Since moving to Austin three years ago, I’ve been lucky enough to see a few terrific concerts. I’ve been thinking about the emotional allure of live performance. What is it that brings us together in one place, despite the cost and oftentimes numerous obstacles, to hear songs we likely own and watch a performance that will be on YouTube a few days later?
The best concerts are not note-for-note reproductions of favorite songs. They are the heart and soul of a performer feeding off of the crowd. When I think back on concerts I’ve experienced (whether in person or not), the moments I remember are the mistakes and surprises: Chris Martin forgetting the next verse at a Coldplay Austin City Limits taping, Gary Clark Jr. breaking a guitar string, Led Zeppelin playing For Your Life live for the first in 2007, Radiohead stopping a song to get someone help, then continuing right where they left off. There was the time when Arcade Fire grabbed a branch from the ACL set and used it to beat a drum, and this great moment from Madison Square Garden.
And you’re going to be like, “Remember when I saw Arcade Fire and they played the first minute of their song and they started over? That was the best moment of my life.”
The energy of the audience and band are completely different after it. Now, they’ve shared something truly unique and memorable.
A live concert is one of the increasingly rare chances to experience those imperfections and unexpected moments.
Sigur Rós is one of my favorite bands. There is one song in particular, Ára Bátur, that gives me chills whenever I listen to it. There is a note that the lead singer, Jónsi, has to strain to reach. He sings most songs falsetto, but in this one, there are moments that lie just beyond his range. You can hear his effort to reach the note, which makes the performance even more emotional.
I was reading about the album that includes Ára Bátur recently and discovered that the song was actually recorded live at Abbey Road Studios and the performance itself was filmed and is available online (the specific moments I’m referring to begin at 5:50). Even without knowing that, and without the sound of crowd, the song had the emotion and energy of a live performance.
Technology encourages us to chase perfection, but often it’s at the expense of unexpected moments and emotional connection. Like Auto-Tune, we try to calibrate our products and experiences to remove any imperfections or surprises. (I’m not talking about banking apps and such. There are plenty of situations where people prefer an experience free of surprises.) We exchange raw honesty and openness for a world where we’re always excited and every feature is awesome.
One of my favorite examples of surprise is Glitch, the online game and community which recently came to an end. The game began with months of beta testing. What made the beta so much fun is that it was done in short bursts. The game would be available for just a day or a weekend at a time and you never knew when the next opportunity to play would be. It became an event you didn’t want to miss.
I want to build things that leave space for the people who use them to take them in new directions. I want there to be small moments that surprise and delight. I want people to experience passion, not perfection.
In the year ahead, I want to reach for notes that are just out of my range.