When some people get older, they start going out to sushi and start leasing new cars and start taking Pilates classes. And for some reason they stop listening to new music.
Then there are those of us who get older with the attendant need to find something to cling to, and for us that thing is music. There are little musical moments throughout the year that change us. Defining snatches of music that somehow condense our time on Earth and hurl it back at us in a soul-shaking rush of brilliance. They are transformative moments, transcendental moments.
This is the time to reflect on reasons why life is worth living. A time to count the ways that faith was restored. For me, it’s a time to think back on the most inspiring shows I went to, to reflect on how my faith in live music was reaffirmed over and over again.
Case in point: watching the homecoming of Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong as he stepped through the doors of 924 Gilman, after years of being away, to play a breathtaking show with Pinhead Gunpowder and bring tears to the fans who waited in line outside for eight hours. Faith in redemption. Or the other way around: watching Vampire Weekend just days after their album was released in a short set at Amoeba in San Francisco, so clearly and excitingly on the cusp of being one of the year’s best new discoveries. Faith in baptism.
The Boredoms setting up in the center of the Fillmore’s floor, singer Yamatsuka Eye on crutches but flailing gymnastically and repeatedly crashing a hand-fashioned tower of electric guitars during a pulsing, nonstop set. Or Themes, on tour from Minneapolis, emanating a death-march group howl of “The Soldier Trade” to a crowded living room at the Church House in Petaluma. Faith in house shows.
At the Boogie Room, watching members of the Crux lead a holy-rolling revival in the dead of night, inside a cold barn, rousing classics like “Mary Don’t You Weep” by candlelight and baptizing the congregation with water; then, later, watching them shout through bullhorns, rattle large chains and cause the floorboards of the barn to nearly buckle under the weight of the enraptured crowd. Faith in ramshackle theater.
Being completely surprised when people I’d seen around town would suddenly turn up with gobs of talent, like James Ryall singing “This Invitation Has Meant the World to Me” at the unique New Trust tribute night, or Nick Wolchsmoking, playing drums and receiving a birthday cake all at the same time during a revelatory Goodriddler set outdoors at Daredevils & Queens. Faith in the next generation.
Witnessing the world premiere of “Boycott,” a lost Eric Dolphy composition, by Bennie Maupin and James Newton‘s incredible quintet at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival, with the actual charts handwritten by Eric Dolphy on the stand. Or watching Denny Zeitlin, the day after the death of his close friend Mel Graves, sit down at the piano to play the most emotionally moving version of “What Is This Thing Called Love” that has ever existed on the planet, putting his whole being into a loving tribute to his friend. Faith in abstract testimonials.
The utterly spine-chilling beauty of Tom Waits in Dublin, as the rain plundered the circus tent above, singing “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis.” Broken Social Scene,, 10 members strong, giving a summertime send-off with thousands of hands in the air at Golden Gate Park. Or the most awe-inspiring spectacle of all, Of Montreal,’s Skeletal Lamping tour, involving a dizzying onslaught of elaborate sets and costume changes. Faith in romantic bombast.
Even huge arena shows delivered. Witnessing the Cure,, opening a three-hour set with “Plainsong” and trammeling through a lifetime of signposts, year after year. Or George Michael,, outdoing the longing of “A Different Corner” only with a harrowing version of “Praying for Time.” Faith in longevity.
Somalian rapper K’naan, leading a crowd in putting up their fists for freedom for “In the Beginning.” Walkmen singer Hamilton Leithauser,, twisting his torso and throwing his head back in some unholy evocation during “In the New Year.” Crooked Fingers’ Eric Bachmann,, picking slowly at his guitar and begging to be loved again in “Sleep All Summer.” Faith in heartfelt passion.
Here’s to another year gone by with all of these moments and hundreds more. Now go out with your friends, tell them how much you love them, and sing “Auld Lang Syne.” There’s nothing like faith and love to keep us running for another year.