Live music: there is nothing like the real thing

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By Joel van der Veen

Whether it’s in church on Sunday, at a club on a Saturday night, or in an arena before an audience of thousands, there’s something powerful about hearing music being performed live.

Compared to listening to recorded music, it’s a vastly different experience. This is a fact few would dispute, but it was American bandleader John Philip Sousa who stated the case most, er, hyperbolically.

Famous a century ago for writing and conducting marches like The Stars and Stripes Forever and The Liberty Bell, Souza was concerned about the burgeoning recording industry.

Speaking before Congress in 1906, he condemned “talking machines” and expressed his yearning for the days when one could hear young people singing together on a summer night.

“Today, you hear these infernal machines going night and day,” he groused. “We will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal cord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape.”

Sousa is also credited with coining the term “canned music” to refer disparagingly to recordings, alluding to the format in which they were then sold: not as flat discs, but as cylinders made of wax or plastic.

Perhaps Sousa overstated the case somewhat, but he had a point. As much as I love my record collection, that technology is transcended in many ways by the experience of witnessing a live performance.

I’ve had the pleasure of seeing some amazing shows. One highlight was seeing Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson in Regina last summer. He has long been my musical hero, and that concert was a true thrill, one that I gushed about for months afterward.

In Moose Jaw I’ve checked out concerts at a few local venues, including the impressive Mosaic Place, and Kergano’s, a High Street restaurant offering live music on a regular basis.

Kudos to those in charge of the Mae Wilson Theatre; not only do they recruit some very impressive performers, but they have a magnificent facility in which to host them. I’ve heard several musicians laud the theatre for its acoustic quality.

But the experience of a concert goes beyond the performance happening on stage. It’s also about sharing the moment with others, whether it’s your friends, loved ones or the rest of the audience.

I fondly remember my first “big” concert. I was 14 when I attended the SARS benefit concert at Toronto’s Downsview Park; the lineup included The Guess Who, AC/DC, Rush and The Rolling Stones.

Somehow I talked my mom into taking me, along with my cousin Laura and my uncle Richard; it still amuses me to picture him, a clean-cut lawyer who teaches Sunday school at his Baptist church, cheering wildly for Burton Cummings.

Other memories from that day include riding our bicycles along the closed-off highway, waiting an hour in line to use the toilet, and a woman not far behind us who took off her top as she sat on her partner’s shoulders during AC/DC’s set.

Alas, I was too tired at the end to stand to watch the Stones. But even if the closing act hadn’t been The Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band in The World, it would have been an incredible day, witnessing the concert with a crowd of 450,000 people.

If you haven’t checked out a concert in a while, I’d suggest you do — there are free shows in Crescent Park every Wednesday night through July and August, for starters. Get out of the house, bring the family and enjoy some good music together. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

Joel van der Veen can be reached at 691-1256.

Organizations: The Stars and Stripes, AC/DC, Beach Boys Mae Wilson Theatre Baptist church

Geographic location: Regina, Moose Jaw, High Street Toronto Downsview Park Crescent Park

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