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What makes a great gig

November 28, 2011

A recent foray into the music nightlife of London got me thinking about what makes a great gig. The event in question was Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks playing at Koko. My son invited me and, truth be told, I was not expecting much having only been vaguely entertained by what I had heard on CD/MP3. But it was great — hard rock, prog rock, indie rock and lyrical humour all rolled into one. A surprise.

And there is the key. It is the element of surprise that is often the factor that takes a concert to the next level. In the lesser world of macroeconomics it is called “beating expectations”.

A gig can be great without a surprise. When I saw Eric Clapton at the Albert Hall earlier this year he was fantastic. But I expected him to be. He is Eric Clapton, after all. Same kind of thing goes for Seasick Steve at Cropredy or, heading back a few years, The Rolling Stones at Athens’ Olympic Stadium or Pink Floyd in Philadelphia. Good, solid, exciting concerts — but what was expected.

It is the little gems that stand out, however. One of these for me was a fabulous evening I had in Athens at a small college theatre where Donovan entertained an audience of just a couple of hundred people. I wasn’t exactly dragged along but it would not have taken much more than an Antiques Roadshow special on TV for me to have stayed at home. Yet here was one of the best gigs I have ever been to. Song after song from my youth, a relaxed but polished performance, and a string of tales from his past all adding up to a real troubadour evening.

I got a similar kick out of Steve Winwood a few years ago. The surprise was not that he was good — like Eric, he has had a lot of practice — but that his backing band was so superb and that they were all so tight. The result was magical.

The flip side, of course, is when you have high expectations for a gig and it turns out badly. One of the great musical disappointments of my life was seeing Bob Marley & The Wailers at Georgetown University’s McDonough Arena. Bob was either too stoned or he didn’t care. But the arena was built for basketball and the acoustics were terrible. All I remember of it was thumping bass overwhelming everything and Bob staggering around in stage, presumably singing. Still love him, but a shame.

So what’s next? I only have one gig lined up at the moment — Ian Anderson‘s 40th anniversary tour of Jethro Tull‘s “Thick As A Brick“. The exciting thing about this is that I do not have any expectations one way or the other. So it is over to you, Ian.


From → Music

  1. You make a good point. some of the most memorable for me have been the unexpected as well. Airborne, Chris Knight, Matthew Ryan, Willie Nelson, Megadeth were all shows I went into without an expectations and was blown away. Gotta love it!

  2. Oh and forgot Nazareth back in the late 90’s! Man, Dan McCafferty can sing.

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