Live Action Heroes Online
Some bands you can only enjoy listening to them live. I’ve been listening to the Athens (Georgia) based American band, Of Montreal, for a while now. They have been around since the late 1990s and have nearly a dozen studio albums out. Their music is difficult to classify—and driven by frontman, singer and guitarist Kevin Barnes, they have fused and hopped genres as widely disparate as catchy indie pop, glam rock, experimental and psychedelic rock and deeply brooding lo-fi music. That last kind of music was what characterised Of Montreal’s 2007 album, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, a dark and very personal kind of work. I don’t know whether I was fortunate or otherwise that Hissing Fauna was the first album by the band that came my way.
I liked it but not as much to become a fan of the band. I tried another, earlier album by the band, Sunlandic Twins—a synthesiser and percussion extravaganza—it was a work that appeared to make psychedelic music appealing to more people. All of the tracks were brilliant—at once theatrical as they were melodic and catchy. Yet, it didn’t still make me a great fan of Of Montreal.
Till last week, when I saw them live. Um, well, not exactly saw them live but saw the video of an entire gig that they did in April in Washington DC. The gig, part of a tour to mark to release of their latest album, Paralytic Stalks, available in its entirety on the web, is around an hour and a half long and is enough to make you a fan of the band. Of Montreal’s gigs are flamboyant affairs: band members turn up in striking costumes, the lighting is hypnotic and there is synchronised choreography and many more special effects (for instance, it is common to see a dozen projection screens with abstract forms on them). Watching the gig on my laptop screen with headphones jammed on my ears, I was both, transported and transfixed, and wondered how it would be to actually be part of the audience.
After watching the video, an Of Montreal gig has found its way on my to-do list (or should I call it my wishful thinking list?). Set off by their gig, I spent much of last week catching up on live music. I heard a recent live recording of the trance-rock (or, should I say space-rock?) band, Spiritualized, and although I’m no great fan of trance music, I quite liked it. Was it because it was live? To get an answer, I went over to a treasure trove of live gigs on the web called Wolfgang’s Vault. If you haven’t heard or been to Wolfgang’s Vault, you’re missing something big because I have not come across a better strong-room full of live recordings—video and audio—of some of the best bands in rock’s history.
On my most recent visit to the site, I chose to listen to a Fleetwood Mac concert, dating back to the summer of 1968 when the band played a gig at the now-no-longer-in-existence Carousel Ballroom in San Francisco. It’s from an era when Fleetwood Mac was a blues rock band still and the set they played is fascinating. You get to hear Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer on blues standards by greats such as Elmore James and Freddy King. There are searing solos and relaxed riffs that showcase the talent of the band.
On my live music quest, I then explored a Miles Davis concert from 1970 followed by a Jimi Hendrix Experience gig at Winterland in 1968 and a rare 1966 gig by Jefferson Airplane at the Fillmore Auditorium. There are thousands of shows by hundreds of bands to explore over at Wolfgang’s Vault—enough to lose oneself there.
After delving in the past for a bit, I fast-forwarded into the here and now and by May 17, I got treated to a unique experience. Sigur Rós (you know, the Icelandic band that I recently raved about) did something quite out of the ordinary. On that date, they decided to give their fans a free streaming listen to their new album, Valtari. By the time you read this, that album will be out but if you’re a fan you must’ve heard that eight-song album as it was streamed on May 17 at 7pm regardless of which time zone around the world you were in.