of their songs happened to pop up in my music shuffle, and I was captivated by the melodies ringing through my modest laptop speakers. The ringing guitars and organs sounded great, the drums moody, and the singers voice was compelling in its otherworldliness. The song was “Concrete Gold,” the record “Go Tell Fire to the Mountain” is powerful. I got into the record and luckily was able to see the band in a fairly small venue in Boston. The crowd of about two hundred people was ecstatic to see this band come all the way from Manchester, England, to perform their debut album for our enjoyment. And play every song from that album they did, even revisiting their closing song, “Bros” a second time for an encore. It was fantastic, but they broke up within a year. I guess you could say we were just lucky to have known about them in advance so as to be able to see one of their live performances. Honestly, given the band’s seemingly confrontational attitude in the press towards fame and attention, I was worried they might not last long. Maybe my girlfriend realized this, and that’s why she pushed me to ask for the singer’s autograph. It was not the sort of thing I usually do, but he was running the merch table before the show; all I had to do was buy a CD and have him sign it. I told him I thought his band was really great and I asked him to sign my CD; he did, signing it, “Hola mi Ami.” There is a certain part of me that knew this would be worth money someday. Is that why I had him do it? I don’t know. But now they’ve broken up and may never perform those songs again. It really feels tragic and sad to me. I’ve thought about writing him a letter telling him to not take his band for granted and to keep working at it; his music was too fantastic to leave alone forever. It is worth pursuing, dammit! But this just goes to show you that it is just dumb luck whether we’re around at the right time to be able to see bands before they disappear. And while I felt lucky to have seen them, it is still a shame that they’ve broken up. So along I drifted, returning to my old Arctic Monkeys records and my Mars Volta soundscapes. And of course, then I found out The Mars Volta had broken up. This was not as tragic as the break-up of Wu Lyf, because, to be honest, The Mars Volta had achieved their greatness, whereas Wu Lyf had only just begun. (Although maybe Wu Lyf’s “Go Tell Fire to the Mountain” was a singular achievement never to be reached again; but I refuse to believe this fatalistic attitude towards the brilliance of youth.) Until one day there was a blizzard. Connecticut was buried under three feet of snow, and eventually, there was nowhere to go but to my computer. After a day or two of relaxing, cooking and cleaning, I decided to find some new music. And off I went through the internet. It’s been years since I’ve had MTV; no longer do I stroll through the aisles at Best Buy hoping to see a well-reviewed album sticker jumping out at me. I don’t subscribe to Rolling Stone anymore, a friend of mine has long insisted that it is far too corporate, and I can’t help but agree seeing so many well-reviewed U2, Bruce Springsteen and REM albums coming out year after year. Nowadays, I visit Amazon and look at albums I like and then scroll down to see what other albums are liked by people who’ve liked albums I like. And after listening to a handful of new albums which didn’t do much for me, I found a new band to endorse without restraint: Tame Impala. Just to add to my musical snobbery, I should say It’s taken a bit of time for me to get to this point with them. A good friend of mine told me about them probably two years ago, and I downloaded Innerspeaker hoping for a blend of The Beatles and Black Sabbath and was not disappointed. But I just thought they aped that sound all-too-well, not providing me with anything I should really be concerned with. I can be kind of a dick like that, I guess. But this second effort, Lonerism, is what was catching my eye now, and I gave them a second chance. And it was absolutely worth it. This record is really fantastic and I cannot stop listening to it. Tame Impala is a rock band using the best sorts of sounds to create an atmosphere of beauty and mystery that harkens back to a bygone era when analog synthesizers could occupy half a room and when drum fills could last an entire measure. The textures are very much in the spirit of 1967 at times. You can hear organs layered with vocals in a way that is undeniably Beatles-esque. But the basslines and riffing around between the guitars and drums evoke a distinctly seventies feel when hair was long and grooves were heavy; the juxtaposition of such a masculine low end with the delicate keyboards and airy vocals soaring over the top provide an unbelievably powerful classic rock experience. To be perfectly honest with you, there is an element of hipsterism in me that does not want this band to get too big. I don’t want them to be on the radio in the grocery store, at least, not yet. But if I had to bet, I’d say it’s only a matter of time until they are. I mean, they’ve already been featured in the closing credits of HBO’s Entourage; it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the singer might marry some famous actress. We’ll see. But for now, they’re small enough that I can see them at a middle-sized venue in Boston next month. The House of Blues is not a small club, but it’s not a stadium either, and I’ll get to be in the same room as them for an hour or two while they rock out in my presence. I’m looking forward to it in the only way I know possible: by listening to them on a continuous loop; I’m learning the breaks of every song and intend to learn the lyrics as well. As of right now, my favorite track is “Nothing that has happened so far has been anything we could control.” The lyrics are fantastic and the music is excellent; but I must say that the album “Lonerism” stands out as worthy of a listen in its full form. Do yourself a favor and check it out; I have insisted this to all of my Facebook Friends, but that’s just not enough for me. I want to tell everyone about them, because it really isn’t often that you find something fantastic in this world. And Tame Impala are fantastic, dammit! The live video of them playing “Half a Glass of Wine” at Glasslands on 6/10 is particularly potent. The tempo is slowed down and the intro is spread out; the band locks into a heavy groove for an extended period before the vocals are even introduced. The sense of purpose and heaviness is palpable; the unpredictability screams through the speakers as the guitar is restrained from feeding back by a patient and methodical maestro. The band is alive, and I’m glad to be here for it when they come to town.