On emotional shows

Often, shows are emotional experiences. People say that the shows have “changed their lives forever” or talk about the euphoria they felt at the climax of a set, feeling “washed” or “cleaned” by the band channeling energy into sound and somehow through that affecting the audience’s hearts and minds. But how often are shows emotional experiences for the band?

A friend of mine told me about the Silver Jews show last week. I wasn’t there, but according to her it was essentially witnessing a messy breakup on stage. As the band fractured and the members scowled, the songs got commensurately more intense, and the audience was held in thrall by the drama of the situation. This sort of experience, she said, made the show really memorable and probably improved its emotional effectiveness, but it also made the show uncomfortable and awkward for those attending.

This reminded me of when I saw the Brothers Unconnected over the summer. Alan and Richard Bishop, two-thirds of the Sun City Girls, did a “memorial tour” for the other third, their recently deceased drummer, Charles Gocher. If something’s a “memorial tour” then obviously it was going to be emotional, but I wasn’t really prepared for what happened.

The night started off with a showing of Gocher’s experimental films, a significant side hobby of his. These were bizarre, lots of them featuring multiple Gochers superimposed on one another via pointing cameras at TVs.

Many of Gocher’s avant-garde poems were set to music played by the Brothers Unconnected, and these were often extremely vulgar, sufficiently so that I cannot reproduce them here. The Bishops yelled them, angry and sneering, between more subdued SCG songs, and often I was genuinely uncomfortable with the images they painted and the intensity with which they sang, but I was also extremely intrigued. The crowd seemed alternately amused and frightened, but its attention absolutely never wavered. All eyes were always fixed on the stage.

After the show, I had no idea whether or not I liked it but I knew that I would absolutely not forget it and I was glad I went. I’m still not totally sure, months later, whether I had fun at all. Every time I talk about it with a friend, though, I lean toward yes. It was so raw and uncomfortable that it was tough to take, but isn’t that what art is about?