Live Show Transformations: Fan to Artist and Back Again

abbey  pub by Colleen Catania

You’ve bought your ticket.

Your hand’s been stamped.

You’ve found your place to settle in among the crowd.

The house lights go down and all attention shifts from the audience to the stage.

The amp emits the first snarling chords and off you go.

At this point the audience around you usually fades away and the focus is completely on the band but there’s usually something else going on that’s just as powerful as what’s blasting from the speakers.

It’s the emotional charge of inspiration going off inside in the head of everyone at some level. In more psycho-physiological terms, this “going-off” is that natural explosion of the neurotransmitters that then tell your Limbic System (or the pleasure center, which is also located close to the memory center a.k.a. the Hippocampus) to release the rush of dopamine which often leads to a fan remembering that moment years after it happened.

But for now we’re talking about that moment and the subsequent moments after the show, which for our purpose here, are filled with thoughts of reduplicating that life-altering sound and culminate into the fan wanting to create his own unique sound once he leaves the venue.

So what about the person standing next to you (or maybe even yourself)?

Is he or she just another fan or has that person begun to shift psychologically from fan to artist?

Has he or she begun to spin the mental motor to pick up a guitar and form their own?

I’ve often wondered how often this happens at a show I’m reviewing or just attending without my usual pen and pad. When I review a show there’s usually a moment where I shift my gaze from the stage and look out at the hundreds or thousands of faces and wonder if anyone in that darkened mass is being inspired right now—as the band plays—to form a band or write a song and get themselves on a stage ASAP.

I know I get inspired when I read the works of other music journalists I admire and I know that being at a live show can be one of the most life-changing experiences a music fan can have. Sean Manning’s 2007 book The Show I’ll Never Forget is all about how the live concert or the events surrounding it changed those who were in the audience. The book is comprised mostly of non-musician writers but Manning does include John Albert of Bad Religion who recounts his first time seeing Black Flag in 1979 and how it influenced him to start a band and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth who documents a concert he attended in 1999 at the Knitting Factory long after Sonic Youth was formed.

There usually are moments when I interview a musician when he will expound on that moment when he was completely enraptured and inspired after attending a live concert so I took a brief look back into rock history and found two other key performances that had inspiring ripple effect after the show.

At the Lesser Free Trade Hall in London in 1976, the Sex Pistols played two shows, one in June and the other in July. Most of the list below attended the first show while the other attended the second. Comprise of original footage and reenactments the gig is depicted in 24 Hour Party People and is repeatedly noted as having been the catalyst for the Manchester New Wave and punk rock movement in the late seventies and into the early eighties.

Joy Division—Ian Curtis, Peter Hook and Bernard Sumner,

The Fall—Mark E. Smith

Simply Red—Mick Hucknall

Morrissey—The Smiths

The other key performance in an unlikely concert venue was Johnny Cash’s series of performances at San Quentin. And little did Cash know that one of the inmates was Merle Haggard who in a Rolling Stone interview cited that show as his turning point to straighten up and be a professional musician.

And when it comes to hip hop live inspiration, in his book, Working Musicians Bruce Pollack listens to rapper Kool Mo Dee tell of his first encounter with the vinyl scratching and electronic space funk of Grandmaster Flash. Knowing Kool Moe Dee’s controversial and boisterous career, the story of his first moment when his psyche was transformed from fan to artist is an insightful and it is humorous. “What changed my life from being a fan to becoming an artist was one night in November 1978 when I was up at the Autoban in Manhattan…”

There’s many more that could make this list long and I’d like to know some of your favorite and inspiring experiences, even if they didn’t resulted in performing before a sold out crowd. And if you’re an artist and want to tell of your moment of inspiration drop me an email or a comment below.

Photo by Colleen Catania

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